GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

17 February 2017

The Turnbull Government’s recently introduced Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017 has been blocked by Parliament as a result of a lack of support in the Senate. In stressing the importance of the proposed measures, Treasurer Scott Morrison indicated $3 billion in funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will be realised through passing of the Bill, with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann warning that if it continues to be blocked, “tax increases become the only option”. Senator Nick Xenophon, however, asserted that while the Bill attempted to lessen the impact of abolishing the end-of-year supplement payments for those receiving family tax benefits, welfare recipients will still be in a less advantageous position overall. See media coverage here and here.

A voting preference-swap deal between the Western Australian Liberal and One Nation parties ahead of the WA state election next month has been formalised following refusal by Labor, the Greens and the National Party to join forces with One Nation. Under the deal, the Liberals will direct preferences to One Nation ahead of the Nationals in the State’s Upper House, with One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson describing the agreement as “paramount” to her party securing seats at the election. Federal Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce, however, expressed his disappointment with the decision alongside his Federal National colleagues, stating that the Liberal Party should “clearly understand the ramifications” of its choices. See media coverage here.

Pressure on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to scrap Labor’s 50 per cent Renewable Energy Target (RET) increased this week, with calls from the Federal Government and state Liberal leaders for a national, unified RET. Debate around the issue has again escalated following mounting concerns of rising electricity prices and a lack of energy security after the most recent power blackout in South Australia earlier this month. Prime Minister Turnbull stated that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wants to “adopt South Australia’s failed ideological experiment which will lead to even higher power bills and more blackouts”, and has welcomed unification on the issue proposed by his state counterparts. Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg has since called for reform of the Limited Merits Review process, which currently allows energy companies to contest decisions of the Australian Energy Regulator, ultimately resulting in increased consumer costs. In a joint statement this week, an alliance of energy, investment, trade unions and welfare groups have called for bipartisan cooperation “to work through the necessary solutions to our energy market challenges”. See media coverage here.

A Senate inquiry report on the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Amendment Bill 2017 has recommended the Senate pass the Government’s proposed amendment to the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) legislation, which will see the transition period for all companies to comply with the new Code reduced from two years to seven months. The Senate Committee found that a reduced transition term will prevent any “unintended consequences, delays and confusion which are not in the interests of a fair and productive industrial framework”, despite objections by Labor and Greens’ Senators. See media coverage here.

The Senate has voted to abolish the Life Gold Pass, which will remove lifetime travel entitlements for retired parliamentarians. LNP Senator Ian Macdonald was the only MP to object to the decision, with Special Minister of State Scott Ryan commending the outcome by reiterating “The Life Gold Pass for parliamentarians is a relic of a bygone era” and that all parliamentary entitlements should be used “efficiently, effectively and ethically”. See media coverage here.

Former Queensland Labor Premier Anna Bligh has been appointed CEO of the Australian Bankers’ Association. While Ms Bligh has indicated she does not support a Royal Commission into the banking sector, she is keen to oversee and contribute to the development of significant reforms that “will allow the banking industry to restore trust and confidence in a system that is open, fair and transparent”. See media coverage here.

In NSW, the Greyhound Industry Reform Panel has recommended establishment of an independent Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission. Panel chair and former Labor Premier Morris Iemma reported that animal welfare concerns will be central to the new industry framework, which will include an enforceable code of practice and strict penalties. The Commission will reportedly seek to guarantee the separation of regulatory and commercial functions of the industry, restoring public confidence in the sport. See media coverage here.

The NSW and Victorian parliaments sit next week.

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