Defending the rights of the disabled, initiatives in the spheres of youth, health and mental health and confronting AUKUS – and what we will do in 2022
By Senator Jordon Steele-John
2021 … well, where do I even begin? This year turned out a little different to what we hoped it would be, especially after the curveball that was 2020. From closed borders to new variants and everything in between, it’s been one wild ride indeed.
Despite the challenges, we’ve managed to achieve so many amazing feats as a movement. I’m also so proud of my team and everything we have achieved in the past twelve months – here’s my best at a top-line recap of 2021:
Together with massive pressure and persistence from the disability community, this year we were able to force the government to abandon their disastrous plan for independent assessments. This legislation would have seen NDIS participants assessed by a government-contracted health professional unknown to them to determine their level of funding. The community told us in no uncertain terms that this plan was dehumanising and would result in inappropriate funding, so I’m really proud that we were able to play a key role in its welcome demise.
After years of raising the alarm that the confidentiality provisions in the Disability Royal Commission are insufficient, in 2021 we managed to lock in an amendment that protects information submitted to the DRC. This is a huge win we again achieved hand-in-hand with the amazing disability community. Folks who bravely come forward to blow the whistle and expose the failings of government departments, corporations or institutions now have much stronger protections, which is really critical to the procurement of accurate disclosures through the DRC.
In the final sitting week of the year we landed another big achievement for the disability community: we held off the Morrison Government’s godawful NDIS CEO powers bill! It forces the Liberals to go back to the drawing board, because they know their plan to allow the CEO of the NDIS to change participants’ plans without their consent is cruel, paternalistic and unwelcome. The government will likely try to table the bill again next year, but we’ll be ready for it. We’ve fought atrocious legislation before – like we did with independent assessments – and we’ll do it again.
The peace space had been fairly quiet this year until – bam! – we were hit with the news of AUKUS in September. Alongside a number of committed anti-nuclear campaigners and organisations, we mobilised quickly to mount a staunch opposition to this dangerous plan and it’s been all systems go ever since. I attended and spoke at a number of rallies, including the national anti-AUKUS weekend of action earlier this month, and held a Greens community forum on denuclearisation with the fabulous and formidable Jo Vallentine. It’s been really wonderful to plug back into the very space the Greens WA were founded on, albeit under quite terrifying circumstances.
This year we also tabled our war powers bill in a bid to ensure the Parliament makes the collective decision on whether to send Australia to war – not the prime minister’s captain’s call it currently is. It’s a total no-brainer and something we’ve been working to enact for years. Unfortunately the bill didn’t pass, but mark my words: this is not the last you’ll hear of it.
Our office also played an important role in securing the Royal Commission into Veteran and Serving Defence Personnel Suicides, which was a huge win for those calling for greater government support to address the veteran mental health crisis, and also a relief for families touched by suicide. I look forward to hearing the recommendations to come from this royal commission, which was well overdue.
Health and mental health
After dear Rachel Siewert’s retirement from the Senate in August, I was extremely proud to take up the mantle of the health portfolio. My team hit the ground running with our first policy initiative launched just a few weeks after we assumed the portfolio, and I’ve been busy ever since meeting with members of the community and organisations to find out what’s important to them.
We’ve already launched a number of bold policies – from free and unlimited mental healthcare and dental under Medicare, to legalising cannabis and revolutionising our approach to drugs – and I’m really pleased with the response we’ve received so far.
Another year of Covid meant another year of young people being deliberately left behind by the Morrison Government: an almost complete lack of a public safety net for laid-off casual workers; an increasingly inaccessible housing and rental market; sweeping university sector cuts; and the spiralling climate crisis that will disproportionately impact young people.
In the middle of the year my office ran a youth survey, with over 2,400 young people around the country responding to share their experiences of the pandemic. It painted a picture deeply reflective of the government’s almost total lack of compassion for anyone who doesn’t own several investment properties or run a multi-billion dollar corporation, and it shows we have a lot of work to do in creating a future that works for young people.
The end of 2021 also sees the fabulous Andrea, my policy and parliamentary advisor, moving on to amazing new things. Andrea has been with me since 2018 and she’s been an absolute star from the very beginning. We’re going to miss her so much but we wish her well.
I’d also like to give a big shout-out to my incredible volunteers this year: Jesse, Nathan, Sophie, Sarah, Brian, Sharon, Tracey and Isabella. Our team is so much richer for having you in it, and there’s no way we could achieve what we do as an office without your contribution. And of course my wonderful staff team! It’s a pleasure and a privilege to work alongside you all :)
An exciting year ahead
2022 is shaping up to be one of the biggest years of my time in Parliament! With WA’s borders opening back up early in the year, I’m looking forward to returning to Canberra after attending Parliament remotely.
When I do, it’s going to be straight back into pushing for the things that really matter. The NDIS remains under serious assault from the government, who we know are going to try to table the CEO powers bill again in 2022 – and who knows what else. There’s still so much we need to do to make sure all disabled people are able to access the support they need and deserve as human beings. Sometimes it feels like a neverending uphill battle, but I know we’re making some really important changes that are making a real difference in people’s lives.
AUKUS is going to consume a lot of bandwidth in my office in 2022; it unfortunately won’t be going anywhere without sustained pressure from the Greens. I’m really looking forward to ramping up our campaign for peace and denuclearisation, and I hope that in the near future I can report back that AUKUS is no morekus.
I’m also really excited for what we have planned in the health and mental health spaces. The Greens have a truly ambitious vision for what our healthcare system could be in this country – to take care of all people, which should be the bare minimum when you really think about it. And the most exciting thing is that it’s entirely possible!
After what feels like an excruciating eternity of the Morrison government at the helm, we’re finally facing a federal election in the first half of 2022. I’m not up for re-election, so our focus is to help make sure Dorinda Cox is returned to the Senate – and that the Greens gain the balance of power. I can’t wait to get on the campaign trail in 2022 and talk to voters about our vision for the future!
Before that happens though, I’d like to wish everyone a safe, happy and relaxing break for the festive season. Take care and see you in the new year!
Header photo: Jordon speaking at an anti-AUKUS rally in Perth, 10th December, with Jo Vallentine (to his left). Chris Johansen