GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up
Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie lashed Queensland this week as it reached landfall as a category 4 cyclone between Bowen and Airlie Beach and caused significant damage and flooding across the State. In a show of bipartisan support, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten jointly toured affected areas in North Queensland earlier in the week, with Mr Turnbull saying the Federal Government will work closely with the Queensland Government to provide ongoing support and assistance in the recovery and reconstruction of services and infrastructure, including the activation of assistance through the jointly-funded Commonwealth-State Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA). The Insurance Council of Australia has declared a catastrophe for damage caused by the cyclone and is anticipating thousands of claims, while primary producers also expect to suffer heavy crop losses.
The Federal Government’s $48.7 billion company tax plan faces considerable opposition in the Senate, where the debate will continue across the final sitting day of Parliament until a resolution is reached. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has withdrawn its support in an attempt to force an intervention regarding the ongoing Queensland sugar industry dispute. In a similar move, Senator Nick Xenophon is withholding his support for the Government’s tax proposal while pressing for action on an emissions intensity scheme for the electricity sector. See the media coverage here.
Plans to amend Section 18C of theRacial Discrimination Act 1975 have been rejected this week, with Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team voting down the Government’s proposal to replace the words “offend”, “insult” and “humiliate” with “harass” and introduce a “pub test” in a late sitting of the Senate on Thursday night. In support of the outcome, Labor multicultural affairs spokesperson Tony Burke commented that “Those who attempted to trivialise the damage caused by racist hate speech should hear this message and find a cause that doesn’t give licence for insults, offence and humiliation”. The Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 passed the Senate late on Friday however, which will introduce operational changes to the Australian Human Rights Commission. See the media coverage here.
Prime Minister Turnbull has announced an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) review into retail electricity prices. In a joint statement, Mr Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison indicated the inquiry will form part of the Government’s broader strategy in maintaining energy security and affordability. The Australian Energy Council (AEC) has suggested the inquiry “will bust the myth that competitive retail electricity markets are the problem”. The ACCC will produce a preliminary report within six months and a final report by 30 June 2018. See media release: ACCC to review electricity prices.
Following meetings with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last week, the Government has elected not to ratify a 10-year-old extradition treaty with China. Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers including conservative Cory Bernardi all expressed an intention to disallow the treaty; Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Trade Minister Steven Ciobo argued for the treaty’s ratification in the hours preceding the Prime Minister’s decision. In response to the decision, Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye reportedly told Minister Bishop that Beijing was “disappointed” but approved of the Government’s decision to immediately repeal the treaty and avoid a fruitless Senate debate. See the media coverage here.
In an historic move, UK Prime Minister Theresa May begun the formal process to trigger Brexit, signing a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk to start two years of negotiations with the European Union. During a speech in Westminster, the Prime Minister stated that “This is a historic moment from which there can be no turning back: we are going to make our own decisions and own laws…and take the opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain. That is our ambition and our opportunity.” See the media coverage here.
Legislation proposing a “dominant purpose” test for Federal MPs travel expenses has been introduced tinto Parliament, which will create a new Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA) to oversee the entitlements system. A “value for money” test will also be used to minimise unnecessary expense claims. Special Minister of State Scott Ryan indicated that travel expense claims will be published on a monthly basis to ensure greater transparency. See the media coverage here.
The NSW Supreme Court has ruled former Labor Minister Ian Macdonald guilty of misconduct in public office for issuing a mining licence to the John Maitland-run company Doyles Creek Mining in the absence of a competitive tender process. Mr Maitland, who is the former head of the Construction, Mining, Forestry and Energy Union (CMFEU), has been found guilty as an accessory. A sentencing hearing for both individuals will be held within six weeks. See the media coverage here.
South Australian Member for Florey Frances Bedford has announced her resignation from the Labor Party following preselection of Health Minister Jack Snelling as the next candidate for the Florey electorate. Ms Bedford indicated she will remain in her role until the next election in 2018, at which time she will potentially run as an independent candidate for the seat of Florey. See the media coverage here.
Marilyn Warren has announced her retirement as Chief Justice of the Victorian Supreme Court. Chief Justice Warren was the first female Chief Justice in the Supreme Court of any state/territory who notably advocated for the end of the traditional use of judges’ and barristers’ wigs in the Supreme Court and encouraged greater racial and gender diversity on the bench. See the media coverage here.
The NSW and Tasmanian parliaments sit next week. Federal Parliament will not sit again until after the Budget is handed down in May.