I have been honoured to represent South Australia as an Independent Senator for just over 400 days. The opportunity to serve the people of South Australia in what I hope has been their best interests does not come to many.
I pledged in my First Speech last May that I would review every issue on its merits and on the basis of the evidence, assessing legislation and other measures against four benchmarks of Integrity, Fairness, Prosperity and Sustainability. I promised I would not engage in trade-offs for political gain.
I have been as good as my word and hope to have contributed to the standard of debate and the quality of legislation over these 14 months. I hope that my approach has helped produce better results for South Australians in particular, and the nation in general.
I am proud of the fact that I opposed the company tax package proposed by the Government – reducing the impact on the budget by 36 billion dollars over the next decade. I am pleased that in the end other crossbenchers joined me in accepting it was a policy the nation could neither afford nor that it would produce as many jobs or as much growth as alternatives like investment in our physical and intellectual infrastructure.
I am especially gratified to have initiated and chaired the Senate Inquiry into Electric Vehicles. Its recommendations will mean a cleaner, healthier and cheaper future for motorists and their families, if put into effect. My own additional recommendations in the report established a pathway to enable Australia to catch up and I am pleased that the ALP has drawn on my work to develop credible policy.
It was an honour to co-sponsor amendments to legislation which has resulted in more humane medical treatment for people on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea without jeopardising national security or re-starting people smuggling. Our treatment of asylum seekers has been a stain on our national character.
I am proud to have actively argued for an increase in the Newstart allowance, and I am disappointed neither the government nor the ALP is prepared to commit to such action. It is a disgrace that the level of Newstart has been unchanged in real terms for a quarter of a century, leaving many jobless, living in poverty, and unable to effectively seek work.
Climate change and the environment are the most important issues confronting the nation especially for our children who are paying the price for our negligence. I have tried to contribute to this debate through my advocacy for meeting and going beyond our Paris Agreement targets, and for a stronger focus on renewables to generate efficiencies, benefits and employment.
In particular, I have sought greater action to realise the benefits of energy efficiency both in general, but also in my own bill to assist renters and landlords in low income rental properties.
Restoring the Murray Darling Basin to sustainability led me to press for more accurate measurement of water being taken out of the system, more transparent and accountable decision-making, and reference to effects of climate change. The absence of reliable data makes credible decisions about the competing interests just that much more difficult.
I remain concerned that the government is not paying sufficient attention to opposition within coastal and wider communities to proposals for drilling in the Great Australian Bight. With that in mind, I introduced legislation requiring a more rigorous process demanding wider consideration of the proposals benchmarked against international conventions, the possibility of considerable environmental damage and ecological sustainability, all within the current EPBC Act.
With surveys showing public confidence in our federal politics rarely lower, I noted that we need a step change in the way politics is done in this country, and introduced my Parliamentary Transparency Charter which includes a suite of reforms for greater transparency and accountability in our Federal political system. A total of 18 crossbench parliamentarians signed onto the Charter while both the major parties did not.
I am also pushing Ministers to disclose a list of the (in-house and third party) lobbyists and interested parties they have met with since the beginning of 2019, as I have done myself and which occurs in NSW and Queensland.
Other issues I have pursued include moving away from the live sheep export trade, pressing the case of amendments to legislation on modern slavery, reform of the nomination process for the ABC Board and improved funding certainty, regional migration and population growth and skills development, and a deeper response to the obesity epidemic.
I argued for increasing funding for community law centres and legal aid in response to the findings of the Banking Royal Commission, and supported initiatives to Close the Gap via deeper involvement of First Nations people in government procurement and new businesses as well as calls for a First Nations voice in parliament enshrined in our Constitution and a Makarrata Commission.
After much thought and consideration with my family, with full knowledge of life as an Independent Senator and the implications of what this means for my young family for the next six years, I have decided to not nominate for re-election. I believe it would be disingenuous of me to ask South Australians for their vote in these circumstances.
This has been a difficult decision for me. I am deeply appreciative of the support I have received from many members of the community and the respect with which I have been treated by my fellow Senators and other parliamentarians.
Thoughtful and principled independents have an important role to play as I hope I have demonstrated. I urge voters to consider that as they weigh up who to support on May 18th.