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Kim Rubenstein is a long-term legal advocate and academic in Canberra. But, in 2021, she decided to take her career to the next step. Through Kim for Canberra, she’s running as an independent in the Senate – hoping to disrupt typical party politics and advocate for Canberrans.

As the election draws near, I sat down with Kim on the campaign trail to find out more about the campaign she’s running, the big issues she’s raising, and why Canberra should be for Kim.

Q. Who is Kim for Canberra? Why are you here?

A: I set up the party Kim for Canberra to enable me to run as an independent above the line for the Senate. And that’s important because, in terms of voting for the Senate, we have the option of voting above the line or below the line. And we know that 80% of Canberrans vote above the line, so to give myself a real chance as an independent, I needed to form that party. And Kim for Canberra came about as a result of that, because of my desire to really bring the independent voice directly into parliament for Canberra. We’ve only had a Liberal or Labor member of parliament in the Senate since 1975, and I think that the party framework has not been great for developing policy that needs urgent action. I also think it’s meant that Canberra has been taken for granted. So having an independent senator who is not caught by the party will mean that Canberrans get a better representative, but I’m also wanting to have a real influence on the future of policy as well, which has been stalled by party politics.

Q. You’ve had a very successful and lengthy career in the legal side of things, as well as in and out of universities – what pushed you to take this next step?

A: Yes, I’ve spent 25 years being both an academic and a lawyer. I kept my practicing certificate but I’ve been full time academic, and I’ve also run pro bono cases in the court. I’ve always wanted to put my ideas and legal expertise not only to students to teach them and inspire them and to write judgments, but also in a practical sense in the courts, and also in public policy. Over the last couple of years I’ve just felt in the public policy sphere that Parliament has not been responding to all the expert evidence out there. I teach things like Freedom of Information legislation and accountability measures in government and over the last 25 years I’ve seen that all erode and be whittled away. So that’s undermining the civil democratic structures that we have.

And then I’ve seen very little movements on gender. I mean, there’s some improvement, but all of the events in Parliament House that led to the Kate Jenkins report need further commitment inside parliament. We just need more women in parliament. And then of course, climate change action is so urgent, and we’ve had two decades of our parliament being caught in this toxic pattern of party-political activity that prevented us moving forward. I’ve announced my climate action policy, which is to develop what I’ve called ‘climate compacts’ to take the negotiations outside of Parliament to the community to have stakeholder involvement, and to have a negotiated, agreed way forward to make sure that we reduce our emissions by a minimum of 50% by 2030.

But I think we might, even in that context, be able to do more by bringing all different stakeholders – including the coal industry – into the room to make sure that everybody’s needs are included, which includes the need for regional communities. All of those things are urgent and I just really felt that the time was right as an independent to go and take all of my learnings over 25 years and the voice of Canberra directly to parliament.

Q. There is a lot of pressure, particularly in Canberra, on climate and on climate action. People are really driven for it here – is that what you’re hearing from people? What are the main things that you’re hearing when you’re out on the trail?

A: When I set up the party last August, I organized zoom meetings, as we were in lockdown. I met 20 people at a time, several nights a week, so I was meeting a lot of people – and climate action is key, and integrity is key. The other one that’s interesting for Canberra is accessibility of housing, housing affordability, rental prices, and social housing. And that has a lot to do with the Federal State Housing Agreement. So I really feel that we need to move on that, and having an independent voice for Canberra is important for addressing what is the basic social need for housing.

Q: Housing is obviously another big issue of focus for you – but another big focus which you’ve actually already got the draft legislation for is having two additional senators for the ACT – what’s the importance of this for you?

A: First of all, when we started in 1975, we were less than half our population now. Doubling in that period of time, but not our representatives, so that’s one aspect. But the other is in the same period, each of the states had their growth – and they’ve got between 10 and 12 senators – while we haven’t moved. So, we need to have an equitable move around the nation. But I think the third reason is by having four senators it would lower the quota, which would also mean you’d have a more diverse representation and more likely that the parties can’t take Canberra for granted. I mean, I’m hoping that will happen independently, with me being elected this time around, but to also make it a structural change. It’s not just a one-off change. And then, I think it is added value if we have two extra voices in parliament on behalf of the ACT, and that also would be a good measure to prevent the federal government from overriding any ACT legislation. What we’re seeing is that the Kevin Andrews Bill overrode the voluntary assisted dying legislation in the ACT and the Northern Territory and in a modern democracy, where the ACT and the Northern Territory are self-governing it’s not appropriate for the federal government to override and having four senators to prevent that would also be good.

Photo by Lara Stimpson

Q: Kim is for Canberra – is Canberra for you?

A: Well I’m doing my best! I’ve done two events this morning meeting people, I’ve been at the National Arboretum because there was a Heritage Day and I’ve met people there and I’m trying to get out and about. I’ve got hundreds of volunteers out and about meeting people. So I really think it’s about people becoming aware of what I’m wanting to do and what I’m wanting to do on their behalf, as I’m hearing from them. And the more that happens on the ground, the more that is likely to occur because in essence when people can see what the consequences will be, it will be great.

That’s one other thing to add, we know that no matter who wins government, whether it be Labor or a Coalition government, they’re not going to have a majority in the Senate. And so that means that every piece of legislation they’re having gets the votes from the non-major parties to pass the legislation. So my role could be really significant on the crossbench, in terms of them needing my vote for me to be able to really influence in a positive way on all legislation. So that’s quite humbling and exciting. All these things of really demanding integrity and transparency and openness in decision-making, moving forward on the ‘climate compact’, women’s safety and the way that parliament should move forward. All these things are so key and it’s quite exciting that I could have some influence over them.

Q: And for university students, what does voting for you and voting for Kim for Canberra mean for them? How would they see that impact?

A: So first of all, just their voting is so important as my whole life I’ve been so passionate about activating our students and our young people to really know their vote is significant. So the first thing I want them to know is that I really believe that what they’re doing is really important, and to give it a lot of consideration. And the second thing is to say we need more women in parliament, and for men as well as women, we need a more balanced parliament. And the third thing I would say is that I have this real commitment to stand up for them directly. And I have a real commitment to bring all those years of work that I’ve been doing in this space from outside of parliament into parliament, so that I can really make change that will have an impact.

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