Weekly Wrap Up
26 August 2022
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- Treasurer Jim Chalmers indicated the Government is willing to work with the superannuation sector to find new ways to finance housing and clean energy.
- The Productivity Commission released its second interim report as part of its five-year review into Australia’s productivity performance, finding that better use of technology would lead to increased productivity growth.
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed the findings of Defence’s review into the leasing of the Darwin Port to a Chinese-owned company will be made public.
- On Ukraine’s Independence Day, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Andrew Giles issued a statement affirming the Federal Government’s continued support for displaced Ukrainians.
- The Federal Government dismissed a call from the Greens to introduce a two-year freeze on rental prices and instead pointed to increasing housing supply.
- NSW Liberal Minister Geoff Lee announced he will not contest the State Election in March 2023.
- David Chandler announced last month that he would resign from his position as NSW building commissioner, however this morning Minister for Small Business and Minister for Fair Trading Victor Dominello revealed that Mr Chandler will continue in the position for another year.
- Also in NSW, the public servant who appointed former Deputy Premier John Barilaro to the state’s US trade commissioner role, Amy Brown, stood aside as chief executive of Investment NSW. She will however retain her position as secretary of the Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade.
- Leader of the NSW Labor Opposition Chris Minns rejected calls for an inquiry into bullying allegations within the NSW Labor Party.
- Public hearings for Queensland’s inquiry into Star’s suitability to hold a casino license commenced this week.
- In the NT, the Territory Labor Government retained former Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s seat of Fannie Bay in Saturday’s by-election.
Robodebt Royal Commission
On Thursday, the Federal Government officially established a Royal Commission into the former Government’s Robodebt scheme and announced that former Queensland Supreme Court Justice Catherine Holmes AC SC will lead the Commission. The Commission is scheduled to report by 18 April 2023. The Labor Party initially committed to establishing the Robodebt Royal Commission prior to the May 2022 Federal Election, with Mr Albanese referring to the scheme, which saw automated matching of data to raise debts against welfare recipients, as a “human tragedy”. Announcing the Royal Commission, Mr Albanese noted while the former Morrison Government had previously settled a class action suit over the scheme for over one billion dollars, the real cost of the scheme was the “human cost” and the people who took their lives over financial stress. The Terms of Reference specify that the Royal Commission will examine matters including the establishment of the Robodebt scheme, who was responsible for it, and how it affected individuals.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton stated the Royal Commission runs the risk of becoming a “witch hunt” if it does not also examine Labor’s time in office, citing a data matching regime that operated during the Gillard and Rudd Labor Governments. While Mr Albanese confirmed that the Royal Commissioner will decide which witnesses to call for evidence, multiple former Coalition ministers could be called due to their involvement in the scheme. This includes former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who announced the scheme in 2015 when he served as Social Services Minister.
Lead up to Jobs and Skills Summit
With the Albanese Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit due to be held next week, Treasurer Chalmers has unveiled the Summit’s agenda and the Government has continued to hold industry roundtables to inform the Summit’s priorities. The Treasurer stated the Summit will reflect “good jobs, good wages, and more opportunities in more parts of our country” as the priorities of Australians. The Summit will examine topics including maintaining low unemployment levels, growing wages in a sustainable way, reforming the bargaining system, and methods to address skills shortages, including a potential increase in the cap for skilled migrants.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Albanese defended his Government’s decision not to invite the banks to the Summit and noted the sector will be represented by the Australian Banking Association. It was also confirmed that key representatives from the oil and gas industry were not invited, however the Australian Energy Council will attend to represent electricity and gas retailers. This came after Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen hosted what he deemed a “mini jobs summit” for the energy industry on Tuesday. Pre-summit roundtables were also held this week in the areas of health, trade and investment, and heavy industry.
Legal advice on former PM’s undisclosed ministerial appointments
After releasing the Solicitor-General’s advice regarding the appointment of former Prime Minister Scott Morrison to multiple ministries in 2020 and 2021, Prime Minister Albanese confirmed the Government will launch an inquiry into the matter. The Solicitor-General found that while the appointments were not against the law, they did not conform to conventions of transparency and accountability. Mr Morrison has responded to the advice by reaffirming that the appointments were valid and deemed necessary during the challenges of the pandemic. While the Federal Government is considering the form the inquiry into this matter will take, the Greens have pushed for the inquiry to have powers similar to a Royal Commission.
The Victorian, Queensland and NT Parliaments are sitting next week, while Budget Estimates will continue in NSW.
Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) Chair Joseph Longo outlined the regulator’s strategic priorities for 2022-2026. He identified four priority areas: product design and distribution; sustainable finance; retirement decision making with a focus on superannuation products and managed investments; and financial advice and technology risks with a focus on digitally enabled misconduct.
Consultation opened on a draft designation instrument to extend the Consumer Data Right (CDR) to non-bank lenders, which Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones said could help borrowers switch lenders more easily and increase competition in the market.
Treasury released exposure draft legislation on simplifying Australia’s corporations and financial services laws in line with recommendations made by the Australian Law Reform Commission. Consultation closes 20 September 2022.
In line with a pre-election commitment, the Government has invited submissions to a consultation on financial adviser professional standards until 16 September 2022. The consultation paper proposes to end the tertiary education degree requirement if an advisor has ten years’ experience, a clean disciplinary record and has passed relevant exams.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Minister for Resources and Minister for Northern Australia Madeleine King noted the Australian Government has approved two offshore greenhouse gas storage areas to provide the industry with additional opportunities for carbon capture and storage. Permits have been given to a joint venture between INPEX, Woodside Energy and TotalEnergies in the Bonaparte Basin, and Woodside Energy in the Browse Basin.
Minister King also released the Australian Government’s 2022 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release, indicating that approximately 46,758 square kilometres of new acreage will be made available for exploration. The release comprises of 10 areas across the Boneparte, Carnarvon, Browse, and Gippsland Basins.
Further, Minister King announced the formal extension of the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism (ADGSM). The ADGSM was due to expire on 1 January 2023 but has now been extended to 2030.
NSW Treasurer and Minister for Energy Matt Kean has outlined the revised guidelines for assessing large-scale solar energy projects. Minister Kean stated the guidelines have been made clearer and affirmed the important role solar farms will play in the state’s energy transition.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Airservices Australia released its final report on the Independent Review of the Brisbane New Parallel Runway Flight Paths Post Implementation Review. The Review examined possible opportunities to limit and reduce aircraft noise; enhance governance and communication; maximise the number of flights over water; and optimise the wider Brisbane airspace.
In Queensland, three contracts have been awarded for the design, geotechnical and environmental services components under the project to rebuild Paradise Dam. GHD has been appointed to prepare the reference design for the project, while Jacobs will undertake geotechnical investigations, and Epic Environmental will conduct an environmental impact assessment.
NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Sam Farraway opened the latest round of the Fixing Country Roads program, with Councils invited to apply for a share of the $543 million program for projects to improve the state’s road quality and freight connections.
The NSW Government accepted all 15 recommendations from the Regional Housing Taskforce report. The recommendations aim to improve housing supply and affordability in regional NSW and include more homes for key workers, accelerating development assessments and identifying options to use Government land for more social and affordable housing.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Health Mary-Anne Thomas allocated $105 million of funding to 38 health services and public health laboratories throughout the state. The investment, awarded through three different funding programs, will fund new surgical and acute services equipment as well as hospital infrastructure upgrades.
The NSW Government devoted $55 million toward upgraded technology and equipment for ambulances across the state. The investment will fund additional mechanical cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) Lucas devices, ECG/defibrillation devices, and a new cardiac notification platform aimed at improving communication between NSW Ambulance and emergency departments.
The ACT Government released its Re-envisioning Older Persons Mental Health and Wellbeing in the ACT Strategy 2022-2026 plan, which aims to guide priorities and initiatives to support the mental health of older residents in the Territory over the next four years.
In Tasmania, the Department of Health and the University of Tasmania signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on the development of a Centre for Mental Health Service Innovation. The Centre will facilitate initiatives including research projects, data collection and technology expansion.