• Hannah Phillips

This Week in Parliament

Parliament resumes on Monday after the long winter break that also saw the Super Saturday by-elections for five seats whose members had been ruled ineligible to sit in Parliament because of citizenship issues.

The by-elections were a set-back for the government and a morale boost for Labor and this mood is likely to continue into the current parliamentary sittings.

Four issues will dominate the next two weeks of sittings: the bill for corporate tax cuts for companies with turnovers of more than $50 million; the National Energy Guarantee; the grant of $440 million to the Barrier Reef Foundation; and Senator David Leyonhjelm’s bill to permit the passage of euthanasia bills in the ACT and the Northern Territory.

The fate of the corporate tax cuts is uncertain but Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said on Monday morning that the Government was determined that they should be voted on in the current sitting fortnight.

The draft laws to implement the NEG will be presented to the Coalition party room on Tuesday.

There is one set of laws related to the National Energy Market which will initially be passed through the South Australian Parliament and then reproduced in the other states.

There’s no doubt that South Australia and New South Wales will pass the law however, at the moment, the governments of Victoria, Queensland and the ACT have not agreed to pass it.

Their consent is conditional on the Coalition party room passing the second piece of legislation which cements into law the emission reduction targets of 26% to 28% by 2030 which form part of the Paris Agreement commitment.

It appears unlikely that the Liberal conservatives, led by Tony Abbott, will have the numbers to vote down the government’s proposal in the party room.

They are more likely to negotiate concessions that fall outside the NEG, such as the idea of power purchase guarantees for dispatchable baseload power.

They will also push for a commitment to oppose a continuation of the Renewable Energy Target after 2020.

It is quite possible that, after the party room endorses the NEG, the Labor states will find another reason not to commit to it.

Labor is likely to press the government over the grant of nearly half a billion dollars to the Barrier Reef Foundation.

From the revelations so far it appears that some people in the government, including the Prime Minister, decided that the best way to save the reef was to give a substantial amount of money to an organisation that could use it to leverage even more money from the private sector.

The Energy and the Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, was tasked with preparing a submission for the Expenditure Review Committee of Cabinet.

The Department of the Environment undertook due diligence and came to the conclusion that the Barrier Reef Foundation was the only body qualified to undertake the task.

The submission recommending the allocation of funds to the Foundation was prepared in accordance with government guidelines and approved by Cabinet before the Prime Minister and Mr Frydenberg met with the Foundation to tell them the good news.

Labor is likely to ask why there was not a tender process before the grant was allocated and why there is no independent supervisory body apart from the Department.

Senator Leyonhjelm says that he has a commitment from the Prime Minister that his euthanasia bill will be debated.

He says that this means there will be a debate in both houses and a conscience vote on the bill.

Mr Turnbull disagrees, saying that the commitment applies to the Senate only.

He also says that only the party room can commit to a conscience vote.

He has told the media that he will oppose the bills. Senator Leyonhjelm is not known for going down quietly.

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