GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up: Budget Countdown Begins
- The Federal Government has made a series of pre-budget announcements and commitments to improve wages, while Labor has committed to a suite of finance sector reforms should it form government at the election.
- PM Scott Morrison has confirmed the Liberal Party will preference Labor above Pauline Hanson’s One Nation on how-to-vote cards at the upcoming election.
- The PM has signed the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement (A‑HKFTA) and an associated Investment Agreement this week.
- Nearly half a billion dollars will be allocated in next week’s Federal Budget to combat cancer; Labor has announced it will lift the Medicare rebate freeze one year ahead of schedule.
- The NSW Liberal-National Coalition has secured a third term following Saturday’s election.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made a series of pre-budget funding announcements ahead of Tuesday’s Federal Budget, including $2 billion to build a high-speed rail service between Melbourne and Geelong and $235.5 million to combat congestion in Sydney. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has committed to “drive wages higher” through a “pro-growth agenda” in next week’s budget, “without increasing taxes”. He also announced that over $550 million will be allocated to support the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), with more than $35 million to expand the Federal Court’s jurisdiction to include corporate crime.
In energy news, the Government has unveiled a shortlist of 12 projects for the Underwriting New Generation Investments program, including six renewable pumped hydro projects, five gas projects and one upgrade of an existing NSW coal-fired power station. The announcement also included a $10 million funding commitment to assess how to meet the demand of energy-intensive industries in Queensland, flagging coal as a possible generation source. Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has welcomed the news; Labor and the Greens have criticised the decision to include a coal project in the shortlist.
Labor commits to lift wages
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has confirmed Labor’s intention to introduce a “living wage” in Australia via amendments to the Fair Work Act. Under the plan, the Fair Work Commission will be asked to consider views of community, union and business representatives to calculate a new base figure that accounts for taxes and paid benefits. Employers opposing the change have argued that a higher minimum wage will lead to increased unemployment due to mounting business costs.
Speaking at the Australian Financial Review Banking & Wealth Summit in Melbourne on Tuesday, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen said that a Labor government will “act urgently” to legislate recommendations made in the 2015 Treasury-led Review into Small Amount Credit Contract Laws. He also said the Opposition intends to provide $60 million over four years to support non-profit microfinance programs as an alternative to payday lending, and increase superannuation contributions to 12 per cent by 2025.
One Nation: preferences and political donations
The Prime Minister has announced that the Liberal Party will preference Labor above Pauline Hanson’s One Nation at the upcoming election, after footage obtained by an undercover Al Jazeera journalist has provoked widespread condemnation of the minor party. In the footage, Senator Hanson, chief of staff James Ashby and Queensland party leader Steve Dickson are shown discussing foreign political donations in the context of softening Australian gun laws. Senator Hanson has labelled the broadcast an “Al Jazeera hit piece” featuring “heavily edited footage”.
Health funding injection
Victoria’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre is set to receive a $496 million funding boost via next week’s Federal Budget. The funding will support development of a treatment facility to deliver CAR-T cell therapy for the first time in Australia, and establish a Centre of Excellence in Cellular Immunotherapy. It will also support existing mental health programs, clinical cancer trials and research initiatives, and new paediatric emergency departments in regional hospitals. In other health news, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has announced that Labor will lift the Medicare rebate freeze during his first 50 days in office, if successful at the upcoming election. The Government is not expected to end the freeze – in place since 2013 – until 1 July 2020.