2016 in Brief
Once again it’s that time of the year, and boy what a year it has been! Firstly a big thank you for all your support, without the people behind us who are prepared to take action and change the world our cause would be impossible. You are making a difference and it has been a privilege to be with you on this journey as one of your elected representatives.
While it has been a hard year in many respects, full of surprises, we have all achieved a great deal. In the 45th Parliament, the Greens continue to be the nation’s strongest voice for the health of the planet and for a fairer and more sustainable Australia. Our role in the Senate is not simply to soften the edges of the Liberal Government’s worst excesses. Our role is to put forward clear alternatives that will make a difference, shape our future and convince Australians to join us on this important journey. While our work is seldom done, we are 100% committed to this cause.
These are some brief highlights from my office’s very busy year in the Federal Senate.
Historic double dissolution election 2016
The double dissolution election in July was an ill-conceived and risky move by Malcolm Turnbull which predictably backfired on his Government and leadership. This was the first double dissolution election since the Australian Greens were formed, and was also the first federal election ever without either Bob Brown or Christine Milne as Tasmanian senators and party leaders. It was also historic on a number of other counts, being the first federal election conducted after democratic Senate voting reforms, which the Greens had been fighting for since 2004. Our leadership driving this reform reflects the Greens pillar of democracy, giving more power to voters and taking it away from back room preference deals. The campaign period was also officially declared as the longest in Australian political history. There was also a record below the line vote in Tasmania. Whilst this was largely a protest vote against big party preselection tactics it ironically ended up going back to Labor and Liberal in below the line votes and ultimately disadvantaged the Greens.
Here in Tasmania, and all across the country, Greens members and supporters pulled out all stops to campaign and all but one of our sitting members was re-elected. Although it was a close call in Tasmania and elsewhere, the Greens vote grew 1.5% in Tasmania and 2%nationally. While we can all be proud of this result, we have a big challenge ahead of us in the next few years to grow our vote for upcoming state and federal elections.
My office initiated 4 important Senate inquiries, moved 10 motions and asked 19 questions without notice. I also participated in 102 debates as well as dozens of inquiries. In between parliament sitting for 44 days, and attending 10 days of Senate Estimates I attended 35 party events, three Greens conferences, 61 community events and rallies and had 113 meetings with stakeholders and constituents.
After the election, we reshuffled our portfolios. I retained the Healthy Oceans portfolio which is a key passion of mine, and picked up the important and busy Treasury portfolio. I passed on the baton and years of hard work campaigning against the TPP as part of the Trade portfolio. My other portfolios of Finance, Defence and Veteran Affairs have been reallocated other party room Senators.
In 2016 the Greens drove the world’s first parliamentary inquiry on the scourge of marine plastics. As a result, Senators from Labor, Liberal and the Greens historically stood together calling for urgent and immediate action on marine plastic pollution. The inquiry produced a report titled Toxic tide: the threat of marine plastic, a key document which builds significant momentum towards national container deposit legislation (CDL) and a ban on single-use plastic bags. The report also recommended a Marine Plastics Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) be established in Hobart and resolved that microbeads, the tiny plastics used in cosmetics and laundry products, should be banned.
Our inquiry into the threat of marine plastic pollution is an another example of how the Greens can deliver outcomes through the Senate. I recently initiated two new important Senate inquiries for 2017 into the impacts of warming oceans on fisheries and marine ecosystems, and into the impact of shark nets on the marine environment. These are both topics of significant national interest.
Another great outcome for the oceans this year was the departure of the super trawler Geelong Star. From what little we know, it was the pressure brought to bear on the operators by stakeholders, including the role the Greens played in getting tough regulations put in place following atrocious dolphin and seal deaths, that was a major component of the ship’s stated departure on “commercial grounds.” We also kept up the pressure on the Liberals to keep their once-broken election commitment to send a customs vessel to the Southern Ocean to monitor illegal whaling activity. In the dying hours of the last day of the Parliamentary year the Australian Senate passed my motion condemning Japan for breaching international and Australian law by continuing to slaughter whales in the Southern Ocean.
I am also proud of the leadership role played by the Greens in fighting the Liberal Government’s attack on CSIRO’s climate science functions and the jobs of hundreds of scientists, many of them an important part of our Tasmanian community. In my capacity as Chair of the Senate Select Committee into the Scrutiny of Government Budget Measures, I initiated an inquiry into these cuts which held three public hearings, including one in Hobart. The final report made clear recommendations to halt the cutting of climate science programs. With coordinated pressure and campaigning from the Greens, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and other organisations we managed to reduce job losses from 275 to 40 and reverse the decision to shut down the Macquarie Island Research Station. CSIRO is still in crisis after being gutted by both major parties but we’ll continue to keep fighting for important public good, oceans and climate science.
Lastly, our hard work and leadership last year in moving a Senate Inquiry to expose splits within the Tasmanian salmon industry, poor regulation and the looming environmental disaster caused by the salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour has paid dividends for the environment, Tasmanian communities, salmon companies and their workers. Whilst my inquiry was dismissed by the state government as just “Greens trouble making,” an expose by 4 Corners and ABC Radio has finally brought the issue out into the open, and led to action. A number of key recommendations put by the Greens in our Senate inquiry dissenting report have now been adopted by the state Government and in recent weeks even the Tasmanian EPA has admitted that significant ongoing issues with salmon farm pollution are real and action is needed. The Greens will continue to pursue the Federal Environment Minister to take action to protect vulnerable listed species in Macquarie Harbour, and will continue to hold the Tasmanian government to account and ensure any future expansion occurs further offshore or onshore. My office will continue to work with the state Greens to campaign with Tasmanian east coast communities opposed to the expansion of salmon farming along the warming waters of the east coast of Tasmania.
Creating a fairer and more sustainable Australia
I was honoured to take over the Greens Treasury portfolio this year. This year the Greens have continued to play an important role in leading the national debate on tackling economic inequality and this government’s obsession with failed “trickle-down economics.” We have tirelessly pushed to reform unfair wealth and tax concessions, such as superannuation rorts, distortive negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions. We have also been the only party to vote against legislation in the Senate that would entrench inequality, such as the Government’s recent “Omnibus Bill grab” to take money from tertiary students, New Start recipients, and single parents, whilst at the same time passing income tax cuts for the most wealthy Australians.
Multi-nationals use every trick in the book to avoid their tax obligations and this year we released the most comprehensive policy platform to tackle multi-national tax avoidance. We also continued our investigation into the endemic financial misconduct in Australia’s financial system with our Senate inquiry into penalties for white-collar crime. And most notably we led the national debate on the need for a banks’ Royal Commission with Labor not only supporting our position but joining the call.
In the last week of the parliament, we were proud to have been the party to negotiate a solution to the impasse on the backpacker tax debacle. Our outcome achieved a better result for the workers, agricultural producers and also the environment with the Greens negotiating an extra $100m in funding for Landcare as part of this deal. Only a few days after this negotiation we found out that the Government was planning to scrap its funding to the Greens Army scheme. Combined with devastating cuts to Landcare in recent years, the Greens were able to deliver a significant outcome in the face of this. Agricultural stakeholders, tourism businesses and Landcare operators across the state and country have come out to thank the Greens for standing up for their interests and for the economy.
A clean energy future is an infrastructure future
I also had the privilege in the last parliament of being able to Chair a Select Committee that examined the role of government in funding and financing public infrastructure. What this committee heard from a vast array of experts and state and local governments was that there is a very large infrastructure backlog in Australia and that governments aren’t acting because of a shallow political obsession that “all debt is bad.” Debt has become a dirty word for this conservative government, despite Australia having some of the lowest levels of government borrowing in the western world. Where Australia does have a debt problem is in the private sector, and particularly loans taken out to fund some of the most over-priced housing in the world.
The Greens have a bold policy to increase federal government financing of infrastructure by $75 billion over ten years, and to raise this money, primarily, by issuing infrastructure bonds through a restructured Infrastructure Australia body. The call for increased borrowings at record low interest rates for productive infrastructure is being echoed by economists and experts the world over as the inevitable limits of monetary policy become obvious. Significant new spending on the right projects could ultimately help Australia’s credit rating, if the projects selected improved productivity and transitioned Australia into the new, post mining boom economy.
The Greens dream of a clean energy future is in many ways an infrastructure future. Investment in wind and solar energy, public transport and a 21st telecommunications network is the infrastructure future. We can’t afford not to do this. Failing to prepare for climate change and globalisation is a much greater burden to leave our children than that of borrowing to invest.
Calls for a national park to be established in the magnificent takayna/Tarkine forests in north-west Tasmania are gaining momentum. However, illegal four-wheel driving is an immediate threat. Some off-road motorists are still ignoring closed tracks and protective fences and entire midden sites and areas of Aboriginal heritage significance have been vandalised. Prime Minister Turnbull and Premier Hodgman are turning a blind eye and we’re calling on them to protect takayna/Tarkine. In 2017 we’ll continue to work with the community and stakeholders to keep up this pressure.
Reflecting on 2016, so much has happened! I've included links to a few personal favourites from the media we have had this year - for those of you who still haven't had enough!
Thank you for all your support this year. Wishing you a safe and relaxing holiday season and I look forward to seeing you in 2017.
Marine plastic pollution senate inquiry targets Australian ocean pollution- 17/02/2016
Inquiry into carbon risk disclosure practices- 3/02/2016
Tasmanian fish farm expansion poses environmental risk, Greens say 03/03/2016
Global spotlight on CSIRO cuts as work culture turns toxic, inquiry hears 08/03/2016
Politics podcast: Peter Whish-Wilson on the need for a royal commission into banks – 07/04/2016
Sniper needed to protect penguins on Stanley beach, senator says- 01/06/2016
Federal election 2016: Banks face divestment threat 02/06/2016
Opinion: Peter Whish-Wilson- Sewerage 25/06/2016
Tasmanian Greens’ vision for Australian Antarctic Division scientist boost 26/06/2016
Tasmanian farmers head to Canberra to convince Government to dump backpacker tax 15/09/2016
Lack of tax cut fanfare we should take personally- 31/09/2016
Women half as likely to benefit from tax cuts as men 09/10/2016
Avocado economics for first-home buyers- 23/10/2016
Tassal referred to Senate over interference allegations 03/11/2016