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Latest news archive: 2016

Senate sits late to pass union bill

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

The Senate sat into the early hours of the morning to pass the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014. The bill, which was rejected twice by the Senate in the last Parliament, was one of the triggers for the double-dissolution election in July.

The bill creates the Registered Organisations Commission to oversee registered unions and investigate how unions operate. In addition to introducing tougher reporting requirements for unions, particularly in regard to how unions spend members' fees, the bill includes harsher penalties for union officials who break the law.

The Minister for Employment, Senator the Hon Michaela Cash, said the bill was 'not about union busting. What it is about, though, is increasing transparency and accountability and stopping those unscrupulous individuals who would use members' hard-earned funds for their own self-interest.'

The bill passed the Senate by 33-30 votes at 2.13am on 22 November after the government agreed to amend it to include stronger protections for whistleblowers. Senator Cash thanked South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon and Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch for proposing these protections.

The House of Representatives, which passed the bill in the last sitting period, agreed to the amendments. The bill received Royal Assent from the Governor-General on 24 November.

Building and Construction Commission bill passed

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

The Parliament passed a bill to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) to monitor workplace relations in the building and construction industry. The Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 was also one of the triggers for the double-dissolution election in July. The bill was twice passed by the House and twice rejected by the Senate in the 44th Parliament.

Reintroducing the bill in the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, said for many years the building and construction industry 'has provided the worst examples of illegal industrial behaviour, unnecessary disruption and unrest.' The bill 'will ensure our construction industry is safe, productive and free of intimidation and harassment,' he said.

The Minister for Employment, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, said the bill 'will restore a tough cop on the beat with a proven track record in enforcing the law and ensuring unlawful action is properly investigated, dealt with and penalized.'

The bill introduces stronger penalties for unlawful industrial action (such as unlawful strikes) and aims to improve the workplace bargaining process.

It passed the Senate with the support of the One Nation senators, the Nick Xenophon team, New South Wales Senator David Leyonhjelm and Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch after the government agreed to a number of amendments, or changes. These included changes to the Commonwealth Procurement Rules, a requirement that building work be offered to Australians first, greater security of payments for subcontractors and a judicial review of the law within a year. The House of Representatives agreed to the amendments.

Bill to protect Christmas

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

Mr Adam Bandt MP introduced a private member's bill to guarantee people working on Christmas Day or New Year's Day are paid holiday penalty rates. Under the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Christmas) Bill 2016, the holiday penalty rates will apply even if a state or territory hasn't declared 25 December and 1 January as public holidays.

Senators cross the floor

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

Two senators from The Nationals – Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie and New South Wales Senator John Williams – crossed the floor to support overturning a ban on importing the Adler lever-action shotgun into Australia. The motion, which was proposed by New South Wales Senator David Leyonhjelm, was defeated by 45 to 7 votes.

In Australia, if a member of parliament 'crosses the floor' it means they are voting against the position of their party. Members of parliamentary parties rarely cross the floor, because parties expect loyalty from their team members.

Protecting children from online pornography

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

A Senate committee has recommended the government conduct research into the exposure of Australian children and young people to online pornography. This was among a number of recommendations made by the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee after an inquiry into 'Harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the internet'.

Following this research, the government should appoint an expert panel to make recommendations to address this issue, the committee said. It noted pornographic websites, including ones with extreme content, are widespread and this was concerning given children and young people are spending more and more time online.

The committee said governments have a role in ensuring children are not exposed to material they are not capable of dealing with and have the skills to build healthy and respectful relationships. It also recommended parents, guardians and teachers are given more information about how to keep children safe online.

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White Ribbon Day

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

Leading up to White Ribbon Day, Ms Emma Husar MP spoke candidly in Parliament about her experience growing up with domestic violence. In an emotional speech, Ms Husar said 'the first 13 years of my life were marred by physical domestic violence committed towards my mother at the hands of my always-drunk-when-abusive father.'

'Whilst the blows that landed on my mother during my childhood did not land on me physically, they might as well have. The trauma inflicted was the same,' Ms Husar said.

'For many years I was embarrassed and I was ashamed. I know that I should not have been but I was. I hope that today I have lent my voice, my story and my passion for advocating for change to the choir of the white ribbon movement to stand up, to speak out and to act,' Ms Husar concluded.

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Say No More to domestic violence

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

Members of parliament, including the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcom Turnbull MP and the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, linked arms on the forecourt of Parliament House to unite against the high rates of domestic violence experienced by Indigenous women. It was part of the NO MORE Campaign led by the Indigenous broadcaster, Mr Charlie King.

Speaking in the House of Representatives, Mr Turnbull said, 'linking arms was a powerful sign to the women who have been affected by this violence and a powerful sign to the men who are taking a stand against it, and the sign was that this parliament, your parliament, is with you; we are standing with you.'

'This morning, members of this House and the Senate were prepared to put aside our differences on politics and policy to create a moment of unity, a wall of humanity that showed the victims of domestic and family violence that we have heard their cries for help and we say with Charlie and thousands of others: No more!' he added.

Mr Turnbull said all men needed to take action and say 'no more' to domestic violence, and called on the House of Representatives to acknowledge violence against women as a national issue that required a whole-of-community response.

Tax changes for working holiday makers

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

Working holiday makers in Australia will pay tax of 15 per cent on income of up to $37 000 a year, and ordinary taxes on income above this amount, under a bill passed by the Parliament. The backpackers tax, as it was referred to, was the subject of much negotiation – including proposals for a tax rate of 19, 15 and 10.5 per cent – in the Parliament before it was finally agreed to.

The Income Tax Rates Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016 (No. 2) has a lower tax rate than the 19 per cent initially proposed by the government in a similar bill passed by the House of Representatives in the last sitting period. However, the House did not agree to amendments, or changes, to the bill requested by the Senate.

Instead, a new bill – with a 15 per cent rate – was passed by the House and sent to the Senate on 30 November. The Senate agreed to the bill but with opposition requests setting the rate at the level originally proposed by Senator Lambie. The House again rejected the changes and the Senate decided not to press for the amendments and agreed to the bill.

In two separate bills, the Senate and House also agreed to a 65 per cent tax on the superannuation payments of working holiday makers and a $5 increase in the international departure tax to $60.

Initially, the government had set the superannuation tax at 95 per cent; however the Treasurer, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, said 'As a result of the negotiations with Senate crossbenchers and the Greens around the passage of the legislation to implement a 15 per cent tax rate on the income of working holiday-makers, the government has agreed to lower the rate of the departing Australia superannuation payments tax for working holiday-makers from 95 per cent to 65 per cent.'

The bills received Royal Assent from the Governor-General on 2 December.

Incentives for young jobless

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

Young unemployed people will be given more support to make them job-ready under a bill passed by the House of Representatives. The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Youth Jobs Path: Prepare, Trial, Hire) Bill 2016 means young job seekers undertaking internships and who receive a fortnightly incentive payment will not lose any of their social security entitlements.

The internships are part of the Youth Jobs PaTH Program, a measure announced in this year's Budget. The program makes young people job-ready and provides incentives for employers to hire them.

Speaking in the House, the Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation, the Hon Angus Taylor MP, said 'Early intervention can mean the difference between a young person taking their first steps into a productive working life or entering a cycle of long-term welfare dependency.'

Following an inquiry into the bill, the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee recommended it be passed. However, opposition and Australian Greens members on the committee released dissenting reports expressing concern young people could be exploited under the program and recommended the bill not be passed in its current form.

The bill is now being considered by the Senate.

Changes to vocational education pass

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

A package of bills aimed at overhauling the delivery of vocational education training passed the Parliament.

Under the bills, vocational education and training providers will now have to meet tougher criteria. Student loans will only be available for approved vocational and training courses based on industry needs and employment outcomes. As well, the government can set loan caps to help protect students from rising course costs, and place a limit on the maximum loan amount for a specific course.

Increased security for Parliament House

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

Fences will be constructed around Parliament House under increased security arrangements agreed to by the Senate and House of Representatives.

The President of the Senate, Senator the Hon Stephen Parry, said 'this is not about protecting parliamentarians. This is about protecting the 3,500 building occupants who are here on an average day. It is about protecting the one million visitors that come through this place every year, of whom 100,000 are schoolchildren.'

The President assured the Senate the changes will not restrict public entry into the building or stop people from walking over Parliament House.

PM calls for engagement with South-East Asia to counter terrorism

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

Engagement with South-East Asia is critical in the fight against terrorism, the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcom Turnbull MP, said in a statement to the Parliament on national security. 'The rising influence in our region of terrorist organisations, such as ISIL or Daesh, demands the attention and the action of Australia and its neighbours,' Mr Turnbull said.

The Prime Minster also spoke of Australia's commitment to the United States-led coalition in the Middle East. 'In this fight, as with virtually every other significant security challenge facing our country, our alliance with the United States is the foundation of our national security architecture,' he said.

Mr Turnbull said the government has taken steps to address the threat of terrorism at home, including increased funding for counterterrorism measures and the introduction of the Criminal Code Amendment (High Risk Terrorist Offenders) Bill 2016.

The Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, also made a statement in the House of Representatives outlining the opposition's position on national security. He acknowledged the efforts of the Australian Defence Force, and noted the importance of cybersecurity in protecting Australia from digital attacks.

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New anti-terrorism laws

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

The Parliament has passed a bill to allow for the continuing detention of high risk terrorist offenders serving prison terms who, if released, are considered to pose an unacceptable risk to the community. The Minister for Justice, the Hon Michael Keenan MP, said the Criminal Code Amendment (High Risk Terrorist Offenders) Bill 2016 'forms part of the government's comprehensive reform agenda to ensure Australia's counterterrorism framework is effective in keeping the Australian community safe.'

Under the bill, only the federal Attorney-General can apply for a continuing detention order to the Supreme Court of the state or territory in which the person is currently imprisoned. The offender can appeal the continuing detention order and the order must be reviewed every 12 months. Continuing detention orders can only be applied to offenders aged at least 18 years at the time their original sentence expires.

The House also agreed to the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2016 which changes the current control order system to allow an order to be issued on a young person from 14 years of age. A control order would only be issued on such a young person to protect the public, prevent a terrorist act or prevent the young person supporting foreign hostile activity. The bill also introduces a new offence of advocating, or promoting, genocide. It was passed by the Senate in the previous sitting period.

 

Census review

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

The eCensus website should have been capable of withstanding the 'relatively minor' cyber-attack which shut it down for over 40 hours. This was one of the findings made by the Senate Standing Committee on Economics following an inquiry into the management of the 2016 census, the first one in Australia to be conducted largely online.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) contracted IBM to develop, deliver, implement and host the online census system. However, in its report '2016 Census: issues of trust', the committee said 'there appears to have been significant and obvious oversights in the preparation of the eCensus.' It recommended in future the ABS conduct an open tendering, or bidding, process when selecting a private sector partner to set up the online system.

The committee said the decision of the ABS to keep the names and addresses of census respondents for up to four years 'is a significant change that warranted significantly more public consultation and external scrutiny than it received.' In the past once data was processed, names and addresses were destroyed within 12 to 18 months. The ABS said retention of names and addresses would increase the use of collected data.

The committee made a number of other recommendations.

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Superannuation bills pass Senate

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

Two bills to reform Australia's superannuation system were passed by the Senate. The Treasury Laws Amendment (Fair and Sustainable Superannuation) Bill 2016 and Superannuation (Excess Transfer Balance Tax) Imposition Bill 2016 aim to make the superannuation system fairer and more sustainable.

The bills will limit tax concessions on superannuation contributions, particularly for high income earners, and introduce measures to ensure low income earners do not pay more tax on superannuation contributions than they do on their take-home pay.

The bills passed the Senate with the support of the opposition. They recieved Royal Assent from the Governor-General on 29 November.

First woman appointed Chief Justice of the High Court

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

The Hon Justice Susan Kiefel AC has been appointed the next Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the first woman to hold this position. Making the announcement, the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, described Justice Kiefel as 'one of Australia's most outstanding judicial officers.'

In a statement, Justice Kiefel said 'It will be a privilege to walk in the footsteps of the eminent jurists who have been appointed Chief Justices since the court was established in 1903.'

'The High Court remains as relevant today to Australians as it did at federation. The issues that come before the High Court affect many aspects of the life of the nation,' she said.

Justice Kiefel was appointed to the High Court in 2007.  Before this, she was a judge of the Federal Court of Australia and the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island. Justice Kiefel served as a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland before joining the Federal Court. She was admitted to the Queensland Bar in 1975 and was the first woman in Queensland to be appointed Queen's Counsel, in 1987. She is one of three women on the seven-member High Court.

The current Chief Justice of the High Court, the Hon Robert French AC, will resign on 29 January next year, a few weeks ahead of his 70th birthday. The Australian Constitution requires all High Court judges retire by 70 years of age. Justice Kiefel will then be sworn-in as Chief Justice.

Suffrage banner on loan

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

The Women's Suffrage Banner, which is part of the Parliament House art collection, has been loaned to the New South Wales Parliament for an exhibition called 'A Fit Place for Women: The NSW Parliament.'

The banner was painted by Melbourne artist Dora Meeson and carried by Australian women in a street rally in London on 17 June 1911 calling on the UK Parliament to give women the vote. Margaret Fisher (the wife of Prime Minister Andrew Fisher), Emily McGowen (the wife of the Premier of New South Wales) and activist Vida Goldstein were among the Australians who marched.

Even though Australian women were given the vote in 1902, they continued to campaign with women from other nations, including Britain, for universal suffrage. The Suffrage Banner shows two female figures representing 'mother Britain' and 'daughter Australia' and includes the words 'Trust the Women Mother, As I Have Done.' The message was Australia had successfully given women the vote, so Britain should trust women with the vote too.

In 1988 the banner was presented as a bicentennial gift to the women of Australia, and put on display in Parliament House. In 2003, the image from the banner was used on a commemorative one dollar coin to celebrate a century of women's suffrage in Australia.

Call to ban factory freezer trawlers

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

A Senate committee has called on the government to ban all factory freezer mid-water trawlers from operating in most of Australia's coastal waters.

The Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communication made the recommendation following an inquiry into the environmental, social and economic impacts of large-capacity fishing vessels known as supertrawlers operating in the Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF). The SPF covers a large proportion of Australia's coastline, extending south from the Queensland/New South Wales border to just north of Perth.

Government senators on the committee released a dissenting report.

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Bill to tighten rules for political donations

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

Political donations and gifts identified as foreign property would be banned under a private senator's bill. The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Donation Reform and Transparency) Bill 2016 also requires the identity of donors making political donations above $1000 be disclosed. At present the disclosure threshold is $10 000.

Introducing the bill, Senator the Hon Don Farrell said it 'seeks to ensure the source of all political donations which could affect political decision-making are clearly identified, the public in turn can scrutinise the receipt of such donations and any possible effect on decision-making.'

In October, Mr Andrew Wilkie MP introduced a similar private member's bill in the House of Representatives to ban foreign political donations.

Valedictories for the Clerk of the Senate

Sitting period 21 November to 1 December

Before the Senate rose on the final sitting day for the year, it paid tribute to the Clerk of the Senate, Dr Rosemary Laing, who will retire in March after 26 years working for the Senate, including seven as the Clerk.

The President of the Senate, Senator the Hon Stephen Parry, said Dr Laing, who is the 13th Clerk of the Senate in the 115 years since federation, always put the Senate first. 'If nothing else, if a clerk cannot defend the very institution that is so important to us and so important to our democracy, then the Clerk would be failing in his or her duties. In this case, Dr Laing has never failed the Senate, and I sincerely thank her for that,' he said.

Describing Dr Laing as 'a good shepherd of this chamber,' the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator the Hon George Brandis, said she had made 'enormous contributions not only to the role as the principal adviser to presiding officers, but also to the scholarship of Senate practice.'  Dr Laing edited the 13th edition of Odgers' Senate Practice and the Annotated Standing Orders of the Australian Senate.

The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator the Hon Penny Wong, said, 'Dr Laing has never faltered in her advocacy of the role and powers of the Senate in our bicameral parliament, nor in her defence of the independence of this chamber as a house of review. Without the dedication of people such as Dr Laing, our parliament would not properly function and government could not be held to account.'

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