Weekly Wrap Up
10 February 2023
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- The first Newspoll for the year was released, showing Labor ahead of the Coalition on an unchanged two-party preferred basis of 55-45.
- The Reserve Bank of Australia lifted the cash rate for the ninth consecutive time – increasing it by 0.25 basis points to 3.35 per cent.
- Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek rejected former Federal MP and mining magnate Clive Palmer’s application for a new coal mine in central Queensland near the Great Barrier Reef.
- The Australian Government committed $10 million in humanitarian assistance to those affected by earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria and also deployed an Urban Search and Rescue team to Türkiye.
- In response to the incident of US officials shooting down a Chinese suspected spy balloon, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong stated that Australia “shares concerns” with the US about the infringement of sovereignty and violation of international law.
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese separately hosted New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, and Timor-Leste’s Prime Minister, Taur Matan Ruak, in Canberra.
- Former minister under the Turnbull and Morrison Governments Alan Tudge announced he will resign from Parliament from next week, triggering an upcoming bv-election in his marginal outer-eastern Melbourne electorate of Aston.
- The NSW Government launched a plan to make poker machines across the State cashless by the end of 2028 in the event of a re-elected Coalition government.
Federal Parliament’s first sitting of 2023
In the first sitting week of the year, the Senate opened with a condolence motion following the recent passing of Liberal Senator Jim Molan, with senators paying tribute to their late colleague. The Government’s legislative agenda for the week primarily centred on implementing a series of measures aimed at supporting new and improved housing. This included legislation to establish the $10 billion Housing Australia Fund, to which the Government committed in its October Budget, as well as the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council.
Another key commitment of the Government, the planned $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund, faced hurdles this week after the Coalition Opposition indicated it will not be supporting legislation to establish the fund, with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton stating that the fund “lacks transparency” and “exposes taxpayers to risk”. The Government must now negotiate with the Greens to gain support for the fund, after Greens Leader Adam Bandt suggested[PDF] that his Party only intends to support the fund if it will prohibit investments into coal and gas.
Posing an additional challenge to the Government’s ability to secure support from the Senate, Senator Lidia Thorpe resigned from the Greens this week over the Party’s support for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament, citing her intention to instead pursue ‘black sovereignty’. Senator Thorpe’s defection to the crossbench means the Albanese Government will now be required to negotiate with two additional crossbenchers in order to pass contentious legislation through the Senate, as with the support of the Greens, the Government now only has 37 votes instead of the necessary 39. On the matter of the Voice, however, following Senator Thorpe’s defection, the Greens have confirmed their support for the proposal.
Community Safety in Central Australia
On Monday, the Federal and NT governments released their response to the recommendations of a report by the recently appointed Central Australian Regional Controller, Dorrelle Anderson, on the topic of alcohol-related harm in Alice Springs. The Federal Government has committed $250 million in its plan A Better, Safer Future for Central Australia, which will focus on a number of measures including increased youth engagement and diversion programs; improved health service; improved school attendance and engagement; and increased community support for matters including domestic violence and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.
The NT Government will also implement legislation next week imposing further alcohol restrictions and dry zones across Alice Springs based on consultation with affected communities. Under this process, communities will develop Community Alcohol Plans that must then be approved by the Director of Liquor Licensing. If a community wishes to opt out of a dry zone, 60 per cent of the population must vote in support of this outcome.
The Federal House of Representatives is sitting again next week, while Budget Estimates will take place in the Senate. Elsewhere, the WA and NT Parliaments will return for their first sitting of 2023.
The Government released[PDF] the final report of Michelle Levy’s Quality of Advice Review. Notably, the final report included a recommendation to remove the safe harbour requirements of the best interests duty,so that it is a purely fiduciary duty.
Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones announced an independent review of the Modernising Business Register program. The review will investigate the current state of the program and recommend changes, improvements and strategies for the program to achieve its intended objectives.
Minister for Women and Minister for Finance Katy Gallagher confirmed the Government will introduce legislation requiring employers with 100 or more workers to publish gender pay gap data.
In Parliament this week, the Senate Standing Committees on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport announced an inquiry into bank closures in regional Australia.
Treasury released a consultation paper for token mapping, the Government’s reform agenda focused on developing regulatory settings for the crypto sector, with the consultation period open until 1 March. Treasury also opened consultation on a Statutory Review of the Payment Times Reporting Act 2020, due to also close on 1 March 2023.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles ordered the removal of over 900 Chinese Government-linked security cameras in government buildings across Australia to ease national security risks. The announcement follows an audit led by Liberal Senator James Paterson on surveillance technology, which revealed the devices were installed in more than 250 buildings.
Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy awarded CEA Technologies a $277 million contract to provide critical upgrades to Australia’s electronic defence capabilities under Project Air 5349 Phase 6 – Advanced Growler.
Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell held a virtual meeting with the Chinese Minister for Commerce Wang Wentao on Monday, marking the first direct communication between the two ministers in over three years. The meeting focused on trade sanctions and saw Minister Farrell receive an invitation to visit China for ongoing discussions.
The NT Government signed a four-year Strategic Partnership Agreement with Timor-Leste to support trade and business opportunities between the two regions. The agreement will focus on implementing a framework for initiatives related to education, workforce, emergency preparedness, agriculture, health, and culture.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic commenced consultation for an Australian National Battery Strategy, which aims to help Australia transition to a decarbonised economy and lower emissions. Public consultation is open until 3 March 2023.
The Federal Government also opened consultation on the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism, which is due to commence at the beginning of April this year and intends to maintain Australia’s gas levels to meet demands while also ensuring long-term contracts. Consultation closes 23 February.
The Queensland Government welcomed a new eight-year energy agreement between publicly owned Stanwell Corporation and biscuit maker the Arnott’s Group, under which Arnott’s will be 100 percent renewable by 2029.
The ACT Government committed an additional $50 million to the Territory’s Sustainable Household Scheme, which assists eligible ACT residents and community groups to transition to renewable energy products.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King launched the first National Road Safety Action Plan (2023-2025), outlining actions aimed to reducing road trauma across Australia including infrastructure to improve road safety.
Minister King also opened consultation on the Federal Government’s Aviation White Paper, which will outline long term policy directions for growth and innovation within Australia’s aviation industry. Consultation closes on 10 March 2023.
The WA Government responded to Infrastructure WA’s infrastructure strategy for the State, expressing support for the majority of the 93 recommendations made within the strategy. Recommendations aimed to improve how WA manages, delivers, and plans for state infrastructure.
The Queensland Government selected Downer to supply 65 trains as a part of the $7 billion Queensland Train Manufacturing Program. The trains are expected to begin rolling out onto the South East Queensland rail network from 2026.
The Federal Government accepted a recommendation from the Australian Technical Advisory Group to make adults above 18 eligible for an additional COVID-19 booster vaccination, provided they have not had either a COVID-19 vaccine or confirmed coronavirus case within the last six months.
The Federal Government unveiled a scheme to wipe HELP and HECS debt for doctors and nurse practitioners who move to regional and remote parts of Australia for certain amounts of time. The move aims to attract 850 doctors and nurses to remote communities each year.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler announced annual private health insurance premiums will rise by 2.9 per cent, or an average of $1.17 per week for a single person.
Victorian Minister For Health Mary-Anne Thomas introduced legislation into State Parliament that will allow health practitioners to access patient health data from a central system, bringing the state into line with other jurisdictions.