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GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up
3 March 2017
The latest Newspoll reveals the Coalition continues to trail the ALP in the polls, 45 to 55 on a two-party preferred (2PP) basis. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce indicated that negative perceptions of the Turnbull Government publicly voiced by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott over the previous week has caused a “desired impact” on the polling outcome, “exactly as predicted and as calculated”. The same poll also indicates One Nation’s primary vote has risen to 10 per cent; more than double that recorded in November 2016. See media coverage here.
In more positive news for the Government, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics the real gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 1.1 per cent in the December 2016 quarter, growing to 2.4 per cent in the 12 months to December. The favourable result has averted the prospect of a second consecutive quarter of negative growth and reports greatest growth in the farming and mining industries. See media coverage here.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has indicated his support for a phase-in plan to implement reduced penalty rates as ruled by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) last week. This follows comments from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who declared that the penalty rate cut is “the fight Labor was born for”, while Labor’s employment spokesperson Brendan O’Connor has indicated the Party intends to introduce a bill into Parliament to prevent the FWC decision from taking effect. while a recent poll by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) found that several regional Coalition-held seats could be in jeopardy if the issue is left unresolved before the next federal election. At a state level, Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy expressed his support for the changes to penalty rates, with Deputy Leader David Hodgett showing his support on the issue by saying he does not “have a concern with changes to penalty rates.” See the media coverage here.
The House of Representatives Economics Standing Committee commenced further public hearings with Australia's major banks as part of the Federal Government’s review of the performance of Australia’s banking and financial system. Ongoing parliamentary scrutiny will seek to address consumer and business concerns and rebuff the Federal Opposition’s continued push for a Royal Commission into the banking sector. Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison indicated the Government will formerly respond to the Committee's first report, which was handed down last November following the conclusion of the latest series of hearings and release of a final report from the Productivity Commission, which is due later this month. See media release: Turnbull Government welcomes ongoing parliamentary scrutiny of big four banks.
Federal Queensland MP George Christensen announced his decision to step down as Nationals Chief Whip in the lower house earlier this week, explaining that his “constant outspokenness was incompatible with the position in the long-term.” While previously alluding to the “hypothetical” option of joining One Nation, Mr Christensen has indicated he has no intention of leaving the National Party. See the media coverage here.
In Victoria, Speaker of the House Telmo Languiller and Deputy Speaker Don Nardella have both resigned following alleged violation of the parliamentary entitlements system for each claiming a second-residence allowance for beachside homes outside their electorates. In response to the revelations, Premier Daniel Andrews indicated that a review into the State’s entitlements system will be led by Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings and leave “no room for interpretation”. Despite insistence from both Premier Andrews and Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, Mr Nardella has so far refused to pay back the $110,000 claimed in expenses; Mr Languiller has agreed to pay back the $40,000 he claimed. In added pressure on the issue for the Government, Mr Guy has also confirmed he will request an investigation by the Victorian Ombudsman and additionally push for a separate Privileges Committee examination. See the media coverage here.
Former NSW Premier Mike Baird has become head of corporate and institutional banking at NAB in the role of chief customer officer. Prior to entering politics, Mr Baird spent 17 years in similar roles both in Australia and abroad and according to NAB chief executive officer Andrew Thorburn, is now returning to the industry with “invaluable experience in leading economic and financial reform to grow the economy”. See media coverage here.
The NSW, Victorian and Tasmanian parliaments sit next week.


Federal Developments
According to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics this week, building approvals have fallen for the eighth consecutive month, with a 2.1 per cent fall recorded for January 2017. The largest January decrease was recorded in the Australian Capital Territory at 19.4 per cent, while the smallest change was recorded in Western Australia at only 0.3 per cent. Dwelling approvals increased, however, in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia. See media release: Dwelling approvals continue to fall in January.

Federal Developments
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) is calling on the Federal Government to unlock gas supplies, citing a report released by AiGroup which contends that government restrictions create higher costs for consumers. According to APPEA Chief Executive Dr Malcolm Roberts, “Gas is no different to any other commodity – you restrict supply, you push up prices. We have the bizarre situation of State governments banning new gas projects and then complaining about higher gas prices”. See media release: The answer to gas problems is increasing supply.
National Energy Resources Australia (NERA), one of the industry growth centres established under the Federal Government’s Industry Growth Centre Initiatives, has released a Sector Competitiveness Plan for the future of Australia’s energy and resources sector. According to NERA, addressing the regulatory environment, reducing process complexity and embracing new technology is the key to ensuring international competitiveness over the next decade. See the plan here: Sector Competitiveness Plan 2017.
State Developments
Queensland’s Coordinator-General has approved AGL Energy Limited’s Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed $500 million wind farm at Coopers Gap in Queensland. According to the Queensland Government, this project will generate 350 construction jobs and 20 permanent jobs following its predicted 2020 start of operations, after which it is expected to contribute up to $4 million per year to the local economy. See media release: Queensland's biggest wind farm powers ahead.

Federal Developments
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced a $213 million upgrade of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) facility at Sydney’s Garden Island. Detailed in the 2016 Defence White Paper, the project forms part of the Federal Government’s $40 billion investment in the RAN’s capabilities, with the upgrade expected to increase the Garden Island wharf capacity and produce approximately 300 direct jobs. See media release: $213 Million Upgrade To Garden Island Navy Facilities.
A Senate Additional Budget Estimates hearing this week has confirmed that current plans for the Perth Freight Link Project do not directly connect the toll road to the Fremantle Port. In response to the revelation, Shadow Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has commented that “responsible infrastructure investment requires careful planning, with decisions made on the basis of demonstrated economic benefit. Making it up as you go along is not good enough.” The Government has indicated that the final stage of the Project will be built after the completion of current works. See media release: It’s official – Perth Freight Link does not go to the Fremantle Port.

State Developments
Victorian Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan has released the new 17 kilometre Ballarat line upgrade tender to market. The $518 million project will duplicate existing track; facilitate the electrification of the line; provide new platforms; and create new train stabling in support of more reliable services. Work is expected to begin early next year, with tender responses due by 1 May 2017. See media release: $518 Million Ballarat Line Upgrade Released To Market.
In an effort to ensure more reliable rail services in regional areas, the NSW Government is consulting with industry to develop a plan to upgrade the state’s aging regional XPT train fleet. Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro indicated the $50 million project will ideally be delivered using 100 per cent local content for assembly and maintenance of the trains. Minister for Transport Andrew Constance announced the new trains are expected to commence operation in early 2020s. See media release: First steps taken to deliver new XPT fleet.
NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance has announced that 20 additional express trains will be provided each week to service Campbelltown and Macarthur commuters travelling into the Sydney CBD. According to the Minister, the investment was part of the State Government’s $1.5 billion More Trains, More Services investment in rail capital. See media release: Express is best: 'More trains, more services' for South West Sydney.

Federal Developments
The Department of Health has answered questions in Additional Budget Estimates hearings this week, with a review into the Life Saving Drugs Program (LSDP) drawing acute criticism from Senators Richard Di Natale and Murray Watt. The final report of the review, which was announced in April 2014, remains under consideration, while only one therapy has been listed through the program in the past year. See coverage of the hearing here: LSDP the PBS focus at Senate Estimates.
State Developments
Victorian Minister for Health Jill Hennessy has opened applications for the inaugural Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund, which will fast-track early stage health and medical research into care and treatment, and ultimately better health outcomes for patients. Two levels of funding are available of up to $100,000 and $500,000 for health services, industry, medical research institutes and education institutes with a focus on early research. See the media release: New fund to fast-track medical breakthroughs now open.
The Queensland Government has announced the start of new laws which will allow legal access to medicinal cannabis treatment via palliative care, oncology and neurology specialists. Meanwhile, the Victorian Government imported its first batch of medicinal cannabis from Canada this week to treat 29 children suffering from severe epilepsy.
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