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Here's What Happened in Australia While You Watched America Burn

A surprising amount of politicians figured they'd get away with some surprisingly dumb shit while Trump won the White House.

by Katherine Gillespie
10 November 2016, 12:00am

Bill Shorten announced yesterday that Labor wouldn't support proposed changes to immigration laws. Image via Twitter

Yesterday's monsoon of terrifying news stories from the US meant it was impossible to think, talk, or read about anything else. But today is a new—if somewhat depressing—day, and we need to now refocus on our own little backyard. So here's a roundup of some stuff that happened while you were frantically refreshing the vote count, hoping all those red states would disappear.

A Minister Resigned After Using Taxpayer Funds to Chauffeur His Dogs Around

Victoria's Corrections Minister Steve Herbert used his ministerial car, complete with driver, to transport his two dogs between his city residence and his country house. The names of the dogs are Patch and Ted, and they are cute. Honestly, this seemed like a bonkers story a week ago, but we're at a point in 2016 where even satire pales in comparison to real life.

Herbert told Parliament that the dog limo thing happened a couple of times. After heated criticism from the Opposition, the MP took yesterday's events as an opportunity to quietly hand over his portfolio and resign himself to life on the backbench—where there are no ministerial car privileges. He will not contest the 2018 election.

Debate over the Racial Discrimination Act Continued

It's been proposed by a majority of Coalition MPs that the words "offend" and "insult" be removed from Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which says it is unlawful for a person to act in a way that "is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people". On Wednesday, racial discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane wrote in his monthly newsletter there was "no case" to change the wording of the section, because courts were only using it to penalise those who were truly racist.

His words were at odds not only with the government, but also with Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, who has said she would be open to removing the terms "offend" and "insult" if they were replaced with the term "vilify". That's the stance of many Coalition MPs too.

Debate will continue on this issue, with the government having announced a formal inquiry—headed by Liberal MP Ian Goodenough, who came to Australia as a Singaporean immigrant—into the effectiveness of the 18C provision.

Queensland Lifted the Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Claims

Thanks to a new law that is the first of its kind in Australia, survivors of child sex abuse will be able to launch new lawsuits against churches and other institutions that gave them unfair settlement deals.

The statutory time limit on pursuing a case against abusers was completely lifted, meaning victims will be able to sue regardless of when the crime occurred. One case cited how a Brisbane Grammar victim of abuse was given compensation that equalled less than two years of his school fees.

The Climate Institute said We Need to Start Closing Power Stations Immediately

Australia is close to finally ratifying the Paris Agreement, which is good, because the deadline for doing so was last week. Inconveniently though, the Paris Agreement imposes a number of harsh stipulations on the fossil fuel industry. Stipulations that are yet to be met.

In the Senate yesterday, the Olivia Kember from the Climate Institute told MPs that coal-fired power stations will need to start shutting down at a rate of about one a year if Australia is to meet the commitments that it is about to officially sign into law. It will be difficult to make this happen, but on the bright side, many of our power stations are apparently so old that they would have to shut down in coming decades anyway—providing a good opportunity to replace them with renewables.

The Opposition Said It Will Fight The Asylum Seeker Ban

The ALP aren't exactly known for their lenient immigration laws, but it looks like they'll draw the line at the Turnbull Government's proposed ban on boat arrivals ever obtaining Australian visas.

Perhaps drunk on power after successfully killing what promised to be an expensive and divisive marriage plebiscite, the Opposition aren't playing nice with the government. Tanya Plibsersek said on Wednesday that "...we will be opposing these most recent immigration laws that are just unnecessary" while Bill Shorten confirmed that his party would vote against the laws—rather than just amend them.

"Those people who have been on Manus Island and Nauru now for more than three years have been there much too long," Ms Plibersek said on Wednesday.

"Third country resettlement should be the priority for the Immigration Minister, instead of silly bits of legislation like this."

As with the plebiscite, the government will now have a much harder time pushing the proposed changes to immigration law through the Senate.

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Racial Discrimination Act
Bill Shorten
Steve Herbert