GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up: Pacific ties tested

16 August 2019
  • Climate change, migration and infrastructure funding has dominated headlines this week.
  • The Australian share market recorded its worst session since February 2018, following economic data out of the US and China which sparked fears of a recession and saw $60 billion wiped from the ASX boards.
  • The Government has announced it will offer 5,000 fast-tracked visas for highly-skilled migrants via a new Global Talent Independent Program.
  • The PM has rejected the Chinese government’s use of the label ‘terrorism’ to describe recent protests in Hong Kong.
  • Scott Morrison has described Tuesday’s Sydney knife attack as “deeply disturbing” and praised members of the public present at the scene.
  • The Federal Court has dismissed a case brought by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) against Westpac, finding that the major lender did not breach its responsible lending obligations when assessing more than 261,000 home loans between 2011 and 2015.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has visited Tuvalu for the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting this week, where he announced $500 million in funding to help Pacific nations invest in climate and disaster resilience infrastructure and renewable energy projects. The funding will be drawn from Australia’s existing aid budget and delivered over five years from 2020. While the announcement was welcomed, Mr Morrison is facing pressure from other Pacific leaders to take further action against climate change, including to phase out coal-fired power generation and reduce domestic emissions. The PM commented that “Australia is doing our part to cut global emissions” and that the funding re-allocation reflects the “meaningful action” taken to fulfil Australia’s obligations under the Boe Declaration, a 2018 agreement that identifies climate change as “the single greatest threat” to the Pacific region. Pacific Minister Alex Hawke, also abroad this week, told ABC radio that “Australia has a red line position on coal” and that other regional heads must “listen to us about the way our economy is structured”.

Earlier in the week, Mr Morrison visited NSW to announce a $3 billion boost towards Australia’s Special Forces. The 20-year planned investment will include $500 million over the next four years for ‘Project GREYFIN’, which will deliver new weapons, body armour and parachuting equipment to elite combat units. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds also revealed that Australia will seek to increase its engagement in the Indian Ocean and deepen defence ties with India and Indonesia. She commented that, “Like the Pacific, the Indian Ocean is increasingly characterised by rising strategic competition and intensifying great power rivalries”. In other funding news, a $20 million commitment was announced to develop Australia’s recycling industry, as part of the Government’s recent commitment to ban plastic waste exports.

A new report by Infrastructure Australia (IA) has found that in the face of “unprecedented” pressure on roads and public transport services, the current construction boom must become the “new normal” in order to meet growing demand. With 60 per cent of the population now living in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane or Perth, IA is of the view that $600 billion in new spending is required to meet demand over the next 15 years. Without an appropriate boost in spending, the cost of road congestion to the economy is projected to grow from $18.9 billion per year in 2016 to $38.8 billion by 2031. Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Minister Alan Tudge labelled the IA report “pessimistic” and pointed towards the Government’s previously-announced move to reduce migration rates in a bid to combat congestion, saying that the IA report “does not take into account our recent significant infrastructure and population measures”. A new inquiry into Australia’s migration program was also announced this week, to be undertaken by the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Migration.

During an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Health Minister Greg Hunt has unveiled a Long Term National Health Plan that seeks to “build a mentally and physically healthy Australia”. The plan is focused on “Delivering the world’s best mental health system – stigma-free and focused on prevention”, and rates mental and physical health equally. It includes a ‘2030 mental health vision’, under which the Government will fund a $90 million multi-year Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study of more than 60,000 people to enhance understanding of Australia’s physical and mental health. The national plan also includes a 10-year Primary Health Care Plan, measures to improve private health insurance, a 10-year National Preventative Health Strategy, and a 10-year Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) investment plan. Meanwhile, the Government has announced a review into the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), in an effort to address the lengthy wait times for participants.

Looking ahead, the NSW, Queensland, ACT and WA parliaments will all sit next week.


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