Weekly Wrap Up
11 March 2022
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- Labor Senator for Victoria Kimberley Kitching died on Thursday night of a suspected heart attack, aged 52. Members of Parliament have paid tribute, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison stating Senator Kitching was “a parliamentarian in the truest sense” and “deeply respected by the Coalition”.
- Prime Minister Morrison and Minister for Defence Peter Dutton committed $38 billion to an expansion of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), with the number of ADF personnel due to increase by 30 per cent by 2040.
- The Federal Government announced that a submarine base will be built on Australia’s east coast to support the country’s future nuclear-powered submarines. The three preferred locations are Brisbane, Newcastle and Port Kembla.
- The investigation into allegations made against former Education Minister Member Alan Tudge has concluded, with the Prime Minister indicating that Mr Tudge will not be returning to Cabinet.
- The Sydney Aviation Alliance completed its $32 billion acquisition of Sydney Airport. The acquiring consortium consists of the IFM Australian Infrastructure Fund, the IFM Global Infrastructure Fund, AustralianSuper, Australian Retirement Trust and Global Infrastructure Partners.
- Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt unveiled a $2.1 billion investment to protect against COVID-19 and influenza ahead of winter.
- The Federal Executive of the Liberal Party resolved to take over management of the NSW State Executive and will intervene in preselections for Federal candidates.
- Victorian Labor MP Kaushaliya Vaghela moved to the crossbench after making allegations of bullying within the State Labor Party.
- Australian energy company AGL rejected a second takeover bid from international fund manager Brookfield and Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, this time valued at over $8 billion. Following the second rejection, Brookfield and Mr Cannon-Brookes have confirmed they will not re-bid.
- Guy Debelle announced his resignation as Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), effective Wednesday 16 March, to assume the position of Chief Financial Officer of Fortescue Future Industries in June.
- Pre-polling for the SA election, due to be held on Saturday 19 March, opened on Monday.
Sino-Australian tensions heighten
This week saw the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition deliver addresses on foreign policy to the Lowy Institute. Speaking from isolation as he recovered from COVID-19, Prime Minister Morrison again criticised China for its “chilling silence” on Russian aggression in Ukraine, suggesting that China has a choice to demonstrate its commitment to territorial integrity and global peace during the crisis in Ukraine, but “the early signs [of this occurring] are not good”.
Diplomatic tensions escalated as Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese referred to China as a “friend” of Russia, criticising its implicit support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In a nod to recent attacks from the Coalition on the Opposition’s position on defence and security issues, Mr Albanese attempted to reinforce bipartisanship on the matter of national security, stating that “the search for false distinctions between the government and opposition on China is not in Australia’s national interest”.
Meanwhile, the Opposition Leader used a speech at the AFR Business Summit to reference commentary from former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard on economic reform, to which Mr Howard warned Mr Albanese not to compare himself to former leaders. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Morrison spoke at the Summit of the war in Ukraine imposing a period of “radical uncertainty” in Australia, arguing that his Government is best-placed to navigate this period.
PM declares flooding crisis a National Emergency
After completing his isolation period, the Prime Minister visited Lismore in NSW and declared a National Emergency in response to widespread flooding in NSW and QLD. Mr Morrison has faced widespread criticism for what is perceived as a delayed response to the crisis, with flooding beginning to subside in the worst-hit communities and the recovery effort now in full force. QLD Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk stated that she would reject the PM’s offer to include QLD in the declaration, suggesting that it should have been made a week earlier. Meanwhile, Mr Morrison has been criticised for commenting that his Government was “never going to be able to provide enough support” for flood-affected communities, after he apologised during his trip to Lismore for not providing more immediate support to northern NSW communities.
Increased assistance for those impacted by flooding has continued to be rolled out, with up to 6,000 ADF personnel now deployed to flood zones, a $558.5 million support package for QLD jointly funded by the Federal and State governments, and a $434.7 million jointly funded package for NSW. Tax relief has also been provided for flood affected communities, with individuals to be granted up to $3,000 in immediate relief.
NSW Budget Estimates will continue next week, while the QLD and WA Parliaments will sit.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) published the December 2021 labour force statistics, showing that seasonally adjusted hours worked increased by 221 million hours – a 4.3 per cent increase. This follows a 4.8 per cent decline in the September quarter.
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) released a joint letter sent to all registrable superannuation entity licensees regarding the implementation of the new retirement income covenant.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) published its report into the domestic airline industry, welcoming the entry of REX into the domestic market but expressing concern that new airline Bonza had decided not to operate out of Sydney due to concerns about the take-off and landing slots.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) opened the funding round for its German-Australian Hydrogen Innovation Technology Incubator (HyGATE). ARENA has partnered with the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research to administer HyGATE and support real-world pilot, trial, and demonstration projects throughout the hydrogen supply chain.
Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor outlined pending changes to Australia’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). Under the new rules, ERF projects that have a fixed delivery government contract will be provided the option to sell their Australian Carbon Credit Units on the private market.
WA Minister for Mines and Petroleum Bill Johnston approved the drafting of a Bill which intends to increase opportunities for the mining, LNG and natural gas industries to decarbonise through avenues such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage, or mineral carbonation.
The Victorian Government is expanding the search in the Stanley Arc for critical minerals essential for the development of clean energy technologies. Minister for Resources Jaala Pulford has added 11,000 square kilometres of land to the existing 11 large blocks available under the scheme.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Federal Government committed $40 million in additional funding for upgrades to the Horrocks Highway in South Australia. The investment will see a number of further upgrades including widening and strengthening of bridges at the Wakefield, Hutt and Rocky Rivers; local road junction upgrades; shoulder sealing and curve widening; safety barrier installation and Audio Tactile Line Marking; as well as overtaking lane extensions at Tarlee and Templers.
The Victorian Government awarded a $234 million contract to remove the level crossing at Mt Derrimut Road in Deer Park to an alliance comprising McConnell Dowell, Arup, Mott MacDonald, Metro Trains Melbourne, V/Line and the Level Crossing Removal Project.
The WA Government established the Shipping and Supply Chain Taskforce to examine the resilience of the state’s logistics network. The taskforce has been formed in response to the recent supply disruption caused by the 24-day east-west rail link closure due to East coast flooding and will report back to the Minister for Transport and Ports by 31 March 2023.
NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced plans to establish an Aerospace Manufacturing Precinct at Darwin International Airport (DIA). The first tenant will be Amphibian Aerospace Industries Pty Ltd (AAI), who recently announced plans to build an upgraded version of the Albatross amphibious aircraft in the Territory for the global export market.
The Federal Government signed agreements with both the SA and NSW Governments on mental health and suicide prevention support and services, with investments of $127.8 million and $383 million to be injected respectively. Over a five-year period, the funding will establish a network of mental health facilities and implement new services and tools.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Sonya Bennet declared the Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) a Communicable Disease Incident of National Significance, in consultation with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. A mosquito-borne virus, JEV can infect humans and has been detected in piggeries in NSW, SA, Queensland, and Victoria. This morning, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced a $69 million investment to control the spread of JEV.
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Women Marise Payne committed $189 million to improve prevention and early intervention services in family, domestic and sexual violence as part of the First Action Plan 2022-2027.
Queensland Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Yvette D’Ath released the National Obesity Strategy 2022-2032, led by Queensland Health. The Strategy focuses on two main targets that will improve the health outcomes for adults and children by reducing obesity levels across Australia.