Weekly Wrap Up
27 October 2023
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- Inflation increased 5.4 per cent in the 12 months to September 2023, according to latest CPI data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
- The Chinese Government agreed to review its tariffs on Australian wine, following which Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed he will visit China from 4 to 7 November.
- The Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce released its report which made seven recommendations to the Federal Government, including extending parental leave paid at full salary to 52 weeks.
- Minister for Employment Tony Burke confirmed that “action is needed soon” on the use of engineered stone, ahead of the public release of a Safe Work Australia report which has “a very strong recommendation in favour of a ban”.
Prime Minister’s visit to the US
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese spent four days in the United States to meet with President Joe Biden and other US delegates. While in the United States, Mr Albanese held a number of meetings to discuss progress on the AUKUS submarine deal, investment in renewable energy, and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Mr Albanese’s visit came after President Biden extended an invitation in August, following his cancellation to attend the G7 leaders’ summit in Australia in May. Mr Albanese was welcomed to the White House on Wednesday, where he stated the two countries are building “an alliance for the future”. Later, the two leaders held a press conference to condemn the actions of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine and Hamas’ attacks on Israel, where Mr Albanese committed an additional $15 million for humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza. During his visit, Mr Albanese also attended a private dinner with President Biden as well as a state dinner at the White House.
During a State Department lunch hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Mr Albanese spoke on foreign relations with China, where he labelled Australia’s efforts as “patient, calibrated and deliberate” and supported “open lines of communications” between the US and China. Elsewhere, Prime Minister Albanese met with new US House Speaker Mike Johnson to encourage the US Congress to pass legislation this year that would facilitate the AUKUS submarines agreement. The two nations also signed the Technology Safeguards Agreement, which would enable more space-related commercial activities and protect the US’ space launch technology in Australia.
While in Washington DC, Prime Minister Albanese also met with Microsoft President Brad Smith to announce Microsoft’s $5 billion investment to improve Australia’s cyber defence capabilities through a Microsoft-Australia Signals Directorate Cyber Shield. On Tuesday, Mr Albanese and Minister for Resources Madeleine King held a critical minerals and industry roundtable in Washington with the United States Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, to confirm the Government’s $2 billion investment into critical minerals financing. The funding will double the capacity of the Critical Minerals Facility and support Australia’s net zero transition.
Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor Michele Bullock appeared before her first Senate estimates hearing on Thursday. At the hearing, Governor Bullock was questioned on the RBA’s upcoming interest rate decision to which she stated, “I wouldn’t say more or less likely, we’re still looking at it”. She also noted that the latest inflation report showed price pressures were a “little higher” than had been expected. Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong fronted the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee where she was questioned over the Government’s response to the Israel-Hamas conflict, acknowledging “human suffering was widespread” in relation to the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and stated it is a “complex and distressing crisis”.
Victorian, South Australian, ACT and Tasmanian Parliaments will sit next week. Elsewhere, NSW Budget Estimates will continue.
Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones appointed Ms Angela Pearsall as a part-time member of the Companies Auditors Disciplinary Board for a three-year term. Ms Pearsall has experience in dispute resolution and specialises in commercial litigation ad class actions.
ACT Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr announced a new stamp duty exemption and changes to the lease variation rate for dual occupancies on suburban residential blocks to improve housing accessibility and affordability in the ACT. The stamp duty exemption will come into effect on 27 November and will apply to the first transfer of unit-titled dwellings on suburban residential blocks for purchases up to $800,000.
Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick tabled the ‘2022-23 Report on State Finances’ in Parliament. The report reveals that in FY22-23, Queensland achieved a $13.9 billion surplus, underpinned by revenue from coal royalties and a strong labour market.
The NSW Government launched the Service NSW Business Bureau. The Business Bureau will be dedicated to reducing business red-tape and enable small businesses in NSW to navigate government services and pursue growth opportunities. Support services to businesses include tracking and saving licenses associated with commercial operations, booking expert advisers, and viewing voucher payment summaries, transaction reports, and bank details.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Minister for Defence Industry, and International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy travelled to the United States to represent Australia in the Honolulu Leadership Dialogue this week. At the Dialogue, senior delegates discussed issues relating to the Indo-Pacific region. Meanwhile, in Hawaii, Minister Conroy will meet with the United States Indo-Pacific Command to discuss Australia’s defence plans, including the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines and manufacturing missiles.
The Federal Government announced an additional $20 million of military assistance for Ukraine to support its defence against the ongoing conflict with Russia. The Government also deployed a Royal Australian Air Force aircraft to protect a gateway for humanitarian assistance to the region and reiterated its calls for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.
Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing Tim Ayres visited India to attend the G20 Trade and Investment Ministers’ Meeting in Jaipur and the B20 Business Summit in New Delhi. Discussions at the G20 meeting centred around supporting Australia’s international trade and investment opportunities and discussing progress on the Australian-European Union Free Trade Agreement negotiations with European counterparts.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Federal Government committed $69.2 million to develop the Central Queensland Hydrogen Hub in Gladstone, as part of an agreement with the Queensland Government. Construction will begin next year with operations expected to start in mid-2027.
Victorian Government unveiled the State Electricity Commission’s (SEC) ‘Strategic Plan 2023-2035’, which provides a ten-year roadmap to support Victoria’s renewable energy transition. The plan tasks the SEC with several new responsibilities, including taking over existing Renewable Energy Target projects, and becoming a ‘one stop shop’ for residential electrification, with a pilot program to commence next year to begin switching households away from gas.
The Queensland Government introduced the Energy (Renewable Transformation and Jobs) Bill to Parliament, which sets out targets and commitments to support the state’s clean energy transition. Amongst other measures, the Bill would legislate renewable energy targets to reach 80 per cent by 2035 and ensure majority public ownership of the state’s electricity system.
The South Australian Government signed an early contractor involvement agreement with its preferred partners, the ATCO Australia and BOC consortium, as well as EPIC Energy, to deliver its Hydrogen Jobs Plan. The consortium will work on the design, procurement, contracting and cost processes for the Hydrogen Power Plant, while EPIC Energy will develop a hydrogen storage and transmission solution. The project’s operations are expected to start in early 2026.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission released its ‘Regional Mobile Infrastructure’ report, which aims to address challenges in providing accessible and reliable communications to regional Australia. The report highlights the need to improve emergency roaming capabilities and a review of mobile tower regulations.
The Queensland Government opened its $285.5 million South East Queensland (SEQ) Liveability Fund, which will enable eligible local Governments to deliver community projects aimed at improving housing, health and wellbeing. The fund is being delivered through the SEQ City Deal, a partnership between the Federal Government, Queensland Government, and the SEQ Council of Mayors.
The NSW Government’s Bus Industry Taskforce released its Directions for On-Street Transit White Paper, which detailed challenges and opportunities in increasing public transport accessibility and reliability. Five opportunities were identified in the paper regarding developing network infrastructure for increased demand and capacity.
Also in NSW, the Government announced that it will transform part of Sydney’s Moore Park Golf Course into a new central park. The Government plans to repurpose 20 hectares of the 45-hectare course into green space and facilities for sport and recreation and will consult with key stakeholders on the transformation process.
Minister for Aged Care Anika Wells committed $318 million to continue COVID-19 support in residential aged care facilities. The funding will help aged care providers manage COIVD-19 outbreaks and replaces the current grant system.
The Federal Government opened the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), which will invest $147.5 million to support research projects into rare illnesses, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. As part of the MRFF, $65 million is also available for clinical trials into rare cancers, rare diseases, unmet needs, and effective health interventions.
The NSW Government announced it will introduce a new single digital patient record (SDPR) system, which will enable NSW Health to consolidate patient information into one system. The SDPR will facilitate a streamlined statewide administration of patient healthcare records between hospitals, pathology units and local health districts (LHD), with the program set to commence in the Hunter New England LHD.
The Queensland Government announced a $28.4 million package over five years as a response to a parliamentary inquiry into reducing vaping in Queensland. The package will include $2 million this year and a further $5 million annually to support the enforcement of vaping laws in Queensland and establish a taskforce with the Federal Government.
Northern Territory Attorney General Chansey Paech introduced the Justice Legislation Amendment (Domestic and Family Violence) Bill 2023 into Parliament, which proposes a series of “victim-centred” protection reforms. As part of the changes, the Bill would enable the justice system to access criminal history information to reduce the risk of misidentification of victims as perpetrators of domestic violence.