Weekly Wrap Up
14 October 2022
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- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese marked the 20th anniversary of the Bali bombings with a tribute.
- The Prime Minister affirmed Australia’s “ongoing commitment” to support Ukraine and indicated the Government is considering requests for further security assistance.
- The second set of data from the 2021 Census was released, showing that healthcare, retail, construction and education account for over 40 per cent of the Australian workforce.
- The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the Australian Communications and Media Authority launched separate investigations into last month’s Optus data breach.
- Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus delivered a speech to the National Press Club where he spoke on the Government’s legislation to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission.
- Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth announced that the outstanding cases of 197,000 Australians caught up in the former Government’s Robodebt scheme will be dropped.
- The Federal Government declared 27 local government areas in NSW eligible for disaster assistance payments following recent flooding.
- Former Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds was called to give evidence at the criminal trial involving former Liberal staff members Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins.
- From today, mandatory isolation is no longer required for those who test positive to COVID-19, while reporting requirements for positive rapid antigen tests have been removed in NSW and Victoria.
Spotlight on Australia’s Defence program
Australia’s Defence program has been a focus this week after data from the Australian National Audit Office showed that 28 major Defence projects are facing significant schedule delays, while a series of projects are expected to run over budget to a cumulative $6.5 billion. Notably, the $44 billion Hunter Class Frigate program has had its start of construction delayed by four years and is facing an expected $15 billion increase in costs.
The Albanese Government has attributed these matters to poor administration from the former Coalition Government and called for Opposition Leader Peter Dutton to explain his role in the management of defence procurement as a former defence minister. Mr Dutton denied responsibility for the matter and said the Coalition had to respond to the “mess” left by the former Rudd and Gillard Labor governments. He also suggested the Government was seeking a distraction from discussions over its position on scheduled stage three tax cuts.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles also warned Australians to prepare for higher than expected military spending in the upcoming October Budget, indicating that the cost of procuring nuclear submarines is likely to start hitting the budget from early next year when the model of submarine is publicly selected. Mr Marles advised Defence spending needs to increase over the medium to long term in order for the portfolio to meet growing strategic threats. In an attempt to keep projects on track, Mr Marles said that the Government will be going “back to basics” with a series of reforms that Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy has suggested will “change the culture” of Defence.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government announced on Wednesday that it has awarded a $322 million contract to Raytheon Australia for upgrades to Australia’s existing Collins-class submarines. Minister Conroy also announced that BAE Systems has secured a six-year $155 million contract aimed at “optimising” the Royal Australian Navy’s Hobart class destroyers. Elsewhere, Minister Conroy travelled to Washington this week to focus on “deepening” Australia’s cooperation with the United States on defence, international development and the Pacific.
Lead up to Federal Budget
Tuesday this week marked two weeks until the Albanese Government’s first Budget, with discussions on Australia’s economic position continuing to take centre stage. Following escalating debate last week over whether the Albanese Government will abandon the scheduled stage three-tax cuts, the Prime Minister said the Government will implement the policies that it took to the election and confirmed that there has been no change in its position on implementing the tax cuts.
Elsewhere, Treasurer Jim Chalmers told media that Australians should not expect a “fancy” or “flashy” Budget, but can instead anticipate one that “will put a premium on what’s responsible and affordable and sustainable”. He affirmed that the Budget will “trim wasteful spending” and indicated that last-minute changes to the Budget may be made if necessary. The Treasurer also travelled to Washington to meet with his G20 counterparts and a number of economic stakeholders. Dr Chalmers indicated he would use the trip to “take the temperature of the global economy” and inform the Government’s Budget preparations.
The NSW, SA, WA, ACT and Tasmanian Parliaments are sitting next week.
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics heard from the Chairs of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission[PDF], the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority[PDF] and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission[PDF] (ASIC). Topics discussed included Buy Now Pay Later, greenwashing, the Optus data breach, cybersecurity, and scams.
ASIC Commissioner Sean Hughes delivered a speech at the GRC2022 Annual Conference where he discussed risk management, cryptocurrency and the Financial Accountability Regime, as well as other matters in the finance space. Mr Hughes also spoke at the 32nd Annual Credit Law Conference, where he gave an update on ASIC’s regulatory activity in the credit policy space.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus announced the re-appointment of AUSTRAC CEO Nicole Rose PSM for a two-year term, ending in November 2024.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen opened consultation on draft legislation that will allow for a new form of carbon credits known as Safeguard Mechanism Credits. The tradeable credits will be given to facilities covered by the mechanism that have access to low-cost abatement, with submissions open until 28 October 2022.
Minister Bowen also announced the Government will provide $13.7 million in funding through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to support Fortescue Future Industries and Incitec Pivot Limited jointly explore the development of a green hydrogen facility in Brisbane.
WA Minister for Environment and Climate Action Reece Whitby opened applications for the State’s new $15 million Carbon Innovation Grants Program which will target projects that reduce emissions in heavy industries, including the mining, manufacturing and construction sectors.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek released the Water Market Reform: Final Roadmap Report[PDF]. The Federal Government has agreed to implement all 23 recommendations in the roadmap, including the introduction of a water market intermediary code of conduct.
The Federal Government announced $14 million in funding for the Australian Automobile Association to test the fuel usage of a range of popular vehicles sold in Australia. Results from the program will be available to consumers and business, alongside laboratory test data, on the Green Vehicle Guide website.
CoreLogic released its latest Quarterly Rental Review which indicates that the national dwelling vacancy rate fell to 1.1 per cent in September, the lowest level on record. Meanwhile, the annual growth in national dwelling rents remained at 10 per cent over the 12 months to September.
The NSW Government committed $11.5 million to address delays in development applications through the new Unblocking Homes Program. The Program includes expansion of the Regional Housing Flying Squad following its initial pilot, which will allow all 96 regional councils to outsource the assessment of certain housing development applications to a team of planners in the Planning Delivery Unit.
Infrastructure NSW published[PDF] a discussion paper outlining proposed key actions on decarbonising infrastructure delivery, including the requirement to include a carbon base case in the business case for all new major infrastructure projects.
In Victoria, the Government named McConnell Dowell, Arup and Mott MacDonald as the alliance awarded the contract to remove the level crossing in Narre Warren. The project, delivered in partnership with MetroTrains Melbourne, will include a new Narre Warren Station and an 800-metre-long elevated rail bridge.
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport held[PDF] its first public hearing for its inquiry into long COVID and repeated COVID infections on Wednesday. Witnesses who appeared before the Committee included representatives from hospitals, universities and medical research institutes.
In an attempt to address gender inequities in research funding, the Federal Government announced the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) will introduce targets to award equal numbers of Investigator Grants to women and men from 2023. The Investigator Grant scheme is NHMRC’s largest funding scheme, awarding around $370 million in research funding each year.
The Federal Government granted a $139.9 million funding extension for 389 projects under the Information Linkages and Capacity Building program, which funds projects aimed at building capacity and social, economic and community participation of people with disability. Initially due to cease between now and February 2023, the majority of these projects are now expected to receive funding until 30 June 2024, so that activities remain uninterrupted over the coming years.
The SA Government expanded[PDF] the SA Virtual Care Service (VCS) to roll out across 150 Residential Care Facilities following a successful trial in 11 facilities. In an attempt to ease pressure on emergency departments, the service will provide aged care residents with access to specialist medical, nursing and paramedic clinicians outside of calls to triple-zero.