Weekly Wrap Up
23 June 2023
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- The Senate Committee on Finance and Public Administration tabled an interim report[PDF] on its inquiry into the Government’s use of consulting services, finding that consulting firm PwC engaged in a “calculated breach of trust” in relation to conduct regarding Australia’s anti-avoidance tax laws.
- Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services established a new inquiry into the operations of partnership structures within the big four consulting firms.
- With the term of the current Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor Philip Lowe due to end in September, Treasurer Jim Chalmers confirmed the Government intends to announce the next RBA Governor, whether that be a re-appointment of Mr Lowe or a new appointment, before Parliament resumes on 31 July.
- The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption announced it will hand down its final report for Operation Keppel, under which it investigated former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire and former Premier Gladys Berejiklian, next Thursday morning.
- Treasury opened consultation on an independent evaluation on the effectiveness of the JobKeeper Payment program in achieving its policy objectives, with submissions open until 14 July.
In the final parliamentary sitting week before a five-week winter break, the Federal Government succeeded in passing some of its key legislation but was unable to reach an agreement with the Senate regarding its housing legislation package.
On Monday, both houses passed legislation that provides the mechanism for the Constitution to be altered to enshrine a First Nations Voice to Parliament, in the event of a successful referendum later this year. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese then held a press conference alongside the Minister for Indigenous Australians and the Attorney-General, telling media that “Parliament has said ‘Yes’ to holding a referendum” and the voting public will now have the opportunity “to say ‘Yes’ to reconciliation and ‘Yes’ to constitutional recognition of First Nations people”. The ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns for the referendum will now intensify in the lead up to the vote, which is due to be held between October and December. A set date is yet to be confirmed.
On the same day, the Senate voted to defer consideration of the Government’s package of housing legislation until 16 October. The Greens brought this matter to a vote in light of the Party’s request for National Cabinet to consider reforms to the rental system when it next meets before October. The Greens acknowledged that by committing to a new $2 billion Social Housing Accelerator focused on providing new social housing across Australia, the Government had met one of the requests the Party made in exchange for offering to support the legislation. However, the Greens stated that this measure “still falls significantly short” and emphasised that it was important for the Government to also “act on the rental crisis”. Given the Opposition does not support the housing legislation package, the Government will need to secure the Greens’ vote in order to pass it through the Senate.
During the parliamentary debate regarding the deferral of the legislation’s consideration, Special Minister of State Senator Don Farrell indicated that the Government may regard the deferral as the Senate “failing to pass the bill”, for which there are “consequences”. With this comment, the Minister alluded to a potential future double dissolution to address the composition of a Senate that rejects Government bills. Yesterday, with the support of the Coalition Opposition and most of the crossbench, the Greens successfully referred the matter of “the worsening rental crisis in Australia” to the Community References Committee for investigation and report. Although the Government opposed the new inquiry, it was established in a majority vote and is due to produce an interim report by 23 September and a final report by 28 November.
In other news in Parliament, the Government’s latest tranche of industrial relations reforms passed both Houses. This legislation will make a number of key changes, including establishing a right to superannuation in the national employment standards, and increasing access to flexible unpaid parental leave.
Critical Minerals Strategy
Earlier this week, the Federal Government released the Critical Minerals Strategy 2023-2030[PDF], with Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Madeleine King declaring that “the path to net zero runs through the resources sector”. The strategy outlines six focus areas aimed at supporting the Government’s target to become a “globally significant” producer of processed critical minerals and a “clean energy superpower” through job growth, foreign investment, and increased sovereign manufacturing capabilities.
A key measure within the strategy is the allocation of $500 million through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to streamline processes for critical minerals projects. Significantly, it also indicates the Government’s commitment to establish a process to update Australia’s Critical Minerals List, to be confirmed separately by the end of this year. The strategy will undergo a comprehensive review in 2026.
The Federal Government will take a five-week break before its next sitting at the end of July. Elsewhere, Budget Estimates will commence in South Australia next week while the WA, ACT and Tasmanian Parliaments will sit.
Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones announced the Government will update the superannuation performance test implemented through the Your Future, Your Super measures. The changes will aim to hold superannuation trustees to account by informing consumers of poor performing products.
The Financial Regulator Assessment Authority (FRAA) published[PDF] its Draft Financial System and Regulator Metrics Framework to improve the FRAA’s ability to assess the effectiveness of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. The framework is open to feedback, with submissions due by 27 July.
NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey delivered the NSW Government’s Economic Statement ahead of the September State Budget. The Statement outlined that the Budget is unlikely to return a surplus next year, with the Government intending to make several spending cuts to ease the impacts of inflation.
The Queensland Government signed agreements with ANZ and Suncorp Group, which will see ANZ invest in a new Tech Hub in Brisbane, with up to 700 Queensland-based roles. Under the agreement, Suncorp will commit to keep its headquarters in Queensland and invest at least $19 million in additional disaster response capabilities.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Senator Jacqui Lambie lodged an application with the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate senior Australian Federal Police members for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. The referral outlines a case for the court to investigate the Australian Defence Force’s chain-of-command responsibility, following concerns that the 2022 Brereton Report into war crimes did not determine criminal responsibility of senior officials.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hosted His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam and elevated the bilateral relationship between Australia and Brunei Darussalam to a Comprehensive Partnership. The new partnership forms part of Australia’s efforts to promote bilateral ties with Southeast Asian nations, and will support issues such as trade and investment, security, and the clean energy transition.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong confirmed the Australian Government will provide $4.45 million to Sudan to increase its humanitarian assistance in the face of an ongoing conflict in the region. The assistance, delivered by the International Committee of the Red Cross, will target increased food, water, and medical supplies to vulnerable citizens.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Federal Government announced a $100 million Community Energy Upgrades Fund to support energy upgrades and bill savings for community facilities. The guidelines for the Fund will be designed in consultation with key stakeholders, including the Australian Local Government Association.
The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) outlined its 2023-24 Compliance and Enforcement Priorities[PDF] that aim to protect energy consumers and keep the energy system stable during the clean energy transition. The AER’s five compliance and enforcement priorities cover retail and wholesale gas and electricity markets.
The Queensland Government announced a $1 billion investment for the CopperString 2032 project, with $594 million committed to start construction in the coming financial year.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Minister for Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King confirmed $30 million will be invested by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to implement grants supporting the development of sustainable aviation fuel production. The investment will assist the aviation sector to reduce emissions as part of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Funding Initiative, with grants set to open by mid-July.
Minister King also announced the establishment of the Australian Jet Zero Council to support Australia’s decarbonisation efforts in the aviation sector, following the appointment of several council members including Brisbane Airport Corporation CEO Gert-Jan de Graaff.
The NSW Government directed its Bus Industry Taskforce to examine the safety regulations for the state’s bus and coach operations. The Taskforce will investigate safety management, adequacy of seat belts and current regulatory arrangements, with early findings to be delivered by 31 July.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler confirmed $10.8 million to launch a bowel screening campaign with the Cancer Council, with the aim to correct a 40 per cent decrease in Australia’s national bowel screening rate during 2020-21.
The Government introduced the National Occupational Respiratory Disease Registry Bill 2023 to Parliament, which would establish a national registry for reporting of all occupational respiratory diseases, including compulsory reporting of silicosis.
The Select Committee into the Provision of and Access to Dental Services in Australia released its interim report[PDF] which included feedback from 17,547 participants who took the Committee’s online survey.
The Queensland Government awarded $1.5 billion worth of tenders to Hutchinson Builders and Multiplex Constructions to complete expansions of the Prince Charles and Redcliffe Hospitals.