GRACosway Weekly Policy Wrap Up

5 February 2016

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull welcomed parliamentarians back for the first sitting week of the election year, warning that a double dissolution remained a ‘very real live option’, if the Senate refused to support the reestablishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. In an attempt to win the support of the crossbench, the Prime Minister held a private meeting with Senator Jacqui Lambie, in which he is said to have read from the confidential volume of the Heydon Report.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister discussed senate voting reform with the Opposition this week, as acting Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann sought formal talks with the Greens and Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who are said to be supportive of changes to end preference gaming by minor parties. According to reports in the Australian Financial Review, the Government is hoping to secure the passage of the reforms before the pre-budget seven week recess, which begins on 17 March.

Late in the week, Mr Turnbull hosed down the GST debate by listing the challenges associated with reform, saying that states and territories should consider lifting their own taxes if they wished to raise more money for schools and hospitals. The Prime Minister argued that there must be a clearly defined ‘growth dividend’ to justified the trouble and expense of increasing the rate of the GST.

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton confirmed the Government will continue immigration detention on Nauru, following the six-one High Court Ruling in favour of the Federal Government against a challenge to its constitutional power to detain people in other countries.

Marginal seat polling by the Labor Party National Secretariat, before Christmas, indicated that the Party stands to lose up to 12 seats to the Government at the election, as ‘soft Labor’ voters are won over by Prime Minister Turnbull. The polling, conducted by URM, showed that up to four seats in Victoria are at risk – Chisholm, Bruce, Isaacs and Melbourne Ports – while the NSW seats of Parramatta, Sydney and Kingsford-Smith are also under threat. However, the poll suggests Labor remains more competitive in both Queensland and South Australia, where the Government is under threat from Senator Xenophon. Read more in The Australian’s coverage here (subscription service).

Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb signed the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), in New Zealand on Thursday, which accounts for 40 per cent of global GDP and close to $110 billion of Australia’s export markets. Minister Robb vowed to continue his aggressive pursuit of free trade agreements, saying he will now seek a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in the Asia Pacific region. See media release here.

The NSW Government officially launched the $1.1 billion Social and Affordable Housing Fund (SAHF), managed through the Government’s investment arm, TCorp, which will deliver an additional 3,000 affordable homes for vulnerable families in its first phase and cut housing waiting lists. See media release here.

Also in NSW, Premier Mike Baird confirmed Margaret Crawford has been selected as the new Auditor-General, subject to review by the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. Ms Crawford is currently the Deputy Secretary at the NSW Department of Families and Community Service.

The Federal, Victorian, South Australian, Northern Territory and ACT parliaments sit next week.

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