Weekly Wrap Up

22 March 2024 

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  • The national unemployment rate declined to 3.7 per cent in February, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  • The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) left the cash rate unchanged at 4.35 per cent. Governor Michele Bullock welcomed progress against inflation, but reiterated the RBA cannot rule in or out further interest rate changes.
  • Speaker of the House of Representatives Milton Dick announced 13 April as the date of the Cook by-election.
  • Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong welcomed their UK counterparts to Canberra for the annual Australia-United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations.
  • The Tasmanian election will be held on Saturday 23 March. The latest uComms polling predicts an increase in support for independents and minor parties.


Federal Parliament

Parliament resumed for the final sitting fortnight before the Federal Budget in May. Following the PwC tax scandal in 2023, the House passed the Treasury Laws Amendment (Tax Accountability and Fairness) Bill, which seeks to increase penalty provisions and enhance whistleblower protections for disclosures made to the Tax Practitioners Board. Members also offered their condolences for Victorian Senator Linda White, who passed away last month; while Jodie Belyea was sworn in as the new Member for Dunkley following her victory in the recent by-election.

Meanwhile, the Paid Parent Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill, which increases paid parental leave from 20 weeks to 26 weeks, passed the Senate. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the Bill’s passage would give “families more leave and more flexibility.” Senator Dave Sharma also delivered his first speech after being sworn in late last year.

Chinese Foreign Minister Visit

China’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi travelled to Australia this week as part of the seventh Australia-China Foreign and Strategic Dialogue. Minister Wang’s presence marks the most senior visit by a Chinese Government official to Australia since President Xi Jinping in 2014 and follows Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit to China in November 2023.

Minister Wang met with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Penny Wong in Canberra to discuss matters ranging from trade tocooperation on climate change and energy, and regional security. “A stable relationship between Australia and China doesn’t just happen, it needs ongoing work,” Minister Wong said.  Speaking at a post-meeting press conference, Minister Wong welcomed progress in negotiations to lift trade restrictions on Australian wine, beef and lobster exports, however maintained that Australia remains concerned about human rights abuses in China and the suspended death sentence of Dr Yang Jun. Senator Wong also confirmed that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will welcome Chinese Premier Li Qiang to Australia later this year.

Queensland State By-Elections

Queenslanders headed to the polls in two state by-elections and local government elections on 16 March. Labor retained Inala, the seat of former Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, despite a 21.3 per cent swing towards the Liberal-National Party (LNP). While the count remains ongoing, Labor leads the LNP 57-43. However, the LNP gained the seat of Ipswich West with a 17.9 per cent swing. Ipswich West was previously held by Jim Madden on a margin of 14.3 per cent. Premier Steven Miles acknowledged it was “a bad result” and that his Government had more work to do ahead of the Queensland state election in October. Counts for local governments across Queensland are still underway, though the LNP is set to retain control over Brisbane City with Adrian Schrinner to be re-elected as Lord Mayor of Brisbane.

Looking Ahead

The Federal Parliament will sit next week; however, Thursday sitting was cancelled due to Easter break.



Federal Developments

The Federal Government released draft legislation, which seeks to impose a minimum 15 per cent corporate tax rate on multinational companies. Multinationals with a global revenue of at least $1.2 billion would be obliged to pay the tax as  part of the Government’s broader strategy to improve multinational tax transparency. Consultation closes 16 April.

Treasury opened consultation on the draft regulations for the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT) regime aimed at improving certainty and supply of domestic gas. The PRRT draft regulations include clarifications of the existing rules to calculate the price of sales gas that is processed into liquefied natural gas. Consultation closes 12 April.

Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones announced consultation on draft legislation to regulate Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) products. The exposure draft legislation aims to amend the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 to include BNPL services in the regulatory framework for credit products. Consultation closes 9 April.

State Developments

NSW Minister for Finance Courtney Houssos announced a new Performance and Wellbeing Framework for the Budget aimed to improve transparency, accountability and measure social outcomes. The new Framework will replace the former NSW Coalition Government’s Outcomes Statement and will be referred to the Parliament’s Public Accountability Committee for inquiry before indicators are published in the 2024 State Budget in June.



Federal Developments

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles met with the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defence Grant Shapps in Canberra to sign a new defence and security agreement. The agreement will enhance cooperation between the nations’ armed forces and formalise processes to consult on shared matters of sovereignty and security.

The Federal Government entered into a defence export agreement with Germany to supply over 100 Boxer Heavy Weapon Carrier vehicles for use by the German Army. The agreement is estimated to be worth over $1 billion to the Australian economy, with the vehicles to be built in Queensland.

Minister for Trade Don Farrell confirmed that updated Export Market Development Grants (EMDG) rules will apply to round four of the EMDG program. The proposed changes will refine eligibility criteria, increase the size of grants available to Australian businesses, and reduce the time between assessments and the provision of funds. The next round of grants is expected to open in late 2024.

The Federal Government announced that it will provide an additional $6 million in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza. Funding for UNRWRA was initially paused in January over allegations that UNRWA staff were involved in the October 7 attacks.



Federal Developments

The Albanese Government will invest $840 million in Australia’s first combined rare earths mine and refinery in the Northern Territory. The rare earths mine will be operated by Australian mineral exploration company Arafura and will be located 125 km north of Alice Springs. The mine and refinery will help develop technologies such as electric vehicle motors, wind turbines, robotics, and mobile phones.

Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen appointed Fiona Simson and Richard Bolt as members of the Climate Change Authority (CCA) for five-year terms and extended the tenure of CEO Brad Archer by 12 months. The CCA provides ongoing independent advice to Government on climate change policy.
State Developments

The NSW Parliament passed the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Sea Bed Mining and Exploration ) Bill 2024. The Bill outlaws seabed petroleum and mineral exploration in NSW coastal waters and other development within the state for the purposes of seabed petroleum and mineral exploration anywhere.

The South Australian Government appointed local business ZEN Energy to construct the state’s second largest battery located at Templers, north of Adelaide. The battery is expected to provide storage and stability to the state’s electricity grid. ZEN Energy will construct, own and operate the 291MW/h project.



Federal Developments

Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland confirmed 3G mobile networks across Australia will be shut down by the end of the year. Households currently on 3G networks will be transitioned to 4G and 5G with Minister Rowland reaffirming that the Federal Government will work closely with telecommunication companies to ensure a safe transition.

The Federal Government received the final report on the Optus Post-Incident Review following the nationwide Optus outage late last year. The report, which is yet to be publicised, makes a number of recommendations relating to emergency call arrangements and customer communications in the telecommunications sector. Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland confirmed the Government will consider and respond to the recommendations in due course.

State Developments

The Victorian Government revealed that it will abolish stamp duty on Victorian commercial and industrial properties with the introduction of the Commercial and Industrial Property Tax Reform Bill 2024 into the Victorian Parliament. Pending passage, the legislation would come into effect from 1 July 2024 and stamp duty payments would be replaced by a Commercial and Industrial Property Tax.

NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey tabled privatisation arrangements made by the former Coalition Government in the NSW Parliament. Mr Mookhey also revealed that NSW faces a potential liability ranging between $600 million and $4.3 billion until the contracts end in 2063 and that his decision to table the documents was in the interest of transparency to the public.



Federal Developments

The Federal Government introduced the Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Vaping Reforms) Bill 2024 to Parliament. The Bill seeks to ban importation, manufacture, supply, and commercial possession of disposable single use and non-therapeutic vapes. Data from 2022/23 shows 1 in 6 Australian high school students vapes, a quadruple increase from 2017.

Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler announced that Professor Robyn Ward AM and Professor Jonathan Craig have been appointed Chair of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and Chair of the Medical Service Advisory Committee (MSAC) respectively, for four-year terms.

Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil confirmed changes to the international education sector will come into effect from 23 March. As set out in the Federal Government’s Migration Strategy, English language requirements for students will be increased from IELTS 5.5 to 6.0 while graduate visas will see an increase from IELTS 6.0 to 6.5. The Government will also introduce a


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