NEW ENGLAND NEWSLETTER FOR FEBRUARY 2016
The retirement of Warren Truss is a loss to our Party Room for his leadership and wise counsel. Warren never sought the limelight but had an amazing recall of facts and figures and many a young National MP or Senator came knocking seeking advice and guidance on issues. He took the reins after the 2007 election when the Federal party was probably at its lowest-ever ebb holding just 10 lower house seats and I became the 5th Senator. Warren leaves with the party having 15 lower house seats and 6 Senators (including Country Liberal Senator Nigel Scullion who is our Party’s Senate leader).As you read this the new Nationals leadership team is hard at work ensuring regional Australia is not forgotten. Barnaby Joyce from Tamworth will do an outstanding job and Senator Fiona Nash from Young is his most capable Deputy.
The government is pushing ahead with reforms to the way Senate votes are distributed to ensure the result is the will of the people. After the 2013 election the Joint Committee on Electoral Matters reviewed the conduct of the election including how the micro parties managed to “game the system”. It is well documented that Senator Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiast Party only received 16,604 above the line votes and 479 below the line which represented just 0.51 percent of formal first preference votes. His successful election was only achieved due to a final transfer value of 143,118 votes from the Australian Sex Party which had secured a primary vote of 63,883 votes – far more than Senator Muir but he was elected. In fact Liberal Senator Helen Kroger lost her position despite polling 389,745 votes! The voting reform will mean electors can choose where their preferences go by numbering at least 1 to 6 above the line although less than that will not render the vote informal. Group and individual voting tickets will be abolished and parties can choose to have their logo on the ballot paper. The Greens and Senator Xenophon are supporting the legislation.
Legislation has been passed which will allow the controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes. The Bill creates a legal supply of cannabis for incorporation into medicinal cannabis products that are safe and of appropriate quality. This means patients will not have to turn to the black market for cannabis and it will ensure that there is appropriate medical supervision. When accessed in accordance with the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 and relevant state and territory law, patients won’t be exposed to criminal prosecution or the health risks associated with products of unknown safety and quality. Medicinal cannabis will only be available when prescribed by a doctor, or as part of a clinical trial. It will not be available over the counter. Non-medical use of cannabis will still be illegal, as will its cultivation.
The Executive Director of the Australian Farm Institute Mick Keogh OAM has been appointed as the Agricultural Commissioner to the ACCC for five years. He will represent the farming community in disputes with processors or retail chains. The ACCC now has an Agriculture Enforcement and Engagement Unit which has begun investigating a number of complaints about possible breaches of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 in agricultural markets.
CREDIT CARD SURCHARGES UNDER SCRUTINY
The Senate has passed legislation that will mean merchants who impose excessive surcharges on credit card transactions will now have some explaining to do to the ACCC. People can lodge a complaint and the ACCC will run random compliance audits.
In response to media reports about life insurance companies holding out on payouts to people for some obscure reason, I successfully moved that the Economics References committee examine the life insurance industry and its practices as part of the committee’s inquiry into financial advice.
INSOLVENCY LAW REFORM
Finally after years of waiting the Parliament has passed laws that will hopefully make the insolvency industry more accountable. In 2009 I launched the Liquidators and Administrators inquiry and it found that some liquidators flouted laws and ASIC did little to bring them to account. The legislation passed this week is in response to that inquiry. Where previously a person could apply online and pay a fee, when the reforms are introduced in January next year an applicant will be required to satisfy a three-person panel that they are fit to be registered and if necessary may have to sit a written exam. They will be required to renew their registration every three years. ASIC will have powers to suspend or deregister a liquidator and creditors will be given the power to have a liquidator removed. This is a step in the right direction and I hope the industry is better for it.
ABC COMMITS TO RE-THINK ON LIVESTOCK MARKET REPORTS
ABC management has agreed to review its decision to scale back the reporting of livestock market reports in regional areas. ABC boss Mark Scott admitted the dropping of the breakfast livestock market reports the day following sales had brought comment. Some reports are featured in the following day’s Country Hour programme but this can be 24 hours later. I told Mr Scott that farmers have traditionally switched to their regional ABC breakfast programme for the livestock market reports which are presented by experienced people who attend the sales as part of the MLA Market information Service. Mr. Scott has given me a commitment that he will ask his Regional Division to review the programming change.
TIME TO GIVE SMALL BUSINESS A FAIR CHANCE
At Parliament House the Council of Small Business Australia launched a public campaign Lets Compete :Change the Law. It highlights the impact the giants of Australian business have on small business. The current laws make it virtually impossible and exorbitantly costly to prove there is intent to misuse power yet many small businesses get squashed by the big competition. We must support our small businesses in our country towns or watch them gradually disappear.
GREAT FUTURE FOR AGRICULTURE
A new report from ABARES says the value of Australia’s farm production is tipped to pass $60 billion next financial year for the first time. Farm exports are expected to earn about $45 billion, and the biggest agriculture export earner in 2016-17 will be beef and veal exports valued at $8.8 billion. NFF President Brent Finlay said “this is an exciting industry to be in, Australian agriculture, there are a lot of opportunities”.
GREENS ATTACK THE POLICE
The Greens unsuccessfully moved a motion in the Senate condemning police for using capsicum spray on protestors against CSG in the Pilliga. I stood and gave a 1 minute statement where I accused the Greens of supporting lawbreakers and I complimented the police for upholding the law.
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