GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

11 November 2016

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has congratulated US President-elect Donald Trump on his “historic election victory” and confirmed that Australia will seek to maintain its close bilateral ties with the United States under Mr Trump’s leadership. Mr Turnbull told reporters he spoke to the President-elect on Thursday, with the pair discussing the importance of the US-Australia strategic alliance along with regional security issues and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten – who publicly backed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton – said Australia’s relationship with the US is “far bigger than any individual” yet our country respects the decision of the American people.

Closer to home, Labor increased its lead over the Coalition in the latest Newspoll this week, 53-47 on a two-party preferred basis. In Canberra, the Senate rejected legislation to establish a same-sex marriage plebiscite, and uncertainty remains around whether the Government will secure the Upper House support required to cut superannuation tax concessions and amend the ‘backpacker tax’ before Parliament rises in December. Immigration also remained on the national agenda, with Labor voting against the Government’s legislation to institute a lifetime ban on obtaining an Australian visa for asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

Back in the Senate, the Government’s motions to refer former Family First Senator Bob Day and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Senator Rod Culleton to the High Court were supported, which follows concerns about the constitutional validity of their respective July election. Senator Pauline Hanson supported the motion relating to her Party colleague, saying the issue “goes to the very heart of our democracy” and advocating that politicians should remain accountable to the Australian people. Labor accused the Government of mishandling concerns over Bob Day’s electorate office being in a building he once owned however, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten arguing Prime Minister Turnbull was aware of the potential issue but had “kept secret” the Government’s concerns.

Attorney-General George Brandis has withdrawn controversial restrictions on the Solicitor-General’s capacity to provide legal advice to ministers, pre-empting Labor’s moves to disallow the direction with the support of Senate crossbenchers. The direction was at the centre of a dispute between Senator Brandis and Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson, who recently resigned over the matter. A report tabled by the Labor and crossbench-dominated Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee earlier this week found that the Attorney-General ‘misled’ Parliament by indicating he had consulted with the Solicitor-General prior to making the direction.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights will hold inquiries into matters relating to freedom of speech in Australia, following a request by Attorney-General George Brandis. The Committee will explore whether the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 – including section 18C – imposes “unreasonable restrictions on freedom of speech”, while also examining the adequacy of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s complaints-handling procedures. Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Turnbull said there was “considerable merit” in holding a parliamentary inquiry into the matter, while noting that any change to the Act will require “strong public support and consensus”.

The Coalition announced that Australia has ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, with Prime Minister Turnbull saying the Government looks forward to “actively and fully implementing” its obligations under the “watershed” Agreement. Australia becomes one of 100 nations to ratify the Paris Agreement, which confirms the target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The NSW, SA, WA, NT and Tasmanian parliaments sit next week. The 2017 federal parliamentary sitting calendar was formally released this week and is available online here.

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