GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

12 August 2016
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said he is “bitterly disappointed” about the failure of the Census website following a number of ‘denial of service attacks’ on Tuesday evening, which resulted in the site being taken down by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and millions of Australians unable to complete the survey online. The Prime Minister said the “extremely common” attacks were “completely predictable” and “should have been repelled readily” but noted that those responsible failed to put measures in place to prevent such interference. Mr Turnbull said the Government’s cyber-security adviser, Alastair MacGibbon, will conduct a review into the Census with assistance from the Australian Signals Directorate and foreshadowed “very serious consequences” for those involved. Earlier in the week, South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon and five Greens Senators refused to provide their names and addresses on their Census forms amid privacy and security concerns. Senator Xenophon has since announced he will move to establish an urgent Senate inquiry into the Census website faults when Parliament resumes. The site was subsequently back up and running on Thursday.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has made a preliminary decision to block the proposed 99-year lease of a 50.4 per cent stake in NSW electricity provider Ausgrid to Chinese and Hong Kong bidders, saying the foreign investment proposals for the transaction are “contrary to the national interest”. NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian said the transaction remains “a live issue” and that Ausgrid “is a valuable asset with a lot of interest” regardless of the Federal Treasurer’s final decision. Mr Morrison has invited submissions from the international bidders by 18 August before a final decision is made. See media release: Foreign investment applications for the 99-year lease of Ausgrid.

Labor renewed its calls for a Royal Commission into the banking sector this week, as the Commonwealth Bank of Australia announced a record full-year cash profit of $9.45 billion. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said a Royal Commission is necessary to investigate a culture in the banking sector which puts banks’ profits “ahead of the national interest”. Treasurer Morrison accused Labor of undermining confidence in the banking and financial system by continuing its demands for a Royal Commission, dismissing the appeals as “nothing more than a populist whinge from Bill Shorten”. See coverage by the AFR here (subscription service).

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has confirmed the Federal Government will push forward with its media deregulation laws when Parliament returns later this month, including plans to scrap the ‘reach rule’ – which prevents television networks from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the population – and the ‘two out of three rule’, which prohibits businesses from controlling a television station, radio network and newspaper in the same market. The Government will require support in the Senate from the crossbench or Opposition in order to pass the reforms, with Minister Fifield saying Labor will be putting jobs at risk if it blocks the changes. Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said Labor “will not be bullied into making rushed decisions” and called for a review into the impact of the changes on media diversity. See coverage by the SMH here.

A number of crossbench Senators have flagged their support for changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it unlawful for a person to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race or ethnicity. Private Senators’ bills will be presented by Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, who wants to “remove 18C entirely and everything that goes with it”, and Family First Senator Bob Day when Parliament resumes. Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch has indicated he backs the reforms “1000 per cent”, with One Nation Senators also in support of the change. Senators Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie however, are united in ruling out any changes to the legislation; Attorney-General George Brandis has confirmed the Government has no plans to amend the Act.

Statistics from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) reveal that more than 1.4 million Australians did not vote in last month’s Federal Election, resulting in the lowest voter turnout rate since compulsory voting was introduced prior to the 1925 Federal Election. The AEC said its efforts to boost enrolments prior to the election paid off however, with 95 per cent of Australians aged 18 and over enrolled to vote – an increase of 3 per cent from the 2013 Federal Election. The decrease in voter numbers was said to be an effect of the combined long campaign period and school holidays taking place in most of the states.

The NSW Government’s legislation to shut down the State’s greyhound industry passed the Legislative Council without amendment on Wednesday night, despite Labor’s attempts to delay a vote on the Bill by referring the legislation to a standing committee for inquiry. Upper House Liberal Member Peter Phelps spoke against the ban and abstained from the final vote on the legislation, calling it “bad politics…and bad policy”. Leader of the Government in the Upper House Duncan Gay confirmed the Baird Government will announce the details of an industry assistance package “within three months” of the Bill being passed. See coverage by the Daily Telegraph here (subscription service).

Victorian Liberal MP Louise Asher announced her retirement from politics this week; a move she says will make way for “generational change” in the Victorian Liberal Party. Ms Asher has served as the member for Brighton for the past 17 years, including an 11-year stint as Deputy Leader of the State Liberal Party. She will not re-contest the 2018 State Election.

The Victorian, QLD, WA and Tasmanian parliaments sit next week.


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