This website will be progressively updated as the final outcome of the election of 2 July is known, and as the 45th Parliament meets.

Learning

Latest news archive: 2015

Parliament NOW [PDF 1.1Mb, 10 pages]

House passes China free trade bills

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

The House of Representatives has passed two bills to enable the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) to go ahead. The Customs Tariff Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015 and Customs Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015 passed with the support of the opposition.

Speaking in the House, the Minister for Trade, the Hon Andrew Robb MP, described ChAFTA as an ‘outstanding agreement’. Under the agreement, most Australian goods exported to China will not be charged a tariff, or tax, and most Chinese goods imported into Australia will be tariff-free. Mr Robb said Australian households and businesses will ‘reap the benefits of cheaper goods and components from China, such as vehicles, household goods, electronics and clothing, placing downward pressure on the cost of living and the cost of doing business in Australia’.

The agreement opens the door for Australia to export more services to China, such as legal and financial services, education, telecommunication, tourism, construction, engineering and health and age services. It also allows for greater investment between the two countries.

The opposition supported the bills after the government took a number of steps to ensure that Australian jobs would be protected under the agreement. The two bills will now be considered by the Senate. 

Estimates

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

In the second sitting week, the Senate did not meet but instead conducted Senate estimates hearings. In estimates, senators question government ministers and senior public servants about government spending, decisions and programs. The hearings, which are open to the public, are conducted by the eight Senate legislation committees.

Each committee is responsible for examining different government departments and agencies. Estimates are an important way of scrutinising the government and making it accountable to the Parliament. Some of the issues raised in estimates included:

  • possible cuts to school funding for disabled students
  • SBS proposals for engaging with Muslim youth
  • the use of emojis in government communications with other countries
  • road funding
  • Future Fund investments
  • scrutiny of Uber by the Australian Taxation Office
  • who may have been responsible for an oil spill on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Australian Border Force and Operation Fortitude
  • the cost of off-shore detention centres
  • the size of the font on maximum-sized Senate ballot papers and reductions in the number of polling booths
  • arts funding
  • Defence staffing losses.  

Bill to protect private communication

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

Opposition backbencher, Mr Tim Watts MP, has introduced a private member’s bill to outlaw what is referred to as ‘revenge porn’. The Criminal Code Amendment (Private Sexual Material) Bill 2015 would make it illegal for people to share or threaten to share private sexual images and films of others without consent.

Mr Watts said ‘Both the actual and threatened distribution of these images without consent is a violation of a person's autonomy, of a person's control over their own body. It should be seen as a form of sexual assault’. He added ‘The purpose of this legislation [law] is to send a clear message that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated in Australia’.

Under the bill, offenders could be sentenced to up to three years in jail. People who run websites which publish this material would face even tougher penalties. The bill was co-sponsored by the Member for Griffith, Ms Terri Butler MP.

Bill to increase income support for young people

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

Families with dependent young people who qualify for certain youth income payments will receive more support under a bill introduced in the House of Representatives. The Social Services Legislation Amendment (More Generous Means Testing for Youth Payments) Bill 2015 will simplify and cut some existing means tests. The bill aims to boost assistance for working families, particularly in rural and regional areas. For example, farming families claiming youth allowance for dependent children will not have their farm assets counted in the means test.

Welfare debit card

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

The Parliament has passed a bill to trial a cashless debit card for people on welfare. Under the trial, 80 per cent of payments received by people on an unemployment benefit, such as Newstart, will be placed on the cashless debit card. The cardholder will not be able to use the card to access cash or use it at liquor and gambling outlets.

Ceduna in South Australia will be the first place where the card will be trialled. Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield told the Senate ‘the leadership in the community have publicly called for this trial and see it as a mechanism to address some of the welfare-fuelled alcohol and drug abuse that is devastating the community’. The debit card was a key recommendation of the Review on Indigenous Jobs and Training conducted by Andrew Forrest.

Immunisation Register

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

A national immunisation register will be created under a bill passed by the Parliament. The Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR) will record all vaccines given to a person from birth to death. It will include vaccines given by general practice doctors, community clinics and through school programs.

Introducing the Australian Immunisation Register Bill 2015, the Minister for Health, the Hon Susan Ley MP, said the register will ‘benefit the health of individuals’ and provide ‘a single “front door” for consumers and immunisation providers’. The ACIR replaces and expands two existing vaccine registers.

SA senator’s first speech

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

Mr Robert Simms was sworn in as a senator for South Australia, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator Penny Wright.

In his first speech, Senator Simms said ‘I think politics is about making what once seemed impossible, possible. It is about achieving the unimaginable. It is about challenging the status quo. It is about taking on the established order. It is about moving beyond the reality and inspiring with the dream’.

He added ‘It is this belief in the power of politics to change lives for the better and to make the world a better place that has always inspired me as an activist, and it will continue to inspire me as a Greens senator’.

Describing himself as ‘an out and proud gay man’, Senator Simms said ‘For me, the personal is political and my experience strengthened my resolve to fight discrimination and to stand up for outsiders. That is fundamental to my political philosophy and I am proud to be a member of a political party that has always fought to create a fairer and more equal society for all.’

Member for Canning makes first speech

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

Mr Andrew Hastie has been sworn-in as the new Member for Canning. In his first speech in the House of Representatives, Mr Hastie said ‘We are the product of those who have come before us and we should always seek to steward what we have for the next generation’.  

He added ‘Through my parent's example, I have come to cherish the pursuit of truth, the value of human life and the soul, the power of the spoken and written word, and the importance of history. These have become passions of my own and they are foundational to what drives me as a person’.

Describing it as a ‘tremendous honour’ to represent Canning, Mr Hastie said ‘In Australia, we have great prospects for political, economic and social opportunity. It is the government's role to turn that opportunity into a reality for our families. We are custodians. Our job is to work together for the common good’.

Mr Hastie was elected to represent Canning at a by-election held on 19 September. The by-election was called following the death of the previous member, Mr Don Randall.

Joe Hockey farewells Parliament

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

The Member for North Sydney, the Hon Joe Hockey MP, made his valedictory, or farewell, speech in the House of Representatives. Mr Hockey, who served as Treasurer in the Abbott government, announced he would retire from Parliament after Mr Abbott lost the leadership of the Liberal Party.

Mr Hockey told the House ‘We should encourage Australians to be their best, to achieve what they can and share the rewards as they choose. As a nation, as a parliament, we must continue to be ambitious and bold’.

He concluded ‘So I say to this House, as I say to my own children, seated here in this chamber: “It is far better to dream mighty things, to seek glorious triumphs even though chequered by failure, than to be amongst those poor souls who neither suffer much nor enjoy much because they live in the great twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat”’.

Paying tribute to Mr Hockey, the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, said ‘This is a big day in the life of a big man’. He added ‘One of the giants of the parliament is taking his leave and all of us rose together and applauded him because we admire you, Joe, we love you, you have made an enormous contribution over nearly 20 years’. A by-election will now be held for the seat of North Sydney.

More information

North Sydney by-election

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

A by-election will be held in the seat of North Sydney on 5 December following the resignation of Mr Hockey from Parliament. Australians who live in North Sydney have until Monday 2 November to enrol to vote. This includes seventeen year-olds who turn eighteen on or before Saturday 5 December 2015. Enrolments can be completed online on the Australian Electoral Commission website at www.aec.gov.au

Reshuffle of Shadow Ministry

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

The Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, has announced a reshuffle of the Shadow Ministry. ACT Senator Katy Gallagher joins the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, and Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader on State and Territory Relations. Senator Gallagher also has responsibility for women’s policy within the Shadow Cabinet.

Michelle Rowland, the Member for Greenway, also joins the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Small Business. This is in addition to her role as Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism.

Dr Jim Chalmers, the Member for Rankin, has been appointed the Shadow Minister for Superannuation and Financial Services, Shadow Assistant Minister for Trade and Investment, Shadow Assistant Minister for Productivity and Shadow Minister for Sport.

Ms Terri Butler, the Member for Griffith, has been appointed Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Child Safety and Prevention of Family Violence, and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Shorten made the changes after two members of the opposition – Queensland Senator Jan McLucas and Bernie Ripoll, the Member for Oxley – announced they will retire at the next election.

More information

Electronic petitions

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

People will soon be able to lodge petitions with the House of Representatives electronically. The Speaker, the Hon Tony Smith MP, said an electronic petition system will be developed for the House following a recommendation made by the Standing Committee on Petitions. He said the e-petitions system should be operating by early 2016. The Senate has accepted electronic petitions for a number of years. 

Power to investigate murder or manslaughter of Australians overseas

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

Under a bill being considered by the Parliament, a person suspected of committing murder or manslaughter of an Australian citizen or resident overseas prior to 1 October 2002 could, in certain circumstances, be prosecuted in Australia under Australian law.

Introducing the Crime Legislation Amendment (Harming Australians) Bill 2015, the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis, said ‘Tragically Australians have been victims of violent crimes like murder and manslaughter overseas’. He added that the bill will ‘provide a further avenue to seek justice for Australian victims of the most serious crimes by applying Australian criminal law to those responsible for these offences’.

Following the Bali bombings in 2002, the Criminal Code Act 1995 was changed to allow Australian authorities to pursue those responsible for committing these crimes. If this bill is passed, the Act will be amended, or changed, to allow authorities to investigate crimes committed before the bombings.

The bill was drafted in response to the murder of Adelaide woman Anthea Bradshaw in Brunei in 1994. Members of the woman’s family observed the introduction of the bill, known as ‘Anthea’s law’, from the public gallery. Unusually, the bill was co-sponsored by Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who had presented an earlier version as a private senator’s bill.

Fair Work Bill

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

The Parliament has passed a bill that makes a number of changes to fair work laws. Under the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014, if employers and unions cannot reach agreement about wages and conditions for a new project within six months, the employer will be able to ask the Fair Work Commission to resolve the matter.

The bill also stops unions from taking strike action before genuine bargaining over wages and conditions has begun. The Minister for Industry, the Hon Mr Christopher Pyne MP, told the House of Representatives that this would prevent ‘unnecessary and costly industrial action’. He said the bill would ‘provide a more balanced workplace relations system while safeguarding workers' conditions and protections’.

The bill was passed by the Senate after it agreed to a number of amendments, or changes, proposed by crossbench senators. The House, which originally passed the bill in August, voted in support of the amendments.

Senate committee recommends against Animal Welfare Office

Sitting period 12 – 22 October

A Senate committee has recommended that a private senator’s bill to create an Office of Animal Welfare not be passed. Under the Voice For Animals (Independent Office Of Animal Welfare) Bill 2015, the office would have monitored the treatment of animals by various industries, including the live animal export trade.   

In its report on the bill, the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport noted that there was ‘widespread disagreement, even among animal welfare groups, as to the structure and tone of any new animal welfare body’. It pointed out that government bodies such as the Department of Agriculture are already monitoring and safeguarding the treatment of animals.

Following the inquiry, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, who was responsible for introducing the bill in the Senate, said it should be passed with a number of amendments, or changes. She released a dissenting report stating that ‘the vast majority of submissions received [by the committee] were from organisations which advocate an increased focus on animal welfare’. The report said ‘the majority of these submissions expressed support for the Voice for Animals (Independent Office of Animal Welfare) Bill 2015’. 

PM announces new ministry

24 September 2015

The new Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, announced a reshuffle of the ministry on 20 September. The Hon Scott Morrison MP has been appointed Treasurer and Senator the Hon Marise Payne becomes the first female Defence Minister.

Mr Turnbull has increased the number of women in the Cabinet to five and the overall number of women in the ministry to nine. In addition to Senator Payne, the Hon Julie Bishop MP retains her position as Minister for Foreign Affairs, as does the Hon Susan Ley MP as Minister for Health. Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash and the Hon Kelly O'Dwyer MP will also join the Cabinet. Senator Cash is the Minister for Employment, Minister for Women, and Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service. Kelly O'Dwyer is the Minister for Small Business and Assistant Treasurer.

The Hon Wyatt Roy MP has become the youngest minister ever appointed. The 25 year old is the Assistant Minister for Innovation. The record was previously held by the Hon Kate Ellis MP who was 30 when she became a minister in the Rudd government in 2007.

In another first, the Hon Ken Wyatt MP is the first Indigenous Australian to be appointed to the ministry. He takes up the role of Assistant Health Minister.

Senator the Hon George Brandis has been appointed as the Leader of the Government in the Senate. He remains the Attorney-General. Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos has been given the role of Cabinet Secretary and will oversee the operations of the Cabinet.

The new ministry was sworn-in by the Governor-General, His Excellency General the Hon Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), in a ceremony at Government House the following day.

More information

Joe Hockey to quit Parliament

24 September 2015

Former Treasurer, the Hon Joe Hockey MP, did not seek a place in the new ministry. Instead he told the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, that he intended to leave Parliament 'in due course'. Mr Turnbull said 'Joe has made a long and distinguished contribution to our nation's Government and Parliament over many, many years, for which I thank him'.

New Member for Canning

24 September 2015

Mr Andrew Hastie has been elected to the House of Representatives as the new Member for Canning.  He won the seat in a by-election held on 19 September after the death of the previous member, Mr Don Randall. Despite a swing of nearly seven per cent to Mr Matt Keogh, the Australian Labor Party candidate, Mr Hastie retained the seat for the Liberal Party of Australia.

High definition TV

Sitting period 7 – 17 September

Free-to-air stations including ABC1, SBS ONE, 7, Prime7, Nine, WIN, Ten and Southern Cross can now broadcast in high or standard definition under a bill passed by the Parliament. During the transition from analogue to digital television, these stations had broadcast in standard definition.

The then Minister for Communications, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, said 'This is a relic of the analogue era, introduced at the start of the digital television switchover process to ensure that viewers would have access to at least one digital channel per broadcaster. At the time not all televisions and set-top boxes were capable of receiving high-definition content'. The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Primary Television Broadcasting Service) Bill 2015 was passed on 9 September.

Senate committee calls for Parliament to vote on same-sex marriage

Sitting period 7 – 17 September

A Senate committee has recommended that a bill to amend, or change, the Marriage Act 1961 to allow for same-sex marriage be introduced in the Parliament 'as a matter of urgency'. The committee said all members of parliament should be given a free, or conscience, vote on the bill.

The recommendations were made by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee following an inquiry into the 'Matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia'.

Government members of the committee released a dissenting report in which they supported a plebiscite, or vote of the people, on the issue. They said 'While potentially costly a plebiscite would be invaluable in affirming the often referenced majority support for same-sex marriage, and would assure the government that it was taking the right course of action by the Australian people'.

The committee received a wide variety of submissions from interest groups and individuals on the idea of holding a plebiscite or referendum.