• Hannah Phillips

This Week in Politics


This week in politics is likely to be influenced by matters outside the Parliament.

These include the Barnaby Joyce affair, the Prime Minister’s statement on the ‘Closing the Gap’ report, and the citizenship issue.


The most important issue inside the Parliament is the negotiation of the changes to the Foreign Espionage Bill.

The major concern with the original bill, which was introduced into Parliament before Christmas, was that it rendered illegal the normal activities of journalism when it came to examining the activities of government.

The new Attorney General, Christian Porter, was quick to hose down the concerns of the major news organisations, saying: “There is not any plan by the government to see journalists going to jail simply for receiving documents and that would not occur under this Bill as currently drafted,” he said.

“The proposed amendments I have instructed will make this completely clear and further strengthen protections to journalists.”

The most interesting thing about the Porter approach was the positive reaction of Shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, to the Attorney’s suggestions.

It’s clear that Mr Dreyfus appreciates the fact that Mr Porter is a public administrator without ego and that he’s prepared to take a collaborative approach with the opposition in the interest of getting the best outcome.

The Prime Minister will make his statement on the ‘Closing the Gap’ report today.

The preliminary report indicates that governments, both Commonwealth and state, have failed to meet the targets in all but three of the designated areas, the number of indigenous students attaining year twelve qualifications, early childhood education and child health.

Most importantly there has been no improvement in indigenous health outcomes and life expectancy for adults.

Indigenous representatives held a two day conference last week to consider recommendations for improving the ‘Closing the Gap’ outcomes and the result was concerted anger from the indigenous community.

It’s clear that the indigenous community wants a bigger say in the design and possibly the implementation of indigenous policy.

This in turn was linked to the idea of an indigenous voice to be recognised in the Constitution.

It was interesting that yesterday the two senior indigenous Members of Parliament, Labor’s Senator Pat Dodson and Liberal Minister Ken Wyatt, issued statements saying that the concept of an indigenous voice was still alive even though it might not be included in the Constitution.

In the meantime there is deep suspicion that the government will simply abolish the ‘Closing the Gap’ targets and release a hodgepodge of policy objectives.

The worst aspect of this approach is that it will let off the hook the states which, in many cases, are responsible for the critical policy implementation even though the funding is provided by the Commonwealth.

Among indigenous leaders there is a delusion that aboriginal organisations could implement a ‘Closing the Gap’ strategy on their own.

The truth is that they do not have the resources to complete this task even in just one area, health, where the indigenous controlled body, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), has the responsibility for it.

At the moment the failure of indigenous policy lies in the implementation of policy, rather than the design.

This in turn is a question of resourcing which needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency.