Weekly Wrap Up
28 April 2023
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- Latest Newspoll data was released, showing that Labor remains ahead of the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis of 56-44.
- The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) published Consumer Price Index data for the March quarter, showing that inflation rose 7 per cent over the past 12 months and 1.4 per cent in the March quarter.
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed that the 2023 Quad Leaders Summit will be hosted in Sydney on 24 May, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and United States President Joe Biden to travel to Australia for the Summit.
- Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler announced the introduction of 60-day prescribing from 1 September, under which eligible patients will be able to buy two months’ worth of medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for the price of a single prescription.
- National Cabinet met in Brisbane earlier today where discussions focused on healthcare and housing reform. National Cabinet also agreed to a $2.2 billion package of measures aimed at improving primary care.
- The Australian Government confirmed that New Zealand citizens living in Australia on a special category visa, and their children, will have a direct path to Australian citizenship from 1 July this year.
- The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released the sixth interim report of its Digital Platform Services Inquiry, outlining proposed reforms to social media services that aim to prevent harm to consumers and businesses.
- In Victoria, Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes announced that the State will move to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 within four years.
Defence Strategic Review
On Monday, the Federal Government released the public version of the Defence Strategic Review as well as its response to the Review, outlining an agenda for reforming Defence’s force posture and structure over the next 10 years. The independent review, which commenced in August 2022, was led by former Minister for Defence Stephen Smith and former Chief of the Defence Force and former Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston.
The Review outlined a series of recommendations with a focus on six priority areas for immediate action, all of which the Government agreed to in full or in-principle. Broadly, priority areas relate to the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines as part of the AUKUS agreement; domestic development of the ADF’s longer range strike capability and manufacturing munitions; improvement of ADF operations in Australia’s northern bases; growth and retention in the Defence workforce; partnerships with Australian industry to integrate new technologies into Defence capabilities; and strengthened diplomatic and defence partnerships across the Indo-Pacific. Crucially, the ADF is being reshaped, moving away from a balanced force to a force which has a greater focus on naval operations. The reviewers argued that Army, in particular, be re-shaped to move away from a traditional expeditionary force to one that more resembles the US Marine Core. A particular focus for Army into the future will be an ability to more effectively undertake littoral operations.
Significantly, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles indicated that the Government will be cancelling or reprioritising a number of Defence projects to account for the cost of implementing the Review, expected to amount to $19 billion over the forward estimates. This will include reprioritisation of the Defence Integrated Investment to ensure alignment with the Review’s priorities. To further inform these decisions, the Government will release a Defence Industry Development Strategy “later this year”.
In line with priorities outlined in the Review, Mr Marles also confirmed a $4.1 billion commitment for the acquisition of more long-range strike systems and local manufacturing of longer-range munitions, as well as a $3.8 billion investment in Australia’s northern bases. Additionally, $3.4 billion has been committed over 10 years to establish the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator.
Review into Australia’s Migration System
Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil delivered a speech to the National Press Club where she released the Government’s comprehensive review of Australia’s migration system. The Minister indicated that skilled migration could help provide a solution to various issues including Australia’s ageing population, low productivity growth, and a warming climate. The 200-page review, led by Dr Martin Parkinson, outlined 38 measures across 12 possible reform directions. Key recommendations for reform focused on the development of a clear migration strategy for Australia; redefined size and composition of the migration program; improved targeting of permanent skilled visas and skilled migration; avoidance of “permanently temporary” migration; a reviewed approach to Parent visas; and strengthened outcomes and transitions of international students.
Prior to releasing the Review, Minister O’Neil told media that the migration system is complex and is not providing Australia with the skills it needs. She emphasised the difficulty of bringing high skill workers into the country and suggested that the migration system in its current form has enabled the exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers.
As a result of the Review, the Department of Home Affairs is now consulting on the development of a Migration Strategy, which proposes to restructure Australia’s temporary skilled migration program through reforming regulation of skilled migrants. The final Migration Strategy is planned for release “later in 2023”.
Gas Mandatory Code of Conduct
Following the temporary cap imposed on the price of gas in December 2022, the Government this week opened a second round of consultation on the Gas Mandatory Code of Conduct. The Code includes a proposal to extend the price cap for gas at $12/GJ until 1 July 2025, at which stage the cap will be subject to review. It also includes a process for qualifying for exemptions from the price cap. The Government indicated that the Code aims to ensure domestic gas prices are reasonable by “establishing a price anchor or mechanism to drag prices down”. Submissions on the proposed Code will close 12 May, and the Code is due to be finalised by 30 June.
The Victorian and South Australian Parliaments are sitting next week.
Following an Investor Roundtable in Brisbane, the Federal Government announced a series of measures aimed at increasing investment in renewable energy in Australia. Measures include the introduction of a Sovereign Green Bonds program, the expansion of energy efficiency ratings, and a commitment to co‑fund the development phase of an Australian Sustainable Finance Taxonomy. The Government will also provide the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) with $4.3 million to expand its investigation into businesses making misleading claims about the sustainability or efficiency of products.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) published an issues paper[PDF] outlining issues it plans to consider in its retail deposits inquiry. As outlined in the issues paper, the ACCC is seeking feedback on competition and consumer issues affecting retail deposit products, with submissions closing on 19 May.
The ABS released Taxation Revenue data for the 2021-22 financial year, indicating that total taxation revenue across all levels of government in this period was 29.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.
The Parliamentary Budget Office released a Budget Explainer on the manner in which superannuation is taxed, outlining that this is currently done through contributions, investment earnings, and withdrawals.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
The Federal Government confirmed[PDF] it has entered into an agreement to acquire majority ownership of CEA Technologies Pty Limited. Under this ownership structure, the radar technology company will become a new Government Business Enterprise and assist developments of Australia’s radar capability.
Australian and Vietnamese delegates met at the 18th Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Hanoi. Dialogue focused on supporting ongoing initiatives on human rights protections in both countries and reinforcing diplomatic links between Australia and Vietnam.
At a bilateral meeting in Brisbane, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Nauruan President Russ Kun reinforced their countries’ regional partnership as well as Australia’s ongoing support to Nauru.
NT Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison travelled to South Korea as part of a trade mission to promote opportunities for investment partnerships in the NT’s critical minerals and renewable technology sector.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen indicated that as part of the Driving the Nation Fund, the Federal Government will partner with NRMA to build 117 Electrical Vehicle charging sites on national highways. The Government will provide $39.3 million in funding for this project with chargers being placed approximately every 150km.
The Federal Government announced that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will grant $75 million in debt finance to Rino Recycling’s Pikenba recovery centre. Based in Brisbane, this centre will have the capacity to recycle over one million tonnes of concrete, excavation and skip bin waste each year.
Queensland Minister for Energy, Renewables and Hydrogen Mick de Brenni revealed changes to the Zero Emission Vehicle Rebate Scheme aimed at making electric vehicles more accessible and affordable. The scheme will now include extra financial assistance and a lower eligibility threshold.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Federal and NSW governments confirmed that the tender for the concept design and early works of the Epping Bridge project has been awarded.
The National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation committed up to $70 million in funding to community housing provider BaptistCare NSW & ACT to support the provider’s development of the final stage of the NSW Government’s Social and Affordable Housing Fund Program.
The Queensland Government distributed over $69 million across 50 councils to fund projects related to water and sewerage service improvements, as part of Round 6 of the Building our Regions program.
The WA Government flagged that the upcoming 2023-24 State Budget will include a $125 million allocation towards expanding the State’s electric bus fleet. Matched with a further $125 million commitment from the Federal Government, the funding will see the development of 130 new electric buses and charging infrastructure at key depots in WA.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler announced $50 million for research into Long COVID, following the release of the final report from the House Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport’s Inquiry into Long COVID and Repeated COVID Infections.
The Federal Government’s response to the Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission was released. Of the Committee’s 30 recommendations, the Government supported 21 and referred nine to the NDIS Review.
Also on NDIS matters, Minister for the NDIS Bill Shorten flagged the inclusion of a $48.3 million commitment in the upcoming 2023-24 Budget to fund the appointment of 200 National Disability Insurance Agency staff responsible for addressing fraud and non-compliant payments in the NDIS.
WA Minister for Health and Mental Health Amber-Jade Sanderson revealed that the upcoming 2023-24 State Budget will include $420 million in funding for mental health programs. Of this funding, $218.9 million will be allocated to the first stage of the Graylands Reconfiguration and Forensic Taskforce project, which is aimed at modernising care for mental health patients.