Weekly Wrap Up
14 April 2023
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- Australia’s unemployment rate remained at 3.5 per cent in March, according to latest labour force data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
- The Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Gina Cass-Gottlieb, used an address to the National Press Club to call for reforms to merger laws in Australia.
- The NSW Electoral Commissioner determined that following the recent state election, votes for the district of Ryde will be recounted tomorrow following “a very small margin” between the Liberal and Labor candidates, which the ABC’s vote tally has listed as 50 votes in favour of the Liberal Party.
- Also in NSW, the Liberal Party will hold a meeting next Friday to determine its new leader following former Premier Dominic Perrottet’s resignation. Former Minister for Planning Anthony Roberts has announced his intention to run for the leadership and former Attorney-General Mark Speakman is expected to also run for the position.
Voice to Parliament
Tensions have continued in the Liberal Party this week after Opposition Leader Peter Dutton last week confirmed the Party’s formal opposition to the Federal Government’s model for a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous Voice to Parliament. On Tuesday, Liberal MP Julian Leeser resigned from his positions as Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians after the Party’s decision. Mr Leeser will now join the backbench where he will be able to exercise a conscience vote in support of the Voice. Mr Leeser also recently addressed the National Press Club where he indicated his support for the Voice referendum but outlined an amended model focused on local and regional bodies, removal of “symbolic language”, and emphasis on Parliamentary determination of Voice scope and powers. Following Mr Leeser’s resignation, Mr Dutton said that he respects his position but stated it is “at odds” with “the overwhelming majority” of the Party Room, and indicated he is currently considering who will take on Mr Leeser’s former portfolios.
There has also been speculation over the intentions of Liberal frontbencher Senator Simon Birmingham, who has previously indicated his “in principle” support for the Voice. Senator Birmingham told media that it is not his intention to resign from the frontbench over his position on the Voice, but revealed he will not be joining the Liberal Party in its campaign for a “no” vote and will be encouraging the Government to consider adopting Mr Leeser’s amended model for the Voice referendum.
Meanwhile, former Liberal MP and Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt left the Liberal Party over its opposition to the Voice, and on Wednesday joined the Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney in Boorloo, Perth, to support the Voice.
In a positive sign for Sino-Australian relations, China agreed to undertake a three-to-four-month review into the 80.5 per cent trade tariff it imposed on Australian barley in May 2020. Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong, Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell, and Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt confirmed that in exchange for China’s commitment to the review, the Australian Government will temporarily suspend its complaint before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in relation to the tariff. The Ministers also indicated that they hope to soon reach a similar agreement with China in relation to the country’s tariff on Australian wine, which has been in place since March 2021. If China doesn’t lift the tariff after the review, the Australian Government has noted it will resume its complaint to the WTO.
On Wednesday, Treasurer Jim Chalmers travelled to Washington DC to attend the G20 Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting and IMF – World Bank 2023 Spring Meetings, which will conclude on Sunday. Dr Chalmers indicated he will use the meetings to discuss “the uncertain global environment” and outline Australia’s approach to strengthening its banking system in light of international market volatility. Meetings will take place with representatives from jurisdictions including the US, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, Indonesia and Ukraine.
Shortly before his travels, Treasurer Chalmers responded to the release of the latest World Economic Outlook report from the International Monetary Fund, which forecast a 2.8 per cent rate of global economic growth in 2023. The report also indicated that the Australian economy is expected to grow by 1.6 per cent this year and 1.7 per cent in 2024, notably slower than the 3.7 per cent growth Australia experienced in 2022. When asked in an interview about the implications of the report’s forecasts, Dr Chalmers stated that the Treasury and the Reserve Bank “are not currently expecting a recession” to occur in Australia, however he conceded that the global economy is on “an increasingly perilous path”.
The Queensland Parliament is sitting next week.
Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil indicated that Latitude Financial’s decision not to pay a requested ransom to the instigators of its cyber attack is “consistent with Australian government advice”.
Minister for Government Services and the NDIS Bill Shorten confirmed outsourcing social security welfare payment debts to external collection agents will end on 30 June 2023, with all future debt recovery to be done in-house through Services Australia.
The Reserve Bank of Australia published its half-yearly Financial Stability Review, providing an assessment of Australia’s financial system and any potential risks to financial stability. The Bank’s review found that recent global uncertainty has increased, however Australia’s financial system remains well placed to support economic activity and households are resilient to higher interest rates and inflation.
Treasury opened consultation on proposed changes to the Taxation Administration Act 1953 that would require certain large multinational enterprises to publish tax information on a country-by-country basis, as well as issuing a public statement on their approach to taxation. Consultation is open until 28 April 2023.
The ACCC released[PDF] the findings from its stakeholder consultation on Consumer Data Right data quality. It found that while quality of consumer data is generally sufficient there is scope to clarify the nature of data quality obligations, and that regulators should be prepared to improve data quality requirements.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell chaired the inaugural meeting of the Ministerial Council on Trade and Investment, which was established with the aim to coordinate priorities across jurisdictions. Among other topics, Trade and Investment Ministers across Australia discussed the importance of trade and investment diversification as well as economic ties with the international community
Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Jan Adams met with China’s Executive Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ma Zhaoxu in Canberra. Talks focused on bilateral issues in relation to trade, human rights and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil confirmed Mr Michael Outram has been reappointed as the Australian Border Force Commissioner until 9 November 2024.
Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy visited Samoa to meet with its Head of State His Highness Tuimaleal’llfano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II and Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa. During his visit, Minister Conroy announced $20 million in funding as welfare support to Samoans and committed $220,000 to supporting Samoan rugby.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water released its annual State of Hydrogen report for 2022. The report found that over 100 green hydrogen projects were announced in Australia last year, and that Australia’s current pipeline of hydrogen projects is valued at between $230 billion to $300 billion.
Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Madeleine King signed a joint Declaration of Intent on a critical minerals study with German Parliamentary State Secretary Dr Franziska Brantner. Signed at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, the Declaration focuses on a joint study that will aims to help both countries advance the value chains of critical minerals.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency announced two new funding rounds focused on renewable hydrogen and low emissions iron and steel, with a combined $50 million of funding divided equally between the rounds. Funding will be awarded firstly for a research phase and later for a commercialisation phase.
In the NT, an inaugural trilateral meeting between Australia, Japan and the United States took place in Darwin with a focus on critical mineral investment. At the meeting, representatives from each jurisdiction discussed opportunities in the production of critical minerals and rare-earth elements across Northern Australia and the Territory.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released latest Monthly Business Turnover data, showing a 4.6 per cent increase in business turnover in the construction industry in the month of February – the largest increase of all published industries. Following a 3.3 per cent fall in January, the construction industry has reached its highest level since January 2010.
The Federal Government commenced Round 2 of Phase 2 of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s Strategic Local Government Asset Assessment Project, confirming that 125 bridges and culverts across 33 council areas across Australia will receive funded engineering assessments. Each assessment will include an engineering report designed to improve understanding of the heavy vehicle capability of the bridge or culvert.
The NSW Government announced Mike Mrdak and Amanda Yeates will lead an independent review into Sydney Metro to examine the system’s infrastructure pipeline and best practices in public transport delivery. A preliminary report from the review is due to be presented prior to the 2023-24 State Budget, with a final report to be produced by the end of 2023.
In SA, the State Government invited companies interested in leading the design, construction and maintenance of the River Torrens to Darlington Project to lodge a formal Expression of Interest. Construction of the 10.5km motorway is scheduled to start in 2025, with contracts anticipated to be awarded by mid-2024.
The Department of Health and Aged Care opened the first round of public consultation on the Health Technology Assessment Policy and Methods Review. The Department is seeking feedback on the objectives of the Review until 6 June 2023.
Professor Brendan Murphy announced his decision to retire from his role as Secretary of the Department of Health and Aged Care from 6 July 2023. A recruitment process has begun to appoint the next Health Secretary.
Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Gen Kearney announced $5.7 million in research grants for partnerships between institutions in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region that aim to improve outcomes for chronic conditions. The grants were awarded to the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, the George Institute for Global Health and the University of Queensland.
WA Minister for Health Amber-Jade Sanderson confirmed Perth Children’s Hospital will be the first site in the State to implement nurse and midwife to patient ratios, a policy the State Government first flagged in December 2022 for rollout across WA hospitals.