I was elected in 2007 to the Western Australian Senate through a combination of good fortune, a feisty and talented core team and an inspiring state-wide mobilisation of candidates and volunteers. That’s the election that swept Kevin 07 into office, drew a line under the Howard Government and punted Howard himself out of office.
In September 2008 in my first speech in there I sketched out the reasons we’d run the campaign and what we hoped to achieve.
During the election we had launched a campaign to bring a light rail network back to the streets of Perth, which evolved into nine years of fruitful work with local government, industry, engineers and urban planners to create a bold plan to transform our community through the WA 2.0 project. In 2014, this work won the Planning Institute of Australia’s (PIA) National Planning Champion award, which recognises innovation and excellence in Australia’s urban landscape.
A centrepiece of this plan was formed around the national housing affordability initiatives we launched between 2013 and 2015, catching everything from emergency shelters to negative gearing reform and a massive social housing build. We were able to get the housing affordability debate moving at long last.
As communications spokesperson between 2008 and 2017, I accidentally wound up in the middle of a campaign against the Federal Government’s doomed attempt to introduce a mandatory net filter, followed by a six year campaign against mandatory data retention. We won amendments to better secure public ownership of the National Broadband Network and my time in Parliament hammered home the importance of a diverse, accessible communications sector that doesn’t involve commercial predation and real-time surveillance of users. We also helped put the long-neglected but utterly awesome Australian Games developer community on the Parliamentary radar.
It was a real honour to be able to pursue anti-nuclear campaigns on the national stage. We supported the Muckaty mob in their fight to protect their land from the Howard/Rudd/Gillard/Abbott government’s appalling nuclear dump proposal and we campaigned successfully for compensation for atomic veterans and desert mobs exposed to British nuclear weapons tests. I travelled through the Fukushima evacuation area in 2012 and am pretty done with the dwindling number of nuclear power cheerleaders. Right before finishing up in the Senate, I was honoured to be at the United Nations for the final-stage negotiations for a nuclear weapons ban.
My first act in Parliament was to re-introduce a bill requiring parliamentary approval for sending Australian troops to war. Like many other Australians, I’ve had enough of successive Governments following and enabling one US foreign policy catastrophe after another. As someone who was privileged to travel to Afghanistan in 2012 I believe it’s time for Australia to take its place in the world as an independent, compassionate and creative middle power.
In 2014 I made some comments welcoming then Prime Minister Tony Abbott to WA for the unprecedented Senate by-election, which seemed to strike a nerve amongst many people repelled by the hard-line approach of the Abbott Government.
Things haven’t improved much have they: some of the faces and slogans have changed, but the underlying machinery requires the same creative resistance and advocacy as it always did.
One of the highlights of the job was getting access to Senate Estimates Committees. Three times a year, the top tier of the public service are given an opportunity to answer direct questions from Senators. I took the opportunity to ask them about everything from Julian Assange’s disgraceful abandonment to the dystopian plans for a national digital facial recognition ‘capability’. One late night session with the health department on the astonishing lack of support for people with Myalgic Encephalomyelits / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) helped build momentum for genuine recognition for the millions missing as a consequence of the condition.
In July 2017, I was made aware of an act of carelessness dating all the way back to 2006 when I signed up for this work: even if you haven’t lived there since you were three, being New Zealand-born confers lifetime citizenship entitlements. Section 44(i) of the Australian Constitution is pretty clear about things like that, and it was immediately obvious that I’d have to resign. In the weeks following, our own Prime Minister rapidly downgraded the Constitution to a set of optional guidelines, but the High Court thought otherwise and eventually punted more than a dozen of us.
Working with the supportive and incredibly dedicated Australian Greens team was a once in a lifetime experience. I’ll deeply miss it and never forget it. To everyone who made it possible: you know who you are. Thankyou.
Fortunately, there are other ways to make trouble.