Memo from Mayo 19 June 2020

19 Jun 2020

Welcome to my latest edition of the Memo from Mayo.

I'm in my car starting the first leg of a two-day journey back home from Canberra after a two-week stay for Federal Parliament. It has been a busy fortnight where I have raised serious concerns about NDIS safeguards, gone into bat to keep community television station Channel 44 on-air, called for water rights to be examined independently as part of any proposed reforms to the Foreign Investment Review Board, pushed for the closure of a tax loophole for some of Australia's wealthiest family companies and continued the fight for a National Integrity Commission. There's no place like home but it has been a productive sitting fortnight and I would encourage you to read about some of my work and the work of Centre Alliance.

NDIS Safeguards Shock

Rebekha has called on the Government to conduct an urgent review into claims of a “hear no evil, see no evil” culture within the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission in South Australia.

The call comes after the Centre Alliance spokesperson for Social Services raised allegations in Federal Parliament yesterday about serious systemic failings within the Commission raised by former employee whistleblowers.

“It appears that the Commission is avoiding doing the very job it has been set up to do,” Rebekha said today.

“The allegations shared with me suggest there is no appetite for proactive compliance and frankly the Commission seems to take a ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ approach to regulation."

You can watch Rebekha's speech on Youtube.

Rebekha's speech last week on the NDIA and the National Disability Agreement, which touches upon the tragic and preventable death of Ann Marie Smith, can also be viewed on Youtube.

Keep Channel 44 Switched On

Rebekha has launched a campaign to keep Adelaide-based community television station Channel 44 on-air beyond June 30 when the station's broadcast licence ends.

"The Government has not allocated the broadcast spectrum currently being used by Channel 44 so why not extend the licence and allow a vital creative service to continue?" Rebekha said.

"I've raised the issue in Question Time and I've spoken to the Minister for Communications to argue that Channel 44 is well-loved, well watched and highly valued by our community.

"Now I have launched an online petition to convince the Minister that Channel 44 does indeed have strong community support.

"I know not everyone has internet but I encourage everyone to let Channel 44 viewers know about the petition and tell them they can call my office on 8398 5566 and my team can help them sign the petition."

You can sign the online petition here and watch Rebekha raise the issue in Question Time here.

Water Rights Must Be Reviewed

In a motion before Parliament this week, Rebekha called on the Government to make water rights a stand-alone asset that must be examined independently as part of any proposed reforms to the Foreign Investment Review Board.

"I welcome the Government's commitment to reforming the Foreign Investment Review Board and I am pleased that this Government is looking at Australian assets from a more rigorous national security point of view, but let's do these reforms properly," Rebekha said.

"My community and communities right across Australia are becoming very concerned about the limited amount of government oversight of water markets compared to financial or property markets."

A copy of the motion is included in Rebekha's media release. You can read the speech here and watch an excerpt on Youtube.

Speaking Up For The River

Photo: Fletcher presents 'Murray Darling Basin Calling: Questions Unanswered' to Rebekha

Rebekha has tabled 'Murray Darling Basin Calling: Questions Unanswered' in Federal Parliament.

The book was compiled by Stirling East Primary School's Year 6/7 class and represents terms of research work by students.

Fletcher, representing his class, recently presented Rebekha with the book and asked his local MP some questions on behalf of his class.

You can listen to that interview here.

You can watch Rebekha's speech to the Parliament on Youtube.

Food Safety Treatment Plant

Commonwealth investment in a food safety treatment facility close to Adelaide will be critical for South Australian growers wanting to expand into new export markets, according to Rebekha.

The Centre Alliance spokesperson for agriculture raised the issue in Question Time yesterday, asking the Agriculture Minister David Littleproud what the Government planned to do to assist SA farmers to meet biosecurity standards in emerging export markets.

“To meet biosecurity requirements in international markets, SA growers must freight to irradiation treatment facilities interstate,” Rebekha said.

“The added time and cost of interstate freight puts SA at a distinct disadvantage. We need our own facility.

“With the number of fruit fly outbreaks in South Australia increasing, access to a local facility will be critical to our industry’s ability to expand into new export markets.”

Live Sheep Export Ship

Rebekha's inbox has been flooded with emails from constituents concerned about the sudden reversal of a decision preventing a live sheep export ship sailing to Kuwait from Western Australia during the northern summer months.

On Sunday Rebekha set a letter to the Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, asking whether the decision made by the Department regarding RETWA’s application for an exemption to the Northern Summer Order would be subject to a review by the Inspector-General of Live Exports.

On Monday Animals Australia subsequently filed an urgent application to overturn the Department decision but on Tuesday the Federal Court dismissed the case.

"I understand that Animals Australia have released a statement saying they accept the Court decision. However, I join them in expressing my disappointment," Rebekha said.

You can read Rebekha's media release here.

Tax Loophole Remains

Centre Alliance is continuing its fight to remove an exemption in the Corporations Act that allows some rich list companies to not lodge financial reports with ASIC.

With the support of Rebekha in the Lower House, Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick has successfully included an amendment to two Treasury Bills seeking to remove an exemption (put in place in 1995) allowing certain proprietary companies to avoid lodging financial reports with the regulator.

The Companies on the list are owned by some of the wealthiest Australians, including those linked to Anthony Pratt, Kerry Stokes, Lindsay Fox, and Malcolm Turnbull. You can’t even get off the list. Malcolm Turnbull tried unsuccessfully to have his company voluntarily removed.

Both Bills have gone back and forth between the House of Representatives and the Senate but were eventually passed by the Senate with the exclusion of the amendment.

"ASIC wants this exemption removed. The Government needs to act. Centre Alliance will continue to put the pressure on the Government by including the amendment on all relevant bills that come to the Parliament," Rebekha said.

You can watch Rebekha's speech on Facebook here.

ICAC Pressure Continues

Photo: Rebekha and her Crossbench colleagues at a press conference calling for a National Integrity Commission.

In the past fortnight, Rebekha has joined her Crossbench colleagues for three press conferences focusing on transparency and integrity in Federal Parliament.

On Wednesday Rebekha joined Crossbench Members of the House and the Senate in calling for the Government to send newly introduced legislation affecting political donations to a Senate Committee for review.

The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020 was introduced to the Senate by Minister Cormann last week.

The Crossbench is concerned Section 302CA of the Bill could allow major party branches to ignore donations laws in their state or territory by claiming that they’re using the money ‘for federal purposes’.

Two earlier press conferences dealt with the Government's failure to release its own promised legislation to establish National Integrity Commission (citing delays due to the COVID-19 crisis) and the Government's refusal to debate a Private Member's Bill for a National Integrity Commission that has passed the Senate but remains in limbo.

“Public corruption is a serious issue and the Government is continuing to ignore the urgency in establishing a National Integrity Commission," Rebekha said.

Australians should not have to wait any longer for a Commission with real teeth and so the Crossbench calls on the Government to either release its own legislation or to bring on the National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 (No.2) for debate.”

Rebekha's press release is available here.

You can watch Rebekha speaking at the press conference on Youtube.

$3.7M For Goolwa Wharf

Rebekha has welcomed a $3.7 million Federal contribution towards upgrading Goolwa's wharf precinct, saying it will inject much-needed funding into this historic tourism attraction.

The wharf project is being funded under Round 4 of the Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF) after missing out in Round 3.

"I have been advocating for this $7.5 million project and writing letters of support for Alexandrina Council's grant applications for a number of years now so I am delighted that our community's persistence has finally paid off," Rebekha said.

The Victor Harbor Council was the other successful Mayo applicant under Round 4, securing $20,000 to fund a Festival and Events Strategy and Action Plan aimed at increasing tourist visitation to the seaside town during the winter months.

Rebekha's press release is available here.

$1M For Financial Counsellors

Photo: Rebekha Sharkie with Small Business Financial Counsellors Cheree Reichl, left, and Erica McAvaney from Rural Business Support. Rebekha secured $1 million for four financial counsellors in Mayo.

An additional four rural financial counsellors have recently started working with bushfire-affected communities in Mayo thanks to Rebekha's negotiations.

The extra $1 million for the counsellors was secured for the electorate as part of a $10 million expansion of financial support services for bushfire regions across Australia.

"In the aftermath of the fires it soon became apparent from talking to farmers and small businesses that our community was desperate for specialised advice and the State and Federal Governments needed to ramp up the business support services already being offered to drought-affected areas," Rebekha said.

Rebekha's press release is available here.

Donation Reform Frustrated

Rebekha Sharkie says a parliamentary committee's decision to reject her Private Member's Bill seeking to place all political donations of $1,000 or more on the public record is a blow for Australian democracy.

"Political donation reform is what the Australian people want and yet we cannot get politicians to do what is necessary to restore trust in our political institutions," Rebekha said.

"The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Lowering the Donation Disclosure Threshold) Bill 2019 wasn't asking for the world. It was just seeking to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act to lower the political donation disclosure threshold from $13,800 to $1,000, and to remove ongoing indexation of that disclosure threshold."

Rebekha's press release is available here.

You can watch Rebekha's speech in Parliament on Youtube.

COVID-19 Relief Fund

Photo: Rod Cooper from Mount Barker Rotary, left, State Member for Kavel Dan Cregan, Rebekha, Mount Barker Mayor Ann Ferguson and Sean Hanes, manager of the Mount Barker Community Centre.

The Mount Barker District Council has launched a COVID-19 community relief fund supported by Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie and State Member for Kavel Dan Cregan.

The fund will be seeded with a Council grant and personal donations from Rebekha and Dan Cregan.

A call has also been made to community and service organisations to contribute to the fund if they are able.

For details on how to donate, please call Rebekha's office on 8398 5566.

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