This Parliamentary fortnight has included old and new faces, with first speeches delivered and a wide range of policy issues discussed.
- Foreign Fighters: Week One saw the policy area of national security take centre stage, with Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Peter Dutton MP, reintroducing a bill that would give his department the power to place temporary exclusion orders on dual citizen foreign fighters. The Opposition raised concerns regarding the processes of the bill and called on the Government to send it back to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to ensure its constitutionality.
- Post Parliament: Criticism of the post-parliamentary employment of former Minister for Defence the Hon Christopher Pyne and former Minister for Foreign Affairs the Hon Julie Bishop was proven unwarranted, with an investigation by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet finding that their positions with EY and Palladium respectively did not breach ministerial standards.
- Negotiating Newstart: Week One was also dominated by discussions regarding Newstart, with the Greens passing a motion in the Senate to increase the welfare payment by at least $75 a week. The Government maintained its position that the best form of welfare is the creation of job opportunities, with Deputy Prime Minister the Hon Michael McCormack MP stating that Newstart is ‘not meant to be a living wage’.
- Press Protection: The week saw the Senate establish an inquiry into whistleblower protections and freedom of the press in Australia. The Joint Select Committee into the Public’s Right to Know and Press Freedom will be chaired by Senator Sarah Hanson-Young of the Greens.
- What About Wages?: in the wake of reports of the $7.8 million underpayment of wages by chef George Calombaris’ restaurant group, Attorney-General the Hon Christian Porter MP assured the Parliament that laws were being drafted to criminalise the exploitation of workers.
- Perfecting the Public Service: Prime Minister the Hon Scott Morrison MP announced reforms to the public service, including restructures and a number of high-profile appointments. Expected to be a defining feature of his government, the Prime Minister stated that ‘the public service always works best when it has strong guidance and leadership’.
- The Bubble: Ms Gladys Liu MP, the first Chinese-Australian woman ever elected to the House, delivered her first speech and the Hon Amanda Rishworth MP welcomed the first baby of the 46th Parliament, her second child.
- Preferred Party: Week Two was kicked off with an increase of popularity for the Government, with Newspoll reporting that the Coalition has increased its primary vote by 2.6% since the election. In two-party-preferred, the Government now leads the Opposition, 53% to 47%.
- Negotiating Newstart: Nationals backbencher, the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP, strayed from the party line by calling for an increase to Newstart, as conversation around welfare surged in volume.
- Improved Integrity: Week Two also saw the lower house vote in support of the Government’s Ensuring Integrity Bill, which will empower Parliament to deregister unions or union officials that break the law. It will now face the challenge of meeting concerns expressed by the Opposition and the Senate crossbench – the Centre Alliance wants the bill expanded to cover private organisations, while Labor and the Greens are expected to oppose it completely.
- Regarding Robodebt: The Opposition has called for Centrelink’s robodebt program into further scrutiny, with Shadow Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, calling it ‘inaccurate, harsh and unfair’. Minister for Government Services, the Hon Stuart Robert MP, is standing by the policy, stating the compliance system ‘has recovered $1.9 billion in overpayments and we have a legal responsibility to do that’.
- Institute ICAC: Week Two saw Crossbench calls for a federal Icac grow louder, as the Opposition voted with the Government against the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry into the allegations against Crown Casino. Ms Rebekha Sharkie MP, of the Centre Alliance, stated that the Crossbench would be pushing for the ‘46th Parliament to establish a transparent, publicly accessible and properly resourced agency that could do the job the Australian people expected it to do’.
- ASIO Authority: ASIO’s special powers of detainment have been extended for another 12 months. Due to expire in two months, the laws were enacted in the aftermath of September 11 and empower ASIO to detain terror suspects for up to seven days and question them for up to 24 hours without charging them with a crime. Acting on behalf of the Minister for Home Affairs, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash said that the Government would continue to refine its national security laws to ensure ‘that our national security agencies have the powers they need to do this important job’.
- Basin Blues: Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, the Hon David Littleproud MP, announced his proposal that a new inspector general be installed for the Murray-Darling Basin. Designed to oversee integrity matters across the system, the role will be put to the basin states when they meet for a ministerial council this weekend.
- The Bubble: Former Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, made his return to Question Time to take the Government to task on robotdebt; former Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, gave his valedictory speech – he will be leaving the Senate to become Australia’s Ambassador to the United Nations.