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Lee Rhiannon's work as a NSW MP and Senator

Lee Rhiannon 24 May 2018

For my entire life I’ve been involved in progressive social movements in Australia and across the world. As the parliamentary chapter of my political life draws to a close, I look back in honour and gratitude for all of the incredible campaigns I have helped to raise awareness about and contribute to during this chapter.

I am particularly proud of the work we have done together on democracy and political donations, on environmental protection, on fighting for free public education and against university deregulation, on animal welfare, on workers’ rights and on housing for people not profit.

Looking back on my time in parliament I particularly remember the many discussions with people who had been done over by corporate power and government indifference. Together we worked out how to give voice to their concerns. I was often able to take their issue into parliament, which led to good outcomes. But always our strength was working together and building community action.

While I’m actively looking to the future I’m reminded of the following achievements, all of which were made possible due to our collective action and vision.


  • 1998 – Lee was preselected as the Greens NSW lead candidate for the NSW Upper House. With colleagues she organised a Greens banner drop initiative off a Patricks crane in support of the MUA strike at Port Botany and docks around the country.
  • 1999 - Elected as the first Greens NSW MP. She was the first MP to be sworn in without taking the title “Honourable”. Subsequently many others have refused to take the title. In her first speech in the Upper House Lee criticised privatisation and highlighted the dangers of political donations.
  • 1999 – Lee initiated the Greens End Pollies Perks campaign that eventually resulted in the scrapping of the excessively generous Parliamentary Superannuation Fund.
  • 1999 – Lee was arrested at a protest to save urban bushland at Manly Dam from greedy developers.
  • 1999 – Within her first year in parliament Lee successfully negotiated a major Bill on Upper House voting reform. After the giant table cloth ballot paper election when more than 80 parties nominated for the NSW Upper House the Greens campaigned for optional preferential above the line voting. Lee led the negotiations and by the time the legislation passed all parties voted for the reform.
  • 2000 – Backed the “Save TAFE” campaign with a Private Member’s Bill that helped push the Labor government to agree to a new TAFE staffing formula that restored the number of permanent staff compared to casual staff.
  • 2001 – Lee initiated the Juanita Nielsen Memorial Lecture. All speakers are women for this event, held annually to commemorate the life and times of Juanita and the Greens Bans movement.
  • 2001 – When unions blockaded the NSW parliament to protest against the Labor government’s introduction of legislation to change the state-run workers compensation scheme Lee spent the day on the picket line with them and took their message into parliament.
  • 2001- The first successful censure motion against a government minister was moved in the NSW Legislative Council by Lee. Police Minister, Paul Whelan, was censured on the grounds that “a Minister is trying to gag the House of review” in relation to his interference in Upper House committee proceedings about police activities.
  • 2001 – Lee helped initiate an alliance of the Greens Newcastle Trades Hall Council and the Wilderness Society to run the successful campaign to stop the construction of wood-fired power plants.
  • 2001- The first successful censure motion against a government minister was moved in the NSW Legislative Council by Lee. Police Minister, Paul Whelan, was censured for his interference in Upper House committee proceedings about police activities.
  • 2001 - Lee launched the Greens NSW Democracy4Sale campaign that organised rallies; exposed donation scandals with its famous website; introduced the Ban Developer Donations Private Members Bill into the NSW Upper House; and exposed numerous political donations scandals. By 2009 after years of donations scandals the Labor government reversed their opposition to political donation reforms and introduced a ban on developer donations.
  • 2002 – Lee worked with the community to save Callan Park. We launched the Greens Save Callan Park Campaign with the Save Callan Park Bill to stop development of the famous heritage parkland and buildings.  The day after the Greens won the federal seat of Cunningham in the Illawarra region Labor moved the same bill.
  • 2003 – The Upper House debated Lee’s motion to remove the Christian prayers from the opening of each day’s proceedings and making it more inclusive by using non-denominational language. The motion was lost.
  • 2003 – Lee won support of the NSW Upper House for the Greens motion requiring the NSW Labor Government to release the contract for the Cross City Tunnel and related correspondence. This opened up a massive exposure of the unsavoury deals between the government and motorway builders.
  • 2003 – Lee participated in a strong community campaign and took the fight into parliament to reverse the Labor government’s plans to sell off Hunters Hill, Dulwich Hill and Marrickville High Schools and Erskineville Public School. This campaign scored big wins.
  • 2004 – Lee kicked off a campaign in 1999 to rein in politician’s perks such as the overly generous MP's superannuation package and other benefits. Lee highlighted the need for transparency by publishing details of MPs pay and entitlements on a searchable website. In 2004 there was a breakthrough when MP's superannuation payouts were brought in line with community expectations at around nine per cent.
  • 2004 - Responding to increasing numbers of random sniffer dog drug searches Lee launched the Greens “Sniff off” campaign to put a stop to police sniffer dog harassment. The campaign shared information at music festivals and organised rallies.
  • 2005 – Lee worked with the NSW Farmers Association to promote their “Grain on Rail” campaign by speaking at rallies, attending events and successfully moving in parliament for the release of the Government audit report.
  • 2005 – Lee introduced a marriage equality bill into the NSW Upper House.
  • 2006 - Lee took on the culture of secrecy that pervaded NSW government operations when she moved the Freedom of Information (Improving Access to Public Information) Bill, which called for a comprehensive and independent review of the FOI Act.
  • 2006 – Lee backed the campaign to change the law that allows private schools and businesses to hire and fire on the basis of religion, sex, marital status and age with the introduction of the Greens Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Equality in Employment) Bill.
  • 2006 – When coal miners at United Colliery at Warkworth in the Hunter went on strike Lee joined their picket line and protest calling on Xstrata to support the mine workers’ call for a new Collective Enterprise Agreement.
  • 2007 – Lee successfully referred then Cardinal George Pell to the NSW Upper House Privileges Committee after he stated that Catholic MPs would face 'consequences' in their religious lives if they supported a bill on human cloning.
  • 2008 - Lee was the first MP to visit Liverpool Plains. This was the first of many visits in support of their campaign against coal and CSG mining.
  • 2008 - Lee beat Tony Abbott in the two kilometre Cole Classic ocean swim off Manly Beach
  • 2009 – Labor eventually responded to the mass community anger against greedy developers and Lee’s Democracy for Sale campaign and introduced the Developer Donations (Anti-Corruption) Bill.
  • 2009 - Angela Martin, a National Party representative in the Tamworth area, thanked Lee for her work on the CSG campaign- “The Greens are gaining credibility in our area due to much of your work.”
  • 2010 – Lee moved NSW’s first bill to protect the state’s prime food producing land and water resources from damage caused by mining. Hundreds of farmers bussed to Sydney to support the bill. The bill was lost by one vote.
  • 2010 – Campaigning on the Greens achievements in the NSW parliament and her community activism Lee was elected as a NSW Senator.
  • 2011 – Lee took her place as a Greens NSW Senator.
  • 2011 – Working with Senators Claire Moore and Michaelia Cash, Lee secured all-party support for a joint Senate motion to help women in Gaza who have difficulty accessing treatment for breast cancer.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
  • 2012 – After talks with animal groups and the meat workers union Lee launched the Greens Five Point Plan to end live exports.
  • 2012 – When Lee’s questioning of the Defence Department exposed that $190 million of aid money had been used for military purposes the Labor government moved to restore the money to aid programs for the people of Afghanistan.
  • 2013 - Lee shared first place in the NSW parliamentary NRL tipping competition.
  • 2013 – Lee won Senate support for an inquiry into TAFE and the role of private providers. This inquiry put the spotlight on how the destructive nature of market-based policies has undermined TAFE as a centre for technical education excellence.
  • 2014 - Lee and Labor MPs Maria Vamvakinou and Melissa Parke initiated the Canberra Declaration on Gaza as a response to Israel's invasion of Gaza. The Declaration was signed by 80 current and former politicians across the political spectrum including former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.
  • 2014 – Lee introduced the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Donations Reform) Bill, that if passed would   ban political donations from developers, tobacco, alcohol, gambling and mining industries. The Greens campaign for this reform has been successful in NSW.
  • 2014 – When the major parties started treating the aid budget as an ATM machine Lee worked hard on measures to strengthen Australia’s commitment to overseas development, including a gender equality bill and a millennium development goals bill.
  • 2014 - Along with former Greens MP Sylvia Hale and Greens NSW Convenor Hall Greenland and many NSW members, Lee campaigned internally to stop the centralisation of power and to safeguard the grassroots structure of the Australian Greens. Lee, Sylvia and Hall made history by leafletting an Australian Greens national meeting. This campaign was successful.
  • 2014 - Senate passes Lee's motion that called on the NSW government to reverse its policy of selling public housing and to continue funding the Glebe Community Development Project.
  • 2014 – Worked with student and education unions on a mass campaign to  defeat the Abbott government's higher education cuts that would have led to $100 000 and massive cuts to university funding. Our website - -received over one million hits and helped to mobilise anger against the Abbott government’s plan.
  • 2014 – The Greens motion in the Senate on aid to Syria was passed and Lee successfully negotiated a $96 million increase in aid for the Syrian people.
  • 2015 – Senate votes for Lee’s motion that the Abbott government directs the Liberal Party to return the $14.6 million of public money allocated to its higher education advertising campaign and shut down the website created to promote its failed policy. 
  • 2015 – After being alerted to toxic contamination around Williamtown RAAF Base Lee started visiting the community regularly and won Senate support for an inquiry into the environmental and health impacts of the contamination at Defence sites. Lee has continued to pursue the government over their failure to compensate residents for loss of income, to purchase land that is now contaminated or adequately to clean up the pollution.
  • 2016 – When the Coalition government identified a site near Hill End, in central NSW, as the possible location for a nuclear waste dump Lee, along with locals and nuclear activists kicked off a broad based No Dump campaign. Their actions were successful as the NSW site was not chosen.
  • 2016 – Working with South Coast unions, Illawarra Greens and Greens MP David Shoebridge Lee was a strong voice for the “Save Our Steel” campaign inside and outside parliament. She introduced the Steel Industry Protection Bill and won Senate support for an inquiry into Australia’s steel industry and its supply chain. The campaign has pushed Labor closer to backing the call for local public infrastructure projects to be built with locally sourced steel.
  • 2016 - Lee's research team find donations up to $8 million not disclosed by Labor and Coalition.
  • 2017 – This year we came close to stopping cosmetics being tested on animals. Lee introduced her End Cruel Cosmetics Bill in 2014 and she has been working closely with animals groups and all political parties to get a win.
  • 2017 – Lee’s office undertakes extensive work inside and outside parliament to promote the Greens “Homes for all” universal housing scheme. Lee’s motion recognising housing as a human right passed by the Senate.
  • 2017 –The Greens voted against the Turnbull government’s so called Gonski II schools funding bill that reduced funding to public education in favour of the private school system.
  • 2017 - Lee’s Democracy for Sale project found the total amount of declared donations and payments made to Australian political parties since 1998 topped $1 billion.
  • 2017- Lee won the NRL parliamentary tipping competition.
  • 2018 – Lee throughout her time as a MP has been a vocal backer of refugee rights, participating in rallies, events and visits to the Villawood detention centre.
  • 2018 – Following the horror of the exposure of the mass deaths of thousands of sheep on live export ships Lee has worked closely with animal groups, the meat workers union, crossbench MPs, some Liberal MPs and Labor on legislation to end the live sheep export trade.

Private Member’s Bills Lee introduced into the NSW Upper House and the Senate

Some of the Senate inquiries Lee initiated

  • Impact of Defence Department contamination at Williamtown
  • Private providers influence on TAFE and vocational education 
  • Review of lobbying rules
  • Cosmetics used in animal testing
  • Gender equality in Australia’s overseas aid programs
  • Effectiveness of Australia’s aid programs in Afghanistan 

Work with communities

As a Greens MP Lee has worked closely with many communities represented in NSW. Her work with the Palestine support community and the Tamil community has been extensive.

Lee also works with the following communities –

  • West Saharans
  • Rohingyas
  • Muslims in Sri Lanka
  • Kashmiris
  • Bahrainis
  • Bangladeshis
  • West Papuans
  • Chittagong Hills Tribes
  • Kurds

Motions on NSW issues

Lee put dozens of motions before the Senate that demonstrated support for NSW communities fighting for local jobs, to safeguard TAFE institutions, to protect unique environments and public space, to oppose the removal Aboriginal children, to retain public transport, and so much more. 

Some of Lee’s motions on NSW campaigns passed by the Senate -

  • Reopen Crows Nest TAFE
  • No nuclear waste dump at Hill End
  • Protect Bondi Pavilion from privatisation 
  • Retain Newcastle heavy rail 
  • Stop polluting practices of cruise ships docking at White Bay
  • Save Liverpool Plains farming land from coal and gas mining
  • Clean up Williamtown toxic contamination 
  • Save Port Kembla steel works and local jobs
  • Oppose the removal of Aboriginal children living in NSW
  • Support world heritage listing for Royal National Park
  • Adequately resource NSW women’s refuges
  • Recognises the benefits of the proposed Solar Energy eXchange Initiative for Western NSW
  • Protect Parramatta girls home
  • Save public space and heritage Thompson Square at Windsor
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