Weekly Wrap Up
26 May 2023
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- The Albanese Labor Government marked one year in office.
- The Federal Government launched a new information campaign and educational website on the upcoming referendum to establish a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
- Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones announced the outcome of the Government’s consultation on the regulation of Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) services in Australia, confirming that legislation will be introduced to regulate BNPL as a credit product.
- Treasury referred a matter relating to the use of confidential tax information within consulting firm PwC to the Australian Federal Police for a criminal investigation.
- Speaker of the House Milton Dick confirmed that a by-election will be held on Saturday 15 July for the Federal electorate of Fadden in Queensland, following the recent resignation of the seat’s former member Stuart Robert.
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese revealed some minor changes to the Assistant Ministry. Of note, Dr Andrew Leigh will gain additional responsibility for the assistant ministerial portfolio of Employment.
- Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas handed down the 2023-34 State Budget on Tuesday, unveiling a $31.5 billion COVID Debt Repayment Plan to pay back borrowed funds. For further information on this year’s Victorian Budget, please see our detailed analysis.
- The Tasmanian 2023-24 Budget was also delivered this week, with Deputy Premier and Treasurer Michael Ferguson announcing a forecast Net Operating Deficit of $297.5 million in 2023-24.
The House of Representatives met this week while Budget Estimates took place in the Senate. Key legislation passed included the Government’s bill to implement recommendations from last year’s independent review of Infrastructure Australia, as well as the Government’s next tranche of industrial relations reforms. It is expected that these bills will be introduced to the Senate when it resumes in mid-June.
A key focus of this week’s parliamentary sitting in the House was debate on the legislation that will enable the constitution to be altered to enshrine a First Nations Voice following a successful referendum. Delivering his second reading speech on the legislation, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese reinforced his view that the Voice will provide greater opportunities for First Nations peoples. The Prime Minister also indicated that while he appreciated an idea raised by the former Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Julian Leeser, to alter the proposed wording for the constitutional amendment, he did not agree with it. Mr Albanese also criticised Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton for “seeking to amplify misinformation” in the campaign against the Voice. By contrast, Mr Dutton used his second reading speech to outline his position that the Government’s approach to the Voice is “regressive” and will divide Australians by “re-racialising” the nation. Debate on the Voice legislation will continue next week in the House.
Outside of Parliament, the past week was significant for Australia’s international relations. On the sidelines of the G7 summit in Japan last weekend, Prime Minister Albanese hosted a meeting with the leaders of the Quad – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, and United States President Joe Biden. The Quad Leaders discussed a series of measures to promote a stable and open Indo-Pacific region, including infrastructure development, digital technology and software, and clean energy. The leaders also entered into a new partnership focused on strengthening undersea cable networks. While in Japan, Mr Albanese also confirmed that he intends to travel to China “at some time in the future” to focus on continuing to improve Sino-Australian relations.
Mr Albanese also held talks with President Biden, focusing on the bilateral relationship between Australia and the US. The two leaders announced a new Climate, Critical Minerals and Clean Energy Transformation Compact, which will focus on establishing climate and clean energy as a “central pillar” of the alliance between Australia and the US. The leaders also confirmed that they will focus efforts on climate action through the US’ Inflation Reduction Act and Australia’s Powering Australia Plan. Elsewhere, Mr Albanese separately met with Prime Minister Fumio to discuss Australia’s commitment to its “special strategic partnership” with Japan.
Back in Australia, Prime Minister Modi travelled to Sydney for bilateral discussions regarding the Australia-India relationship. During this visit, both leaders announced the finalisation of the Australia-India Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement, which aims to promote the exchange of students, graduates, researchers and yea between the two countries. The leaders also agreed to Terms of Reference for the Australia-India Green Hydrogen Taskforce.
For a second week, the Federal House of Representatives will sit while Budget Estimates continue in the Senate. Parliament will also sit in NSW, SA, the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania next week.
Treasury opened consultation on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Measures for Consultation) Bill 2023, which proposes to amend the Corporations Act to expand the jurisdiction of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) so that complaints relating to superannuation may be determined by AFCA. Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones stated the amendments will apply retrospectively to ensure consumers are able to access external dispute resolution.
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) published its response to consultation on proposed amendments to the minimum capital requirements for purchased payment facilities (PPF) providers. APRA’s amendments aim to align capital requirements for PPF providers more closely with other APRA-regulated industries.
Following a Freedom of Information request, the Reserve Bank of Australia released[PDF] documents relating to company profits as a potential source of inflation. Documents noted that companies have been considering increases in pricing, but at a slower pace than previous years, and that increases have been largely undertaken to maintain margins and changes in input costs.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Minister for Defence Richard Marles appointed Major General Natasha Fox as the Chief of Personnel in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to head the ADF’s integrated personnel management. The appointment was one of the recommendations of the Defence Strategic Review.
Minister for Trade Don Farrell travelled to the United States to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Indo-Pacific Economic Framework meetings. Minister Farrell will promote Australia’s trade and investment agenda and collaborate with his counterparts to support regional economic partnerships.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong announced the respective appointments of Australia’s Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism and Ambassador for Cyber Affairs and Critical Technology. Richard Feakes will lead Australia’s international engagement on counter-terrorism, while Brendan Dowling will lead engagement efforts on Cyber Affairs and Critical Technology, as well as playing a lead role in developing the Australia’s Cyber Security Strategy for 2023-2030.
Together with the Prime Minister, Minister Wong also announced that the inaugural Advisory Board for the Centre for Australia-India Relations will be headquartered in Parramatta, Western Sydney. The Centre will aim to support the economic partnership and ongoing collaboration between the two nations.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Australian Energy Regulator released its final determination for the 2023–24 Default Market Offer that caps the prices retailers can charge for electricity. It indicated that households in NSW, SA and QLD may face price increases of up to 25 per cent from July.
The Federal Government committed $35 million in funding for renewable energy infrastructure in the NT, which includes a big battery in Darwin, microgrids in remote First Nations communities, and solar banks across the Territory. The funding will also assist with power bill price relief and aim to ensure the reliability and security of renewable energy in the NT.
The WA Government committed $31.3 million towards the operations of marine parks in the Kimberley region. Within this package, $10 million has been allocated to provide industry support for commercial and recreational fishers required to transition to new zoning conditions for the new Buccaneer Archipelago Marine Parks.
The Tasmanian Budget 2023-24[PDF] included $163.7 million in funding for the expansion and protection of national parks and reserves throughout the State, with $58.1 million dedicated to the Cradle Mountain Experience Master Plan.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry published the report following its Review of the Australian Government Drought Response, Resilience and Preparedness Plan. Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry indicated that the Government is now considering the 18 recommendations made in the report and will continue consultation as it develops a new drought plan.
The NSW Government introduced legislation to Parliament that will reverse the former Coalition Government’s stamp duty policy by changing the First Home Buyers Assistance scheme to increase the threshold for stamp study exemptions and concessions for first home buyers. Under the proposed changes from July, exemptions will be available on houses costing up to $800,000, while concessions will apply for houses up to $1 million in value.
The Queensland Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Qantas to investigate the potential for producing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The partnership will aim to strengthen Queensland’s role in the SAF market while also assisting airlines to transition to net zero by 2050.
In the Tasmanian Budget 2023-24[PDF], $373 million was allocated to the recently established Homes Tasmania entity. This funding will be used for the entity’s home-building program and its delivery of homelessness services. The Budget also included a commitment to expand the Private Rental Incentive Program with a trial that will source and provide private rentals at a reduced rate for eligible low-income earners, supported by an additional $1.5 million in funding.
The Department of Health released its report on financial assistance to support the Australian Medical Research and Innovation Priorities 2020–2022. The report detailed the extent to which the grants provided under the Medical Research Future Fund over the past three years were consistent with the priorities.
After a staff assault incident in Services Australia, Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten announced a Review of Security Risk Management for the agency. The Review will be led by former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police Graham Ashton.
Queensland Health and the new Minister for Health, Mental Health and Ambulance Services Shannon Fentiman announced the awarding of a series of construction contracts for the expansion of six hospitals in Brisbane, Ipswich, Mackay, Logan and Cairns. Built Qld Pty Ltd won a $465 million contract for the QEII Jubilee Hospital Expansion project, and BESIX Watpac Qld Pty Ltd was awarded a $710 million contract to deliver the Ipswich Hospital Stage 2 Expansion.