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GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up
05 February 2016
 
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull welcomed parliamentarians back for the first sitting week of the election year, warning that a double dissolution remained a ‘very real live option’, if the Senate refused to support the reestablishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. In an attempt to win the support of the crossbench, the Prime Minister held a private meeting with Senator Jacqui Lambie, in which he is said to have read from the confidential volume of the Heydon Report.
 
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister discussed senate voting reform with the Opposition this week, as acting Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann sought formal talks with the Greens and Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who are said to be supportive of changes to end preference gaming by minor parties. According to reports in the Australian Financial Review, the Government is hoping to secure the passage of the reforms before the pre-budget seven week recess, which begins on 17 March.
 
Late in the week, Mr Turnbull hosed down the GST debate by listing the challenges associated with reform, saying that states and territories should consider lifting their own taxes if they wished to raise more money for schools and hospitals. The Prime Minister argued that there must be a clearly defined ‘growth dividend’ to justified the trouble and expense of increasing the rate of the GST.
 
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton confirmed the Government will continue immigration detention on Nauru, following the six-one High Court Ruling in favour of the Federal Government against a challenge to its constitutional power to detain people in other countries.
  
Marginal seat polling by the Labor Party National Secretariat, before Christmas, indicated that the Party stands to lose up to 12 seats to the Government at the election, as ‘soft Labor’ voters are won over by Prime Minister Turnbull. The polling, conducted by URM, showed that up to four seats in Victoria are at risk - Chisholm, Bruce, Isaacs and Melbourne Ports - while the NSW seats of Parramatta, Sydney and Kingsford-Smith are also under threat. However, the poll suggests Labor remains more competitive in both Queensland and South Australia, where the Government is under threat from Senator Xenophon. Read more in The Australian’s coverage here (subscription service).
 
Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb signed the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), in New Zealand on Thursday, which accounts for 40 per cent of global GDP and close to $110 billion of Australia’s export markets. Minister Robb vowed to continue his aggressive pursuit of free trade agreements, saying he will now seek a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in the Asia Pacific region. See media release here.
 
The NSW Government officially launched the $1.1 billion Social and Affordable Housing Fund (SAHF), managed through the Government’s investment arm, TCorp, which will deliver an additional 3,000 affordable homes for vulnerable families in its first phase and cut housing waiting lists. See media release here.
 
Also in NSW, Premier Mike Baird confirmed Margaret Crawford has been selected as the new Auditor-General, subject to review by the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. Ms Crawford is currently the Deputy Secretary at the NSW Department of Families and Community Service.
 
The Federal, Victorian, South Australian, Northern Territory and ACT parliaments sit next week. 


FINANCE
 
Minister for Small Business and Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer announced current CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Kate Carnell as the inaugural Small Business Ombudsman, to advise on matters relating to small businesses and family enterprises. Ms Carnell will start her five year appointment on 11 March. See media release: Appointment of first Small Business Ombudsman
                 
Minister O’Dwyer also announced the introduction to Parliament of the Tax Laws Amendment (Small Business Restructure Roll-over) Bill 2016, the final element of the Government’s Growing Jobs and Small Business package. The Bill enables small businesses to change their legal structure without attracting a capital gains tax (CGT) liability at the time of the structural change. See media release: Introduction of final Small Business Bill
 

RESOURCES AND ENERGY
 
Federal Developments
 
Minister for Energy, Resources and Northern Australia Josh Frydenberg welcomed the release of the independent review of the Commercial Building Disclosure (CBD) program, part of the National Energy Productivity Plan (NEPP). The CBD program aims to promote greater energy efficiency in the commercial office sector, which accounts for 10 per cent of Australia’s energy consumption. See media release: Review endorses office efficiency measures
 
State Developments
 
Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water Lisa Neville announced a $53 million upgrade to the Sunbury Recycled Water Plant. The upgrade will allow for the processing of 9.2 million litres of wastewater per day, up from the current 5.9 million, with the water used to irrigate crops and sporting grounds in the surround area. See media release: Works Start for Sunbury Recycled Water Plant Upgrade
 
Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt announced state-owned energy provider Powerlink’s submission to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) proposes a 28 per cent reduction in the indicative transmission price in the first year of its next five year regulatory period, commencing 1 July 2017, which the Treasurer says will help to stabilise electricity prices. See media release: Electricity reprieve for Queensland consumers in Powerlink Proposal
 

INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER

Federal Developments
 
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Transport and Infrastructure Council has released a set of national expenditure plans and asset registers for Australia's key freight routes, to be updated on an annual basis. The governments will shortly undertake industry consultation with a view to refining future editions to ensure they best meet the needs of industry. See media release: Expenditure Plans and Asset Registers for Key Freight Routes
 
State Developments
 
The contract for the construction of the first stage of the Canberra Light Rail project has been awarded to the Canberra Metro Consortium, comprised of Pacific Partnerships, CPB Contractors, John Holland, Mitsubishi Corporation, Aberdeen Infrastructure Investments, Deutsche Bahn International and CAF. Construction work is scheduled to be completed in late 2018. See media release: Canberra Metro Named as successful Light Rail Consortium
 
The 2012 franchising out of Sydney Ferries services had led to cost savings, good performance and an effective risk transfer from government to the private sector, the NSW Auditor-General announced this week. In his report Franchising of Sydney Ferries, the Auditor-General said the franchising to Harbour City Ferries, a partnership between Transdev and Broadspectrum (previously Transfield) was justified.
 

HEALTH
 
Federal Developments
 
Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley has requested further information from all Private Health Insurers to justify premium increases, while indicating reform of the approval process may be necessary. The move is part of the Government’s private health sector reform plan, which is focused on delivering savings to consumers. See media release: Private Health Insurance premiums – request for more information.
 
Minister Ley also announced the Federal Government will establish an industry working group to examine ways to reduce the cost of medical devices accessed through the private health system. Medical devices are more expensive for private health insurers, because of a fixed-price benefit set by the Government – the cost of which is being passed on to consumers. The Government will seek to address the discrepancy to drive down the cost of private health insurance. See media release: Prostheses reform a priority for cheaper health premiums
 
Federal Department of Health staffing changes were revealed this week. Andrew Simpson, a former adviser to Health Minister Sussan Ley, has been appointed acting Assistant Secretary, Medicare Reviews and will have a strategic role in the Government’s Medicare reform plans. Meanwhile, First Assistant Secretary of the Office of Health Protection Felicity McNeill has left the Department and will be replaced by Sharon Appleyard.
 
State Developments
 
In Victoria, the Andrews Government has announced a new and expanded trial for the HIV medicine, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Up to 2,600 people will access PrEP through the trial, which is a joint partnership between the Government, Alfred Health, the Victorian AIDS Council and the Burnet Institute. See media release: One step closer to eliminating HIV     
 
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a new Emergency Department will be built at Gladstone Hospital with funding from the Enhancing Regional Hospitals initiative. The project is costed at $42 million, is expected to create 150 jobs during the construction phase and will deliver up to at least 11 extra treatment spaces. See media release: Palaszczuk Government to deliver new Gladstone Emergency Department
 
The Queensland Cabinet has endorsed new legislation on Legionella testing in the State’s hospitals and aged care facilities, requiring more regular testing for the bacteria and mandatory reporting of positive results to the Department of Health. See media release: Palaszczuk Government cracks down on Legionella reporting
 
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.
 
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