GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up
3 February 2017
Australia is in the international spotlight following revelations of a ‘robust’ phone call between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump, over plans to implement a deal to transfer asylum-seekers from Manus Island and Nauru to the US. While the PM insisted the call had been civil, President Trump later tweeted his dissatisfaction at being left with a ‘dumb deal’ from the Obama Administration, making it clear he would review the arrangement and that all asylum-seekers would be subject to ‘extreme vetting.’ See media coverage here.
The exchange between the two leaders in the President’s first fortnight in the job followed Mr Trump’s confirmation that the US would walk away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Australian Federal Trade Minister Steven Ciobo indicated his continuing support for the agreement between the remaining countries, including Japan, Canada and Mexico, but acknowledged the TPP’s shortcomings without US involvement.
Earlier in the week, in his first address at the National Press Club for the year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull outlined the political focus of his recently refreshed Cabinet on the “defining issue” of energy security and rising electricity prices. Despite earlier speculation, the Prime Minister confirmed that the Government has no intention of removing or otherwise altering the Renewable Energy Target (RET) for Australia to achieve a 23 per cent clean energy target by 2020. More broadly, Mr Turnbull stated that Australia must commit to increasing exports and lowering business taxes, additionally touching on the issue of transparency in political expenses by indicating his support for an independent oversight body and improved disclosure requirements. See the full transcript here.
In his own address to the National Press Club this week, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten highlighted the need for more emphasis to be placed on vocational training and employment, particularly in the renewable energy sector. He expressed concerns over public confidence following the parliamentary expenses scandal and subsequent resignation of former Health Minister Sussan Ley, further outlining ways to improve transparency via introducing an independent expenses body. Mr Shorten also raised the issue of the Prime Minister’s personal donation to the Liberal Party during the previous election, which was later revealed to total $1.75 million, and criticised Mr Turnbull’s reaction to President Trump’s immigration executive order, stating that “sometimes, silence can be interpreted as agreement.” See media coverage here and here.
Meanwhile, Gladys Berejiklian is the NSW Premier following Mike Baird’s unexpected retirement from politics on 19 January. The former State Treasurer, Ms Berejiklian was sworn in as the 45th Premier last week and announced her new Cabinet lineup on Sunday.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’s bail reforms announced in the aftermath of the Bourke Street tragedy have attracted criticism after it was revealed that while legally-trained magistrates will preside over a new night court, it will initially only operate for four hours on Saturday and Sunday nights, solely at the Melbourne Magistrates Court. Liberal Shadow Attorney-General John Pesutto described it as “a media plan…not a law and order plan”. Attorney-General Martin Pakula said the reforms are in their infancy and that the State Government would await recommendations from former Supreme Court judge Justice Paul Coghlan about what further changes are needed to strengthen the bail system. See media coverage here.
The High Court has ruled the election of former One Nation Senator Rod Culleton ineligible earlier today, in a unanimous decision of the full bench. It was held that Mr Culleton’s ineligibility stemmed from a conviction and pending sentence for an offence carrying a year or more imprisonment, which stood at the time of his election to Parliament. See media coverage here.
Federal and Victorian parliaments will both return on Tuesday 7 February for the first sitting week of 2017. Due to an upcoming state election, the Western Australian Parliament will not sit again until late March.