Weekly Wrap Up
To receive regular policy and political updates, subscribe to our Weekly Wrap Up here.
- Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin resigned on Monday, following her appearance at a Senate inquiry into a nation-wide network outage that occurred two weeks ago.
- Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong acknowledged reports of a temporary ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel, and confirmed an additional 67 Australians successfully crossed the Rafah border from Gaza into Egypt.
- Minister for Defence Richard Marles released a statement noting the Government has “serious concerns” after Australian navy divers sustained minor injuries resulting from sonar pulses from a Chinese naval ship last week.
- The Federal Government opened consultation on proposed reforms to merger rules and processes, to address issues of anti-competitiveness and ensure it is fit for purpose.
- Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus confirmed the Government will reform Australia’s secrecy laws as part of its response to a review of Commonwealth Secrecy Provisions.
- The Victorian Labor Party retained former Victorian Premier Daniel Andrew’s seat of Mulgrave in a by-election on Saturday. Eden Foster was elected with 56.2 per cent of the two-candidate preferred vote, a decline of 4.7 per cent since the November 2022 Victorian State Election.
APEC and G20 Summits
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese concluded meetings at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in San Francisco last weekend, where leaders endorsed the 2023 Golden Gate Declaration to support trade and investment initiatives across the region. On the sidelines of the summit, Mr Albanese held discussions with other global counterparts, including US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, stating, “the relationship with China is important”, however did not confirm whether he discussed the naval incident earlier in the week with the President. Mr Albanese also met with his Thai counterpart Srettha Thavisin for the first time, where they endorsed the two nations’ strategic partnership. While at the APEC Summit, Prime Minister Albanese met with Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) Leaders to announce a Critical Minerals Dialogue to support the region’s transition to renewable energy. Meanwhile, Minister for Trade Don Farrell signed a supply chain agreement with his IPEF counterparts, which aims to prepare the region for future supple chain shocks.
Following his return from the United States, the Prime Minister joined the G20 Virtual Summit held by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss economic cooperation and climate change challenges. Leaders reviewed the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration, which was adopted at the previous G20 Summit, with Mr Albanese stating it “expresses our deep concern about the immense human suffering and all the other adverse impacts of wares and conflicts around the world”.
Spotlight on cyber and online safety
On Wednesday, the Federal Government launched the 2023-2030 ‘Cyber Security Strategy’[PDF] along with a corresponding Action Plan, which aims to protect government, businesses and critical infrastructure from future cyber threats. The strategy identifies ransomware as “one of the most disruptive cyber threats” which causes up to $3 billion in damages annually to the nation’s economy. The strategy also comes after a series of major cyber incidents in Australia, including data breaches at Optus and Medibank last year, as well as the recent cyber-attack at DP World just over a week ago. Minister for Cyber Security Clare O’Neill confirmed the Government will commit $586.9 million to achieve the strategy’s objectives, including supporting protective measures, strengthening telecommunications infrastructure, and establishing a cyber security assistance team to respond to cyber issues in the Pacific. Minister O’Neill also outlined the Government will partner with industry to develop a no-fault ransomware reporting model and a cyber security standard for Australian-sold smart devices. The strategy also aims to expand the Government’s Digital ID program to “reduce the need for people to share sensitive personal information” when accessing online services.
Elsewhere, Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland made her first address to the National Press Club to clarify the Government’s stance on online safety, as well as gambling advertising, and telecommunications reform. During her speech, Rowland provided an overview of online harms and plans to “make online spaces safer, more inclusive, and cohesive”. Significantly, Minister Rowland confirmed the Department is working through changes to misinformation and disinformation legislation which will be introduced next year and brought forward the statutory review of the Online Safety Act 2021 by a year, which will be conducted by former Deputy Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Delia Rickard. Minister Rowland also discussed expanding the Basic Online Safety Expectations (BOSE) Determination and opened consultation on the amendments. The changes would expand the BOSE Determination to include measures relating to generative artificial intelligence and enhanced child protection initiatives, amongst others.
Federal, Victorian, NSW, Queensland, South Australian, WA, ACT and NT parliaments will sit next week.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones announced restructuring reforms to Australia’s financial reporting bodies. Under the proposed reforms, the Australian Accounting Standards Board, the Auditing and Assurance Standards Board and the Financial Reporting Council will be merged into a single entity and support the implementation of climate-related financial disclosures. Draft legislation will be released for consultation in the future.
Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Michele Bullock addressed the Australian Business Economists Annual Dinner about the future of monetary policy. Ms Bullock emphasised the importance of strengthening the RBA’s decision-making process, having deeper and informed deliberation, providing clearer explanations of the RBA’s decisions to the public, and developing the RBA’s people and culture into the future.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) released its enforcement priorities for 2024. Insurance claims handling, compliance with financial hardship obligations, and financial services and credit licensees who do comply with legal obligations are among ASIC’s enforcement priorities for the new year.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong travelled to India to attend the second India-Australia 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in New Delhi. Ministers covered topics on shared regional interests such as defence, security, renewable energy, technology, and deepening trade and investment ties. Whilst in New Delhi, Minister Wong announced the inaugural Maitri Fellowships program, to support the two-way exchange of Indian and Australian researchers.
Minister Wong announced the imposition of counter-terrorism financing sanctions on Hamas members, operatives, and financial facilitators to condemn its terrorist attacks against Israel on 7 October. Minister Wong confirmed this will make the provision of assets to any of the sanctioned individuals a criminal offence.
The Federal Government awarded a new $2 billion contract to Thales Australia to manage Australia’s naval fleet in Sydney to increase defence industry jobs and achieve the nation’s national security objectives. Under the seven-year contract, Thales will be appointed as Regional Maintenance Provider for a new Regional Maintenance Centre and will support the sustainment of helicopter docks, missile destroyers, and a landing ship dock.
Minister Wong and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy committed $37 million for the second phase of the Transformative Agenda for Women, Youth and Adolescents program to support sexual and reproductive health services in the Pacific. The program will be implemented by the United Nations Population Fund and aims to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen announced the Capacity Investment Scheme (CIS) will be expanded from 6 gigawatts to 32 gigawatts to minimise investor risk and supporting renewable generation and storage. Separately, Federal and NSW Governments announced six successful energy projects as part of the CIS to deliver over 1 megawatt of capacity across the state.
Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Indonesia to cooperate on electric vehicle (EV) and battery manufacturing during his visit to Jakarta this week. The MoU will ensure the two nations jointly support the EV supply chain, research studies, and the broader business network.
Minister for Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek announced an additional $50 million to improve water quality in the Great Barrier Reef as part of the ‘Landscape Repair Program’. The funding will support local groups to undertake land repair and revegetation projects to reduce erosion and support revegetation.
The Victorian Government opened consultation on phase one of the development of the Victorian Transmission Plan to support the state’s transition to renewable energy and replace coal-fired power stations. The consultation is led by VicGrid and will inform the Strategic Land Use Assessment and help identify future transmission projects and Renewable Energy Zones. Consultation closes on 31 January 2024.
Also in Victoria, the Essential Services Commission (ESC) requested community feedback on its draft decision on minimum feed-in tariffs that retailers will be required to pay solar customers from 1 July 2024. The ESC proposes a flat minimum feed-in tariff of 3.3 cents per kWh for the 2024-25 financial year and a time-varying minimum feed-in tariff between 2.1 and 8.8 cents per kWh. Consultation closes 22 December.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Federal Government released final implementation plans for its Social Housing Accelerator to support the delivery of approximately 4,000 social and affordable homes across Australian state and territory governments. The plan includes timeframes and specific targets for each state and territory and requires jurisdictions to commit to all Commonwealth funding for the homes by 30 June 2025.
The NSW Government introduced new laws which would equip the NSW Building Commission with more authority and resources to regulate and enforce the quality of the building industry. The measures include the ability to cancel or refuse licences and added responsibilities across the building products supply chain.
South Australian Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector Kyam Maher confirmed SA will support a ban on the use of engineered stone at an upcoming meeting of federal, state and territory work health and safety ministers. This follows a SafeWork Australia report which found that engineered stone workers were over-represented amongst those diagnosed with silicosis.
The Federal Government announced $50 million to support research projects into health conditions such as prostate cancer, high blood pressure, strokes, and chronic pain. The projects aim to improve health innovation activities and support the use of artificial intelligence to improve therapy for people suffering from psychological distress.
The Federal Government committed $66 million for genomics research into several common chronic conditions and serious diseases. The funding will support 25 projects to improve testing and diagnosis for diseases and aims to reduce excessive health costs.
The South Australian Government announced that from March 2024, women will be able to access medication for a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a resupply of oral contraceptive pills from trained community pharmacists without needing a doctor’s appointment. The announcement comes after the Government accepted all the recommendations of a recent report of the Select Committee on Access to UTI Treatment.
The NSW Government introduced legislation to amend the Crimes (High Risk Offenders) Act 2006 to enforce greater protections for victims of domestic and family violence. The new amendments propose to will strengthen protections against violent offences and will enable individuals to make applications to the Supreme Court of NSW against the release of perpetrators that risk committing another serious offence.
Also in NSW, the Government introduced laws to enforce the prosecution of individuals that incite violence or threats on the basis of race, religion, or other attributes. The legislation follows increased community concern about current protections for victims of this form of hate under the Crimes Act 1900, and the proposed changes would amend Section 93Z of the Act, enabling NSW Police to prosecute such offenders.