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GRACosway Political Week in Review
10 June 2016
 
Federal Election Campaign Diary
 
Week five of the Federal Election campaign saw industrial relations and banking sector reform firmly put back on the agenda, with the Coalition reigniting the workplace relations debate calling for the urgent re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), and Labor renewing its push for a Royal Commission into the banking sector.
 
The Coalition’s focus on workplace relations was sparked by reports of industrial action affecting construction on the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games sites, with Employment Minister Michaelia Cash saying the work stoppages reiterated the need to urgently re-establish the ABCC. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Turnbull pledged to amend the Fair Work Act to limit union influence on volunteer organisations if re-elected, which came amid the ongoing battle between Victoria’s Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the United Firefighters Union over a new industrial agreement. Bill Shorten refused to comment on the situation however, accusing Mr Turnbull of weighing in to the debate for political reasons saying it should remain a state issue.
 
Labor pushed back against the Coalition’s workplace relations agenda this week by renewing calls for a Royal Commission into the banking sector, following confirmation the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has commenced legal proceedings against the National Australia Bank over allegations of rate rigging. Mr Shorten said the case further demonstrates the need for a Royal Commission, while the Coalition argued it highlights that ASIC is well-resourced and has the necessary investigative powers to uncover misconduct in the banking sector.
 
The economy also remained in the headlines this week, with Labor releasing its 10-year economic plan on Wednesday and committing to match the Coalition’s timeframe for returning the budget to surplus by 2020-21. Labor went on to reveal it would run deeper deficits than the Coalition in the intervening years, arguing that savings measures should be back-loaded in a bid to protect the economy and retain services. Prime Minister Turnbull dismissed Labor’s plan as a “glossy brochure”, while Finance Minister Mathias Cormann went up against Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke in a debate at the National Press Club, arguing that increased deficits under Labor would place Australia’s AAA credit rating at risk.  
 
Meanwhile, the Coalition continued to spruik its company tax reduction plan, with Treasurer Scott Morrison issuing a mid-campaign report to promote the Coalition’s economic credentials, while also criticising Labor for having a “black hole” in their budget and significantly outspending the Coalition during the election campaign. Labor responded today by unveiling a series of savings, which include reductions in some family tax benefits, the removal of the private health rebate for natural therapies and an extension to the private health insurance rebate threshold pause. Labor also announced support for measures it has previously blocked in the Senate, including cuts to research and development tax incentives, higher education fee indexation, and changes to the university loan program and loan repayment thresholds.
 
Both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader briefly suspended the campaign during the week to visit flood-affected areas in NSW and Tasmania. The PM travelled to Picton, where he joined local Liberal MP Angus Taylor and NSW Premier Mike Baird to inspect the damage, indicating the Federal Government will provide flood recovery assistance through the existing National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements agreed with state and territory governments. Bill Shorten made his way to Coogee Beach’s Surf Living Saving Club, which was severely damaged at the weekend, before both leaders arrived separately in Tasmania to tour the State’s flood zones later in the week. 
 
Former Prime Minister John Howard campaigned alongside Liberal MP Jamie Briggs in his South Australian seat of Mayo this week, telling local media he predicted support for the Nick Xenophon Team would wane over time. Mr Howard also criticised Senator Xenophon for “trying to whip up concern” about free-trade agreements and agreed there were parallels between the South Australian Senator and Pauline Hanson.
 
Last weekend’s Newspoll, taken at the halfway point of the campaign, indicated the parties were neck and neck, with the Coalition and Labor currently tied at 50-50 on the two-party preferred vote. The punters, however, continue to favour the Coalition, with CrownBet offering $1.29 for a Coalition win and $3.60 for Labor.
 
Highlights of the Week
  • Newspoll results indicate a record 15 per cent of voters intend to support a micro-party or independent candidate on July 2.
  • Labor released its 10-year economic plan and $16.2 billion in new and updated budget savings proposals
  • Former Independent MP for the electorate of Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, announced he will contest the NSW seat of Cowper at the Federal Election.
  • The Greens announced a plan to establish a National Environmental Protection Authority similar to the US model as part of a broader $2.6 billion package to strengthen environmental protections.
  • The Coalition released its policy to ban cosmetic testing on animals in Australia and the sale of cosmetic products tested on animals outside Australia, which will take effect from 1 July 2017.
  • Television campaign advertising ramped up, with the Coalition releasing a personal ad about the influence Malcolm Turnbull’s father had on his childhood and Labor rolling out television commercials in a dozen languages to appeal to migrant communities.
  • The Coalition announced it had reached an agreement with the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association to assess the commercial pressures faced by providers via a review process which will take place after the election. 
  • The Coalition released its plan for jobs and growth in South Australia, which features a commitment to introduce 1,200 new scholarships for undergraduate, postgraduate and vocational students to study in SA, and undertake internships with local businesses to gain experience.
  • Prime Minister Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will participate in Australia’s first online leaders’ debate via Facebook next week, with the final date still to be confirmed.
  • Incumbent Liberal MP for the WA seat of Canning and former SAS officer Andrew Hastie has been dismissed from the Army Reserves after refusing to remove campaign billboards in which he is featured wearing an Australian Defence Force uniform.
  • Labor announced its childcare policy which focuses on addressing waiting lists, tackling childcare fee rises and increasing the Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Rebate cap.
  • The Greens announced their solar energy policy, which proposed the establishment of a Solar Ombudsman within the Clean Energy Regulator, ‘right to solar’ for residential and commercial tenants.
  • Prime Minister Turnbull has written to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia confirming the Coalition will continue to support the current community pharmacy model.
 Policy Focus – Infrastructure
 
Infrastructure policy remains a challenge for the government of the day, particularly in Australia’s larger cities where there is increasing community pressure for additional infrastructure to meet the demands of a growing population.
 
Soon after assuming the prime ministership, Malcolm Turnbull said he will be “an infrastructure Prime Minister” who will assess all infrastructure needs “on the basis of its merits”. Drawing parallels to the Coalition’s leadership on infrastructure under his predecessor, Prime Minister Turnbull has upheld the Government’s focus on delivering road projects in partnership with the states, but also signalled a shift toward urban planning and supporting infrastructure networks. In line with this, the Prime Minister established a new Cities portfolio within his ministry to develop a long-term strategy for liveable cities – the Smart Cities plan was subsequently released in April 2016, and details a commitment of $50 million to fast-track business cases for major infrastructure projects and the establishment of an Infrastructure Financing Unit to work in collaboration with the private sector to solve urban infrastructure problems.
 
While the Coalition has made little in the way of new infrastructure announcements during this campaign so far, the Government made a number of major infrastructure commitments in the lead up to the election, including investment in public transport projects such as Stage 2 of the Gold Coast Light Rail project for the Commonwealth Games, and $1.7 billion for the Sydney Metro project to double the number of trains servicing the CBD. In pursuit of its policy to encourage private investment in key infrastructure projects, the Government also announced it will pursue private sector partnerships to help finance and deliver the Inland Rail Project, connecting Brisbane to Melbourne, and linking south-east Queensland with Perth and Adelaide.
 
Central to Labor’s infrastructure policy is a plan to increase the powers of Infrastructure Australia to, among other tasks, broker deals and work with state governments to facilitate the delivery of priority projects. Under Labor’s policy, Infrastructure Australia will also have a $10 billion financing mandate to organise private sector finance and take part in infrastructure loans, guarantees and equity – similar in operation to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The Opposition said its plan to revamp Infrastructure Australia will encourage more private sector investment in national infrastructure by ensuring the delivery of major projects are separate to the political process and three-year election cycle. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has positioned Labor’s infrastructure policy as the Party’s response to the end of the mining boom, saying it will create much-needed jobs and economic growth.
 
In addition, Labor has also released a short-list of priority infrastructure projects that would be advanced under a Labor Government, including the Airport Rail to Badgerys Creek, Melbourne Metro, Perth Metronet and the AdeLINK tram network in Adelaide. Similarly, it has also committed funding for Stage 2 of the Gold Coast Light Rail project in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
 


Policy Wrap Up
 
Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt will deliver the State’s 2016-17 budget on Tuesday which is expected to include a $3 billion revenue writedown. Mr Pitt said the budget features a $5,000 increase in the first home owner’s grant for newly constructed homes from July 1 and will create jobs through investment in infrastructure. The Queensland Government also announced it will impose a 3 per cent charge on foreign purchases of houses and apartments, which it forecasts will raise $15 million in the first year. See coverage by the AFR here (subscription service).
 
Victorian Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett has resigned from Cabinet over the ongoing dispute between the United Firefighters Union and the Country Fire Authority (CFA) about a new industrial agreement. Premier Andrews said he accepted Ms Garrett’s resignation, after attempting to address her concerns about cabinet proposals designed to end the stalemate. The Victorian Government has since announced it will accept the Fair Work Commission’s recommendations on the enterprise agreement and stated the CFA board will be removed if it doesn’t accept the deal by 5pm today. Deputy Premier James Merlino has replaced Jane Garrett as Emergency Services Minister. See coverage by The Age here.
 
The NSW Government has announced that its own urban transformation agency UrbanGrowth NSW will be responsible for the White Bay Power Station redevelopment, after 13 private proposals by proponents including Google and Lendlease were rejected. UrbanGrowth NSW chairman and former NSW Liberal leader John Brogden said the private sector proposals sought to fund decontamination of the power station through residential development, which would have altered the design of the new technology precinct. See media release: UrbanGrowth NSW to become master developer of new tech hub at White Bay Power Station.
 
The QLD, WA and Tasmanian parliaments sit next week, while Budget Estimates will be held in the NT.
 
 


RESOURCES AND ENERGY

State Developments

The South Australian Government has granted Lincoln Minerals wholly-owned subsidiary Australian Graphite, a mining lease for the Kookaburra Gully graphite project, north of Port Lincoln. The SA Government anticipates the project will be worth up to $40 million and has the potential to create 90 jobs. See media release: New $40 million graphite mine for Eyre Peninsula.  
 


INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
 
State Developments
 
NSW Premier Mike Baird announced the first track at Rouse Hill have been laid, part of Stage 1 of the Sydney Metro project. The Premier also reported tunnelling for the Sydney Metro Northwest, to open to the public in 2019, has finished and the skytrain component is now 50 per cent complete. See media release: Time to lay tracks for Sydney Metro.
 
Transport for NSW (TfNSW) has confirmed that it does not know the strength or carrying capacity of approximately 23 per cent of rail bridges in New South Wales, in response to a Government Information Public Access (GIPA) application made by Fairfax. While the TfNSW stated Sydney Trains have all the information they need, it conceded further investigation is required. Read more in the SMH coverage here (subscription service)
 
Victorian Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley announced that Australian firm Architectus will partner with Danish company Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects to design the $83.1 million State Library Victoria Vision 2020 redevelopment project. A design concept is expected to be released later in 2016, with construction to begin in 2017 and a proposed completion date in 2020. See media release: Architects announced for State Library redevelopment.
 

HEALTH

State Developments

The NSW Government announced $39 million in grant funding for cancer research, to investigate alternate treatment methods, including: through intermittent fasting, possible new delivery methods for DNA chemotherapeutics, and a clinical trial program to prevent and treat HIV-associated cancers. See media release: $39 million to advance NSW cancer research.
 
Still in NSW, Health Minister Jillian Skinner revealed an additional $133 million funding for the major redevelopment of Gosford Hospital will be provided as part of the 2016-17 NSW Budget. The funding will deliver an expanded emergency department, a coronary care unit and maternity and paediatric services. The project is due to be completed in 2018. See media release:  NSW Budget: $133 million to continue major Gosford hospital revamp.
 

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
 
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