Weekly Wrap Up
19 August 2022
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- The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released its national Labour Force data for July, showing that the unemployment rate has decreased to a 48-year low of 3.4 per cent.
- Meanwhile, latest Wage Price Index data indicated that wages have increased 2.6 per cent over the 12 months to June 2022, compared to inflation of 6.1 per cent in the same period.
- At a national Energy Ministers meeting last Friday afternoon, federal, state and territory Ministers agreed to include “emissions reduction” as a new objective in national energy laws including the National Electricity Objective.
- Also last Friday afternoon, Australia’s Attorney-Generals endorsed a Consultation Draft of National Principles to Address Coercive Control at their first meeting under the Albanese Government.
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney travelled to Thursday Island this week for a roundtable on the Voice to Parliament.
- Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen opened consultation on the Safeguard Mechanism, which the Government intends to use to reduce emissions from Australia’s largest emitters.
- Treasurer Jim Chalmers released the Jobs and Skills Summit issues paper ahead of the Summit next month, identifying five broad themes and issues for discussion.
- Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic, and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King, announced a series of roundtables to be held with industry leaders to discuss industry challenges ahead of the Jobs and Skills Summit.
- This morning, Minister Bowen and Minister King announced the Federal Government is developing Australia’s first National Electric Vehicle Strategy and will soon open consultation. Meanwhile, a National Electric Vehicle Summit is being held today in Canberra.
- The Federal Government issued a statement on the one-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul, noting Australia will offer 31,500 places to Afghan nationals under the Humanitarian Program and the Family stream of the Migration Program over four years.
- The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announced it will examine the state of competition for social media services in Australia as part of the sixth interim report under its five-year Digital Platform Services Inquiry
Former PM’s undisclosed ministerial appointments
Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced significant criticism this week after it came to light that he appointed himself to five additional portfolios in 2020 and 2021, without the knowledge of the responsible Ministers or his parliamentary colleagues. In March 2020, Governor-General David Hurley appointed Mr Morrison to the portfolios of Health and Finance, and in April 2021 appointed him to the portfolio of Resources, followed by Home Affairs and Treasury in May 2021. It has been confirmed that former Minister for Health Greg Hunt and former Minister for Resources Keith Pitt were aware of the appointments, though no other parliamentary colleagues were informed, including the former Treasurer, Finance Minister and Home Affairs Minister. Prime Minister Albanese has condemned Mr Morrison and confirmed his Government is seeking advice from the Solicitor-General regarding the legality of Mr Morrison’s appointments.
Mr Morrison has indicated the appointments occurred due to “a clear expectation” from the public, media and opposition that he held responsibility for “pretty much every single thing that was going on” throughout the pandemic. He emphasised there was a need to “put in place safeguards, redundancies and contingencies” to ensure the Government operated effectively during the crisis period of the pandemic. The former Prime Minister highlighted that power under these additional ministries was only exercised in April 2021 to reject the PEP-11 gas-drilling permit and that this was done “in the national interest”. The Minister for Resources at the time, Keith Pitt, has responded by stating he “worked closely with the former Prime Minister and Cabinet during a difficult time for the people of Australia” and will not be making further comments as “the matter is before the courts”.
Despite calls for Mr Morrison to resign from parliament, including from his Liberal colleague and former Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews, Mr Morrison has defended the appointments and affirmed his intention to remain as the Member for Cook. Ms Andrews has since confirmed Mr Morrison has apologised to her for not informing her of his appointment to her portfolio.
The Governor-General has also been under the spotlight regarding his role in appointing Mr Morrison to the additional portfolios. Mr Hurley has issued a statement declaring that he “acted on the advice of the government of the day” and it was not his responsibility to inform the broader Ministry, parliament or public of the appointments.
Advice from the Solicitor-General on the matter is expected to be available on Monday.
Events in NSW Government
In another busy week for the NSW Government, two reports have been released and a number of new resignations have been announced. Premier Dominic Perrottet has accepted 12 of 13 recommendations made by former NSW Public Service Commissioner, Graeme Head, in his inquiry relating to the process of former Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s appointment to a US trade commissioner role. As a result, key changes that will be made to the NSW Government Sector Employment Act and Regulations include amendments to ensure that a Minister cannot direct a Secretary in the exercise of their employment functions; and an assurance that the full merit process applies to the future selection of the Senior Trade and Investment Commissioners.
The Premier has also indicated the Ministerial Code of Conduct will be amended to prevent former Ministers from accepting any offer of employment within a public sector agency that reported to them within the last two years of ministerial office for a period of 18 months after leaving office.
On Wednesday, the NSW Government made the Independent NSW Floods Inquiry report public and released its response. All 28 recommendations have been accepted either in full or in principle. Significantly, over the next year Resilience NSW will be transitioned to a new agency called ‘Recovery NSW’, which is intended to be more streamlined and agile. The Government has noted that Resilience NSW will continue to respond to disaster-impacted communities until “new arrangements are in place”. Further, the Government has accepted a recommendation to buyback homes in areas deemed “most at risk” from flood events.
Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello announced on Wednesday that he will not be recontesting his seat of Ryde at the 2023 State Election, after 14 years in NSW Parliament. Minister Dominello, who is one of three Ministers who has served the duration of the NSW Coalition’s term in office since 2011, will at this stage retain his ministerial responsibilities for the remainder of the term of government. Premier Perrottet has thanked Minister Dominello for his “significant contribution to public life and our state” and overseeing the transformation of Service NSW.
Meanwhile, Labor MLC Walt Secord resigned from Labor’s frontbench following last week’s release of the independent Broderick review into NSW Parliament’s culture, and Liberal MP Kevin Conolly announced he will not contest the March State Election.
In the NT, a by-election is taking place tomorrow for former Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s seat of Fannie Bay. The Tasmanian Parliament is sitting next week, while Budget Estimates will commence in NSW and continue in the ACT.
The Reserve Bank of Australia released the minutes of its August Monetary Policy Meeting of the Reserve Bank Board, where it discussed international and domestic economic developments and outlined the Board’s decision making process relating to the recent case rate increase.
The Federal Government has opened consultation on increasing penalties for breaches of competition and consumer law from $10 million to $50 million, with turnover-based penalties increasing from 10 to 30 per cent.
Suzanne Smith, Executive Director of Superannuation at the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and Jane Eccleston, Senior Executive Leader for Superannuation at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, delivered speeches at the Conexus Financial Retirement Conference.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Victorian Government formed an agreement with the state’s 18 water corporations to reduce their emissions to net zero by 2035.
The WA Government committed $10 million to Woodside Energy’s Hydrogen Refueller @H2Perth project in the Rockingham Industry Zone. The grant will be used to develop hydrogen refuelling infrastructure and commercial hydrogen fuel cell trucks.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
In accordance with its Assessment Framework, Infrastructure Australia finalised its independent assessment of the business case for Tamworth’s proposed Dungowan Dam and Pipeline, deeming that the dam and pipeline are not a priority at this time.
The Victorian Government announced that three construction business project groups – Kinetik, Geelong Live, and Plenary Conventions – have been shortlisted to build the $294 million Geelong Convention and Exhibition Centre, which will be delivered as a Public-Private Partnership.
In NSW, the Government committed an additional $196 million to improve road safety as part of the Towards Zero Safer Roads Program. Funding will be invested in intersection upgrades and the installation of safety measures including pedestrian islands and traffic light upgrades.
Ahead of the development of WA’s first Build-to-Rent project, Minister for Housing John Carey listed Community Housing Ltd, Housing Choices Western Australia Ltd, and Foundation Housing Ltd as the project’s three shortlisted Community Housing Provider consortiums.
The NT Government awarded Katherine-based Aboriginal Business Enterprise, Binjari Community Aboriginal Corporation, with a $19.3 million tender to build and upgrade homes across Ngukurr and Rittarangu, also known as Urapunga.
The Federal and Victorian governments finalised all arrangements for the 10-year partnership with Moderna for an mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility to be built at Monash University.
Victorian Minister for Higher Education Gayle Tierney announced $12.7 million in funding will be provided to a new medical device prototype facility at RMIT University. The Victorian Medical Device Prototyping and Scale-Up Facility will focus on developing non-invasive wearable and nearable medical technologies, such as instant sensors that can detect COVID-19.
The Victorian Government also invested $11.45 million towards the Lived and Living Experience Workforce Development Program, an initiative as part of the mental health system reforms. The program aims to retain and increase the lived and living experience workforce by offering training, support and career pathways.