GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

22 July 2016
The new Coalition Ministry was sworn in by Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove in Canberra on Tuesday, while the Australian Electoral Commission announced on the same day that it will conduct a recount in the final undetermined seat of Herbert after Labor’s Cathy O’Toole finished just eight votes ahead of Liberal National Party incumbent Ewen Jones. The final Herbert result may face a legal challenge after it was reported that defence personnel from Townsville – located in the Herbert electorate – may have been participating in a military exercise in South Australia on Election Day where it was confirmed 628 personnel were unable to vote due to a lack of polling booths. The Queensland seat recount began yesterday and is expected to take up to two weeks, which means the House of Representatives currently stands at 76 seats for the Coalition, 68 for Labor and one remaining in doubt.

The Labor Opposition announced the members of its expanded 32-person Shadow Ministry this afternoon, following a caucus meeting in Canberra. New frontbench members include recently-elected former NSW Deputy Opposition Leader and state government minister Linda Burney, Member for Chifley Ed Husic, Victorian MP Clare O’Neil, NSW Senator Sam Dastyari and Tasmanian Senator Carol Brown. Victorian Senator Kim Carr has retained his spot in the Shadow Ministry, while Victoria’s David Feeney and the Illawarra’s Sharon Bird have been replaced. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will announce portfolio allocations for his team tomorrow.

A number of Government backbenchers have voiced concerns about the proposed superannuation changes announced prior to the election, with Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen threatening to cross the floor in protest against the measures, which he described as a “lazy government’s way” to improve the Budget bottom line. Treasurer Scott Morrison defended the reforms, saying “technical issues” may be addressed but the broader policy package is necessary to maintain Australia’s triple-A credit rating. Speaking at the Financial Services Council Leaders Summit in Melbourne on Thursday, Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Kelly O’Dwyer said the Government will begin consultation on the exposure draft legislation for the reforms “shortly” and intends to “listen carefully to advice on the design of the legislation”. Read Minister O’Dwyer’s full speech here.

A push to introduce fixed four-year terms in Federal Parliament gained momentum this week, with Liberal Member for Banks David Coleman calling for a 2019 referendum on the matter. In an opinion piece published by Fairfax on Thursday, Mr Coleman said fixed four-year terms would eliminate the uncertainty around election timing and improve business and consumer confidence, while also giving the government of the day more time to achieve its policy agenda. Labor frontbencher Nick Champion said fixed four-year parliamentary terms are “in the nation’s interest” and accused the Liberals of running a “tawdry scare campaign” against the change in a 1988 referendum, which proposed four-year terms for both Houses of Federal Parliament.

The NSW Government has informed the two Chinese companies bidding for the State’s electricity distributor Ausgrid that it will accept bids which remain conditional on approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board, despite usual privatisation processes requiring unconditional bids. The Baird Government plans to sell a 50.4 per cent stake in Ausgrid as part of its poles and wires privatisation plan and expects to raise $10 billion from the sale. Two potential buyers remain in the contest: Chinese state-owned company, the State Grid Corporation of China and private company, Cheung Kong Infrastructure. South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon said he has written to Treasurer Scott Morrison to ask whether the Federal Government has received advice from security agencies and the Department of Defence about the transaction, writing “any sale to a foreign government-owned company should raise significant national interest concerns on this basis alone”. Meanwhile, Member for Kennedy Bob Katter has announced he will introduce a private member’s bill to prevent the sale of Ausgrid to State Grid, calling it the “first test for the Government”.

The Productivity Commission released its draft report on regulation in agriculture this week, which recommends the removal of state bans on genetically modified crops and statutory marketing legislation for rice and sugar, among a range of other measures to reduce the burden of regulation in the agricultural sector. The report also criticises the Federal Government’s tightening of foreign investment laws and recommends the threshold for scrutiny of foreign investment in Australian farmland and agribusiness is returned to its former level of $252 million. Deputy Nationals Leader Senator Fiona Nash defended the Coalition’s moves to tighten foreign investment laws, saying there was “virtually no scrutiny” of sales to overseas investors under the former threshold introduced by Labor.

Budget Estimates hearings will take place in Queensland and South Australia next week, while Prime Minister Turnbull has confirmed the 45th Parliament will sit for the first time on 30 August 2016.

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