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GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up
12 August 2016
 
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said he is “bitterly disappointed” about the failure of the Census website following a number of ‘denial of service attacks’ on Tuesday evening, which resulted in the site being taken down by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and millions of Australians unable to complete the survey online. The Prime Minister said the “extremely common” attacks were “completely predictable” and “should have been repelled readily” but noted that those responsible failed to put measures in place to prevent such interference. Mr Turnbull said the Government’s cyber-security adviser, Alastair MacGibbon, will conduct a review into the Census with assistance from the Australian Signals Directorate and foreshadowed “very serious consequences” for those involved. Earlier in the week, South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon and five Greens Senators refused to provide their names and addresses on their Census forms amid privacy and security concerns. Senator Xenophon has since announced he will move to establish an urgent Senate inquiry into the Census website faults when Parliament resumes. The site was subsequently back up and running on Thursday.
 
Treasurer Scott Morrison has made a preliminary decision to block the proposed 99-year lease of a 50.4 per cent stake in NSW electricity provider Ausgrid to Chinese and Hong Kong bidders, saying the foreign investment proposals for the transaction are “contrary to the national interest”. NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian said the transaction remains “a live issue” and that Ausgrid “is a valuable asset with a lot of interest” regardless of the Federal Treasurer’s final decision. Mr Morrison has invited submissions from the international bidders by 18 August before a final decision is made. See media release: Foreign investment applications for the 99-year lease of Ausgrid.
 
Labor renewed its calls for a Royal Commission into the banking sector this week, as the Commonwealth Bank of Australia announced a record full-year cash profit of $9.45 billion. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said a Royal Commission is necessary to investigate a culture in the banking sector which puts banks’ profits “ahead of the national interest”. Treasurer Morrison accused Labor of undermining confidence in the banking and financial system by continuing its demands for a Royal Commission, dismissing the appeals as “nothing more than a populist whinge from Bill Shorten”. See coverage by the AFR here (subscription service).
 
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has confirmed the Federal Government will push forward with its media deregulation laws when Parliament returns later this month, including plans to scrap the ‘reach rule’ – which prevents television networks from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the population – and the ‘two out of three rule’, which prohibits businesses from controlling a television station, radio network and newspaper in the same market. The Government will require support in the Senate from the crossbench or Opposition in order to pass the reforms, with Minister Fifield saying Labor will be putting jobs at risk if it blocks the changes. Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said Labor “will not be bullied into making rushed decisions” and called for a review into the impact of the changes on media diversity. See coverage by the SMH here.
 
A number of crossbench Senators have flagged their support for changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it unlawful for a person to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race or ethnicity. Private Senators’ bills will be presented by Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, who wants to “remove 18C entirely and everything that goes with it”, and Family First Senator Bob Day when Parliament resumes. Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch has indicated he backs the reforms “1000 per cent”, with One Nation Senators also in support of the change. Senators Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie however, are united in ruling out any changes to the legislation; Attorney-General George Brandis has confirmed the Government has no plans to amend the Act.
 
Statistics from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) reveal that more than 1.4 million Australians did not vote in last month’s Federal Election, resulting in the lowest voter turnout rate since compulsory voting was introduced prior to the 1925 Federal Election. The AEC said its efforts to boost enrolments prior to the election paid off however, with 95 per cent of Australians aged 18 and over enrolled to vote – an increase of 3 per cent from the 2013 Federal Election. The decrease in voter numbers was said to be an effect of the combined long campaign period and school holidays taking place in most of the states.
 
The NSW Government’s legislation to shut down the State’s greyhound industry passed the Legislative Council without amendment on Wednesday night, despite Labor’s attempts to delay a vote on the Bill by referring the legislation to a standing committee for inquiry. Upper House Liberal Member Peter Phelps spoke against the ban and abstained from the final vote on the legislation, calling it “bad politics…and bad policy”. Leader of the Government in the Upper House Duncan Gay confirmed the Baird Government will announce the details of an industry assistance package “within three months” of the Bill being passed. See coverage by the Daily Telegraph here (subscription service).
 
Victorian Liberal MP Louise Asher announced her retirement from politics this week; a move she says will make way for “generational change” in the Victorian Liberal Party. Ms Asher has served as the member for Brighton for the past 17 years, including an 11-year stint as Deputy Leader of the State Liberal Party. She will not re-contest the 2018 State Election.
 
The Victorian, QLD, WA and Tasmanian parliaments sit next week.  


FINANCE

Federal Developments
 
Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Kelly O’Dwyer announced the Terms of Reference for the independent review into the financial system’s external dispute resolution and complaints framework. The Review will examine the role, powers, governance and accountability of existing financial system dispute resolution frameworks, as well as the efficiency and efficacy of outcomes and recommendations on the role and merits of each framework. The final report will be provided to the Government by the end of March 2017. See media release: Review of external dispute resolution and complaints schemes.
 
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) released its enforcement report for the period 1 January 2016 to 30 June 2016. The Report outlines ASIC’s challenges and focuses moving forward, including balancing a free-market system, digital disruption, structural change, financial innovation-driven complexity and globalisation. An overview of investigation outcomes and undertakings for the period is also detailed. See media release: ASIC's enforcement report highlights key enforcement outcomes for January-June 2016.
 

RESOURCES AND ENERGY

State Developments
 
The NSW Government will pay BHP Billiton $220 million to buy back its Caroona exploration license on the Liverpool Plains in a move which Premier Mike Baird said “guarantees the future of the State's most productive and fertile farming land”. Premier Baird made the decision following advice from the NSW Planning Assessment Commission, which recommended a ban on mining in the black soil plains. The Premier said coal mining “poses too great a risk” to the area and “the underground water sources that support it”. See coverage by The Australian here (subscription service).
 
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has released the 2016 Electricity Statement of Opportunities (ESO). In the ESO, the AEMO’s modelling identifies risks in power reliability in NSW, South Australia and Victoria over the coming years if these state energy markets continue to increase their proportional reliance on low-carbon energy sources, such as wind and solar. See media release: Strategic, efficient investment required to support Australia’s energy transformation.
 
The Minerals Council has released an Agenda for Growth for the NT Mining Industry, highlighting the areas of policy interest for the Territory’s mining sector. The document comes ahead of the NT election on 27 August to allow all candidates time to consider the recommendations. See media release: Mining in the NT: An Agenda for Growth.
 
South Australian Minister for Energy Tom Koutsantonis will use the upcoming meeting of Australia’s Energy Ministers on 19 August as an opportunity to promote the South Australian Government’s plan to link the State’s power market to the national grid in order to prevent a recurrence of the price spikes that have recently occurred in South Australia. See coverage by the AFR: SA to push for interconnectors as a solution to wind power lulls (subscription service).
 
New Leader of the West Australian Nationals Brendon Grylls has announced a plan to raise the 25 cent production rental on WA’s two biggest iron ore miners, BHP and Rio Tinto. Mr Grylls stated that this tax could generate $7.2 billion in revenue over the four-year forward estimates. The Nationals in the Federal Parliament have distanced themselves from the proposal, with Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan saying “the policies of the WA Nationals are a matter for them”. See media release: Brendon Grylls appointed leader; major policy platform announced and coverage by The Australian here.
 
Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio has released a discussion paper that will examine the rules that apply to on-site power suppliers under Victoria’s Electricity Industry Act 2000. According to Minister D’Ambrosio, the Victorian Government wants to examine ways to protect consumers living or working in communal properties when it comes to their electricity supply. See media release: Electricity consumers have their say.
 

INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
 
State Developments
 
NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance has announced a series of significant changes to the controversial Newcastle Light Rail Project in response to community concerns about the impact of the proposal. The alterations include making the tracks level with the road, changes to track alignment and constructing a second track across Stewart Avenue near the Wickham Interchange to increase capacity. The Minister announced Downer EDI Ltd will be responsible for the delivery of fixed infrastructure for the project. See media release: Change on track for Newcastle Light Rail.
 
Still in NSW, Minister for Freight Duncan Gay has announced $15 million in funding to improve regional rail lines in addition to the $400 million announced in the recent NSW Budget. A key component of the plan is re-opening part of the Cowra line stretching from Maimuru to Demondrille, which has been out of operation since 2009 following suspension due to a lack of freight and escalating maintenance costs. Minister Gay said the line will help bring agricultural produce to the ports as quickly as possible. See media release: $400 million Fixing Country Rail on track to delivery.
 

HEALTH

Federal Developments
 
Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services Jane Prentice has invited community organisations to apply for funding under the National Disability Insurance Agency’s Partners in the Community Program to support the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The Agency is looking for partners to help deliver Local Area Coordination and Early Childhood Early Intervention in the ACT, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria as they transition to the NDIS in 2017. Grants close on Thursday 8 September. See media release: NDIS grants program open to community based organisation  and the NDIS website. 
 
The Department of Health has made an unpublished submission to the latest review of the Skilled Occupations List, which recommends the removal of 41 health roles to maximise the number of jobs for locally-trained doctors. The Government is set to review Visa changes over the coming months and Health Minister Sussan Ley has indicated further workforce reforms could take place next year. See coverage by The Australian: Visa plan to stop foreign doctor influx (subscription service).

State Developments

Victorian Minister for Health Jill Hennessy has announced $50 million in funding to help establish a National Proton Beam Therapy Centre for the treatment of cancer in Melbourne. Proton Beam Therapy is an optimal form of cancer treatment due to its precision, lower toxicity and reduced risk of causing other cancers later on. The Centre will be located in Parkville and operated by the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre. See media release: Preparing for Proton Beam Therapy cancer boost.
 
In a move welcomed by the Australian Medical Association (AMA), ACT Liberal Leader Jeremy Hanson has promised a new $395 million Canberra Hospital building if the Party is elected to govern at the October election. The proposal includes new operating and medical imaging suites, an intensive care unit and outpatient floor, and a commitment that the hospital will be operational by 2019. See coverage by the Canberra Times here.
 

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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