Weekly Wrap Up: MPs prepare for return to the Capital
- Australians trapped in Wuhan, China are set to be evacuated to Christmas Island and quarantined for two weeks in an attempt to slow the spread of Coronavirus.
- The Australian Government has announced further funding for up to 52 drought-affected councils.
- Australia’s December Consumer Price Index (CPI) data shows an increase of 0.6 per cent, leading analysts to speculate the RBA is unlikely to pursue another interest rate cut on Tuesday.
- CommSec’s State of the States report demonstrates no change in relative performance of state economies despite lower consumer confidence in the wake of bushfires.
- Attorney-General Christian Porter has committed to pursuing the Government’s Ensuring Integrity Bill as crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie signals she is open to supporting the legislation through the Senate.
Ahead of the first parliamentary sitting week of the year, PM Scott Morrison visited Orange and Blayney in rural NSW to announce an additional $1 million for a further 52 drought-affected councils, as part of the Government’s push to boost local economies in the wake of prolonged drought. The PM stressed that while much of the focus over summer has been on the bushfire crisis, drought-affected communities and farmers remain firmly at the centre of future relief plans. The $57 million in funding will go towards new infrastructure, amenities and schools, in addition to supporting local tourism, which has been further affected by bushfires and the emergence of Coronavirus.
Following his visit to NSW, the PM returned to Canberra to make his first official speech for the year at the National Press Club. In his address, the PM highlighted the Coalition’s strong economic record and defended the Government’s current emissions reduction target, maintaining that a sustainable and balanced budget will allow Australia to better respond to the risks of climate change. Mr Morrison also outlined a bigger role for Australia’s military in responding to natural disasters, and flagged plans to strengthen the Commonwealth’s powers in an emergency.
The PM also took the opportunity to distance his office from the so-called ‘Sports Rorts’ scandal involving the Deputy Leader of the Nationals, Senator Bridget McKenzie. The PM acknowledged the allegations are serious, however denied claims that Senator McKenzie was following orders from the Prime Minister’s Office. The PM also raised the possibility of additional funding for sports clubs that were initially unsuccessful in securing grants. The PM’s comments come amid revelations Sport Australia warned the Government that Senator McKenzie’s involvement in the grants program was compromising its independence.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced the Government will distribute one million face masks in an attempt to slow the spread of novel Coronavirus, as Australia’s number of confirmed cases rises to nine. The Department of Foreign Affairs also updated its official travel advice, advising Australians to reconsider all travel to China. On Wednesday, the Government announced plans to repatriate some of the 600 Australians currently trapped in Hubei province, the epicentre of the virus. A Qantas-chartered flight will evacuate Australians to the Christmas Island detention centre where they will spend two weeks in isolation before they can travel to the mainland. Labor has criticised the plan, with Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese claiming the Government is using Christmas Island to be “seen to be doing something there”. However, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has argued there are insufficient facilities on the mainland to accommodate the number of potential evacuees.
The PM and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian have announced a major deal between the Commonwealth and NSW, aiming to improve gas and electricity supply, grid reliability and support emissions reduction projects. The deal includes over $960 million in federal funding and $1 billion in direct funding from NSW, and will inject an addition 70 petajoules of gas per year into the east coast market, potentially increasing gas use in NSW by an estimated 60 per cent. Morrison said that increasing gas use was “central” to Australia’s transition to lower emissions, and the investment will boost gas supply for “energy dependent manufacturing jobs”. The PM indicated this deal would be “one of many” he hoped to sign with other state and territory governments.