Byron Fay
September 18, 2023

Parliament highlights from September

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Another parliamentary fortnight, another long list of legislative changes, inquiries, reports, debate and, yes, some bad behaviour. 

Here’s our third instalment of ‘what happened in the federal parliament’ (with a particular focus on climate and integrity).

Hope you enjoy 🙂

Housing deal 

The Greens and Labor have reached an agreement over the Housing Australia Future Fund. 

This legislation establishes a $10 billion fund, the returns of which will go towards building 30,000 new social and affordable homes over the next five years, as well as maintenance and upgrades.

The Greens negotiated a further $1 billion in direct investment in housing, and a guarantee that the minimum annual spend on housing would be $500 million annually. This comes on top of $2 billion negotiated earlier for social housing.

Independent MP Helen Haines, with the support of David Pocock in the Senate, tried to ensure one third of this new housing would be provided to regional and remote areas. The major parties voted against their amendments to the legislation, but Dr Haines has introduced her own bill.

The standard we walk past is the standard we accept

After further delays, the crossbench has called on the government to move quickly to establish an Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission. This independent body was a key recommendation of the former sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, and is intended to investigate complaints against politicians and issue sanctions. 

Independent MP Kylea Tink spoke in Parliament about her own frustration at the ‘excessive and unconstructive noise and aggression’ in Question Time. ‘In any other professional environment this sort of behaviour would be completely unacceptable.’

Barnaby Joyce continued to be a climate wrecker

Barnaby Joyce, our former Deputy PM, tried very hard to strip the net zero emissions target from the National’s policy platform at their conference last weekend. 

While Greece and Spain were underwater, Barnaby said the personal and economic cost of acting was too high. Joining him were Matt Canavan, Colin Boyce and Keith Pitt.

His party room rejected his motion, casting further doubt, once again, on Barnaby’s position as a shadow cabinet minister. 

In other climate opinion news, Independent Senator David Pocock helped launch the Climate of the Nation survey in Parliament House. This annual survey by the Australia Institute found 70% of people wanted coal-fired power plants to be phased out.

Enquiry into Middle Arm Gas project

Last month, the largest ever delegation of health practitioners converged on Parliament House to protest against government support for fossil fuel expansion in the Northern Territory. They were joined by many of the Independent crossbench, who have continued to raise alarm about the health and climate impacts of gas development.

After two previous attempts to initiate an enquiry to investigate this controversial project – both voted down by the government and opposition, the Greens and crossbench have now secured a win. A Senate inquiry will now examine the climate, environmental, health and cultural heritage impacts of this heavily subsidised project.

Independent MP, Dr Monique Ryan, wrote in a press release: 

“How can a government in good conscience fund Middle Arm to the tune of $1.9 billion when unprecedented fires are raging across the globe, Australia just experienced its hottest winter ever, and scientists are warning deadly heatwaves and bushfires will soon become the norm?”

Top secret climate report 

In the previous Parliamentary sitting week, the crossbench insisted the government release a declassified version of a climate risk assessment report by the Office of National Intelligence. Former Defence Force chief Chris Barrie and other former senior personnel visited Parliament this week to urge the government to release this report, and to develop Australia’s first national climate security strategy.

Independent MP Zali Steggall moved a motion in Parliament calling on the government to release the declassified version of this report and outline the responses the government will make to the security threats it outlines. The motion was blocked by the government.

The Referendum on the Voice is less than a month away

Last but not least, we’ve got just under a month to go until the Referendum, and less than two weeks until pre-poll opens. We’re seeing an escalation of the dirty tactics and divisive language of the ‘no’ campaigners and Coalition party. This includes tactics from the Coalition to spam people with text messages and harvesting people’s data through websites purporting to give people information on postal voting

Independent MP for Curtin, Kate Chaney’s proposed Restoring Trust Bill includes measures to make these kinds of tactics illegal.

And two more just quickly

  • Upping the pressure on whistleblower rights: Kylea Tink, Zoe Daniel, David Pocock and many others called on the government to stop the prosecution of tax office whistleblower David Boyle and defence whistleblower David McBride.
  • Flight gouging: Monque Ryan put pressure on the government in Question Time to hold airlines to account for ripping off customers and improve customer protection.

And that’s (almost) all folks! 

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Executive Director

Byron is a climate strategist, former Paris Agreement negotiator and adviser to the Independent Senator Tim Storer. Byron worked for a Biden-aligned Political Action Committee during the 2020 US presidential election, holds a Masters of Public Policy from the University of Oxford, and is a proud descendant of the Dharug nation.