GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

10 March 2017
International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has proposed the inclusion of a ‘reasonable-person’ test in Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, in an attempt to “deliver the appropriate balance between freedom of speech and freedom from racial vilification.” The proposal follows release of a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights report on racial hatred laws, and will require a complainant to establish that allegedly offensive behaviour breached the standards of ordinary Australians rather than those of the minority group they belong to. The Government remains largely divided on the issue, with some MPs opposing any amendment and others backing abolishment of Section 18C altogether. See media coverage here.

A proposal to amalgamate several Federal Government departments into a single agency is currently being considered by Prime Minister Turnbull, with the aim of improving coordination in national security. With strong support from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, the proposed ‘super department’ would mirror the United States’ Department of Homeland Security and be similarly structured to Australia’s existing Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Defence Minister Marise Payne and Attorney-General George Brandis have reportedly expressed their opposition to the move; the prospect was previously raised under the Abbott Government in 2014, which at the time, Ms Bishop and Mr Brandis objected to. See media coverage here.

Measures to tackle housing affordability are predicted to be a key package of reform delivered in the upcoming May Budget, with Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar indicating the Prime Minister and Treasurer Scott Morrison are “exercised by this issue like few others”. Mr Sukkar signified a potential national framework which states and territories could “buy into”, such as the shared ownership system recently unveiled by the Victorian Labor Government and commended by Mr Morrison. See media coverage here.

In further budget news, Federal Government sources have indicated that a Cabinet reshuffle may be announced following the May Budget. Social Services Minister Christian Porter and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash have been flagged as possible candidates for Attorney-General, with George Brandis predicted to become the High Commissioner in London. It is also understood Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce may transfer to the Infrastructure portfolio, with his agriculture responsibilities taken over by Nationals Deputy Leader Fiona Nash. See media coverage here.

ABC Director Michelle Guthrie announced a “painful” blow to the national broadcaster this week, which will see up to 200 jobs cut by June as part of a major restructure designed to make $50 million per year available for future production. As part of these changes, divisions within the ABC will be streamlined with the purpose of reducing management levels across the organisation. Regional Communications Minister Fiona Nash praised the $15 million per year diversion of funds which will see added investment in regional areas and is expected to create up to 80 new content roles. See media coverage here.

Labor frontbencher Kate Ellis has announced she will not contest the next Federal Election expected in 2018/2019, citing a desire to spend more time with her young family. Ms Ellis, who was elected in 2004, said “This has been a very difficult decision for me because I believe Bill Shorten and Labor can and should win the next election.” See media coverage here.

In NSW, Upper House MP Catherine Cusack also resigned from her role of Parliamentary Secretary for Education and the Hunter this week, following criticisms of ministerial appointments under Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Ms Cusack described the new line-up in an email to the Premier as lacking in skills, with appointments based on factions within the Liberal Party rather than merit. See media coverage here.

In a bid to provide South Australia with “a voice from the political centre”, Senator Nick Xenophon will launch a new state-based party known as SA Best ahead of the next State Election in 2018. With significant support in his home state, the Senator has insisted that “For the first time ever, there’s actually going to be a real choice between the Liberal and Labor parties”. State Opposition Leader Steven Marshall, however, indicated that voting for independents could replicate the “chaos” of Federal Parliament: “What we really need is a majority government that can drive a reform agenda that can get the basics back in South Australia and deliver a more prosperous future”. See media coverage here.

Following the alleged violation of the parliamentary entitlements system by the Victorian Speaker and Deputy Speaker, a new ReachTEL poll reveals strong support for the Coalition Opposition, with Labor’s primary vote dropping from 37 to 30.3 per cent – the results indicate Labor is trailing the Liberal Party 46 to 54 on a two-party preferred (2PP) basis. See media coverage here.

Ahead of the Western Australian election this Saturday, Galaxy polling shows Labor is leading the Liberals 54 to 46 per cent on a 2PP basis and predicts Labor Leader Mark McGowan will become the State’s new Premier. Despite the ALP’s primary vote swelling to 40 per cent, Liberal Leader Colin Barnett insists he is “still in this game” due to the 20 per cent of voters who have been recorded as undecided. See media coverage here; GRACosway will provide a briefing note on the result following this weekend’s election.

The Queensland, Northern Territory and Tasmanian parliaments sit next week.


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