GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

14 October 2016

This week marked 100 days since the federal election and while Labor continued its two-party preferred lead over the Coalition in the latest Newspoll, 52-48 per cent, the Government managed to deliver some key wins by securing the passage of industrial relations legislation designed to “safeguard” volunteer firefighters, and legislating $4 billion worth of income tax cuts. Despite this success on the floor of Parliament, it was not however, all smooth sailing for the Coalition when a tactical error on the floor of the House of Representatives saw the Government accidentally support a second reading amendment moved by the Opposition, effectively calling on the Coalition to explain its failures on multinational tax avoidance. Labor said the second reading amendment was the first to ever pass the Lower House, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten telling reporters that the Government is “not running the Parliament professionally”.

The Government faces another hurdle after Labor confirmed it will vote against the proposed same-sex marriage plebiscite and called for a free vote on the issue in Parliament. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dubbed Labor’s position “ridiculous” and urged members of the Senate to support the Bill in order to give Australians a say in the debate.

Prime Minister Turnbull hosted his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong in Canberra this week, where the pair signed upgraded defence and free trade agreements designed to improve regional stability and strengthen business ties between the two nations. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee became the first Singaporean leader to address the Australian Parliament after 51 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations. Speaking to a joint sitting of MPs and Senators, Mr Lee foreshadowed greater collaboration between Australia and Singapore in areas such as education, science, innovation and the arts. See the transcript of the leaders’ joint press conference here.

Australia’s two most senior legal officers are appearing before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee today to provide evidence for the Committee’s inquiry into a direction from Attorney-General George Brandis that restricts the Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson from providing legal advice to anyone in the Government without first obtaining permission from the Attorney-General. Mr Gleeson told the Committee that Senator Brandis’ position represents a “radical change in practice” and confirmed he has requested the Attorney-General withdraw the order.

Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor has announced a restructure of the Federal Government’s Digital Transformation Office, which will be expanded and renamed the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) in a suite of changes unveiled at a digital transformation luncheon in Canberra today. As part of its new mandate, the DTA will be required to review and refresh the Government’s IT strategy, while also assuming control of ICT procurement from the Department of Finance. Minister Taylor said the new agency will also feature a “small high-calibre program management office to manage strategy and manage integration of the digital transformation agenda across all of government”. Department of Communications Deputy Secretary Nerida O’Loughlin has been appointed interim CEO of the DTA, which has been described as a “tech super-agency”. The new role of Chief Digital Officer will be filled by Paul Shetler. See media release: Transforming the Commonwealth’s Digital Agenda.

Labor formally appointed South Australian Senator Don Farrell as Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate this week, following the retirement of Senator Stephen Conroy; Senator Farrell will also serve as Shadow Special Minister of State and Shadow Minister for Sport. Labor confirmed that former Health Services Union official Kimberley Kitching has been preselected to replace Mr Conroy as a Senator for Victoria.

In other parliamentary news, Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch has successfully moved a motion to amend the photography rules in the Senate Chamber, allowing photographers to capture everything that happens on the floor of the Senate rather than just the Senator who is speaking. The amended rules are expected to come into effect in November 2016.

Gina Rinehart’s resources company Hancock Prospecting and Chinese company Shanghai CRED have launched a $365 million joint bid to purchase the S. Kidman and Co stations, contingent on Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) approval and sign-off from Chinese government authorities. Under the agreement, Ms Rinehart’s company will own 67 per cent of the business, with the remaining 33 per cent going to Shanghai CRED. The deal will also hinge on the separate sale of Anna Creek Station and The Peake in South Australia. Prime Minister Turnbull signalled his support for the bid during the week, saying “it’s always great to see Australians investing in Australian agriculture”. See media release: Agreement reached on sale of S. Kidman & Co Ltd.

In NSW, Premier Mike Baird has reversed his decision to ban greyhound racing in the State from July 2017, saying he “got it wrong” while also emphasising his “personal convictions on animal cruelty have not changed at all”. Premier Baird announced new regulatory measures for the industry, including a cap on breeding and reductions in the number of races and tracks in NSW. Mr Baird also appointed former NSW Premier Morris Iemma chair of an oversight body tasked with creating a new regulatory and governance framework for the industry. NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley labelled Mr Baird’s decision the “mother of all backflips” brought about by the prospect of a “tough by-election in Orange”. See coverage by the SMH here (subscription service).

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

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