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GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up
14 October 2016
 
This week marked 100 days since the federal election and while Labor continued its two-party preferred lead over the Coalition in the latest Newspoll, 52-48 per cent, the Government managed to deliver some key wins by securing the passage of industrial relations legislation designed to “safeguard” volunteer firefighters, and legislating $4 billion worth of income tax cuts. Despite this success on the floor of Parliament, it was not however, all smooth sailing for the Coalition when a tactical error on the floor of the House of Representatives saw the Government accidentally support a second reading amendment moved by the Opposition, effectively calling on the Coalition to explain its failures on multinational tax avoidance. Labor said the second reading amendment was the first to ever pass the Lower House, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten telling reporters that the Government is “not running the Parliament professionally”.
 
The Government faces another hurdle after Labor confirmed it will vote against the proposed same-sex marriage plebiscite and called for a free vote on the issue in Parliament. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dubbed Labor’s position “ridiculous” and urged members of the Senate to support the Bill in order to give Australians a say in the debate.
 
Prime Minister Turnbull hosted his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong in Canberra this week, where the pair signed upgraded defence and free trade agreements designed to improve regional stability and strengthen business ties between the two nations. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee became the first Singaporean leader to address the Australian Parliament after 51 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations. Speaking to a joint sitting of MPs and Senators, Mr Lee foreshadowed greater collaboration between Australia and Singapore in areas such as education, science, innovation and the arts. See the transcript of the leaders’ joint press conference here.
 
Australia’s two most senior legal officers are appearing before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee today to provide evidence for the Committee’s inquiry into a direction from Attorney-General George Brandis that restricts the Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson from providing legal advice to anyone in the Government without first obtaining permission from the Attorney-General. Mr Gleeson told the Committee that Senator Brandis’ position represents a “radical change in practice” and confirmed he has requested the Attorney-General withdraw the order.
 
Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor has announced a restructure of the Federal Government’s Digital Transformation Office, which will be expanded and renamed the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) in a suite of changes unveiled at a digital transformation luncheon in Canberra today. As part of its new mandate, the DTA will be required to review and refresh the Government’s IT strategy, while also assuming control of ICT procurement from the Department of Finance. Minister Taylor said the new agency will also feature a “small high-calibre program management office to manage strategy and manage integration of the digital transformation agenda across all of government”. Department of Communications Deputy Secretary Nerida O'Loughlin has been appointed interim CEO of the DTA, which has been described as a “tech super-agency”. The new role of Chief Digital Officer will be filled by Paul Shetler. See media release: Transforming the Commonwealth’s Digital Agenda.
 
Labor formally appointed South Australian Senator Don Farrell as Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate this week, following the retirement of Senator Stephen Conroy; Senator Farrell will also serve as Shadow Special Minister of State and Shadow Minister for Sport. Labor confirmed that former Health Services Union official Kimberley Kitching has been preselected to replace Mr Conroy as a Senator for Victoria.
 
In other parliamentary news, Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch has successfully moved a motion to amend the photography rules in the Senate Chamber, allowing photographers to capture everything that happens on the floor of the Senate rather than just the Senator who is speaking. The amended rules are expected to come into effect in November 2016. 

Gina Rinehart’s resources company Hancock Prospecting and Chinese company Shanghai CRED have launched a $365 million joint bid to purchase the S. Kidman and Co stations, contingent on Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) approval and sign-off from Chinese government authorities. Under the agreement, Ms Rinehart’s company will own 67 per cent of the business, with the remaining 33 per cent going to Shanghai CRED. The deal will also hinge on the separate sale of Anna Creek Station and The Peake in South Australia. Prime Minister Turnbull signalled his support for the bid during the week, saying “it’s always great to see Australians investing in Australian agriculture”. See media release: Agreement reached on sale of S. Kidman & Co Ltd.

In NSW, Premier Mike Baird has reversed his decision to ban greyhound racing in the State from July 2017, saying he “got it wrong” while also emphasising his “personal convictions on animal cruelty have not changed at all”. Premier Baird announced new regulatory measures for the industry, including a cap on breeding and reductions in the number of races and tracks in NSW. Mr Baird also appointed former NSW Premier Morris Iemma chair of an oversight body tasked with creating a new regulatory and governance framework for the industry. NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley labelled Mr Baird’s decision the “mother of all backflips” brought about by the prospect of a “tough by-election in Orange”. See coverage by the SMH here (subscription service).  
 
The Federal, NSW, SA, WA and NT parliaments will sit next week.


FINANCE

Federal Developments
 
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) released a report into claims handling practices in the life insurance industry this week in response to the Government-requested, industry-wide review to determine if there are systemic issues that require further regulatory reform. ASIC’s report recommended the regulatory framework for claims handling be strengthened through removing the exemption for ‘insurance claims handling’ from the definition of ‘financial services’ in the Corporations Act. See media release: Release of ASIC report on claims handling in life insurance industry.
 
Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Kelly O’Dwyer reintroduced legislation into Parliament to improve the quality of financial advice in the life insurance sector. The Bill will address issues with remuneration practices that lead to poor quality consumer outcomes by introducing a three-year phase down of upfront commissions to a maximum of 60 per cent and ongoing commissions to a maximum of 20 per cent, among other reforms. Changes will commence 1 January 2018. See media release: Key life insurance reforms to assist consumers.
 
The Finance Services Council (FSC) of Australia released the first ever life insurance industry Code of Practice this week to improve insurer practices and obligations. The Code is mandatory for FSC members and requires life insurance industry professionals to improve disclosure practices for consumers and provide greater transparency in communications. See media release: Life Insurance Code of Practice.
 
Minister O’Dwyer also released Exposure Draft legislation and explanatory material in relation to integrity rules on the taxation of debt and equity this week. The legislation prevents taxpayers from artificially splitting a single scheme into multiple schemes for the purpose of favourable tax outcomes. Submissions on the Exposure Draft legislation and Explanatory Memorandum close on 21 November 2016. See media release: Greater certainty on integrity rules regarding the taxation of debt and equity: Exposure draft legislation.
 


RESOURCES AND ENERGY

Federal Developments

Federal Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matthew Canavan has called on the South Australian Government to consider re-opening the coal-fired Northern Power Station at Port Augusta to help prevent future state-wide power outages, saying that South Australians expect the State Government to “do everything in their power to keep the lights on”. Minister Canavan’s comments were endorsed by SA Opposition Energy Spokesman Dan van Holst Pellekaan. See the ABC’s coverage here: Federal Government, SA Opposition push for reopening of Port Augusta power station.
 
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced a grant of up to $18 million for the first phase of Kennedy Energy Park; a $120 million joint wind, solar and battery storage venture by Windlab and Eurus Energy in Queensland. ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said that “Kennedy Energy Park will be the first time a combined large-scale solar, wind and battery installation has connected to Australia’s national electricity market”. See media release: Australian first project to harness sun, wind and batteries.

State Developments

Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Anthony Lynham has announced new regulation designed to protect Queensland’s coal miners from coal worker’s pneumoconiosis – also known as black lung – will come into effect from 1 January 2017. The regulations will require coal mining companies to increase dust monitoring at open-cut coal mines and improve medical assessment services offered to coal miners. See media release: Black lung protections become letter of the law.  
 
The Queensland Government’s Expert Panel on Renewable Energy has released its draft report, which outlines three pathways to achieving the State’s goal of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. According to the report, a 50 per cent renewable energy target would have a cost neutral impact on Queensland’s electricity consumers and create $6.7 billion of new investment in the Queensland economy by 2030. See media release: Renewable Energy Taskforce releases draft report.
 
The West Australian Government has announced operators of solar power stations are no longer required to be licensed by the Economic Regulation Authority. The regulatory change is intended to encourage growth in the solar industry by reducing costs. See media release: Cutting red tape to enable solar power growth
 


INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER

Federal Developments
 
Federal Minister for Transport Darren Chester has announced the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) will review existing safety regulations with specific reference to the operation of drones. Minister Chester said the review will consider industry and community perspectives as well as the work of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO); it follows regulatory amendments made by CASA, which restricts where drones can be operated. See media release: Drone safety review announced.
 
The National Transport Commission has released a collection of papers titled Land Transport Regulation 2040, which discusses the future of land transport over the next 25 years and considers how new technology and business models will affect transport within Australia’s cities. Chief Executive of the Commission Paul Retter said Australia is about to experience the most significant period of change in transport since cars replaced horses. See media release: NTC releases possible new scenarios for Australia’s transport future.
 
State Developments
 
West Australian Minister for Transport Bill Marmion has announced the introduction of a high frequency, ‘super bus’ service, which will link Mirrabooka and Curtin University. Bus route 960 will replace former routes 885 and 888 and operate every five minutes. The service will use 20 new buses at a cost of approximately $7 million per annum. See media release: High-frequency bus routes to benefit passengers.
 
Victorian Minister for Transport Jacinta Allan has announced that Flinders Street Station will undergo a $100 million upgrade to fix its leaking roof, improve the entrance and repaint the iconic exterior. See media release: Flinders Street Station to be repainted in its original colours.
 
Minister Allan has also announced the Andrews Government will eliminate on-the-spot penalty fines for fare evasion on public transport, saying the one-off $75 fines are ineffective, unpopular and do not discourage fare evasion. Minister Allan said the Government will establish guidelines so that commuters who make an honest mistake are not penalised. See media release: Labor Government gets on with abolishing penalty fares.

Transport for NSW has announced that Barbara Wise will serve as the State’s first Point to Point Transport Commissioner, with responsibility for taxis, hire vehicles and rideshare vehicles. Ms Wise previously served as the Director for Point to Point Implementation at Transport for NSW, where she was in charge of overseeing the introduction of the Point to Point Transport (Taxis and Hire Vehicles) Act 2016. See media release: NSW Point to Point Transport Commissioner announced.
 


HEALTH

Federal Developments

The Federal Government has launched the National Eye Health Survey Report, which features results from a study on blindness and vision impairment conducted by Vision 2020 Australia and the Centre for Eye Research Australia. In releasing the report, Assistant Minister for Rural Health Dr David Gillespie and Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ken Wyatt highlighted a gap in eye health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and confirmed that a Medicare Benefits item for the screening of diabetic retinopathy will be introduced from 1 November 2016. See media release: New survey provides valuable data on the status of eye health conditions.
 
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) has endorsed version 5.0 of the PBAC Guidelines, which explain how to make a submission to list a new medicine on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). The PBAC has approved a transitional arrangement for submissions made at either the March or July 2017 meetings and confirmed that submissions made at the November 2017 meeting must follow version 5.0 of the PBAC Guidelines. See media release: Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) Guidelines.
 
Legislation to establish a new National Cancer Screening Registry passed the Federal Parliament on Thursday after Labor sought to prevent a for-profit provider from operating the registry and attempted to tighten a range of privacy requirements surrounding patient data in a series of amendments which did not receive the support of the Parliament. The Nick Xenophon Team successfully moved a second reading amendment in the Senate requesting that the Auditor-General conduct an audit of the register within 12 months. See Health Minister Sussan Ley’s media release: New register to improve cancer detection passes Parliament.

State Developments

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Minister for Health Cameron Dick have jointly announced passage of the Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2016, which creates a legal means to access medicinal cannabis products for patients who suffer from conditions such as epilepsy. Any use of cannabis products without proper approvals will remain illegal in Queensland; the legislation will be reviewed after two years. See media release: Queensland leading the way on medicinal cannabis and ABC News coverage 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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