Focussing on housing and homelessness, climate action and the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill, with indications of some traction
By Hon Brad Pettitt, MLC, Member for South Metropolitan
Describing the 41st WA Parliament as unprecedented is already a political cliché but it remains true.
The historic McGowan landside left the Greens with just one seat in a Labor dominated Parliament. Every day in the Parliament I wish I had been joined by my Greens WA colleagues. It is unfair that their voices, values, and experience aren’t being directly heard.
I have, however, greatly appreciated the assistance and mentorship of our former MPs ‒ along with many others in the party ‒ throughout the year. It’s made what could have been a tough year into one that has been largely rewarding.
Despite the lopsided Parliament, we have made the most of our opportunities to influence the Parliament and political discourse in WA.
This might be a Labor Government but it is a conservative and cautious one, tethered to business as usual at a time that calls for leadership and transformative change. As a result, there’s a lot of room on the progressive side of politics for the Greens to push on key issues and this is something we have been making the most of this year.
A key issue coming out of the 2021 election was housing and homelessness. The McGowan Government dropped the ball on the issue in their first term, demolishing over 1,100 more social housing dwellings than they built in the same period. Not surprisingly, the public housing waitlist has continued to blow out. There are now 31,547 people waiting for social housing, a list much longer than McGowan Government inherited in 2017.
Seeing the growing housing crisis, at our first opportunity in Parliament I moved a motion to acknowledge the housing and homelessness crisis Western Australians are currently facing, note that urgent action is needed to reduce the priority housing waitlist, and call on the McGowan Government to utilise WA’s massive budget surplus to immediately invest in low-carbon public housing, spot-purchasing, and innovative housing initiatives like MyHome.
What happened next was fascinating. After months of denying there was a crisis, within the week of our Greens motion the McGowan Government committed $875 million to housing and homelessness. This was a good first step towards matching what the Greens had called for in our motion. The McGowan Government will never admit that our motion and advocacy with the sector led them to a fundamental shift in housing funding in the 2021 WA State Budget, but I have no doubt this pressure mattered.
We have also worked with the opposition on the Estimates Committee that I sit on to set up a parliamentary inquiry into homelessness in WA that will run in 2022.
In addition to our push on housing we also pushed for stronger climate action in the lead up to COP 26 in Glasgow.
Building on former Greens MLC Tim Clifford’s 2020 Climate Act for WA, with a more specific focus on this critical decade and action for 2030, we highlighted WA as the only state with rising emissions and without an emissions reduction or renewable energy target.
This year we also said goodbye to former Greens MLC Chrissy Sharp with a Condolence Motion in the Upper House acknowledging her impressive contribution to the Parliament and beyond.
Finally, the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill was the tough issue that we finished the 2021 Parliamentary sitting year with. The Greens led the opposition to the McGowan Government’s flawed bill, which was rushed through State Parliament despite vehement opposition from Traditional Owners, First Nations elders and knowledge holders, heritage experts, human rights lawyers, archaeologists and more. While we couldn’t stop the bill from passing due to Labor’s total majority, the partnership between Senator Dorinda Cox’s team, my team, and Traditional Owners and experts around the state was a great example of collaboration of that we should all be proud of.
We have achieved much this year despite being only one office with reduced staff (McGowan cut crossbench staff too!). A big thanks to Hannah, Piper, Kendal, Jarrod and Meisha for your support throughout 2021. And a big thanks to you: it is only because of all your hard work during the election that we were able to hold on to a seat in the WA Parliament.
The wins on native forests, Exmouth Gulf, and the Beeliar Wetlands this year show that sustained community pressure can and DOES make a difference. Changes to the WA Electoral Act that were passed just weeks ago mean that I won’t be alone in the next Parliament, with three to five WA Greens the most likely outcome in our next State Election.
As we head into the new year, the main focus for all of us must be re-electing Dorinda Cox to the Senate in the 2022 Federal Election.
2022 will also be about maintaining the pressure on the McGowan Government to take science-based climate action in this decade, adequately invest in housing measures to end homelessness in WA, and a heap of other issues impacting our communities that only the Greens are speaking out on.
I look forward to working with you all to achieve more wins in 2022 and thank you again for your support in the wild year that was 2021.
Header photo: With some of WA's top climate experts who helped craft our Greens 2030 Climate Action Bill