Weekly Wrap Up
12 August 2022
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- The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide presented its interim report, which made 13 recommendations with a key focus on reforming the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ claims processes and resources.
- The Federal Government lodged[PDF] a submission to the Fair Work Commission calling for “significantly higher” pay for aged care workers.
- The Government deleted the COVIDSafe app launched by the former Coalition Government in April 2020, noting the app had identified two positive COVID-19 cases and 17 close contacts in its lifespan.
- Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt released Australia’s first National Biosecurity Strategy at the National Press Club, outlining six priority areas for the Government to protect Australia from threats.
- The Australian Taxation Office published its latest taxation statistics, indicating that Australia’s highest incomes are in Perth, while the country’s lowest incomes are in regional NSW.
- The Federal Liberal Party rejected an invitation to attend the Albanese Government’s national jobs summit in September, labelling the event as a “stunt with the unions”.
- Earlier today, federal, state and territory education ministers met for the first time since the Federal Election and agreed to develop a national action plan to address nationwide teacher shortages.
- SA Premier Peter Malinauskas asked the State Labor Party to return a pre-election donation from the Victorian branch of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union. The request came shortly after the Victorian branch of the union, led by John Setka, formally assumed control of the SA branch.
Australia’s relationship with China has been under the spotlight this week following a National Press Club address from China’s Ambassador to Australia amid tensions arising from US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan and China’s subsequent military drills.
The first Chinese Ambassador to address the National Press Club in 18 years, Xiao Qian spoke optimistically about the bilateral relationship between Australia and China, noting the recent change in Government provided an opportunity to “reset” relations. Notably, Mr Xiao did not offer an indication of when China’s ban on Australian exports would be lifted. He did, however, claim that China has no intention of opening a military base in the Solomon Islands, which has been a key concern of Australia’s since China entered into a security deal with the Solomon Islands earlier this year. On the topic of China’s claim over Taiwan, Mr Xiao stated there was “no room for compromise” and suggested the Australian Government should treat the issue with “caution” and uphold its commitment to a “One China” policy.
At the end of last week, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong expressed concern about military action from China in Taiwan following a visit from US Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan. While Prime Minister Anthony Albanese chose not to comment on Pelosi’s decision to visit Taiwan, in response to China’s launch of ballistic missiles, Minister Wong stated that the Australian Government “urge[s] restraint and de-escalation” and also reinforced Australia’s “bipartisan One China policy” position on “discouraging unilateral changes to the status quo”.
Meanwhile, Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy visited the Solomon Islands to represent Australia at events commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal and the 80th anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Canberra.
Spotlight on NSW Government
As the NSW Perrottet Coalition Government continues to grapple with instability, a number of significant events have taken place over the past week. Public hearings for the parliamentary inquiry investigating former Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s appointment to a US trade role continued, with Mr Barilaro facing questioning from the Committee for the first time on Monday. The former Deputy Premier denied any wrongdoing or preferential treatment in the recruitment process. He expressed his regret at applying for the role, suggesting he would not have done so in hindsight after having endured “significant trauma” over the matter in recent weeks. Mr Barilaro was scheduled to appear at the inquiry again today but has withdrawn from today’s hearing, citing mental health reasons.
Following the resignation of Stuart Ayres from Cabinet last week, Treasurer Matt Kean was elected unopposed as Deputy Leader of the NSW Liberal Party. Premier Dominic Perrottet has since appointed Mr Bruce McClintock SC to conduct a legal review into whether Mr Ayres, the former Minister for Enterprise, Investment and Trade; Tourism and Sport; and Western Sydney, breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct in relation to his involvement with Mr Barilaro’s appointment to the trade role.
During Question Time in Parliament on Wednesday, Premier Perrottet revealed that the resignation letter of former NSW building commissioner David Chandler, who resigned suddenly two weeks ago, has been referred to ICAC. Released the following day, the letter of resignation detailed the former building commissioner’s concerns about the relationship between then-fair trading minister Eleni Petinos and the property development group that hired Mr Barilaro.
On Tuesday, the parliamentary inquiry investigating the response to major flooding across NSW this year released its final report. The report was highly critical of the Government’s response to the flooding event and made a number of key recommendations, including to disband government agency Resilience NSW and restructure the State Emergency Service. Meanwhile, media reports on the final report of the government’s separate independent inquiry into the flooding event, which was handed to the Premier last week but is yet to be publicly released, indicate that Resilience NSW will be “dramatically scaled down” and its Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons will be stood down.
This morning, Elizabeth Broderick’s independent review into NSW Parliament’s culture was published, identifying widespread bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault within NSW Parliament. The review shows that one in three respondents experienced bullying or sexual harassment within the parliamentary workplace over the past five years. Premier Perrottet commented that the report’s findings were “sobering, confronting and completely unacceptable” and emphasised that the culture within NSW parliament needs to improve. He committed the NSW Government’s “full support to the recommendations of the review”.
The Queensland, Victorian, Tasmanian and WA Parliaments are sitting next week. In the ACT, Budget Estimates will take place.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics announced it will now publish consumer price index data monthly, in addition to quarterly.
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority released its new Corporate Plan for 2022-2023, which focuses on twin themes of “protecting the community today”, and “prepared for tomorrow”.
The Reserve Bank of Australia announced that it is working with the Digital Finance Cooperative Research Centre to explore a central bank digital currency.
The South Australian Government reduced the Homestart minimum deposit for its Graduate Homeloan from three per cent to two per cent.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen announced that the Government has identified six proposed regions for offshore wind and energy potential. The Government will immediately begin public consultation on the first proposed site in the Bass Strait off Gippsland.
Senex Energy will invest $1 billion for the expansion of its Atlas and Roma North natural gas developments in the Queensland Surat Basin. With support from both State and Federal governments, work on the expansion is expected to begin in the coming weeks and will increase Senex’s natural gas production to 60 petajoules per year.
WA Minister for Energy Bill Johnston outlined a $10.4 million investment from Western Power to upgrade WA’s main electricity grid. The upgrades will include reinforcements across eight substations and improved switching capabilities across 36 substations to increase power reliability.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Federal and ACT governments awarded a contract for Canberra’s major light rail with Canberra Metro to manufacturer CAF. The contract will see the provision of five new light rail vehicles, modifications to Canberra’s existing light rail fleet and construction of an expanded depot.
Federal and State Ministers met in Melbourne for the 17th Infrastructure and Transport Ministers’ Meeting. The Ministers agreed to consider an updated workplan in September 2022 and to release the Heavy Vehicle National Law Industry Consultation report.
In Victoria, the Suburban Rail Loop East project has been approved following Minister for Environment and Climate Action Lily D’Ambrosio’s assessment of the project’s environmental effects.
The WA Government awarded JET Charge a contract to provide 98 electric vehicle chargers at 49 locations across the state. This will create the world’s longest continuously connected electric highway and will be completed by 2024, with the first charger to be installed in November.
Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic opened the new Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) $23.1 million national lab in Melbourne. The facility will increase Australia’s vaccine production and drug treatment capabilities.
The Victorian Government announced that it will provide free N95 and KN95 masks to the community through public transport networks, state-run testing sites and community health services across the state.
The ACT Government released the ACT Health Services Plan 2022-2030, which is intended to shape the future of public health in the Territory.
The Victorian Government named Shepparton, Warrnambool and the Latrobe Valley as the locations for three new sexual and reproductive health hubs in regional Victoria, bringing the total network of hubs to 11.