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Latest news archive: 2013

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Inquiry into grandparents raising their grandchildren

Sitting period 2–12 December

The challenges facing grandparents raising their grandchildren is the subject of an inquiry being conducted by the Senate Community Affairs Committee. The committee will also look at the support needs of grandparents who take primary responsibility for their grandchildren when parents are unable or unwilling to do so. The committee is due to report on the issue by 30 September 2014.

Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Sitting period 2–12 December

The House of Representatives paid tribute to former South African president Nelson Mandela, who died on 5 December. Regarded as one of the greatest political leaders of the 20th century, Mr Mandela opposed apartheid (racial segregation) in South Africa and was jailed for 27 years. After his release and the end of apartheid, Mr Mandela was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994 and worked to unify the nation.

Acting Prime Minister, the Hon Warren Truss MP, told the House 'Because of Mandela's greatness, South Africa was reborn in a spirit of reconciliation, not retribution. As president he worked to bind up the nation's wounds, to bring truth and healing through the power of his example. He saw the dismantling of apartheid as an act of mutual liberation, a change that conferred new freedom and dignity to the oppressed and the oppressor alike'.

Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, said 'The man who brought down apartheid without, in the end, a shot being fired now belongs to an echelon reserved for leaders like Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, who first said those words that Mandela repeated on his release: 'Free at last.' The names of these indomitable fighters for the expression and realisation of human dignity will always inspire millions to think, to act and to fight'.

As a mark of respect, members of the House stood and observed a short moment of silence. The Senate also moved a motion of condolence.  On the day of Mr Mandela's memorial service, the flag over Parliament House was flown at half-mast. The Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP and the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, attended the memorial service in South Africa.

Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians

Sitting period 2–12 December

The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples was reappointed on 2 December. The committee, which was set up in the 44th Parliament, will make recommendations to the Parliament on how best to acknowledge Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. It will also advise on the timing of a referendum on the proposal.

Members of the committee include:

Mr Stephen Jones MP
Senator Bridget McKenzie
The Hon Shayne Neumann MP
Senator Nova Peris OAM
The Hon Christian Porter MP
Senator Anne Ruston
Senator Rachel Siewert
Mr Ken Wyatt AM, MP

Joint committees are made up of members from both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

High Court overturns same-sex marriage law

Sitting period 2–12 December

On 12 December, the High Court unanimously overturned the Australian Capital Territory's same-sex marriage law, passed on 22 October. The federal government had challenged the law on the grounds that it was inconsistent with the Australian Constitution and existing federal laws.

Cross-Party Working Group on Marriage Equality

Sitting period 2–12 December

On 11 December, Liberal Senator Sue Boyce, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and ALP Senator Louise Pratt set up a Cross-Party Working Group on Marriage Equality. The three signed a pledge that read 'we the undersigned pledge to work together in this Parliament to realise the goal of Marriage Equality for all Australians'.

The previous day, Senator Pratt made a speech in the Senate acknowledging the same-sex marriages that went ahead in the ACT before the territory's marriage equality laws were overturned. Senator Pratt told the Senate, '...marriage equality in our nation is possible. It is possible if we, as law-makers in this great country, have the moral belief that all people in this land of ours are equal'.

Immediately after the High Court decision, Senator Hanson-Young introduced a private senator's bill to allow same-sex marriage, 'to create the opportunity for marriage equality for people regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity'.

New senator sworn-in

Sitting period 2–12 December

Deborah O'Neill was sworn-in as a senator on 2 December to fill a casual vacancy created by the resignation of New South Wales Senator Bob Carr. Senator O'Neill's casual vacancy term will expire on 30 June 2014, at which time she will have to again be approved by the NSW Parliament to serve another term. Senator O'Neill was the Member for Roberston in NSW in the 43rd Parliament. She made her first speech in the Senate on 4 December, saying ‘I have to say how humbled I am to take my seat in this chamber, the Senate of the Australian parliament. Even as I say that, I have to pinch myself to be quite sure that it is real. How can it be that the daughter of Irish immigrants, Jim and Mary O'Neill, who possessed little formal education and less money but had a pocketful of dreams, big hearts and workers' hands can end up in this place?

First Speeches

Sitting period 2–12 December

Eighteen new members made their first speech in the House of Representatives.

Senator Sam Dastyari and Senator Mehmet Tillem both gave their first speech in the Senate. The two senators were appointed to fill casual vacancies in New South Wales and Victoria respectively.

More information

Clerk of House retires

Sitting period 2–12 December

The Clerk of the House of Representatives, Mr Bernard Wright, has retired after 41 years of service to the Parliament. Mr Wright was only the 15th Clerk of the House, a position he has held since 2009. In a speech to the House, the Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, spoke of  Mr Wright's 'legal skill, his profound understanding of the standing orders, his appreciation of how the standing orders could be changed and improved ...and, above all else, his great love of this institution'.

The Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Bill Shorten MP told the House, 'It is in his work as Clerk that he has found his calling'. Members of the House gave the Clerk a standing ovation. He then passed a note to the Speaker, the Hon Bronwyn Bishop MP, to read out. It said 'Thank you very much for your generous words...It has been an honour to work for the House'. The Deputy Clerk, Mr David Elder, has been appointed the 16th Clerk of the House.

Bill to give farmers right to say no to mining

Sitting period 2–12 December

A private senator's bill which would give farmers the right to say no to gas and coal mining activities on their land was introduced in the Senate. The Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013 was introduced by Greens Senator Larissa Waters. She told the Senate 'When Australia has so little good quality agricultural land, we must protect it from all other inconsistent land uses'.

Parliament agrees to abolish Australia's debt ceiling

Sitting period 2–12 December

A bill which abolishes Australia's debt ceiling has been passed by the Parliament. Under the bill, the Treasurer will have to provide regular updates to Parliament on government debt. The government bill passed the Senate with the support of the Greens.

Inquiry into Australia's overseas aid

Sitting period 2–12 December

The Senate has asked the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to inquire into 'Australia's overseas aid and development assistance program in the light of the Government's $4.5 billion cut to international development assistance'.  The committee is due to report its findings to the Senate on 20 March 2014.

Petition calls for Royal Commission into pesticides

Sitting period 2–12 December

A petition calling for a Royal Commission into the use of pesticides and their impact on people's health and the environment was presented to the Senate on 3 December. The petition, which was signed by 168 people, was tabled by Western Australian Senator Rachel Siewert. In a speech to the Senate two days later, Senator Siewert said, 'We simply do not know enough about many of the pesticides that are being used every day and the impacts that they have on people and our communities...The petition warns that petitioners and the community are concerned that this issue is not being taken up seriously enough by governments, that there is a failure to act in the public interest'.

Immigration bill

Sitting period 2–12 December

The House of Representatives has passed a bill to remove a provision from the Migration Act 1958 that prevents people who are found not to be refugees from being returned to their home country because of a risk they will suffer significant harm. The provision was passed by the previous Parliament. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, told the House that the provision had ‘created a new channel for asylum seekers to gain access to a permanent protection visa outcome even though they were found not to be a refugee and engage a lengthy process’. 

The Migration Amendment (Regaining Control Over Australia’s Protection Obligations) Bill 2013 will now be considered by the Senate. The bill has been referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, which will report to the Senate on 3 March 2014.

Government bill defeated in the Senate

Sitting period 2–12 December

The opposition and the Australian Greens combined in the Senate to defeat the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013. This was the first of several bills designed to repeal (undo) the clean energy laws passed in the previous Parliament. Debate on the remaining bills will continue when Parliament sits next year.

Breakdancers in Parliament protest funding freeze

Sitting period 2–12 December

A group of young people from the Ted Noffs Foundation made an unusual protest at Parliament House, performing a breakdance in the marble foyer. They were protesting against the government’s freeze on funding from the Building Multicultural Communities Program. The program, an initiative of the previous government, is currently under review. The Ted Noffs Foundation received a grant of $85 867 under the program.

New members of the House

Sitting period 12–21 November

Following the election on 7 September, there are 42 new members in the House of Representatives. It is the highest number of new members elected since 2007 and is equal to 28 per cent of the House.

Two former members, the Hon Mal Brough MP, and Mr Jason Wood MP, returned to the House. Mr Brough is representing the electorate of Fisher in Queensland and Mr Wood is the Member for La Trobe in Victoria. Three former senators, who resigned from the Senate before the election to contest seats in the House of Representatives, were also elected. They are the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP, the Member for New England in New South Wales, the Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP, the Member for Kingsford Smith in New South Wales, and the Hon David Feeney MP, the Member for Batman in Victoria.

Two former members of the Western Australian Parliament and one former member of the Tasmanian Parliament were also elected to the House. They are the Hon Alannah MacTiernan MP, the Hon Christian Porter MP and Mr Brett Whitely MP.

New members make a first speech in the House of Representatives. For the three former senators, it was the second 'first speech' they had made in Parliament.

More information

  • To view a member's first speech, go to the member's page on the APH website.

More women in the House

Sitting period 12–21 November

There has been a slight increase in the number of women in the House of Representatives in the 44th Parliament. The number of women has risen by two from 37 to 39. Women now make up 26 per cent of the House.

New senator makes first speech

Sitting period 12–21 November

Northern Territory Senator Nova Peris OAM, the first Indigenous woman elected to federal Parliament, made her first speech in the Senate. Senator Peris' face was painted with white ochre from an ancient site in the Northern Territory which conveyed the blessings of the Territory.

During an at times emotional speech, Senator Peris paid tribute to her mother and grandparents who were members of the Stolen Generations. A former Olympian, Senator Peris said she would, in a 'heartbeat', swap her gold medals 'to see Aboriginal Australians be free, healthy and participating fully in all that our great country has to offer'. She urged all her parliamentary colleagues 'to become champions for the recognition of Australia's first nation people in our Constitution'.

Three other new senators, Senator Sam Dastyari, Senator Mehmet Tillem and Senator Zed Seselja, also made a first speech after being sworn-in to the Senate.

More information

  • To view these speeches, go the senator’s page on the APH website

Kevin Rudd resigns

Sitting period 12–21 November

Former Prime Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, has resigned from Parliament, citing family reasons. In his final speech to the House of Representatives, Mr Rudd reflected 'It is a singular honour to serve in the high office of Prime Minister of Australia'.

Among his government's achievements, he listed the national Apology to the Stolen Generations, its handling of the global economic crisis, signing of the Kyoto treaty on climate change, the introduction of Australia's first national curriculum and its first paid parental leave scheme. At the conclusion of the speech, Mr Rudd received a standing ovation from the House.

Mr Rudd entered Parliament as the Member for Griffith in 1998. Elected as Leader of the Opposition in 2006, he led the Australian Labor Party (ALP) to victory at the 2007 election. He served as Australia's 26th Prime Minister from December 2007 until June 2010 and again from June to September 2013. He resigned as leader of the ALP on election night following the defeat of his government. A by-election will now be held for the seat of Griffith in Queensland.

Former Prime Ministers leaving Parliament

Sitting period 12–21 November

Of Australia's 27 former Prime Ministers, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP is only the fourth former Prime Minister to resign from Parliament shortly after losing an election or the leadership of his party. The other three were the Hon Malcolm Fraser, the Hon Bob Hawke and the Hon Paul Keating.

Three former Prime Ministers died in office, three resigned from the leadership and two, the Hon Stanley Bruce and the Hon John Howard, lost their seats at an election. The remainder stayed in Parliament for longer periods.