GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up: PM continues global focus

30 August 2019

  • The PM has joined other world leaders as a guest at the G7 summit this week, on the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron.
  • New measures have been announced to combat online publication and spread of violent, extremist material.
  • Questions over foreign influence within Australian universities have prompted the Federal Government to establish a taskforce.
  • NSW ICAC has commenced a public inquiry into allegations of improper political donations made to the ALP state branch.
  • Attorney-General Christian Porter has released a draft package of religious freedom bills for consultation. The proposed changes will prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or activity, and will establish a religious freedom commissioner.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison attended the G7 summit in the French coastal town of Biarritz earlier this week, joining bilateral meetings with a range of political leaders including US President Donald Trump, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Mr Morrison used the opportunity to urge the US and China to resolve the ongoing trade war in the interests of the global economy. Both the PM and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg welcomed positive comments on the subject from President Trump during the summit, but remain “realistic” about future discussions. Meanwhile, the Treasurer has rejected speculation from former Labor PM Kevin Rudd that Australia may be headed towards a recession, citing the country’s strong record of economic growth.

During the international forum, Mr Morrison announced a new partnership with New Zealand and the OECD to develop Voluntary Transparency Reporting Protocols, in an effort to identify and remove extremist content from online platforms. In related news, the Government has announced the development of an online content blocking framework to prevent the publication of extremist content during crisis events. The Taskforce to Combat Terrorist and Extreme Violent Material Online, formed following the March terror attack in Christchurch, will deliver an implementation plan by the end of next month. Meanwhile, Mr Morrison marked his one-year anniversary as PM on Saturday but chose not to dwell on the milestone, saying “frankly anniversaries I find quite narcissistic, so I tend to not engage in that sort of assessment”.

In a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Education Minister Dan Tehan announced that a new University Foreign Interference Taskforce will be established to develop the sector’s cyber resilience and prevent undue influence within Australian universities. The taskforce will include four working groups and be equally comprised of representatives from the university sector and government agencies. The announcement comes amid growing concerns over foreign influence on campuses, with the Attorney-General’s Department currently investigating whether Confucius Institutes are subject to registration under the Government’s foreign influence transparency scheme.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg addressed the Business Council of Australia on Monday, calling for businesses to invest for growth in a bid to boost productivity and wages. Mr Frydenberg questioned whether Australian businesses have been “aggressive enough in the pursuit of growth” or too focused on returning extra capital to shareholders, while also flagging an “evidence-based, pragmatic” approach to industrial relations reform. The Treasurer drew a line under the debate around company tax cuts for larger corporations and confirmed he will place productivity on the agenda at the next Council on Federal Financial Relations meeting, describing it as a “national task requiring a national conversation”.

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has commenced a six-week public inquiry into allegations of improper political donations made to the ALP NSW branch in 2015. NSW Labor Party general secretary Kaila Murnain was suspended on Wednesday evening, after she testified that in 2016, she was made aware of an alleged illegal $100,000 cash donation but failed to disclose it. The sum in question was allegedly provided by Chinese billionaire property developer Huang Xiangmo in 2015 via a third party ‘straw donor’. According to Ms Murnain, she sought advice at the time from former Labor senator and then-close friend Sam Dastyari, who recommended she seek immediate legal counsel. Mr Dastyari has since confirmed the account during his own appearance before ICAC.

Looking ahead, the NSW, Queensland, Tasmanian and WA parliaments will sit next week.


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