2012 news archive
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) held its 34th meeting at Parliament House in Canberra on 7 December. It marked 20 years to the day since COAG first met in Perth in 1992. The meeting was chaired by the Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, and was attended by the state premiers, territory chief ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association.
During the meeting, the federal government signed an intergovernmental agreement with the New South Wales, South Australian, Tasmanian and Australian Capital Territory governments to cover the first stage of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The meeting also agreed to reforms to Australia's energy market to tackle rising electricity prices. It expressed unanimous support for a Commonwealth Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Contexts.
Sitting period 19 – 29 November
Final sitting for 2012
In a busy final sitting period for 2012, the Senate passed a large number of bills that had earlier been agreed to by the House of Representatives, including:
- Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012
- Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012
- Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 2012.
The House of Representatives also passed several bills which will now be considered by the Senate, including:
- Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012
- National Gambling Reform Bill 2012.
After a week in which debate in the House was sometimes heated, both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition said they looked forward to returning in 2013. Parliament next sits on 5 February.
Bills and Legislation
Bill to recognise Indigenous Australians
A bill which will formally recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as 'the first peoples of our nation' was introduced into the House of Representatives on 28 November. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 is a first step toward recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. It was introduced by Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Jenny Macklin MP.
The Minister told the House 'The Australian Constitution is the foundation document for our laws and our government, but it is silent on the special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples—the first Australians. The government is pleased that today this Parliament is taking an important step towards changing that situation. Towards a successful referendum that unites and strengthens our nation'.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012
National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill
The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012 into the House of Representatives on 29 November. The scheme will increase support to disabled people and their carers. The Prime Minister told the House, 'Few actions in public life give me greater pleasure than introducing the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill does today. The scheme to be established by this bill will transform the lives of people with disability, their families and carers. For the first time they will have their needs met in a way that truly supports them to live with choice and dignity'.
National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012
Bill to combat petrol sniffing
A private senator's bill that aims to reduce petrol sniffing was passed by the Senate on 27 November. The Low Aromatic Fuel Bill 2012 was introduced by Senator Siewert in March. It promotes the supply of low aromatic fuel in communities where petrol sniffing is a problem. The bill also restricts the sale of other fuels such as unleaded petrol in these communities. It will now be considered by the House of Representatives.
Low Aromatic Fuel Bill 2012
Parliament bans use of illegally logged timber
The Parliament has passed a bill to ban the import and sale of timber products that contain illegally logged timber. The Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2012 also bans the use of illegally harvested timber grown in Australia. In a speech to the House, the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Hon Mike Kelly MP, said 'Illegal harvest of timber contributes to environmental degradation through bad practices by illegal loggers. It hampers social development by depriving local governments and communities of the benefits derived from the use of their resource'. The bill, which was agreed to by the House of Representatives in August, was passed by the Senate on 19 November and received Royal Assent on 28 November.
Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2012
Report into workplace bullying
A report on workplace bullying was presented to the House of Representatives on 26 November. 'Workplace Bullying: We just want it to stop' is the report of an inquiry conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment.
The committee received over 300 written submissions, mostly from people who have experienced bullying at work. It found that bullying damages an individual's health and wellbeing, and in extreme circumstances can lead to suicide. Workplace bullying is estimated to cost the Australian economy between $6 billion and $36 billion each year. The committee made 23 recommendations to tackle the problem. These included measures to prevent workplace bullying, improve workplace culture and give victims of bullying greater support.
‘Workplace Bullying: We just want it to stop’
Apology to victims of sexual abuse in the defence forces
The Minister for Defence, the Hon Stephen Smith MP, has apologised to members of the Australian Defence Force and the Department of Defence who have been the victims of sexual and other forms of abuse. Mr Smith made the apology in the House of Representatives on behalf of the government. He said 'You should never have experienced this abuse... Our words today, and our actions and commitment into the future, will ensure that the apology given today in this house... will never have to be repeated'.
The apology was made in response to a report by law firm DLA Piper which detailed several hundred allegations of abuse within the Australian Defence Force. It was supported by the Shadow Minister for Defence, the Hon Stuart Robert MP.
Education reform bill introduced
The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, introduced a bill into the House of Representatives to improve school education in Australia. The Australian Education Bill 2012 is a response to the Gonski school funding review that was released by the government at the end of last year. The bill sets out a national plan for improving schooling and creates a new funding model for schools. It aims to give all students equal access to high quality education and for Australia to be among the top five nations in reading, science and maths by 2025.
Australian Education Bill 2012
Senate inquiry into unemployment payment
A Senate inquiry has heard evidence that the Newstart Allowance is not enough to live on, but has not recommended an increase to the payment. The Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee delivered its report on the adequacy of Newstart on 29 November. The report recommended a number of new measures to help people return to work. The two government senators and one Greens senator, who were minority members of the committee, supported increasing the allowance.
Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee
Committee recommends health warnings on alcohol
A House of Representatives committee has recommended that alcoholic drinks carry health labels warning pregnant women not to drink alcohol. The recommendation was made by the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs in a report into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). FASD refers to a range of conditions caused by a mother's alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The committee made 19 recommendations mainly aimed at raising awareness of and preventing FASD and providing greater support for those with FASD.
Inquiry into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Parliament honours former cricket captain
On the final day of sitting, the Parliament paid tribute to former Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting, who announced his retirement from cricket. The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, told the House of Representatives that Ponting 'is going to go into the next phase of his life with a lot of gratitude and a lot of thanks from the Australian community, full as it is of cricket tragics'. The Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, also congratulated Ponting 'on a superb innings as an Australian cricketer, as an Australian cricket captain, as someone who has given tremendous pleasure to cricket lovers around the world and tremendous pride to Australians'.
Sitting period 29 October -1 November
Gambling Reform Bill
A bill to tackle problem gambling was introduced into the House of Representatives on 1 November. The National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 will make it compulsory for all gaming machines to be fitted with pre-commitment systems. This will allow people to limit the amount of money they wish to gamble. Limits will also be placed on withdrawals from automatic teller machines in gaming premises.
National Gambling Reform Bill 2012
Wheat Export Bill
The Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 was passed by the House of Representatives on 31 October. The bill will deregulate the wheat export market and is based on recommendations made by the Productivity Commission. It will now be debated in the Senate.
Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012
Water Bill to rescue Murray-Darling Basin
A bill which will help restore the Murray-Darling river system was introduced into the House of Representatives on 31 October. The Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012 will return 450 gigalitres of water to the river system. It sets aside $1.77 billion to fund the ten-year scheme. Most of this money will be spent on making farms more water efficient. The bill is part of a plan to revitalise the Murray-Darling basin, which will eventually see 3200 gigalitres of water returned to the river system.
Senate committee tackles electricity prices
The Senate Select Committee on Electricity Prices has found that over-investment in network infrastructure, mostly new poles and wires, is the main reason for electricity price increases. The Committee released its report 'Reducing energy bills and improving efficiency' on 1 November. It also found that replacing out-dated infrastructure and greater demand for electricity during peak times contributed to rising prices.
The Committee made a number of recommendations aimed at reducing electricity costs, including tightening guidelines for investment in new network infrastructure. It also recommended charging different rates for peak and off-peak electricity. The Committee felt that it should be made easier for consumers who generate electricity, for example through solar panels, to feed this electricity back into the electricity grid.
Senate approves social security changes
The Senate passed the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Further 2012 Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2012. The bill puts in place a number of measures announced in the government's Budget. These include an increase to indigenous education payments, extending the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial and improving the operation of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal.
Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Further 2012 Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2012. http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=r4881
Senate agrees to change to Overseas Students Act
The Senate has passed a bill which means that overseas students will not have their visas automatically cancelled if they fail courses or do not attend classes. The Migration Legislation Amendment (Student Visas) Bill 2012 was passed by the Senate on 1 November. The bill amends the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 and the Migration Act 1958. Under the changes, the case of each student will be considered on its merits. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on 10 May.
Migration Legislation Amendment (Student Visas) Bill 2012
Parliament honours former minister
The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, has paid tribute to former minister Gordon Bilney who died on 28 October at the age of 73. Mr Bilney was the member for the South Australian seat of Kingston from 1983 to 1986. He served as a minister in both the Hawke and Keating governments. The House of Representatives and the Senate passed condolence motions acknowledging Mr Bilney.
Senate debates dental care bill
A Senate committee has recommended that the Senate pass the Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012. The bill will subsidise basic dental care for children from low income families and expand services for adults in the public dental system. It was passed by the House of Representatives on 11 October. The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee made the recommendation following an inquiry into the bill. The bill is currently before the Senate.
House rejects increase to unemployment benefit
A proposal to increase the Newstart unemployment benefit by $50 a week was defeated in the House of Representatives. The proposal was made by the Deputy Leader of the Greens, Mr Adam Bandt MP.
Governor-General’s term extended
The five-year term of the Governor-General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO, has been extended for six months until March 2014. The decision was made by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP. It was welcomed by the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tony Abbott MP.
Since her appointment as Australia's first female Governor-General in September 2008, Ms Bryce has assented to 679 bills passed by the Parliament. She has delivered 668 speeches, attended 1029 events in Australia and 606 overseas and hosted 564 official functions.
Mid-year economic forecast
The Treasurer, the Hon Wayne Swan MP, released the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) on 22 October. The MYEFO updates the economic forecast made in the May Budget, including how much money the government estimates it will raise and spend. In response to the revised forecast, the Treasurer announced a number of savings measures, including reductions to the baby bonus and private health insurance rebates.
The Charter of Budget Honesty Act 1998 requires that the government release the MYEFO each year.
Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2012-2013
Supplementary Budget estimates
Supplementary Budget estimates hearings were held at Parliament House from 15 to 18 October. Estimates hearings are conducted by the eight Senate legislation committees, which examine estimates of government spending.
During estimates hearings ministers and senior public servants from government departments are questioned about the government's Budget. The Budget is the government's plan of how it will collect and spend money. Budget estimates are an important way in which the Parliament scrutinises, or checks, the work of the executive government.
Table Tennis in the Great Hall
On 18 October, the Bennelong Cup Table Tennis Competition was held in the Great Hall at Parliament House. Representatives from the Chinese, Korean and Australian national table tennis teams and the Korean Wheelchair Table Tennis Team took part. It was the first international sporting event to be held in the Great Hall and was organised by the Member for Bennelong, Mr John Alexander MP.
Sitting period 9-11 October
New Speaker elected
Ms Anna Burke MP, the Member for Chisholm, was elected unopposed as Speaker of the House of Representatives. She replaces the Hon Peter Slipper MP, who earlier resigned as Speaker. As is tradition, she was 'dragged' to the Speaker's Chair by the two members who nominated her.
Ms Burke is the second woman to serve as Speaker in the Australian Parliament. The Hon Joan Child MP was Speaker from 1986 to 1989. In accepting the position, Ms Burke paid tribute to Ms Child, and said, 'I do look forward to this great honour and indeed this difficult challenge. I hope I will serve the House with distinction and pride as only the second female Speaker in this chamber'.
The Hon Bruce Scott MP, the Member for Maranoa, replaces Ms Burke as Deputy Speaker. The Hon Steve Georganas MP, the Member for Hindmarsh, has been elected as the second Deputy Speaker.
Victims of Bali bombing remembered
The Governor-General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO, led a national memorial service at Parliament House to mark the tenth anniversary of the Bali bombing. Two hundred and two people, including 88 Australians, were killed and 200 injured in the bombing. Describing it as 'that fateful night, the unspeakable horror of terrorism came to our backyard,' Ms Bryce said, 'We remember futures cut short ... lives left shattered'.
Memorial services were also held in the state capitals throughout Australia. The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tony Abbott MP and former Prime Minister, the Hon John Howard, took part in a memorial service in Bali.
Senate committee reports on palliative care
The Senate Community Affairs Committee has released a report into palliative care in Australia. It made 38 recommendations to improve the delivery of palliative care. These included changes to the way the health system deals with the needs of the dying.
The report followed a ten month inquiry, during which the committee received 138 submissions from organisations, carers and individuals and conducted public hearings throughout Australia. The committee has called for a national conversation about palliative care.
Palliative care in Australia report
New law to change payments for single parents
Parliament has passed a bill that will change social security payments for single parents. Under the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Fair Incentives to Work) Bill 2012, single parents will be moved from the Parenting Payment to the Newstart Allowance once their youngest child turns eight.
The change, which is part of the government's plan to move people from welfare to work, will take effect from 1 January 2013. The bill was supported by the government and opposition.
The Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee has called for the change to be postponed while it investigates whether the Newstart Allowance provides enough support for job seekers. The call was backed by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Bill to ban live cattle exports
A private member's bill which aims to ban the live export of animals for slaughter was debated in the Senate. The Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012 was introduced by Senator Rhiannon and, if passed, would amend, or change, the Export Control Act 1982.
Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012
Wheat Export Bill
Debate continued in the House of Representatives on the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012. If passed, the bill would deregulate the wheat export market. It is based on recommendations made by the Productivity Commission.
Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012
Preventing problem gambling
The Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform has released its third report into the prevention and treatment of problem gambling. The committee identified that there is a need for more research into problem gambling.
It also recommended that the government establish a national phone helpline for people affected by problem gambling. Some members of the committee also called for a cap, or limit, on the number of poker machines in Australia.
The prevention and treatment of problem gambling - Third report
Senate pays tribute to former law drafter
The President of the Senate, Senator the Hon John Hogg, paid tribute to lawyer Charles Comans (1914-2012) whose job was to draft bills on behalf of the Parliament. Mr Comans served as First Parliamentary Counsel in the 1970s and later worked for the Senate. He was widely recognised for his skill in drafting new laws. Among the bills he drafted was the Family Law Act 1975 which introduced 'no fault' divorce.
Mr Comans drafted the proclamation which dissolved both houses of Parliament following the dismissal of the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on 11 November 1975. Mr Comans later said it was a difficult task because he could not advise Mr Whitlam about the proclamation or warn him that the Governor-General intended to dismiss him. Mr Comans died in September at the age of 97.
Senate committee to investigate abuse in defence forces
The Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee will inquire into a report by law firm DLA Piper into a review of allegations of sexual and other abuse in the defence forces. The committee will also look at the government's response to the review. It is due to report back to the Senate on 1 March 2013.
Sitting period 10-20 September
Parliament votes on same-sex marriage
A private member's bill allowing same-sex marriage was defeated in the House of Representatives on 19 September. The Marriage Amendment Bill 2012, which was introduced by Mr Stephen Jones MP, was defeated by 98 to 42 votes. Members of the government were given a free, or conscience, vote on the bill, and the opposition voted against it.
This was one of four private members' bills designed to legalise same-sex marriage and was the first to be put to a vote. Another of these bills was introduced in the Senate by Senators Crossin, Brown, Pratt and Marshall on 10 September. The Marriage Amendment Bill (No.2) 2012 was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 41 to 26.
Government investigates super trawler
The Parliament has passed a bill that will allow the super trawler, the Abel Tasman,to be banned from commercial fishing operations in Australian waters for two years while work is carried out to determine its potential environmental, social and economic impact. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Commercial Fishing Activities) Act 2012 will allow the Environment Minister to prohibit any declared fishing activity while its impact is investigated.
In presenting the bill to the House, the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the Hon Tony Burke MP, said the bill was a response to 'heightened community concern surrounding the potential introduction of a new style of large scale fishing operation in Australian fisheries’. The bill received Royal Assent on 19 September.
Dental care bill
A bill which will reform dental care was introduced in the House of Representatives on 12 September by the Minister for Health, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP. If passed, the Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012 will subsidise basic dental care for about 3.4 million children from low income families and expand services for adults in the public dental system. The scheme will cover treatments such as check-ups, x-rays, fillings and extractions.
Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012
Inquiry recommends greater support for Indigenous languages
A House of Representatives committee has called on the government to do more to promote the recognition and teaching of Indigenous languages. Thirty recommendations were made by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, following an inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities.
The committee released its report into the inquiry, Our Land Our Languages, on 17 September. It also recommended that young Indigenous children be educated in English and their own language, as this makes it easier for them to learn and means they are more likely to attend school.
The committee received 154 submissions and held 23 public hearings throughout Australia. It found that before white settlement there were over 250 Indigenous languages and today there are about 18 still spoken in Australia. Yurranydjil Dhurrkay from Galiwin'ku in North East Arnhem Land told the inquiry, ‘Our language is like a pearl inside a shell. The shell is like the people that carry the language. If our language is taken away, then that would be like a pearl that is gone. We would be like an empty oyster shell'.
The committee concluded that language is an essential part of Indigenous identity and provides an important foundation for learning.
Slavery and people trafficking bill
The Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has recommended that the Senate pass the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012. The bill, which passed the House of Representatives on 22 August, is designed to bolster Australia's efforts in combating slavery and people trafficking.
According to the United Nations, people trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world. It estimates that there are 2.5 million victims worldwide, including 1.2 million children.
In a speech to the House, the Attorney-General, the Hon Nicola Roxon MP, described people trafficking as the 'modern-day face of slavery'. She said the bill aimed 'to strengthen and expand the capability of investigators and prosecutors to combat people trafficking and slavery' and to make it easier to prosecute those responsible for the offences.
The Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has recommended a number of amendments, or changes, to the bill.
Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 [Provisions]
Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012
Senate rejects container deposit scheme
A private senator's bill which would have introduced a national container deposit scheme was defeated in the Senate on 13 September. The Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010, which was introduced by Senator Ludlam, proposed that a 10 cent deposit be put on all bottles, cans and cartons. Senator Ludlam told the Senate that a container deposit scheme would 'reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, reduce water use and improve air quality'.
New senator to represent South Australia
Anne Ruston was sworn-in on 10 September as the newest senator from South Australia. She replaces Senator Mary-Jo Fisher, who retired due to ill-health. As is custom, she was escorted into the chamber by two other senators.
In accordance with section 15 of the Australian Constitution, Senator Ruston was selected by a joint sitting of the South Australian Parliament to fill the casual vacancy and, like Senator Fisher, is a member of the Liberal Party of Australia. Her current term as a senator will expire in 2017.
Sitting period 14-23 August
High Court green lights plain packaging for cigarettes
The High Court has found that new laws banning brand marks and logos on cigarette packets are allowed under the Australian Constitution. Tobacco companies challenged the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 in the High Court, arguing that under section 51 of the Constitution the Australian Government should compensate them for removing their copyright.
The High Court decision was widely reported in the international media, particularly in the UK and New Zealand where similar laws are being considered. It clears the way for the government to introduce plain packaging from December this year. Cigarette packets will be a drab brown colour, with large graphic health warnings and a discrete brand name. Australia is the first country to introduce laws of this kind.
Offshore processing laws passed
The Parliament has passed a bill that will allow asylum seekers to be detained in centres overseas while their claims for asylum are assessed. The Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2012 was passed by the House of Representatives on 15 August and by the Senate the following day.
The bill included recommendations made by the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers. The panel was asked by the Australian Government to report on the best way to prevent asylum seekers risking their lives on dangerous boat journeys to Australia. Among these recommendations was a return to offshore processing, including reopening centres in Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
Under the bill asylum seekers who arrive by boat will not be resettled any faster than those who apply for asylum through regular channels. The bill was supported by the government and opposition.
Athlete Peter Norman acknowledged for stand on equality
Parliament has acknowledged runner Peter Norman who won silver in the 200 metres at the 1968 Mexico Games but who was later sidelined for taking part in a civil rights protest at the Games.
Two American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who came first and third in the race, gave Black Power salutes after receiving their medals. Norman stood alongside them on the medal podium wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge. Many believe Norman was overlooked for the 1972 Olympic Games because of his actions in Mexico. Despite qualifying, he was not selected to compete. He quit athletics and died in 2006.
The Member for Fraser, Mr Andrew Leigh MP, has called on the Parliament to posthumously apologise to Norman. In a speech in the Federation Chamber, Mr Leigh said Peter Norman was a champion because he won Olympic silver in 1968. Peter Norman was also a champion because he captured the hearts and minds of fair-minded people everywhere when, in 1968, his actions and support for two African-Americans sent a clear message to people around the world, especially in Australia, that basic human rights and equality for all are important'.
Several members of parliament spoke in support of Mr Leigh's call. The Senate also passed a motion acknowledging Norman's brave action in the cause of racial equality.
Young people have a say on workplace bullying
Youth groups have called on the Parliament to consider the needs of young workers when drawing up laws to tackle workplace bullying. The comments were made during a public hearing of the inquiry into workplace bullying, which was held in Adelaide. The inquiry is being conducted by the House of Representatives Employment Committee.
According to the youth groups who appeared as witnesses before the inquiry, young workers are particularly at risk of workplace bullying.
Airport Security Bill
A bill which will allow the use of body scanning equipment for security screening at airports was passed by the Senate on 15 August. The Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012 passed the House of Representatives in May.
Under the bill, body scanning equipment can only be used as long as the images or personal information of people who are screened are not stored or transmitted. This provision was based on an amendment recommended by a Senate Committee.
Reserve Bank of Australia hearing
The governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Glen Stevens, appeared before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics on 24 August. The committee is responsible for scrutinizing, or examining, the work of the RBA. The RBA governor appears before the committee twice a year and reports on Australia’s economic situation and outlook.
Opposition leader suspended from chamber
The Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, was suspended from the House of Representatives for using unparliamentary language. He was ejected under Standing Order 94(a) which allows the Speaker to suspend a member from the chamber for one hour without needing a vote of the House.
Mr Abbott is the fourth Leader of the Opposition in the history of the Australian Parliament to be sent from the chamber. The Hon John Howard MP was the last Leader of the Opposition to be suspended, 26 years ago. The others are the Hon Robert Menzies MP in 1949 and the Hon Joseph Cook MP in 1914.
Three other Leaders of the Opposition – the Hon Kim Beazley MP, the Hon Bert Evatt MP and the Hon Andrew Peacock MP – have also been suspended, but the suspensions did not proceed after they either apologised or the Speaker reversed his decision. Since federation in 1901 no Prime Minister has been suspended from the chamber.
Northern Territory election
The Country Liberal Party (CLP) led by Mr Terry Mills will form the next Northern Territory government. The CLP's victory in the territory election saw a six per cent swing against the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and ends 11 years of Labor rule in the territory. It means that the ALP remains in power federally and in South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT at the state/territory level. The ACT goes to the polls on 20 October.
Former Speaker announces resignation
The former Speaker of the House of the Representatives, Mr Harry Jenkins MP, will retire from Parliament at the next election. Announcing his resignation, Mr Jenkins said 'After over 26 years as the local member, it is time for me to explore other aspects of life'.
One of the longest-serving members in the current Parliament, Mr Jenkins was elected to the Victorian seat of Scullin in a by-election in 1986. He succeeded his father, Harry Jenkins senior, who had held the seat since it was created in 1969, and who also served as Speaker. Mr Jenkins was Speaker of the House from 2008 to 2011.
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) held its 33rd meeting in Canberra on 25 July. It was attended by the Prime Minister, state Premiers, territory Chief Ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association. Top of the agenda was the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which will increase support to disabled people and their carers.
During the meeting, the federal government reached agreement with the South Australian, Tasmanian and Australian Capital Territory governments to trial the scheme from July next year. The Victorian and New South Wales governments have since agreed to take part in the scheme. The NDIS will be jointly funded by the federal and state/territory governments.
COAG was established to foster cooperation between federal and state/territory governments. For details about the outcomes of the meeting, follow this link to the COAG website: www.coag.gov.au/
COAG confirmed Australia’s support for changes to the rules for royal succession to the British throne, which will allow the crown to pass to first-born females. The changes also remove the ban on a monarch marrying a Roman Catholic.
The changes will reform British succession laws, which date back more than 300 years. While it is up to the British Parliament to amend these laws, the reforms have to be agreed to by countries or jurisdictions (such as the Australian states) whose head of state is the Queen. Sixteen Commonwealth nations including Australia agreed to the changes at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth last year.
Sitting period 18 – 28 June
Asylum seeker bill defeated
A private member’s bill which would have allowed offshore processing of asylum seekers was defeated in the Senate on 28 June. The Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 passed the House of Representatives the previous day.
The bill was introduced in February by Independent Mr Rob Oakeshott MP after the High Court ruled that the government’s Malaysian plan was unlawful. Under the Malaysian plan the government would send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 declared refugees. It was hoped this would deter asylum seekers from making the dangerous boat journey to Australia.
Under Mr Oakeshott’s bill the government could send asylum seekers to any one of forty countries, including Malaysia, who agreed to the Bali process – a regional agreement for dealing with asylum seekers.
The government brought forward debate and a vote on the bill after two boats sank en route to Australia with the loss of about 90 lives. Question Time was suspended in the House and the following day in the Senate to allow the often emotional debate to continue.
The House passed the bill after agreeing to an amendment proposed by Independent Mr Andrew Wilkie MP to review the bill after 12 months. However, the Opposition and Greens combined to defeat the bill in the Senate.
The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, then announced that a three-person panel led by former Defence Force chief Angus Houston has been formed to recommend policy options to the Parliament.
To find out more about the bill, follow this link:
Senate committee supports conscience vote on gay marriage
A Senate committee has recommended that all political parties allow their members a free, or conscience, vote in the Parliament on the issue of marriage equality. This was one of the main recommendations made by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in a report on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010.
The bill was introduced into the Senate by Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in September 2010. It is one of three private member’s bills currently before the Parliament which seek to amend, or change, the Marriage Act 1961 to legalise same-sex marriage. The other two bills were introduced in the House of Representatives in February.
In a speech to the Senate, Senator Hanson-Young said the bill would ‘provide equality for same-sex couples [by removing] discrimination under the Marriage Act so that while marriage is still a union between two consenting adults, it is not defined by gender'.
The committee called on the Senate to pass laws to allow same-sex marriage. However, some opposition members of the committee released a dissenting report opposing a conscience vote and any change to the Marriage Act.
Earlier, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs tabled a report into the two private member’s bills before the House. It recommended changing the Marriage Act ‘to ensure equal access to marriage for all couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life’.
However, the committee said that while its report ‘aims to inform the parliament in its debate’, it is up to the Parliament to decide whether to pass the bill. The committee received a record 276 000 responses during its inquiry. Nearly two-thirds were in support of same-sex marriage.
To read the committee reports follow these links: www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=legcon_ctte/marriage_equality_2012/report/index.htm
High Court ruling
The High Court has ruled that the government does not have the power under the Australian Constitution to fund the school chaplaincy program. It made this finding in Williams v the Commonwealth.
The case was brought by Ron Williams, who challenged a funding agreement between the government and the Scripture Union of Queensland. The group provides chaplaincy services at the Queensland state primary school attended by Williams’ children.
The Commonwealth argued that the government could fund the program under section 61 of the Constitution which gives it executive power to carry out the laws of the Commonwealth. However, the High Court found that ‘the Commonwealth's executive power does not include a power to do what the Commonwealth Parliament could authorise the Executive to do, such as entering into agreements or contracts, whether or not the Parliament had actually enacted the legislation [laws].’
In response to the finding, the Parliament passed the Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2012 which gives the government the authority to fund programs of this kind.
To find out more about this case, follow these links:
To find out more about the bill, check this link:
Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher announced that she will resign from the Senate on 10 August. Senator Fisher was appointed to the Senate in 2007 to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Senator Amanda Vanstone. She was then elected to the Senate in 2010.
Under Section 15 of the Constitution, the South Australian Parliament will appoint a replacement for Senator Fisher who is a member of the Liberal Party.
Lin Thorp and Peter Whish-Wilson were sworn in as senators on 21 June to fill the casual vacancies created by the resignations of Tasmanian senators Nick Sherry and Bob Brown. They were sworn in after the President of the Senate, Senator the Hon John Hogg, informed the chamber he had been notified by the Governor of Tasmania that the Tasmanian Parliament had chosen them to fill the vacancies.
Parliament passes new laws to revive shipping industry
The Parliament has passed a series of bills aimed at revitalizing Australia’s shipping industry. The five bills, which make up the government’s ‘Stronger Shipping for a Stronger Economy’ legislative package, will encourage investment in Australian shipping and make it internationally competitive.
In introducing the bills to the House, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Mr Anthony Albanese MP, described the package as ‘the most far-reaching overhaul of the Australian shipping industry since 1912’. He pointed out that in the past ten years the Australian shipping fleet has shrunk from 55 to 21, and concluded ‘we need to act now or we will not have an industry left at all’.
The bills were passed by the House of Representatives on 31 May and by the Senate on 18 June. They received Royal Assent from the Governor-General on 21 June and took effect on 1 July.
Prime Minister at international summits
During the first sitting week in June, the Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, attended the Group 20 Leaders Summit (G20) in Los Cabos, Mexico and the RIO + 20 Conference in Brazil.
During Ms Gillard’s absence from Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon Wayne Swan MP, was acting Prime Minister.
New Marine Parks
The government has announced plans to create 44 new marine reserves, or parks, in coastal waters around Australia. The new reserves will cover a third of Australian waters, giving Australia the largest network of marine parks in the world.
The government can proclaim the reserves under The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. As part of this process, the proposed marine reserves will be open to a final round of public comment. It is expected that the final marine reserves will be declared before the end of this year.
Sitting period: 21 – 31 May 2012
Senate estimates hearings
Senate estimates hearings were conducted during this sitting period. Estimates hearings allow the Senate to examine the government’s Budget bills in greater detail.
The Budget is the government’s yearly plan of how it will collect and spend revenue, or money, such as income and company tax. The Treasurer, the Hon Wayne Swan MP, delivered the Budget in the House of Representatives on 8 May.
Estimates hearings are conducted by the eight Senate legislation committees. Each committee is responsible for examining different government departments and agencies.
During the hearings, the committees ask ministers and senior public servants from government departments to explain government spending. Senate estimates hearings are an important way of scrutinising the government and making it accountable to the Parliament.
Parliament updates 100-year-old Act
A bill that will rewrite the Navigation Act 1912 was introduced into the House of Representatives on 24 May. The Navigation (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2012 was presented to the House by the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP.
As well as making new laws, the Parliament updates existing ones to make sure they meet the contemporary needs of society. The Navigation Act was passed 100 years ago and in the wake of the sinking of the Titanic.
Parts of the original Act were taken from the British Merchant Shipping Act 1894 and included laws dating back to the 18th century. For example, under the Act it was an offense to take a lunatic to sea without telling the master of the ship.
The bill removes such outdated provisions and introduces new regulation for Australia’s rapidly expanding shipping industry. It covers areas such as safety, employment conditions for Australian seafarers and the protection of the marine environment.
Mabo Native Title decision remembered
The twentieth anniversary of the Mabo High Court decision was marked in the House of Representatives. In a speech to the House, the Attorney-General, the Hon Nicola Roxon MP, described the decision as ‘a turning point for reconciliation in Australia’ and ‘a significant step forward in truly recognising the proud history of the Indigenous peoples of this land’.
On 3 June 1992, the High Court found that native title rights had not been extinguished by British settlement. The decision overturned the doctrine of terra nullius – that Australia was a land belonging to no one – on which British claims to possession of Australia were based. It opened the way for Indigenous Australians to have native title of their lands recognised.
The judgment was named after Eddie Koiki Mabo who along with Sam Passi, David Passi, Celuia Mapo Salee and James Rice, asked the High Court to recognise that the Meriam people were the traditional owners of Mer, an island in the Torres Strait.
In response to the historic decision, the Parliament passed The Native Title Act 1993. The Act makes it possible for Indigenous people, who can show a continuing connection to the land, to claim native title. It sparked one of the longest debates in the Senate, which ran for 51 hours and 49 minutes.
To view an address by former Prime Minister the Hon Paul Keating MP explaining his government’s response to the Mabo decision, follow this link: aso.gov.au/titles/tv/mabo-an-address-to-the-nation/
The National Indigenous Youth Parliament
The first National Indigenous Youth Parliament was held in Canberra from 23 to 29 May. The event was organised by the Australian Electoral Commission to mark fifty years since Indigenous people gained the right to vote in federal elections.
The National Indigenous Youth Parliament, which was made up of fifty representatives from across Australia, met in the House of Representatives chamber in Old Parliament House. A number of issues were debated, including the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Parliament, housing reform and a bill to make cultural awareness compulsory in schools.
During the week-long event, the group met with members of parliament, including Mr Ken Wyatt MP, the first Indigenous person elected to the House of Representatives. They also attended a reception at Government House hosted by the Governor-General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC.
Among those who addressed the National Indigenous Youth Parliament were the Hon Jenny Macklin MP, Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the Hon Peter Garrett MP, Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth.
Senate committee cautions on airport screening
The Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee has recommended that Australian airports only use ionising backscatter x-ray, or body scanning, equipment for security screening in exceptional circumstances.
This was one of the recommendations made by the committee following an inquiry into the Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012. The bill, which is currently before the House of Representatives, amends the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004. It would allow body-scanning technology to be used for security screening at airports as long as the images or personal information of people who are screened are not stored or transmitted.
The committee also recommended that any new security screening technology be thoroughly tested to make sure it complies with relevant health regulations.
For more information about the Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012, follow this link: www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=r4745
To read the committee report, follow this link: www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=rrat_ctte/aviation_screening_2012/index.htm
Do Not Knock Register
The Member for Hindmarsh, Mr Steve Georganas MP, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives on 21 May that would create a Do Not Knock register.
The Do Not Knock Register Bill 2012 would allow people to opt out of receiving unsolicited marketing calls by placing their address on a register. The scheme is similar to the Do Not Call register, which allows people to register so as not to be contacted by telemarketers.
Under the bill, calls from certain organisations and individuals such as government bodies, charities, religious organisations, politicians and political candidates, would still be allowed.
To find out more about the bill, follow this link: www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=r4792
Sitting period: 8–10 May 2012
The Treasurer, the Hon Wayne Swan MP, handed down the Budget in the House of Representatives on 8 May. The Budget is the government’s plan for how it intends to raise revenue (taxes and other charges) over the coming financial year and how it will spend this money. It outlines the specific amount of money allocated to government departments and programs.
It was the fifth Budget delivered by Mr Swan. New initiatives announced in the Budget included the National Disability Insurance Scheme and an extra 800 million dollars for dental and aged care.
The government also introduced the Schoolkids Bonus to give families up to $410 for each child in primary school and up to $820 for each child in high school. The Schoolkids Bonus, which will be means-tested, will replace the Education Tax refund from 1 January next year.
The Parliament will scrutinise and debate the Budget over the coming weeks. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate must agree to the Budget. They do this by passing a series of Budget bills called Appropriation Bills. To find out more about the Budget, follow this link: www.budget.gov.au/
Opposition reply to Budget
The Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, gave the traditional Budget reply speech on 10 May. During the speech in the House of Representatives, Mr Abbott put forward the opposition’s response to the Budget.
Dean Smith was sworn in as a senator for Western Australia on 8 May. Senator Smith filled the casual vacancy created by the death of Senator Judith Adams after a long illness.
As required by the Australian Constitution, Mr Smith was nominated by the Western Australian Parliament and, like Senator Adams before him, he is a member of the Liberal Party of Australia. He is the first Smith to sit in the Senate since 1906.
Peter Whish-Wilson has been selected to fill the casual Senate vacancy created by the retirement of former Greens leader, Senator Bob Brown. Mr Whish-Wilson will take up his seat in June.
Condolences for Senator Adams
At the commencement of sitting, the Senate passed a condolence motion for Senator Adams. Senators spoke warmly about the contribution Senator Adams made during her seven years in Parliament, particularly as an advocate for rural Australia.
A former nurse, midwife and farmer, Senator Adams became the second-oldest women to enter Parliament when she was elected in 2004. During her term in the Senate she served as deputy opposition whip
Senator Brown resigns as Greens leader
Tasmanian senator Bob Brown has resigned as parliamentary leader of the Australian Greens. He will remain in the Senate until June when his successor is appointed. Senator Brown declared he wanted to make way for the 'depth of talent that there is in the party', adding that 'it is prime time to hand over the reins'.
In 1996, Senator Brown became the second Greens senator elected to federal Parliament. Today there are nine Greens in the Senate. At the last election, Greens MP, Mr Adam Bandt was elected to the House of Representatives. The Greens currently hold the balance of power in the Senate.
Tasmanian senator Christine Milne was unanimously elected as leader by the Greens parliamentary party, and Mr Adam Bandt MP replaced her as deputy leader.
Under section 15 of the Australian Constitution, if a senator retires before the end of their term, a new senator is appointed to fill the casual vacancy. The appointment is made by the parliament in the state or territory from which the retiring senator was chosen. A 1977 amendment to section 15 also requires that the new senator be nominated from the same political party or group as the previous senator.
The Council of Australia Governments (COAG) held its 32nd meeting at Parliament House on 13 April 2012. The meeting was chaired by the Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, and was attended by the state premiers, territory chief ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association.
A number of issues were discussed, including cutting 'green' tape to remove duplication of environmental approval processes for large developments. The COAG meeting also agreed to a skills package aimed at tackling a projected skills shortage in Australia. For details about the outcomes of the meeting, follow this link to the COAG website: www.coag.gov.au/coag_meeting_outcomes/2012-04-13/index.cfm
2012 marks 20 years since COAG first met in December 1992. It was established to foster cooperation between federal and state/territory governments.
Report on Immigration Detention Network released
The Joint Select Committee on Australia's Immigration Detention Network released its final report on 30 March. The committee made 31 recommendations, including that asylum seekers should spend no more than 90 days in detention. If asylum seekers were detained for more than 90 days, the Department of Immigration should publish the reasons for continued detention.
The committee received over 3500 submissions and held 11 public hearings. It also visited detention facilities on Christmas Island and in Sydney and Melbourne. The committee found 'evidence overwhelmingly indicates that prolonged detention exacts a heavy toll on people, most particularly on their mental health and wellbeing'. It backed community detention as a less costly and harmful alternative. Opposition members of the committee released a dissenting report. To read the reports, follow this link: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees? url=immigration_detention_ctte/immigration_detention/index.htm
Sitting period: 13 – 22 March 2012
Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill passed
The Senate passed the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill (MRRT) 2011 on 19 March by 38 votes to 32. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives in November last year and applies a 30% levy on iron-ore and coal projects which make 'super' profits above $75 million. The tax will operate from 1 July 2012. To find out more about this bill, follow this link:
Automatic voter enrolment
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) will automatically enrol voters if a bill currently before the Senate is passed. The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012 would allow the Electoral Commissioner to directly enrol electors who meet eligibility criteria. Voters would have 28 days to object to the enrolment.
The bill was a key recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on electoral matters, which examined the conduct of the 2010 federal election. Direct or automatic enrolment is used in a number of European countries including Denmark, Austria, Finland, France, Germany and Sweden.
Voting is compulsory for all Australians aged 18 years and over. However, individuals must enrol with the AEC in order to vote. The AEC estimates that 1.5 million Australians who are eligible to vote are not enrolled – this is equivalent to 10 000 people in each of the 150 federal electorates. Only 52 percent of 18 year olds are enrolled compared to about 90 percent of all Australian voters.
Year of Enrolment launched
2012 marks 100 years since the right and responsibility to vote became law in Australia and 50 years since all Aboriginal Australians were entitled to vote in federal elections.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) celebrated these milestones with the launch of the '2012 Year of Enrolment' at Parliament House on 19 March. The AEC will use the campaign to target the estimated 1.5 million Australians who are not on the electoral roll.
New senator sworn in
Mr Bob Carr was sworn in as a senator for New South Wales on 13 March to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator Mark Arbib. In his first speech to the chamber, Senator Carr noted that he is the 548th person to become an Australian senator.
Senate committee makes recommendation on airlines
The Senate Standing Committee on Transport, Rural and Regional Affairs has recommended that airlines should only ground their fleet of aircraft for safety reasons. This was one of the recommendations made in a report tabled in the Senate on 22 March.
An airline would need to submit a safety case to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Department of Transport and Infrastructure before grounding its fleet. The committee recommended that airlines be fined if it was found that claims of safety concerns were false. To read the committee report, follow this link: www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=rrat_ctte/aircraft_crew_2011/report/index.htm
House committee says cut 'red tape' to allow overseas trained doctors to practice in Australia
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing has recommended that obstacles faced by overseas trained doctors wanting to qualify to practice in Australia be removed.
The recommendation came out of the committee's inquiry into registration processes and support for overseas trained doctors. The report on the inquiry, 'Lost in the Labyrinth', was tabled in Parliament on 19 March. While the committee recommended cutting red tape, it also said that overseas trained doctors should still meet Australia's high accreditation standards.
The inquiry received 216 submissions and heard evidence directly from 145 witnesses during 22 public hearings in 12 different cities. It found that Australia relies on overseas trained doctors to fill medical practitioner shortages, particularly in regional, rural and remote communities, where they make up about 40% of the medical workforce. To read the committee report, follow this link:
Senate committee supports changes to social security
The Community Affairs Legislation Committee has recommended that the Senate pass the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support and Other Measures) Bill 2012. The bill would make several changes to social security, including raising the age at which unemployed youth can receive the New Start Allowance to 22 years.
At present, unemployed youth are entitled to Youth Allowance from the age of 16 to 21, and the New Start Allowance from the age of 21. The New Start Allowance is paid at a higher rate, however recipients are expected to search for jobs. Those who receive Youth Allowance can focus on study. To read the committee report, follow this link:
Sitting period: 27 February – 1 March 2012
Senator Mark Arbib from New South Wales announced his resignation from the Senate on 27 February, saying he wished to spend more time with his family. The former New South Wales Premier, Mr Bob Carr, has been nominated to fill the Senate vacancy created by his resignation.
Under section 15 of the Australian Constitution, if a senator retires before the end of their term, a new senator is appointed to fill the casual vacancy. The appointment is made by the parliament in the state or territory from which the retiring senator was chosen. A 1977 amendment to section 15 also requires that the new senator is nominated from the same political party or group as the previous senator.
Mr Carr's appointment was confirmed by a joint sitting of the New South Wales Parliament on 6 March. He was sworn-in as a senator on 13 March.
The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, announced a reshuffle of the federal ministry on 2 March. Mr Bob Carr has been nominated as Minister for Foreign Affairs. Under section 64 of the Constitution, a minister can be appointed from outside the Parliament but must then become a senator or member of the House of Representatives within three months.
Under the reshuffle, Mr Brendan O'Connor MP has been promoted to the Cabinet as Minister for Small Business and Minister for Housing and Homelessness. ACT senator, Kate Lundy, joins the ministry as Minister for Sport and Minister for Multicultural Affairs, while Mr David Bradbury MP has been appointed Assistant Treasurer. Senator Kim Carr moves from the Manufacturing portfolio to become Minster for Human Services.
The new ministry, except for Mr Carr, was sworn-in by the Governor-General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC, on 5 March. Senator Carr was sworn-in on 13 March, after taking up his position in the Senate. For a full list of the new ministry follow the link on this page:
Senate inquiry into forced adoptions
A Senate committee has recommended that the government make a national apology to mothers and children who were victims of past forced adoption practices. This was among 20 recommendations made by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs following an inquiry into 'Commonwealth contribution to former forced adoption policies and practices'.
The 18 month inquiry found that between the 1950s and 1970s about 150 000 unmarried mothers were forced to give up their babies for adoption. The inquiry received 400 submissions.
About 100 victims of forced adoption practices watched from the Senate public gallery as the Committee chairwoman, Senator Rachael Siewert, tabled the report on 29 February. The report also recommended counselling and assistance to help families reunite. To read the report, follow this link:
R 18 + category for computer games
An R 18+ restricted category would be created for computer games under a government bill introduced into the House of Representatives. If passed, the bill would amend the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to bring classification categories for gaming in line with existing categories for film and television.
Under the current act, computer games are categorised as G (General), PG (Parental Guidance), M (Mature), MA 15+ (Mature Accompanied) and RC (Refused Classification). There is no category restricted to adults only. The R 18+ computer game category will indicate to consumers, parents and retailers which games are not suitable for children.
Bill to tackle cybercrime
The Senate continued to debate the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill when Parliament sat from 27 February to 1 March. The bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives last year, would strengthen Australia's cyber security laws to bring them in line with the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime.
Under the bill, the Australian Federal Police and other government agencies could compel phone companies and internet carriers to preserve data, such as SMS messages and emails, belonging to customers suspected of committing a cybercrime. This data would be kept for 90 days.
The bill also permits Australian police and intelligence agencies to give foreign countries investigating cybercrime access to phone and email records. It aims to target cybercrimes such as online fraud, child pornography, copyright offences and security breaches. The Australian Greens have proposed several amendments to the bill in the Senate.
Bill to improve gender equity at work
A bill designed to improve gender equity in the workplace has been introduced into the House of Representatives by the Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins MP. The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 2012 will encourage employers to remove barriers to the full and equal participation of women in the workforce.
In presenting the bill to the House, the Minister said that 'It has been estimated that closing the gap between men's and women's workforce participation could boost gross domestic product by 13 per cent'.
If passed, the bill would change the name of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 to the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 to reflect a focus on improving conditions in the workplace for both women and men. The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency would also be renamed the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
In the wake of disasters
A committee inquiry into the operation of the insurance industry during disaster events has called for stronger protection for consumers. This was among 13 recommendations made by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs.
The committee presented its report, In the Wake of Disasters, to the Parliament on 27 February. It called for the Australian Securities and Investment Commission to have the power to name insurers who breach the industry's code of practice and for the code to be strengthened and to be made compulsory. To read the report, follow this link:
Sitting period: 7 – 16 February 2012
Bill passed to means-test private health insurance rebate
The Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2011 was passed by the House of Representatives on 15 February by a vote of 71-70. At present, people who take out private health insurance receive a 30 percent rebate on their payments. Under the bill, the rebate will be means-tested for individuals earning more than $83 000 and families earning more than $166 000 each year. If passed by the Senate, the changes are expected to take effect from 1 July.
Same-sex marriage bills
Two private members' bills aimed at legalising gay marriage were introduced into the House of Representatives on 13 February. Mr Adam Bandt MP, from the Australian Greens, and Independent, Mr Andrew Wilkie MP introduced the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012, while the ALP's Mr Stephen Jones put forward the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012.
Both bills seek to amend, or change, the Marriage Act 1961 to allow same-sex couples to marry. However, the Bandt/Wilkie bill includes a provision that religious ministers should not be compelled to perform same-sex ceremonies.
Another bill seeking to legalise same-sex marriage, introduced in the Senate in 2010 by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, is before a Senate inquiry.
Senate legislation committees have concluded a week of estimates hearings. Senate estimates are held several times a year at Parliament House when the Senate refers estimates of proposed annual government spending to the committees for examination and report.
During the hearings, the committees ask ministers and senior public servants from government departments to explain how the government is spending taxpayer's money. Senate estimates hearings are an important means of scrutinising the government and making it accountable to the Parliament.
Bill to monitor whaling
Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens, introduced a private senator's bill in the Senate which, if passed, would require a Commonwealth boat to monitor foreign whaling ships in the Australian Whale Sanctuary.
Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Monitoring of Whaling) Bill 2012, the government would have to publicise information gathered by the Commonwealth boat.
Online games to be exempted from classification
A Senate committee has supported a bill to exempt mobile device and online games from classification until Australia's classification scheme is reformed. The classification of mobile device and online games is part of a wider review of the National Classification Scheme currently being conducted by the Australian Law Reform Commission. The review is expected to be completed by the end of February.
In a report tabled on 9 February, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee recommended that the Senate pass the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Online Games) Bill 2011 [Provisions].Under the bill, mobile device or online games that contain RC (Refused Classification) material would not be exempt from classification.
To find out more about the Senate committee inquiry into this bill, follow this link:
The Speaker, the Hon Mr Peter Slipper MP, has reinstated a longer and more formal Speaker's procession into the House of Representatives. It will take place on Tuesday at the beginning of each parliamentary sitting.
The procession, which will last about two minutes, commences in the Members Hall and can be observed by visitors from the first floor of Parliament House. The Speaker will be preceded into the House by the Serjeant-at-Arms, who carries the Mace. This formal procession was last carried out 30 years ago by the then Speaker, the Hon Billy Snedden MP.
Parliament resumes for 2012
Parliament resumed on 7 February with the Senate sitting at 12.30pm and the House of Representatives returning with Question Time at 2pm.
On the second day of sitting, the House of Representatives agreed to a number of changes to Question Time. Under the changes, the length of each question will be limited to 30 seconds and answers to three minutes. Previously, questions could be 45 seconds and answers up to four minutes long.
The House of Representatives has agreed to rename the Main Committee, which is the second chamber of the House, as the Federation Chamber. The change will take effect from 27 February.
The second chamber operates on Wednesday and Thursday mornings of sitting weeks at the same time as the House of Representatives chamber. It gives members of the House of Representatives more time to debate bills that are not considered controversial, to consider committee reports and to make three minute constituency statements.
The name change, which was recommended by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure, was made to avoid confusion with the Main Committee Room, a meeting room at Parliament House used for activities such as committee hearings, press conferences and public lectures. The committee also felt that the new name would enhance the Federation Chamber's status as a parallel debating chamber of the House of Representatives and provide a symbolic link to Australia's parliamentary democracy.