A day in the life as an MLA – 13-14 February

Something that struck me during and since the campaign is that it’s not quite clear what politicians’ day to day jobs look like if you’re not a politician. So I thought I’d try to give a run down of some of the things I’ve been doing or working on. Our first sitting week of 2017 seemed like a great place to start! Here’s what Monday and Tuesday looked like.

Monday

The week starts for me with an interview with Becca Posterino and Kim Vella on SubjectACT on community radio station 2XX 98.3FM. This is a regular segment we started back in December where for half an hour we talk about the Assembly, what it’s like as as new politician and my view on a range of issues. This month we talk about the upcoming sitting week, New Year’s resolutions, Australia Day celebrations (and whether the date should be changed [my view is yes]) and a few events on the calendar (including Enlighten!). It’s a great start to the week!

Mondays of a sitting week are really busy. I’m Government Whip so there are a few extra responsibilities. By 12 noon all members need to supply their ‘notices of motion’ to the Clerk. What does this mean? Basically you’ve giving notice to the Assembly about what you want to talk about, debate and have a vote on.

Soon after there’s a meeting of the Administration and Procedure Committee. This is a meeting of the Whips (Government [me], Opposition [Andrew Wall], Greens [Shane Rattenbury]) with the Speaker and the Clerk. We go through the program for the week based on the notices of motion that have been submitted and provide a bit of an order. This is especially key for our business on Wednesdays. Wednesdays during a sitting week are Private Members’ Business days where any non-executive member (ie all of the Opposition, the Government backbench, and Caroline in the Greens) can put forward a motion to be debated. Six motions are debated on those days so we determine the order based on what’s been submitted. Once we’ve made these decisions, they get distributed to all members so they have some notice of the business for the week ahead. The A&P Committee has a number of other responsibilities, including determining whether there should be changes to the standing orders (aka how the Chamber runs during a sitting).

That afternoon, my team and I have a regular get together – of the five of us, three are part-time, and this is the time when we’re all in the building. It’s a great opportunity to talk about the weeks ahead and what we’re working on, and plan!

Tuesday

Tuesday is a big day and I’m in early. Tuesdays are the days that legislation gets debated. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we also have a 50 minute slot in the afternoon called “Matters of Public Importance”. This is where non-executive members have an opportunity to have a discussion (no motion is put – there is no vote) on something that’s important to us. We each have to submit a topic by 8.30am to the Speaker. It’s my job as Whip to check that the non-executive members (including myself!) have submitted their topics in time.

At 8.30am the Speaker literally draws the topic of the day out of a hat.

We get an e-mail letting us know what the topic is soon after. While we have an idea of what topics we’ve put in, we don’t know what the Greens or the Opposition have put in. The topic drawn out of the hat is “The importance of the lunar new year to Canberrans”, proposed by Giulia Jones from the Opposition. We have until about 4pm to arrange our speakers and prepare speeches.

A little after 9am we get “the blue” dropped into our in-tray. It shows all the business for the day. The other piece of paper is the “Notices of Motion” – all the motions that have been put forward to discuss during the week (some of which we discussed at Admin and Procedure on Monday).

At 9.55am the bell rings summoning us to the Chamber! It’s plenty of time to get there but not if you’re a dawdler! All the MLAs file in before 10am and take a seat. We rise for the entrance of the Speaker and stay standing while she asks us to reflect on our responsibilities to the people of the ACT. She also makes a statement recognising that we meet on the lands of the traditional custodians which occurs at the start of every sitting week period (Fun fact: This is in the standing orders!).

And we’re underway. I take my seat and we launch into the lodging of two petitions (one on the Tillyard and Ginninderra Drive intersections, and one on the Curtin shops development). Both of these petitions have over 500 signatures which mean they get referred to a committee (both get referred to committees I’m on).

One of the big items of business of the day are the ministerial statements. Minister Fitzharris makes a statement about health data which is accompanied by a media release, and this gets picked up in the news later that day.

Only an hour has passed but we’ve still got through a lot of business! We’re now onto debating legislation. Thursdays are the days that legislation is introduced usually, and Tuesdays are the days that legislation is debated. So, today we’re debating some of the Bills that were introduced on the Thursday of the last sitting week (in December).

First up is the Revenue Legislation Amendment Bill 2016. It sounds dry but it wasn’t! Among other speakers I get an opportunity to speak in favour of it. It means home buyers do not have to pay conveyance duty until after settlement on their home has been completed and the buyer has acquired title to the property. This is a big deal for a lot of people but especially those who might purchase a home off the plan – they can pay their deposit and then save up for their conveyance duty while their new home is being built.

The Bill also consolidates exemption categories – making it easier for buyers to determine if they’re eligible for exemptions – and abolished nominal fees. Some small fees were originally introduced as a partial cost recovery measure, but because most conveyances are now processed digitally, these small fees are no longer justified. Good stuff!

(This speeches don’t happen by magic. I’m very grateful to my excellent staff for researching and playing a big role in drafting what I want to say.)

It’s the Chief Minister’s Bill, so he speaks in reply to the debate. This has been the ‘in principle’ stage. After this is an opportunity to review the Bill clause by clause. We can choose to do this or, if we all agree, we can dispense with this detail stage. We dispense with the detail stage and the Bill as a whole is agreed to.

That means the Bill is passed! It sounds nerdy but it’s pretty exciting – this is the first Bill that’s passed in the new Assembly.

The next bill is the Transport Canberra and City Services Legislation Amendment Bill. It amends the Regulations so that a decision of the Registrar to grant a dog licence is now reviewable. Previously, only those decisions to refuse a licence can be reviewed. This change provides individuals who have been aggrieved by the conduct of a dangerous dog with an opportunity to apply for a review of the Registrar’s decision to grant a licence, if they consider the licence should not have been granted. I’m particularly keen on this change, so I also stand up to speak on this.

We agree to the Bill in principle. However, unlike the Revenue Legislation Amendment Bill I mentioned before, this is a Bill where we do consider it in the detail stage. The Opposition Leader moves an amendment to a clause (that it’s omitted), the Chamber agrees to this amendment, and then the Bill is put to the Chamber to agree to as amended. And we do. Another Bill passed!

Two more Bills get passed before lunchtime, with one almost there – but debate gets interrupted for us to adjourn at 12.30pm. Again, we rise as the Speaker leaves and then any members in the Chamber also leave.

Lunch is for two hours. It seems like a long time but it goes really quickly. It’s an opportunity to meet with constituents, catch up on work that’s come in, or step outside to grab some Vitamin D and refresh.

At 2.25pm the bells ring and I’m back down the spiral staircase into the Chamber for our first Question Time of the year. Every non-executive member gets to ask two questions each on a topic (let’s call it a set of questions). After they’ve asked their two in the set of questions, it’s opened up to any other non-executive member on the floor to ask a question on the same topic to the same Minister. On Tuesday I ask two questions to the Minister for the Arts about the mid-year arts review package, as well as an addition question to the Minister for Education about the investment the government has made in teaching and learning facilities for school students.

Question Time finishes at about 3.40pm and is followed by the presentation of papers to the Assembly, which might be accompanied by a statement from a Minister.

At 4pm it’s time for the Matter of Public Importance – the lunar new year. There are two speakers from the Opposition and the Government and one from the Greens. Nothing is decided with an MPI – it’s just a discussion of an important topic.

At 4.30pm we resume the debate on the Bill that we were debating before we adjourned at lunch – the Justice and Community Safety Amendment Bill. The Bill is amended, the amendment is agreed to, and the Bill as amended is agreed to – another law. That’s five!

This Bill had a particularly important element to it, in that formally recognised same-sex marriages in other jursidictions will now be automatically recognised as civil unions in the ACT. We’re beholden to the Federal Parliament about what happens with same-sex marriage, but it doesn’t mean we won’t continue to lead and fight for equal rights – and do what’s in our power to ensure that.

Unusually, we have a Bill – the Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill – that gets introduced on a Tuesday rather than a Thursday. That’s because it’s urgent! After introduction it’s agreed that debate will occur on Thursday, which will also be unusual.

With that, we’re done for the day – almost! With the business done for the day, the Manager of Government Business (Minister Gentleman) calls for debate for the day to be adjourned. We then start something called an adjournment debate – basically 30 minutes where speakers can speak for a max of 5 minutes each on a topic of their choosing that might not fall under other items of business.

I speak about my recent visits to the University of Canberra health facilities – both opening their new medical radiation science laboratory and learning more about the UC Health Hub. I walked away from my tour of the new medical radiation science lab and the health hub very impressed. UC health students are being given incredible opportunities to access world-class facilities and to participate in innovative programs to stretch and develop their skills. I was happy to put this on the record.

With Head of Radiation Science Professor Rob Davidson

Soon after we agree to adjourn.

And that’s it. We’re done for the day. I stay back a few more hours to get through some correspondence, but it’s also early bed before another early start for Wednesday!

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