GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up
10 February 2017
The latest Newspoll indicates Labor continues to gain momentum in the polls, with the Opposition ahead of the Coalition 54 to 46 on a two-party preferred (2PP) basis. Malcolm Turnbull however, remains preferred Prime Minister over Bill Shorten, with support for the PM up 1 point to 42 compared to Mr Shorten on 30. Support for the minor parties and independents has also risen since December last year, from a combined 15 points to 19.
Controversial Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi announced his defection from the Party this week to form the Australian Conservatives Party. While it is understood the Senator will continue to lend support to the Coalition in Parliament, in a press conference announcing his decision, he cited “public disenchantment with the major parties, the lack of confidence in our political process and the concern about the direction of the nation” as reason for the parting of ways. The Prime Minister described the Senator’s resignation as “not satisfactory” and stated that “the honourable thing for Cory to do is to resign from the Senate and then run again at the next election as an independent or under his new party”. See media coverage here.
Following negotiations with Senators Derryn Hinch and Nick Xenophon, the Turnbull Government is attempting to amend the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) legislation passed in late 2016. A number of previously dropped provisions have been re-introduced, with proposed amendments to be reviewed by a Senate committee due to report back next week. In responding to the Senators’ shift in positions, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has insisted the amendments will ultimately deliver “worse safety, more casual jobs and prevent restrictions on temporary work visas.” See media coverage here.
After ongoing negotiations with the Senate crossbench, the Federal Government has announced the introduction of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017 to pass its proposed childcare reforms and cuts to family tax benefits (FTB). The Bill proposes changes to social support for job seekers and young people, described by Education Minister Simon Birmingham as “the most comprehensive reforms to the way in which Australian families are supported”. Both Labor and the Greens have criticised the reforms in its current form, however, with Greens Senator Rachel Siewert describing it as “an attack on families, young people and the aged”. Shadow Minister for Social Services Jenny Macklin declared the Bill is a plan “to rip billions from household budgets across Australia”. See media coverage here.
Following the recent parliamentary expenses scandal, Prime Minister Turnbull intends to axe the Life Gold Pass for retired MPs to remove travel entitlements which are now “out of line with community expectations”. Under current rules, the Scheme provides former members with 10 return business class domestic flights per year, which has cost taxpayers $17.2 million since 2001. Mr Turnbull introduced the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2017 into Parliament this week, seeking to create an Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority to oversee MP spending. In defence of the entitlements system, Queensland backbencher Ian Macdonald reportedly told a party-room meeting that “It’s about time our leaders, all of our leaders, started just emphasising how much work politicians do”, and indicated his intention to move amendments to the Bill. See media coverage here.
Another power blackout in South Australia this week has been described by Premier Jay Weatherill as “totally and utterly unacceptable”, criticising the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) for not being able to “run a system which can guarantee us security of electricity supply”. The Prime Minister conversely attributed the power failure to the State Government’s renewable energy policy and reliance on Victoria for its energy supply. It is believed the State Government is exploring options for other interstate connectors in relation to power supply for SA. Approximately 90,000 households lost power this week for around half an hour. See media coverage here.
In Queensland, Transport and Commonwealth Games Minister Stirling Hinchcliffe unexpectedly announced his resignation this week, citing “challenging and, at times, frustrating issues” following an investigation into Queensland Rail. A formal inquiry found that compounding issues in the organisation had culminated in a series of service disruptions following the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line in October 2016. A minor Cabinet reshuffle has been announced as a result of Mr Hinchcliffe’s resignation. See media coverage here and GRACosway’s coverage on the reshuffle below.
Following last week’s announcement of the new NSW Cabinet, a full list of parliamentary secretaries has now been released.
NSW, Queensland, South Australian, ACT and Northern Territory parliaments all return next week for the first time in 2017; Federal Parliament will also sit again.
The Reserve Bank of Australia announced the cash rate will remain unchanged at 1.5 per cent. Improvements in the global economy, increased business and consumer confidence, and expected above-trend growth in a number of advanced economies were cited as rationale for the decision. See media release: Monetary Policy Decision..
Treasurer Scott Morrison introduced the Diverted Profits Tax legislation into Parliament this week to tackle multinational tax avoidance. The legislation, which was previously announced in the 2016-17 Budget and expected to commence on 1 July 2017, provides extra powers to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) with the aim of preventing multinational corporations that earn more than $1 billion globally and $25 million domestically from shifting profits made in Australia to offshore related parties. See media release: Turnbull Government continues crackdown on multinational tax avoiders.
Reforms to the financial advisory sector have been announced by Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer. A new Commonwealth body will govern the professional standing of the sector from January 2019, and aim to lift the professional, educational and ethical standards for financial advisers. See media release: Higher standards for financial advisers to commence.
Minister O’Dwyer also announced the passage of reforms to the life insurance sector this week under the Corporations Amendment (Life Insurance Remuneration Arrangements) Bill 2016. The reforms will limit upfront commissions paid to advisers selling either personal and general financial advice as well as direct sales of life insurance products, and also introduce a commission claw-back period of two years. See media release: Win for consumers on life insurance.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Minerals Council has launched a new advertising and information campaign titled Making the Future Possible, which aims to explain the current and future contribution of the mining industry to Australian jobs, living standards and future economic growth. In a media release, the Council indicated that increasing anti-business sentiment and misconceptions surrounding the economic importance of the mining industry were primary reasons for the campaign, which will involve TV, cinema, print and online advertising. See media release: New Campaign – Mining Industry an Essential Part of Australia’s Future.
Victorian Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Water Peter Walsh and Leader of the Opposition Matthew Guy jointly announced that the Resources Legislation Amendment (Fracking Ban) Bill 2016 introduced by the State Labor Government last year is expected to pass Parliament following support from the Victorian Opposition. Passage of the Bill will extend the moratorium on conventional onshore gas exploration and development to 30 June 2020, and permanently ban all onshore unconventional gas exploration and development (including hydraulic fracturing and coal seam gas). See media release: Resources Legislation Amendment (Fracking Ban) Bill 2016.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce has announced $2 billion in funding via the National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility. Mr Joyce indicated that loans are available for state and territory governments to assist in the construction of critical water infrastructure and thereby boost production in the agricultural sector. See media release: $2 billion to waterproof our nation’s future.
NSW Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey has announced a trial of a number of smart phone applications to replace the hard copy logbooks presently issued to learner or “L-Plate” drivers. Minister Pavey stated that over a six week period, 100 learner drivers will trial four separate apps: Ezy Log, L2P, Learner Journey and License Ready. See media release: L-Platers win from logbook future.
Minister for Health Greg Hunt announced four additional regions will participate in a $46 million trial aimed at delivering better mental health services. The trial sites – set to run for three years – will be established in Darwin, Central Queensland, Western NSW and mid-west WA, and forms part of the Government’s $192 million mental health care and suicide prevention program. See media release: Major suicide prevention trial extended to four more regions.
Mr Hunt also announced that private health insurer premium increases will shortly be introduced, with an average weighted premium increase of 2.98 per cent set to take effect from 1 April 2017, while industry will see an increase of 4.84 per cent. See media release: Lowest health insurance premium increases in a decade.