Weekly Wrap Up

  • The Queensland Government handed down the 2020/21 Budget this week. Please see here for GRACosway’s briefing.
  • WA Premier Mark McGowan announced that from Tuesday 8 December, travel from Victoria and NSW will be classified as ‘very low risk’, subject to no further outbreaks. Under the change, those arriving in WA from Victoria or NSW will no longer need to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.
  • The RBA announced interest rates will remain at 0.1 per cent at its board meeting on Tuesday.
  • In response to the interim report of the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Police and Emergency Services Lisa Neville announced an overhaul of the original quarantine program in Victoria. This includes the launch of a dedicated agency, COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria, to oversee all elements of the program.
  • Minister for Energy Angus Taylor will reportedly pledge to assist ASX 200 companies to meet their climate targets in a speech to the Carbon Market Institute’s Australasian Emissions Reduction Summit today.

Parliament returns

Federal Parliament returned this week for the penultimate sitting week of 2020. On the agenda for the Government was securing passage of its foreign relations bill through the Senate whilst debate also continued with the Government’s proposed foreign investment reforms. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison zoomed into Question Time from The Lodge, where he was completing a 14-day quarantine after travelling to Japan. Also, the Senate voted against a Labor notice of motion which would have disallowed the Government’s regulation to treat litigation funding as a financial service.

Australia-China relations worsen

Relations between Australia and China fell to new lows this week following the publication of a digitally altered image on twitter by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which depicted an Australian solider attacking a civilian child in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Scott Morrison immediately demanded an apology from China for the “repugnant” tweet and said the action diminishes Beijing on the world stage. However, the Chinese Government rejected the PM’s call for an apology and instead suggested Australia should apologise for the loss of life in Afghanistan, referring to the Brereton Report that was released in early November. Tensions were further strained when a message posted by the PM to the Australian Chinese community onto the popular Chinese social media platform WeChat was censored on Wednesday.

These developments followed China’s decision last week to impose tariffs of between 107.1 per cent to 212.1 per cent on Australian wine, prompting the Morrison Government to accuse China of breaching its free trade agreement, with Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham suggesting the cumulative impact of China’s trade sanctions against a number of Australian industries are being undertaken as a result of Australian policy decisions.

Vaccine hopes

Minister for Health Greg Hunt and PM Scott Morrison on Thursday announced Australia will maintain plans to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine starting in March 2021, despite news the UK granted approval to the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine overnight on Wednesday with jabs expected to be rolled out across the UK as early as next week. Head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, John Skerritt, said the UK and US are operating on different timelines to Australia given the disparity between COVID-19 cases and deaths. Minister Hunt said the UK development is “very important for the world” and advised Australia is on track for decisions on the early vaccines by the end of January, with the roll out of vaccines, starting with health workers and aged care residents expected for March. Minister Hunt again confirmed the COVID-19 vaccination will not be mandatory in Australia.

Australia emerges from technical recession

National Accounts September figures released on Wednesday revealed Australia posted a 3.3 per cent jump in September quarter GDP, officially lifting the economy out of a technical recession after the economy collapsed 7 per cent in the June quarter. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the results were cause for “optimism and hope” but noted Australia’s recovery is still not over. RBA Governor Philip Lowe said the Australian economy had “turned the corner”. The figures came after the RBA announced interest rates will remain at 0.1 per cent at its board meeting on Tuesday.

Looking ahead

Federal Parliament will return next week for the final sitting week of 2020. Elsewhere, Parliament will return in Victoria and South Australia; the Northern Territory and Queensland will hold Budget Estimates.

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