A rollercoaster of a year: Rachel Siewert

It has been an incredible 15 years and there is still so much to do.

By Senator Rachel Siewert

2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year!

With the addition of Lidia Thorpe to the party room in September 2020, we have had some portfolio changes. I have been privileged to work on the First Nations Peoples portfolio for over a decade and am thrilled to have a First Nations woman in the Parliament to lead that important work forward.

I want to thank Richard Di Natale for his wonderful leadership and the contribution he has made to the Greens and the community. I am very pleased to be able to continue his work in the role of Health spokesperson.

COVID-19 turned 2020 on its head. While our Green teams and many others around the world adapted to a remote working structure, Parliament was slow to do so. It is vital that our democratic institutions are robust and adaptable, and I was pleased when the Parliament was able to sit and include many MPs and senators virtually. The Greens played an important role in ensuring this oversight and accountability that our community expects. Even with increased pressures and having only a relatively small MP and staff team to do the parliamentary work on the ground, the Greens team has been effective in achieving outcomes and holding the government to account.

The Parliamentary Green team are campaigning strongly for a fairer and greener world as we come out of this pandemic. I recommend that people have a look at the Recovery Plan we are pursuing.

We have also continued to work on myriad important issues and campaigns this year.

Raising Jobseeker and improving our social security system

In response to COVID-19, increasing unemployment and uncertainty, the government proved that raising the rate of Newstart (now Jobseeker) was possible if there was the political will to do so. My office has been flooded with hundreds of people telling me about the difference the increased rate made to them being able to live a dignified life. I have worked closely with the community and people accessing income support to make sure their voices are heard by the government, and that issues happening on the ground are raised and being resolved as soon as possible. There is much work still to be done to improve our social security system: raising the rate permanently, ensuring the system is accessible and abolishing punitive measures.

Aged care

The COVID-19 crisis has also laid bare many of the flaws in our aged care system. Along with many Australians, I have watched in horror as we saw more and more failings in a system meant to support some of the most vulnerable members in our community. The Covid Committee has been a key mechanism in being able to hold the government to account and encourage them to take urgent action. I remain committed to fighting for the funds and wide scale reform we need in aged care.

Mental health

The challenges of COVID-19 have made this year a particularly difficult year for the mental health of many Australians. Whilst the government has quickly responded by investing in services and telehealth, the pandemic has illuminated some ongoing weaknesses in the sector including the ad hoc nature of decision making. I continue to work closely with stakeholders on many of these issues.

Final words

I would like to thank my office team for their support, hard work, commitment and endurance.

I made the very difficult decision this year not to nominate for pre-selection for the next federal election. It has been an incredible 15 years and there is still so much to do! I have been humbled by the support and am looking forward to the work that needs to be done over my remaining time in the Senate.

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