Weekly Wrap Up

23 February 2024 

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  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addressed the Hunter Nexus Dinner in Newcastle where he called for the region to embrace the clean economy transition, reaffirming the Federal Government’s commitment to ‘a future made in Australia’ powered by renewable energy.
  • The wage price index increased by 4.2 per cent in 2023, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Treasurer Jim Chalmers stated the news is “very encouraging.”
  • Labor Senator for Western Australia Louise Pratt revealed she will not contest the next Federal Election due to ongoing health issues.
  • The gender pay gap in average weekly full-time earnings decreased to a record low of 12 per cent, according to the ABS.
  • Woolworths announced Managing Director and Group CEO Brad Banducci will step down later this year with Amanda Bardwell set to pick the reins from 1 September. Woolworths and the broader supermarket sector are currently facing a number of Federal and State-led parliamentary inquiries.

Prime Minister Visits Western Australia

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hosted the Federal Cabinet’s recent meeting in Perth where he used the visit to meet with community stakeholders and senior officials in the Western Australian (WA) Government. Following BHP’s recent announcement[PDF] that the future of its WA nickel operations is under review, the Prime Minister revealed the Government is considering policies to support the nickel industry more broadly. Meanwhile, Minister for Resources Madeleine King confirmed nickel has now been added to the Critical Minerals List, enabling nickel producers to access financing under the Federal Government’s $4 billion Critical Minerals Facility. To further support the nickel industry, the WA Government announced a 50 per cent royalty rebate for nickel producers for up to 18 months when prices fall below $US20,000 per tonne.

Housing was also on the agenda, with the Federal and WA Governments making a joint announcement on the construction of 219 build-to-rent social and affordable apartments in Perth’s central business district. The complex will be funded with $88.6 million from the Federal Government under the National Housing Infrastructure Facility and $40.6 million from the WA Government. Construction is set to commence in mid-2024.

Asked by the media whether his government is considering revising GST arrangements with Western Australia, Mr Albanese ruled out any changes. The Prime Minister also played down the prospects of an early election, confirming the Federal Budgets for May 2024 and March 2025.

A new-look surface fleet for the Royal Australian Navy

The Federal Government unveiled its plans for a new-look surface combatant fleet for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). The announcement follows the release of a non-classified version of the Independent Analysis of Navy’s Surface Combatant Fleet, in which the Albanese Government agreed in full or in principle to all but one of the recommendations.

Under the Government’s plan, the future RAN surface fleet will comprise 26 major surface combatants, including three Hobart-class air warfare destroyers, six Hunter-class anti-submarine frigates, 11 ‘tier two’ general purpose frigates, and six large unmanned surface vehicles. In addition, the six Anzac-class frigates currently in service will be upgraded with enhanced maritime strike capabilities. The surface fleet will be constructed at either the Osborne shipyard in South Australia or the Henderson shipyard in Western Australia, subject to the release of an updated Naval Shipbuilding and Sustainment Plan later this year.

Delivering the announcement at Fleet Base East in Sydney, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles stated the future fleet will be Australia’s “largest fleet since the end of the Second World War”. The Department of Defence will consider specific designs for the general-purpose frigates from Spain, Germany, South Korea, and Japan.

Looking ahead

The Federal Parliament and the Western Australian Legislative Council will sit next week, while Budget Estimates continue in NSW.


Federal Developments

Treasurer Jim Chalmers met with New Zealand’s Minister for Finance Nicola Willis during her visit to Australia, to discuss joint economic priorities. During the meeting the two ministers also reviewed the energy transformation, the global economic outlook and, banking solutions for the Pacific.

The Australian Competition Tribunal granted authorisation for ANZ’s proposed $4.9 billion acquisition of Suncorp’s banking business. The decision overturns the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s earlier decision to not authorise the proposed merger due to competition concerns. ANZ now requires final approval under the Financial Sector (Shareholding) Act 1998 to continue with the purchase.

Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Andrew Leigh MP appointed Dr Craig Emerson and Ms Sally McMahon as part-time members of the National Competition Council until 2025. Ms Katrina Groshinski was also reappointed to the Council after her first appointment in 2021.

State Developments

The Queensland Government appointed Geoff Brunsdon AM as the next chair of the Queensland Investment Corporation, following the retirement of incumbent Chair Ian Martin. Mr Brunsdon has extensive experience in financial services and capital markets and will commence the role at the beginning of April.


Federal Developments

Minister for Finance Katy Gallagher addressed the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting Plenary Session in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Senator Gallagher discussed Australia’s approach to international conflicts, global governance reform, and sustainability. She is leading Australia’s delegation at the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.

Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell announced Perth will host Tourism Australia’s flagship event, ‘G’day Australia’ in October. The trade show-style event brings together over 300 agents from key markets around the world.

The Australian Defence Force confirmed an inquiry will be held into the MRH-90 Taipan helicopter incident which killed four Australian Defence Force members in July last year during the Talisman Sabre exercise. Former Justice the Honourable Margaret McMurdo AC will conduct the independent inquiry with support from Air Vice-Marshal Joe Iervasi, AM, CSC, (retd), and Colonel Jens Streit. The first public hearing will be held on 27 February.


Federal Developments

Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen opened consultation for the proposed Bunbury offshore wind zone in Western Australia. The project aims to support the renewable energy transition by enabling up to 20GW of offshore wind capacity. Consultation closes 3 May.

The Federal and Western Australian Governments finalised a $140 million agreement to build a Hydrogen Hub in the Pilbara. The hub, due to open in 2028, is expected to create approximately 1,000 jobs while increasing hydrogen production and exportation.

The Federal Government approved the Yanco Delta Wind farm, a 1,500 megawatt energy project located near Jerilderie in New South Wales. The wind farm will be equipped with 208 turbines, a 800 megawatt battery, and aims to power 700,000 homes.

State Developments

The NSW Government established an Asbestos Taskforce to support the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s investigation into mulch across Sydney contaminated with asbestos. The Taskforce will work with other government agencies to identify and manage high-risk sites and assist in criminal investigations. The NSW Government will also consider stronger penalties for future contamination incidents.

The Victorian Government commissioned an Independent Review into the distribution response to the recent storms in Victoria which left over half a million homes without power. The expert panel will assess the preparedness of energy distribution businesses, their handling of the incident, efforts to restore supply, and communication with customers during the outage.


Federal Developments

Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland and UK Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan signed the Online Safety and Security Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The MoU signifies increased cooperation between Australia and the UK on issues relating to child safety and technology facilitated abuse.

The Federal Government announced new reforms to the Sydney Airport demand management scheme to improve efficiency, competition and consumer experience. The reforms will require airlines to provide information on their slot usage, including reasons for cancellations and major delays, with independent audits to monitor this activity. The first audit will be completed in 2024.

Consultation is now open on the Federal Government’s proposed SMS Sender ID Registry, which intends to protect consumers and brands by helping telecommunications service providers identify and block SMS impersonation scams before they reach their target. Consultation is open until 20 March.

State Developments

South Australian Treasurer Stephen Mullighan launched a new two per cent deposit home loan scheme through HomeStart in an effort to increase housing supply throughout the state. The new scheme enables first homebuyers to pay a two per cent deposit when they purchase a house and land package with a HomeStart selected builder in metropolitan and selected regional areas.


Federal Developments

The Federal Government is investing $93 million in funding towards five Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant streams. The targeted grants are focussed on maternal health, dementia, medical device surveillance, stem cell therapy, and mental health research. Grants applications close in the second half of 2024.

Minister for Health Mark Butler confirmed the Government will provide $50 million in funding towards the development of an advanced artificial heart. The funding provided via the MRFF is the third-largest grant in the fund’s history. The project seeks to develop and commercialise the world’s most advanced artificial heart in an effort to halve global heart failure deaths.

Minister for Sport Anika Wells announced $200 million for the Play Our Way program. The program is focussed on increasing the participation of women and girls in sport and providing funding for equipment and facilities.

State Developments

The Queensland Government will invest $330 million in funding towards youth mental health and alcohol and other drug services, with $68 million to be allocated to specialised mental health support. The funding will also be used to create new Child and Youth Acute Response Teams.


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