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GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up
9 September 2016
 
International trade was on the Government’s agenda this week as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull travelled to China for the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Hangzhou. Mr Turnbull called on members of the G20 to commit to open markets and free trade, saying continued economic reform is necessary to “hold back rising tides of protectionism”. The Prime Minister also confirmed he is on a “unity ticket” with British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has flagged a post-Brexit free trade deal between Australia and Britain as a priority. The two countries will establish a bilateral Trade Working Group in a bid to fast-track trade negotiations following Britain’s formal exit from the European Union. Discussions about foreign investment and the South China Sea dominated Mr Turnbull’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who anticipates the two countries will remain committed to “mutual trust and mutual benefit”.
 
The Prime Minister also attended the mid-week East Asia Summit in Laos this week, where regional leaders discussed political, economic and security challenges. Mr Turnbull focused on moves to strengthen Australia’s security ties with Singapore, inviting his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong to address a joint sitting of the Federal Parliament in October during an official visit where the two countries will seal a $2.25 billion defence deal. Mr Turnbull also announced improved intelligence-sharing with Indonesia to address the threat of foreign fighters – he has offered to host the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Australia in 2018 for a special summit focused on security and economic reform. The Prime Minister finishes the week in the Federated States of Micronesia, where he will participate in the Pacific Islands Forum.
 
Closer to home, political donations remained in the spotlight with Labor Senator Sam Dastyari forced to resign from the Opposition frontbench amid controversy over payments and donations he received from foreign-linked donors. Prime Minister Turnbull has signalled he is open to political donations reform, suggesting the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquire into proposed changes, while noting the complexity of the issue raises legal and constitutional questions. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced Labor will propose legislation next week to ban foreign political donations and improve transparency.
 
National Accounts figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on Wednesday confirmed 25 years of uninterrupted annual economic growth in Australia, after the economy grew by 3.3 per cent in the 2015-16 financial year – the best growth figure in four years. Treasurer Scott Morrison said the record was an “extraordinary achievement for the Australian people”, while labelling export growth the “real hero” of the figures. Mr Morrison said net exports growth of 9.6 per cent over the past year represented “the strongest rate of export growth since the Sydney Olympics”.
 
The Opposition announced it will seek to block the Government’s proposal to extend tax-friendly superannuation contribution arrangements for self-employed Australians, saying the plan is too expensive and will “mostly benefit high-income earners”. The measure is part of the Government’s first tranche of draft superannuation legislation released this week; Labor says the measure will cost $8.7 billion over 10 years. Opposition Small Business and Financial Services spokesperson Senator Katy Gallagher said the Government “should be closing unsustainably generous concessions not opening new ones” and that the measure “cannot be a priority” in the current budget climate. See AFR coverage here (subscription service).
 
In Victoria, Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins has signalled the Andrews Government is open to considering council amalgamations in the lead up to the next election – but said changes will need to have the support of the community. Minister Hutchins said discussions about possible council amalgamations and boundary changes had arisen during the Government’s ongoing review of the Local Government Act; the Government has indicated it will consult with ratepayers on the matter. See coverage by The Age here.
 
Federal Parliament will sit next week, along with all state parliaments (except South Australia and the ACT).


FINANCE

Federal Developments
 
Treasurer Scott Morrison and Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Kelly O’Dwyer released the first tranche of Exposure Draft legislation for the superannuation reforms announced in the 2016-17 Budget. The draft legislation will enshrine the objective of superannuation in legislation, improve concessional contribution access and introduce the Low Income Superannuation Tax Offset (LISTO). Submissions on the draft legislation close on 16 September. See media release: Superannuation reforms: first tranche of Exposure Drafts.
 
Treasurer Scott Morrison announced the release of the Turnbull Government’s first report from the Australian Agricultural Land Register, which reveals that foreign investors hold 13.6 per cent of Australian agricultural land, with the United Kingdom the principal source of investment. See media release: Foreign ownership of Agricultural Land Register findings.
 

RESOURCES AND ENERGY

Federal Developments
 
The Federal Government’s Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016 currently before the House of Representatives contains a measure to revise the funding allocated to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency between 2017-18 and 2021-22 to $214.4 million. If Parliament passes the legislation, federal grants for renewable energy projects will be reduced. See legislation: Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016.

State Developments
 
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced that five large-scale solar projects in NSW have secured $34.9 million under the Competitive Funding Round, which will be located at Dubbo, Glen Innes, Griffith, Parkes and Manildra. See media release: $34.9 million for five large scale NSW solar projects.
 
The Queensland Government announced David Smales has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of Queensland’s new merged power distribution body Energy Queensland. Mr Smales – previously the General Manager of Generation at Origin Energy – will take up the Townsville-based position from 31 October. See media release: Permanent CEO for Energy Queensland.
 
Federal Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matthew Canavan has publically criticised West Australian Nationals Leader Brendon Grylls’ proposal to increase royalties on iron ore in WA. Following several meetings in Perth, Minister Canavan said he holds “grave concerns” that the proposal will damage Australia’s reputation as a “stable destination for attracting investment and jobs”. See coverage by the West Australian: Brendon Grylls’ mining tax slapped down by Federal Resources Minister.
 

INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER

Federal Developments
 
Independent advisory body Infrastructure Australia (IA) released an updated Infrastructure Priority List this week, after positively assessing the business cases for four projects in Queensland and South Australia. The Sunshine State projects centre on upgrades to the M1 Pacific Motorway-Gateway and the Bruce Highway, while in SA Iron Road’s proposal to build a heavy rail network and deep-water port on the Eyre Peninsula have been named a priority. In addition, the SA Government’s north-south corridor upgrade project received a positive assessment. See media release: Four new business cases assessed for Infrastructure Priority List.
 
State Developments
 
NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance has reminded commuters that significant changes were introduced to the Opal Transport system last Monday. The key benefit for commuters is a “transfer discount” of $2 for those changing modes of transport. The Minister suggested these changes will encourage commuters to take a bus to the closest train station and then catch a train to their destination. The same package of changes has resulted in the end of free trips after eight journeys – commuters will instead receive a 50 per cent discount after eight journeys. See media release: Catch public transport all the way from today with cheaper multi-mode transport.
 

HEALTH

Federal Developments
 
Minister for Health Sussan Ley has released the interim report of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Taskforce – a clinician-led review of all 5,700 items currently listed on the MBS. Minister Ley said the report provides an update on the consultation process to date, while foreshadowing further consultations as individual items are identified for amendment or removal from the MBS. The review aims to reduce the number of low-value items on the MBS, while also establishing stronger rules, education and compliance in the system. See media release: Medicare items review backed by health professionals, patients and view the interim report.
 
Minister Ley has appointed Dr Jeffery Harmer AO as the Chair of the Private Health Insurance Ministerial Advisory Committee. Dr Harmer has served in senior positions in the Australian Public Service, including as Secretary of the former Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Under Dr Harmer’s leadership, the Advisory Committee will guide the implementation of the Government’s reforms to private health insurance, including addressing regulatory issues and simplifying insurance categories so consumers can easily understand what their policies do and do not cover. See media release: New Committee to provide recommendations on private health insurance reform.
 
In addition, Minister Ley announced Professor Terry Campbell has been appointed the new Chair of the Prostheses List Advisory Committee (PLAC), which will also form part of the Government’s broader private health reform agenda. The focus of the PLAC will be to improve affordability and access to medical devices, such as pace makers and hip replacements, for which the Federal Government regulates pricing. See media release: Reforming prostheses listing to make private health insurance more affordable.

State Developments
 
The Victorian Government has selected the Connecting Health Care consortium led by Eastern Health as one of three Victorian health services to lead a pilot of the new Victorian eReferral Program, which will enable GPs to create a patient referral from their desktop and instantly deliver it electronically to the nominated healthcare provider. The Government is investing $3.1 million toward the pilot program, which will see the elimination of paper referral letters. See media release: GP e-Referrals rolling out in Melbourne’s east for better patient care
 
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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