News Corp outlets have alleged ($) deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce is expecting a child with a former staffer. The former media adviser and Daily Telegraph journalist is reportedly due to give birth in April. The Daily Telegraph’s front page story, “Bundle of Joyce”, included full-page photos of the staffer, and noted that Joyce has refused to comment. Joyce admitted he was separated from his wife, Natalie, during a speech to parliament in December, saying during a debate on same-sex marriage that he “didn’t come to this debate pretending to be a saint”. In October The Daily Telegraph reported ($) on “the physical and mental toll” Joyce was suffering as a result of “vicious innuendo about [his] personal life” being circulated by political opponents.
The federal Labor opposition is developing a jobs package for regional Queensland as it reportedly prepares to announce its opposition to the Carmichael coal mine. Debate within Labor continued this week about whether to retain its public ambivalence towards the mine, with the impending Batman by-election empowering those in the party who believe the mine should be stopped. The party is also set to join The Greens in opposing a government plan to overhaul the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, allowing irrigators in Queensland and northern New South Wales to draw 70 billion additional litres from the river system without incurring financial penalties. In November the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists warned the plan is “in danger of failing”, with one author labelling many of the plan’s environmental outcomes “appalling”.
The Productivity Commission has warned that customers of Australia’s major banks are “ripe for exploitation”, and that government efforts to increase costs on the “big four” are likely to be passed on to consumers. In a 600-page draft report on competition in the financial system, released today, commissioners Julie Abramson, Stephen King and Peter Harris noted that the banks’ “substantial market power” let them “pass on cost increases and set prices that maintain high levels of profitability without losing market share”. The report, commissioned by treasurer Scott Morrison in July 2017, highlighted that consumers “would ultimately pay more” with the introduction of the Turnbull government’s $6.2 billion bank levy.
The Australian sharemarket lost $60 billion in value yesterday, following similar drops in the United States and Asia. Technology, healthcare and energy shares performed the worst, losing up to 5.1 per cent of their value on average, while the major banks all lost roughly 3 per cent. The downturn was triggered by a day of massive losses on the Dow Jones, which had its single largest day of losses in history on Monday. Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe, meanwhile, signalled that interest rates would remain at their historic low of 1.5 per cent for the foreseeable future, noting that “inflation is likely to remain low for some time”
And far-right senators Cory Bernardi, David Leyonhjelm and Fraser Anning have formed a voting bloc in an attempt to exert influence on government legislation and put themselves “on an even standing” with One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team in the Senate. Speaking on Tuesday, Leyonhjelm said the alliance came about because “the government has decided we’re irrelevant” and the trio were “sick of being called by the government last” to negotiate legislative deals. Now they can be irrelevant slightly faster than usual.