Weekly Wrap Up
- Australia’s unemployment rate has lifted 0.1 points to 7 per cent in October.
- The Morrison Government has reached a $1.2 billion settlement with 43,000 individuals wrongfully pursued for welfare debt recovery.
- Treasurer Josh Frydenberg released the Retirement Income Review today.
- Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Morrison Government is ready to re-engage in “respectful and beneficial” dialogue with Beijing.
- Minister for Education Dan Tehan announced funding of $26 million in university research as part of the government’s plan to drive economic recovery. The funding will support 60 research collaborations under the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects scheme.
- Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced $5.3 billion to invest in the state’s public and community housing ahead of the Victorian State Budget next week to boost the state’s economy.
- The PM and Minister for Industry Karen Andrews announced $1 billion over a decade to underwrite the construction of a new vaccine production facility and guarantee the nation has the ability to rapidly manufacture vaccines when responding to health pandemics in the future.
- The NSW Budget was handed down by Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, for more information please see our dedicated briefing.
This week, PM Scott Morrison travelled to Japan to meet Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, becoming the first foreign leader to meet with the new PM on Japanese soil. The PMs signed a landmark defence treaty between Australia and Japan, named the Reciprocal Access Agreement. The treaty will allow more joint military exercises throughout the Indo-Pacific, including in the hotly-contested South China Sea, where recent developments including the “continuing militarisation of disputed features” were labelled as concerning by both leaders. However, the PM dismissed suggestions other countries in the region such as China should be concerned over increased military operations, and said the deal will bring more stability to the region.
The leaders also discussed the recent conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) over the weekend, which saw Australia, Japan, China, South Korea and New Zealand and the ten members of ASEAN sign one of the largest trade deals in history. The RCEP will provide new opportunities for Australian financial service providers, superannuation firms, universities and health and aged care companies. Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham said although the deal took eight years to negotiate, it comes at an important time given the current economic and trade uncertainty.
South Australia returns to lockdown
A cluster of COVID-19 cases in South Australia linked to a worker at a medi-hotel prompted Premier Steven Marshall on Wednesday to announce a six-day state-wide “circuit breaker” lockdown, with a further 8-day period of lessened restrictions to follow. The Premier said the lockdown is necessary to ensure SA can enjoy a COVID-normal Christmas. Under the restrictions, South Australians are restricted to their homes unless they need to purchase groceries, access medical services or provide care to a vulnerable person. Masks are also required outside of the home. The emergence of cases prompted all states and territories to impose border restrictions on SA. PM Scott Morrison supported the move stating he is “reasonably confident” SA will emerge from restrictions in six days and offered ADF support.
War Crimes Report
In a press conference on Thursday, Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell released the findings of the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) Afghanistan Inquiry regarding alleged misconduct by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan between 2005-2016. The Inquiry found credible information relating to 36 matters in which 39 Afghan prisoners or civilians were unlawfully killed by members of the special forces or at the instruction of special forces. The Inspector General has recommended 36 incidents be referred to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation. Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds vowed “accountability will be at the cornerstone of Defence’s response” and said the new Afghanistan Inquiry Implementation Oversight Panel would report to her regularly. PM Scott Morrison has personally informed Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani, about the release of the report, noting that it contains disturbing allegations.
Mental health in the spotlight
The Federal Government this week released the Productivity Commission’s inquiry report into mental health in Australia. The report estimated the cost of mental health on Australia’s economy is approximately $200 billion per year, and recommended substantial reforms to make the system more “person-centred” through concentrating on areas such as community care, early prevention and quality of treatment. PM Scott Morrison acknowledged mental health reform presents a “big challenge” and committed to develop a response to the report by the May 2021 Federal Budget.
Federal Parliament will return on 30 November. Elsewhere, Parliament will return in Queensland, Victoria, NSW and Tasmania.