Weekly Wrap Up
- The Australian Electoral Commission published the 2019-20 transparency register, reporting $18,020,970 was donated to political parties last year.
- The Commonwealth Government reinstated the New Zealand travel bubble.
- The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) maintained the 0.1 per cent cash rate and committed to purchasing an additional $100 billion federal, state and territory government bonds on completion of the current purchase program in April.
- Minister for Foreign Affairs and Women Marise Payne urged China to give the United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet immediate access to Xinjang, following reports of systematic torture and abuse of Uighurs and other religious monitories in the region.
- The Federal Government issued a statement calling on the Myanmar military to respect democratic laws and release detained civilian leaders so that the National Assembly elected in November 2020 can reconvene.
Federal Parliament returns and National Cabinet meets
Federal Parliament returned on Tuesday for 2021 and will work to progress through a full agenda of legislation introduced at the end of last year. Of note will be the industrial relation reform measures – yet to be debated – with the proposed amendments dominating question time. Newly elected Western Australian Senator Ben Small also gave his maiden speech, noting he has ‘big shoes to fill’ in place of Mathias Cormann.
Elsewhere, following a meeting of the National Cabinet today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said state and territory leaders received briefings on the COVID-19 vaccination program. Additionally, leaders agreed to increase international arrival caps to previous levels starting 15 February for both New South Wales and Queensland, while South Australia and Victoria both agreed to increase their capacity after 15 February. Noting that hotel quarantine remains the “primary system” for returning travellers, the PM announced the Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory would be expanded to take more arrivals and said the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has been tasked to assess proposals to quarantine arrivals in rural and regional areas in Australia to mitigate risk of future outbreaks.
Parts of Western Australia entered a five-day lockdown on Sunday evening after a community case of COVID-19 was reported in a hotel quarantine worker. Subsequently, a number of states introduced travel restrictions on travellers from the Perth, Peel and South West regions. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews also announced a hotel quarantine worker had tested positive, reinstating some restrictions including mandatory mask wearing in all indoor public places.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia will receive an additional 10 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and representatives from the Department of Health and Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation are set to appear[PDF] before the House Standing Committee inquiry into approval processes for new drugs and novel medical technologies in Australia to discuss the vaccine program.
PM at the National Press Club
The Prime Minister addressed the National Press Club, congratulating all Australians on their efforts in responding to the pandemic. He reiterated the national approach of suppression and said some measures will need to be maintained until everyone is vaccinated by October. The Prime Minister spoke about economic recovery, highlighting that unemployment had decreased to 6.6 per cent while the participation rate is at a record high of 66.2 per cent.
RBA Governor Phillip Lowe also spoke to the National Press Club this week, noting that the economy had not contracted as much as initially anticipated and recovery has been earlier and stronger than expected. He attributed this to Australia’s pandemic response and strong fiscal support measures, and said recovery can be seen through key indicators such as retail sales and new house building.
Debate continues on the Media Bargaining Code
Microsoft issued a statement in support of the Federal Government’s news media bargaining code, recognising that the media sector faces many challenges due to digitalisation. President of Microsoft Brad Smith said he had spoken to the Prime Minister and that his company would invest further in Bing to bring it in line with its competitors. The Prime Minister also met with global head of Alphabet Sundar Pichai, while Treasurer Josh Frydenberg spoke with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg. Following the meeting with Google, the Prime Minister said the future provision of Google’s services in Australia is looking more positive.
The ACT Parliament and NSW Legislative Assembly return next week.
Click here for information on Finance, Resources & Energy, Infrastructure, and Health updates.