Weekly Wrap Up
24 February 2023
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- Latest Wage Price Index data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics was released, showing that wages increased 3.3 per cent over the 12 months to December 2022, compared to inflation of 7.8 per cent in the same period.
- The Federal Government announced it will reinstate water buybacks in the Murray-Darling Basin, with a voluntary tender process for the sale of permanent water entitlements due to open on 23 March 2023.
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese indicated a referendum on a First Nations Voice to Parliament will be held between October and December 2023.
- The Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Mike Burgess, delivered his latest Annual Threat Assessment, warning of high levels of foreign interference, espionage and terrorism.
- To mark one year since Russia launched its invasion in Ukraine, the Australian Government announced additional military assistance to Ukraine and additional sanctions on Russia.
- The Queensland and Federal governments committed over $7 billion in funding for a series of infrastructure developments ahead of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic Games.
- Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil gave a speech to the Australian Financial Review Workforce Summit about Australia’s migration system, which she labelled as “broken”.
- The Speaker of the House confirmed a by-election will be held for Alan Tudge’s former seat of Aston in Victoria on Saturday 1 April. Both the Liberal and Labor parties have now announced their candidates for the by-election.
- Public hearings continued this week for the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme. This block of hearings will conclude 10 March.
- NSW Minister for Finance and Minister for Employee Relations Damien Tudehope resigned from his ministerial positions.
- Also in NSW, ahead of the state election both the Coalition Government and Labor Opposition made significant commitments on energy policy. The Coalition has promised to establish a $1.5 billion Clean Energy Superpower Fund if re-elected, while the Labor Party has pledged to create a $1 billion state-owned NSW Energy Security Corporation.
PM’s National Press Club address
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese delivered his first National Press Club address of the year, outlining the Government’s priorities for 2023. His speech largely focused on national security, with Mr Albanese putting AUKUS at the centrepiece of the nation’s future defence strategy and presenting it as an opportunity for pursuing Australia’s “sovereign interests”, including increased domestic manufacturing. He also confirmed the Government’s response to the Defence Strategic Review, which was handed to Defence Minister Richard Marles and the Prime Minister last week, will be released ahead of the May Budget along with an unclassified version of the report.
Other notable comments related to the Government’s economic and climate agendas, including the Government’s plan to ease cost-of-living pressures through measures such as cheaper childcare, affordable healthcare, and relief on energy prices. The Prime Minister also highlighted the National Reconstruction Fund and the proposed reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism as key priorities for the year ahead.
Australia’s superannuation system has been a key focus this week after Treasurer Jim Chalmers opened consultation on establishing a legislative objective of superannuation. In announcing the consultation the Treasurer stated that the Government is “on track to spend more on super tax concessions than the Age Pension” over the next 25 years and as a consequence is considering ways to make the future of the system more sustainable. The proposed objective on which the Government is seeking feedback states that superannuation “is to preserve savings to deliver income for a dignified retirement, alongside government support, in an equitable and sustainable way”. In a radio interview on Wednesday, the Treasurer was asked if changes to super could be expected in the upcoming May Budget, to which he responded “not necessarily”. He emphasised that the Government’s current focus is confirming an objective of super to enshrine in legislation.
Meanwhile, Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones told the Self Managed Super Fund Association conference that it is “fundamental” for access to remain restricted until retirement. Assistant Treasurer Jones also said the former Government’s decision to allow for the withdrawal of super during the pandemic “will be felt in the decades to come”. Elsewhere, Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton indicated that the Opposition will seek to block any legislative changes to super, as he believes changes would create uncertainty for Australians.
Former ministers for Human Services Stuart Robert and Marise Payne are due to appear[PDF] before the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme next Thursday. In Tasmania next week, Parliament will sit for the first time this year.
Treasury opened consultation on the exposure draft legislation for the National Consumer Credit Protection Amendment, with consultation due to close on 20 March. The amendment seeks to enhance the consumer protection framework for small amount credit contracts and consumer leases.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) released the minutes of the February 2023 Monetary Policy Meeting of the RBA Board. The minutes cover international and domestic economic developments, financial markets, a discussion on the future of payments, and considerations for monetary policy that informed the February interest rate rise.
Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones announced the appointment of Damon Rees to lead the independent review into the Modernising Business Registers program. Mr Rees will provide a final report to government by 30 June 2023.
The Federal Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency released latest national gender pay gap data, indicating the pay gap between men and women in Australia has decreased to 13.3 per cent.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles met with his Philippine counterpart Carlito Galvez during his visit to Manila this week to further bilateral cooperation on national security and strategic alignment. During the meeting, the two ministers announced they would consider conducting joint patrols of the South China Sea to combat China’s “aggressive activities”.
The Australian Government committed $64 million to the Defence Renewable Energy Security Program to provide solar energy generation and battery storage systems across ten Australian defence sites.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong announced a new Pacific Engagement Visa that will enable up to 3,000 migrants of Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste to become permanent residents in Australia each year. The new program will commence in July 2023, with legislation recently introduced to establish a ballot for applicant selection.
Minister Wong also co-chaired the Australia-Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum alongside her PNG counterpart Justin Tkatchenko, to confirm progress on a bilateral security Agreement between the two countries.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Australian Energy Market Operator released an update to the 2022 Electricity Statement of Opportunities report. The update reiterates the critical need for investment in generation, long-duration storage and transmission and fill forecast reliability gaps.
The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water opened consultation on a new offshore wind zone proposed for the Pacific Ocean, off the Hunter region. Consultation closes 28 April.
The Department also approved Santos’ application for the Towrie Gas Development project, under which Santos will construct up to 116 gas wells within the Surat Basin in Queensland. The project is expected to operate for 30 years.
The ACT Government issued draft tender documentation for the Territory’s household waste collection contract, which will now include all collection services including green waste. The tender will be presented to industry members for a two-week open comment.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The WA Government confirmed it will introduce legislation to reform the State’s planning system later this year. The reforms will establish a permanent pathway for assessment of development proposals considered of significance to the State, as well as changing the composition and operation of the Western Australian Planning Commission.
In Victoria, Director General of the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority Corey Hannett announced his resignation after eight years. The current CEO of the Level Crossing Removal project, Kevin Devlin, will take over from Mr Hannett in late March.
The NSW Government allocated $385 million to upgrade Richmond Road in Sydney’s north-west as a part of its WestInvest Program. As part of the funding, sections of the road will be widened and investigated for widening, and a new off-ramp bridge will be built.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese joined SA Premier Peter Malinauskas in Adelaide to confirm an additional 26 beds will open at the Flinders Medical Centre in SA. This forms part of a $400 million jointly-funded upgrade, which also includes new surgical and procedural spaces, equipment and infrastructure.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler, in conjunction with the WA Government, committed $11.7 million for a pilot to bring nurse practitioners into primary care facilities throughout WA. The Minister also announced the establishment of five Medicare Urgent Care Clinics within existing practices in SA.
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Emma McBride addressed the National NDIS and Mental Health Conference, where she noted that the Government is working with States and Territories to increase support services and reduce wait times.
The NSW Government announced a 12-month trial for pharmacists to prescribe and dispense treatments for UTIs and renew prescriptions for the contraceptive pill in an effort to relieve pressure on the GP system.