Weekly Wrap Up
17 February 2023
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- Latest labour force data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics was released, showing that the national unemployment rate increased to 3.7 per cent in January.
- The Federal Government received the final report of the Defence Strategic Review conducted by former Defence Chief Sir Angus Houston and is now considering its recommendations.
- Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil announced changes to temporary protection visas, under which visa holders will be able to apply for permanent residency if they arrived in Australia before the start of Operation Sovereign Borders.
- Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus released the report of his Department’s review into the Privacy Act, with consultation to inform the Government’s response to the report open until 31 March.
- The Australian Government committed to deploying an impact assessment team of 25 disaster experts to New Zealand to assist with response and recovery efforts for Cyclone Gabrielle.
- The Australian Taxation Office and Australian Federal Police confirmed a series of warrant executions took place this week in their operation to address widespread GST fraud.
- Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton unveiled changes to his Shadow Ministry, with Sarah Henderson assuming the shadow portfolio of Education and David Coleman taking on Communications.
- The NT’s new alcohol restriction laws commenced, enabling town camps and communities to be reverted to dry zones unless a community opts out following the development of a Community Alcohol Plan.
In the second sitting week of Federal Parliament for the year, the House of Representatives met while Budget Estimates took place in the Senate. To mark the fifteenth anniversary of the National Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese presented the Federal Government’s Closing the Gap Implementation Plan[PDF] and stated his optimism about the success of the upcoming referendum on the First Nations Voice to Parliament. The 2023 implementation plan includes key measures such as a $150 million commitment over four years to support First Nations water infrastructure through the National Water Grid Fund, and $111.7 million for a new one-year partnership between the Federal and NT governments to build new remote housing. Speaking on the anniversary of the National Apology in Parliament, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton referred to the Apology as a “profound moment” and apologised for not attending the Apology when it took place 15 years ago.
In other matters in Parliament, the Government’s legislation to establish the Housing Australia Future Fund passed the House. While the legislation was not supported by the Coalition, Liberal MP Bridget Archer crossed the floor to vote in its favour. Greens MP Max Chandler-Mather indicated[PDF] that in order for the Greens to support the legislation in the Senate, the Party wishes to negotiate changes including greater investments in social and affordable housing and the inclusion of a plan for renters. The Greens also stated[PDF] their desire to see the Government’s legislation to reform the safeguard mechanism amended to prevent the opening of new coal and gas projects, and indicated they will only support the Government’s proposed reforms if this amendment is made. As the Greens’ support for the legislation is necessary for it to pass through the Senate, negotiations are ongoing.
RBA Governor’s appearance before Senate Estimates
On Wednesday, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Philip Lowe, appeared before the Economics Committee in Budget Estimates in the Senate. In his first public address of the year, Mr Lowe was asked about the RBA’s decision to continue to raise interest rates over the past nine months, with the cash rate now sitting at 3.35 per cent after first being lifted from 0.1 per cent in May 2022. Mr Lowe stated that at 7.8 per cent, annual inflation is currently “way too high” and outlined the need to be attentive to the risks of high inflation. He also suggested that he does not believe the RBA has reached the peak of its interest rate rises yet, but does not know how much further rates will need to increase by to address inflation.
Mr Lowe also presented evidence to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics this morning, where he stated that inflation is expected to decline to the target of three per cent by mid-2025. Elsewhere, in a radio interview this morning, Prime Minister Albanese stated that the Government has confidence in Mr Lowe and that as a government, it is focused on addressing the challenge of inflation.
The Victorian, SA and WA Parliaments are sitting next week, while Parliament will resume for its first sitting of the year in Queensland.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission warned that it will be targeting greenwashing, predatory lending and misleading insurance pricing promises this year. The Commission will also enforce sustainable finance practices and disclosure of climate risks, financial scams, cyber and operational resilience, and investor harms involving crypto-assets.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced it will investigate how banks set interest rates for savers, following a direction from the Federal Government to commence an inquiry into Australia’s retail deposit market.
Treasury published the submissions for the options paper Regulating Buy Now, Pay Later in Australia. Treasury received 77 submissions, including 16 confidential submissions. Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones indicated the government will now consider these views and make further announcements in due course.
Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Andrew Leigh announced that Commonwealth, state and territory Treasurers have agreed to a set of nationally consistent fundraising laws for charities. Each jurisdiction will release an implementation plan by July 2023.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
The Australian Government committed an additional $8 million in humanitarian assistance to provide ongoing emergency assistance to those affected by the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, as well as $15 million to Syrians and host communities impacted by ongoing conflict in the region. The Government also allocated $25 million to support the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Pakistan in efforts to combat growing humanitarian concerns and rising global food insecurity.
Minister for Trade Don Farrell and Minister for International Development & the Pacific Pat Conroy hosted Swedish Minister for Foreign Trade Johan Forssell, Crown Princess Victoria, and Prince Daniel in Canberra. Meeting participants discussed negotiation efforts for a trade agreement between Australia and the European Union.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles and Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong met their respective Indonesian counterparts at the eighth Australia-Indonesia 2+2 Defence and Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Canberra. The meeting resulted in a new defence cooperation agreement between the two nations, commiting to greater collaborative efforts as well as reciprocal access to training ranges and joint military activities.
SA Premier Peter Malinauskas and Deputy Premier and Minister for Defence and Space Industries Susan Close confirmed the international Maritime, Air and Space Technologies (MAST) defence event will be hosted in Adelaide in 2024. MAST 2024 will be a three-day event that will see discussion of defence areas of interest to the Indo-Pacific.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency approved $65 million in funding for the construction of a concentrated solar power plant in Port Augusta in SA. Vast Solar will construct the 30MW / 288MWh plant, which is predicted to be operational by late 2025.
NSW Treasurer and Minister for Energy Matt Kean committed[PDF] that if re-elected, the current Coalition government will introduce legislation to prevent offshore mining and exploration in NSW waters, including coal, gas, mineral and petroleum.
Queensland Minister for Energy, Renewables and Hydrogen Mick de Brenni welcomed an agreement between State-owned Yurika and Ampol that will see the installation of 34 fast-chargers for electric vehicles spread across Australia. This comes in the aftermath of a pilot project in Brisbane.
CSIRO published a report outlining potential mitigation and offset options for onshore gas in the NT. The report, which was based on research undertaken in collaboration with commonwealth, state and territory governments and industry, suggested that carbon produced from Beetaloo basin fracking could potentially be offset by carbon capture and storage based out of Darwin.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories Kristy McBain announced the Federal Government will provide an additional $250 million through the next phase of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program. Councils will be able to apply for funding to cover road upgrades in regional, rural and outer urban areas.
The NSW Government appointed the current CEO of Infrastructure NSW, Simon Draper, as the first permanent CEO of the NSW Reconstruction Authority. The authority was established in December 2022 following on from recommendations of the independent inquiry into recent floods in the State.
The NSW Land and Housing Corporation awarded Sydney-based Traders in Purple the contract to deliver stages eight to eleven of the $855 million Bonnyrigg Renewal Project. Works on the next stage of the development are due to begin in April this year.
The SA Government announced it will fast track the development of 23,700 homes in the State’s largest release of residential land. Additionally, coordination of infrastructure investment in the State will be driven through a newly established Infrastructure Planning and Development Unit.
Also in SA, the State Government flagged it will reduce the maximum amount landlords can claim in rental bonds from six to four weeks’ rent and announced that an additional 400 households will be eligible for the Private Rental Assistance Program. Also on rental reforms, the State Government declared it will ban the practice of rent bidding, preventing landlords and rental agents from soliciting offers over the advertised rental price.
On Monday, Disability Ministers across Australia met in Canberra to discuss a range of issues, including the NDIS Review, hospital discharge delays for patients with disability, and meeting the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s target to prevent young people entering aged care.
The NSW Government committed $14 million to eight new and expanded health projects focusing on services for victim-survivors of family, domestic and sexual violence through the National Partnership Agreement for Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Responses 2021-23.
The SA Government introduced a new model of care to provide services for women giving birth on Kangaroo Island, following recent staff shortages. Obstetric patients are now able to give birth on the island without having to travel to the mainland.
WA Minister for Medical Research Stephen Dawson released the State’s first Health and Medical Research Strategy, which outlines a plan to grow and promote WA’s health workforce and partnerships over the next 10 years.