Standing up for the people: Rachel Siewert

This year has been full of intense campaigning around reducing inequality, defending vulnerable Australians and protecting our climate.

By Senator Rachel Siewert

It’s been another intense year of Parliament and campaigning, as we tried our best to speak to issues that matter to the community, planet and our future, particularly around reducing inequality, defending vulnerable Australians and protecting our climate.

Campaigns for people and planet 

This year started off with the biggest ‘Change the Date’ campaign we’ve ever run – resulting in us successfully profiling the Change the Date movement as the first step towards truth, justice and healing. We held our first truth-telling event, with a panel of exceptional First Nations leaders, who spoke about their lived experiences and the importance of moving away from January 26th.

Our campaign to scrap the cashless welfare card came within inches of halting two new trial sites, and in the end we managed to knock Bundaberg off the government’s agenda (although they are trying again to put a trial there). This punitive measure is an approach that does not have the evidence to support it. The trials are having a negative impact on people accessing income support, and we will continue to try to disallow them in the Senate.

Newstart has not been raised since 1994, whilst the cost of living has increased dramatically, leaving those accessing some social security payments living in poverty. The campaign to raise the rate of Newstart by $75 a week now has many groups and organisations support it, including unlikely ones like John Howard.

It is time we stopped leaving struggling people behind and for Newstart to be increased to a level where jobseekers can live with some dignity. We are a kind and generous nation, so to leave people trying to find a job living well below the poverty is a national shame.

Senate inquiries 

Some Senate inquiries completed in the last 12 months include inquiries into the future of work, the community development program (CDP), the NDIS, aged care, mitochondrial donations, drug testing for income support recipients and the punitive cashless debit card.

The establishment of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples was also an important moment to note, hearing directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations about a way forward on constitutional recognition.

Redress scheme 

It’s been an incredibly important year for survivors of child sexual abuse with the roll out of the National Redress Scheme. Western Australia is also finally committing to the National Redress Scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse, after the Royal Commission last year.

We welcomed the Federal Government’s commitment to adopt 104 out of 122 Royal Commission recommendations relating to the Commonwealth, but continued to urge the government to commit to a cap of $200,000 for survivors instead of $150,000.  

I’m currently part of the committee providing advice to the government on the national apology to survivors, and I’m glad a date has been set for that.  

Marriage equality 

It’s hard to write an annual report without mentioning the historic moment we watched late last year with the passing of the marriage equality bill. This is an issue that we’ve campaigned on as Greens for years, and to see it pass after 12 years in the Senate and years of dedicated campaigning by LGBTIQ+ organisations and community was just the best.