It is genuinely a privilege to represent you in our national parliament, and I am proud and grateful to have this opportunity. Sometimes you feel your work is never done in this job, but as we head into an election year in 2016 it is worth reflecting, just for a moment, on what our parliament would be like without the heart and hard work of the Greens.
Over the 19 sitting weeks in parliament my office initiated 9 important Senate Inquiries, I made 8 adjournment speeches, put forward Greens policy while speaking on 20 Bills, moved 18 Senate motions (7 of which passed successfully) and asked 21 questions without notice during Question Time. I also participated in another 12 Senate Inquiries to ensure Greens policies were well understood and considered by decision-makers wherever possible. In between sitting weeks this year I attended and spoke at 28 Greens Party events, 50 community events and rallies (including for the Lapoinya and Bruny Island forest campaigns) and had several hundred meetings with stakeholders and constituents.
It’s been a big year this year with some unexpected changes. Christine Milne stepped down as leader of the Australian Greens in May, and was replaced by Victorian Senator Richard di Natale. Christine retired in August and we were joined by Nick McKim. Both Richard and Nick have hit the ground running in their new roles and we’re working effectively together to be your voice in the Senate.
This year my team and I have driven legislative outcomes and campaigned strongly to successfully influence policy and debate across a diverse range of areas important to the Greens. As 2015 draws to a close I want to take stock of some of the progress and in-roads we’ve made in Tasmania and across my portfolio areas. I also want to share some highlights from the year.
Tasmania: We continued to stand up for Tasmania’s future by:
- Continuing in our efforts to see the wild and beautiful takayna / Tarkine protected, including gathering video and photo evidence of motorists who continue to take down protective fences and ride roughshod over Aboriginal middens. We visited the 100,000-hectare Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area and documented what looked like deliberate vandalism of areas of cultural significance that had been fenced off. You can view the footage here and see the photos here. We will continue to work to ensure takayna / Tarkine is protected for future generations. It's not a matter of if, but when.
- Starting a conversation on new ways to fund nation-building Green infrastructure projects and how to progress developing our 'second cities,' such as Launceston, through our Greens initiated Regional Capitals inquiry.
- Representing Tasmanian interests in agricultural inquiries such as those into grass-fed beef levies and honey, and establishing an inquiry into the Australian wine industry in order to address the key issues it faces and help make the most of existing opportunities.
Fisheries, Marine (TAS) & Whaling: We continued our efforts to protect our oceans and marine life by:
- Holding the Australian Government to their election commitment to send a customs patrol vessel to monitor any Japanese whaling activity in the Southern Ocean, including successfully moving a motion in the Senate which called on the government to send the vessel and take other strong diplomatic and legal action against the Japanese Government. You can join us in this call here.
- Keeping up the pressure on the Government and Labor to stop the super trawler. We led the charge in the Senate to keep in place a night fishing ban on the trawler, to better protect dolphins and seals. Unfortunately the Senate failed to support my efforts – we lost by just one vote. Without night fishing, the trawler’s operations would have likely been uneconomic.
- Working to introduce a seafood labelling bill which would require mandatory fish naming standards, and environmentally important provenance labelling. Sadly the Labor, National and Liberal Parties teamed up in the Senate to vote down the Bill co-sponsored by the Greens and cross-benchers.
- Pushing for stricter regulation and more scrutiny for the fast growing Tasmanian Salmon Industry by initiating an inquiry into the regulation of the fin-fish aquaculture industry.
- Tackling the marine plastic pollution choking our oceans through initiating the nation’s first ever parliamentary inquiry into the scourge of marine plastics (due to report in 2016). This means a nationwide container deposit scheme and a ban on plastic 'micro beads' and plastic bags will be considered by the Senate.
- A major win for us in trade legislation was securing an Australian-first register of foreign-owned water entitlements. This is an initiative that Christine Milne championed for years. In a climate constrained world with emerging food security concerns, agricultural output is about water just as much as it is about land and what we achieved was a significant win for transparency and oversight in how Australia manages our land and water.
- We continued to be the leading voice of opposition in the country to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA)and similar deregulation deals that are negotiated in secret, empower corporations to sue governments, and that threaten Australia's labour, health and environmental laws. The Greens were the only party to stand up for Australian workers and vote against ChAFTA. You can find a comprehensive list of our many parliamentary and campaign actions to stop the TPP and ChAFTA here, and one of my opinion pieces published in the Guardian on the issues here.
- Now that we've seen and started to analyse the 6000 pages of TPP text and side letters, we can confirm that the dangerous Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions are in the TPP and they will allow foreign investors to sue our government if their profits are affected by any Australian law or policy. The last chance for us to stop the TPP is to block this deal when the enabling legislation comes before the Senate early next year. We’ll be ramping up the campaign in the New Year so please join us in taking action.
Consumer Affairs, Small Business & Finance:
- When Richard became leader, I was given the Finance portfolio, and when Nick joined us in August we passed the baton to him to carry the Small Business and Competition Policy portfolio. We have worked hard to deliver outcomes for small business in Australia, target multinational tax avoidance, deliver solutions for tax justice, make the economy more fair and equitable, and meet the challenges of the future by:
- Successfully negotiating with the Government to deliver a tax cut and other economic benefits, including passing laws that increase the threshold for unfair contract terms for small business.
- Successfully negotiating with the Government to introduce tax transparency requirements for large private companies and strengthening multinational tax avoidance measures.
- - Participating in the debate on national tax reform including this speech I gave to The Press Club. The Greens have led the debate on reforming housing and superannuation tax concession. The need for reform in both these areas has become accepted in the mainstream.
- Using the parliament to scrutinise the financial services industry, focussing on cases of fraud, insider trading and market manipulation crime by securing a Senate Inquiry into penalties for white-collar crime, and helping victims of poor financial advice.
- Successfully establishing an Inquiry into Australia's procurement of $24 billion worth of the beleaguered F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Despite intense lobbying by the world's biggest arms manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, the Greens secured unanimous cross bench support for the inquiry which is a victory against special interests on behalf of democracy and the Australian people.
Defence & Veterans’ Affairs: We have worked to stand up for veterans by:
- Establishing a Senate Inquiry into Mental Health of Australian Defence Force serving personnel to take evidence on the prevalence of mental illness, family breakdown, suicide and substance abuse amongst our personnel returning from deployments and other service. This national inquiry looked at the other, often overlooked, costs of war and service (including by politicians), and will make recommendations shortly on how we can better tackle these deep-seated problems.
- Questioning the use of the Australian War Memorial for events hosted by weapons manufacturers such as Northrop Grumman.
This summary doesn’t capture everything that’s happened this year. If you’re interested in following our actions in real time or getting more details, please visit our website and follow our work on Facebook and Twitter. I've also compiled a list of my favourite media articles for the year here, in case you missed them. Please know you're always welcome to drop in to my office in Launceston to chat with me or my staff about the work we're doing.
With your help we will continue to protect and restore the integrity of our precious planet, for all of us and for future generations.