GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up: Government accelerates infrastructure funding
- The Government will accelerate $3.8 billion in funding for major road and rail projects in a bid to boost the economy.
- Two Liberal MPs have been denied visas to visit China due to previous criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.
- Financial crimes regulator AUSTRAC this week lodged a claim in the Federal Court accusing Westpac Bank of 23 million breaches of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws. The PM has weighed in, describing the allegations as “appalling” and calling on the Westpac Board to take action to restore confidence in its systems and processes.
- The House of Representatives Economics Committee questioned superannuation sector executives this week as part of its ongoing review of the four major banks and other financial institutions.
- PM Scott Morrison has hit back at suggestions his climate change policies have contributed to the intense bushfire season, saying the claims do not “bear up to credible scientific evidence”.
- Senator Cory Bernardi has called time on his 25-year parliamentary career. His Senate seat will be filled by a South Australian Liberal.
- The Victorian Liberal Party has released a scathing review of its performance at the 2018 State Election.
- The Senate and House of Representatives will return next week for the final sitting fortnight of the year.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited key cities around Australia this week to announce the Government will bring forward $3.8 billion in funding for major infrastructure projects in a bid to stimulate the flagging economy. The plan will speed up construction on key projects through agreements with the states, although some economists have already raised concerns the stimulus won’t be enough to make a difference to the economy. In a speech to the Business Council of Australia, Mr Morrison warned against a “panicked reaction” to Australia’s economic challenges, and insisted the Government’s response has been a “structural investment in Australian aspiration, backed by responsible economic management”.
Meanwhile, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg defended the Government’s spending restraint in the face of economic headwinds during a CEDA speech on Tuesday. Mr Frydenberg argued fiscal discipline is essential to protect the economy, particularly in light of Australia’s ageing population. The Treasurer also flagged a push to increase workforce participation among older Australians through providing better access to “lifelong learning and skills training”.
Australia’s relationship with China was put under further tension this week as Liberal MPs Andrew Hastie and Senator James Paterson were denied visas to visit China. The pair, who have previously spoken out against the Chinese Communist Party, were due to travel to Beijing in December as part of a study tour, however the Chinese Embassy issued a statement indicating they would not be eligible for a visa unless they were to “repent and redress their mistakes”. Politicians of all political persuasions defended the duo, condemning China’s decision. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Paul Keating criticised the Morrison Government and the Australian media for their anti-China rhetoric and failure to understand the legitimacy and importance of China for Australia’s future. Mr Keating lamented Australia’s current foreign policy, claiming it lacks “strategic realism” and relies too heavily on Australia’s relationship with the United States.
Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert announced Centrelink will stop relying solely on averaged income data to raise debts in a shake-up of the controversial ‘robo-debt’ scheme. Previously, a welfare recipient’s average earnings for a financial year could be calculated based on income data from the ATO, which did not account for casual, part-time or intermittent work. Mr Robert said further “proof points” including bank statements and payslips will be used together with income averaging to identify possible debts. The move comes as thousands of Australians join a class action against the Government to call for all cases of income averaging to be refunded.