As the year draws to a close there has certainly been highs and lows in the land of politics. After a resounding yes vote by the Australian public, marriage equality finally became a reality on the last day of Parliament to the sheer delight of LGBTIQ people, advocates and allies. It was an honour to be in the chamber as it passed the Senate and to take part in a moment in history.
Marriage equality wasn’t the only good thing to happen in the last few months. Triple j made a decision to move its hottest 100 countdown from January 26 to the final week in January. As explained in triple j’s statement about changing the date, the countdown has not always been on January 26. As such, it shouldn’t be linked inextricably to that date. It is fantastic news that everyone in Australia can now enjoy the countdown on a date that doesn’t cause harm and hurt to our First Peoples. After Minister Mitch Fifield wrote to the ABC board urging triple j to reverse their decision, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and I wrote to them urging triple j to stick to their guns. It is a shame the Government is trying to bully ABC into reversing a decision that will ensure inclusivity for all when it comes to celebrating this wonderful country. I will continue to support our First Peoples on behalf of the Australian Greens in a push to change the date of Australia Day once and for all and we will be campaigning hard on this over summer.
In another significant win (and right whilst marriage equality was coming into law in the House of Reps!) the Federal Government officially moved to remove drug testing from the welfare reform bill. Although it is fantastic that they have backed down on drug testing income support recipients, there are a whole host of nasties in the welfare reform bill that I am still working to stop. Fortunately, the rest of the Bill did not get through the parliament before Christmas, so I will be on the case when we return in February. The Bill contains measures that hurt people with disability, bereaved pregnant women, people struggling with addiction and older unemployed Australians, amongst others. Next year I’ll be moving various amendments to make sure people don’t end up worse off as a result of the changes proposed.
Another good bit of news is that Labor announced it will oppose the extension of the cashless welfare card in Bundaberg and Goldfields. This is a great step in the right direction, but they are sadly still committed to extending the current trial sites in Ceduna and the East Kimberley. Residents in Ceduna and the East Kimberley should not continue to be forced to live under forced income management. I have flagged for a long time the major flaws in the ORIMA report on the cashless welfare card trials, the widespread community opposition and the long-standing evidence that compulsory income management does not work. I'm urging The Labor party to support my disallowance motion in February that will stop the extension of the trials in the East Kimberley and Ceduna.
Last week (at time of writing) the Government announced Gary Johns as the commissioner for the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. Gary Johns is strongly anti-charity making it impossible to be impartial in his role as Commissioner for the ACNC. Appointing someone as Commissioner of the ACNC who has been a long term critic of the charities sector is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. At a time when charities and not-for-profits (who work to protect vulnerable people criticised by Mr Johns) are under threat from the Commonwealth, the charity sector needs a Commissioner who will advocate for the sector so that it can flourish. This decision sends a clear signal to the charity and not-for-profit sector that the Government is not on their side and wishes to further erode their capacity to advocate and work for good policy. The Greens will continue to strongly oppose it.
Just before we rose the Community Affairs legislation committee tabled a report into the Government’s Social Housing Affordability Bill, which I dissented from. The first two schedules of the Bill are going to make life harder for those struggling to get by, and can effectively take someone’s entire income support payment to cover overdue rent or damage to property if they live in social housing. Damaged property can be as a result of domestic violence, so to take money from someone’s income support to pay for this damage when they are struggling financially and may still be trapped in a violent relationship shows sheer callousness by the Commonwealth. The Bill also allows the taking of money for rent from the remaining 20 per cent cash from people on the cashless welfare card. This could take the final strand of financial flexibility from people doing it tough and removes autonomy. I will continue to raise the issues with this Bill in the Senate.
I wish everyone a safe and happy festive season and look forward to seeing you all in the New Year!
Header photo: The Australian Greens federal team as the marriage equality bill passes in the Senate. Credit: Auspic