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GRACosway Political Week in Review
20 May 2016
Federal Election Campaign Diary
 
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten squared off against each other last Friday in the first leader’s debate of the campaign, addressing 100 swinging voters at the Windsor RSL in NSW. While Mr Shorten fixed heavily on Labor’s traditional strengths of education and healthcare, Mr Turnbull continued to prosecute the Government’s jobs and growth agenda, confirming it had reached an accommodation with pathology service providers on proposed changes to bulk billing.
 
On Sunday, the Prime Minister kicked off week two of the election campaign with a visit to Marsden Park in the western Sydney marginal seat of Macarthur – currently held by Liberal Russell Matheson on a margin or 3.4 per cent – where he announced $54 million in funding for continuous glucose monitoring devices for children and young people suffering from Type 1 diabetes. Mr Turnbull then headed west, where he visited Perth’s Austal Shipyard in the seat of Fremantle to promote the Government’s previously announced $282 million commitment to build up to 21 Pacific Patrol Boats at the Austal site.
 
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten started his week in the NSW electorate of Richmond to announce a $40 million water safety package, before heading to Geelong in his home state of Victoria on Monday to talk about Labor’s $59 million jobs package to help automotive workers transition into new employment. The Opposition Leader then flew to Adelaide, where he pledged $500 million toward the construction of the $1 billon AdeLINK tram project.
 
The Prime Minister continued his criss-cross of the nation, flying into Darwin on Tuesday to talk about the Government’s ‘national economic plan’ with the Member for Solomon Natasha Griggs (who currently holds the seat on a slim margin of 1.4 per cent). From there, Prime Minister Turnbull journeyed to Cairns with Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch to announce $24 million in federal funding to upgrade the Cairns Marine Precinct, before heading further north to Townsville and the relatively safe seat of Herbert.
 
While the Government continued to prosecute the case against Labor over its apparent disunity on border protection policy, Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton created controversy on Wednesday when he suggested illiterate and innumerate refugees were stealing jobs from Australians. The Prime Minister and Deputy Party Leader Julie Bishop defended Mr Dutton, with the Prime Minister stating many refugees "are illiterate in their own language" and describing Mr Dutton as an "outstanding Immigration Minister".
 
On Thursday, Mr Shorten sought to shift the campaign focus to health care, announcing a Labor Government will restore indexation of co-payments under the Medicare Benefits Schedule at a cost of $2.4 billion over the forward estimates. Adding a touch of excitement to a somewhat mundane campaign, Mr Shorten played hero to an injured woman on Thursday afternoon, coming to the aid of both her and her son who were involved in a head-on collision on a narrow stretch of Cessnock Road near Testers Hollow. 
 
Assistant Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer also announced this week that the Government has delayed the introduction of the ‘backpacker tax’ until 1 January 2017, in a move that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce described as a good outcome for regional Australia. Mr Joyce also floated the possible extension of concessional drought loans to dairy farmers hit by plummeting milk payments during a visit to Shepparton in regional Victoria, with the Prime Minister later confirming he will discuss a proposal for more immediate assistance with the Labor Opposition, as required under the caretaker conventions.
 
The Labor campaign hit some turbulence this week after Mr Shorten failed to commit to maintaining weekend penalty rates, instead saying that a Labor Government will respect the pending ruling by Fair Work Australia, which is due to report following the election – more details below. In a further distraction for the ALP, Labor’s David Feeney – who is facing a significant challenge from the Greens in his electorate of Batman – suffered embarrassment when it was revealed he failed to declare a negatively geared $2.3 million investment property he owns in his electorate.
 
Speaking at the Greens National Conference in Melbourne at the weekend, Party Leader Richard Di Natale outlined the priorities that will form the basis of any negotiations with the Labor Party in the event of a hung parliament. In his address to the party faithful, Dr Di Natale said the Greens will demand strong action on climate change; an end to the fossil fuel subsidies for the mining industry; and greater support for renewable energy, political donation reform and the establishment of a federal anti-corruption watchdog. Later in the week, Dr Di Natale caused a stir by calling for an end to the formal Australian-US alliance and abolition of anti-discrimination exemptions for religious organisations.
 
Mr Turnbull is in the Tasmanian Liberal seat of Bass – held by Andrew Nikolic on a margin of 4 per cent – today, where he has committed to launching free trade negotiations with the European Union and exploring the feasibility of trade agreements with Canada, Mexico and Colombia. For his part, the Opposition Leader has been dealing with the aftermath of a raid on the office of Stephen Conroy by the AFP late on Thursday in relation to allegedly leaked commercial-in-confidence documents from nbn Co.
 
Despite a mixed week for the Government, the Coalition has managed to shorten its odds with CrownBet at the end of the second week of a long campaign to $1.30, while Labor has slipped to $3.45.
 
Highlights of the Week
   
Policy in Focus – Workplace Relations & Employment
 
With the ghost of the Howard Government’s WorkChoices policy still in the Coalition’s memory, the Government has chosen to tread lightly in the area of industrial relations, proposing only relatively minor reforms since 2013. The issue however, is likely to be a strong recurring theme throughout the campaign, with the Coalition seeking an electoral mandate for the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the passage of their union governance legislation; the two triggers used to call this double dissolution election.
 
In the employment sphere, the Government’s ‘jobs and growth’ message is underpinned by its Backing Small Business package and Ten Year Enterprise Tax Plan, which focuses on cutting business and company tax rates progressively to 25 per cent by 2026-27 to promote employment. The Coalition’s Protect Vulnerable Workers policy is also proposing to establish a Migrant Workers Taskforce, and an increase in funding of $20 million and additional powers for the Fair Work Ombudsman to tackle the exploitation of workers and deceitful conduct by employers.  The Coalition has previously committed $840.3 million to a Youth Employment package outlined in the Budget, which seeks to assist young people under 25 find jobs.
 
In a counter to the Coalition’s attack on union corruption, Labor’s policy Better Union Governance proposes a series of reforms to address the issue, including an additional $4.5 million over four years for the Fair Work Commission to monitor Australia’s 109 employer and employee organisations and tougher penalties for union officials who break the law. Labor is also proposing to safeguard workers’ rights by granting additional resources and powers to the Fair Work Ombudsman to police liquidated companies, and introducing reforms to better protect temporary overseas workers from exploitation. Labor will also spend $21 million on a Youth Jobs Connect pilot, which will provide one-on-one coaching to help young people in the areas of high youth unemployment strive towards employment, and has pledged $59 million towards a retraining and assistance program to help automotive workers in South Australia and Victoria transition into other manufacturing jobs.
 
The Labor Party’s workplace relations platform was thrust into the spotlight this week, after Bill Shorten confirmed that if elected, a Labor Government will continue to argue the case for weekend penalty rates to the independent Fair Work Commission, but would ultimately abide by any ruling. Labor has also confirmed that it does not support the Greens employment policy, which calls for legislated protections for penalty rates and the introduction of a minimum of five weeks annual leave.


Policy Wrap Up

In WA this week, the Government introduced legislation to Parliament to enable the long-term (99-year) lease of the Fremantle Port to the private sector.  The Port divestment will help fund future state infrastructure initiatives as announced in last week’s budget and significantly, allow the Government to move livestock facilities from the Inner Harbour to the Outer Harbour.  See media release: Fremantle Port Bill introduced to Parliament.
 
Queensland’s Deputy Premier, Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning and Minister for Trade and Investment Jackie Trad was in South Korea this week, where she signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Korea Development Bank on behalf of the Government. It is hoped the MoU will facilitate greater Korean investment in Queensland, with a particular focus on infrastructure, energy and natural resources. See media release: Queensland signs Australian-first partnership with Korea Development Bank
 
The Tasmanian Budget will be handed down on Thursday.
 
Victorian, Queensland, SA and NT parliaments sit next week.


RESOURCES AND ENERGY

State Developments

The NSW Government has launched the Australian Energy Storage Database, which contains up-to-date renewable energy storage information for use by investors, developers, policy-makers and researchers. The Database will allow the sector to track the progress of current and prospective commercial and utility-scale energy storage projects – it will also be linked to the Global Energy Storage Database developed by the US Department of Energy and Sandia National Laboratories.  See media release: NSW Shows leadership in energy storage.  
 
The Victorian Government has release the final report of an independent inquiry into the Environment Protection Agency (EPA).  Whilst examining the EPA’s role, powers and governance, the inquiry focused on Victoria’s future needs and expectations of the agency, including necessity to be able to work with emerging industries. The Government will now consider the 48 recommendations outlined in the report. A Chief Environmental Scientist will shortly be employed to strengthen the EPA’s focus and science, and an interim board will also be established to help deliver the reforms.  See media release: First step towards a modern EPA.  
 
The Queensland Government has officially re-opened the Central Queensland Isaac Plains Mine. Although the Government acknowledged lower coal prices, it said the opening of the Mine indicated to investors that coal was one still one of Queensland’s valued resources.  See media release: Mine re-opening heralds industry future. 
 


INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER

State Developments
Victorian Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allen has announced shortlisted bidders for the $588 million Mernda rail line project funded in last month’s Victorian Budget. John Holland and a McConnell Dowell Constructors/UGL Engineering joint venture have been shortlisted to submit tenders for the eight kilometre extension of the South Morang line to Mernda. See media release: Shortlisted Bidders And Design Of Mernda Rail Revealed
 


HEALTH

Federal Developments
 
NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner has announced the Baird Government will build another four ambulance superstations and recruit 27 extra paramedics in a bid to boost the State’s ambulance services. The announcement comes on top of the Government’s existing commitments under the $150 million Sydney Ambulance Metropolitan Infrastructure Strategy, which includes plans to build five superstations and recruit eight specialist paramedics. See media release: More superstations and paramedics to boost Sydney’s ambulance coverage
 
In Queensland, Health Minister Cameron Dick has released a 10-year blueprint for the State’s health system. The My health, Queensland’s future: Advancing health 2026 strategy sets out key measures for the success of Queensland’s health system, including reducing childhood obesity rates and increasing Aboriginal life expectancy. See media release: Vision to set 10-year health agenda
 

About GRACosway
GRACosway is Australia's leading public affairs and corporate and financial communications counsel, and has been assisting organisations understand and navigate elections at federal and state levels for over 20 years. The firm provides 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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