From the Senator for SA


Again a huge year for the Australian Greens and my team, working in my portfolio areas of legal affairs, mental health, schools and veterans affairs.

By Senator Penny Wright

Again a huge year for the Australian Greens and my team, working in my portfolio areas of legal affairs, mental health, schools and veterans affairs.

There has been no reprieve from this government’s attacks on vulnerable people and our environment since they took office last September. While the attacks are relentless, I value the ‘wins’ where we find them: the doorknocking conversations that prompt voters to reconsider their opinion of the Greens; collaborating with experts and community groups to achieve shared goals; pursuing legislation that makes for a fairer, more caring society. Step by step (and always two steps forward to every step backward) we are actively creating change – and ensuring a voice for those in Australia for those who value community, justice and a healthy, safe future for those who come after us. I often think, “who would be speaking these truths if the Greens were not here – in the parliament?”

I have continued my work for great schools for every kid in Australia. In addition, the Greens have always fought for our public schools to be secular. In May’s Federal Budget the Coalition announced they would be pouring $245 million into the National School Chaplaincy Program, while removing the right of schools to use their funding for a secular youth worker. At a time when teenagers are more likely to die by suicide than in a car accident, this decision is indefensible. The Greens’ strongly-held position is that this money would be better spent on employing qualified mental health professionals in our schools and I have been very active in advancing this policy. The High Court has since deemed the funding for the Program to be invalid and I will advocate fiercely for secular public schools and proper mental health support for students when the Coalition try to find another way to fund the program. 

I recently established a Senate Inquiry looking into the illicit gun trade in Australia. There are an estimated 250,000 illicit weapons on our streets and too many gun tragedies. Most of these weapons started out as legally owned so we need to look at how to reduce the number of legal guns in Australia if we are to effectively tackle gun-crime. To keep Australian communities safe, it’s crucial we know more about the problem we’re dealing with. The Inquiry will look at how the gun trade is working; who’s behind it, how they are operating and what we can do about it. It will also investigate new technology, like the use of 3D printers to fabricate plastic guns unable to be detected by security scanners, and the efficacy of banning semi-automatic guns to prevent gun deaths in Australia. 

Another win was overcoming the government’s attempt to impose a new $120 fee to go bankrupt. Aware that most people who go bankrupt have earned less than $30,000 in the previous year and that unemployment is the primary cause of non-business related bankruptcy, I knew it was a huge barrier standing in the way of financially-embattled people striving to regain control of their lives and start afresh with a clean slate. Charging people a fee to go bankrupt is not only illogical but dangerous policy, with potentially serious impacts on the mental health of already-vulnerable people. 

It was satisfying to work with financial counsellors and consumer advocates to successfully negotiate the removal of this fee by the government.

I have continued to be passionate about supporting and expanding mental health services for Australians – in the bush and in our cities. Following concerns I encounter everywhere I meet parents and teachers, I have established the Parliamentary Friends of Youth Mental Health to provide a forum for young people (and their carers) to engage with their elected representatives about factors affecting their mental health and wellbeing. The group has been a wonderful success, recently bringing together young people and politicians in a workshop to explore the potential of online mental health services. Our next event, in collaboration with the Butterfly Foundation, will focus on body image and eating disorders. I aim to encourage a broad discussion about the many factors influencing the mental health and wellbeing of our precious young people, to promote their flourishing and resilience. 

As always, I am thankful for all those who make the work we do worthwhile – and possible – the office bearers, staff and most importantly, our loyal members. I’m often reminded that the world is run by those who turn up. The Australian Greens are incredibly lucky to have so many dedicated, inspiring people willing to continually turn up – even when the going gets tough. Thank you.