GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

4 November 2016

This week the Federal Government announced it will seek to refer two crossbench Senators – Family First’s Bob Day and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Senator Rod Culleton – to the High Court when Parliament resumes next week, following (separate) concerns about the constitutional validity of their July election to the Senate. Attorney-General George Brandis confirmed Senator Day, who formally resigned from the Senate on Tuesday amid the collapse of his home building companies, and Senator Culleton will both have their eligibility considered by the High Court, leaving a question mark over the numbers in the Senate for the remaining three parliamentary sitting weeks before the end of the year. Although the Senate will not consider the Government’s contentious industrial relations bills next week, Manager of Government Business in the Senate Mitch Fifield said the Upper House will debate “important pieces of legislation” such as the same-sex marriage plebiscite bill and budget bills.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited the remote South Australian town of Ceduna on the State’s west coast on Monday to meet with community leaders about the Cashless Debit Card trial taking place in the region. Speaking on local radio, Mr Turnbull said South Australians have “never had a Prime Minister who is more supportive of industry and investment in South Australia”, and suggested that the Federal Government’s SA-based defence projects will stop young people from leaving the State in search of jobs. Mr Turnbull also defended his recent comments about the unreliability and cost of energy in South Australia, saying his concerns have been echoed by the State’s peak business body.

The Federal Government announced plans to toughen its border protection policy through a proposal to implement a lifetime ban on obtaining an Australian visa for asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Under the changes, all adults taken to offshore immigration centres from 19 July 2013 onwards will be ineligible for any kind of Australian visa – including for tourism, business or family visit purposes – for the rest of their lives. The Prime Minister said the plan will “send the strongest possible signal to the people smugglers” and called on Labor to support the policy. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the proposal “seems ludicrous on face value”, while indicating Labor will reserve its final decision on the matter until the legislation has been released.

Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Greg Hunt believes “now is the moment” to pursue plans for high-speed rail on the eastern seaboard, following a visit to Korea where he inspected the KTX very fast train. Minister Hunt told ABC radio the proposal for a fast train between Melbourne and Sydney, or potentially Melbourne and Brisbane, will continue to be developed in consultation with the Prime Minister. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities is preparing to hand down a report on its inquiry into transport connectivity, which is expected to include options for a high-speed rail network. See coverage by The Australian here (subscription service).

French energy company Engie has confirmed its majority-owned Hazelwood power plant and mine in Victoria will close at the end of March 2017, in line with its shift away from coal. The Federal Government will provide $43 million in assistance to support workers and businesses affected by the move, including $20 million for local infrastructure and a further $20 million Regional Jobs and Investment Package. Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg said the Hazelwood closure will have a “major impact” on the national electricity market, with the power station supplying power into South Australia, Tasmania and NSW. The Victorian Government has unveiled a $266 million assistance package, including $174 million for local infrastructure projects and funding to establish the Latrobe Valley Authority to manage the transition and advance the region’s economic development.

In Queensland, Agriculture Minister Leanne Donaldson has resigned following revelations she drove her car while it was unregistered. Ms Donaldson faced earlier scrutiny relating to unpaid property rates amounting to almost $8000, which the Queensland branch of the Labor Party paid on her behalf this week. Ms Donaldson will remain the Member for Bundaberg however, which will enable the Palaszczuk Labor Government to maintain its minority control on the hung Parliament. See coverage by The Australian here (subscription service).

The Federal, NSW, Victorian, QLD, WA and Tasmanian parliaments sit next week. Federal Parliament is expected to adopt the 2017 parliamentary sitting calendar next week, with Parliament likely to resume on 7 February 2017.

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