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GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up
24 March 2017
 
This week’s Newspoll indicates a 3 per cent rise in support for the Coalition from 45 to 48 per cent on a two-party preferred (2PP) basis, compared to Labor on 52 per cent; previous polling in February recorded a 10 per cent lead by Labor. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also gained further ground as preferred PM and continues to lead against Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, 43 to 29 per cent. The poll also reveals the Coalition’s primary vote has increased from 34 to 37 per cent over the previous three weeks, marking its strongest result since December 2016. Despite a less-than-favourable result at the recent Western Australian Election, One Nation has retained its 10 per cent primary vote.
 
The Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 has passed the Senate in the final sitting days ahead of the May Federal Budget, securing the $1.6 billion childcare package originally outlined in the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017, and introducing a two-year freeze on the indexation of Family Tax Benefits (FTB). Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the passing of the Bill will achieve a $2.4 billion saving over the period to 2020-21. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, however, criticised the FTB freeze as “a sledgehammer blow to Australian families”. See the media coverage here.
 
The Government secured support this week to amend Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 from independents David Leyonhjelm, Cory Bernardi and Derryn Hinch, and four One Nation senators, which will see the words “offend”, “insult” and “humiliate” replaced with “harass”. Despite increasing the numbers needed for reform, the changes will not pass the Senate without the support of the Nick Xenophon Team, who still oppose the suggested wording but will support “sensible changes” to processes surrounding complaints made under the legislation. See the media coverage here.
 
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang touched down in Australia this week where he will spend five days visiting Canberra and Sydney for an annual leaders meeting as part of the countries’ Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and is anticipated to conclude with bilateral agreements on security, energy and beef exports. Federal Trade Minister Steven Ciobo indicated the Government will announce new trade measures under the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA), which originally entered into force in December 2015. Prime Minister Turnbull commented that “China contributes directly to our prosperity – supporting the jobs and growth agenda that is at the heart of my Government.” See the media coverage here.  
 
While attending a US-led anti-terror coalition in Washington, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop extended her “deepest sympathies to the people of the United Kingdom” in the wake of the attack in London earlier this week. Minister Bishop confirmed that no Australian citizens have been identified as involved in the incident, and reiterated the Government's commitment to security to ensure "our law enforcement and intelligence agencies and our authorities are placed as well as they can be to ensure Australians are safe". See the media coverage here.
 
Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash has announced three new appointments to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) who will “bring comprehensive expertise and valuable skills” to the tribunal. Peter Anderson of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Corrs Chambers Westgarth partner Alan Colman have been appointed deputy presidents, with Sarah McKinnon of the National Farmers’ Federation to fill the role of Commissioner. See the media coverage here.
 
UK Prime Minister Theresa May will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to trigger Brexit on Wednesday 29 March, which will begin two years of negotiations with the European Union. Ms May indicated that securing a robust free-trade agreement is a priority for the British Government, along with securing collaboration on international security concerns. See the media coverage here.
 
The new Western Australian Labor Government has called on the Prime Minister to honour a commitment made last year regarding introduction of a ‘floor’ in national GST distribution. Prior to the election, Mr Turnbull indicated reform was not possible until the State’s GST share had increased to 70 per cent of its per capita allocation from the present level of 30 per cent. According to Mr Turnbull, new Labor Premier Mark McGowan must “get his own party onside” to convince other state leaders of the need for change. Newly-appointed State Treasurer Ben Wyatt placed the onus back on Mr Turnbull, however, indicating that “ultimately the Prime Minister needs to understand he is…responsible for delivering on the commitment he made to WA over six months ago”. See the media coverage here.
 
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been appointed the new Chair of beyondblue to replace former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, effective 1 July. Ms Gillard has served on the not-for-profit organisation’s board since 2014, and has a “lifetime passion” for mental health advocacy. See the media coverage here
 
Victorian MP Steve Herbert has announced his retirement from politics following the expenses scandal over recent months, which prompted his decision to quit the Cabinet. In a statement to the Legislative Council, Mr Herbert said he “no longer [has] 100 per cent to give”. His retirement will not trigger a byelection as Labor will replace the upper house seat through a casual vacancy. See the media coverage here.
 
The Federal, NSW, SA and ACT parliaments sit next week.
 
The GRACosway Sydney office will be in new premises as of Monday 27 March, located at Level 21, 6 O’Connell Street, Sydney. All other contact details remain unchanged.
 


FINANCE
 
Federal Developments
 
Revenue and Financial Services Minister Kelly O'Dwyer has released draft superannuation income stream regulations and an explanatory statement for public consultation. The regulations will introduce new design rules for lifetime superannuation income stream products that will assist retirees in better managing risk. Interested stakeholders are invited to make a submission by 12 April 2017. See the media release: Government releases innovative superannuation income stream regulations for consultation
 
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released figures showing an increased average in residential property prices of 4.1 per cent across capital cities in the December 2016 quarter. Data shows the largest quarterly increase was recorded in Melbourne at 5.3 per cent, closely followed by Sydney at 5.2 per cent. Property prices increased in all remaining capital cities except for Darwin. See the media release: Property prices up 4.1% in the December quarter 2016.
 
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has received international recognition for its role in promoting pro-competition measures during asset privatisation. The independent regulator was a category award winner at the Competition Advocacy Contest held by the World Bank and International Competition Network. See the media release: ACCC awarded international prize for competition advocacy.
 


RESOURCES AND ENERGY
 
Federal Developments
 
Energy ties between Germany and Australia will strengthen after officials signed a Declaration of Intent to establish an Australia-German Energy and Resources Working Group. The Working Group will research strategies to encourage long-term investment, increase productivity, and diversify each country’s energy market. Industry and research communities are expected to provide input to the Working Group, providing opportunities for greater collaboration. Read the media release: Australia-Germany Energy and Resources Working Group.
 
Australia’s peak gas industry bodies have presented the Gas Vision 2050 report to Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg and Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan, which explores the innovative technologies of biogas, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage to achieve significant carbon pollution reductions. Energy Networks Australia Gas Committee Chairman Ben Wilson commented that developments in technology have “the potential to further reduce the carbon footprint of gas and complement the vital support gas already provides to intermittent renewables for power generation.” Read the media release: Technology can strengthen Australia’s gas advantage.
 
State Developments
 
The NSW Government has released a 20-year plan for the North Coast, outlining environmental and economic goals and ruling out coal seam gas exploration in the region. Since 2015, the NSW Government has spent over $27 million buying back exploration licences. NSW Planning Minister Anthony Roberts indicated the plan is “geared towards delivering greater prosperity in the years ahead for those who live, work and visit this important region”. See the media coverage here: Coal seam gas exploration not in future plans for NSW North Coast.
 
Shell Australia’s Queensland Gas Company has announcedProject Ruby”, a joint venture to drill up to 161 new wells in the Surat Basin. Queensland Resources Council Chief Executive Ian Macfarlane said “Queensland is leading the way when it comes to working to address the problem of east coast gas shortage”. The Queensland Gas Company will sell over 75 petajoules (PJs) of gas to the domestic market, representing more than 40% of the State’s gas demand. See the media release: Queensland project to deliver more gas and jobs.  
 


INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
 
Federal Developments
 
Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) Chief Executive Phillip Glyde has announced the MDBA will relocate 30 staff to a series of regional offices in order to improve consultation with communities located around the Murray-Darling River Basin. Mr Glyde said that workers will be located to new offices in Toowoomba (Queensland), Albury-Wodonga (on the Victoria-NSW border) and Adelaide (South Australia). See the media release: MDBA progressing regional presence agenda.
 
State Developments
 
According to NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance, technological innovations in autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence will ultimately result in the end of government-operated commuter transport services. Minister Constance has called for NSW to lead the way in adopting technology-based transport solutions. The Rail, Tram and Bus Union however, has criticised the State Government’s position as demonstrating an intention to privatise remaining transport services. See the media coverage: Tech will end government supplied transport: NSW Minister Andrew Constance.
 


HEALTH

Federal Developments
 
Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the establishment of the Primary Health Network Advisory Panel on Mental Health as part of the Government’s long-term national health plan. The new panel will advise on the delivery of frontline mental health services and be co-chaired by Mental Health Australia CEO Frank Quinlan and National Mental Health Commission CEO Dr Peggy Brown. See the media release: Turnbull Government appoints new mental health advisory panel.
 
The Federal Parliament’s Community Affairs Legislation Committee held a public hearing on the Inquiry into the Therapeutic Goods Amendment (2016 Measures No. 1) Bill 2016, with questions presented to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). TGA head John Skerritt expressed the regulator’s strong support for proposed reforms, including a formal system of provisional approval for specified life-saving medicines; changes to the Special Access Scheme to streamline applications and accelerate access; more extensive post-market monitoring of products; and better access to information about the effectiveness of complementary medicines. The reforms will be progressively rolled out by the TGA over the next two years.
 
State Developments
 
New legislation will commence in the Northern Territory in April that will allow women to access the same medical services for pregnancy termination which are available in other regions of Australia. Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles reported that the legislation provides access to medical termination drugs like RU486; allows for termination services in ‘out of hospital settings’; broadens the scope of doctors permitted to provide termination services; and installs safe access zones around premises where services are provided. See the media release: Safety & Choice for Territory Women.
 
Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick has released the State’s annual Closing the gap performance report 2016, which shows that progress has been achieved in improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Queenslanders. Despite advancements in life expectancy, infant mortality rates, and cardio-vascular and respiratory disease, the Report reveals that targets for closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian levels of health are not being met. See the media release: Closing the gap on health inequality.
 
The Tasmanian Government has launched the Council of the Ageing Tasmania’s (COTA) Active Ageing: Strategic Directions Paper, which will be used to develop the State’s first Active Ageing Plan. The Paper’s key findings indicate that while older Tasmanians experience overall satisfaction with their environment, ageism is faced by many older people who feel impacted by external influences, such as a lack of transport and increased costs of living. The Plan will incorporate health, lifelong learning, participation and security, and is expected to be released in May 2017. See the media release: Consultation completed for Tasmania’s Active Ageing Plan.
 

About GRACosway
GRACosway is Australia's leading public affairs and corporate and financial communications counsel. We provide a full suite of integrated services to a range of domestic and international clients across all industry sectors, including public policy, communications, regulatory, issues management and media relations advice. From offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Perth (GRA Everingham), GRACosway’s clients benefit from the combined experience, expertise and strategic perspective of our team of professionals in addressing complex and commercially sensitive projects. For more information, visit www.gracosway.com.au.
 
GRACosway is a member of the Clemenger Group.
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