Woroni sat down with Senator Katy Gallagher to discuss her ongoing election campaign for the seat of the Australian Capital Territory. We asked her about climate change, territorial representation, a federal integrity commission, and her time at ANU, among other topics. 

Woroni: What motivates you to run for re-election in the Senate? And what do you think your biggest achievement has been as a Senator thus far?

Katy Gallagher: Good question. In terms of motivation, I want to change the government. I think we have a bad government. It’s tired. It’s old. It’s been in for nine years. It has failed to deal with some of the really big challenges facing the country. And then if I win, then Canberra would have a voice at a senior level in the government, which is also highly motivating for me. 

My most significant achievement… that’s hard because there’s so much that happens in the Senate. I think defeating the Ensuring Integrity Bill – which was essentially a union-bashing bill – was a pretty important moment. So is standing up for territory rights. But it’s hard to pick when in opposition because you don’t deliver policy or a budget.

W: What do you see as the most pressing issues for students, and how do you propose to tackle them in Parliament?

KG: I think the most pressing issue facing the country is how we respond to climate change. And I think young people feel that in particular. We have to tackle how we manage climate change and how we mitigate risk and how we ensure that there’s a planet for people to live on. That’s critical in the next three years, which is a massive motivation to get this mob out, because they’re absolutely not going to do that. The world will move on, and we’ll get left behind. 

Also, I think one of the issues for universities is always affordability and access to education. Universities need to train the workforce we need. We need to focus on the jobs of the future, and how we match them with the training and education system. 

One of our policies is to have 20,000 extra university places and free TAFE places to encourage people to be able to afford to enter the training and education system in a way that matches them up with the skills shortage. 

W: A lot of the candidates for the Senate – particularly the Independents and the Greens – have centred their platforms on climate action. What policies in particular will you highlight in your campaign? 

KG: We are the only party that’s putting forward a modelled policy. Our policy is a 43% reduction on emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050. Our plan has subsets with a focus on rewiring the nation through our national energy grids with renewables. Under this plan, about 82% of energy is renewable. It’ll drive a massive amount of investments – modelled to be about $76 billion, $58 billion of which is private sector investment. 

We’ve got some other programs like community batteries for those areas in cities where you can’t put solar panels on your roof, and we’ve got an electric car policy as well. I think the politics of climate have been so difficult in this country that it has actually stopped anything happening for 10 years. 

We want to deliver a policy that is feasible and will be embraced by those communities that have not previously been prepared to support climate action. It is around trying to bring the country together, and it is different to what some of those independents are offering. But frankly, we have to worry about winning seats to win government. We have to be mindful of the fact that we have to win seats in Queensland, Tasmania, WA, New South Wales. Our policy has to get broad support and we have, from a whole range of business and advocacy groups, as well. It’s a massive step forward and I hope we’re in a position to win. 

Image supplied by the Office of Senator Katy Gallagher.

W: The next question is another policy one. Labor hasn’t committed to making any changes to Centrelink’s age of independence. A lot of students are advocating for that age of independence to be lowered to 18. Would you support that? If not, why not?

KG: This is Linda Burney’s area. I think that, in short, we have not been in government for nine years and we cannot fix a whole lot of the problems from our position. Plus, we would be inheriting the most diabolical set of budget books that any opposition has ever inherited. Changes to payments across the country have a massive fiscal impact. I would have to be responsible with the budget. As Anthony said, these are the types of issues that should be reviewed in government every year at every budget. So that’s the approach we can take. 

W: Some believe that the ACT and the Northern Territory are underrepresented in the Senate. Would you support the territories having equal footing with the states? And if not, do you have any other plans to increase territory representation in Parliament? 

KG: I have been asked this one before. The different territories have different issues. Representation issues are about distance in the Northern Territory. If you look at the ACT compared to Tasmania on a purely population level, you would say that yes, we deserve more Senators. It’s not an easy fix. I went through this in the Assembly when I was there. We only had 17 members and I managed to win a vote that allowed us to move to 25 members. Canberra had doubled in size and there had been no increase in representation. It’s hard work. Nobody likes politicians wandering around the country, arguing for more politicians. It’s just not an issue that anyone ever speaks to me about. Journalists and advocacy groups, maybe. People in the street, no way. Never comes up. If we were to have argued for more senators, you would have to have a broad community discussion ahead of time, which is what we did in the assembly. You have to build support for your case and that has not been done.

The second point is that the only way for the territory to get extra Senators is through the support of the Federal Parliament, and I think that would be incredibly difficult to win. Just imagine Scott Morrison having 10 more senators from the progressive United Capital of the ACT. I don’t think so. The difference between the Territories and the States is the States get their Senators through their constitutional rights. The Territories are an Act of the Federal Parliament, so we don’t feature in the Constitution. Our rights of representation are gained through an Act of the Parliament itself. And Kim’s going around saying that she’d just move a Bill and get it done. My expectations are that it wouldn’t pass Parliament without some clambering of public support. We do have control over the Assembly though. 

W: You’ve stated your intention to support the establishment of a federal ICAC. What powers do you think at an ICAC would need to be effective? And what is your perspective on the model proposed by the Coalition Government? 

Well, the current model is a joke. It’s hopeless. I have not seen one person who knows anything about corruption and integrity who supports it. It’s not just us saying it’s hopeless – it’s every other person who actually knows something about how to establish anti-corruption bodies. The main weakness is that decisions about what it investigates and how it conducts those investigations are in the hands of Executive Government. So, what’s the point, right? Scott, Morrison’s hardly going to call it an integrity inquiry into Angus Taylor’s going-ons over the last three years. 

Nobody in the Parliament supports it. It’s not just Labor. None of the Independents supported either. Anthony has said he would introduce legislation to have it passed by the end of this year if we win Government. So that’s a pretty clear commitment. We’ve also said it should have powers like a standing Royal Commission, to compel and to collect evidence. It should be able to have public hearings when it’s in the public interest to do so. And it should be able to initiate its own inquiry. They essentially are the areas where we think it needs to be strengthened. 

W: If Labor were to win this election, how would you tackle the increasing privatisation of the public service? 

KG: Another really good question. I’ll be upfront. You can’t fix it in one parliamentary term because it’s been essentially three parliamentary terms trying to erode it. 

And I think part of the problem is the Liberal Party. They don’t really care who does the work as long as the work gets done. If it’s done by the private sector, that’s fine. What that has meant is that we have eroded our internal capability in the public service. Some departments don’t even have policy agents anymore. Basically, a rebalancing exercise has to go on. We have to stop some of the waste that’s going out with consultants and contractors and labour hire. We know that some departments have a third to a half of their workforce as labour hire now, getting paid 20-30 percent more than a permanent public servant. The company, not the individual, gets the extra money. We have to deal with insecure work and try to ensure that we are shifting people to more permanent roles within the public service.

The second thing is to make sure that the public service can deliver its services digitally and with other reforms. It’s an enduring institution, but it’s got to change and grow and develop with people’s expectations.

W: We wanted to know what your favourite memories are from your time studying at ANU, and if you ever got involved in student politics? 

KG: I’ll deal with the second one first: no, I never did. In fact, it scared the bejesus out of me. They were always more articulate and smarter. Also, I don’t know if it’s still like this, but it was a bit exclusionary. And also back then, a lot of people travelled to Canberra to go to university, and I was a Canberran. My experience at ANU was quite different because I always had to work. I wasn’t hanging around the university bar that much. I think that that affected my experience. 

I loved politics and learning about politics, but I didn’t do anything in student politics. I knew I really despised the Young Liberals on campus. They used to go around and try to bribe people with kegs of beer at parties. I didn’t know where I fit it in, and it wasn’t until I actually left university and went to work full time and joined the union that I actually landed. Now I get where my politics are, and that’s why I joined the Labor party. 

In terms of the first question, I loved going to university and learning. It’s a luxury, right? I know that you hate tutorials and lectures and you have been doing it tough remotely. But having the time to write and listen and talk – I’m not sure I enjoyed it enough to be honest. But now I look back and I think it’s such a privilege to have that opportunity. 

W: Lastly, what is your favourite pub or bar in the capital?

KG: Well, it used to be the Phoenix back in the day. Now, I don’t really go out to bars that much. If I go out and have a drink somewhere, it will be at a function. I go down to Tilley’s a bit because it’s my local, but I’m not really in that. You grow out of that, so enjoy it while it lasts.