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GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up
16 September 2016
 
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull marked his one-year anniversary as PM this week, listing strong economic growth, enhanced business confidence and improved investment as his key achievements over the past year. The week was defined by some major policy developments, including the Government’s decision to overhaul its proposed changes to superannuation and scrap the $500,000 limit on after-tax superannuation contributions – a key measure that proved unpopular among Coalition backbenchers. The Government also brokered a deal with Labor to secure the passage of $6.3 billion worth of savings through the Parliament. The latest Newspoll also reveals the Coalition and Labor remain locked at 50-50 on a two-party preferred basis.
 
Treasurer Scott Morrison announced changes to the Coalition’s proposed superannuation policy on Thursday, saying he has consulted widely with his colleagues who have “been listening to their communities and to their constituents”. Mr Morrison said the amendments seek to restrict superannuation being utilised as an estate planning vehicle, and revealed the proposed $500,000 lifetime non-concessional cap will be replaced with an annual non-concessional contribution cap of $100,000. Other changes will prevent individuals with a superannuation balance of more than $1.6 million from making non-concessional contributions from 1 July 2017. See the Treasurer’s media release here and further remarks here.
 
Prime Minister Turnbull introduced legislation for a same-sex marriage plebiscite on Wednesday, saying “society would be stronger if more people were married”, and confirming his personal support for same-sex marriage. Bill Shorten said Labor has “grave reservations” about the plebiscite and told reporters his Party will study the legislation carefully and continue to consult with mental health experts before arriving at a final position. Liberal Senator Dean Smith announced he will cross the floor and vote against any plebiscite bill, saying that a public vote on the matter will undermine “the principle of parliamentary sovereignty”. If the legislation is passed by the Parliament, a plebiscite will be held on 11 February 2017, with $7.5 million in public funding to be provided for each of the “yes” and “no” campaigns.
 
Special Minister of State Scott Ryan has asked the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to review the extent of political donations received from foreign sources as part of a broader inquiry into the 2016 Federal Election, while also requesting the Committee look into options for regulating such donations. The Committee will also review the use of technology in elections and the potential application of ‘truth in advertising’ laws in communication with voters. Meanwhile, the Liberal National Party has announced it will not challenge the federal election result in the Queensland seat of Herbert, where incumbent Ewen Jones was defeated by Labor’s Cathy O’Toole by just 37 votes.  
 
Labor Senator Stephen Conroy unexpectedly announced his resignation from Parliament after a career spanning 20 years, including six as Communications Minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments. Senator Conroy tabled his parting speech during a debate on the Government’s budget savings legislation late Thursday evening, citing the National Broadband Network as his “greatest contribution” to public life and thanking his Labor colleagues and family. See coverage by The Australian here (subscription service).  

Senior bureaucrat Jane Halton has tendered her resignation as Secretary of the Department of Finance and will finish in the role on 14 October 2016. Prime Minister Turnbull paid tribute to Ms Halton, noting her “long and distinguished career” in the public service, including as the longest serving Secretary of the Department of Health. See the Prime Minister’s statement here. Meanwhile, Clerk of the Senate Dr Rosemary Laing also announced her retirement today; Dr Laing will step down on 8 March 2017 after serving as an official in the Senate for 26 years. 
 
In NSW, the first review of the State’s lockout laws has recommended relaxing restrictions on live entertainment venues in Kings Cross and Sydney CBD in a bid to boost the “vibrancy” of the areas. The report by former High Court Judge Ian Callinan was handed to the NSW Government on Tuesday and recommends lockout and last drinks restrictions for venues with live entertainment be extended by half an hour to 2am and 3:30am respectively, as part of a two-year trial. The Government will respond to the report by the end of the year. 
 
Speaker of the House of Representatives Tony Smith has announced that members of the public will now be able to petition the House of Representatives electronically, following the introduction of a new website and petitions system. See the new website here.
 
The NSW, SA, WA, NT and Tasmanian parliaments sit next week.


FINANCE

Federal Developments
 
The Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill has passed both houses of Parliament, after the Government reached an agreement with Labor to support the legislation. As part of negotiations, the Government agreed to deal with reforms to dental services in separate legislation, while also restoring $800 million in funding for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and compromising on changes to social security payments. See media release: Government secures support for over $6 billion in Budget savings.
 
The Government has introduced the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2016 Measures No. 2) Bill 2016 to Parliament. The Bill amends various taxation laws to improve effectiveness and also establishes a remedial power for the Commissioner of Taxation, allowing for efficient resolution of unintended outcomes in the taxation and superannuation laws. See media release: Government introduces further tax improvements.
 


RESOURCES AND ENERGY

Federal Developments
 
Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg and Tasmanian Minister for Energy Matthew Groom have announced the appointment of Dr John Tamblyn as head of the joint Commonwealth and Tasmanian Government study into the feasibility of a second Tasmanian electricity interconnector. The outcomes of this study will be considered in addition to the work being undertaken by the Tasmanian Energy Security Taskforce. See media release: New head of Tasmanian interconnector feasibility study.

State Developments

The Northern Territory’s new Labor Government has released the draft Terms of Reference for its inquiry into hydraulic fracturing. A Territory-wide moratorium on fracking is in effect and will remain in place until the inquiry is completed. A timeline for the inquiry is currently being finalised. See draft Terms of Reference here.

Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio has launched a discussion paper for the Victorian Government’s Community Renewable Energy Project. The purpose of the paper is to consider whether the current payment system for power stations adequately meets the needs of small-scale and community renewable energy projects. Feedback will be accepted until 28 November 2016. See media release: Giving the power back to the community.
 
BHP Billiton has warned that its future iron ore projects in Western Australia will be put at risk by WA Nationals Leader Brendon Grylls’ proposal of a $5 per tonne rental tax on the Pilbara's largest iron ore miners. General Manager of BHP Billiton’s iron ore operations at Jimblejar Andrew Buckley said the tax will reduce the company’s profit by $1.3 billion and affect job security. See coverage by the Australian Financial Review: BHP Billiton warns iron ore project at risk under WA Nationals tax plan (subscription service).
 


INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER

Federal Developments
 
Federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure Paul Fletcher and NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance have released a discussion paper on Western Sydney’s rail needs, with a focus on the proposed Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek. The paper will explore the option of a direct rail link from the airport, including the possibility of a train capable of travelling at speeds of up to 160 kilometres per hour. The discussion paper follows the publication of an Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed airport earlier this week. See media release here and discussion paper here.

State Developments

NSW Minister for Water Niall Blair has announced that Sydney’s beaches are worth $2 billion to the local economy. Blair explains that over the past 25 years successive state governments have invested in deep ocean outfalls for sewage which has drastically improved water quality. Minister Blair states that a $300 million investment made in the early 1990s has added as much as $330 million per annum to the local economy. See media release: Sydney's beaches providing $2 billion value to our city.
 
Tasmanian Minister for Infrastructure Rene Hidding has announced the Tasmanian Government will not issue taxi licenses for a period of three years, in response to the emergence of ride sharing services. Minister Hidding said the freeze will give the Government an opportunity to monitor the impacts of ride-sharing on the taxi industry and prevent ongoing deterioration in the value of taxi licenses. Uber has announced it plans to commence operations in Tasmania in late 2016. See media release: Suspension on taxi licences.
 
Victorian Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan announced that consortium Evolution Rail has been selected to build 65 High Capacity Metro Trains in Victoria, following a global tender process. The successful consortium includes Downer EDI, Chinese company CRRC, and Plenary. The new trains will have 20 per cent more space than current rolling stock and will be in operation from 2019. See media release: 1,100 jobs with 65 new trains built in Victoria, for Victoria.
 


HEALTH

Federal Developments
 
Minister for Health Sussan Ley has released the Federal Government’s response to the independent Review of Medicines and Medical Devices Regulations, which accepts a majority of the Review’s recommendations. Minister Ley said the changes recommended by the Review will make it possible for new medicines to hit the Australian market sooner by using assessments of medicines by comparable overseas regulators such as the US FDA. Other reforms include simplified advertising guidelines for therapeutic goods and provisional approvals for life saving medicines. The reforms will be rolled out over the next 12 to 24 months. See media release: Reform of Regulation of Medicines and Medical Devices and the Government’s full response to the review.
 
Minister Ley has also launched the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) publication Australia’s Health 2016, which provides an update on the health of Australians and the performance of the nation’s health system. The report shows that while a majority of respondents rate their health highly, chronic disease management remains the nation’s biggest challenge. See media release: Australia’s health 2016 reports a healthy nation and the report.
 
In addition, Minister Ley has appointed Dr Peggy Brown as the new Chief Executive Officer of the National Mental Health Commission. The appointment was made following a recommendation by a selection panel, which included the Commission’s Chair Professor Allan Fels AO. Dr Brown replaces outgoing CEO David Butt, who will take up a role with peak body the National Rural Health Alliance. See media release: New CEO for Mental Health Commission.

State Developments

The NSW Government has called for Expressions of Interest (EOIs) from non-government hospital operators to deliver hospital redevelopments at Maitland, Wyong, Goulburn and Shellharbour. The Government is also seeking operators to support the delivery of services at the redeveloped Bowral Hospital. The partnership plan will see the successful operators construct the hospitals then run them on behalf of the NSW Government. EOIs opened on 15 September 2016. See media release: Partnerships to deliver hospital upgrades sooner.
 
The South Australian Government has appointed biochemist Professor Horst Domdey to the Health Industries South Australian Advisory Board. Most recently, Professor Domdey was the Managing Director of BioM – a cluster of 260 life science companies in Munich, Germany. See media release: International biotech pioneer to advise government on life sciences strategy.
 

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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