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Australian Weekly Report

CMAX Advisory closely follows political developments internationally and analyses implications for businesses operating in Australia.

We develop a weekly report of the most important political news in Australia, utilising our understanding of complex political issues and processes to inform companies of relevant developments and forecast likely outcomes.

This week's top story

18 February 2019

Historic defeat in Parliament for the Government

On the first sitting day of Parliament, the Government lost a vote in the House of Representatives on the medical evacuation of asylum seekers in offshore detention. This is the first time a government has lost a vote since 1941. The Government evoked border protection concerns in its forthright response, positioning this issue at the centre of its re election strategy.

The ‘medevac’ bill is now passed into law and facilitates the temporary relocation of refugees from offshore detention to Australia for urgent medical treatment. It shifts discretion from the Home Affairs minister and department to a panel of independent medical practitioners, with the minister now only able to block evacuation on national security and criminal history grounds. The Government states the law undermines Australia’s border security system by removing a core pillar of deterrence to people smugglers – that illegal maritime arrivals will not be allowed to reach Australia. The Opposition denies the changes pose a risk as the law only applies to those already in detention and not to any new arrivals. The Government bypassed a further loss in Parliament on Thursday by extending Question Time substantially to avoid a vote it would have likely lost regarding the establish an inquiry into abuse of people with disabilities. The Government is now expected to support the proposal next week, however.

The passage of the medevac bill has confirmed the Government’s inability to control Parliament, but it has also allowed it to attack the Opposition on national security and border protection which are perceived as areas of strength for the Coalition (see below). The Opposition has judged the shift in public opinion on offshore detainment and the value of highlighting the Government’s loss of authority as worth the risk of triggering a debate it would prefer to avoid. While the loss in Parliament may be viewed as a de facto vote-of-no-confidence, the timing of the election is the prerogative of the Prime Minister and he has stated he will ignore legislative defeats and hold the election in May. However, the Governor-General has the authority to dissolve Parliament if the sitting government is determined incapable of governing effectively. If the Government survives this coming week, it should be able to continue to its planned election date in May. In the meantime, both major parties will use whatever procedural measures are at their disposal to foil the other.

Other news

Analysis of the latest poll results

The Ipsos poll conducted over Wednesday to Friday last week shows a significant drop in support for the Opposition following the revival of the border protection debate (see above). The Government now trails Labor 49 to 51 per cent, the closest result since last year’s leadership change.

In contrast, the latest Guardian Essential poll conducted before the medevac bill passed Parliament showed the Opposition extending its two-party preferred lead to 55 per cent, up two points from the last poll in early November. The poll found the Government’s primary vote at 34 per cent, with the Opposition at 38 per cent

Senate Estimates hearings this week

Opposition and crossbench senators will use the last committee hearings in the Senate before the next election to scrutinise the Government and senior public servants on policy and expenditure. This week, attention is likely to be given to intelligence agencies’ assessment of implications for border protection from the medevac bill, and the awarding of contracts for security services on Manus Island. The Government’s response to the banking Royal Commission and its use of a parliamentary inquiry process to examine the Opposition’s franking credits policy are likely to be explored as well.

Shadow Health Minister defines Medicare as a core election issue

In her address to the National Press Club, Shadow Health Minister Catherine King asserted that Australia’s universal healthcare system would be under threat if the Coalition wins the coming federal election. Ms King’s speech has led to speculation that the Opposition could revive the ‘mediscare’ campaign it ran with some success in the last federal election. She also addressed the recent ‘closing the gap’ statements on improving the wellbeing of the indigenous population – agreeing with the Australian Medical Association that more needs to be done. Labor also confirmed it will push a broad health agenda going into the election, and committed to establish a health reform commission should they win government.

Additional funding for cancer and diseases clinical trials and pilots

The Minister for Health Greg Hunt announced A$38.6 million in funding to support 23 new clinical trials to improve treatments and discover cures for debilitating and deadly rare cancers and rare diseases. The program includes a trial to evaluate the effectiveness of different chemotherapy treatments for the highly fatal glioblastoma brain cancer. Separately, the Government confirmed A$1.6 million for a pilot project to support women living with ovarian cancer.

Aged care inquiry launched

Hearings for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety began this week. It will examine the conditions of aged care facilities and the treatment of people residing there. This inquiry is expected to be confronting but less controversial than the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. A closer analogy would be the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which received bipartisan support from its announcement to the implementation of its recommendations.

China puts pressure on Pacific nations over Taiwan

The ABC reports China is pressuring Pacific Island Forum to adopt its One China policy and further isolate Taiwan. Six Pacific nations continue to provide diplomatic recognition to the Republic of China (Taiwan), which reciprocates with significant development aid. China’s attempt to compel Pacific nations to change their stance demonstrates its growing presence and assertiveness in the region.

Minister in court over union raid tip-off

Minister for Small and Family Business Michaelia Cash appeared in court this week regarding her office’s involvement in a media tip-off about police raid of Australian Worker’s Union offices. Senator Cash asserted she was unaware her adviser had informed the media and her only involvement was referring a suspect donation to the Registered Organisations Commission.

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