GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

16 September 2016

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull marked his one-year anniversary as PM this week, listing strong economic growth, enhanced business confidence and improved investment as his key achievements over the past year. The week was defined by some major policy developments, including the Government’s decision to overhaul its proposed changes to superannuation and scrap the $500,000 limit on after-tax superannuation contributions – a key measure that proved unpopular among Coalition backbenchers. The Government also brokered a deal with Labor to secure the passage of $6.3 billion worth of savings through the Parliament. The latest Newspoll also reveals the Coalition and Labor remain locked at 50-50 on a two-party preferred basis.

Treasurer Scott Morrison announced changes to the Coalition’s proposed superannuation policy on Thursday, saying he has consulted widely with his colleagues who have “been listening to their communities and to their constituents”. Mr Morrison said the amendments seek to restrict superannuation being utilised as an estate planning vehicle, and revealed the proposed $500,000 lifetime non-concessional cap will be replaced with an annual non-concessional contribution cap of $100,000. Other changes will prevent individuals with a superannuation balance of more than $1.6 million from making non-concessional contributions from 1 July 2017. See the Treasurer’s media release here and further remarks here.

Prime Minister Turnbull introduced legislation for a same-sex marriage plebiscite on Wednesday, saying “society would be stronger if more people were married”, and confirming his personal support for same-sex marriage. Bill Shorten said Labor has “grave reservations” about the plebiscite and told reporters his Party will study the legislation carefully and continue to consult with mental health experts before arriving at a final position. Liberal Senator Dean Smith announced he will cross the floor and vote against any plebiscite bill, saying that a public vote on the matter will undermine “the principle of parliamentary sovereignty”. If the legislation is passed by the Parliament, a plebiscite will be held on 11 February 2017, with $7.5 million in public funding to be provided for each of the “yes” and “no” campaigns.

Special Minister of State Scott Ryan has asked the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to review the extent of political donations received from foreign sources as part of a broader inquiry into the 2016 Federal Election, while also requesting the Committee look into options for regulating such donations. The Committee will also review the use of technology in elections and the potential application of ‘truth in advertising’ laws in communication with voters. Meanwhile, the Liberal National Party has announced it will not challenge the federal election result in the Queensland seat of Herbert, where incumbent Ewen Jones was defeated by Labor’s Cathy O’Toole by just 37 votes.

Labor Senator Stephen Conroy unexpectedly announced his resignation from Parliament after a career spanning 20 years, including six as Communications Minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments. Senator Conroy tabled his parting speech during a debate on the Government’s budget savings legislation late Thursday evening, citing the National Broadband Network as his “greatest contribution” to public life and thanking his Labor colleagues and family. See coverage by The Australian here (subscription service).

Senior bureaucrat Jane Halton has tendered her resignation as Secretary of the Department of Finance and will finish in the role on 14 October 2016. Prime Minister Turnbull paid tribute to Ms Halton, noting her “long and distinguished career” in the public service, including as the longest serving Secretary of the Department of Health. See the Prime Minister’s statement here. Meanwhile, Clerk of the Senate Dr Rosemary Laing also announced her retirement today; Dr Laing will step down on 8 March 2017 after serving as an official in the Senate for 26 years.

In NSW, the first review of the State’s lockout laws has recommended relaxing restrictions on live entertainment venues in Kings Cross and Sydney CBD in a bid to boost the “vibrancy” of the areas. The report by former High Court Judge Ian Callinan was handed to the NSW Government on Tuesday and recommends lockout and last drinks restrictions for venues with live entertainment be extended by half an hour to 2am and 3:30am respectively, as part of a two-year trial. The Government will respond to the report by the end of the year.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Tony Smith has announced that members of the public will now be able to petition the House of Representatives electronically, following the introduction of a new website and petitions system. See the new website here.

The NSW, SA, WA, NT and Tasmanian parliaments sit next week.

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