GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

21 October 2016

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull placed industrial relations firmly on the agenda early in the week, saying the case for restoring the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) is “overwhelming and growing”. The PM’s focus on illegal union activity was, however, overshadowed by a debate on gun control which emerged when crossbench Senator David Leyonhjelm said he would consider supporting the Government’s industrial relations legislation in return for an end to the import ban on the Adler lever-action shotgun. Labor accused the Coalition of “trading away John Howard’s gun laws” in order to pass legislation, while former Prime Minister Tony Abbott rejected allegations he authorised a deal on gun laws during his time as PM. The controversy continued throughout the week, highlighting the ongoing tension between Mr Turnbull and his predecessor and detracting from the Government’s agenda. State police ministers are meeting today to finalise the review of the National Firearms Agreement and discuss the classification of the Adler shotgun.

South Australian Family First Senator Bob Day announced his resignation from the Senate after his home building business went into liquidation. Family First will nominate a replacement candidate to fill the vacancy caused by Senator Day’s departure, with Family First’s South Australian Legislative Council member Robert Brokenshire, Senator Day’s adviser Rikki Lambert and Kenyan-born lawyer Lucy Gichuhi putting themselves forward as candidates.

The Government’s ABCC and same-sex marriage plebiscite bills passed the House of Representatives this week, while its company tax cuts are likely to stall in the Senate after the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) confirmed it will not support a reduction in the company tax rate for any firm with an annual turnover of more than $10 million. Treasurer Scott Morrison told Radio National the Government is continuing to discuss the matter with Senator Xenophon while acknowledging the Parliament is “sovereign” and will decide which of the Government’s measures to support. The NXT has also confirmed it will block two welfare savings measures relating to unemployment benefits for young jobseekers and the age pension, while signalling it is willing to negotiate on industrial relations legislation.

The NSW Government has announced the $16.2 billion sale of a 50 per cent share in the State’s electricity network Ausgrid to Australian super funds IFM Investors and AustralianSuper, with Premier Mike Baird dubbing the sale an “outstanding result”. The deal follows Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison’s August decision to block Chinese and Hong Kong bidders from acquiring the asset on national security grounds and will not require Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) approval. The NSW Opposition has criticised the Government’s decision to accept an unsolicited proposal as “scandalously inappropriate”, arguing the sale price is $1 billion lower than it may have been if the Government had run a second open process. See coverage by The Australian here (subscription service).

Senator Nick Xenophon has called for changes to the nation’s foreign investment framework to give precedence to Australian bids for agricultural land. Speaking at the Canberra launch of an all-Australian bid for the S. Kidman and Co stations, Senator Xenophon argued that the FIRB should support Australian companies by advising the Treasurer against foreign bids where there is a “commercially equivalent comparable Australian-based bid”. The BBHO syndicate – comprised of well-known Australian cattle industry families – has confirmed it will lodge a bid for the Kidman business over coming days to rival the $365 million joint bid put forward by Gina Rinehart’s company Hancock Prospecting and Chinese company Shanghai CRED. See coverage by the AFR here (subscription service).

Labor will retain government for a fifth term in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) following Saturday’s Legislative Assembly election, which saw a swing of 0.5 per cent away from the Party. ACT Labor is expected to secure 12 seats in the expanded 25 seat Legislative Assembly, while the Liberals are on track to win 11 and the Greens two. Labor Chief Minister Andrew Barr said his Party will negotiate with the Greens to “form a new progressive government in the ACT”, foreshadowing a continuation of the Labor-Greens coalition government first formed in 2012.

The Victorian and Tasmanian parliaments sit next week.

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