Weekly Wrap Up
20 October 2023
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- National Cabinet endorsed a National Skills Agreement on Monday, which will provide up to an additional $3.7 billion over five years to support the vocational education and training sector.
- The Federal Government tasked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to monitor domestic air passenger services to ensure high standards, fair prices, and adequate protections for consumers.
- The High Court of Australia overturned the Victorian Government’s electric vehicle road user charge, after finding the tax was unconstitutional and the Government does not have the power to impose it.
- The Federal Parliament’s sitting calendar[PDF] for 2024 was published.
Voice to Parliament result
The Voice to Parliament referendum was held on Saturday with the ‘no’ vote defeating ‘yes’, 60.8 per cent to 39.2 per cent, with 80.2 per cent of the national vote counted at the time of writing. All six states resulted in a majority ‘no’ vote as well at the Northern Territory, while the ACT saw a majority ‘yes’. Following the result, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addressed the nation stating, “while tonight’s result is not one that I had hoped for, I absolutely respect the decision of the Australian people”. Meanwhile, Minister for Indigenous Affairs Linda Burney indicated she “will have more to say about our government’s renewed commitment to closing the gap”.
On Monday, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton questioned the Prime Minister’s decision to establish the referendum and introduced a censure motion in Parliament to condemn Mr Albanese, which was voted down. Mr Dutton also reversed his position on holding another referendum on constitutional recognition if the Coalition won the next election, outlining Australians are “probably over the Referendum process for some time”. Instead, the Opposition moved a motion for a royal commission into child sexual abuse in Indigenous communities and an audit spending on Indigenous programs, which was also unsuccessful.
In Queensland, following the weekend’s result, the Opposition Liberal National Party reversed its decision to support the state’s Path to Treaty.
Federal Parliament sitting week
In addition to the Voice, discussions on the conflict in Israel and Gaza dominated Parliament this week. On Monday, Prime Minister Albanese successfully moved a motion to condemn the attacks on Israel by Hamas, acknowledge the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives, and condemn “all forms of hate speech”. Elsewhere, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong confirmed over 400 Australians safely departed Israel through assisted-departure flights to Dubai, however outlined that the most recent flight may be the last “for the foreseeable future”. Separately, Minister Wong committed $10 million in humanitarian assistance for civilians affected by the conflict in Gaza.
In the House, the Government’s Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023 passed, which proposes to deliver the revised Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The Identity Verification Services Bill 2023 also passed the House, which would establish a framework for the operation of identity verification services to support greater privacy protection online. Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth also introduced the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023, which seeks to increase the paid parental leave scheme to 26 weeks, while also introducing concurrent leave. Meanwhile, legislation to amend Australia’s migration laws passed the Parliament, which will enable up to 3,000 citizens of certain Pacific Island countries to migrate to Australia as permanent residents each year from 2024.
New Zealand Election outcome
On Saturday, the New Zealand Election was held, which resulted in the National Party defeating the incumbent Labour Party, 38.99 per cent to 26.85 per cent based on election night counts. While votes are still being counted, including special votes, the National Party secured a one-seat majority with its coalition partner, the ACT Party. The NZ Electoral Commission confirmed it will release official results on 3 November, marking 20 days since election day, however the formation of the new government will be announced some time after this date.
In his victory speech, Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon stated, “tomorrow, New Zealand will wake up to not only a new day, but a promise of a new government and a new direction”. Meanwhile, outgoing Prime Minister Chris Hipkins accepted defeat and stated, “when the (red) tide comes in big, it almost invariably goes out big as well”.
Senate Estimates will commence next week in Federal Parliament and Budget Estimates will start in NSW Parliament. Elsewhere, Queensland, ACT and NT Parliaments will sit.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones released a proposal paper on cryptocurrency and digital assets regulation. Under the proposed reforms, crypto exchanges and digital asset platforms would be subject to existing Australian financial laws, platform operators would be forced to acquire an Australian Financial Services Licence, and digital asset platforms would need to meet specific obligations such as minimum standards for holding tokens and custody software. Submissions close 1 December.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities, and Treasury Andrew Leigh released draft legislation aimed at strengthening thin capitalisation rules as it relates to multinational tax obligations. The proposed reforms come in the wake of recommendations made by the Senate Economics Legislation Committee’s report into the Treasury Laws Amendment (Making Multinational Pay Their Fair Share – Integrity and Transparency) Bill 2023. Consultations close 30 October.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
The Prime Minister of Fiji Sitiveni Rabuka met with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to review the Fiji-Australia Vuvale Partnership, which has set out the shared principles and priorities of the relationship since 2019. The two leaders also discussed human development, First Nations’ peoples and culture, skills development, and cyber security.
The Federal Government has reimposed travel bans and financial sanctions on 19 Iranian individuals and 57 entities for their role in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. The previous United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 sanctions will now be listed under Australia’s autonomous sanctions framework. An additional three individuals and 11 entities were listed.
Minister for Defence Richard Marles travelled to the Republic of Korea and Japan for the Defence Ministers’ Meeting. While in Seoul, Marles met with the Minister of National Defense, Shin Won-sik, and the Republic of Korea National Security Advisor, Cho Tae-yong. He also participated in an annual multilateral forum considering security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and peace on the Korean peninsula called the Seoul Defense Dialogue.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Federal Government approved a solar farm in Queensland following an environment law assessment. The farm is proposed to power 40,000 homes across the state and reduce gas emissions by 230,000 tonnes each year.
The Queensland Government announced up to $50 million in support for mine workers and the Mount Isa community following Glencore’s decision to halt certain operations by 2025. This includes up to $30 million for resource projects in the North West Minerals Province and $20 million for an economic structural adjustment package.
The NSW Climate Change (Net Zero Future) Bill 2023, targeting net zero emissions by 2050, has been referred to Portfolio Committee No. 7 – Planning and Environment for inquiry. Public submissions are open until 23 October and a final report is due by 17 November.
South Australian Deputy Premier Susan Close launched South Australia’s ‘Advanced Manufacturing Strategy’. The strategy aims to aid future industry and government collaboration and guide South Australia’s transition to the green economy. The plan intends to grow advanced manufacturing to 10 per cent of the South Australian economy, up from 6 per cent currently.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Federal Government announced an independent review into the infrastructure of the Australian Institute of Sport to help determine future investment in sporting facilities. Ms Erin Flaherty and Ms Robyn Smith OAM will lead the review.
The Federal Government awarded $37.2 million in grants under the ‘Improving Mobile Coverage Round’. The funding will go toward improving mobile connectivity in 42 locations across regional Australia that were identified as having unreliable service.
The NSW Government announced it will introduce legislation next year to criminalise industrial manslaughter. Meanwhile, the Government will consult with work health and safety experts, business groups, unions, legal stakeholders, and families affected by industrial manslaughter.
The Queensland Government invested an additional $100 million to the ‘Works for Queensland’ program. The program will support regional infrastructure across 65 local councils between 2024 and 2027.
Also in Queensland, the Government launched its new ‘Water Strategy’, which aims to promote water security in the state. Critical focus areas for the Government include delivering healthy waterways, First Nations partnerships, regional economic prosperity, and water supply.
Minister for Health Mark Butler committed $30.8 million to support Indigenous-led health research projects. Projects include cultural safe and tailored support to quit smoking, and an indigenous-led approach to deliver screening and surveillance of liver cancer and hepatocellular cancer in remote communities.
NSW Health Minister Ryan Park announced the NSW Government is creating a new single digital patient record (SDPR) system. The SDPR aims to reduce the need for patients to recall or repeat health information, and for clinicians to access full patient clinical information in any location.
The Northern Territory Government released the three-year review of the Liquor Act 2019. The review determined[PDF] the policy objectives of the Liquor Act remain valid, however some amendments have been recommended, such as establishing an ex-officio inspector mechanism within the act.
The South Australian Government introduced legislation to merge the University of South Australia and the University of Adelaide after it made an agreement to secure crossbench support in parliament. The Bill is based on a recommendation from a Joint Committee, which outlined that the amalgamation would support social and economic interests from the state. If it is passed, the new ‘Adelaide University’ will be created by 2026.