GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

5 August 2016
The final Senate results announced this week confirm the Federal Government will contend with a Senate crossbench of 20 – up from 18 in the last Parliament – including four Senators from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party (two in QLD, one in NSW and one in WA) and three Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) representatives in South Australia. They will be joined by Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie, Derryn Hinch in Victoria, NSW Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and Family First’s Bob Day in South Australia. Nine Greens senators also comprise the 45th Parliament, who despite losing one seat in South Australia, will retain the balance of power in the Upper House. Labor nabbed one extra Senate seat to finish with 26, leaving the Coalition with a total of 30 Senate seats. Given a minimum of 39 votes is required to pass legislation in the Senate, the Government will require support from at least nine of these crossbenchers to pass any legislation opposed by the Opposition. See coverage by The Australian here (subscription service).

In the House of Representatives, Liberal National Party (LNP) MP for Herbert Ewen Jones has conceded defeat after a recount by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) confirmed Labor candidate Cathy O’Toole won the Townsville-based seat by just 37 votes. While congratulating his opponent, Mr Jones also backed a legal challenge of the result, highlighting the tight margin and “number of anomalies in the count” and confirming the LNP will decide whether or not to mount a challenge in the Court of Disputed Returns. The result in Herbert leaves the Coalition with a small majority of 76 seats in the Lower House.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) announced its decision to lower interest rates by 25 basis points to an historic low of 1.5 per cent this week, with RBA Governor Glenn Stevens citing lower than average global economic growth, particularly in China, for the RBA’s decision. The announcement however, prompted calls from Prime Minister Turnbull for the banks to pass the full rate cut on to customers or explain their decision “fully and comprehensively” not to. Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen said the decision showed the RBA is “deeply concerned about the lack of investment” in Australia and that “the transition in the economy is not going well”. On Thursday, the Prime Minister and Treasurer announced an annual report on the banking and financial system will be requested from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics once re-established in a bid to ensure Australian banks are “regularly, and permanently, accountable to the Committee”. Banks will be called to appear before the Committee to “transparently account for their decision making” and “explain how they are responding to funding issues to support Australian consumers and businesses”. See the Prime Minister’s media release here and Mr Stevens’ media release here.

Just days after his appointment, Royal Commissioner Brian Martin AO QC announced his decision to stand down from leading the inquiry into the Northern Territory’s child protection and youth detention systems amid community concerns about a potential conflict of interest concerning Mr Martin’s daughter. Prime Minister Turnbull said he accepted Mr Martin’s decision and announced that the former Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland, the Hon. Margaret White AO, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda will instead jointly conduct the Royal Commission. See the Prime Minister’s media release here.

New Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Greg Hunt announced he has instructed the CSIRO to “put the focus back on climate science” as a “critical” component of its work in a move that will create 15 new climate science jobs and facilitate investment of $37 million over 10 years. Minister Hunt said the decision reflects the Government’s view that “climate science matters” and both he and the Prime Minister have “clear and strong views” about its importance. See coverage by the SMH here.

South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon has called for next week’s Census to be delayed amid confusion over the shift to an online form and concerns around privacy and data security. The Minister responsible for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Michael McCormack, said the body has an “unblemished record” on privacy matters, while Prime Minister Turnbull said the security of personal information collected in the Census is “absolute” and “protected by law and by practice”. For the first time, the ABS will retain all the names and addresses collected in this year’s Census for a period of four years “to enable a richer and dynamic statistical picture of Australia”. See Minister McCormack’s remarks here.

In NSW, Opposition Leader Luke Foley has revealed further details of Labor’s plan to prevent the Baird Government from shutting down the State’s greyhound racing industry, including a proposal for a new industry regulator and separate commercial and regulatory arms for the sport in addition to mandatory lifetime bans and prison terms for those found guilty of live baiting. Mr Foley called on National Party MPs to join Labor in voting against legislation to abolish greyhound racing, urging instead to “regulate the industry, not criminalise it”. See coverage by The Australian here (subscription service).

Long-serving Labor MP Noreen Hay announced her resignation from the NSW Parliament this week after a 13 year stint representing the south coast electorate of Wollongong. Ms Hay used her valedictory speech to call on the Labor Party to provide more support to female politicians and said that her resignation was not associated with electoral fraud charges recently faced by one of her staff members.

Still in NSW, Health Minister Jillian Skinner faced fresh calls to resign early this week after releasing the reports of investigations into two separate incidents in NSW hospitals concerning the death of a baby – and another who suffered brain damage – as a result of nitrous oxide poisoning and the under-dosing of chemotherapy to more than 100 cancer patients over a 10-year period, which subsequently revealed similar practices in an additional two state hospitals. While Minister Skinner has announced a number of measures to prevent similar incidents from occurring, in a press conference on Tuesday she was pressed on the question of handing in her resignation. Ms Skinner remained firm however, stating her role is to assure the public that those who make mistakes will be held accountable and ensure these issues are “not extended into a systemic problem”.

The NSW and ACT parliaments sit next week.


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