Weekly Wrap Up
15 September 2023
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- The unemployment rate remained at 3.7 per cent, according to latest Labour Force data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
- Former Minister Stuart Robert was referred to the National Anti-Corruption Commission over potential conflict of interests relating to Mr Robert’s former involvement with a consulting firm.
- The High Court of Australia rejected an appeal from Qantas, unanimously deciding that the airline had unlawfully outsourced 1700 ground workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Following her return from leave and ongoing speculation regarding her leadership, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk stated she is “absolutely determined to lead the party and this Government to the next election”
In Parliament, the Government’s Housing Future Fund Bill 2023, which will deliver 30,000 social and affordable homes every year for five years, passed the Parliament after the Government secured the support of the Greens. The Greens ultimately guaranteed support on Monday following months of negotiations, after it reached an agreement with the Government to deliver an additional $1 billion for public and community housing. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stated, “I thank the leader of the Greens for the constructive discussions”, while Greens’ housing spokesperson Max Chandler-Mather confirmed the party would continue to “stand up and fight for a freeze and cap on rent increases”.
Meanwhile in the House, Minister for Health Mark Butler introduced the Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023, which proposes to ban menthol cigarettes, introduce warnings on individual cigarettes, and bring vaping products under existing advertising restrictions. Also in the House, the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Employer Compliance) Bill 2023 passed, which will criminalise employers for exploiting temporary migrant workers on visa programs. In the Senate, the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs tabled its final report following its inquiry into Australia’s current and proposed sexual consent laws; and the Greens introduced a bill to end native forest logging in Australia.
Elsewhere, the Voice to Parliament dominated debate during question time as the final parliamentary sitting week wraps up ahead of the referendum on 14 October. The Opposition posed questions regarding comments made against the ‘No’ campaign by Indigenous academic Marcia Langton, with Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney stating, “I have faith in the Australian people to engage in this debate respectfully”. Shadow Indigenous Australians Minister Jacinta Nampijinpa Price also addressed the National Press Club earlier in the week, stating that the Voice proposal is “flawed in its foundations”. On Monday, the referendum writ was issued alongside the opening of postal voting applications, with early voting to commence on 2 October.
PM’s visit to Asia
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited the Philippines and India over the weekend to meet with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr in Manila and join leaders at the G20 Summit in New Delhi. During his visit to Manila, the two leaders signed a strategic partnership to reaffirm diplomatic relations and support for stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Mr Albanese also confirmed the Government will double scholarships available for Filipinos in Australia and agreed to a new reciprocal Work and Holiday visa for Australians and Filipinos. The Government also committed $64.5 million to support peacebuilding in Mindanao. At the summit in New Delhi, Mr Albanese met with G20 leaders to discuss economic challenges, climate change, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
NSW Budget pre-commitments
The NSW Labor Government will hand down its first budget next Tuesday and has already confirmed a number of funding commitments and cost saving measures. The NSW Government confirmed a series of funding announcements this week in the lead up to the budget, which primarily centre around health, infrastructure, and education. Notably, the Government committed significant investments in Western Sydney, including $3 billion over four years to upgrade hospitals, and $3.5 billion over four years to construct new public schools. It also confirmed $572 million to retain 1112 nurses and midwives and will subsidise study for healthcare students as part of a $121.9 million package.
As for debt reduction measures, Treasurer Daniel Mookhey has previously said that the Government would face “tough choices” in the budget with a number of infrastructure projects set to be redesigned or cancelled.
WA, ACT and NSW Parliaments are sitting next week. The NSW Budget will also be handed down on Tuesday 19 September.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus introduced the Identity Verification Services Bill 2023 into Parliament. The Bill proposes to impose safeguards and security provisions on government agencies, banks, and telecommunication providers who require identity verification as part of their operating practices.
Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland introduced the Interactive Gambling Amendment (Credit and Other Measures) Bill 2023 which will ban the use of credit cards, credit related products and digital currency for online gambling, and give the Australian Communications and Media Authority additional powers to enforce these new rules.
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) released a consultation paper into insolvent trading safe harbour provisions. The paper will be used to update ASIC’s guidance to directors regarding compliance and obligations on the operation of safe harbour provisions. Submissions close 26 October.
Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones introduced legislation relating to small businesses, charities, insurance companies, and superannuation. Among other measures, the Bill seeks to increase the instant asset write-off threshold to $20,000 for small businesses and establishes an incentive scheme for businesses to transition to more efficient energy systems.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Foreign Minister Penny Wong imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on four individuals and three entities responsible for the oppression of people in Iran. Amongst those sanctioned include the police spokesperson for Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces, Iran’s Cyber Police, and Press TV.
Minister Wong also announced $1 million in emergency humanitarian assistance to people affected by the earthquake in Morocco. The funds will deliver immediate assistance including emergency shelter, first aid, protection, and psychological support, and will be provided through local organisations such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
The Government introduced the Safeguarding Australia’s Military Secrets Bill 2023 into the House of Representatives to strengthen current laws and enhance the Government’s ability to protect Australia’s national secrets. The Bill would require former members of the Australian Defence Force and former Defence Australian Public Servants to obtain authorisation to work for a foreign entity.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Minister for Resources Madeleine King released an issues paper to guide the Government’s roadmap to decommission offshore oil and gas infrastructure. Consultation on the paper will include feedback on the barriers and opportunities related to decommissioning. Submissions close 20 October.
The Government announced an independent review of the Inspector-General for Water Compliance to evaluate whether adequate powers exist to monitor illegal water extraction and non-compliance issues in the Murray-Darling Basin. The findings are expected in January 2024.
The NSW Government announced it will halt timber harvesting operations in 106 ‘koala hubs’ within the area being assessed for the Great Koala National Park, as part of its efforts to save koalas from extinction. The process to establish the park will involve economic and social assessments, the creation of advisory panels, and environmental and cultural heritage assessments.
The Queensland government is seeking public input on proposed reforms to the Environmental Protection Act, intended to enhance environmental risk management. The changes, informed by an independent review, include clarifying nuisance provisions and introducing a duty to manage risks proactively.
Draft regulations for the Aboriginal Heritage Legislation Amendment and Repeal Bill 2023 have been released by the Western Australian Government for stakeholder consultation. The Bill aims to repeal the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland MP has welcomed a request for tender by the Department of Infrastructure Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts to conduct a National Audit of Mobile Coverage. The audit will allow the Government to better identify black spots in mobile coverage and improve Australia’s mobile connectivity.
NSW Minister for Water Rose Jackson announced that the Wyangala Dam Wall Raising Project will cease, citing financial and environmental concerns. Infrastructure NSW conducted an independent review and along with the projects, Final Business Case found that if the dam wall was raised the proposed 10 metres, “substantial and irreversible environmental impacts” could ensue. The NSW Government will continue to review strategies considering community challenges regarding water security, reliability, and flood risk.
HEALTH, SOCIAL SERVICES AND EDUCATION
Minister for Health Mark Butler opened consultation to an independent review of the opportunities and barriers to Australian health practitioners working to their full potential. The Unleashing the Potential of our Health Workforce Review will inform the Government’s approach to supporting the health workforce and was a recommendation from the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce. Submissions are due by 16 October.
The Tasmanian Government has hired Professor Debora Picone AO to lead an independent review of the state’s public emergency departments. Professor Picone will be assisted by a nursing expert and an expert nominated by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.
The Victorian Government announced $230 million in funding for the teaching workforce, including scholarships to make the cost of studying a teaching degree free for those who enrol in 2024 and 2025 and commit to working in state schools for two years post-graduation.
The Queensland Parliament passed legislation to strengthen regulations around the use of the term ‘surgeon’. The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Surgeons) Amendment Bill 2023 changes mean only qualified doctors with significant surgical training can use the title ‘surgeon’ when promoting and conducting their services.