Weekly Wrap Up
15 July 2022
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- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called an emergency National Cabinet meeting for Monday to discuss the response to the rising COVID-19 outbreak.
- The Australian Bureau of Statistics released its labour force data for June, showing the national unemployment rate has fallen to a 48-year low of 3.5 per cent.
- The Parliamentary Budget Office published the 2022 Election commitments report.
- The Department of Social Services released two consultation reports to inform the development of the draft National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-32.
- The Federal and NSW governments extended support for communities affected by recent flooding in NSW. Additional support includes $80 million to assist with the clean-up and $36 million for a building assessment program for flooded properties.
- Meanwhile, the Insurance Council of Australia confirmed the flooding event has resulted in an estimated insurance loss of $97.9 million.
- Prime Minister Albanese and Treasurer Jim Chalmers announced the Federal Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit will be held at Parliament House in September.
- The NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into John Barilaro’s appointment to a US Trade Commissioner role referred evidence from its hearings to NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption.
- The Aboriginal flag became a permanent fixture on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
In line with the Albanese Government’s continued focus on international relations, a number of other visits, meetings and agreements have taken place over the past week. At the conclusion of the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Bali, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong met with China’s State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi to discuss the Sino-Australian relationship. Mr Wang suggested that in order to improve relations, Australia will need to focus on “not treating China as an opponent” as well as “not doing the bidding of the United States”. He also emphasised the need for common ground and improvement of public opinion. Mr Wang is reported to have commented that the former Coalition Government was “the root cause” of tensions in the Sino-Australian relationship due to its treatment of China as an “adversary” and “threat”.
At the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders’ Meeting in Fiji, Mr Albanese committed to supporting Fiji’s development of a new Maritime Essential Services Centre in Lami. Mr Albanese has also joined the PIF leaders to declare a global climate emergency, signifying Australia’s first official association with a climate emergency warning. Notably, this declaration is largely symbolic.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles visited the US to meet with his Defence counterpart, Lloyd J. Austin III. The two confirmed their commitment to the AUKUS partnership and climate change cooperation. Meanwhile, together with the other Quad leaders, Mr Albanese issued a joint condolences statement regarding the death of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt also travelled to Jakarta to discuss Indonesia’s response to the country’s foot and mouth disease outbreak.
This morning, Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil and Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland announced the establishment of the Australia-Japan Policy Dialogue on Telecommunications Resilience. The partnership was established following bilateral Ministerial meetings in Melbourne and Sydney and will involve collaboration on the security of Australia and Japan’s telecommunications networks, in particular 5G.
Sydney Energy Forum and tensions on climate action
This week, Australia hosted Ministers from the United States, Japan, India, Indonesia, and Samoa, as well as industry leaders, for a two-day forum in Sydney focused on the global transition to clean energy. Prime Minister Albanese addressed the forum to elaborate on Australia’s commitment to transition to renewable energy and confirmed Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen will introduce the Government’s climate change bill when Parliament resumes in the final week of July. This legislation will include the Government’s target to reduce net emissions by 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
In response to this commitment, Leader of the Greens Adam Bandt indicated the Greens’ position that “the Prime Minister risks misreading the national mood for co-operation on climate”. He suggested that with the Greens holding the balance of power in the Senate, the party will be reluctant to support the Government’s emissions target legislation if it continues to support new coal and gas projects. Mr Bandt then responded to a leaked draft of the climate change bill, stating his concern that the legislation “puts a legal ceiling on lifting the target [and] allows future climate-wrecking governments to announce lower targets”. Minister Bowen has responded by saying the Government is “very happy to work with the crossbench on sensible suggestions that are in keeping with [Labor’s] agenda and mandate”.
In another key event at the forum, Minister Bowen and United States Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm signed the Australia-United States Net Zero Technology Acceleration Partnership, signalling a commitment to collaborate on the pathway to net zero.
Australia also joined the Minerals Security Partnership, along with the United States, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the European Commission.
Amid increasing COVID-19 cases, the Federal Government has resisted pressure to reinstate the $750 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment that expired on 30 June. The Prime Minister has defended the Government’s decision by pointing to “a trillion dollars of debt” inherited from the former Coalition Government, while the Treasurer has stated that the payment “had to end at some point”.
Meanwhile, NSW, Victoria, and SA have accepted the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s recommendation that the reinfection period for COVID-19 be reduced from 12 weeks to 28 days. The Federal Government has also expanded eligibility for access to COVID-19 antiviral treatments to positive cases aged over 50 with at least two risk factors, in addition to those aged over 70. No further restrictions or mask mandates have been imposed at this stage.
No Parliaments are sitting next week.
Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones delivered a speech at the Responsible Lending Summit, where he announced a review into Buy Now, Pay Later schemes, and discussed responsible lending practices and recommitted the Government to retaining the Responsible Lending Obligations in the National Credit Act.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has adopted a temporary ‘no-action position’ to allow large banks to withhold information on consumer credit reports where the information may lead to harm, including family violence.
ASIC has also made product intervention orders by imposing conditions on the issue of short and continuing credit contracts to retail clients. This follows previous regulatory actions by ASIC to address predatory lending.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority has issued new rules to require telecommunications companies to identify, trace and block spam text messages.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The CSIRO published its annual GenCost report, highlighting that renewables continue to be the cheapest new-build electricity generation choice in Australia. The report also confirms past years’ findings that wind and solar are the cheapest source of electricity generation and storage in Australia.
The Victorian Essential Services Commission released its 2022-23 energy compliance and enforcement priorities, outlining tougher regulatory consequences should businesses not put consumer needs and protection first.
The WA Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with FutureEnergy Australia to investigate opportunities in renewable diesel throughout the Collie region. The partnership focuses on renewable diesel project development to create a local zero emissions diesel industry.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Federal and NSW governments awarded Abergeldie Contractors a construction contract for the new Brisbane and Darling streets intersection, as part of the New Dubbo Bridge project.
The Queensland Government’s Audit office released its report on Delivering Social Housing Services. The Queensland Department of Communities, Housing and Digital Economy has accepted all eight recommendations in the report.
The Victorian Government has appointed the Djilang Alliance – comprised of McConnell Dowell, Downer, Arup and WSP – to complete the next stage of Geelong’s Line Upgrade, the South Geelong to Waurn Ponds Duplication.
The WA Government awarded Transdev a $1.3 billion bus service contract to operate in the Fremantle and Rockingham-Mandurah areas for the next 10 years. The contract will come into effect 2 October 2022.
The NSW Government announced it will establish an independent statutory Property Services Commissioner. An Acting Property Services Commissioner will be appointed from 1 August while the State Parliament considers legislation.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler launched the Cancer Hub, a digital platform where children and young adults with cancer, and their parents, can receive counselling services. The Government will provide $3.3 million to Canteen to deliver the Cancer Hub until December 2023.
The Department of Health and Aged Care released the Government’s Winter Plan – A guide for residential aged care providers, a document that offers guidance and resources for aged care providers to prepare for exposures and outbreaks of COVID-19 and/or influenza during winter.
The Victorian Government has opened submissions for providers to run the new Statewide Trauma Service, as well as expressions of interest for four Mental Health and Wellbeing Commissioners. These are two key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.