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GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up
17 February 2017
 
The Turnbull Government’s recently introduced Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017 has been blocked by Parliament as a result of a lack of support in the Senate. In stressing the importance of the proposed measures, Treasurer Scott Morrison indicated $3 billion in funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will be realised through passing of the Bill, with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann warning that if it continues to be blocked, “tax increases become the only option”. Senator Nick Xenophon, however, asserted that while the Bill attempted to lessen the impact of abolishing the end-of-year supplement payments for those receiving family tax benefits, welfare recipients will still be in a less advantageous position overall. See media coverage here and here.
 
A voting preference-swap deal between the Western Australian Liberal and One Nation parties ahead of the WA state election next month has been formalised following refusal by Labor, the Greens and the National Party to join forces with One Nation. Under the deal, the Liberals will direct preferences to One Nation ahead of the Nationals in the State’s Upper House, with One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson describing the agreement as “paramount” to her party securing seats at the election. Federal Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce, however, expressed his disappointment with the decision alongside his Federal National colleagues, stating that the Liberal Party should “clearly understand the ramifications” of its choices. See media coverage here.
 
Pressure on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to scrap Labor’s 50 per cent Renewable Energy Target (RET) increased this week, with calls from the Federal Government and state Liberal leaders for a national, unified RET. Debate around the issue has again escalated following mounting concerns of rising electricity prices and a lack of energy security after the most recent power blackout in South Australia earlier this month. Prime Minister Turnbull stated that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wants to “adopt South Australia’s failed ideological experiment which will lead to even higher power bills and more blackouts”, and has welcomed unification on the issue proposed by his state counterparts. Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg has since called for reform of the Limited Merits Review process, which currently allows energy companies to contest decisions of the Australian Energy Regulator, ultimately resulting in increased consumer costs. In a joint statement this week, an alliance of energy, investment, trade unions and welfare groups have called for bipartisan cooperation “to work through the necessary solutions to our energy market challenges”. See media coverage here.  
 
A Senate inquiry report on the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Amendment Bill 2017 has recommended the Senate pass the Government’s proposed amendment to the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) legislation, which will see the transition period for all companies to comply with the new Code reduced from two years to seven months. The Senate Committee found that a reduced transition term will prevent any “unintended consequences, delays and confusion which are not in the interests of a fair and productive industrial framework”, despite objections by Labor and Greens’ Senators. See media coverage here.
 
The Senate has voted to abolish the Life Gold Pass, which will remove lifetime travel entitlements for retired parliamentarians. LNP Senator Ian Macdonald was the only MP to object to the decision, with Special Minister of State Scott Ryan commending the outcome by reiterating “The Life Gold Pass for parliamentarians is a relic of a bygone era” and that all parliamentary entitlements should be used “efficiently, effectively and ethically”. See media coverage here.
 
Former Queensland Labor Premier Anna Bligh has been appointed CEO of the Australian Bankers’ Association. While Ms Bligh has indicated she does not support a Royal Commission into the banking sector, she is keen to oversee and contribute to the development of significant reforms that “will allow the banking industry to restore trust and confidence in a system that is open, fair and transparent”. See media coverage here.
 
In NSW, the Greyhound Industry Reform Panel has recommended establishment of an independent Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission. Panel chair and former Labor Premier Morris Iemma reported that animal welfare concerns will be central to the new industry framework, which will include an enforceable code of practice and strict penalties. The Commission will reportedly seek to guarantee the separation of regulatory and commercial functions of the industry, restoring public confidence in the sport. See media coverage here.
 
The NSW and Victorian parliaments sit next week.


FINANCE

Federal Developments
 
Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Kelly O’Dwyer has called for public consultation on the Increasing Transparency of the Beneficial Ownership of Companies paper. The Government is seeking views and feedback on the collection, storage and updating of information surrounding who owns, controls and benefits from companies, and the expected compliance costs for affected parties. The Paper is intended to assist in preventing the misuse of company structures for unlawful purposes through improved transparency. See the media release: Consultation on increasing transparency of the beneficial ownership of companies.
 
Minister O’Dwyer also announced the passage of the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2016 Measures No. 2) Bill 2016 through Parliament. The Bill improves income averaging arrangements for farmers, establishes a Remedial Power for the Commissioner of Taxation, amends the luxury car tax for certain public institutions, and makes a number of minor amendments across tax and superannuation laws. See the media release: Fairer tax laws to benefit taxpayers.
 

RESOURCES AND ENERGY

State Developments
 
Victorian Leader of the Opposition Matthew Guy announced that a Victorian Liberal-National Government will “scrap” the Renewable Energy Target. In a media release, Mr Guy cited increased power prices and concerns over the reliability of renewable energy as reasons for the Opposition’s decision. See media release: Guy: Liberal Nationals will scrap Victorian Renewable Energy Target.
 
The Queensland Parliament’s Committee on Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources has held public hearings on the possible introduction of the Strong Sustainable Resource Communities Bill 2016. The Bill will have the effect of dissuading companies in the resources sector from recruiting a workforce that is 100% fly-in fly-out (FIFO) for mining projects in Queensland by providing legal mechanisms to encourage mining companies to hire workers from towns or regional centres that are close to a project. See Committee Page: Strong and Sustainable Resource Communities Bill 2016.
 

INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER

State Developments
 
Victorian Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan has announced the State Government will re-negotiate bus contracts with 12 bus operators in the Melbourne metropolitan bus network. These operators account for 70 per cent of Melbourne’s buses, while the remaining 30 per cent are covered by an existing contract with Transdev which will not be effected by the changes. See media release: Major Overhaul Of Bus Contracts To Put Passengers First.
 
NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance announced the Government has submitted a State Significant Infrastructure Application Report for the Sydney Metro City and Southwest Project. Minister Constance said the conversion of the existing heavy rail line to a metro line will allow for increased capacity. See media release: More trains, faster services, better connections: Metro heads south west.
 

HEALTH

State Developments
 
Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy has announced completion of the Monash Children’s Hospital. The $250 million facility will open in April, with the capacity to treat an additional 7,000 children each year. New features include 230 beds, 12 dedicated children’s cancer day beds, 20 same day beds, 10 paediatric intensive care beds, 30 neonatal intensive care cots and 28 beds providing special mental health services. See media release: Southern Hemisphere First For The New Monash Children’s.
 
The Victorian Government has called for Expressions of Interest for the $168.5 million hospital redevelopment of Goulburn Valley Health in Shepparton. The project will deliver three new operating theatres, two new wards and a larger emergency department. Construction is expected to begin by the end of 2017 and be completed in late 2020, and is expected to create over 140 jobs. The State Government will initially provide $166.6 million, with an extra $2 million to be provided as part of the Government’s $500 million plan to engage 450 paramedics to improve response times. See media release: Search Starts For Builder To Revamp Shepparton Hospital.
 
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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