GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

24 February 2017

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop attended meetings in Washington this week with senior members of the Trump administration Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss a range of mutual issues, including Australia’s military contribution in relation to Islamic State (IS) and the Australia-US refugee resettlement deal. Ms Bishop described the trip as “an opportunity for us to make known Australia’s interests and priorities” and extend upon the shared “common values and interests with the United States”, with the “strong alliance” between countries reiterated by the White House. The trip is also being seen as a step toward paving the way for a future meeting between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and President Donald Trump. See media coverage here.

Back in Australia, Prime Minister Turnbull welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in what is the first visit to the country made by a sitting Israeli Prime Minister. Despite opposition to Mr Netanyahu’s arrival by many prominent Australian business and political figures based on political differences, Mr Turnbull described the Government’s relationship with Israel as “bound together first and foremost by the values we share – a mutual commitment to freedom, democracy and the rule of law”. It is understood that agreements concerning technology, cybersecurity, trade and direct air travel between the countries will be settled during the four day visit. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will also meet with Mr Netanyahu but faces debate within his own party over Labor’s foreign policy concerning the Middle East. See media coverage here.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has ruled that from 1 July 2017, Sunday and public holiday penalty rates will be reduced across the hospitality, retail and fast-food industries. Employment Minister Michaelia Cash described the outcome as “a direct result of the review process put in place by Bill Shorten”, while President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Ged Kearney stated that “no worker will be better off as a result of this decision”, indicating employees could lose up to $6,000 per year. See media coverage here and here.

The Coalition is considering lifting the current prohibition on carbon capture and storage technology investment by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to allow investment in “clean coal”. Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg has revealed that $10 billion in funding for high-efficiency, low-emissions coal-fired power stations to invest in such technologies may become available if a ministerial directive is issued to broaden the CEFC’s investment mandate. The Opposition has indicated resistance to any legislative changes to the mandate, while Senator Nick Xenophon has called for the Government to instead reconsider an emissions intensity scheme to combat rising electricity prices and wavering energy security. See media coverage here.

Meanwhile, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has flagged the potential purchase of Adelaide’s Pelican Point gas-fired power station from French company Engie as part of a “dramatic intervention” by the State Government on SA’s energy market, with State Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis indicating commitment toward a soon-to-be-announced package of reforms “that will lower prices and increase grid stability”. A collection of major energy companies in South Australia have also begun negotiations with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for an 11-year power supply agreement in an effort to reduce costs and ensure the State’s electricity supply. See media coverage here.

Still in South Australia, Coca-Cola Amatil has announced the closure of its Adelaide plant and subsequent loss of almost 200 jobs. Federal Liberal South Australian MP Christopher Pyne was accused of “playing politics” by Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese after Mr Pyne implied the State’s “unreliable electricity supply” contributed to the plant’s closure; a company spokesperson later confirmed the decision was based on factors unrelated to energy security. State Manufacturing Minister Kyam Maher indicated that the Government will contribute a $4,000 package to assist each effected Coca-Cola worker transition to alternative employment or retirement. See media coverage here.

In the West, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull joined WA Premier Colin Barnett on the campaign trail ahead of next month’s state election, where he discussed the Coalition’s GST reform plan for the first time since its announcement in August last year. At the time, the Government indicated it will seek to establish a percentage floor level for GST to be shared by the states, however, this week Mr Turnbull confirmed the reforms to enable this to happen will not take place for a number of years. Mr Barnett emphasised that GST is “our one major financial issue” but “took some comfort” that the Prime Minister had indicated a potential floor level of 70 cents in the dollar. While in WA, Mr Turnbull also announced $100 million in federal funding over three years for the defence shipbuilding sector and rebuffed the State Opposition’s plan to reallocate $1.2 billion in federal funding to the Metronet proposal, should Labor win the upcoming election. See media coverage here.

In NSW, the state branch of the Liberal Party will investigate the legality of political donations accepted by NSW Multicultural Affairs Minister Ray Williams following allegations he unlawfully accepted prohibited donations from property developers prior to the last election. Premier Gladys Berejiklian stated that the Government “takes the issue of political donations very seriously and has taken a number of steps in recent years to improve transparency and accountability”. State Opposition Leader Luke Foley, however, described the Premier’s decision to not stand Mr Williams down from his position while the investigation is underway as “weak” and “a scandalous lack of integrity”. Mr Williams has denied the charges. See media coverage here.

Also in NSW, Member for North Shore Jillian Skinner formally resigned from Parliament this week, prompting another state by-election. By-elections will also shortly be held in ex-Premier Mike Baird’s former electorate of Manly as well as retiring Labor MP Kathy Smith’s former seat of Gosford. See media coverage here.

In Victoria, a recent Galaxy poll has indicated that 52 per cent of local residents believe the State is “less safe since the Andrews Government was elected”; an increase of eight per cent since November 2016. It was also revealed that only 35 per cent of those surveyed indicated overall satisfaction with the Victorian Premier, while Labor maintains a slim lead over the State Coalition at 51 to 49 per cent on a two-party preferred (2PP) basis. See media coverage here.

The 2016-17 Additional Senate Estimates hearings will be held in Federal Parliament next week; Queensland and SA parliaments will also sit.

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