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5 things to watch as Parliament returns

Politicians have returned to Canberra this week after the 6 week winter recess. The same-sex marriage debate is grabbing the headlines, but there are also a few other things on the agenda for ag to keep an eye on. Here are our top 5 things to watch this session.

1. The fallout from Basin Plan allegations will continue

A fortnight ago now, ABC’s Four Corners program made a string of serious allegations, regarding people taking water they are not entitled to, and governments not effectively policing the Basin Plan.

The revelations have sent many politicians into overdrive, and resulted in four significant reviews or inquiries into the matter.

Industry is calling for calm, arguing that these inquiries should be allowed to run their course. The first Question Time will be an important test of whether this call has been heard.

2. The Government will walk the energy tightrope

The Government is yet to formally respond to the Finkel Review. Navigating through this quagmire is proving a challenge for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Minister for Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg.

The Finkel Review recommended a Clean Energy Target, which has since become a hot button issue for those on the right of the Coalition – who are arguing clean coal technology must play a role.

Murmurings suggest that the final policy that goes to the Coalition Party Room later this month will be a compromise which includes both options.

Meanwhile, the PM is scheduled to stare down energy executives on Wednesday in a bid to ease price pressure on consumers.

In the interim, the status quo continues for farmers facing mounting energy costs.

3. UK trade under the spotlight

Public hearings concluded on Monday for the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s inquiry into Australia’s trading relationship with the United Kingdom.

Trade with the UK is under the spotlight as Australia looks to mitigate Brexit fallout. The National Farmers’ Federation fronted the final hearing on Monday, reinforcing the implications for the farm sector if access to the UK market isn’t secured.

The inquiry will now consider the evidence it has collected and report in coming months.

NFF representatives Tony Mahar and Scott Kompo-Harms giving evidence to the inquiry on Monday.

4. Citizenship questions to be tested in court

The Senate will refer the case of Senator Matt Canavan to the High Court, for a decision on his eligibility to remain in Parliament.

Senator Canavan stood down from Cabinet after revealing that his mother had signed him up for Italian citizenship without his knowledge. His responsibilities as Minister for Resources and Northern Australia have been taken on by Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce.

Senator Canavan’s announcement follows revelations which saw two Greens senators – Larissa Water and Scott Ludlam – resign from Parliament on similar grounds.

The High Court is also expected to assess how the vacancies caused by the resignation of Greens senators should be filled.

The dramatic turn of events has sparked calls for a broader inquiry into the citizenship status of other parliamentarians, and the test applied by the High Court to Senator Canavan may have consequences as other parliamentarians consider how they measure up to the requirements of Section 44 of the constitution.

5. Committee to probe the benefits of Government going bush

A select committee has been established to investigate best practice approaches to regional development and decentralisation.

The inquiry follows the Government’s controversial decision to relocate the APVMA to Armidale, NSW, and is being supported by stakeholders as a way to improve the process in future.

The Committee is now taking evidence and will release an issues paper at the end of this month which should start an interesting conversation about the role of the Government’s decentralisation policy in growing our regions.

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