While the Estimates Hearings have dominated headlines over the course of the October House of Representatives Sitting Period, the Morrison Government has also put forward major legislative changes over the course of the month that have gone under the radar.

Here are the key events of the last month that you may have missed, that Nexus has been closely tracking.

Job Ready Graduates:

The Job-Ready Graduate Bill passed 28 votes to 26 in the Senate earlier this month, with significant changes to University Funding in the bill, primarily aimed at encouraging students to study in areas of expected jobs growth, by reducing the costs of degrees in subjects such as nursing, mathematics, engineering, teaching and science. Education Minister the Hon Dan Tehan MP has stated that the legislation would provide more university places for students, make it cheaper to study in areas of jobs growth and increase support to regional students.

To achieve passage in the Senate, the Government made multiple key amendments, including a commitment to One Nation for a 10 per cent discount for students who pay fees upfront, along with concessions to better protect students who fail subjects in their first year in extenuating circumstances. Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie, who has been a vocal critic of the legislation, delivered an impassioned speech, saying the response would unfairly impact students from lower-income families.

“I refuse to be the vote that tells poor kids out there no matter how gifted, no matter how determined you are dream a little cheaper because you’re never going to make it, because you can’t afford it,” she said.

Cormann’s Last Stand:

Outgoing Leader of Government in the Senate & Federal Finance Minister Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann delivered his valedictory speech in the Senate this month, paying tribute to his friend and estimates adversary, Labor Senator the Hon Penny Wong. Despite the tribute, Senator Wong, and Minister Cormann rekindled their long-running banter in Senate Estimates, butting heads while discussing the Australian Submarines Corporation.

Meanwhile, in the Finance and Public Administration Committee last week, ACT Senator the Hon Katy Gallagher and Minister Cormann went head to head over political pork barrelling and the controversial Leppington triangle land valuation near, where the new Western Sydney Airport is set to be built.

Minister Cormann will leave the Senate at the end of October and will be nominated by Prime Minister Scott Morrison for the position of OECD Secretary-General. Minister Cormann will head to Europe at the end of the month to lobby for the position, with analysts saying he could win strong support from European countries for ‘not being the US candidate’ and his considerable language skills being an asset in his potential selection for the prestigious position.

It is with a heavy heart that Senator Cormann, ‘will not be back’.

Aged Care Estimates:

During the Aged Care Senate Estimates conducted by the Community Affairs and Legislation Committee, Minister for Aged Care, Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck, accompanied by Department Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy, Mr Michael Lye, and Mr Jaye Smith answered questions about the Government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis in Aged Care.

Minister Colbeck made it clear he is determined to continue working in the portfolio and will not resign, despite being deemed by key Labor Senators, as unfit for the position.

Professor Murphy and Mr Lye confirmed Australia’s COVID-19 death rates. There have been 27,527 confirmed cases in Australia and 905 deaths, 683 of those deaths have been in Residential Aged Care. In comparison to other parts of the world,

  • Australia – 170 deaths in aged care per 1 million people over the age of 65
  • Canada – 1,237 deaths in aged care per 1 million people over the age of 65
  • United Kingdom – 2,252 deaths in aged care per 1 million people over the age of 65
  • United States – 1,544 deaths in aged care per 1 million people over the age of 65

Professor Murphy confirmed this means that a person over the age of 65 is significantly safer in Australia than in those other jurisdictions.

Murdoch Inquiry Petition:

Former Labor Prime Minister, The Hon Kevin Rudd, has launched a petition calling for a royal commission into NewsCorp’s dominance of Australia media, arguing Rupert Murdoch’s media empire employs tactics that “chill free speech and undermine public debate”. The petition, approaching 400,000 signatures, has been signed had publicly supported by Former Liberal Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull, who encouraged others on Twitter to support the petition.

In Australia, there is no requirement for the Parliament to respond to a petition once it reaches a certain number of signatures. Due to no such requirement, both former Prime Ministers have expressed doubts that the petition would result in a Royal Commission. Opposition Leader, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP, has a distanced himself from the petition, saying Rudd was acting as a private citizen and it was not reflective of Labor policy.

Independent’s Propose Federal ICAC:

Dr Helen Haines MP, Independent Member for the Victorian seat of Indi, introduced a bill to Parliament on Monday to create an ‘Australian federal integrity commission’. The proposal would allow public hearings when in the public interest and allow any member of the public to make referrals.

Dr Haines has urged the Government to allocate time for debate this week and has received support from the Independent Member for Warringah, Ms Zali Steggall OAM MP, as-well-as the Labor Opposition who are poised to support bringing on debate for Dr Haines’s proposal. This has seen the Government be targeted on an ICAC during Question Time throughout the course of this week.