• Hannah Phillips

The Week in Politics

The political atmosphere this week was dominated by three issues: same sex marriage; the threat from North Korea; and the renewed calls for a royal commission into the banks.

Once the Coalition Party room had decided to maintain its policy of a plebiscite, the issue of same-sex marriage was a cause of confusion.

The first move was the reintroduction of the plebiscite bill into the Senate where, since the vote was tied, the bill was rejected.

As a consequence the government moved to its fall-back position, a postal plebiscite.

This posed a quandary for Labor: would it simply bag the idea of a postal plebiscite or would it encourage a vote and prosecute the case for same sex marriage?

In the first instance the reaction was to attack the notion of a postal plebiscite which seemed misguided because the indications are that there will be a reasonable turnout and the support for marriage equality is likely to be overwhelming.

If Labor doesn’t participate in the process then it will be unable to make any claims on the outcome.

The threat from North Korea has revealed the weakness of Australia’s foreign policy.

It’s obvious that, within the bureaucracy and the universities, knowledge of the policies and attitudes in North Korea is non-existent.

In the circumstances the policy makers are flying blind.

Other than North Korea itself the country with the best intelligence on the thinking in Pyongyang is China.

However in recent times the government and its agencies have done their best to alienate Chinese authorities through claims that China’s conducting espionage in Australia.

At the moment Australia and its regional allies are acting like rabbits caught in the headlights.

Once the Commonwealth Bank scandals emerged it was inevitable that the opposition would renew the call for a royal commission into financial institutions.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen and his Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh pushed the argument on Thursday.

The case for protection of the banks is disappearing fast: at the mo-ment they’re enveloped in a swathe of regulation and it seems unlikely that they could suffer any further reputational damage.

In the event that Labor forms government, its problem will be trying to control the royal commission process.

If they can, it would enable them to impose a cleaner regulatory regime and induce a better culture in the banks.

From the Gallery

• On Monday the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop and the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice- President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, signed the EU-Australia Framework Agreement.

• The German Australia Business Council gave a presentation to the Joint Trade Committee on the Australia–UK Free Trade Agreement to the Chair of the Committee Senator Bridget McKenzie on Monday. They proposed an EU first approach.

• The Crawford Fund have held their annual conference in Parliament House. The one day event was opened by new Chairman The Hon John Anderson AO the former Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party of Australia (1999-2005). The Conference was also addressed by the current Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

• On Wednesday Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop announced the appointment of a new Chair and three new Board members to the Council for Australian-Arab Relations (CAAR): Mr Houssam Abiad as the Chair of the Council, Ms Dalene Wray, Mr Wayne Borg and former Member for Eden-Monaro and the PM’s Chief Economist Dr Peter Hendy.

• There was a celebration with the Japanese Ambassador in Canberra to mark 60 years of our trading relationship. The function was addressed by former Prime Minister John Howard and was attended by the current occupant Malcolm Turnbull. The agreement was one of Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies’s achievements called the 1957 commerce agreement with Japan.

• The 52nd National Day of Singapore was celebrated at the Albert Hall in Canberra on Wednesday evening. The event was hosted by High Commissioner H.E. Kwok Fook Seng and joined by many guests including the Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd.

• The Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA) held a reception in the Mural Hall of Parliament House on Wednesday evening.

• The Australian Mines and Metals Association the largest national resource industry employer group held a dinner in the private dining rooms of Parliament House on Wednesday. The dinner was attended by Small Business Minister Michael McCormack and Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO James Pearson.

The Week in Parliament

It’s been a busy week in Parliament even apart from the kerfuffle over same sex marriage.

On Wednesday the Prime Minister summoned the energy retailers to Canberra to jawbone them into reducing electricity prices.

At the conclusion of the talks he had extracted commitments from the companies that will help consumers manage their power contracts.

The commitments included: contacting all the customers who are now on expired discounts and telling them how much they can save on a better deal; requiring that companies report to the government and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission about what they are doing to get families onto a better deal and how many families remain on expired deals; developing simple, plain English fact sheets with understandable comparison rates; supporting a change to the electricity rules requiring companies to inform customers when their discount benefits end; setting out the dollar impact of doing nothing and ensuring families; and individuals on hardship programs will not lose any benefit or discount for late payment.

The electricity retailers did not treat the meeting as a one way process: they pushed the government to introduce the Clean Energy Target as an essential precondition for lower electricity prices.

At the moment the Coalition is still working on the form the Clean Energy Target will take and whether it will rule out coal fired power stations.

On Thursday morning the Labor Environment spokesman, Mark Butler, said that the opposition was prepared to accept a Clean Energy Target that would be technology neutral in the interests of getting a bipartisan position in order to encourage long-term investment.

On Wednesday evening the Employment Minister, Senator Michaelia Cash, managed to obtain Senate support for the government’s Corrupting Benefits legislation which makes secret payments from companies to unions illegal.

Labor and the Greens opposed the legislation and the union movement had taken a strong position against the law.

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