So much activity this year across all of my portfolios – right across the social justice spectrum – and finding time for increased climate activism
By Hon. Alison Xamon, MLC for North Metropolitan
Thank you so much for your support, ideas, feedback and engagement across the course of this year. It’s been another huge year in and out of Parliament for my staff and I.
We have seen huge climate protests across Australia and as always the Greens have been shoulder to shoulder marching with the community. I have been raising climate-related issues constantly within the Parliament ‒ from the local concerns around the loss of our beaches in North Metropolitan, to the Government’s incomprehensible commitment to the polluting gas industry at the expense of a renewable energy future, to our concerns about political interference with the EPA Guidelines on Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
I brought a motion to the Parliament for our Government to acknowledge the climate harm that increasing LNG production will cause. Western Australia is the only state whose emissions have risen since the 2005 baseline and we are one of three states whose emissions have been increasing in the last few years. In every case, this is due to the expansion of the LNG industry. We effectively have 12 years to halve our emissions from current levels on our way to net zero by 2050. This is the consensus opinion of climate scientists and acknowledged as the path we need to take by policy experts around the world. Instead, the WA government is actively seeking to expand the LNG industry, and to lock us into producing more and more greenhouse gas emissions through until 2070. Disappointingly, but unsurprisingly, I and my Greens colleagues were the only Members of Parliament to vote for the motion – all of the rest of the Legislative Council voted to continue down the path of pushing LNG pollution into our atmosphere at unprecedented rates for the foreseeable future.
In a separate debate I also spoke strongly in support of the Greens motion to legislate carbon targets. We’ve already seen numerous countries, states, cities and even large companies give themselves binding carbon targets. 16% of the world’s economy is already bound by hard targets. The WA Government’s refusal to commit to binding targets is another demonstration of their refusal to see and understand the urgent need for action on climate change.
I was delighted to table the completed work of my Select Committee inquiring into evidence-based approaches to reducing harm from illicit drug use at the end of November. The report Help Not Handcuffs is the result of more than 13 months of hard effort with numerous hearings and gathering evidence of different approaches around the world. I am pleased and proud that this report is a consensus report, no mean feat, and all parties involved agreed with the findings and the recommendations arising from those findings. The questions the Committee tried to answer were whether it is helpful or effective to criminalise people who may be suffering from a drug disorder and in need of treatment, and whether it is appropriate to criminalise people for non-problem drug use that does not harm others. The evidence showed that illicit drug use should be treated as a health not a criminal issue, not a surprise for Greens voters, but satisfying that the evidence clearly demonstrated this and that the Committee showed the integrity to follow the evidence. The report also contains numerous other provisions around harm reduction as well as early intervention and prevention. As a Committee we made 46 recommendations and I believe that you will find them all eminently sensible. The report can be found on the Committee’s website, or through a link from the Alcohol and Other Drugs portfolio on my website.
The debate on the Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) legislation dominated the latter part of the Parliamentary year. I believe that the careful consideration of the upper house and the subsequent amendments has substantially improved this piece of legislation and I truly hope that it works as we intend it to. This legislation has been decades in the making, with the Greens first introducing a VAD Bill back in 2002 and again in 2010. These last several months of VAD debate have been both a rewarding and challenging process. I do not take legislation that is a matter of life and death lightly and wanted to ensure we were doing everything we possibly could to protect the rights of people with disability, older Australians, people with mental illness and Aboriginal Australians. I listened to all sides of the debate and considered every single amendment with the utmost thought and care, in the hopes of crafting safe, transparent legislation that would give patients the choice to end their suffering when their lives are coming to an end. The VAD Bill passed the Upper House 24 votes to 11. I’d like to express my gratitude to every person who contacted me to share their thoughts on this extremely important legislation. A special thanks to my dear friend, Margo Beilby, a longtime VAD campaigner and community activist who has helped make Voluntary Assisted Dying a reality in Western Australia.
This year highlighting issues around transparency and integrity in government has been core business. We are yet to see any of the promised donations reform from the ALP Government but what my office has uncovered is a direct correlation of donations from our largest polluters to the major parties. Likewise the secretive Leaders Forum continues unabated with those wealthy enough to pay for direct access to Ministers ensuring that the ALP coffers continue to be topped up. The sooner such practices are outlawed the better and my Bill to outlaw Ministerial access for cash would do just that.
My role on the Committee oversighting the CCC has been particularly time consuming. My Committee has commenced an Inquiry into whether the CCC is appropriately investigating serious concerns of police corruption, serious misconduct and excessive use of force.
I was astounded to learn recently through questioning in Parliament that police strip-searches during a custody episode have risen over 60% in the past five years ‒ with 35,484 people in WA strip searched last financial year. Alarmingly, strip-searches of people under 18 are up by 37%, and Aboriginal women comprise over half of all women strip searched. We know that this practice is a serious intrusion of a person’s privacy and dignity – without a legal justification they would be considered an assault. They are particularly traumatic for victims of sexual violence, people with mental health issues and children.
Given the potential to cause harm, it is concerning that there is little accountability, transparency or information available to the public about how, when and why police use strip searches. As Greens spokesperson for government integrity I will continue to advocate for the reduction of the use of strip-searches by WA police, and will call on the government to prioritise improving transparency and accountability in this area.
Following very welcome news in November, I am incredibly pleased that greyhounds in WA will now no longer be required to wear muzzles in public. This is just the beginning for these beautiful animals, we continue to campaign for an end to the cruel sport of greyhound racing and I congratulate those community members who campaigned so hard for this small but important reform to Free the Snoot.
In late November I made a statement in Parliament condemning excessive whipping in horse racing and echoing the community’s call to ban whips altogether. The current rules of racing in Australia state that a rider cannot use the whip more than five times before the 100-metre mark, but the whip can be used as often as the jockey likes in the final 100 metres. Horses can also be slapped on the shoulder with a whip as long as the jockey’s hand stays on the reins. Excessive whipping was a serious issue after the 2018 Melbourne Cup, which resulted in a number of jockeys being issued with paltry fines for their disregard of the rules. Horse whipping has already been outlawed in Norway, and California has initiated bans on whipping except when the horse or rider is in danger. The tide is turning on this issue and our community has made it clear that we will not tolerate cruelty to animals.
I spoke in Parliament once again about the health of our Swan River and the sustained pressure faced by its vulnerable population of Bottlenose Dolphins. This year, too many dolphins died from disease and mismanagement. It is beyond belief that the government maintains that there is no link between pollutant levels and dolphin deaths, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Efforts to clean up our rivers are being hampered by gaps in monitoring, planning, and poor land and river use. This is only exacerbated by the impacts of a changing climate. We cannot keep implementing band-aid solutions that simply attempt to treat the symptoms of a deteriorating environment. Our rivers are merely on life support and this fragile ecosystem remains at serious risk unless our river protection strategy adequately addresses the root causes of its deteriorating environment.
In early November the Departments of Education, Justice and Communities came before the Standing Committee on Estimates and Financial Operations for the 2018-19 Annual Report hearings. These hearings provide an important opportunity to ask the Minister and staff about the Department’s work over the past year.
During Department of Education hearings I focused my attention on at-risk students, including asking about actions the Department has taken with regards to addressing attendance, the impact of the violence action plan on these students, and support for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
I asked the Department of Justice about historical homosexual convictions, family violence law reform including proposed non-fatal strangulation laws, the national redress scheme and court diversion programs.
In addition to questions about placements and accommodation arrangements for children in care, I asked the Department of Communities about Earlier Intervention and Family Support Programs, Target 120, and about the outcomes from the Breathing Space male perpetrator programs.
As the Greens portfolio holder for these areas I have many other questions which time would not allow me to ask so these questions have been put on notice.
I was delighted to co-ordinate the annual Pride at Parliament event this year with my co-hosts from across the political spectrum. It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the great strides that have been made towards achieving equality for our LGTBQI+ over the last 30 years – with the note that there are still several areas in which much improvement still needs to be made. And I was pleased to have been asked by the Pride Committee to speak at the official launch of Pride Month and to offer my support and solidarity.
During the recent sitting of Parliament I asked again about the government’s progress in lobbying the Federal Government to grant access to Medicare to people incarcerated in prisons and juvenile detention centres.
It is concerning that 6,092 men, 684 women and 134 young people incarcerated in WA prisons and Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre are still denied access to Medicare funded services, resulting in diminished health and mental health outcomes at great cost to the state. Prisoners and detainees often have complex health needs and the prevalence of mental illness and recurring substance abuse is extremely high. These have been identified as central factors contributing to offending and particularly recidivism.
Granting access to Medicare makes sense for health and mental health outcomes and I will continue to advocate for this – all Australians should have access to Medicare, no matter where in Australia they are.
I spoke once again in Parliament about the Government’s failure to act to reform the state’s broken youth justice system. It has been close to three years since WA Labor’s pre-election commitment to make significant changes and we have seen nothing but extensive backpedalling on any assurances that the Young Offenders Act will be reviewed.
Australia is disappointingly out of step with the rest of the world in how we treat young people in our justice system. The then Department of Corrective Services released a Green Paper in 2016 which highlighted multiple issues in our system including significant over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people; high rates of return to detention within five years; and a high proportion of young people un-sentenced in detention. Other significant issues with the current regime include a lack of clarity around the use of confinement and isolation, and low rates of access to diversion mechanisms.
I continue to advocate for raising the age of criminal responsibility – detaining children who are 10 years old (year 4) in maximum security facilities is destabilising and harmful. Detention should always be a last resort, and we need an increased availability of alternatives to detention for young offenders.
In a very welcome move the McGowan Government has recently released a comprehensive plan to address wage theft. Earlier this month in Parliament I raised my concerns about how rife the issue of wage theft is here in Western Australia. Hardly a week went by this year in which we did not hear about yet another wage theft scandal. It is a systemic and ingrained problem that has been identified across many sectors and businesses, from the Commonwealth Bank and Michael Hill jewellers to Bunnings, Subway and Woolworths. According to research, up to a quarter of WA workers were being underpaid by 23 percent, potentially costing employees $186 million in lost wages each year.
While there is a large role here for the federal government, I am pleased that the WA government is taking action to combat wage theft following the recommendations of the Inquiry into Wage Theft in Western Australia. I am hopeful that plans to amend Industrial Relations laws and increase awareness and knowledge of employment conditions will hold accountable those who deliberately underpay their employees, reforms I have long been advocating for.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme recently released its annual “State of the Disability Sector Report”. While there were some welcome improvements from last year’s report, I was dismayed to learn that financial stability remains fragile in the sector, that 76 per cent of providers received requests for services that they were not able to provide, and the same percentage of providers were worried that they would not be able to provide NDIS services at current prices. We know the market cannot respond to everyone’s needs unless there is some sort of government intervention. We are continuing to see people with more complex needs such as early childhood, behaviour intervention, specialist disability accommodation and CALD/Aboriginal participants falling through the cracks. These are issues I raised in a statement to Parliament in November. It is essential that we continue to closely scrutinise the NDIS rollout and that service gaps are addressed as they arise.
I have been following up on the issue of the TAFE SMS rollout which was so disastrous this time last year. The Government is assuring me that everything is fine but this is not what people who contact my office are saying. If you work at TAFE and are having ongoing issues with the SMS please feel free to contact my office.
Of course these are just some of the highlights of the past couple of months in Parliament. Over the course of the year mental health reform has continued to be a number one priority, along with reform around corrective services, homelessness, family and domestic violence and child protection. Elder abuse is still a key focus. Animal welfare issues are always needing to be addressed. I am still hoping for electoral reform, particularly the removal of Ticket Voting. And after years of advocating for improved worker safety laws and the introduction of Industrial Manslaughter laws I am crossing fingers that 2020 might just be the year that we see workers lives given greater priority over profit.
And so, we approach next year determined to achieve positive change!
I wish you all a Happy Christmas and New Year.
Header photo: With Kerry Hawkins, President of the Board of Directors of the WA Association for Mental Health, at the WA Mental Health Conference in November 2019.