Weekly Wrap Up

17 May 2024

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  • The national unemployment rate increased to 4.1 per cent in April, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  • The Federal Government released draft legislation that will enable the Minister for Education to cap international student enrolments at universities.
  • The Federal Parliament established a Parliamentary Joint Select Committee to inquire into the impacts of social media on Australians, including the News Media Bargaining Code and online safety measures.
  • NT Chief Minister Eva Lawler handed down[PDF] the 2024-25 Territory Budget, revealing a $410 million deficit and $2.2 billion in new government spending over the next financial year.
  • Australia joined 143 other nations in voting in favour of a United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution that would grant Palestine extra rights and privileges at the UN. Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the vote would assist in achieving a two-state solution.

Federal Budget and Budget-In Reply

Treasurer Jim Chalmers handed down the 2024-25 Federal Budget on Tuesday night and the third under the Albanese Government. The Budget papers revealed a $9.3 billion budget surplus in FY2023-24 – the first time a Government has delivered consecutive Budget surpluses in over a decade – with real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at 1.75 per cent. However, Treasury projects a $28.3 billion deficit in the next financial year with GDP estimated to grow at 2 per cent. The Government’s signature Budget policy, the Future Made in Australia, will see $22.7 billion over ten years invested into boosting domestic manufacturing relating to the net-zero transition. Despite the extra spending in the Budget, Treasury expects inflation to decrease to 2.75 per cent by the end of the financial year, noting that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) have different forecasts of 3.2 per cent in the next financial year. GRACosway’s detailed overview of the Budget can be viewed here.

Following this, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton delivered the Budget in-reply where he outlined a six-point plan to get Australia “back on track.” According to Mr Dutton, a Coalition Government would cut spending, remove red tape for businesses, unwind Labor’s industrial relations reforms, lower taxes, enhance competition policy for small businesses, and provide “affordable and reliable energy” by embracing nuclear alternatives. No sites or costings for nuclear energy were announced in the address. Notably, Mr Dutton confirmed that the Coalition would oppose the Government’s Future Made in Australia package, which he labelled as “magic pudding spending.”

On housing, Mr Dutton pledged a Coalition Government would cut Australia’s permanent migration by 25 per cent and cap international students in Australian universities. These measures, Mr Dutton said, would restore “the dream of home ownership.” Recognising recent incidents of domestic violence, Mr Dutton also committed to working with states and territories to reform bail laws and outlaw the use of social media to promote criminal acts. Additionally, in light of recent knife attacks across Australia, Mr Dutton committed to developing “uniform” knife laws in conjunction with state and territory governments.

Federal Parliament

Both houses of Parliament sat this week after a six-week hiatus. The Digital ID Bill 2024 passed in the House following its passage through the Senate earlier this year. The Bill primarily seeks to establish an economy-wide identity accreditation framework for Australians while adding additional safeguards over individual privacy. Despite opposition from the Coalition in the Senate, the New Vehicle Efficiency Standard Bill 2024, which establishes emissions standards for motor vehicles, was introduced and passed with crossbench support. The Treasury Laws Amendment (Financial Market Infrastructure and Other Measures) Bill 2024 was also debated in the House, which if passed would establish a climate-related financial disclosure regime for entities with a revenue of over $50 million.

In the Senate, the Modern Slavery Amendment (Australian-Slavery Commissioner) Bill 2023 passed. The Bill seeks to establish an Anti-Modern Slavery Commissioner which would engage with victims and industry on Australia’s modern slavery policy settings. Also passing in the Senate was the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2024, the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Legislation Amendment (Safety and Other Measures) Bill 2024, and the Treasury Laws Amendment (Tax Accountability and Fairness) Bill 2023.

Both Houses offered their condolences to the victims of the Bondi Junction stabbing attack, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese saying “if we have any small solace – and it’s impossible, of course, to think that anything good comes from something like that – it is that humanity really stood tall.”

Looking Ahead

The QLD, WA (Legislative Assembly only), NT, and Tasmanian Parliaments will sit next week.



Federal Developments

The Economics Legislation Committee published its final report on its inquiry into the Treasury Laws Amendment (Better Targeted Superannuation Concessions and Other Measures) Bill 2023 and related Bills. The Bill seeks to increase the concessional tax rate from 15 per cent to 30 per cent on contributions to superannuation balances that exceeds $3 million. The Committee endorsed the Bill, including measures relating to the Payment Systems (Regulation) Act 1998 reforms.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released its latest measure of the Wage Price Index (WPI). In the March quarter 2024, the WPI rose by 0.8 per cent and 4.1 per cent over the year. Treasurer Dr Jim Chalmers welcomed the wage growth, stating this marks the first time in 15 years annual wages have grown faster than 4 percent for three consecutive quarters.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) published the 2025 Reserve Bank Board meeting dates, with eight meetings scheduled in 2025. The RBA also noted the quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy will be released alongside the outcomes of the Board meetings in February, May, August and November.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) gazetted its expanded program of work for its financial reporting and audit surveillance program. This will apply to listed companies, public interest entities, and superannuation funds. The areas of focus include asset values, adequacy of provisions, subsequent events, and disclosures. ASIC also announced a new review of auditors’ compliance with ethical and independence standards.



Federal Developments

The Government announced additional sanctions on five Iranian individuals and three entities in response to Iran’s activities since the drone and missile attack on Israel in April. Those sanctioned included members of the Iranian Government, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other senior officials. The IRGC Navy was named as one of the sanctioned entities. The latest listings bring the Government’s total of sanctioned Iranian-linked individuals to 90 and entities to 100.

The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade commenced an inquiry into Australia’s response to the priorities of the Pacific region. The committee will hear from key stakeholders on how views and concerns on economic, environmental, and social issues relevant to the Pacific are addressed. The committee will also assess the effectiveness of Australia’s aid programs in the Pacific. Submissions are open until 28 June.

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) recommended that the Second Protocol to Amend the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area be ratified. The Second Protocol aims to provide new services, investments, and digital trade data rules, and to invite first-time cooperation on the environment, labour rights, and women’s economic empowerment in the region. The committee intends to seek updates from the Government regarding investor-state dispute settlement provisions in the agreement.

JSCOT held a public hearing concerning an agreement between the Australian and the US Governments regarding the US’ participation in space launches from Australia. The agreement aims to provide the legal and technical frameworks to launch from Australia satellites that were manufactured and previously bound to be exported. The committee is yet to hand down the results of the hearing.



Federal Developments

The Federal Government unveiled tenders for Victorian and Tasmanian renewable energy projects under the Capacity Investment Scheme, which aims to procure 6 gigawatts (GW) of new variable renewable energy projects for the National Electricity Market. As part of this announcement, Victoria is guaranteed at least 1.4GW of renewable energy projects, whilst Tasmania is guaranteed at least 300MW of new renewable energy projects. Bids for the tender opened on 16 May.

The Federal Government approved the Punchs Creek Solar Farm in Queensland, an 800 megawatt solar farm and 250 megawatt battery energy storage system. As part of the project, 1.7 million solar PV panels will be installed on previously cleared agricultural land, which will be connected to the existing Powerlink transmission line.

State Developments

SA Premier Peter Malinauskas signed a letter of cooperation with the State of California during his trip to the United States. The partnership focuses on collaboration across renewable energy initiatives, such as developing clean hydrogen projects, advancing the clean energy transition through integrating renewable energy into grids, and supporting decarbonisation and electrification initiatives.

The Queensland Government awarded $21 million to four projects that seek to advance exploration in the Bowen Basin and accelerate the development of new gas reserves. Recipients include Comet Ridge, Denison Gas, QPM Energy, and State Gas Limited, with funding provided by the Frontier Gas Exploration Program.



Federal Developments

Minister for Regional Development Catherine King awarded approximately $207 million to 46 new regional infrastructure projects as part of Round 1 of the Growing Regions Program. The funding will support local government and not-for-profit organisations to deliver infrastructure and other capital works projects which support socio-economic outcomes and regional priorities.

State Developments

The NT Government announced[PDF] just under $3 billion in infrastructure spending as part of the 2024-25 Territory Budget. Projects included constructing more homes for regional and remote communities (as part of a joint investment with the Federal Government); and upgrading outback roads in towns such as Katherine and Tennant Creek.

The SA Government revealed it will consult former Chief Justice of the High Court Robert French AC to consider pathways for the Government to ban social media for children under the age of 14 and to mandate parental consent for children aged 14 and 15.

NSW Planning Minister Paul Scully released proposed reforms to the Rural Housing Code and the Inland Code which aims to make it easier for regional landholders to carry out earthworks. Types of infrastructure related to the reforms including stormwater drainage works, storage tanks, and shearing sheds. Consultation closes 14 June.



Federal Developments

The Federal Government announced it will respond to 29 of 47 recommendations made in the Australian Universities Accord. As part of the reforms, the Government is setting the target of 80 per cent of Australia’s workforce to have a tertiary qualification by 2050. The reforms will also establish an Implementation Advisory Committee chaired by Tony Cook PSM, the Secretary of the Department of Education.

Under the Australian Universities Accord, the Federal Government will commission a study into antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism and the experience of First Nations people in the university sector. The study will be led by Giridharan Sivaraman, Race Discrimination Commissioner, with help from the Australian Human Rights Commission. The study will examine the prevalence and impact of racism in the sector. An interim report will be provided by 31 December and a final report by 30 June 2025.

State Developments

The NSW Government announced expanded access for uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs), following the completion of a 12-month trial. From 1 June, all pharmacists who have undergone required training and have adequate facilities will be able to provide consultations and prescriptions to treat UTIs.

The NT Government will spend $110.2 million on education as part of the Territory’s 2024-25 Budget handed down this week. The Territory Government will offer four new VET courses and a new remote training hub in Tjuwanpa. The hub will provide certificates in hospitality, cooking, arts, and trades.


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