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GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up
10 March 2017
 
International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has proposed the inclusion of a ‘reasonable-person’ test in Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, in an attempt to “deliver the appropriate balance between freedom of speech and freedom from racial vilification.” The proposal follows release of a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights report on racial hatred laws, and will require a complainant to establish that allegedly offensive behaviour breached the standards of ordinary Australians rather than those of the minority group they belong to. The Government remains largely divided on the issue, with some MPs opposing any amendment and others backing abolishment of Section 18C altogether. See media coverage here.
 
A proposal to amalgamate several Federal Government departments into a single agency is currently being considered by Prime Minister Turnbull, with the aim of improving coordination in national security. With strong support from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, the proposed ‘super department’ would mirror the United States’ Department of Homeland Security and be similarly structured to Australia’s existing Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Defence Minister Marise Payne and Attorney-General George Brandis have reportedly expressed their opposition to the move; the prospect was previously raised under the Abbott Government in 2014, which at the time, Ms Bishop and Mr Brandis objected to. See media coverage here.
 
Measures to tackle housing affordability are predicted to be a key package of reform delivered in the upcoming May Budget, with Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar indicating the Prime Minister and Treasurer Scott Morrison are “exercised by this issue like few others”. Mr Sukkar signified a potential national framework which states and territories could “buy into”, such as the shared ownership system recently unveiled by the Victorian Labor Government and commended by Mr Morrison. See media coverage here.
 
In further budget news, Federal Government sources have indicated that a Cabinet reshuffle may be announced following the May Budget. Social Services Minister Christian Porter and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash have been flagged as possible candidates for Attorney-General, with George Brandis predicted to become the High Commissioner in London. It is also understood Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce may transfer to the Infrastructure portfolio, with his agriculture responsibilities taken over by Nationals Deputy Leader Fiona Nash. See media coverage here.
 
ABC Director Michelle Guthrie announced a “painful” blow to the national broadcaster this week, which will see up to 200 jobs cut by June as part of a major restructure designed to make $50 million per year available for future production. As part of these changes, divisions within the ABC will be streamlined with the purpose of reducing management levels across the organisation. Regional Communications Minister Fiona Nash praised the $15 million per year diversion of funds which will see added investment in regional areas and is expected to create up to 80 new content roles. See media coverage here.
 
Labor frontbencher Kate Ellis has announced she will not contest the next Federal Election expected in 2018/2019, citing a desire to spend more time with her young family. Ms Ellis, who was elected in 2004, said “This has been a very difficult decision for me because I believe Bill Shorten and Labor can and should win the next election.” See media coverage here.
 
In NSW, Upper House MP Catherine Cusack also resigned from her role of Parliamentary Secretary for Education and the Hunter this week, following criticisms of ministerial appointments under Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Ms Cusack described the new line-up in an email to the Premier as lacking in skills, with appointments based on factions within the Liberal Party rather than merit. See media coverage here.
 
In a bid to provide South Australia with “a voice from the political centre”, Senator Nick Xenophon will launch a new state-based party known as SA Best ahead of the next State Election in 2018. With significant support in his home state, the Senator has insisted that “For the first time ever, there’s actually going to be a real choice between the Liberal and Labor parties”. State Opposition Leader Steven Marshall, however, indicated that voting for independents could replicate the “chaos” of Federal Parliament: “What we really need is a majority government that can drive a reform agenda that can get the basics back in South Australia and deliver a more prosperous future”. See media coverage here.
 
Following the alleged violation of the parliamentary entitlements system by the Victorian Speaker and Deputy Speaker, a new ReachTEL poll reveals strong support for the Coalition Opposition, with Labor’s primary vote dropping from 37 to 30.3 per cent – the results indicate Labor is trailing the Liberal Party 46 to 54 on a two-party preferred (2PP) basis. See media coverage here.
 
Ahead of the Western Australian election this Saturday, Galaxy polling shows Labor is leading the Liberals 54 to 46 per cent on a 2PP basis and predicts Labor Leader Mark McGowan will become the State’s new Premier. Despite the ALP’s primary vote swelling to 40 per cent, Liberal Leader Colin Barnett insists he is “still in this game” due to the 20 per cent of voters who have been recorded as undecided. See media coverage here; GRACosway will provide a briefing note on the result following this weekend’s election.  
 
The Queensland, Northern Territory and Tasmanian parliaments sit next week.


FINANCE

Federal Developments
 
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) announced an unchanged cash rate of 1.5 per cent this week. In a statement published after the latest monthly meeting, RBA Governor Phillip Lowe cited improvements in the global economy, increased business and consumer confidence, and the economy’s continuing transition following the end of the mining boom as rationale for the decision. See media release: Statement by Philip Lowe, Governor: Monetary Policy Decision.
 
New research released by Industry Super Australia has found women were underpaid $1.84 billion in super contributions by their employers in 2013-14. The analysis is based on the latest Australian Taxation Office (ATO) data and was released to coincide with International Women’s Day, drawing attention to unpaid superannuation entitlements and the gender pay gap. See media release: Women contend with unpaid super to the tune of $1.8 billion.
 
According to figures released by the ABS this week, retail trade increased across the country by 0.4 per cent in January 2017. The largest January increase was recorded in Victoria at 1.1 per cent, while Queensland was relatively unchanged at 0.0 per cent. Retail trade figures increased in all remaining states and territories except for the Northern Territory, which fell by -0.8 per cent. See media release: Retail turnover rises 0.4 per cent in January.
 
The Insurance in Superannuation Working Group released a discussion paper examining how to avoid superannuation members eroding their account balances by paying for unnecessary insurance cover. Stakeholders and interested parties are invited to make a submission, which are due by 7 April 2017. See media release: Call for submissions on Insurance in Superannuation Working Group (ISWG) discussion paper.
 

RESOURCES AND ENERGY

Federal Developments
 
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has released its 2017 Gas Statement of Opportunities (GSOO), which warns that the projected decline in gas production could result in a shortfall of gas-powered electricity generation. According to the AEMO, the tightening of the domestic gas market will have flow-on effects to the electricity sector unless there is an increase in gas supplies and development. See media release: Gas development required to meet future energy demand.
 
State Developments
 
The Resources Legislation Amendment (Fracking Ban) Bill 2016 passed through Victoria’s Upper House this week and will permanently ban all onshore unconventional gas exploration and development (including hydraulic fracturing and coal seam gas), and extends the moratorium on conventional onshore gas exploration and development to 30 June 2020. See media release: Fracking Banned in Victoria, Giving Certainty to Farmers.
 


INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
 
Federal Developments
 
In a bid to advocate for lower airport costs and reductions in government airline fees, Qantas, Virgin Australia, Air New Zealand and Regional Express Holdings (Rex) have established a new industry group to be known as Airlines for Australia and New Zealand (A4NZ). The alliance comes ahead of a 2018 Productivity Commission review into airport regulation and the looming decision over a second Sydney airport. See media coverage: Airline CEOs unite to take on airports, taxes.
 
Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester has released the Terms of Reference for the Federal Government’s Inquiry into Freight and Supply Chain Productivity. Minister Chester reported that a panel of industry experts, including Maurice James of Qube and Marika Calfas of NSW Ports, will work with the Government to determine future infrastructure investment. The final report is due by early 2018. See media release: Terms of Reference released for freight inquiry.
 
State Developments
 
Victorian Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan has released a tender for the Road and Rail Minor Works Program, which will provide $22.5 million in infrastructure upgrades to trains, buses and other transportation in regional Victoria. The Program was developed in consultation with the local population during the establishment of the Regional Network Development Plan (RNDP) released with the 2016-17 State Budget. The upgrades are expected to be complete by the end of next year. See media release: Upgrades To Public Transport Across Regional Victoria.
 
Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman has announced a State Government plan to take control of TasWater from 1 July 2018, in order to repair water and sewerage infrastructure; TasWater was previously under the shared control of Tasmania’s 29 local government areas. Premier Hodgman indicated that $1.5 billion will be invested over the next five years to ensure sustainability of the State’s water supply. See media release: Fixing Tasmania's water and sewerage infrastructure.
 

HEALTH

Federal Developments
 
Applications are now open for rural health organisations to develop training rotations through the Rural Junior Doctor Training Innovation Fund (RJDTIF), an initiative established under the Integrated Rural Training Pipeline. At a cost of up to $10 million dollars annually, at least 60 junior doctors will be supported each year to access a rotation in rural primary care settings to help tackle the challenge of locating doctors in regional, rural and remote Australia. See the media release: Coalition to deliver more doctors for regional and rural Australia.
 
Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt has announced that the Department of Health’s Office of Drug Control has issued its first license for Australian company Cannoperations Pty Ltd to grow and harvest medicinal cannabis. This marks the beginning of domestic supply of medicinal cannabis products and will improve access for approved patients who have to currently seek imported products. Similar assessments are in progress for other Australian licence applications. See the media release: First license granted for commercially grown medicinal cannabis in Australia.
 
State Developments
 
During International Women’s Day on Wednesday this week, Victorian Minister for Health Jill Hennessy released the state’s first Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Key Priorities 2017-2020 plan. The $6.6 million plan outlines key actions to reduce barriers and service gaps affecting women’s access to reproductive and sexual health services, including a pregnancy support phone hot line, funding to support women with polycystic ovary syndrome, and the creation of eight community-based family planning health hubs. See the media release: Victorian First Sexual and Reproductive Health 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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