Weekly Wrap Up

12 April 2024 

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  • Dr Craig Emerson released the ‘Food and Grocery Code of Conduct Review 2023-24 Interim Report’ which includes recommendations to make the Code mandatory and increase penalties for breaches.
  • The Federal Government recommended Vice Admiral David Johnston and Air Marshal Robert Chipman be appointed as the Chief and Vice Chief of the Australian Defence Force respectively.
  • Defence Ministers from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States revealed they are “considering cooperation” with Japan on pillar two of the AUKUS security pact.
  • Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong reiterated that a “two-state solution”, including the establishment of a Palestinian state, will enable a “secure and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians”.
  • Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff announced the Liberal Party has reached a confidence and supply agreement with members of the Jacqui Lambie Network. Mr Rockliff also published his new Cabinet.

Prime Minister’s Future Made in Australia Address

In an address to the Queensland Media Club, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese unveiled the Government’s revamped advanced manufacturing policy. Under the policy, the Federal Government will seek to pass a Future Made in Australia Act, which would aim to safeguard supply chains and protect Australia’s sovereign manufacturing capability in key areas to Australia’s national interest. These areas include clean energy technologies and critical minerals. “Securing jobs, attracting investment, and building prosperity has never been a polite and gentle process where every nation gets a turn – it’s always a contest, it’s always a race”, Mr Albanese said.  The Government’s approach has been likened[paywall] to similar policies overseas, including the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act.

“This is not old-fashioned protectionism or isolationism – it is the new competition”, Mr Albanese emphasised. Other Government initiatives, such as the National Reconstruction Fund, the Critical Minerals Facility, the SunShot solar program, and the Hydrogen Headstart program would be integrated under the proposed legislation. Mr Albanese further outlined guiding principles to the rollout of a “Future Made in Australia”: acting and investing at scale, which moves away from “minimising government risk” towards “maximising national reward”; and more assertively capitalising on Australia’s comparative advantage by attracting private and foreign investment. More detail is expected to be released in the upcoming Federal Budget.

Reforms to Merger Laws

Treasurer Jim Chalmers addressed the annual Bannerman Competition Lecture in Sydney where he revealed reforms to merger laws as the centrepiece of the Federal Government’s ongoing review of Australia’s competition settings. The reforms “will make the merger regime faster, stronger and simpler as part of a new wave of competition policy to modernise the economy”, Dr Chalmers said. The changes announced by Dr Chalmers include a streamlined merger control pathway to standardise notification requirements, a fast-tracked approval process where no concerns over competition are raised, and the establishment of a mergers and acquisitions public register to improve transparency. The announcement follows a Treasury-led consultation with industry earlier this year.

To ensure that mergers don’t undermine competition in the Australian economy the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will have enhanced oversight of proposed mergers, with ACCC decisions to be subject to judicial review. ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb welcomed the Treasurer’s announcement, saying the reforms “will benefit Australian consumers and businesses of all sizes, as well as the wider economy”. Pending passage through the Parliament, the merger reforms are set to come into effect from January 2026.

Looking Ahead

The Cook by-election will be held tomorrow while the Queensland, West Australian and Victorian (upper house only) parliaments will sit next week.


Federal Developments

The Federal Government released draft legislation to establish tax concessions to support increased investment and construction in the build to rent (BTR) sector. The Capital Works (Build to Rent Misuse Tax) Bill 2024 would increase the capital works tax deduction and reduce the final withholding tax rate on eligible payments from managed investment trusts for BTR projects to drive affordable housing supply. Consultation on the proposed legislation closes on 22 April.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) opened consultation on the decision to transition from the excess reserve system to an ample reserves framework, subsequent to RBA Assistant Governor Christopher Kent’s endorsement of a plan to transition to the ample reserves framework last week. Consultation closes 10 May.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers authored an opinion piece which spruiked the Government’s recent cost of living measures, inflation, and the potential rise in wages. The opinion piece, published in The Courier Mail and the Herald Sun, also touched on the upcoming May budget which, as foreshadowed, is anticipated to focus on cost of living relief; repair of the budget; and reform of the economy.

State Developments

As natural disasters become increasingly more common, NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey opened consultation on reform of the emergency services funding system, including the design and scope of a new funding model. This follows the NSW Government’s announcement in late 2023 that the emergency services levy would be removed from insurance and instead be applied to property. The Consultation Paper, which is open for feedback until 22 May, details four possible models that would promote a sustainable system.


Federal Developments

Trade Minister Don Farrell joined his State and Territory counterparts for the Ministerial Council on Trade and Investment in Perth. The attendees affirmed their support of the Government’s diversification agenda and agreed on critical minerals and the clean energy transition as trade and investment priorities. The next meeting is expected in the second half of 2024, where ministers will review progress on the Council’s plans.

Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy travelled to the United States to meet with key defence industry leaders and other senior officials. As part of ongoing work under the AUKUS pact, Minister Conroy visited the HII Shipyard in Virginia, attended the Sea-Air-Space Exposition in Maryland, and met with counterparts in the Biden Administration and Congress. He also participated in an industry roundtable in relation to Australia’s future nuclear-powered submarine fleet.

Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong appointed Air Chief Marshal (Rtd) Mark Binskin as Special Adviser to the Government in relation to the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) strike that killed Zomi Frankcom and six other World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza. ACM Binskin will examine the IDF’s procedures and Israel’s investigation of the incident, determining accountability and providing advice to the Government on further steps.

The Federal Government announced up to $45.5 million in funding for health initiatives across the Pacific and Southeast Asia. As part of the Partnerships for a Healthy Region program, the funding will create six initiatives that provide training for critical care, nursing, midwifery and the management of disease.


Federal Developments

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released its 19th interim report of its inquiry into gas supply arrangements in Australia. The report revealed Australia’s east coast gas market is expected to have a six petajoule (PJ) surplus in the third quarter of 2024, which is a 10 PJ improvement since the ACCC’s December 2023 gas inquiry report. This marks the first time the ACCC has forecast a supply surplus for the third quarter of 2024.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) awarded $59.1 million in grant funding to progress Australia’s net zero emissions targets and renewable energy capability. The funding aims to support 21 research projects, and commercialise activities that cover renewable hydrogen, and low emissions iron and steel. Successful applicants are eligible for grant funding ranging between $1.3 million and $5 million.

The Federal Government launched the Capacity Investment Scheme in Western Australia to boost reliable renewable energy in homes and businesses. The initiative is part of a broader plan to add 32 gigawatts of renewable capacity across the nation by 2030. Consultation on the design features of the scheme is open until 29 April.

State Developments

The Queensland Government opened Fortescue Future Industries’ Gladstone Electrolyser Facility, the country’s first commercial-scale hydrogen electrolyser manufacturing plant. The Federal Government invested $44.9 million in Fortescue to construct the facility, which is set to produce 50 megawatts (MW) of green hydrogen for local and export markets. Phase 2 of the site – a 50MW green hydrogen production facility called PEM50 – was approved at the opening of the hydrogen electrolyser manufacturing facility.


Federal Developments

Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland opened consultation on funding operations for universal telecommunications services. The consultation was prompted by concerns from industry stakeholders that funding of the Universal Service Obligation (USO), which mandates access to fixed phone service and payphones for all Australia, was unsustainable. Consultation closes 14 May.

State Developments

The Victorian Government announced it will roll out digital drivers’ licenses in May, following a successful trial in Ballarat earlier this year. Fully licensed drivers can use digital licenses to verify photo identification with organisations such as bars, retailers and the Victoria Police, while learners and probationary licence holders will be able to access it by 2025.

NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, Paul Scully revealed plans to develop the Bradfield City Centre. The mixed-use site will include new housing options as well as childcare, hotel, retail, medical spaces, and public domain. The development of the city centre aims to support the creation of more than 20,000 jobs and 10,000 new homes. The state government is accepting Expressions of Interest (EOI) from developers with the intent to deliver the project by May.

The NSW Government announced it will add a further 6 stations to the Transport Oriented Development (TOD) Program. The six new stations are Cardiff, Cockle Creek, Belmore, Lakemba, Punchbowl and Woy Woy, on top of the initial 31 that were decided in December 2023. The State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) reforms for the TOD Program will begin this month. It is expected that TOD SEPP sites will be finalised from April, with over three quarters of sites finalised by the end of the year.


Federal Developments

Health Minister Mark Butler revealed more medicines will be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). Australians with high cholesterol, chronic kidney disease, and ovarian cancer will be able to access Inclisiran, Empagliflozin, and Niraparib under the PBS, significantly lowering costs for impacted patients.

Assistant Minister for Indigenous Health, Malarndirri McCarthy announced a new mobile clinic for Central Australian Indigenous Communities. The service will support the treatment and management of type 2 diabetes in Central Australian communities. In the last 25 years type 2 diabetes in remote communities has risen by 67 per cent.

Health Minister Mark Butler requested an urgent update from the Therapeutic Goods Administration following an ABC Four Corners investigation into failed spinal cord stimulators. The ABC report alleges under-reporting of issues with spinal cord stimulators in the TGA’s database. Minister Butler told the ABC he will take the “strongest action possible” if the claims are verified.

State Developments

WA Minister for Health Amber-Jade Sanderson announced the expansion of the Child Development Service (CDS). The CDS will receive $39 million to overhaul the service and increase its number of clinical staff including paediatricians in metropolitan and regional clinics. The service has seen referrals to CDS paediatricians increase by 132 per cent over the last decade.

NSW Minister for Education and Early Learning Prue Car announced a trial of an expanded childhood education and care program. The $20 million trial will aim to address barriers to workforce participation by extending childcare operating hours, providing flexible pick-up and drop-off times, and establishing new services in rural and remote NSW. The Flexible Initiatives Trial will see 16 centres across NSW receive grants.


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