GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up: Return to Parliament

9 February 2018

  • Malcolm Turnbull has welcomed a small boost in the latest Newspoll.
  • The Coalition insists that Labor MP Susan Lamb should be referred to the High Court regarding her citizenship status.
  • Steve Martin has been approved to replace Jacqui Lambie in the Senate.
  • Senator Lucy Gichuhi has joined the Liberal Party.
  • COAG is meeting today in Canberra.
  • The Batman by-election has been set for March 17, following the resignation of Labor’s David Feeney.

Off to a Good Start

The Coalition has kicked off the Parliamentary year on the back of positive Newspoll results, with a one-point bump in its primary vote, now 38 per cent to Labor’s unchanged 37. On a two-party preferred basis, the Coalition still trails Labor on 48 to 52 points; however, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull now boasts a strong lead as preferred prime minister on 45 to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s 31 points.

Deputy PM in Spotlight

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce came under scrutiny this week, following a Daily Telegraph report that he is expecting a child with a former staff member. In an interview with the ABC’s 7.30, Mr Joyce said “private matters remain private” and denied any inappropriate crossover between his public responsibilities and his personal life. The matter has prompted debate on whether Australia should follow the recent US decision to ban relationships between politicians and staff members, as suggested by Independent MP Cathy McGowan.

Citizenship Saga Lingers  

Labor’s Susan Lamb will likely face the High Court over citizenship questions and alleged ineligibility to sit in Parliament. The backbencher made a tearful speech during Question Time on Tuesday regarding estrangement with her mother, in a bid to explain her failure to produce relevant citizenship documentation. Despite his sympathies, Attorney-General Christian Porter cited recent findings of the Court when he concluded that, ultimately, “We can’t change the position at law no matter how empathetic we are”.

Tasmanian Senate Seats Sorted

Meanwhile, the High Court has approved regional Tasmanian mayor Steve Martin as Jacqui Lambie’s replacement in the Senate, following her resignation over dual citizenship. Mr Martin – who was reportedly expelled from the Jacqui Lambie Network earlier in the week – is expected to be sworn in as a senator for Tasmania on Monday, alongside Richard Colbeck, who replaces former Senate President Stephen Parry.

Hospital Funding on the COAG Agenda

Prime Minister Turnbull has flagged hospital funding as a key issue to be discussed at today’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Canberra, along with cyberbullying, indigenous disadvantage and a national compensation plan for victims of institutional child sexual abuse. Mr Turnbull described the Government’s proposed $31 billion increase in hospital funding as “very generous”, while South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill dubbed it a “shocking deal”.

A Loss for the Crossbench

Independent senator Lucy Gichuhi has joined Liberal ranks this week, in a move she said reflects her values of “freedom, conscience, choice and religion”. The Prime Minister welcomed Ms Gichuhi, describing the Kenyan-born senator as an “inspiration” and “a true Australian success story”. The change has boosted the Coalition’s numbers in the Senate, restoring its voting bloc to 30.

Government’s National Security Agenda

Facing pressure from the Opposition, the Greens and leading media organisations, the Government has agreed to amend its proposed espionage and foreign interference laws. Critics argue the proposed laws will significantly undermine freedom of the press by introducing harsh penalties for possessing protected information. The Attorney-General has accepted these “legitimate concerns” and will proceed with amendments to the legislation, while refusing to exempt the media from the Government’s new foreign interference legislation package.

Looking Ahead

The Federal, NSW, Queensland, ACT and WA parliaments will sit next week.

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