Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli this week gave a speech in Parliament that explored some of the key issues that are on her agenda – and didn’t hold back from speaking her mind on them.
1. Protection of freedom of speech
Beginning by referring to the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia as “an attack on Malta,” she talked about her own love for journalism and writing, and implored that no-one should ever stop searching for the truth after last week’s tragedy.
She disagreed with certain comments made in the wake of last week’s murder, some made by Deborah Schembri, that said that there should be punishments for journalists that cross the line
Saying someone had “crossed the line” was very subjective said Julia Farrugia Portelli, before pointing out that in her twenty years as a journalist there were many people that had said she had crossed the line, sometimes simply for sending a written set of questions.
She had been called and threatened when she had uncovered drug trafficking and prostitution rings, and even asked for police protection, which she was not given. She also referred to a time when she personally received a bomb threat for a story she published – again, for which she did not receive police protection.
2. Prostitution reform
Turning to one of the larger reforms in her portfolio, Julia Farrugia Portelli said that “we have a unique opportunity to discuss issues which we did not have the courage to face in previous legislatures,” before saying that technically “prostitution is not illegal, but running a brothel or soliciting sex in the street is illegal.”
She wondered if these laws still made sense and if it was effective to tackle the problem of prostitution by just throwing people into jail.
Both local and international NGOs had contributed to the discussion on prostitution reform, and while some local NGOs had spoken against it, international NGOs had warned that the more you push prostitution underground, the more danger it causes for their lives.
She wanted to discuss possible funds and work support for prostitutes who want to find new work, and warned that prostitution reform should not be made into a political ball. She also pointed out that the first gentleman’s clubs that were opened in Malta were under a PN administration, and “were registered as bars/catering establishments.”
3. Medicinal and recreational cannabis reform
Cannabis legalisation was mentioned again, with the Parliamentary Secretary saying that “We cannot keep our eyes closed to the situation out there. We understand that there are people who need cannabis for medicinal use, to relieve their pain. We want to help patients who want this medicine to receive it.”
She said that they were separating the issues of medicinal use and personal use, and hoped for an informed debate on personal use.
She said that the discussion around personal use should be based around adults over the age of 21, and not younger adults, in line with ReLeaf’s proposals.
She also pointed out that the government had been “given a mandate to look into any means of battling the trafficking of cannabis in Malta.”
4. Parliamentary and constitutional reforms
Following Prime Minister Joseph Muscat himself saying that the government has constitutional reform on the agenda, Julia Farrugia Portelli reiterated the government’s pledges to undertake both constitutional as well as parliamentary reforms.
Constitutional change is needed in Malta, as the recent demonstrations have pointed out, as well as for other reasons.
5. Human trafficking
Julia Farrugia Portelli said that she was tired of Malta being mentioned internationally when human trafficking was mentioned. She wondered if Malta should start a national campaign to combat human trafficking in Malta, if Malta even had a mechanism to do so, and said that Malta should be able to give protection to foreigners who had been trafficked to help take down the trafficking rings that had taken advantage of them.
6. Extending 16-year-olds voting rights
She reiterated the government’s plan to extend voting rights of 16-year-olds to national elections, including the European Parliament ones. She said they the government had faith in the 16-year-olds of Malta, and that their voting powers should be extended.
7. Honesty in political discussion
Referring to Leader of the Opposition Adrian Delia’s previous remarks on the government allowing 16 year-year-olds to vote, and looking into cannabis legalisation, so Malta could expect the government to allow 16-year-olds to consume cannabis soon enough, Julia Farrugia called for avoiding any “misleading, dishonest and dangerous approaches” to difficult topics.
She appealed to the Opposition Leader, and said that the “way forward is through an open, just and sincere dialogue,” and that politicians had a duty to “prepare their constituents, and not just economically.”
8. Increased female participation in politics
Making reference to the election of 1947, when Maltese women were emancipated and given voting rights for the first time, she pointed out that while Labour leader Paul Boffa had fought for women’s right to vote, there were those among the opposition who had said “giving the vote to women would corrupt them, and that most of the country was against this change.”
She also lamented Malta’s low participation rate for women in politics, and wanted female voices to be heard in a more equal way in parliament.
She pointed out that female participation in Maltese politics had remained at the same level for 70 years, and that Malta was still among the bottom countries in Europe and indeed the world for female political participation.
9. Working together
Linking to more women being involved in the political process, Julia emphasised that by “working together and only by working together and discussing can we attain the best results. Let us all work together and pull the rope together – and let’s hope that this time the Opposition is on the right side of history.”
10. Faster online transactions
The government’s focus on technology was mentioned when the parliamentary secretary said the government is looking at ways to minimise bureaucracy, minimise the time it takes to fill out forms, and was looking into new ways to conduct online negotiation that will speed up the time taken to buy and sell online.
11. Defended the IPP
She ended her speech, which had touched on quite a few sensitive topics, by defending the controversial Individual Investor Program. She pointed out that it had brought in over half a billion euros in revenue, that the Financial Times had said it has one of the highest levels of due diligence in the world, and the only program of its type to be approved by the EU Commission.