A year of new challenges


We live in interesting times and it’s abundantly clear that there is much to do in the battle to protect our environment, our climate and our children’s right to an education.

By Senator Sarah Hanson-Young

The fight for the Great Australian Bight

After months of investigation, hearing expert advice and hosting public hearings the Senate inquiry into companies wanting to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight handed down its report in March.

This precious natural environment is globally unique and must be protected. We presented our argument forcefully that the Parliament should legislate to protect the Great Australian Bight, once and for all, from big oil. Sure we've chased BP out of the Bight, but now we're fighting against Norwegian company Statoil taking over their drilling licenses. With Chevron and others lining up to drill for oil in this whale sanctuary, someone needs to oppose them and that's where we come in.

Earlier this year we helped uncover Chevron donating thousands of dollars to the Labor party in a cash-for-comment scandal that shows both Labor and Liberal can be bought to support drilling in the Bight. The behaviour of the Labor and Liberal senators throughout the inquiry to conservation groups was deplorable – including Labor Senators defending big oil companies in the Senate hearing just days after cashing a $6000 cheque from Chevron.

SA energy solutions

The debate about South Australia's energy security has been heating up all year. I chaired the senate inquiry into the 'Resilience of Electricity Infrastructure in a Warming World' earlier this year, hearing repeatedly about the protection from blackouts that large-scale battery storage would offer. Media interest in South Australian renewable energy exploded when Elon Musk said he could "solve SA's power crisis in 100 days, or its free", and again when the deal was taken up by Jay Weatherill. Shortly after the announcement to build the world's next biggest battery – I visited the current biggest battery in Southern California.

And in perhaps one of the best success stories to come out of South Australia for a long time, people power has prevailed and a concentrated solar thermal plant will be built near Port Augusta. The Greens have been fighting with the community since the beginning to bring this project to fruition, and could not be prouder of Repower Port Augusta for their relentless campaign, juxtaposed to the closure of the town's dirty coal-fired power station and its demolition. Port Augusta is ready for the next step and South Australians are excited about this step towards energy security.

With renewables, storage and demand management technologies we can reduce pollution and reduce power bills at the same time.

Childcare reform

Childcare reform was a hard-fought battle at the end of March, while some of the proposed reforms were a good start, we were concerned that for many families the number of days and hours they currently access care would be cut.

The government's plans to introduce a strict "Activity Test" will now leave many low income and middle income families with only one parent working, worse off, making it harder to pay the childcare fees and harder to have the flexibility to go back to work when the time is right.

While we didn't succeed in gaining crossbench support for reducing the pressure of childcare fees after Nick Xenophon again sold everyday Australians down the river, we'll keep up the fight to make fairer improvements to the childcare sector.

Education debate

The education debate was undeniably the peak of the first semester in Parliament.

During this long debate we saw Labor putting politics before policies, playing a nasty game with our children's future. Despite Labor promising full Gonski funding under Julia Gillard, they didn't legislate this funding which meant by the end of 2017, the funding would run out.

Rather than forcing the Government to negotiate with anti-schools funding crossbenchers like Pauline Hanson and David Leyonhjelm, we headed to the negotiation table to make sure genuine needs-based funding was locked in for our schools.

Through these talks The Greens secured an extra $5 billion in funding and an independent watchdog to oversee schools funding in the process. However, despite this, the Government's $50 million special deal for the catholic sector meant the Party Room simply couldn't support the package when it came to the vote.

We undertook extensive consultation with education experts, teachers unions, parent organisations, Greens members through National Conference and National Council, as well as State Members of Parliament across the country.

While more needs to be done to strengthen and improve Gonski 2.0, there is now more certainty over schools funding, a provision that makes sure the states pay their fair share of funding, and an independent national watchdog to identify when schools are being underfunded or overfunded, not distributed on a needs basis.

The Greens firmly believe that no matter a child's postcode, or their parents bank balance, they have the right to a quality education – and we will keep fighting to raise the standards in our schools.

Murray Darling Basin Plan abuses and water theft

We all watched in horror as the ABC's Four Corners program exposed allegations of theft and meter tampering by big cotton irrigators in the Murray Darling Basin river system. The report showed some rich farmers have completely abused the Murray Darling Basin Plan and since, more people have come forward to share their stories.

There may be water in the Coorong at the moment, but the lungs of the Murray Darling Basin are still fragile and need all the water they can get to support a complex and vital ecosystem. I visited the community in South Australia's lower lakes and their message was clear – stop the rorts and get the plan back on track.

The last thing we should be doing at this delicate stage in South Australia's recovery is scrapping the Murray Darling Basin Plan completely, however, there are serious flaws to the plan that become clearer as time goes by and the effects of climate change become harsher on our natural environment. South Australians know just how devastating the impact of the next serious drought will be and I will fight to protect my state from suffering that disastrous fate.

A senate inquiry into the plan has been set up, and South Australian senators across different parties came together to call for a full judicial inquiry. I've been calling for Water Minister Barnaby Joyce to stand down for his incompetence and bias towards rich irrigators in the upstream states, and now given that his dual citizenship with New Zealand deems him ineligible to be in the parliament, it's more important than ever that he stands aside.

We live in interesting times and it's abundantly clear that there is much to do in the battle to protect our environment, our climate and our children's right to an education. I am constantly inspired by our community's commitment to creating a better future, here in South Australia and across the country. We are stronger together and I thank you for your support.