GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up: ‘Super Saturday’ by-elections set for 28 July
- The date for the five federal by-elections has been announced as Saturday 28 July.
- Negotiations over the company tax cut package continue between the Government and One Nation.
- Budget Estimates kicked off, along with the third round of hearings of the Financial Services Royal Commission.
- Australia will begin formal negotiations with the European Union on a free trade agreement.
Federal Parliament has returned to a busy post-Budget sitting week, with by-elections and tax cuts dominating the news. Senator Pauline Hanson has caused a headache for the Government, flip-flopping on One Nation’s position on company tax cuts, while in a win for the Government, Labor has backed the full personal income tax package in the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House Tony Smith told Parliament he would issue the writs for the five upcoming by-elections to be held on July 28, attracting outrage from the Opposition who have argued the date for ‘Super Saturday’ is a calculated attempt to disadvantage the ALP as it clashes with the Party’s national conference. While Budget Estimates took place this week, it was largely overshadowed by further revelations of misconduct and unethical behaviour during the third round of hearings for the Banking Royal Commission, which focused on loans to small and medium enterprises.
Super Saturday Set
Voters will head to the polls on Saturday 28 July to decide the outcome of by-elections in Perth, Fremantle, Mayo, Longman and Braddon. Labor looks set to hold onto its WA strongholds of Perth and Fremantle, where no Liberal candidates will run, while the outcomes in Longman, Braddon and Mayo are less certain. Susan Lamb will recontest her marginal Queensland seat of Longman against Trevor Ruthenberg for the LNP, and One Nation’s candidate Matthew Stephen. Labor’s Justine Keay and former Liberal MP Brett Whiteley will go head-to-head in the Tasmanian electorate of Braddon. The Liberals hope to win back Mayo in the Adelaide Hills with high-profile candidate Georgina Downer, who is challenging incumbent Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie.
Labor has criticised the decision to hold the by-elections on July 28 – the same weekend as the Party’s national conference – and argued that the timeline for the by-elections is far longer than usual. In Senate Estimates, Labor frontbencher Senator Penny Wong accused Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers of making a “partisan call” which would prevent Labor members from campaigning on the day of the polls. Mr Rogers rejected the accusations. Breaking with tradition, the Speaker also defended his chosen date in parliament, outlining advice from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) stating that new regulations to the nomination process are being finalised by the Special Minister of State and will require sign-off by the Governor-General as well as approximately two weeks for the AEC to implement.
Government Tax Agenda Wins and Losses
After withdrawing One Nation’s support for the Government’s company tax cuts a fourth time earlier in the week, Party Leader Senator Pauline Hanson will again considersupporting company tax cuts, but only for businesses with turnover of up to $500 million. While withholding a firm commitment until she has consulted with her party and the Finance Minister, Senator Hanson’s new position has the support of Independent Senator Derryn Hinch, but is still short one crossbench vote. Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was forced to reassess the viability of the remainder of his company tax cut package, but insisted that he would take the policy to the next election. Despite these setbacks, Treasurer Scott Morrison received the backing of the Labor Party for the full personal income tax package, allowing the legislation to pass the House of Representatives this week. However, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen is seeking further details about the cost of the package in determining possible amendments in the Senate.
EU Trade Agreement
Prime Minister Turnbull and Trade Minister Steven Ciobo have welcomed the decision by EU member states to open negotiations for an Australia-EU free trade agreement. Despite resistance from the European agricultural sector to reducing tariffs, Minister Ciobo has said that while agriculture was only one aspect of the deal, “A good-quality trade deal with Europe will include enhanced agricultural access for Australian exporters”. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom will visit Australia in June to “politically launch” negotiations.
Greens Senator Retires
NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has announced she will retire in mid-August to clear the way for current state Upper House MLC Mehreen Faruqi, who overcame Senator Rhiannon in a preselection race last year to claim the number one spot on the Greens’ NSW Senate ticket.
The Federal House of Representatives and SA Parliament will sit next week; Budget Estimates will continue in Federal Parliament.