Weekly Wrap Up
21 October 2022
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- Latest labour force data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics was published, showing the national unemployment rate remains at 3.5 per cent.
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese noted that an independent review into Australia’s response to COVID-19 “raised concerns”, and indicated the Government will “at some future time” undertake “a proper inquiry” into the impact of the pandemic and the actions of governments.
- The Federal Government revealed details of some of the industrial relations reform agreed to at last month’s Jobs and Skills Summit, including legislation to extend the paid parental leave scheme to 26 weeks, as well as a ‘Secure Jobs, Better Pay’ Bill.
- The federal, state and territory governments released the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032.
- Public hearings commenced for the parliamentary inquiry examining the Federal Government’s proposed National Anti-Corruption Commission bill.
- Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil issued a statement on a cyber attack incident within private health insurer Medibank, noting the Government is working with Medibank on the issue.
- Minor changes were made to the Federal Government’s Administrative Arrangements Orders, with responsibility for food and beverage processing industry policy transferred to the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, and cybercrime now dealt with by the Attorney-General’s Department.
- Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill Shorten launched an Independent Review into the NDIS.
- Ahead of the Queensland Housing Summit, the State Government announced it will double the State’s Housing Investment fund to $2 billion.
- The NSW Legislative Assembly passed property tax reforms that will provide first home buyers with the option to pay an annual property tax instead of stamp duty.
- Also in NSW, the Independent Casino Commission suspended The Star’s casino license in the State and fined the operated $100 million.
- In SA, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was appointed to lead the State’s Royal Commission into Early Childhood Education and Care.
With the Albanese Government’s first Budget due to be delivered on Tuesday, a number of pre-Budget announcements have been made this week. In an overhaul of the former Morrison Government’s infrastructure program, a total infrastructure investment of $9.6 billion has been revealed, with key funding including an allocation of $2.2 billion for the Victorian Andrews Government’s promised Suburban Rail Link. Prior to the infrastructure program’s announcement, NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW Paul Toole expressed concern over plans regarding the future of regional infrastructure projects funded in the former Morrison Government’s Budget, while other NSW Liberal MPs have since suggested the State has been “shortchanged” in the realm of infrastructure funding.
Other significant budget investments include a $2.4 billion equity investment for the expansion of full-fibre NBN to 1.5 million premises by 2025, and an additional $204 million has also been promised for efforts to protect, manage and restore the Great Barrier Reef.
On broader budgetary matters, Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler has responded to reports of claims of Medicare misuse by launching a departmental investigation into the matter.
International relations update
A number of key international relations developments took place this week. Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong announced that Australia has ended recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing the position of the former Morrison Government. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid labelled the decision “hasty” and stated he is “deeply disappointed”. The Israeli foreign ministry has since indicated it will summon Australian’s ambassador to Israel for a meeting to register its “deep disappointment in the face of the Australian Government’s decision resulting from short-sighted political considerations”. Minister Wong has told media that the decision is consistent with Labor’s longstanding position while in Opposition.
Elsewhere, Prime Minister Albanese met with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for the Australia-Singapore Annual Leaders’ Meeting in Canberra on Tuesday. The countries agreed to strengthen cooperation on climate action and signed a Green Economy Agreement, under which the Australian Government has announced an initial investment of $19.6 million over four years. The investment is intended to foster cooperation that will facilitate trade and investment in green goods and services and promote the building of new green growth sectors. Mr Albanese is due to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida in Perth tomorrow for the Annual Australia-Japan Leaders’ Meeting.
Victorian renewable energy plan
As part of a $1 billion renewable energy announcement, the Victorian Labor Party made a number of significant commitments in the realm of the state’s power assets and emissions reduction. It declared that if re-elected, the Labor Government will reverse the privatisation of public power assets in the state and reinstate the State Electricity Commission as an active energy market participant to build new renewable energy projects. Under this plan, the Government would hold a controlling interest in each of these renewable projects and renewables will gradually replace coal. The plan also includes a commitment to reduce emissions by 75-80 per cent on 2005 levels by 2035 and reach net zero by 2045, as well as a target of 95 per cent renewable energy by 2035.
Meanwhile, the Victorian Government signed an agreement with the Commonwealth to jointly fund Victorian offshore wind projects, REZs, and the Victoria-New South Wales Interconnector (VNI West) KerangLink. An agreement to contribute equal project equity on the Marinus Link interconnector was also signed between the Victorian, Federal and Tasmanian Governments.
Flooding events across Australia
Ongoing floods across Victoria, NSW and Tasmania have this week been declared an “insurance catastrophe” by the Insurance Council of Australia, with the Federal Government providing up to 500 Australian Defence Force personnel to assist with recovery efforts in affected areas. The Federal Government has also expanded disaster assistance payments across local government areas, while the Federal and Victorian governments have jointly invested $150 million to prioritise hazard assessments and clean-up. The Victorian Government has also announced a separate $351 million package for road repairs, clean-up efforts and financial assistance for impacted residents.
The Federal Budget will be handed down on Tuesday. GRACosway will distribute a detailed summary of key budget measures that evening. Meanwhile, the WA, Queensland and Tasmanian Parliaments will sit next week, while Supplementary Budget Estimates will take place in NSW.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) released the minutes of the Monetary Policy Meeting of the Reserve Bank Board on 4 October, outlining the reasoning and deliberations behind the 25 basis point increase. Meanwhile, RBA Deputy Governor Michele Bullock addressed the AFIA Annual Conference, where she discussed the bank’s monetary policy decision-making process as well as payments reform.
Catriona Lowe was appointed as Deputy Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), replacing Delia Rickard. Lowe has been appointed for a five-year term from 27 January 2023 when Rickard will finish her term.
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) published their annual Life Insurance Claims and Disputes Statistics, which outlines key industry and entity-level disputes and claims data.
The Victorian Government released its Annual Financial Report, showing a $3.8 billion improvement in the deficit from the May Budget forecast, largely due to reduced spending.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Federal Government confirmed it is developing a new Critical Minerals Strategy in collaboration with industry, with the intention to accelerate growth of the critical minerals sector to support clean energy technologies.
The WA Government’s Industrial Lands Panel granted approval for the Oakajee Strategic Industrial Area (SIA) land allocation to significant hydrogen products. WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook and Minister for Hydrogen Industry Alannah MacTiernan outlined that the Oakajee SIA will transition into a multi-product renewable hydrogen industrial precinct, with the land set to be allocated to six proponents.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Federal Government launched a new taskforce to guide the establishment of a strategic maritime fleet. The Strategic Fleet Taskforce will be made up of Australian-flagged and crewed vessels and provide advice on legislative or regulatory reforms necessary to establish Australia’s fleet as quickly as possible.
The WA Government awarded Maritime Constructions Pty Ltd a $70 million dredging contract that aims to ensure safe navigation depths at boat harbours and other key boating locations throughout WA.
In NSW, the Government announced an Affordable Housing Pilot Program that will utilise surplus Government-owned land to provide 300 affordable homes across rail precincts.
The Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Mark Bailey, appointed Patrick Conlon to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) Board. The NHVR is responsible for ensuring a safe, efficient and productive heavy vehicle industry.
As part of its pre-Budget announcements, the Federal Government confirmed it has allocated $47.7 to restore bulk billed video telehealth psychiatry consultations for rural, regional, and other eligible patients. The funding intends to restore a 50 per cent fee loading to bulk billed Medicare Benefits Schedule psychiatry services delivered by video telehealth.
The Federal Government committed $40.6 million in funding to the Positive Parenting Program (Triple P), which aims to deliver free, online parenting education and mental health support to Australian parents and carers of children under 12 years old.
The Federal Government announced the provision of $25 million in funding for dementia, ageing and aged care research through 18 grants provided by the Medical Research Future Fund. Research projects include the development of an app to detect early signs of dementia, a healthy lifestyle program to reduce to the risk of dementia, cardiovascular disease and falls, and training for health providers to better recognise and respond to elder abuse.
Minister for Aged Care Anika Wells appointed David Tune as the independent reviewer to lead the capability review of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. The review is expected to commence this month with the final report to be delivered in the first half of 2023.
The NT Government announced an investment of $50 million to fund an expansion of existing infrastructure for mental health in the Territory, including a new 18 bed inpatient unit and Stabilisation and Referral Area in the Top End. Additionally, a $9.3 million investment has been committed to establish universal aftercare services for Territorians who experience severe mental health episodes.