GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

28 July 2017
Citizenship issues continued to dominate the headlines this week after Senator Matt Canavan resigned from Cabinet amid revelations he may hold dual citizenship with Italy. Senator Canavan has reportedly been listed on the Registry of Italians Residing Abroad for the past decade and said his mother registered him as an Italian citizen in 2006 without his knowledge. Labor has called for the public release of all documents relating to Senator Canavan’s citizenship. Greens Leader Richard Di Natale has demanded the senator follow the example set by Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters by resigning immediately from the Senate, and has called for an independent audit of all members’ eligibility. Senator Canavan’s eligibility to be elected to Parliament under the Constitution will now be considered by the High Court. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce will assume Senator Canavan’s duties in the Resources and Northern Australia portfolios until the ruling is handed down. See the media coverage here.

Later in the week, it emerged that One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts held British citizenship at the time he was elected to Parliament. Senator Roberts said he took reasonable steps to renounce his citizenship ahead of nomination for the July election last year, saying he attempted to contact the British consulate via email “again, again and again” to clarify his citizenship status. If the issue is formally referred to the High Court, the legal debate will consider the extent to which Senator Roberts took all reasonable steps to renounce his foreign citizenship, as required under the Constitution. See the media coverage here.

This week’s Newspoll revealed a slight increase in the Coalition’s primary vote, from 35 to 36 per cent since previous polling; Labor’s primary vote has also increased from 36 to 37 per cent. Consequentially, both One Nation and the Greens have recorded a drop in support, with the minor parties each polling 9 per cent of the primary vote. The Coalition and Labor both remain steady in two-party preferred (2PP) terms on 47 to 53 per cent, while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has gained momentum as preferred Prime Minister over Bill Shorten, leading on 43 to 32 per cent.

The NSW Government has abandoned its plans to forcibly amalgamate local councils, ending an 18-month battle with resistant municipalities. Following threat of legal action, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that 14 Sydney councils would not be forced to form so-called ‘mega councils’, however, attention will now focus on how 20 already-amalgamated councils across the State will fare. The policy was initially introduced in December 2015 by former Premier Mike Baird and has proved deeply unpopular since. See the media coverage here.

Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer delivered an address to the Financial Services Council Leadership Summit on Wednesday, where she argued that superannuation funds and life insurance providers must more robustly demonstrate the value of their products to consumers. This follows Monday’s announcement of a reform package to equip the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) with greater powers to ensure superannuation fund directors are held more accountable to members. Minister O’Dwyer also tasked APRA with simplifying the process for consumers to opt-out of life and disability insurance policies, often automatically provided via superannuation. She commented that “we have seen instances in more recent times [where] it has been questionable that some of the products are value for money”. See the media coverage here.

The SA Government has called for a judicial inquiry into alleged misappropriation of water from the Murray River by irrigators. A report by ABC’s Four Corners revealed that taxpayer-purchased water intended to save inland rivers has been harvested by irrigators in order to support cotton-growing operations, a situation which the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has reportedly been aware of since last year. Further, SA Water Minister Ian Hunter has called for an “absolutely incapable” Water Minister Barnaby Joyce to be stripped of his portfolio responsibility, following statements he made this week. In a leaked recording, Minister Joyce is heard telling farmers that the Nationals have “taken water and put it back into agriculture so we can look after you” and ensure “we don’t have the greenies running the show”. The Nationals took responsibility for the portfolio in 2015 under an agreement with the Liberal Party. NSW Water Minister Niall Blair has since appointed former head of the National Water Commission Ken Matthews to complete an independent investigation into the claims made by Four Corners. See the media coverage here.

Bill Shorten has called for an increase to the length of parliamentary terms, suggesting that fixed four-year terms would be more appropriate over the current three-year system, as “Governments can be more daring and determined if they’re not constantly thinking about the next election”. The proposition appears to have cross-party support, with the Prime Minister agreeing to discuss with the issue with Mr Shorten. NSW Liberal MP David Coleman, who has previously released a draft bill for a referendum on the issue, said the change would “remove a lot of the noise in our system and lead to better governance”. See the media coverage here.

The NSW, SA and ACT parliaments are sitting next week; Budget Estimates will take place in SA.

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