Memo from Mayo 27 July 2020
Welcome to my latest edition of the Memo from Mayo.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreaks in Victoria and NSW has put the brakes on my physical return to Canberra in August. Personally, I would like to see the Government reschedule the cancelled sitting fortnight for September. We need to either make up for every lost week or figure out a way to run Parliament remotely. I note that Federal parliament’s Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan have agreed to chair a proposed bipartisan working group on how parliament can meet safely during the pandemic. In the meantime, I’m using my extra time in the electorate to visit schools, businesses and community groups, meet with constituents, and research upcoming proposed legislation. I’ve never been busier. Please read on to learn about some activities in Mayo in the past few weeks.
Trip to the Island
Rebekha has recently returned from Kangaroo Island where she met with constituents and numerous community organisations, including small business financial counsellor Darren Keenan (pictured) from Rural Business Support. Darren's position is one of the four additional rural financial counsellors assigned to work with bushfire-affected communities in Mayo thanks to the $1m secured by Rebekha as part of a $10 million expansion of financial support services for bushfire regions across Australia. You can read more about that advocacy here.
Rebekha also met with KI bushfire recovery co-ordinator Rob Manton, met with TAFE SA students studying aged care, and took part in a mock parliament with KICE students.
Rebekha also found time to stop near American River which is a likely site for an oyster reef restoration project being funded through the COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund. Rebekha has been actively advocating the Federal Government to provide up to $3.5M to restore reefs on the Island. Some of the successful projects from the Fund should be announced soon.
Changes to Bushfire Grant
In other news for bushfire-affected farmers, there have been a number of changes made to the Emergency Response in Primary Industries Grant.
The deadline for submissions has been extended to December 31 and the off-farm income threshold has been removed along with the requirement to be registered for GST. The cost of cleaning up, salvaging or harvesting damaged crops are now eligible grant activities and the forestry industry can demonstrate meeting the 50% income threshold when trees are harvested.
For more information, head to the PIRSA website here.
Channel 44 to Stay On-Air
Community television station Channel 44 will remain on-air for another 12 months thanks to Rebekha's advocacy.
The Federal Member for Mayo recently launched a campaign to renew the Adelaide-based station’s free-to-air broadcast licence beyond the current deadline of June 30.
“I wrote to the Government, raised the issue in Question Time and recently met with Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to present the results of two online petitions, including one run by Channel 44 that collected thousands of signatures,” Rebekha said.
“I was pleased that the Minister was persuaded to extend the licence for a further 12-months with the proviso that the station makes a concerted effort to educate viewers about moving to an online platform in 2021."
You can read more in Rebekha's media release here.
Image: A thank you letter from Channel 44 management.
Netting Scheme Finalised
Photograph: Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie is pictured with Hills apple growers Susie Green, left, Matthew Flavell and Jody Schultz at a netted Ceravolo Orchard at Nairne prior to the Apple & Pear Growers Association of SA annual meeting in 2019.
Rebekha has welcomed the final approval for a $7.3 million netting scheme to help apple, pear and cherry growers in Mayo future-proof their orchards.
The scheme was announced late last year as part of a $14.6 million program for South Australia with half the Commonwealth funds allocated for the wider Adelaide Hills region thanks to the advocacy of the Centre Alliance MP.
"I have been lobbying for this scheme since the 2019 election and I am pleased that the Federal Government recognised the need of growers in my community who have endured two successive seasons of devastating hail damage and now many of them are recovering from bushfire," Rebekha said.
"The Government elected to expand the scheme to other regions including the Riverland, which is welcome but led to some delays. Our community needs access to these funds now so it's encouraging to see the program finally signed off and ready to go."
You can read more in Rebekha's media release here.
Support for the ABC
Centre Alliance is calling on the Federal Government to use the upcoming budget to reverse the $84 million in paused indexation funding for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Rebekha is a strong supporter of the ABC and together with her colleagues Senators Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick, Centre Alliance have long championed the cause of restoring funding to the ABC.
Back in March, before the COVID-19 restrictions came into force, Rebekha lodged a motion thanking the ABC for its bushfire coverage and asking for the restoration of indexation.
You can read her motion and speech in full here.
You can also watch her speech on Youtube on the following link:
Rebekha and the Senators recently met with the head of the ABC board David Anderson to discuss future advocacy for the ABC.
Helping Community Radio
Photograph: Rebekha chats to the morning hosts on 5KIxFM in Kingscote.
Thanks to the advocacy of Rebekha, regional MPs can now use their office expenses to pay for community service advertisements to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rebekha wrote to the Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann back in April to request that he exercise his "exceptional circumstances" discretion to vary parliamentary business resources regulations so regional MPs could use community radio to communicate with local communities in a timely manner.
"In light of the current national emergency and the need to communicate changing restrictions in a timely manner not always possible with printed material, I respectfully request that you use your Ministerial discretion to allow elected MPs in regional Australia to include the production of radio content and the placement of radio content in their office expenses for the duration of the declared national emergency," Rebekha wrote.
The Minister concurred with Rebekha and the regulations were finally brought in on June 26.
Water Purchasing Fiasco
Photograph: During her June road trip to Canberra Rebekha stopped along the Hay Plains to inspect an open river water channel.
Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie and her Senate colleagues Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff have expressed serious concerns about the Government’s handling of Murray-Darling Basin strategic water purchases and have called for a significant shake-up in Commonwealth water management.
The call comes after the Australian National Audit Office released its report into the procurement of strategic water entitlements. The report was instigated after Rebekha and her Senate colleagues signed their names to a cross-party letter calling on the Auditor-General to urgently investigate the $180 million spent on water buybacks under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. You can read more here.
Rebekha said the audit report showed failures at every point in the water procurement process which in turn demonstrated a failure by the Department to meet basic standards of public administration.
"We’ve spent billions of dollars on water buybacks and now we learn that the process was seriously flawed when it came to making sure we secured value for money. The Australian people need to have confidence that taxpayer funds are being spent efficiently. They lose confidence in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan when these practices come to light.”
You can read more in her media release here.
Rebekha has kicked off the new school term with visits to four schools across the electorate including primary schools at Norton Summit, Crafers and Birdwood and the Kingscote campus of Kangaroo Island Community Education.
Besides delivering flags and presenting lessons in civics, Rebekha also took the time to inspect the new library refurbishment at Birdwood Primary which was funded under the Commonwealth's $30 million Local Schools Community Fund.
Mayo's electorate share of $200,000 was shared among 13 projects across the region.
You can access the full list of fund recipients here.
Photograph: Birdwood Primary School Deputy Principal Bianca Laister shows some of the new library furniture to Rebekha.
Photograph: Rebekha explains some of the features of the Aboriginal flag to Norton Summit Primary students.
Photograph: Rebekha gives a civics presentation to students at Crafers Primary School.