My second full year as a senator was very busy and I’ve never been prouder to represent the people of Tasmania and stand up for Green values.
Senator Peter Whish-Wilson
Gandhi once famously said: ‘You must be the change you want to see in the world.’ A simple statement, but from my experience nothing better encapsulates the philosophy and spirit of the Greens. I’ve never been prouder to represent the people of Tasmania and stand up for Green values. My second full year as a senator was very busy and I made real progress across my portfolio areas of Trade, Competition Policy, Small Business, Consumer Affairs, Fisheries, Marine (TAS), Whaling and Tasmania. I’m also recently honoured to have taken on the portfolio responsibility for veterans’ affairs from my party room colleague Penny Wright. I took on the portfolio as I have an understanding of the issues through my own military service, I know many veterans and also have an ongoing interest in military history and affairs.
Fisheries, marine (TAS) and whaling
As a passionate surfer, my deepest and most enduring bond is with the ocean. It has long been the Greens view that Australia needs to take a leadership role in ending whaling. I took over the Whaling portfolio late last year and I worked hard to keep pressure on the federal government to take a stronger stance on whaling and marine protection in the Sothern Ocean and Antarctic waters. We recently established an historic Australia-first Inquiry into “Australia’s future activities and responsibilities in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters.”
This inquiry means the Senate finally has a chance to highlight and review Australia’s activities in our vast Southern Ocean waters and to look at what we are doing well and what could be done better. The Liberal National coalition government has dropped the ball on whaling and illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean. This Inquiry will investigate what needs to be done into the future to carry our weight in this unique environment.
On 9 July this year I attended the Parliament House Dinner for the Japanese Prime Minister, and was able to meet and talk with Shinzo Abe. I took the opportunity to respectfully hand him a letter from Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson and asked that he read the letter. This was the first time Captain Watson had written to Shinzo Abe and in the letter he appealed to Japan’s PM personally, and respectfully, to reconsider any plans for a continuation of lethal whaling research in the Southern Ocean.
A national cash-for-containers scheme
Possibly the single biggest global pollution problem in our oceans — and on our beaches — is accumulated plastic. Studies have shown a significant proportion of marine plastic is from single use plastic drink containers. Beverage containers are choking our marine life and poisoning our oceans.
“Cash for containers” schemes or container deposit schemes (CDS) see recycling rates for beverage packaging of between 80-90 per cent around the world, a crucial mechanism for keeping cans and bottles out of our marine ecosystems.
Polling shows that up to 91 per cent of Tasmanians support the implementation of a container deposit scheme and studies predict this scheme will create around 300 full-time and 80 part-time jobs in Tasmania, yet the major parties have so far refused to support the legislation required. The reason for this is that big self-interested corporations, like Coca Cola, use their deep pockets to oppose and lobby against these schemes.
To prove just how effective these refund schemes are I have run a series of clean ups around Tasmania with my mobile recycling trailer.
The Trojan horse in our secretive trade agreements
Leaked chapters from the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) trade negotiations and the recent Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreements (KAFTA) provide clear and chilling examples of the government’s intent to allow foreign companies to have influence over significant areas of public interest and importance via Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses. These clauses allow multinationals to sue the Australian Government in the future if they claim a local, state or domestic law harms their profits.
Australia is already being sued under ISDS provisions over the tobacco-plain packaging case and with our government gung-ho on including them in current and future trade deals like KAFTA and the TPP litigation is only likely to increase. Including ISDS provisions in our trade deals leaves us vulnerable to being sued by foreign corporations for simply legislating to protect the environment or internet use, if those laws affect corporate profits.
I introduced the Trade and Foreign Investment (Protecting the Public Interest) Bill 2014 into the Senate to ban Australia from entering into trade agreements that include ISDS. However, despite the overwhelming weight of evidence presented and submissions received in support of the bill, Labor and Liberal used their numbers on the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee to recommend that the Bill should not pass.
Our dissenting report drew on the mass of credible evidence presented to the committee that litigation using ISDS has proliferated in recent times and is likely to increase into the future. As result of this Bill the chorus of concern has widened beyond civil society to include the Chief Justice of the High Court, Chief Justice French AC, who recently called on the judiciary to involve themselves in the debate over this issue.
I hope to bring this Bill to full debate in the Senate. Given the public have so much to lose from these provisions, the public have a right to hear why the major parties are choosing to back foreign corporations over the parliament’s right to legislate.
Reforms that strengthen consumer protections — Future of Financial Advice (FoFA) legislation
Only days after the Government received a damning Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) Senate Inquiry report that highlighted poor standards and culture in the financial advice industry and a failing regulator, the Government sought to deregulate the sector further.
The Greens joined a chorus of voices calling for reforms that strengthen consumer protections and break the sales-based cultures of the big end of town. Choice, Industry Super Australia, ASIC and the Government’s own hand-picked chair of the Financial Systems Inquiry, David Murray, have all criticised the current system and called for reforms to limit industry excesses.
We have also responded by introducing the Corporations Amendment (Financial Advice) Bill 2014 to the Senate to provide improved definitions for consumers seeking financial advice. This Bill is a small step in reforming the legislation that governs the industry by providing consumers with a clear differentiation between personal and general advice.
The Greens are a party of peace and non-violence. It’s a sad fact of our history that we’ve had to be involved in numerous wars.
The 2015 commemoration of the ANZACs and the Great War is an important time — a critical time — in our and in other nations’ histories. As a nation and as individuals we need reminders in order to remember and honour the sacrifice of war and peacetime service, but we also need to be honest and forward-looking in how we do this. We need to use this as a time to reflect on what the ANZAC legend is and reassess exactly why wars happen. I look forward to engaging with veteran communities and also to speaking more on the meaning and interpretation of this commemoration in the Senate over coming months.