Weekly Wrap Up: Spotlight on sports grants
24 January 2020
- Deputy Nationals Leader Bridget McKenzie is under growing pressure to resign amid a controversy over a sports grant scheme she ran during her time as Sports Minister.
- Secretary of the Department of Health Glenys Beauchamp has announced her retirement and will be replaced by Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy.
- Australia’s unemployment rate has dropped to 5.1 per cent – the lowest level since March 2019.
- The most recent Newspoll revealed Labor leads the Coalition 51-49 on a two-party preferred basis for the first time since last year’s election, while the PM’s approval rating has taken a hit amid criticism over his handling of the bushfire crisis.
- In Tasmania, Peter Gutwein was elected unopposed as Tasmania’s new Premier, following Will Hodgman’s resignation last week.
- Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher met with executives from Australia’s largest telecommunications companies to discuss how the industry can better prepare for disasters.
- The International Monetary Fund has downgraded its forecasts for global growth to 2.9 per cent, citing climate change-related disasters and lower economic growth in India.
Sports grant saga
With just over a week until Federal Parliament resumes, Deputy Nationals Leader Bridget McKenzie is under growing pressure to resign amid allegations she breached ministerial standards in her administration of a $100 million community sports program while Sports Minister. Earlier in the week it was revealed that Senator McKenzie had approved a $36,000 grant to a shooting club of which she was a member. It follows a report by the Auditor-General which found that a disproportionate number of the grants were handed to sports clubs in marginal Coalition seats, or seats it was targeting ahead of the 2019 election. Senator McKenzie has rejected calls for her resignation and maintains that she did not break any rules. The PM has referred the matter to Attorney General Christian Porter and the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet for review.
Bushfire crisis continues
While bushfires continue to burn in NSW, Victoria and the ACT, insurers have begun to assess the economic cost of the disaster, which has so far claimed 32 lives and more than 2,500 homes. Estimates place the economic impact on Australia’s tourism industry at approximately $2 billion. Insurance claims from the fires have surpassed $1.3 billion since September, while freak hailstorms in the ACT, Victoria and NSW over the past week have resulted in an extra $320 million in claims. Meanwhile, the Federal Government has allocated $2 billion in bushfire relief funds, creating uncertainty over the much-anticipated budget surplus. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has reiterated that the Government’s priority is ensuring that fire-affected communities are receiving funds.
In addition to the Government’s contribution, the community has dug deep, donating an estimated $500 million. However, recent claims that some charities have been ‘stockpiling’ funds for future disasters has prompted a backlash from several prominent MPs. Meanwhile, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has confirmed a state memorial service will be held to honour firefighters killed during the devastating bushfire season. It comes after three US firefighters were killed yesterday when the water-bombing aircraft they were in crashed in southern NSW. NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliott has described the summer as the “darkest in the state’s history”.
Coalition climate debate
A number of Liberal MPs from Victoria and NSW have called for stronger action on climate change, prompting the PM to publicly rebuke NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean. Former PM Malcolm Turnbull has also entered the debate, openly criticising his successor’s response to the bushfire crisis and calling for stronger action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While the Prime Minister recently signalled a shift in the Government’s approach to climate policy, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has defended Australia’s current emissions goals at the Davos Summit in Switzerland, labelling global perceptions of Australia’s lack of climate action as “false”.
Federal Parliament will resume on Tuesday February 4. The 2020 federal parliamentary sitting calendar is available here.