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GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up
25 November 2016
 
As the end of the federal parliamentary year draws closer, Labor continues to hold its fifth consecutive lead over the Coalition Government in the polls, with this week’s Newspoll indicating the Opposition remains ahead of the Government 53 to 47 per cent on a two-party preferred basis.
 
In a victory for the Government however, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 passed the Senate in the early hours of Tuesday morning, 33 votes to 30, after being twice previously rejected. The Bill passed with the support of all crossbenchers, with the exception of Senator Jacqui Lambie, and sees the Coalition fulfil an election commitment made by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013. The amendments will bring unions under the same regulations as corporations, establish the Registered Organisations Commission to replace the Fair Work Commission, and increase union whistle-blower protections. See media coverage here.
 
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull attended a meeting with world leaders in Peru as part of the three day Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. In discussions with US President Barak Obama, Mr Turnbull highlighted the need to preserve the $27 trillion Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), following President-elect Donald Trump’s proclamation he would end US involvement in the free trade agreement. Mr Turnbull also made clear his role in any forthcoming negotiations, stating “the important thing for me as Australia’s Prime Minister is to defend Australia’s interest, that’s my job”. See media coverage here.
 
Minister for Urban Infrastructure Paul Fletcher announced the Federal Government’s response to Infrastructure Australia’s (IA) 15-year Australian Infrastructure Plan, agreeing to support 69 of the 78 recommendations. The Coalition has committed to five key initiatives, which will see targeted investment in critical public infrastructure and help ensure Australia’s long-term productivity. IA Chief Executive Philip Davies welcomed the Government's response, noting it is “an important first step on the journey towards infrastructure reform”.
 
Nationals Senators Bridget McKenzie and John ‘Wacka’ Williams crossed the floor to vote with crossbencher David Leyonhjelm in a bid to re-instate the import of the contentious lever-action Adler shotgun. A further three Nationals abstained from the vote but the attempt was defeated 45 votes to 7, with Labor and the Greens supporting the Coalition’s position to uphold the ban on importing the firearms. Labor Senator Penny Wong commented that the Coalition was “now in tatters”, with members openly criticising the Prime Minister’s position on the ban. See media coverage here.
 
The Turnbull Government also lost ground on the backpacker tax in the Senate this week, following the passing of Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie’s proposed amendment to drop the tax from 19 per cent to 10.5 per cent with the support of Labor, the Greens, four One Nation Party (ONP) Senators and crossbencher David Leyonhjelm, 37 votes to 30. The Lower House rejected the reduced tax rate however, insisting on the original 19 per cent tax rate and sending the legislation back to the Senate. See media coverage here.
 
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton came under fire for his comments suggesting that former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser erred in resettling Lebanese-Muslim families in Australia, stating that many individuals charged with terrorism offences are from similar backgrounds. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended Mr Dutton and whilst not directly commenting on his remarks, described him as a “thoughtful”, “committed” and “compassionate” minister. In contrast, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has characterised Mr Dutton’s remarks as “loud, lazy disrespect”. See media coverage here.
 
The ONP was in the spotlight this week, with Pauline Hanson agreeing to support the Government’s referral of the case regarding ONP West Australian Senator Rodney Culleton’s eligibility at the July election to the High Court. Senator Culleton also failed to inform Ms Hanson of a letter he had written to a Queensland magistrate that is now being said is a possible attempt to pervert the course of justice and has been referred to police. Following a public, on-camera request by Ms Hanson, a meeting was finally held between the pair to discuss differences, with Senator Culleton saying his relationship with the ONP Leader remains “all good”. See media coverage here.
 
In NSW, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party Member Philip Donato claimed victory in the Orange by-election by 50 votes, ending the Nationals 68-year hold in the region. A former police prosecutor, Mr Donato cited community dissatisfaction with council amalgamation and poor handling of the greyhound racing industry for his success, as well as his emphasis on supporting local issues. See media coverage here.
 
Still in NSW, Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) Commissioner Megan Latham has announced her resignation at the end of end of the month after learning she will be forced to reapply for the position under a restructure by the Baird Government in NSW. Ms Latham has criticised the changes as creating a “fundamentally weaker organisation”, stating she will instead resume her role as a Supreme Court judge. See media coverage here.
 
The Federal, Queensland and SA parliaments sit next week for the final time in 2016.


FINANCE

Federal Developments
 
Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Kelly O’Dwyer introduced legislation into Parliament, which mandates the professional standards of financial advisers. The Corporations Amendment (Professional Standards of Financial Advisers) Bill 2016 includes compulsory education requirements; supervision requirements for new advisers; an industry code of ethics; benchmarking exams; and ongoing professional development requirements. If passed, legislation will commence 1 January 2019. See media release: Professional Standards For Financial Advisors Introduced.
 
The Government also introduced legislation this week to facilitate crowd-sourced equity funding in Australia. The Corporations Amendment (Crowd-sourced Funding) Bill 2016 enables unlisted public companies with less than $25 million in assets and annual turnover to access crowd sourced equity funding. In any 12 month period, these companies will be permitted to raise up to $5 million. See media release: Turnbull Government acting to open new capital markets.
 
Both the Treasury Laws Amendment (Fair and Sustainable Superannuation) Bill 2016 and Superannuation (Excess Transfer Balance Tax) Imposition Bill 2016 passed Parliament this week, introducing the most comprehensive suite of superannuation reforms in 10 years which are expected to improve the underlying cash balance by $2.8 billion over the forward estimates. See media release: Turnbull government delivers on fairer, more sustainable superannuation.
 

RESOURCES AND ENERGY

Federal Developments

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has released its 2015-16 annual report on the performance of the retail energy market. The report revealed that, while the number of households with an energy debt has fallen in most jurisdictions since the previous year, an increasing number have entered hardship programs for assistance in paying electricity bills. The AER has additionally released its 2015-16 annual retail compliance report, disclosing penalties imposed on energy retailers and distributors that breached proper conduct requirements. See media release: Mixed results in retail energy market.

State Developments

The Victorian Government has introduced the Resources Legislation Amendment (Fracking Ban) Bill 2016 into Parliament. If passed, the legislation will extend the moratorium on conventional onshore gas exploration and development to 30 June 2020, and permanently ban all onshore unconventional gas exploration and development, including hydraulic fracturing (known as ‘fracking’) and coal seam gas, across Victoria. See media release: Banning Fracking For Good and media coverage here
 

INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER

Federal Developments
 
Infrastructure Australia (IA) has released its updated November Infrastructure Priority List, which indicates the Western Sydney Airport project is a “High Priority”. IA’s Project Business Case Evaluation for the airport reveals details on stage one of the project, which will include the first runway and terminals at a cost of approximately $5 billion. Supplementary enabling works have been estimated to cost as much as $38 billion. See media release: Infrastructure Australia 15 Year Plan to guide key infrastructure policy directions for Turnbull Government.
 
State Developments
 
NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian announced the State’s annual spending on construction has passed $50 billion for the first time, which includes residential, non-residential and engineering works. Minister Berejiklian predicted that over the next four years the NSW Government will invest more than $73 billion in infrastructure. See media release: NSW construction spending passes $50 Billion for the first time.
 
Victorian Minister for Transport Jacinta Allan announced a Downer Rail-led consortium will build 65 new High Capacity Metro Trains (HCMT) for use on the Cranbourne Pakenham line. The HCMT will be 20 per cent larger than their predecessors, increasing capacity on the line by 42 per cent or an additional 11,000 passengers during peak usage periods. Minister Allan stated that the $2 billion contract will ensure the trains are built in Victoria with 60 per cent local content. See media release: Contract Signed on New Trains That Put Passengers First.
 
Northern Territory Treasurer Nicole Manison announced the Government will bring forward $120 million in infrastructure funding as part of the $1.7 billion total infrastructure investment. The Treasurer said the prioritised funding will help stimulate the Territory’s economy and create new jobs. See media release: New infrastructure plan to support territory jobs.
 
Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt announced the State Government has accepted the proposed $512 million Logan Motorway Enhancement Project from Transurban Queensland. Treasurer Pitt said the project was the first ‘market-led’ proposal to be approved by the Government, and would provide 1,300 jobs during the construction phase as well as produce approximately $1 billion in economic benefits over the next 30 years. See media release: $512M Market-Led Proposal gets green light from government
 

HEALTH

State Developments
 
Victorian Minister for Health Jill Hennessy announced the $630 million Bendigo Hospital has been completed one month ahead of schedule. Opening in January 2017, the hospital will provide 372 inpatient beds; 72 same-day beds; 11 operating theatres; an integrated cancer centre; a new 25-bed maternity unit; and an 80-bed mental health unit. See media release: Tick Of Approval For World Class New Bendigo Hospital.
 
Minister Hennessy has announced the Inspector-General of Emergency Management will lead a state-wide review into the emergency response to the ‘thunderstorm asthma’ event that occurred early this week, which has seen 8,500 people hospitalised and led to four deaths, prompting the Minister to label the event a “health emergency of an unprecedented scale”. The review will examine the appropriateness and adequacy of the response under the Public Health Response Plan; consider public warnings, health advice and the role of Emergency Management Victoria in public health events; and investigate the adequacy of support provided. See media release: State-Wide Review Into Thunderstorm Asthma Emergency.
 
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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