GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up: Parliament passes drought fund and national security laws

26 July 2019

  • Drought relief and national security laws were at the top of the Federal Parliament’s legislative agenda this week, with the passage of two significant bills.
  • The PM took time out of his schedule on Wednesday evening to call new British PM Boris Johnson in anticipation of their meeting at the G7 next month, and to pass on his congratulations.
  • Scott Morrison’s former Chief of Staff Phil Gaetjens will replace retiring Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) Secretary Dr Martin Parkinson.
  • The Senate has voted to establish an inquiry into press freedom, and has also initiated an inquiry into the post-politics roles of former ministers Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop.
  • Industrial relations laws have been on the radar, with the PM requesting the Attorney-General “draft laws to deal with criminalising worker exploitation”.
Federal Parliament returned this week, with drought relief and national security at the top of the legislative agenda. The Government passed its foreign fighters bill through the Parliament with Labor’s support, despite the Opposition’s concerns about the significant powers it would hand to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. The bill is designed to prevent Australians who fought with terrorist organisations from returning home for up to two years. Labor unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill in the Senate to bring it into line with recommendations from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS). Meanwhile, the Future Drought Fund Bill has also passed through the Parliament, delivering another one of the Coalition’s election promises and paving the way for drought resilience funding to flow.

New MPs have started giving their maiden speeches, with incoming NSW Liberal senator Andrew Bragg using his address to deliver a scathing assessment of the superannuation system. He joined a number of other Coalition MPs who have broken ranks on superannuation, along with other policy issues such as increasing the Newstart allowance and adopting nuclear power. In response, the PM was forced to call for party unity, urging MPs to stick to the agenda that the Coalition took to the election and to use internal party processes to progress policy proposals, rather than sparking debate via the media.

The PM has flagged a major shakeup of the federal bureaucracy in a bid to enhance accountability and ensure public servants are serving the “quiet Australians”. The PM’s changes will be based on the draft recommendations of a review led by former Telstra boss David Thodey, which is due to report soon. Meanwhile, PM&C head Martin Parkinson has confirmed he will step down next month, with Treasury secretary Phil Gaetjens named as his replacement. Infrastructure Department secretary Steven Kennedy is set to take over from Mr Gaetjens.

The Senate has voted to establish a second inquiry into press freedom after Labor and the Greens argued that the original PJCIS inquiry did not go far enough. The inquiry – due to report in December – will be conducted by the Senate’s communications committee and will have a broader focus on laws surrounding journalists and whistleblowers. The Opposition and crossbench also united this week to establish an inquiry into the new post-politics roles of former ministers Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop. While an earlier departmental review found neither was in breach of ministerial standards, Senator Rex Patrick’s motion to establish the inquiry was supported by all crossbenchers, Labor and the Greens.

Industrial relations laws have been in the spotlight this week after celebrity chef George Calombaris was fined $200,000 for underpaying staff $7.8 million in wages. Attorney-General Christian Porter said the fine was too “light” and the PM has requested the Attorney-General “draft laws to deal with criminalising worker exploitation”. Meanwhile, the controversy over Victorian CFMEU boss John Setka continues, with reports this week that Mr Setka is prepared to go to court to resist being expelled from the ALP.

The Federal Parliament sits again next week, along with the NSW, SA, ACT and Tasmanian Parliaments. Budget Estimates will take place in Queensland and SA.


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