Weekly Wrap Up
22 July 2022
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- Treasurer Jim Chalmers announced a review into the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). Due to report by March 2023, the review will focus on monetary policy arrangements as well as governance, culture, and operations.
- The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) activated the Gas Supply Guarantee. This has resulted in NSW gaining its gas supply from Queensland instead of Victoria until 30 September or, according to AEMO, “until gas supplies are sufficient”.
- The Federal Government announced an independent review into Infrastructure Australia. Led by Nicole Lockwood and Mike Mrdak AO, the review will consider Infrastructure Australia’s role as an independent adviser to the Commonwealth and advise on any necessary changes.
- Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic attended the virtual Global Supply Chain Resilience Forum to discuss collective long-term strategies to build supply chain resilience.
- This week, the parliamentary inquiry into the appointment of former NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro as US Trade Commissioner continued its public hearings.
- NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet will lead a trade mission across Japan, India, and Korea to establish bilateral partnerships in the areas of trade, tourism, education, and energy production.
State of the Environment report released
Minister for Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek released the 2021 State of the Environment report, which is published every five years and includes scientific analysis on Australia’s environment. Significantly, the report refers to the overall state and trend of the Australian environment as “poor and deteriorating”. It indicates that average Australian land temperatures have increased by 1.4°C since the early 20th century, and that the Murray Darling Basin was at record low levels in 2019 due to extractive use and drought. Additionally, the report found that that the 2019–20 Black Summer bushfires burned over eight million hectares of native vegetation and that Australia has lost more mammal species than any other continent.
Presenting the Report during a National Press Club address on Tuesday, Minister Plibersek announced that by the end of the year, the Government will formally respond to the 2020 Samuel Review into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, aiming to develop new environmental legislation for 2023. The Minister also indicated the Government will set a national goal of protecting 30 per cent of land and 30 per cent of the oceans from further degradation by 2030.
With the new Federal Parliament set to meet for the first time next week, the Greens have entered into formal negotiations on the Government’s climate change bill. Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen has stated the Government will consider “sensible” amendments to the bill, such as a ratchet mechanism that would allow the 43 per cent net-zero emissions target to be lifted in the future without the need for further legislation. However, the Minister has indicated that changes must remain in line with the Government’s target.
Anti-corruption commissions find misconduct by MPs
On Wednesday, Victoria’s Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) handed down its joint report with the Victorian Ombudsman on an investigation into alleged branch stacking and misuse of public resources within the state Labor Party. The IBAC found that former Labor ministers and current Victorian MPs Adem Somyurek and Marlene Kairouz engaged in “extensive misconduct” through misuse of offices, staff and resources. IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich concluded that the Commission saw evidence of “disturbing practices” within offices and an “unethical culture” within the Victorian Labor Party. The IBAC also commented that the pursuit of factional agendas was “deeply concerning”.
At a press conference, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews apologised for the conduct of Labor MPs and accepted all 21 recommendations made in the report which relate to parliamentary ethics, community grants, entitlements and staffing rules.
Also on Wednesday, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) found that Drummoyne MP and former Liberal minister John Sidoti engaged in “serious corrupt conduct” in relation to his involvement in planning changes made by local councillors between 2013 and 2017. In response, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet asked Mr Sidoti to resign from Parliament and stated the NSW Government will move a motion to have him suspended if he does not resign. Mr Sidoti has rejected the Premier’s calls to resign and indicated he will fight the ICAC’s decision.
Earlier in the week, former NSW Labor ministers Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly were charged with criminal offences following findings of misconduct from the NSW ICAC in 2017. Along with Mr Kelly’s former Chief of Staff, the trio have been charged with misconduct in public office between 2007 and 2009, related to the awarding of a government contract. They are due to appear in court next month.
In light of increasing COVID-19 cases around the country, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese brought forward a scheduled emergency National Cabinet Meeting to last weekend and agreed to reinstate the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment of $750 a week until 30 September this year.
On Tuesday, Minister for Health Mark Butler and Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly held a press conference where they shared advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. They encouraged mask-wearing in offices and indoor environments and recommended that employers allow employees work from home “if feasible”. Significantly, no states or territories have re-introduced mask mandates, with these arrangements merely being encouraged by authorities.
Meanwhile, the Therapeutic Goods Administration provided provisional approval of a paediatric dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for infants aged between six months and five years.
Federal Parliament resumes on Tuesday for the first sitting week of the new parliament. Meanwhile, Budget Estimates will take place in Queensland and parliament will sit in the NT.
The Australian Tax Office and Rio Tinto reached a $1 billion settlement relating to long standing disputes around the tax status of Rio Tinto’s Singapore marketing hub.
The RBA released the Minutes of the Monetary Policy meeting held on 5 July, outlining the reasons behind the latest rate rise, as well as the factors considered by the RBA Board.
RBA Governor Philip Lowe delivered a speech at the Australian Strategic Business Forum titled Inflation, Productivity and the Future of Money. Also this week, RBA Deputy Governor Michelle Bullock delivered a speech at ESA (QLD) Business Lunch titled How Are Households Placed for Interest Rate Increases?
The Australian Financial Complaints Authority published statistics outlining that complaints from Australians in dispute with banks, insurers, super funds, investment firms and financial advisers have risen by three per cent since the last financial year. This brings the total number of complaints in the 2021-22 financial year to 72,358.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Geoscience Australia released Australia’s Energy Commodity Resources Assessment 2022, an updated stocktake analysing non-renewable energy resources comprising uranium, coal, oil, and gas commodities in 2020 and 2021. The Assessment also highlights opportunities to accelerate Australia’s progress towards its net-zero target.
The Australian Energy Regulator published its electricity network performance report for 2021. The report outlines that consumers paid less for electricity transmission and distribution services in 2021 than 2020, with network revenue being 5.6 per cent lower.
The Victorian and NSW governments opened applications for $20 million in grant funding for the design and delivery of renewable hydrogen trucks and charging facilities along the Hume Highway in both Victoria and NSW. Applications close 21 October 2022.
The ACT Government released its Zero Emissions Vehicles Strategy 2022-30. Notably, the Strategy outlines the territory’s plan to start phasing out light internal combustion engine vehicles from 2035. Other key targets include phasing out new vehicles powered by fossil-fuels in taxi and ride-share fleets by 2030 and achieving 80-90 per cent of light vehicle sales being zero-emissions vehicles by 2030.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Federal and WA governments are calling for Expressions of Interest for design and construction of the $110 million Mandurah Estuary Bridge Duplication project, which will involve development of a second bridge as well as a new shared path for pedestrians and cyclists and a fishing platform.
The Federal Government appointed Loftus Contracting and e20 as key contractors for construction of the Common User Infrastructure at the Port of Bundaberg, which will see construction of a new bulk goods conveyor facility.
The NT Government announced Clough-BMD Joint Venture as preferred contractor for the design and construction services of the state’s $515 million Ship Lift Project. Key elements of the project include construction of a ship lift, wet berths, and an administration building.
Victorian Minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne released Navigating our Port Futures: The Victorian Commercial Ports Strategy. The 30-year framework aims to ensure efficiency and productivity for the state’s port system.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler announced the addition of new temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items to cover longer phone consultations for the purpose of prescribing COVID-19 antivirals. The items will be available via the MBS until 31 October 2022.
Minister Butler also declared that the Distribution Priority Area (DPA) classification system has been updated and will now recognise 700 areas with either full or partial DPA classification, enabling General Practitioner (GP) practices to recruit GPs from a wider selection of doctors.
As part of a six-month pilot, the ACT Government opened a new fixed-site health and drug checking service in Canberra. The first of its kind in Australia, the facility will be run by Directions Health Services in partnership with Pill Testing Australia and Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy and will be evaluated by researchers from the Australian National University.
The Victorian Government announced the governance board for the new Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing, which was a key recommendation from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. The board will begin work in September 2022.