For full details about what's happening in Australia's Parliament, check out the links in the What's On section.
Sitting period 14 – 16 May
The Treasurer, the Hon Wayne Swan MP, handed down the Budget in the House of Representatives on 14 May. The Budget is the government’s plan for how it will raise revenue (taxes and other charges) over the coming financial year and how it will spend this money.
It was the sixth Budget delivered by Mr Swan. New initiatives included increased funding for schools and the national disability insurance scheme, known as DisabilityCare Australia. The Budget also set aside money to expand and upgrade urban public transport infrastructure in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide. In addition, $226 million will be spent on cancer prevention, detection and research, and to provide better patient care and support.
Mr Swan also announced a number of savings measures. These included delaying a planned increase to the overseas aid budget by one year and increasing taxes on cigarettes. The $5000 baby bonus will also be cut from 1 March 2014, to be replaced by a $2000 payment which will be means tested (based on income).
The Parliament will scrutinise and debate the Budget over the coming weeks. The Budget needs to be approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate before it is finalised. They do this by passing a series of Budget bills called Appropriation Bills.
Opposition reply to Budget
The Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, gave the traditional Budget reply speech on 16 May. During the speech in the House of Representatives, Mr Abbott put forward the opposition’s response to the Budget. Mr Abbott indicated that, if it formed government after the next election, the opposition would reserve the right to keep the spending cuts outlined in the Budget.
Increase to Medicare levy to fund disability care
The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, introduced a bill into the House of Representatives on 15 May to help fund DisabilityCare Australia, the national disability insurance scheme. The Medicare Levy Amendment (DisabilityCare Australia) Bill 2013 will increase the Medicare levy by 0.5 per cent, which will go towards paying for DisabilityCare Australia.
In an emotional speech to the House, the Prime Minister said ‘This is a united embrace of national responsibility and a great act of mutual care and solidarity. Every week or fortnight, a sliver of the pay packet will go to DisabilityCare Australia - around a dollar a day for the average earner. But all that money added together from every corner of the nation will be a mighty force for good’.
In the last sitting period, the Parliament passed a bill to set up DisabilityCare Australia, which will provide support to people with disabilities. When the scheme is fully operational in 2019, it will cover 460 000 people.
Medicare Levy Amendment (DisabilityCare Australia) Bill 2013
Referendum to recognise local government
A referendum on recognising local government in the Australian Constitution will be conducted with the election on September 14. Australian voters will be asked if they agree to change section 96 of the Constitution to allow the federal government to directly fund local government.
Local councils are not mentioned in the Constitution, but rather are created through local government Acts (laws) passed by each state parliament. Increasingly, the federal government has directly funded local government projects and services. However, recent High Court challenges have created some doubt about whether the federal government has the power under the Constitution to do this.
This will be the third time that a referendum has been held on this issue. The question was put to voters in 1974 and 1988 and was rejected on both occasions. Nineteen referendums proposing 44 changes to the Constitution have been held since 1906. Only eight changes have been agreed to.
Bill to limit gambling ads
Greens senator Richard Di Natale introduced a private senator's bill to limit the promotion of gambling services during sport broadcasts. If passed, the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Advertising for Sports Betting) Bill 2013 would ban gambling advertisements before 9pm.
Senator Di Natale told the Senate 'Sports programs are among the most popular shows viewed by children. We would not tolerate the advertising of harmful products like gambling during Saturday morning cartoons. Yet for a sporting event being broadcast at the same time, with as many child viewers, there is no restriction'.
Under the bill, the advertising and discussion of live or changing odds would not be allowed at any time. As well, the bill puts a stop to commentators and their guests promoting gambling services during sports broadcasts.
Senate to investigate NAPLAN
The Senate has set up an inquiry into the effectiveness of NAPLAN, the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy. The inquiry will be conducted by the Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee. It will look at whether NAPLAN is achieving its objectives, what impact it has had on teaching and learning practices and whether it can be improved. The Committee has called for submissions (written statements) from individuals and groups with an interest in NAPLAN. Submissions must be received by 7 June. The committee is due to report to the Senate on 27 June.
Bill to recognise same-sex marriages performed overseas
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has introduced a private senator’s bill to recognise same-sex marriages that are validly entered into overseas. The Marriage Act Amendment (Recognition of Foreign Marriages for Same-Sex Couples) Bill 2013 would remove a provision in the Marriage Act 1961 that bars the recognition of such marriages.
Senator Hanson-Young indicated that the bill was partly a response to the New Zealand Parliament’s decision last month to legalise same-sex marriage, as thousands of Australian same-sex couples now plan to get married in New Zealand. She told the Senate ‘Despite being legally married in the foreign country, in their homeland they step off the plane and have to leave their marriage at the customs gate’.
At present same-sex marriage has been legalised in fourteen counties. A number of countries recognise international same sex-marriages despite not having their own laws allowing same-sex marriage. These include Israel, Slovenia, Japan and the Netherlands.
Change to migration law
The Parliament has passed a bill that means asylum seekers who reach Australia’s mainland by boat can be sent to regional processing centres in Nauru and Paua New Guinea. Up until now, only asylum seekers who arrived on offshore territories such as Christmas Island and the Cocos/Keeling Islands could be sent to regional detention centres. These offshore territories had been excised or excluded from Australia’s migration zone.
Under the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012, mainland Australia has now been excised from the migration zone. This means that asylum seekers can’t apply for refugee status or a visa to stay on the mainland but instead can be removed to offshore detention centres while their claims are assessed.
The bill was based on recommendations made last year by the government-appointed Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers. It was passed by the Parliament on 16 May with the support of the government and opposition.
Parliament House celebrates 25 years
Parliament House celebrated its 25th anniversary on 9 May. The building was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988. Designed by Mitchell/Giurgola and Thorp Architects, it replaced the provisional Parliament House, which is now referred to as Old Parliament House. Located on Capital Hill, the new Parliament House is a unique building which has become an enduring symbol of Australia’s democracy.
As part of the 25th anniversary celebrations, an open day will be held at Parliament House on 24 August.
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) held its 35th meeting at Parliament House in Canberra. The meeting was chaired by the Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, and attended by the state Premiers, the two territory Chief Ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association.
Top of the agenda was the National Education Reform Agreement. The reforms, which were a response to the Gonski Review of education, would inject an additional $14.5 billion into schools across Australia. It aims to push Australia into the top five countries in the world for reading, science and maths performance by 2025. The federal government has offered to provide $9.4 billion of this funding if the states and territories contribute the remaining $5.1 billion.
The meeting concluded without reaching agreement on the reforms. The Prime Minister, who has set 30 June as the deadline for the agreement, has said she will continue to negotiate with states and territories on an individual basis.
PM reshuffles ministry
The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, has reshuffled the federal ministry following the departure of several ministers. The Hon Catherine King MP joins the ministry for the first time as Minister for Regional Services, Local Communities and Territories and as Minister for Road Safety. The reshuffle also saw the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, the Hon Jason Clare MP, and the Hon Gary Gray MP, elevated to the cabinet. Mr Gray has been appointed Minister for Resources and Energy, Tourism and Small Business. The new ministers were sworn in by the Governor-General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO, at a ceremony at Government House on 25 March. For full details of these and other ministerial changes, check this link: Ministry List
Sitting period 12 – 21 March
In a busy two-week sitting period the Parliament passed many bills, with the Senate agreeing to several passed by the House of Representatives when it last met in February. These included the Completion of Kakadu National Park (Koongarra Project Area Repeal) Bill 2013 and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012, which passed with the unanimous support of both houses. The latter bill is a first step towards changing the Australian Constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians as the first peoples of our nation.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012
National apology for forced adoptions
The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, has made a national apology to families affected by forced adoptions between the 1950s and 1970s. About 150 000 unmarried mothers were forced to give up their babies for adoption in this period.
The Prime Minister made the apology to an emotional audience in the Great Hall at Parliament House. The audience, which included adopted children and mothers who were forced to relinquish their babies, applauded the apology. Addressing these mothers, the Prime Minister said 'For the loss, the grief, the disempowerment, the stigmatisation and the guilt, we say sorry'.
She added 'To each of you who were adopted or removed, who were led to believe your mother had rejected you and who were denied the opportunity to grow up with your family and community of origin and to connect with your culture, we say sorry. We acknowledge that many of you still experience a constant struggle with identity, uncertainty and loss, and feel a persistent tension between loyalty to one family and yearning for another.'
The Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, also spoke at the event and supported the Prime Minister's apology.
The national apology was one of the recommendations made by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs following an 18 month inquiry into forced adoption. The national apology follows apologies made by most states and territory governments. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed motions in support of the apology.
The final day of sitting saw the Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, call a leadership spill to address leadership speculation. However, while the positions of Party Leader and Deputy Party Leader were declared vacant, neither Ms Gillard nor the Hon Wayne Swan MP were challenged for the two positions. As a consequence, they remain Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister respectively.
Speaker considers twitter ban
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ms Anna Burke MP, has decided not to stop members tweeting in the chamber. She made the ruling after the Manager of Opposition Business in the House, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, asked that a government backbencher withdraw a comment made on twitter during Question Time. Ms Burke told the House that a twitter ban would mean 'a blanket restriction on all electronic and communication devices in the chamber. Although this may appeal to some members, I imagine it would be strongly resisted by others'.
Ms Burke added that it would be impractical for the Speaker to rule on private communications made on social media by members of parliament while they are in the chamber. However, she reminded members that such communications are not covered by parliamentary privilege.
Ms Burke suggested that if the House wanted to take further action on tweeting, it could refer the matter to the Procedure Committee. A ban on tweeting would require a change to Standing Orders, which are the rules of the chamber. The Procedure Committee can make recommendations to the House about such changes.
National Disability Insurance Scheme
The Parliament has passed the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013, clearing the way for the scheme to be trialled from July. The scheme will provide greater support for people with disabilities and their carers. In an emotional speech to the House of Representatives, the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Jenny Macklin MP, said the bill 'will bring an end to the tragedy of services denied or delayed and, instead, offer people with disability the care and support they need over their lifetimes'. The bill was passed with the unanimous support of the House on 20 March. It passed the Senate on 21 March with several amendments to which the House agreed.
National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2013
Bill to expand discrimination law
A government bill to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status was introduced in the House of Representatives on 21 March. The Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013 would amend (change) the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. It will also protect same-sex de facto couples from discrimination.
The bill was introduced by the Attorney-General, the Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP, after the government decided to put its overhaul of all anti-discrimination laws on hold. The government had proposed simplifying and consolidating five existing human rights and anti-discrimination laws into one Act (law). However, following a Senate inquiry which recommended many changes to the proposed new law, the Attorney-General returned the bill to his department to be redrafted.
Re-enactment of the naming of Canberra
The Governor-General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO, and the Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, took part in a re-enactment of the naming of Canberra. The event was part of celebrations to mark the capital's 100 year anniversary. It was held on the lawns of Parliament House, near the site of the original ceremony.
On 12 March 1913 the Governor-General Lord Denman, Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, and the Minister for Home Affairs, King O'Malley, laid foundation stones for the new city on Capital Hill. Lady Denman then announced that Canberra had been chosen as the name of the federal capital.
The Senate passed a resolution on 13 March this year congratulating Canberra and its citizens on the centenary. The resolution recognised 'Canberra, through its national institutions, as a showcase of the hopes and aspirations, milestones and achievements of the Australian nation'.
To view footage of the original naming ceremony, follow this link to Australian Screen
House condemns attack on Pakistani schoolgirl activist
The House of Representatives passed a motion on 14 March condemning the attempted murder of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai by Taliban terrorists. The motion applauded Ms Yousafzai's contribution to gender equity in her country. Ms Yousafzai first spoke out in public at the age of 11, making a speech to the media entitled 'How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?' The House concluded by wishing Ms Yousafzai 'a speedy and complete recovery from her injuries'.
The House of Representatives has passed two bills which will reduce the cost of television licences and increase Australian content on commercial stations. The new laws will also extend the charters (rules of operation) of both ABC and SBS to cover online media, and rule out a fourth free-to-air commercial television station.
The Television Licence Fees Amendment Bill 2013 and the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Convergence Review and Other Measures) Bill 2013 were part of a package of six government bills aimed at reforming the media. However, the government decided not to go ahead with four of the bills after it became clear that they would not pass the House.
The media bills were the subject of two separate parliamentary inquiries by the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee and the Joint Select Committee on Broadcasting Legislation.
The Television Licence Fees Amendment Bill 2013
Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Convergence Review and Other Measures) Bill 2013
Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee on Broadcasting Legislation
Joint Select Committee on Broadcasting Legislation
Bill to tackle asbestos problem
The Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, introduced the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency Bill 2013 into the House of Representatives. If passed, the bill would set up an agency to promote the safe disposal of asbestos and to tackle illegal dumping of the deadly material. Asbestos was widely used as a building material in Australia until it was banned in the 1980s. It is estimated that in the next 20 years up to 40 000 Australians will be diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.
Mr Shorten told the House that 'There are children not yet born who will die of asbestos related diseases. We owe it to future generations to finally come to grips with the blight of asbestos in Australia'. He also thanked those who pushed for action to be taken on the issue, including individuals and families affected by asbestos-related diseases, asbestos advocacy groups, unions, health and safety specialists and his parliamentary colleagues.
Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency Bill 2013
MPs mark 20 years in Parliament
Seven members of the House of Representatives have marked 20 years in Parliament. The Hon Stephen Smith MP, the Hon Bob Katter MP, the Hon Dick Adams MP, the Hon Alan Griffith MP, the Hon John Forrest MP, the Hon Peter Slipper MP and the Hon Christopher Pyne MP were elected to Parliament in 1993. It is also 20 years since the Treasurer, the Hon Wayne Swan MP, was first elected to Parliament. Mr Swan lost his seat in 1996 but was returned to Parliament in 1998.
Changes to electoral laws
The Parliament has passed a bill to allow the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to use data from government sources, such as the Australian Taxation Office, to update the electoral roll. The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Administration) Bill 2013 also makes a number of changes to pre-poll and postal voting. Voters will no longer need to make a written declaration to make a pre-poll vote. In addition, the cut-off day to apply for a postal vote has been increased from two to three days before polling day. This will give the AEC more time to provide postal voters with ballot papers so they can cast their vote before the close of polls. The changes were based on recommendations made by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.
Citizen Initiated Referendum Bill 2013
Senator John Madigan has introduced a private senator's bill to allow Australian citizens to initiate a proposal for a referendum to change the Constitution. At present, a law to alter the Constitution can only be initiated by the Parliament. Under the bill, a citizen-initiated proposal for a referendum, which has been registered by the Australian Electoral Commission, will then be introduced to the Parliament.
Citizen Initiated Referendum Bill 2013
Senate inquiry into imports of pineapple, ginger and potatoes
The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee has delivered interim reports into the impact on Australian growers of the import of fresh pineapples from Malaysia, fresh ginger from Fiji and the proposal to buy potatoes from New Zealand.
Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee