GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

7 October 2016

The House of Representatives Economics Committee commenced hearings with executives of each of the four big banks this week to explore issues that have prompted calls for a Royal Commission into the banking sector, including accusations of misconduct and bad financial advice. While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed the Federal Government will establish a banking tribunal to deal with consumer complaints against banks, he said it will take time to “change the culture of accountability in the banks” and suggested that annual parliamentary committee hearings with bank CEOs are more likely to effect change than a “one-off” Royal Commission. All four bank chiefs offered apologies for issues in the industry during the hearings and gave in-principle support for the proposed banking tribunal.

Labor has called for Attorney-General George Brandis to stand down amid allegations he misled Parliament about a direction to prevent the Solicitor-General from providing legal advice to anyone in the Government without the permission of the Attorney-General. Senator Brandis said he discussed the direction with Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson SC during a meeting in November 2015, but Mr Gleeson disputed these claims in a submission to a Senate inquiry, stating there had been no consultation on the matter. The Solicitor-General also claims Senator Brandis did not consult with him on key laws, including counter-terrorism legislation designed to strip dual nationals of their Australian citizenship. Senator Brandis maintains he has not misled Parliament on the matter and said that he and the Solicitor-General have never had a “cross word”.

The Federal Government announced a major shake-up of the VET FEE-HELP student loans scheme in a bid to “return integrity to the vocational education sector” by introducing a range of safeguards to crackdown on “unscrupulous providers” and place the program on a more sustainable footing. Under the new scheme announced by Education Minister Simon Birmingham this week, caps on course loans will be introduced, along with tough entry requirements for providers to stop the exploitation of vulnerable students. Minister Birmingham also announced that courses will need to “align with industry needs” to be eligible for the program in order to ensure graduates have good job prospects. See media release: New VET Student Loans a win-win for students and taxpayers.

Both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader visited South Australia this week, where they toured flood-affected communities north of Adelaide in the aftermath of last week’s storms. The Prime Minister said that not enough funding has been invested in natural disaster mitigation and committed to continuing to work with state and local governments to better balance funding for disaster relief and mitigation measures. Mr Shorten paid tribute to volunteers involved in the flood recovery effort and said he was “disappointed” by Mr Turnbull’s attempts to “politicise a one-in-50-year storm” by drawing links between renewable energy and the extreme weather. Speaking ahead of a meeting between state and federal energy ministers today, Prime Minister Turnbull said the state-wide blackout served as a “wake-up call” and underscored the need for a national renewable energy target. See coverage by The Advertiser here (subscription service).

Treasurer Scott Morrison has labelled Australia’s “strong and steady” financial system a crucial part of the nation’s economic success in a speech to finance professionals in New York. Visiting the United States for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Annual Meetings in Washington DC, the Treasurer highlighted the profitability of Australian banks and praised their performance during and after the Global Financial Crisis. Mr Morrison also reiterated the need to “keep the doors open to global trade” – including the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement – and spoke about the Australian Government’s “open and welcoming” approach to foreign investment. See the Treasurer’s full remarks here.

A ministerial staffer to Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne was part of a group of nine Australians arrested in Malaysia this week for stripping down to their Malaysian flag-themed swimwear at the Formula One Grand Prix. The group were handed a caution and discharged by a Malaysian court on Thursday after being held in jail for four days. Prime Minister Turnbull has indicated he will be speaking with Minister Pyne about the behaviour of his adviser when he returns from overseas, whom he has indicated should be “considering his future carefully”.

The Federal, NSW, QLD, WA, Victorian and Tasmanian parliaments sit next week. The ACT Legislative Assembly election will be held next Saturday, 15 October.

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