Australia politics live: Labor and Greens reach agreement on Murray-Darling Basin plan; Chalmers to introduce RBA change legislation | Australian politics

Australia politics live: Labor and Greens reach agreement on Murray-Darling Basin plan; Chalmers to introduce RBA change legislation | Australian politics

Labor and Greens reach agreement on Murray-Darling Basin plan

Lisa Cox

The government and the Greens have reached a deal to pass legislation to amend the Murray-Darling Basin plan.

The environment and water minister, Tanya Plibersek, in a joint press conference with the Greens environment spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young, said the two parties had agreed to a series of amendments to strengthen the bill before parliament.

Plibersek said these include ensuring an additional 450 gigalitres of environmental water to allow flows to South Australia was delivered by 2027. The federal government would also have the power to withdraw state infrastructure projects that are deemed unviable. And the Aboriginal Water Entitlement Program will receive a funding boost to $100m.

The legislation before the Senate extends the deadline to reach water recovery targets from 2024 to 2027 after it became clear the plan would fail to reach the 2024 deadline. It also allows buybacks to resume after being halted by the previous government.

Plibersek said she had been clear she was determined to deliver the plan:

This is a critical time for our environment – I don’t want communities to wake up one day with a dry river and know their governments could have done more …

Not delivering this is simply not an option. We want to make sure we have a healthy and sustainable river system for the communities, industry, First Nations groups and environment that rely on it.

Key events

Josh Butler

Josh Butler

Kennedy MP Bob Katter has wants to replace the British monarch’s image on the back of Australian coins, suggesting scrapping King Charles in favour of Indigenous warrior Tubba Tre or army veteran Ralph Honner.

The longtime federal MP has also again stated that he has “refused to swear allegiance to a foreign monarch” over his 50 years in politics. When asked if that meant he is not “a proper MP”, Katter responded “it would sound like it”.

Katter held a short press conference this morning, unveiling a mocked-up version of an Australian coin featuring the image of an Indigenous warrior he identified as Tubba Tre. Katter listed him as “the leader of the Kalkadoons, that held the British empire at bay for arguably over 20 years, with brilliant guerrilla tactics by my mob, the Kalkadoons.”

Katter also held up an image of Ralph Honner, an Australian army leader during the Kokoda track campaign and later an Australian ambassador to Ireland, saying he hadn’t had time to mock up a coin with Honner’s face but that he would also be keen to see his image on national currency.

In a press release before the event, Katter wrote: “Everyone who comes to this place swears allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, with one exception. I didn’t, and I never have. In my 50 years in politics I’ve refused to swear allegiance to a foreign monarch.”

At the press conference, Katter was asked about the situation last year when senator Lidia Thorpe was forced to repeat her swearing-in, after being told she was required to recite the oath as printed.

Katter was asked if he, then, had also been properly sworn in.

I haven’t done it for 50 years*,” he replied.

But I’ll tell you what, the Australian people will say I’m a proper MP, and they’re the people who count.”

*Just popping in on Josh’s post here – when Katter first raised that he didn’t swear allegiance to the regent I checked with the Speakers’ office – and there is no problem. He has performed the oath as it is set out.

CPSU head says Pezzullo’s termination ‘appropriate and necessary’

The Community and Public Sector Union national secretary, Melissa Donnelly, has responded to the news of Mike Pezzullo’s termination as departmental head of home affairs.

Donnelly said the termination, following a review, was “an appropriate and necessary step” as the public service values need to apply to the bosses, as well as those who work under them.

The CPSU would like to acknowledge the tens of thousands of APS employees who, despite the failures of senior APS leadership, have continued to serve our country with integrity.

Our union will continue to advocate for a public service that is strong, frank and fearless – one that can maintain the trust and confidence of all Australians.

Nationals senator claims Murray-Darling basin plan will drive up food prices

The Nationals senator Perin Davey, who was lurking in the background of the joint press conference between Labor minister Tanya Plibersek and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young (following the deal the two parties came to on the Murray Darling basin plan) has held her own press conference.

Davey is not happy with the plan.

As she makes clear.

We’ve just heard what happens when Labor party and the Greens agree to a coalition in government. We’ve heard that the Labor party and the Greens have come to an agreement on the Water Amendment Bill (Restoring Our Rivers).

We have heard that we know – now the minister might not want to put a number on it, but I can put a number on it – that they will buy back more than 225 gigalitres of water, because this amendment removes the cap on buyback, and that is the volume under that cap that is still available for them to purchase. We’ve just heard that the minister acknowledges that buybacks hurt rural and regional Murray Darling Basin communities, but they don’t care.

The plan is attempting to balance business (and yes, farming is a business) needs with environmental needs – the river system is sick and the only way to address the issues is to make sure it keeps enough water to rebuild its ecosystem.

Davey says, though, that the prices of food will increase:

Now the minister won’t tell you how much it will cost Australian taxpayers to purchase this water. But I tell you, how much will it cost you in your grocery prices? How much will it cost rural and regional communities in jobs? How much will it cost the rice millers, the dairy processors, the canneries in their jobs? That is what cost this is.

I’ll just remind you of the $100 lamb roast that never came to pass.

Greens senator says conditions to be placed on released detainees show ‘Dutton is running the show’

The Greens senator Nick McKim has criticised Andrew Giles’ announcement of further conditions to be placed on refugees and migrants who were released from indefinite detention by the high court decision as “further proof Peter Dutton is running the show”.

McKim said Labor has “clearly learned nothing from last week”:

They may as well reappoint Peter Dutton as minister for home affairs and be done with it.

This isn’t leadership; it’s a betrayal of principles in the face of political pressure. They have completely folded in the face of a rightwing scare campaign.

Again we see one group of people in our country treated more harshly than another just because they are not citizens. Mandatory sentences are contrary to good governance and Labor’s own policy platform.

For Labor to introduce them today just shows that they are only interested in appeasing the far right.

Pro-Palestine protests in Melbourne and at Pine Gap in the NT

AAP has reported on the simultaneous protests happening in Melbourne and the Northern Territory this morning:

Palestine supporters have staged a demonstration outside the United States consulate in Melbourne and near Pine Gap defence facility in the Northern Territory.

The entrance to the consulate’s office on St Kilda Road in the Victorian capital was seen splattered with red paint on Monday morning.

Signs reading “stop the genocide”, “close Pine Gap” and a Palestinian flag were hung from temporary fencing and placed on the ground. More than a dozen demonstrators attended and some gave speeches.

Protesters are also targeting the Australian-US military facility Pine Gap near Alice Springs, claiming Israel Defence Forces rely on information gathered there.

Northern Territory police confirmed they had received reports of protest activity at 4.40am on Monday on Hatt Road, about 100m from the Stuart Highway turn-off to Pine Gap.

No one has been arrested and traffic diversions are in place.

Consultation on life insurers’ use of genetic testing opened under government paper

This is a slightly weird one, but a sign, as Harry Styles would say, of the times.

The Albanese government has opened up consultation on addressing the use of genetic testing by life insurers. There are benefits to genetic testing – learning about whether or not you carry a certain gene can help save your life – but there are worries that this information could then be used to alter how much you pay (or if you are covered at all) for things like life insurance.

Stephen Jones and Josh Burns have released a statement saying that currently, “the Disability Discrimination Act provides an exemption for life insurers to use genomic or genetic test results when underwriting life insurance contracts. Since 2019, an industry-regulated partial-moratorium has been in place that prohibits the use of these tests below certain financial limits.”

However, the government is aware of community concerns that people are being dissuaded from taking genetic tests for fear of discrimination in accessing life insurance. A Monash University report, A-GLIMMER, was published earlier this year and raised several concerns with the moratorium and called for government intervention.

The Albanese government recognises the importance of genetic and genomic health technologies. They are reshaping clinical practice and changing the way medical practitioners prevent, diagnose, treat, and monitor a range of heritable conditions, cancer predisposition syndromes and cancers.

Have some thoughts on this? The consultation paper is available here and submissions are open until 31 January 2024.

Anyone looking for the full report which led to former home affairs departmental boss Mike Pezzullo’s termination, you can find it here.

For those looking to follow the defamation case Bruce Lehrmann has brought against the Ten network and Lisa Wilkinson, you can follow along with a separate blog here.

Amanda Meade is covering the trial for you:

Updates may be a little slower in that blog than what you are used to – Amanda will be updating major events in the case, not every blow by blow.

We are half an hour into the last joint parliament sitting of the year.

Strap in. Things will absolutely be bumpy before the house adjourns at the end of this week.

Peter Hannam

Peter Hannam

Treasurer to introduce legislation on RBA review changes

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, will introduce legislation to parliament to implement the changes to the Reserve Bank as recommended by the review in the central bank.

One of the changes will be to reinforce the RBA’s independence, with the amendments to include repealing the power of the treasurer to overrule its monetary policy decisions.

That change has long been flagged but social media is getting a bit agitated about this morning.

What’s probably been lost is the reality that no government has intervened since the bank began setting interest rates independently in the 1990s. John Howard didn’t do it in 2007 when the RBA unhelpfully lifted interest rates, undermining his ageing government’s economic credentials.

The Morrison government was in caretaker mode when the RBA hiked the cash rate in May 2022 but it’s highly unlikely they would have dared to intervene either.

Why? Because investors at home and abroad value the RBA’s independence. Undermine that, and Australia’s ability to maintain its top credit rating would quickly evaporate, making it more expensive to borrow … and that wouldn’t make borrowers’ current pinch any easier.

Closing a loophole that wasn’t going to be used removes a temptation for future governments.

Dreyfus announces full restoration of Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

And Mark Dreyfus has just announced the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner will be fully restored, with standalone privacy and freedom of information commissioners.

It’ll be the first time since 2015 that the OAIC will have a standalone freedom of information commissioner, privacy commissioner and information commissioner.

Elizabeth Tydd has been appointed as the FoI commissioner for a five-year term. Her appointment will start 19 February next year.

Carly Kind has been appointed as privacy commissioner, which Dreyfus says reinstates the standalone position abolished by the Coalition.

If you need a refresh on what that investigation Anthony Albanese referenced was about, you can find the story here:

Former home affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo sacked

Anthony Albanese has confirmed that the former home affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo has been sacked.

In a statement, Albanese says:

Earlier today the Governor-General in Council terminated the appointment of Michael Pezzullo as Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs.

This action was based on a recommendation to me by the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Public Service Commissioner, following an independent inquiry by Lynelle Briggs. That inquiry found breaches of the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct by Mr Pezzullo. Mr Pezzullo fully cooperated with the inquiry.

I thank Ms Briggs for conducting the inquiry.

Stephanie Foster will continue to act as Secretary of the Department until a permanent appointment is made.

Melbourne protesters opposing US support of Israel military lock on to fencing at consulate

Protesters have staged a blockade outside the US consulate general in Melbourne, with several protesters locking themselves on to temporary fencing. The group are protesting against the US support of the Israel military action against Gaza.

The group reports another protest is in solidarity with the protest and blockade at Pine Gap in the Northern Territory, where a joint US and Australian defence facility is based.

Caitlin Cassidy

Caitlin Cassidy

PM urged to fully fund underresourced public schools by education unions

A coalition of Australian Education Union (AEU) representatives have delivered tens of thousands of postcards to the prime minister urging Labor to commit to fully funding underresourced public schools.

Their arrival in Canberra follows a national roadshow across the nation, gathering signatures to their pledge.

About 1.3% of public schools are funded at the minimum levels deemed necessary by the government under Gonski reforms a decade ago.

Correna Haythorpe, the AEU president, Tim Costello, the chair of the Community Council for Australia Sally McManus, the secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, is among the congregate this morning.

Haythorpe said there had been a “groundswell” of support for the full funding of public schools.

Teachers, parents, principals, disability organisations, unions and community groups are united in saying this is a vital investment in our children’s future that cannot be further delayed.

Mike Bowers was at that Murray-Darling Basin plan press conference Lisa just updated you on – and who did he spot standing at the back, listening on?

The Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek with her Greens counterpart Sarah Hanson-Young at a press conference in the senate courtyard of Parliament House
The minister for the environment and water Tanya Plibersek with her Greens counterpart Sarah Hanson-Young. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

The Nationals senator Perin Davey:

The Nationals Perin Davey watches the Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek with her Greens counterpart Sarah Hanson-Young hold a press conference on the Murray Darling basin plan
Perin Davey watches Tanya Plibersek and Sarah Hanson-Young hold a press conference. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Lisa Cox

Lisa Cox

Extra 450GL of water to be delivered is a ‘breakthrough’, Hanson-Young says

Sarah Hanson-Young said securing a commitment in law that the 450GL would be delivered was a “breakthrough” that would “deliver more water for the river across the entire basin, north and south”:

This is a landmark win for South Australia after more than a decade fighting for the water needed to protect the Coorong, Lower Lakes and to keep the Murray Mouth open.

The legislation is set for debate in the senate this week.

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