Weekly Wrap Up
19 February 2021
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison recognised the 13th anniversary of the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples in Parliament, noting that all governments and the Coalition of Peaks will deliver their National Agreement on Closing the Gap implementation plans this year.
- The Queensland Government established an independent taskforce, chaired by former Court of Appeal Judge Hon Margaret McMurdo AC, to examine and act towards legislating against coercive control.
- The Gaming and Wagering Commission of Western Australia formally recommended that an independent inquiry be established to examine the suitability of Crown Perth as a casino gaming license operator, following the findings of the Bergin Inquiry in NSW.
- The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill passed Parliament, creating a single court structure.
- The Australian Bureau of Statistics published the January 2021 Labour Force data, reporting that the unemployment rate decreased to 6.4 per cent.
- Temporary measures introduced due to COVID-19 allowing companies to hold virtual annual general meetings and sign documents electronically have been extended until 15 September 2021.
- The Expenditure Review Committee is reportedly considering a significant reform package to streamline welfare payments.
Workplace culture and behavioural standards of parliamentary employees have again been in the spotlight this week following an interview with former ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins detailing an alleged sexual assault in a ministerial office in 2019. Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologised to Ms Higgins and acknowledged the Government must do more to support staff. The PM asked WA Liberal MP Celia Hammond to lead a process to improve standards and expectations of behaviour in Parliament and called for an independent review into workplace culture. The allegations are also being investigated by the Australian Federal Police.
Meanwhile, the Government removed proposed changes to the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) in its industrial relations legislation to gain support from the cross bench. The legislation continues to be debated in Parliament.
Media bargaining code
After threatening to block news circulation earlier this month, Facebook announced that it will restrict publishers and users in Australia from sharing and viewing news content. Previously, Google made a similar threat, however it instead has opted for multi-million deals with Nine and Seven West Media and News Corp. Facebook has justified its response, claiming their platform and Google Search have fundamentally different relationships with the news.
The Treasurer responded [PDF] to Facebook’s actions, indicating he wants the platform to stay in Australia but that the Government is firm in its commitment to the Code. Mr Frydenberg said he spoke with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the importance for paying for original content, noting Zuckerberg recognised the value of the Australian market.
A pandemic in progress
On Wednesday, Victoria moved out of its five day ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, returning to previous restrictions. Masks are still required in all indoor spaces and offices can operate at 50 per cent capacity. These measures are set to be in place until at least 26 February. The Holiday Inn cluster sits at 22 cases.
In good news, 142,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Australia and are being distributed to the states and territories. Frontline health and quarantine workers will be invited to be vaccinated starting next week. Also, the Therapeutic Goods Administration provisionally approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, of which Australia has secured 53.8 million doses.
The Federal and Northern Territory Parliaments will sit next week. Queensland Parliament will return and NSW will hold Budget Estimates.
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