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Penny's Blog: Farewell 2012!

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Penny Wright 26 Dec 2012

Well! It's official - years scoot by when you pack lots into them. "Yesterday" I was reflecting on 2011. And here I am, looking back on 2012, amazed to consider what the Australian Greens have achieved this year. Due to our work, as individuals and a team, Australia now has a carbon price and a means of moving towards a cleaner energy future in this 21st century. We also have the foundations for Denticare - being able to see a dentist like you'd see a doctor, so that income will no longer dictate the difference between good and bad teeth.

These are legacies - not just for now but for the future and I'm proud that people in the future (our kids' kids) will be thankful the Australian Greens were thinking about them in 2012.

This year we experienced probably one of the most peaceful leadership transitions ever known in Australian political history! What a pleasure to see Senator Christine Milne step up to take the helm as the new leader of the Australian Greens , bringing with her the judgment and wisdom that comes from years of experience in the Tasmanian and Australian parliaments. It is a great privilege to work with such a clear-sighted, principled leader who is willing to act on the courage of her (and our) convictions.

I still pinch myself, sometimes, when I reflect that I am in the Australian parliament, entrusted by South Australians to help make Australia a kinder, fairer, healthier place. And this is what we're doing!

Here are just a couple of highlights of life in my office, plucked from the smorgasbord of this very full year.

There were my visits to 21 rural, regional and remote communities, to talk to people about mental health services. One in five of we Australians experience mental ill-health in any year, both in the city and the country, but the available services are vastly different depending on where we live. The more than 30 per cent of Australians who live in rural and regional areas certainly don't get 30 per cent of the services.

I love these trips - and not just because I enjoy the country hospitality (which my waistline can testify to). The fact is, nothing beats visiting communities to hear from the real "experts" - the people themselves - about what we need to do better. Australians from all walks of life, across this very wide "wide brown land", have shared with me the most intimate and honest accounts of their experiences of mental ill-health, or caring for loved ones. It is a great honour and in the New Year, I'll be pulling these together to launch the Australian Greens policy on rural mental health to take to the next election - a policy truly written by the people and for the people.

Back in the Senate, I was able to secure a Senate inquiry into the value of a concept called Justice Reinvestment for Australia. It's a new approach to criminal justice and it just might work. Over the last 30 years, the number of people in Australian prisons has tripled and now costs us all $3 billion every year. Despite this huge impost, there is arguably little to show for it. Evidence- based policy? If prison works to prevent crime, why do so many people reoffend after they leave, and why do we need to lock up more and more people? To make matters worse, Australia's indigenous people are among the most imprisoned people in the world.

Justice Reinvestment has had amazing success overseas in diverting people from the criminal justice system in the first place, saving governments money that can then be spent on better things (like education and employment) and reducing crime by creating safer and stronger communities. The inquiry will consider what we can learn from others' experiences and whether we could apply justice reinvestment principles in Australia to improve public safety.

Then there is 'Gonski' and our broken schools funding system, with increasingly poor and unfair results for Australian students. Throughout 2012, we have been urging the Government to "Get on with Gonski" by investing properly in public schools so that every child in Australia can have a quality education, no matter where they live or whatever their circumstances. The Gonski review showed us a shameful gap in student achievement in Australia, of up to 5 years by year 9. It really isn't rocket science - if we want a smart and innovative Australia then providing quality education to maximise the potential of every child (and not leaving some behind along the way) is crucial.

With still much to do, we will be pushing the Government to turn their ineffectual and legally unenforceable Education Bill into legislation that guarantees proper funding for public schools, based on students' needs. Waiting until 2020 to implement Gonski is unacceptable - that's a whole primary school education away. The Australian Greens have shown the Gonski reforms could be funded immediately by plugging the holes in the mining tax.

As well as working to promote the welfare of veterans, and their families, especially those people who are experiencing mental ill-health and PTSD as a result of service in a conflict zone, it has also been great to support the campaign to have Australia's Peacekeepers recognised on the Honour Roll at the Australian War Memorial. Again, this isn't rocket science - it's just consistent with my simple philosophy that if we are willing to ask people to serve and take risks on our behalf then we should take full responsibility and look after them properly if they are injured or killed.

In November, I spoke about peacekeepers in the Senate and read into Hansard the names of those who are yet to be recognised. It was an emotional day, but I sense change coming. Despite voting against it earlier, this time the government and the opposition unanimously supported my motion encouraging the Australian War Memorial to review their position. Watch this space in January.

Back in beautiful South Australia, I have been working closely with the Kangaroo Island community to protect it from oil and gas activities off the west coast. Kangaroo Island is one of SA's most precious and unique places but seismic testing threatens species like the majestic Blue Whale, the Southern Right Whale and Southern Bluefin Tuna. An oil spill would devastate the marine environment, fishing and seafood stocks and the very viability of the island community itself. At the risk of sounding like a tourism brochure, these and a myriad other wonderful species, including dolphins and sea lions, inhabit or pass through its waters. In a stunning show of active interest and concern, over a thousand people took the time to write to Environment Minister Burke calling for its protection. The ball is now squarely in his court. Is he up to the responsibility? Kangaroo Island is just too precious to lose.

As the year ends, and I spend a little time with my kids and hubby, I know that my other Greens colleagues in the Australian Parliament, and South Australia, have been working just as hard with policies that look after people and our environment.

Being an election year, 2013 promises to become even busier. But, as the only party which seriously "understands" the need to take into account our very means of living on this planet, and a healthy future, I'm sure the future will also be even Greener. A glance at our policies shows that the Australian Greens provide the only alternative to the short-term thinking and big-business-driven polices of the old parties.

To all of you, I wish you the best for the final weeks of 2012. May it be a time of peace and gratitude. Many of us are very lucky - let us count our blessings

I look forward to all the challenges and triumphs we will share in 2013 and thank you for coming on this ride with me!

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