Turning the page: Lee Rhiannon

The past year was one of highs and lows – and of beginnings and endings.

By Senator Lee Rhiannon


In the past year, my office experienced a number of wins, some unfortunate lows, and the turning of a page that marked the end of my time as a Greens senator.


Our office has been working with Greens members and housing groups on a plan for a universal social housing scheme - 'homes for all'.

Unlike the major parties, our plan does not promote private ownership of a home as the only means to have stable housing. Overseas experience shows that homes for all can be achieved and limits placed on the private market by developing a large, vibrant social housing sector. The social housing sector in Australia makes up about 4.5 percent of stock, while in many progressive European countries it's more like 20-30 percent.

A bigger social housing sector will also go a long way to fulfilling Principle 1 of our Housing Policy: affordable housing is a human right. How do we guarantee affordable housing as a human right? One clue is how we treat two other rights which are fundamental to wellbeing: health and education. These rights are guaranteed through Medicare and the public school system.

We have found this point helps build understanding and support for our 'homes for all' campaign.

Practically speaking, both Medicare and public schools are open to all and charge what people can afford to pay. If they cannot afford to pay anything it's provided free at the point of use. Both institutions could be improved a lot, but both guarantee decent health and education to all.

'Homes for all' is a bold, transformative initiative that ensures housing is recognised as a human right. 

The Greens plan is to remove a significant chunk of housing from the profit-driven marketplace. We’ll do this by building at least 500,000 new public and community homes funded by a new Federal Housing Trust. These homes will be built and run to serve the needs of communities – not banks, property developers or private landlords.

Creating a bigger, more diverse social housing sector will go a long way to reclaiming housing as a human right. This plan for universal social housing was a major plank of the Queensland Greens in their last state election campaign. It was well received by the electorate and there was the huge electoral break through with the Greens winning the state seat of Maiwar. 

Animal welfare and rights

Negotiations to end the live sheep export trade intensified following the release of shocking footage showing the conditions on board a live export ship where nearly 3000 sheep died. Our office moved quickly to draft legislation to end the live export of sheep.

The Greens' other bill to end the export of cattle as well as sheep is still before the Senate.We came forward with this additional bill targeting just the sheep market, as there is growing support to ban this aspect of the trade.

Our office engaged in lengthy negotiations with animal welfare and animal rights groups and MPs from the major parties and cross benchers. Labor came on board to support the ban, as did a number of crossbenchers. The federal Liberal-National government remain the stumbling block.

We also have a private members bill to end the live export of donkeys. Many of our animal welfare bills and motions are done in conjunction with supportive crossbenchers.

Our other animal-related bill is the initiative to end cruel cosmetics. The government stated that they would include the ban in their legislation to reform chemical regulations. However, going for this option rather than in standalone legislation could mean that the government bill will not achieve its stated objective to ban cosmetics and ingredients tested on animals. This issue has still been resolved and our bill is still before the Senate.

Our office worked on a number of other animal related issues across 2017-18, including protecting dingoes in Queensland; exposing the cruelty and threat of current government policies to kangaroo populations; investigating greyhound exports; and questioning if primates are being imported for experimentation, among others.

We worked closely with Greens state animal welfare spokespersons and Greens animal working groups. We appreciate their endeavours, feedback on our work and overall campaigning for animal welfare and animal rights. 


We undertook extensive work with civil society groups to defeat the Liberal-National government’s attack on democracy that would have occurred if the Electoral Funding Reform Bill had been passed.

There was strong opposition to the government’s bill, culminating in some significant achievements at the inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into this legislation. We won support for a series of amendments to the bill and, significantly, the committee did not recommend the bill should pass.

The success we had in the committee can be attributed to the campaign of Hands Off Our Charities and a range of other groups who mobilised strong and vocal opposition to measures that would have limited their funding and their voice in democratic processes.

In the course of this campaign, it became increasingly obvious that the government was using this bill to curtail the voice of pubic discourse. Meanwhile, the bill did not even achieve its stated purpose of prohibiting foreign donations. Despite the inquiry, the bill was not put up for final debate and vote. Government MPs indicated privately that the bill needed to be considerably redrafted.

Throughout this financial year we have also kept the pressure on for lobbying reform, for a National ICAC and political funding reform. We have private members' bills to enact many of these reforms. Our Greens Democracy4Sale campaign continues to expose the use of corporate donations to buy favours and influence. 


As part of our work for the Greens industry portfolio, we have examined how to promote a circular economy to do manufacturing differently. The emphasis would be on designing and producing products with an eye towards minimising, or even eliminating, resource use, waste, and pollution – that is, how a product is disposed of becomes part of the manufacturing process.

Growing numbers of businesses are already finding that reducing resource use, waste, and pollution, along with recycling and reusing what was formerly looked at as waste, yields benefits not only in terms of an improved bottom line, but in terms of employee motivation and morale. We have continued to work with NSW south coast unions to maintain and support our steel industry.

Local government

Sadly, there has been little activity from the government, the opposition or local government authorities to advance the call for constitutional recognition of local government. This has limited the opportunities for our own work on this issue.Over the past year we have chosen to support the work of our local councillors directly.

One example of this is our work on how the Gilmore MP Mrs Ann Sudmalis, was able to secure almost $10 million in grant funds for the Yerriyong motorcycling complex in Shoalhaven on the NSW south coast, when the development had not been given consent and the site was widely recognised as inappropriate.

Gun control

A theme of this portfolio work has been calling for the National Firearm Agreement to be retained and strengthened.

State and federal governments are coming under enormous pressure from the firearm industry to allow the import of rapid-fire weapons.I have taken this issue up in Parliament, and also spoken about the work of the gun lobby to weaken Australian firearms policy.

The Liberals and Nationals are elevating gun industry representatives to be on their main firearm advisory board. This would create a US-style framework similar to the influence the National Rifle Association wields when US law makers come to vote on gun control measures. We should be very worried when Australian politicians start pandering to the gun lobby.


As a Senator for NSW my office and I cover a broad range of state related issues and organise and participate in many local events.


I continued to work with the Williamtown community in their battle to win fair compensation for the serious toxic contamination they have been exposed to. Working with Labor and crossbenchers, we were successful in setting up another inquiry into the contamination. While this has been an important achievement, many of the locals are doing it tough because of the government’s failure to provide adequate compensation and information about the impacts of the toxic pollution.


As 1968 was an historic year where every continent was marked by youth radicalisation and student revolts – often reverberating among the working population and Indigenous peoples – my office, in association with the Greens NSW Industrial Relations Working Group and the Greens Political Education Trust, organised a series of four forums “1968 – Days of Hope, Days of Rage”.

Community work 

Considering the large immigrant and refugee communities in NSW, I regularly met with a number of these groups. I have worked with the Tamils, Palestinian support community, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankan Muslim community, Rohingyas, Polisario (Western Sahara), Malaya democratic forces and Kashmiris. I have spoken about their situation in Parliament and attended many community events.


With a large Palestinian community in both Sydney and regional centres, Palestinian issues regularly feature in our work. I visited Palestine in July 2017 and Lebanon in March 2018. On these trips I met many Palestinians and key people working with UNRWA (the UN body for Palestinian refugees) and learnt of the serious threats that UNRWA is currently facing and how that is impacting on the lives of thousands of Palestinians.

This work has been considerable, as 2018 is the 70th anniversary of Nakbah, which marks the start of the colonisation of Palestinian land. These trips helped inform the materials we have produced and speeches I have given on Palestine.                                                                    

No privatisation – renationalise essential services

Privatisation of essential services has been a disaster for so many parts of NSW. My office produced a comprehensive study of this issue and produced a well-received booklet, 'Sold Off Sold Out'. This publication, which went to a second edition, covered the impacts corporate control of public services has on inequality and environmental damage; and it set out a strong case for renationalisation.

My expulsion from the Party Room 

In July 2017, for a short period of time, I was expelled from the Party Room without just cause. I suffered considerable damage to my reputation due to misinformation. I strongly believed that the Greens should oppose the Turnbull Government’s proposed school funding legislation. 

I reject claims that my actions derailed negotiations. I note that, ultimately, there was never any Party Room decision to support the Bill or an amended Bill, and in the end all Party Room members made the right decision to vote against the legislation. Subsequent information about the impact of government legislation on public schools confirms this point.