Weekly Wrap Up
22 September 2023
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- Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil addressed the AFR Cyber Summit, detailing how the National Cyber Security Strategy will build six cyber shields around the nation.
- Michelle Bullock commenced as Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, succeeding Philip Lowe.
- The Senate Select Committee on Commonwealth Bilateral Air Service Agreements commenced public hearings this week, with key witnesses including Sydney Airport, Airservices Australia, and CHOICE.
- The Senate inquiry into the worsening rental crisis in Australia released its interim report, recommending the Government enforce rental rights and invest in affordable housing.
- The Yes23 Campaign held Walk for Yes marches in every state and territory to mark the final month of campaigning in the lead up to the October 14 referendum.
- The Bureau of Meteorology formally declared an El Niño event, with record high September temperatures recorded across southeastern states.
- S&P Global Ratings affirmed Australia’s triple A credit rating.
- NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles delivered a State of the Territory address in Darwin.
COVID-19 Pandemic Inquiry
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Minister for Health Mark Butler announced an independent inquiry into the Federal Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to be led by a three-member panel of public health experts. This delivers on a key election commitment to review governance during COVID-19 and ensure Australia is prepared for future pandemics. The inquiry will review the provision of vaccines, treatments, and key medical supplies to Australians, and mental health support, financial support and assistance for Australians abroad. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton critiqued the inquiry for not evaluating unilateral decisions made by state and territory governments, and questioned why the Government did not initiate a more wide-ranging Royal Commission. A final report will be handed down by 30 September 2024.
Victorian Social and Affordable Housing
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews released the long-anticipated Housing Statement[PDF], which outlines how the Government will increase housing supply by 800,000 over the next 10 years. It also included a 7.5 per cent levy on short-term accommodation from 1 January 2025, with the proceeds to be invested in social and affordable housing. The policy is similar to levies already in place in major cities like New York, Paris, and Singapore.
The Premier defended the levy as a “modest charge” that will support the long-term rental market for Victoria, the fastest growing state in the country. NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey indicated the NSW Government is open to considering adopting a similar levy.
Several days prior, Premier Andrews joined Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in unveiling the redevelopment of the red brick public housing towers in Carlton, Melbourne – the first project to be wholly funded by the Federal Government’s Social Housing Accelerator.
NSW Budget 2023-24
Treasurer Daniel Mookhey handed down the first budget of the Minns Labor Government, delivering on a mandate of anti-privatisation and budget repair. The centrepiece of the Budget was the $2.2 billion dollar Housing and Infrastructure Plan, as well as a focus on supporting wage growth for public sector workers. The Treasurer revealed that the budget deficit will reach $7.8 billion this financial year, with a slim surplus of $844 million forecast in 2024-25, increasing to $1.6 billion in 2025-26. Opposition Leader Mark Speakman delivered his Budget in Reply speech, calling it a budget of “lost opportunities”. He also proposed the Coalition’s alternative solutions to the State’s housing crisis.
You can read GRACosway’s detailed insights of the NSW Budget 2023-24 here.
The SA and Tasmanian Parliaments will sit next week.
The Government published the Final Budget Outcome for 2022-23[PDF], confirming that the underlying cash balance was a surplus of $22.1 billion, or 0.9 per cent of GDP, in 2022-23. This is far greater than the $4 billion projected in the Budget papers, attributed to low unemployment, high wages, and strong commodity prices. However, Treasurer Jim Chalmers warned the “surplus is not an end in itself” and that structural pressures will continue to intensify.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers released a consultation paper on draft legislation that proposes to reform Australia’s tax system and increase the powers of government regulators. The legislation would include reforms to tax promoter penalties, tax secrecy regulations, whistleblower protections, and powers of the Tax Practitioners Board. Submissions close 4 October.
Minister for Finance Katy Gallagher published draft legislation regarding the creation of a national Digital ID System. The intent of the legislation would enable people with a Digital ID to verify their identity without continually providing copies of personal documents such as drivers licenses and passports. The consultation closes on 9 October.
Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones appointed Douglas Niven as the Chair of the Auditing and Assurance Standard Board (AUASB). As Chair of the AUASB, Mr Niven will be responsible for maintaining and reforming auditing and assurance standards.
Assistant Minister for Competition, Dr Andrew Leigh, gave an address on artificial intelligence (AI) and competition reform to the McKell Institute in Sydney.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong and Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy Jenny McAllister are attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. Minister Wong is leading Australia’s delegation and delivering the national statement, which outlines Australia’s contribution to climate and development, commitment to UN reform and efforts to prevent conflict.
In New York, Minister Wong signed the High Seas Biodiversity Treaty. The Treaty seeks to achieve stronger protections for the ocean under the framework of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Simultaneously, the Federal Government committed $3 million over the next three years to support Pacific countries to sign the Treaty.
An independent review of land uses around key Defence bases impacted by per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination will be conducted by the Federal Government. The review will be led by Mr Jim Varghese AM, with a focus on communities around RAAF Base Williamtown (NSW), the Army Aviation Centre Oakey (QLD), and RAAF Base Tindal (NT).
South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas travelled to Singapore, China and Hong Kong, where he met with trade ministers to endorse South Australia’s university, education, wine, agriculture, aquaculture, tourism, and trade sectors. The Premier met with Chinese government representatives in Beijing to reaffirm bilateral trade relationships.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Federal Government permanently cancelled Commonwealth-held Kyoto ‘carryover’ credits. Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen said this would ensure “no future Government can use this loophole to meet their climate targets”.
In response to calls from the Opposition for further investment in nuclear energy, Minister Bowen released analysis undertaken by the Department of Climate Change, Energy and Water, showing that replacing coal-fired power stations with small modular nuclear reactors would cost $387 billion and require 71 reactors at 300MW each.
The South Australian Government introduced the Hydrogen and Renewable Energy Bill, representing Australia’s first legislative framework for a coordinated approach to the growing hydrogen and renewable sectors. The Bill seeks to streamline red tape for investors and created five licence types for the key stages of renewable energy projects.
The Western Australian Government has announced that it will update its Renewable Hydrogen Strategy after achieving its 2022 targets. Consultation is open until 22 September. Meanwhile, the Government also awarded over $1 billion in contracts for battery storage systems in Kwinana and Collie.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Following the National Roundtable on Online Dating Safety, the Government directed the online dating industry to develop a new voluntary industry code of practice. The code requires online dating platforms to improve engagement with law enforcement, support at-risk users, improve safety policies, and provide greater transparency on risks. Online dating platforms have until the middle of 2024 to implement the code.
The ACCC rejected Transurban Group’s proposed acquisition of Horizon Roads. Transurban is Australia’s largest toll operator while Horizon Roads operates the EastLink toll road in Victoria. It is the last private toll road in Australia not run by Transurban. ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said the acquisition would significantly limit competition and would deter the emergence of rival operators.
The NSW Parliament’s Modern Slavery Committee commenced a review of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (NSW). The purpose of the inquiry is to review whether the policy objectives of the act remain valid and appropriate according to the objectives of the act. Submissions will be open until 5 October, with a final report to be handed down by the end of the year.
HEALTH, SOCIAL SERVICES AND EDUCATION
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a report that found one in seven Australian women aged 44-49 have endometriosis and 18 out of every 1,000 hospitalisations among females aged 15-44 were related to the condition, which takes an average of between six and eight years to diagnose.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler opened consultation on requiring pathology and diagnostic imaging reports to be uploaded to My Health Record by default, as currently this only happens for one in five diagnostic imaging reports. Submissions close 31 October.
The Western Australian Parliament passed the Abortion Legislation Reform Bill 2023 which reduces the number of health practitioners required to be involved in most abortion care from two to one and abolished the mandatory counselling provision. Abortion has been removed from the Criminal Code; however, it will still remain an offence for an ‘unqualified person’ to perform or assist with an abortion.