GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up: Bennelong Battle

15 December 2017
Labor Senator Sam Dastyari has announced this week that he will not return to the Senate in 2018, amid allegations of misconduct arising from his dealings with a foreign political donor. In a statement to the media, the NSW senator stated that his presence had become a distraction “from the pursuit of Labor’s mission” and shared his intention to “spare the party any further distraction” by resigning. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said his colleague had made the right decision given the circumstances, while maintaining that Senator Dastyari is a “good, decent, loyal Australian”. Speaking to the media this week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbulldid not rule out the possibility of establishing a federal anti-corruption body similar to Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), while criticising Labor’s handling of the Dastyari incident. A discussion paper released this week by the Centre for Policy Development has signalled broad public support for a national anti-corruption commission. See the media coverage here.

NSW voters are off to the polls this weekend for the Bennelong by-election, where former NSW Labor Premier Kristina Keneally is challenging Liberal incumbent John Alexander. Recent Newspoll results foreshadow a close race, with an equal 39 per cent of the primary vote recorded for both major parties. The data similarly reveals a 50-50 split in two-party preferred (2PP) terms – a stark contrast to the 2016 election results, which recorded a 59.7 per cent 2PP vote for the Liberal Party, compared to Labor’s 40.3 per cent. Notably, this week’s polling suggests Labor’s support in the electorate has not been affected by the Senator Dastyari incident; the Turnbull Government will lose its majority in the House of Representatives if Mr Alexander is unsuccessful tomorrow. Key issues during the campaign have included healthcare funding; the state of Australia’s relationship with China; and Ms Keneally’s track record as premier.

The Federal Government will release the Mid-Year Fiscal and Economic Outlook (MYEFO) on Monday, which is expected to feature a new package of higher education savings to replace those previously blocked by the Senate. Treasurer Scott Morrisonsaid the mid-year update will “demonstrate the Government is on track”, while Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has accused the Government of delaying MYEFO until after the Bennelong by-election and called on Prime Minister Turnbull to “come clean” with voters about possible higher education funding cuts. Reports suggest a Cabinet reshuffle is also on the cards, either before Christmas or early in the new year.

The High Court has heard preliminary arguments this week concerning the eligibility of Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie to sit in Federal Parliament, due to his lease of a shop to an Australia Post franchise in Port Macquarie. The Constitution holds that federal parliamentarians may not have a “direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth”, which previously led to the disqualification of former SA senator Bob Day. The High Court has also postponed the appointment of Liberal candidate Jim Molan to the Senate seat vacated by former Nationals deputy leader Fiona Nash; legal uncertainty has arisen over whether Mr Molan will serve a three or six-year term. See the media coverage here.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced her 18-member Cabinet for the 56th State Parliament, following formal release of the election results last Friday. Supported by five Assistant Ministers, the new Cabinet features nine men and nine women, sworn in on Tuesday. The Premier has adopted the Trade portfolio in place of her former Arts responsibilities, while Deputy PremierJackie Trad has been appointed Treasurer and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships. Premier Palaszczuk indicated that a first order of business will be to officially veto the Adani application for a taxpayer-funded loan to construct a rail line from Abbot Point to its intended coal mine in the Galilee Basin. Meanwhile, the Member for Nanango, Deb Frecklington, has been elected leader of the LNP Opposition following the resignation of Tim Nicholls; she will be supported by new Deputy Leader and MP for Everton, Tim Mander. For further information and a full list of all Cabinet members and Assistant Ministers, see GRACosway’s briefing note here.

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet handed down the 2017-18 Half-Yearly Review of the State’s finances this week, revealing the State Government is on track to deliver a budget surplus of $3.3 billion in 2017-18. Treasurer Perrottet said the Government’s four-year, $80.1 billion infrastructure investment is the “largest program ever undertaken by any state in Australia” and is being funded “without saddling future generations with unsustainable debt thanks to strong economic management”. The review also revealed an unemployment rate of 4.6 per cent in late 2017. Read the Treasurer’s message here.


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