Weekly Wrap Up
19 May 2023
To receive regular policy and political updates, subscribe to our Weekly Wrap Up here.
- Latest Newspoll data was released, showing Labor continues to lead the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis, 55-45.
- Australia’s unemployment rate increased by 0.2 to 3.7 per cent in April, according to new labour force data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
- The ABS also published latest Wage Price Index data, indicating that wages rose 3.7 per cent over the year to March.
- The Parliamentary Committee examining the Government’s legislation to establish a referendum on a First Nations Voice to Parliament released its final report[PDF].
- Meanwhile, latest polling on the Voice Referendum from Resolve Strategic found that support for the Voice has dropped from 58 to 53 per cent over the past month.
- Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones confirmed a national anti-scams centre will be established within the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) from July, supported by $86.5 million in funding from the recent Budget.
- Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek granted provisional approval to the Isaac River Coal Mine Project in Central Queensland. The project will be the first coal mine to receive approval under the Albanese Government.
- Prime Minister Albanese acknowledged the Federal Government will pay over $132 million to claimants in a class action over PFAS contamination in seven communities across Australia.
- In Tasmania, the Rockliff Liberal Government was reduced to a minority following the defection of two Liberal MPs to the crossbench.
2023 Quad Leaders’ Summit
Following the news that US President Joe Biden would be unable to attend the 2023 Quad Leaders’ Summit, due to take place in Sydney next Wednesday, as a result of domestic matters in the US, Prime Minister Albanese announced that the summit will not go ahead next week as planned. Instead, the four leaders of the Quad – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, President Biden, and Prime Minister Albanese – have made plans to convene on the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Japan this weekend. Mr Albanese noted that although Australia is not a member of the G7, Prime Minister Kishida has invited him to the G7 as a “friend” of Japan.
On Wednesday morning, President Biden informed Prime Minister Albanese that he would be required to stay in the US next week, ahead of the 1 June deadline of resolving the country’s impasse about its debt ceiling. President Biden also informed Mr Albanese that he will be visiting Australia at a later date for a bilateral meeting and will also host Mr Albanese in the US later this year. Elsewhere, Mr Albanese confirmed that Indian Prime Minister Modi will visit Australia next week as planned and will join a bilateral meeting regarding India-Australia relations.
Sino-Australian trade relations
Following his visit to Beijing last week for the 16th Joint Ministerial Economic Commission, Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell stated that “constructive” progress had been made on China’s trade tariffs on certain Australian imports. Yesterday, Minister Farrell welcomed the news that China has decided to lift trade impediments on Australian timber. The Minister said that while the removal of the trade impediment on timber was a “breakthrough”, tariffs still remained on a number of Australian imports including barley, wine, and meat. He indicated that his next priority will be addressing the impediments on Australian barely, and that Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao had assured him the country’s review into these tariffs was “well underway” and expected to be finalised in the coming weeks.
Queensland Cabinet reshuffle
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced changes to her Cabinet yesterday afternoon. In the first Cabinet reshuffle since the Palaszczuk Government was re-elected at the October 2020 State Election, multiple ministers gained new portfolios. No existing ministers were removed from Cabinet nor were any backbench MPs elevated; rather, of Premier Palaszczuk’s 18-member Cabinet, eight existing ministers had their roles changed.
Most significantly, former Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Yvette D’Ath moved to the roles of Attorney-General, Minister for Justice, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence. The minister formerly responsible for these portfolios, Shannon Fentiman, has now gained responsibility for Health and Ambulance Services, as well as the new portfolio of Mental Health. Minister Fentiman has also retained responsibility for her existing portfolio of Women. Other key changes included the removal of the Youth Affairs and Digital Economy portfolio and the addition of a Treaty portfolio as well as a portfolio for Digital Services. Also of note was the movement of former Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef; and Science and Youth Affairs, Meaghan Scanlon, to the new standalone portfolio of Housing.
The Federal House of Representatives is sitting next week, while Budget Estimates will take place in the Senate. The Victorian and Tasmanian Budgets will be delivered, with Parliament due to sit for three days in Tasmania and on the Tuesday only in Victoria. The Queensland and NSW Parliaments will also sit, while Budget Estimates will take place in the WA House of Assembly.
The Reserve Bank of Australia published the Minutes of the Board’s May 2023 Monetary Policy Meeting where it raised interest rates by 0.25 per cent. Notably, the Board stated that the continued upside risk of inflation to Australia contributed to its decision to increase the cash rate.
Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Andrew Leigh announced the ACCC will have a designated complaints function for consumer and small business advocates to raise systemic complaints. The system is due to open in July 2024, with more details expected in the coming months.
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority finalised its new prudential requirements and guidance for recovery and resolution planning. The new requirements aim to strengthen the preparedness of banks, insurers and superannuation funds to respond to a crisis.
Minister for Small Business Julie Collins delivered an address to the National Franchise Convention, where she outlined the Government’s plans to commence both a statutory and broader review of the franchising regulatory framework “later in the year”.
The WA Government introduced legislation that would provide a 50 per cent land tax exemption for eligible build-to-rent developments from the 2023-24 assessment year.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong travelled to Southeast Asia to meet with government representatives in Laos and the Philippines. During her visit to the Philippines, Minister Wong met with her Philippine counterpart Enrique Manalo and announced an increase of $89.9 million in Australia’s Official Development Assistance to the Philippines in 2023-24.
Minister Wong also announced new appointments to the Advisory Board of the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations, including Pru Bennet as Chair. The Board will support the Foundation to promote Australia’s national interests in its engagement with China.
Assistant Minister for Trade Tim Ayres joined the 38th Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Forum and Trade Expo in PNG to promote business links and the economic relationship between the two countries.
The Government signed a $160 million contract with Thales Australia for an additional 78 Bushmasters for the Australian Defence Force, to be manufactured in Bendigo, Victoria. The vehicles will be delivered from 2024 onwards.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Madeleine King approved the distribution of over $48 million in grants across 13 critical minerals projects in WA, NSW and Queensland. The Minister stated that the projects will help Australia and its export partners lower emissions on the transition to net-zero by 2050, while also creating jobs and opportunities across regional Australia.
Minster for Industry and Science Ed Husic confirmed that a new Powering Australia Industry Growth Centre while be established with the aim of supporting emerging Australian-made renewable energy and low-emissions technologies. The centre will provide advanced technology and skills to businesses aiming to locally manufacture, commercialise and adopt these technologies.
Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek granted a temporary one-year exemption to Oatley Resources Australia Pty Ltd to export “clean and sorted” polyethylene terephthalate (PET) waste plastic overseas for additional processing and remanufacturing into new products. Following the introduction of a staged ban on plastic waste exports from Australia in July 2021, this exemption was granted with the aim of reducing domestic issues of plastic stockpiling.
Victorian Minister for Climate Action Lily D’Ambrosio formalised the State Government’s target to reduce emissions by 75-80 per cent by 2035 under Victoria’s Climate Change Act 2017. It comes after the release of the final report[PDF] of the Independent Expert Panel appointed to provide advice on the target.
The SA Government opened consultation on draft legislation for a new Hydrogen and Renewable Energy Act. The legislation has been drafted with the intention of streamlining processes for companies wanting to invest in large-scale hydrogen and renewable energy projects by introducing a single regulatory process that covers the entire lifecycle of a project.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King participated in the 2023 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Transportation Ministerial Meeting in Michigan in the US. At this meeting, Minister King signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to collaborate on emissions reduction in the transport sector.
Minister King also announced the Government will develop a Maritime Emissions Reduction National Action Plan (MERNAP) outlining methods for a green energy transition in the maritime sector. It is intended that the MERNAP will build on wider collaboration with other nations to lower emissions in maritime operations.
The Victorian Government entered into a new contract with Conduent Business Services for its myki ticketing system for public transport in the state. With the new 15-year contract due to begin in December, Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll has indicated that technology improvements “will be progressively added” to existing payment options for public transport.
The WA Government awarded TAMS Group the contract to develop the second stage of the Nelson Point Tug Haven upgrade located at the Port of Port Headland. This contract forms part of a broader $72 million project.
Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Gen Kearney released the Nurse Practitioner Workforce Plan, which is aimed at improving the accessibility and delivery of person-centred care to Australian communities. The Plan also details how to remove key barriers currently facing the workforce, build workforce numbers, and increase access to care.
The Federal and WA governments confirmed the selection of a provider for WA’s first Medicare Urgent Care Clinic, which will begin operating from June 2023. The first of six clinics in WA, the service will be fully bulk billed. Similarly for Victoria, the Federal Government indicated it will take over funding for eight existing centres to convert them into Medicare Urgent Care Clinics.
The SA Government announced new financial incentives for health workers to move to the state through the ‘For Work. For Life.’ program, extending payments of $10,000 for a move to metropolitan locations, $13,000 for the regions and $15,000 for remote locations.
The NSW Surgical Care Taskforce met to discuss how to reduce the state’s elective surgery waiting list. Chaired by Professor Neil Merrett, Program Director of Surgery for South Western Sydney Local Health District; and Mr Matthew Daly, Deputy Secretary, System Sustainability and Performance for NSW Health, the taskforce will examine a range of best-practice models and report to the Health Minister in three months’ time.