Weekly Wrap Up
To receive regular policy and political updates, subscribe to our Weekly Wrap Up here.
- The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) increased the cash rate by 25 basis points to 4.35 per cent.
- The latest Newspoll shows Labor continues to lead the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis, 52 to 48. Anthony Albanese also continues to lead Peter Dutton as preferred Prime Minister, 46 to 26.
- The Federal Government released a consultation paper for the Agriculture and Land Plan, one of six sectoral decarbonisation plans under the Net Zero 2050 Plan.
- The High Court ruled that indefinite immigration detention is unlawful in a recent case involving a stateless asylum seeker. The decision overturns a 20-year-old precedent set in 2004.
- New Zealand’s Electoral Commission released the official results of the 2023 General Election. The results confirmed that National Party will need the support of the ACT and NZ First parties to form government.
Prime Minister’s Visit to China
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese spent four days in China to meet with President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Qiang, and other senior Chinese officials. The bilateral visit is the first by an Australian Prime Minister since Malcolm Turnbull in 2016. While in China, Mr Albanese held various meetings to discuss trade, tourism, and develop the Australia-China relationship “wisely and with respect”.
Commencing his visit with an official dinner with Premier Li in Shanghai, Mr Albanese stated, “it is in Australia’s interests to have a positive and constructive and open and respectful dialogue with our major trading partner”. In his address at the Opening Session of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Mr Albanese greeted around 250 Australian exporters and emphasised the importance of “eliminating unnecessary barriers to trade” and “fostering a level playing field”. Joined by Minister for Trade Don Farrell, the Prime Minister welcomed the recent removal of Chinese tariffs on Australian barley and China’s ongoing review of existing trade impediments to certain Australian exports, such as wine and seafood.
Attending a lunch hosted by Tourism Australia, Mr Albanese highlighted the significance of Chinese visitors to Australia’s tourism industry. The Prime Minister characterised his second meeting with China’s President as “very positive” and noted that Australia and China’s relationship “shouldn’t be defined by our differences”. Mr Albanese sought to re-establish communication channels with President Xi Jinping and the two agreed to resume regular foreign policy and economic dialogues. The leaders also signed an agreement to provide access to three-to-five year multi-entry visas for visitors and a business people on a reciprocal basis. In addition to discussions about human rights and regional stability, Mr Albanese also revealed that he invited President Xi Jinping to Australia for a bilateral visit in the future.
Prime Minister Albanese is currently in the Cook Islands for the Pacific Islands Forum meeting with Pacific leaders, before he will briefly return to Australia and then travel to San Francisco for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit next week.
Back in Canberra, the Senate sat this week, following a one-week break after Budget Estimates. Crossbench Senators Jacqui Lambie and David Pocock introduced Private Senators’ Bills (PSBs) relating to the Government’s Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill. The PSBs sought to separate a number of ‘non-controversial’ changes from the Government’s larger omnibus bills. Although the Senate passed the PSBs on Thursday, they will still need to be introduced into the House and voted on.
Other legislation debated in the Senate this week included the Counter Terrorism and Other Legislation Amendment Bill and the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Continuing ACCC Monitoring of Domestic Airline Competition) Bill. Subject to significant debate was the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill, which if passed would enable carbon dioxide captured from carbon-emitting activities to be stored in the sub-seabed.
Nationwide Optus outage
On Wednesday, approximately 10 million people were affected by a nation-wide outage of Optus’ fixed, mobile, and broadband networks. The outage caused major disruptions to Melbourne’s train network, hospital systems, and businesses, and affected the ability of some Australians to dial Triple Zero. Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin stated that the cause of the outage was a “very technical network engineering issue”.
In response to the major disruptions, Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland announced that the Federal Government will undertake a “post-incident telecommunications review”. Separate to this, the Australian Communications and Media Authority has commenced an assessment to investigate Optus’ compliance with telecommunication rules regarding emergency calls. The Senate also voted to establish an inquiry into the outage, with Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young stating that “we want those affected to be fairly compensated and to work so this doesn’t happen again.”
The Federal, South Australian, Western Australian, Victorian, Tasmanian, and Queensland Parliaments will sit next week.
The Federal Parliament passed legislation to allow Commonwealth statutory declarations to be signed digitally with video witnessing. Australians execute and process more than 3.8 million statutory declarations every year.
The Federal Government welcomed international ratings agency Fitch’s assessment of Australia’s budget and overall fiscal position, which maintained Australia’s AAA credit rating. Australia is one of only nine countries to be rated AAA by all three major credit rating agencies.
Following the RBA’s meeting on Tuesday, RBA Governor Michele Bullock issued a statement which indicated that inflation was still too high and more persistent than previously expected. The RBA Board has forecast that inflation is expected to be around 3.5 per cent by the end of 2024 and at the target range of 2 to 3 per cent by the end of 2025.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles attended the Indo Pacific Sea Power Conference in Sydney. The Conference involved showcases and exhibitions from approximately 800 defence industry companies, naval groups, and government officials.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong travelled to Japan to meet with the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamikawa Yoko and Japanese National Security Advisor Akiba Takeo. The leaders discussed Australia and Japan’s approach to regional challenges and the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Senator Wong also announced the appointment of Dr Lucas de Toca PSM as Australia’s Ambassador for Global Health and Ms Greer Alblas as Australia’s Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Australia to UNESCO. She thanked outgoing Ambassadors Megan Anderson and Dr Stephanie Williams PSM for their contributions.
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts travelled this week to France to represent Australia at the Paris Peace Forum, One Planet Polar Summit, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) General Conference, and the International Humanitarian Conference for the Civilian Population of Gaza. Senator Watts also met with French Government counterparts to discuss the Australia-France Roadmap.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek confirmed a $137 million Australian Recycled Pulp and Paper Project (ARPPP) will be built in South-East Queensland to support the state’s paper recycling efforts. The ARPPP will process waste from Queensland and NSW, such as newspaper and coffee cups into paper pulp, with construction to begin in mid-2024 and completion expected in mid-2025.
NSW Minister for Natural Resources Courtney Houssos hosted an industry roundtable to inform the forthcoming ‘Critical Minerals and High-Tech Metals Strategy’. The roundtable discussions focused on domestic processing, economic growth, and supporting the clean energy supply chain. Meanwhile, submissions on the Strategy are open until 17 November.
The Western Australian Government released a consultation paper to update its ‘Battery and Critical Minerals Strategy’ to support the sector’s growth and enhance domestic manufacturing. This Strategy proposes to build on the state’s refining activities in nickel sulphate, lithium hydroxide production, and rare earth processing since 2019.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King released a report from the Independent Taskforce on the Strategic Fleet, alongside the Federal Government’s response. The report made 16 recommendations to improve Australia’s maritime sector and support the nations’ strategic freight needs. In response, the Government agreed to 12 recommendations in full or in principle and reiterated its commitment to domestic sovereignty practices in the maritime industry.
The WA Government announced reforms to un-hosted Short-Term Rental Accommodation (STRA) to increase housing supply and regulate the STRA market across the state. The new regulations will introduce a new $10,000 incentive for property owners to transition short-term options to longer-term homes for Western Australians and enforce property owners to register all STRA properties through a state register.
The ACT Government expanded the state’s stamp duty concession to include off-the-plan properties worth up to $800,000. The announcement is a $100,000 increase to the current price limit for off-the-plan unit purchases and is part of the Government’s broader plan to improve home ownership and housing affordability.
NSW Premier Chris Minns revealed a plan to rezone a Macquarie Park precinct and deliver 3060 new homes in between the two nearby metro stations. The proposal will also enable developers to construct up to 5040 build-to-rent homes instead of commercial real estate. Consultation has opened on the development proposal, which will inform the final plan for mid-2024.
The Federal Government announced that 35 tonnes of vaping products have been seized over the past month. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) estimates more than 92 per cent of products seized were unlawful. TGA laboratories tested 287 samples, finding 85 per cent contained nicotine. The Government previously announced reforms to the regulation of vapes in May in line with the ‘National Tobacco Strategy 2023-2030’[PDF].
The Federal Government launched a new myGov Advisory Group in response to the myGov user audit[PDF] published in January, which identified myGov as critical national infrastructure. The group will be led by former NSW Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government, Victor Dominello.
The Senate Community Affairs References Committee released[PDF] the ‘Assessment and support services for people with ADHD’ report. The Committee, chaired by Victorian Greens Senator Janet Rice, made 16 recommendations including that the Australian Government consider funding and co-designing a National Framework for ADHD. Meanwhile, the Senate also established an inquiry into issues related to menopause and perimenopause, which will report by 10 September 2024.
The Northern Territory Government launched Operation Thrive, an initiative to support doctors and General Practitioners (GPs) undertake specialist veteran health training. Operation Thrive will see GPs take part in a course that addresses the unique physical and mental health issues of veterans. The training is part of the ‘Northern Territory Defence Veterans Strategy’. Over 10,000 current and ex-serving personnel currently live in the Northern Territory.
The Australian Education Union SA Branch has rejected a third offer of pay from the South Australian Government. On Thursday, teachers commenced strike action for the second time in two months. The union is seeking an 8.6 per cent pay rise in the first year of the new collective bargaining agreement, and 5.5 per cent in the following two years. Almost 400 schools across South Australia have been impacted by the strike.