Weekly Wrap Up
16 June 2023
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- Latest Labour Force data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics outlined that the unemployment rate fell 0.1 per cent to 3.6 per cent in May 2023.
- The Federal Government released the design of the Mandatory Gas Code of Conduct, with the full Code set to be released in coming weeks.
- Federal, State and Territory Environment Ministers agreed to implement new mandatory regulations for manufacturers and retailers to reduce packaging waste. The Ministers also agreed to support the development of a roadmap to improve kerbside waste collection.
- Federal, State and Territory Infrastructure and Transport Ministers also met late last week and confirmed[PDF] in-principle support to bring forward the first review of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese gave an address to the CEDA State of the Nation Conference where he highlighted the importance of expanding the care and support economy, as well as increasing economic security through productivity growth in renewable energy and new technologies sectors.
- NSW Minister for Finance Courtney Houssos announced a temporary suspension of PwC from new tax contracts with the State Government, and banned any PwC member that has breached confidentiality rules from future work with the NSW Government.
During yesterday’s parliamentary sitting, the Government introduced legislation that swiftly passed both houses to terminate the Russian Government’s lease for a new Russian embassy on a parcel of land adjacent to Parliament House. Introducing the bill, Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil stated it was “absolutely necessary to protect Australia’s national security interests”. Russia will still have its embassy in a nearby suburb. In the Senate, debate has continued on the Government’s legislation to establish the mechanism for the Voice referendum after it passed the House during the previous sitting week. With the Senate due to sit late tonight, the Government is hoping to pass the bill. Meanwhile, since passing the House in February, the legislation on the Government’s proposed housing package is yet to be debated again in the Senate. It is understood that negotiations between the Government and the Greens are ongoing, with the Greens’ latest statement on the matter indicating they will support the legislation if the Government imposes a rent freeze and commits an additional $2.5 billion a year to social and affordable housing.
In other parliamentary matters, Senator David Van has been removed from the Liberal Party following a series of allegations arising from matters first raised in the Senate this week. On Wednesday, while Senator Van spoke on a report from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe made comments under parliamentary privilege that alleged an incident involving Senator Van. Senator Thorpe suggested that under the leadership of former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Senator Van had been required to move offices following the alleged incident.
Senator Thorpe later withdrew these comments but continued to outline matters she alleged to have experienced in Parliament, stating it “is not a safe place”. Senator Van followed this with a statement in which he rigorously denied Senator Thorpe’s allegations, but confirmed that he had previously moved offices at the time the Senator first made an allegation against him.
Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton later confirmed that he had met with Senator Van and decided to remove him from the Liberal Party, with the Senator to now sit on the Senate crossbench as an Independent. Mr Dutton has also confirmed he has been made aware of further allegations against Senator Van from an additional two complainants, one being former Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker. Ms Stoker issued a separate statement on the matter, and Senator Van has said he will not be commenting on the matter further until an investigation is completed. Mr Dutton has subsequently called[PDF] for Senator Van to resign from Parliament, stating it would be “in everyone’s best interests”.
Meanwhile, the Government has faced questioning in relation to Finance Minister Katy Gallagher’s knowledge of an allegation first raised by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins in 2019. On Tuesday, Minister Gallagher told the Senate that her primary concern has always been with the wellbeing of Ms Higgins and denied allegations that she had misled parliament over the matter. Elsewhere, the Prime Minister reaffirmed his view that Minister Gallagher has been fully transparent and suggested the issue was “concocted”.
Both the Queensland and South Australian 2023-24 budgets were delivered this week, each with a key focus on the cost of living. On Tuesday, Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick handed down his fourth budget for the State, revealing a $12.3 billion surplus for 2023-24. The Treasurer highlighted a series of measures aimed at supporting those struggling in the face of inflationary pressures, including a new commitment to expand the places in Queensland’s free kindergarten scheme from 14,000 to 50,000. Infrastructure, health, and housing were also a focus of this budget, with a $20.3 billion infrastructure spend highlighted for the upcoming financial year.
In South Australia, State Treasurer Stephen Mullighan delivered his second budget on Tuesday, confirming a $249 million deficit for the 2022-23 financial year that fell short of the $233 million surplus that last year’s Budget had forecast for the same period. A significant new measure within the South Australian Budget was the announcement that stamp duty will be abolished for first-home buyers purchasing an eligible newly constructed home. The measure was positioned by the Treasurer as a means to address the fact that home ownership “has never felt further from [the] grasp” of many young South Australians. Broader measures relating to housing, health, child protection, and cost of living also featured in this year’s State Budget.
The Senate is sitting today and both houses of Federal Parliament will meet again next week. The Victorian, Tasmanian, NSW, and WA parliaments are also sitting next week and Estimates hearings will take place in the NT.
The Federal Government has released[PDF] its response to the Quality of Advice Review, advising it will support the ‘bulk’ of the Review’s recommendations. Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones stated the Government’s reforms will be progressed in three streams. Stream one will remove regulation that adds to the cost of advice, and will include removal of the safe harbour steps from the Best Interest Duty. Stream two will expand the provision of financial advice to superannuation funds by clarifying intra-fund advice in the legislation. The third stream will investigate expanding the provision of financial advice to other financial institutions – including banks and insurers.
Chair of the Australian Securities & Investments Commission Joe Longo addressed the CEDA State of the Nation conference where he spoke about major changes occurring in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) business standards. Longo stated, “ESG issues are driving the biggest changes to financial reporting and disclosure standards in a generation”.
The Banking Code Compliance Committee published the findings from its inquiry[PDF] into the management of deceased estates. The report found that banks continue to apply fees and charges to the accounts of deceased customers, fail to act on requests or instructions after receiving notification, and treat the representatives and family of the deceased with a lack of respect and compassion. The report made nine recommendations to improve compliance with the Code.
The Council of Financial Regulators published its quarterly statement following its meeting in June. The Council discussed recent stresses in the international banking system, the impact of high inflation and interest rates, and the Reserve Bank of Australia Review.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Governments of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America authorised a Joint Declaration Against Trade-Related Economic Coercion and Non-Market Policies and Practices during a Ministerial meeting in Paris. The Declaration establishes international commitment to prevent threatening policies and practices that could undermine the multilateral trading system.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hosted the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Mr Henry Puna, in Canberra to discuss ongoing initiatives in relation to climate action, resilience and security in the Pacific region.
Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy confirmed the arrival of the first group of workers from Papua New Guinea to regional Queensland to support Australia’s aged care sector as part of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong made various appointments including Todd Dias as Australia’s Consul-General in Makassar; Alison Duncan as Australia’s Ambassador to Greece; Philip Green OAM as High Commissioner to India; Hilary McGeachy as Consul-General in Bengaluru; and Alison Shea as Consul-General in Papeete.
The South Australian Government invested $5.4 million to establish an Office for AUKUS as part of the 2023-24 State Budget. The Office will support the Government’s implementation of a nuclear-powered submarine construction program at Osborne in Adelaide.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Government released the Australian Carbon Credit Units Review Implementation Plan, accepting all 16 recommendations made by the Independent Panel. The plan outlines reforms that are being implemented immediately, reforms for priority consultation, and longer-term reforms. Immediate reforms include mechanisms relating to the governance of, and methodology for determining, carbon credits. The Government will hold consultation on priority reforms from June to November 2023.
The Queensland Government announced an investment of $19 billion over four years to support new wind, solar, storage and transmission projects as part of its 2023-24 State Budget. Of this funding, $1.48 billion will be allocated to electricity bill support in 2023-24 for eligible Queensland households and small businesses.
The South Australian Government included $27.1 million in its 2023-24 State Budget for measures aimed at protecting and preserving the State’s natural environment and biodiversity. This investment includes funding to establish BioData SA to create a new biodiversity data system to improve data sharing.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen confirmed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will provide $20 million in concessional finance to Splend, a rideshare vehicle subscription provider, to enable the provider to offer an additional 500 electric vehicles on its subscription plans by the end of this year.
The NSW Government announced new planning rules aimed at addressing a shortage of housing supply in the State. Under the new rules, developments with a capital investment of over $75 million, of which 15 percent of the total gross floor area is allocated to affordable housing, will have access to the State Significant Development planning approval pathway. These developments will also be permitted to incorporate an increased height and floor space ratio 30 per cent above local environment plans.
Also in NSW, the State Government released[PDF] a Discussion Paper on the Fels Toll Review for public consultation, as well as a Summary Report[PDF] of the previous review. The Government has indicated it does not accept the Review’s recommendations to implement a congestion tax and expand the roads in Sydney’s network with tolls on them, but will consider other proposed options.
The Queensland Government invested $32.1 billion over four years for road and transport as part of its 2023-24 State Budget. A large part of this investment, named the Queensland Transport and Road Investment Program, will focus on areas outside of the metropolitan region.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler announced the appointment of Blair Comley as the new Secretary for the Department of Health and Aged Care in light of the upcoming retirement of outgoing Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy. Mr Comley has previously served as Secretary of the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet and as Secretary of the Federal Department of Resources.
The Department of Health and Aged Care released a consultation paper on Australia’s first National Health and Climate Strategy. The Strategy will establish a plan aimed at preparing for health challenges presented by climate change. Submissions on the paper close on 24 July.
The Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs commenced an Inquiry into equitable access to diagnosis and treatment for individuals with rare and less common cancers, including neuroendocrine cancer. The Committee is due to report by the first sitting Thursday in March 2024.
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs launched an inquiry into the recognition of unpaid carers in Australia. The inquiry will consider the value of unpaid care, the needs of specific cohorts of carers, and the effectiveness of the Carer Recognition Act 2010. Submissions to the inquiry close on 11 August.