This Week in Politics

10th – 16th October, 2016

It can be tough to keep up with the happenings on Capital Hill at the best of times, but that is where TWIP has got you covered. At the conclusion of each sitting week, Keny Arcangeli offers Woroni readers a brief overview of the significant events that occurred in the Australian parliament, allowing us all to stay informed and sound smart.

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The second sitting week of the 45th parliament was an explosive one, with plenty of scandal, embarrassment and factional wars coming to light on a consistent basis.

Here is a TL;DR of a semi-productive week of parliament.

George Brandis Affair

This is a huge can of worms, however, I will try and keep it brief. Essentially, the position of Solicitor-General is the second highest legal office in the country behind the Attorney-General. The SG is classified as an independent position, and is appointed by the Governor-General on advice of the Prime Minister and Attorney-General for a repeatable seven-year term. Currently, Justin Gleeson holds the position after his appointment in 2013.

The conflict here is that George Brandis has being accused of misleading parliament by Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus. This follows a Freedom-Of-Information request by Dreyfus regarding access to Brandis’ diary, to see if the Attorney-General had consulted the Solicitor-General after claiming to have done so in the Senate. The diaries demonstrated an absence of consultation. In addition, there are claims that Brandis demanded that people seeking the Solicitor-General’s advice gain his permission first, which is considered a serious interference with parliamentary counsel. There was a Senate Committee hearing on Friday where both parties provided their side of the contention… but that is for another article.

Backpacker Tax/Passenger Movement Charge

One of the election promises made by the Coalition was to increase the backpacker tax, in order to take advantage of Australia’s prosperous tourism industry. This meant claiming 32.5 cents per dollar made by tourists on Australian shores. The proposal received a fair amount of backlash from farmers, and the National and Labor parties.

Folding to the pressure, the government has reduced the proposed tax down to 19 cents per dollar, but has compensated by increasing the passenger movement charge by $5 per traveller to a total charge of $60 – this will make the shift budget neutral. The passenger movement charge is a tax paid by everyone who departs Australia’s shores, and is usually included in the price of a plane or ferry ticket.

Enterprise Tax Plan

One of the election pillars for the Coalition was the introduction of the Enterprise Tax Plan – the centrepiece for their ‘Jobs & Growth’ slogan. On the Monday of the last sitting, the government sent the proposed plan to the Economics Legislative Committee to be inquired and reported on. The previous ‘small business’ tax concession plan applied to businesses with an annual turnover of $2-5 million, while the new Enterprise Tax Plan increases this bracket to $2-10 million. Former Secretary of the Department of Treasury, Ken Henry, estimates that this increase will now affect 100, 000 small Australian businesses and up to 2.2 million Australian workers. The tax concession will be 27.5 cents per dollar, instead of the usual flat 30%. For relevance, individuals who earn $180, 000 per financial year will pay the same effective tax rate.

Plebiscite

The biggest social policy clash of the 2016 election was the question of marriage equality. The Coalition stood firm with its proposal of a plebiscite, whilst the ALP demanded a conscience vote in both houses. The Coalition sought to deliver on its election promise this week by proposing the bill that, if successful, would put in motion the highly debated plebiscite. Labor, however, due to concerns regarding the mental health of the LGBTQIA community, principled morality and blocked the bill, refusing to allow the LNP to be the ones to achieve marriage equality for Australians.

Country Firefighters Association Bill

This issue, which predominantly concerns Victorian Firefighters, has resulted in Federal involvement. Last year, the United Firefighters Union and Country Firefighters Association failed to negotiate a reasonable Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, to the point that the Fair Work Commission became involved. The CFA believed there were illegalities in the EBA regarding the responsibilities of volunteers, and the UFU believed that the requirement for seven firefighters at each incident was excessive (among other issues). Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, believed the incident could be resolved, but Malcolm Turnbull thought otherwise, with the federal government introducing a bill that increases compensation, insurance coverage and support packages for volunteers. The UFU claims that this bill has created a series of loopholes, and will seek to challenge it in the upcoming future. So basically, the issue has been temporarily resolved.