We politicians are back in Canberra this morning after a five-week winter recess. It sounds like a long break, but federal politicians work seven days a week, so it passed by in a flash. As a mother of a young daughter, I cherish such times as I was able to spend more time with her. Even the Prime Minister had a few days out of the media spotlight, although she stayed in Canberra. Tony Abbott, too, put the hard hat and reflective vest down for 10 days and went overseas with his family.
But this morning, it's back to reality. It will be a busy fortnight ahead in Parliament, indeed for the sitting weeks until the summer recess. Topics to be tackled include the introduction of legislation to put a price on carbon, a mining resources rent tax, the taxation summit and also changes to immigration policy.
While Parliament had a break, the Gillard government reached its Malaysian human swap deal. Australia's agreed to spend at least $292 million to expel 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in a desperate attempt to look as inhumane as Tony Abbott. Both houses of parliament have condemned the deal, but because the government does not need parliament's permission, it can enact the deal using the same 2001 laws passed after the Tampa incident.
The Greens oppose the Malaysia option, as we do the Nauru one and the planned reopening of Manus Island. We will move today to refer the Malaysian deal to a Senate inquiry so we can get to the bottom of exactly what will happen to people, especially vulnerable people, should they be expelled to a country where there are no guarantees their human rights will be protected. In the meantime, the legality of the agreement is being challenged in the High Court. The full bench will sit in Canberra on August 22. I hope the challenge succeeds and that the government scraps the agreement. The Greens, and plenty of everyday Australians, do not want vulnerable people, especially unaccompanied children, sent overseas when it's cheaper and more humane for their claims for protection to be assessed here.
Legislation to introduce a price on carbon will be tabled in the coming weeks. The Greens believe the measure will help transition the economy to a low-carbon one and create new jobs in the renewable energy sector. It appears the Gillard government has the numbers to pass it, because the Greens support the measure, as do the crucial independents who helped negotiate it via the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee - Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. Tasmanian independent MP, Andrew Wilkie, also backs it.
A mining tax will also come a step closer before Christmas. The Greens prefer the older "super profits" tax proposed under the former Rudd government, but that's no longer an option. We wanted the government to follow the suggestion of Treasury to use the tax to create a $10 billion sovereign wealth fund.In October the government will hold its tax summit. The Greens want the government to put a super-profits tax on banks on the agenda to debate the guarantees and other forms of public support the banks received from the Commonwealth during the global financial crisis.
As you can see, Canberra will again be a very busy place as we show Australians how minority governments can work to get legislation debated and passed.
First published in The National Times on August 16, 2011.