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Answering Every Question You Could Possibly Have About Australia in 2016

2016 is going to be a big year of change in Australia. We've peered into the future to explain what's in store for you and everyone else.

by Hannah Scholte
Dec 15 2015, 2:42am

Image via Flickr user Brian Solis

So 2015 is almost over, and maybe it was great, maybe it was a waking nightmare of disappointment and missed opportunities. Either way, forget about it and get ready for 2016.

It can be hard to get a picture of what the next 12 months will bring. Even if you have a glimmer of an idea concerning your own existence, most life changing decisions really have nothing to do with you. They're presented, debated, and shot down by the nation's MPs in the form of bills and legal reforms. But when your country's political landscape is overrun by meme-worthy crises like libspill and choppergate, that can be a scary thought.

Don't feel too bad though—occasionally a piece of legislation creeps through that has the legs to make a strong and lasting differences to the way we live. Believe it or not, 2016 is going to be a big year of change in Australia. So we've waded through all the jargon to peer into the future and explain what's in store for the country.

Same-Sex Marriage

Since taking leadership, Turnbull has stuck to the coalition's plan to hold a plebiscite after the next election to decide on same-sex marriage. In case you were wondering, this is basically a big expensive national opinion poll. Depending on when an election is held, we might see said plebiscite in 2016. That is unless Labor takes out the next election, then things are more straightforward: they've vowed to introduce a bill to legalise same-sex marriage within 100 days of taking office.

Legal Weed

While 2017 has been signalled as the golden year for legalisation in Victoria, we might see the local industry begin to take form next year. Legislation to establish a national licensed growing scheme for medicinal cannabis will be introduced in the first fortnight of parliament in 2016. Obviously feeling confident about things, Victoria has already announced a cultivation trial.

Over in New South Wales they'll begin testing usage with clinical trials for children with severe epilepsy, terminally ill adults, and cancer patients. Queenslanders and Victorians will also be able to take part, and Victoria is working to establish its own clinical trial.

Domestic Violence Intervention

Violence against women will remain high on the nation's agenda next year with a federal scheme to recognise Domestic Violence Orders (DVOs) across state lines put in place by the end of 2016. Presently protection orders only apply in the state they're granted. The hope is this change will mean men can't follow women they've assaulted interstate. However some have questioned the effectiveness of DVOs in the first place; breaches are common, and many aren't instated out of fear, or the need for further court proceedings.

NSW police will also pilot the country's first register of domestic violence offenders, Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme. DVDS will allow people to check if their partner has a recorded history of domestic violence.

The use of technology in addressing violence toward women will also receive a renewed focus. Earlier this year a New South Wales parliamentary inquiry found laws around revenge porn inadequate. Minister for Women Michaelia Cash has flagged an interest in increasing protections for victims of cybercrime and investigating how the law can better hold revenge porn perpetrators accountable. Having said that, legislation details are yet to be discussed.

Sex Work Reform

This will be a focus for two states at opposite ends of the country's spectrum: New South Wales, where sex work is decriminalised; and South Australia, where it's illegal.

Disappointingly, in New South Wales a parliamentary inquiry into brothel regulation recommended an overhaul of the state's progressive laws on sex work. This included expanding police powers, introducing registration, and bringing in a licensing system.

Not surprisingly this has been slammed by sex industry advocates, who say such laws could push sex work back underground and leave workers vulnerable to police corruption. The government has six months to respond to the report, meaning potential changes could begin to be implemented from May 2016.

Down in South Australia a renewed push for sex work legalisation began earlier this year. At the moment SA has the country's most punitive laws, but in October a bill to decriminalise sex work was debated in parliament and turned over to a select committee. They're due to report back early next year, which could potentially lead to change.

Related: The Future of Sex According to VICE

Asylum Seekers

The government's focus on humanitarian migration in 2016 looks set on the 12,000 Syrian refugees it agreed to accept in September. The first families have begun to arrive, and the government has said the program will pick up pace in the coming months. There are reports that selecting and resettling the remaining refugees could take the whole of next year and as usual, information is being tightly withheld. Discussion of anything else on the refugee agenda also seems pretty remote.

Transport

In November South Australia hosted Australia's first driverless car trial. It clearly went well as the state recently introduced legislation to allow on-road trials. Several companies are already interested, and if passed, the legislation could see Australia's driverless car industry make big leaps in 2016.

One state over, there is good news for those of us who like staying up late, but hate paying for Ubers. From January 1 Melbourne will trial all-night public transport on weekends, becoming the only Australian city with 24-hour trains.

The Environment

There are some small rays of hope on the energy and climate front for 2016. Prime Minister Turnbull just lifted the wind power investment ban set by Tony Abbott, marking his first big move away from the former government's environmental policy.

Encouragingly, Australia was one of nearly 200 countries to sign the Paris climate deal on the weekend. It's legally binding, so countries must submit plans to cut emissions every five years. The deal will put pressure on Australia to step up the current emissions reduction target. And, big surprise, it looks like we'll also have to ditch coal eventually.

But remember, this is Australia and we can never just do something chill for the environment. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is already talking about balancing economic and environmental outcomes, and not damaging the economy. The government has additionally said it's still committed to coal, so it sounds like any change will come in pretty small steps.

Counter-terrorism

The government seems to be using the last stretch of 2015 to enforce tougher counter-terrorism legislation heading into the new year. Earlier this month new laws were passed to strip dual citizenship from militants and convicted terrorists, and plans to jail convicted terrorists indefinitely are being discussed by state and territory leaders.

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs used her last speech of the year to voice concern over the country's new counter-terror laws and how fast they're being introduced.

Will I Find My Dad?

This is actually a big maybe, assuming you were the product of a sperm donor in the 70s and 80s. A controversial bill to overhaul sperm donor anonymity will be debated in Victorian parliament in coming weeks. If the legislation passes, it would allow people conceived through donors access to the name and birthdate of the donor, whether or not consent is given. If you find him, tell him we say hi.

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