Weekly Wrap Up

28 June 2024

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Highlights

  • Inflation rose to 4 per cent in the 12 months to May 2024, according to Consumer Price Index (CPI) data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addressed the CEDA State of the Nation Conference where he emphasised the importance of the Government’s Future Made in Australia package.
  • The Federal Government committed to accepting all 11 recommendations made in the Final Report of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct.
  • Treasurer Jim Chalmers approved ANZ Bank’s takeover of Suncorp subject to conditions such as the protection of regional jobs and investing in renewable energy projects.
  • The Australian Energy Market Operator released the 2024 Integrated System Plan which details Australia’s 25-year pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Federal Parliament

Following a fortnight of Senate estimates, both houses of Parliament sat this week. On the Government’s legislative agenda, the Export Control Amendment (Ending Live Sheep Exports by Sea) Bill passed the House after extensive debate. As the title suggests, the Bill seeks to prohibit live sheep exports via marine transit from 2028. Also passing the House was the Treasury Laws Amendment (Responsible Buy Now Pay Later Other Measures Bill) 2024, which among other things establishes a country-by-country tax reporting regime for multinationals and creates tax concessions for foreign investors in the build-to-rent sector.

The Senate subsequently agreed to split the Bill into the Treasury Laws Amendment (Responsible Buy Now Pay Later Other Measures Bill) 2024 and the Treasury Laws Amendment (Build to Rent) Bill 2024 due to the Greens’ concerns that tax concessions for foreign investors in BTR would not alleviate rental pressures. Both bills were referred to the Senate Economics Committee for inquiry and report by 2 August and 4 September, respectively.

In the Senate, the Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Vaping Reforms) Bill 2024 was significantly amended due to a reported deal between the Government and the Greens to secure the Bill’s passage. Vapes will be able to be purchased by adults over the counter at pharmacies under the amended legislation, as opposed to prescription-only vapes under the original Bill. The amended legislation returned to the House and was passed despite crossbench opposition.

Also of significance, Labor Senator Fatima Payman became the first Labor parliamentarian to vote against her own party since 1988 after she crossed the floor on a Greens motion to recognise the State of Palestine. Despite breaching Labor caucus rules, Senator Payman stated that “she walked for humanity” and that she was “bitterly disappointed” her Labor colleagues did not vote with her. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese revealed Senator Payman will not attend Labor caucuses for the rest of the sitting fortnight, but will not face expulsion from the party.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister visits Australia

Newly elected Solomon Islands Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele visited Australia for his first overseas trip as leader of the Pacific nation. The visit comes amidst concerns over closer relations between the Solomon Islands and China, as symbolised by a security agreement signed by the two countries in 2022. In Canberra, Mr Manele and his delegation met with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and other senior Australian officials.

In a joint statement, both countries committed to cooperating more closely in areas such as economic development, regional security, climate change, and people-to-people links. Mr Albanese said that “Australia is the Solomon Islands partner of choice and we do not take this for granted.” Prime Minister Manele will travel to Queensland to view the benefits of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme before travelling to Beijing to meet with Chinese leaders.

Julian Assange homecoming

Wikileaks founder and Australian citizen Julian Assange touched down in Canberra after being released from a UK maximum security prison earlier this week. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed Mr Assange back to Australia, saying “this was the culmination of careful, patient and determined advocacy.” Mr Albanese had publicly advocated for Mr Assange’s release, both as Opposition Leader and then as Prime Minister. On social media, Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham labelled Mr Albanese’s welcome of Mr Assange as “neither necessary nor appropriate”.

Mr Assange was alleged to have leaked classified American military material and was facing possible extradition to the United States in a drawn-out legal process in the UK. However, after reaching a plea deal with the US Government and facing an American courtroom in the Northern Mariana Islands, Mr Assange reunited with his family in Australia a free man.

In a statement, the Federal Government expressed their gratitude to the US and UK “for their efforts to find a pathway that met the interests of all parties.”

Looking Ahead

Only the Federal Parliament will sit next week.


FINANCE

Federal Developments

The Federal Government committed $14.8 million to strengthening Australia’s national wellbeing framework, ‘Measuring What Matters.’ The revised framework involves expanding the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) collecting and publishing data in areas such as life satisfaction and participation in volunteering. The data will be used to inform future government policies and decision-making to create better outcomes for households.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers announced the appointment of three new full-time Commissioners, Dr Alison Roberts, Mr Selwyn Button, and Mr Barry Sterland PSM, to the Productivity Commission. Each will complete a five-year term. Additionally, Dr Catherine de Fontenay has been reappointed for another five-year term as a full-time Commissioner.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission approved a new version of the Australian Banking Association’s (ABA) Code of Practice. The changes will include enhancements to key protections and a strengthening of standards and protections for consumers and new businesses. The new Code will commence on 28 February 2025.

The ABA, major retailers, and major banks reached an agreement with Armaguard to provide a $50 million 12-month financial contribution for its Cash-in-Transit business. The contribution includes an agreement to develop an independent pricing mechanism for cash delivery businesses as well as KPIs. The agreement has been submitted to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for approval

State Developments

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr delivered the ACT 2024-25 Budget, revealing an $830.8 million deficit for this financial year. The Budget prioritised cost-of-living relief, housing supply, and health services. Mr Barr also revealed $2 billion over five years will be spent on public transport, roads, and active travel, which he labelled as “building the infrastructure a growing city needs”.


FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE

Federal Developments

Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong addressed the CEDA State of the Nation Conference in Canberra. In her speech, the Minister addressed the need for economic and trade cooperation with the Indo-Pacific region, the importance of stabilising the nation’s relationship with China, and the benefits of the Government’s reforms to the Foreign Investment Review Board process.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles confirmed the first cohort of submarine workers travelled to Pearl Harbour to undergo training in maintaining and servicing the US Virginia-class submarines that Australia will receive under AUKUS arrangements. More than 100 shipyard workers from the Australian Submarine Corporation are expected to depart by mid-2025 for training.

The Federal Government released data which confirms that international tourism levels in Australia are nearing pre-pandemic levels. China and India ranked amongst the top five international tourism markets for Australia, alongside New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell also linked increasing tourists from Southeast Asia to the Government’s Southeast Asia Strategy to 2040.

State Developments

Queensland Deputy Premier Cameron Dick appointed Ross Buchanan as the State’s next Agent-General for the UK and Senior Trade Commissioner for Europe. Buchanan will oversee the State’s trade policy and planning in the region, including identifying and facilitating investment opportunities for Queensland businesses. The outgoing Agent-General Dave Stewart will step down at the end of June.


ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY

Federal Developments

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen appointed former NSW Liberal Treasurer Matt Kean as Chair of the Climate Change Authority (CCA), succeeding outgoing Chair Mr Grant King. The CCA provides independent statutory advice to Government on climate change policy, including emissions reduction targets. Mr Kean will assume the role in August.

Australia’s Environment Ministers met in Sydney to discuss circular economy and the Federal Government’s nature positive agenda. Ministers discussed[PDF] the National Circular Economy Framework, a roadmap for soft plastics collection, and product stewardship for batteries. The Ministers also agreed to updated biodiversity targets, which includes eradicating invasive species by 2030 and having no new extinctions.

The Federal Government tabled the High Seas Biodiversity Treaty in Parliament. The Treaty will establish marine protected areas on the high seas and are key to meeting the global target of protecting 30 per cent of the world’s coastal and marine areas by 2030. The Treaty will implement the agreement under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

State Developments

The SA Government released South Australia’s green iron and steel strategy. The strategy outlines how the state will facilitate a green iron industry and supply chain. It also sets out the ambition to establish a hydrogen-based green iron plant in South Australia by 2030.


INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATIONS

Federal Developments

Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King announced the reappointment of Mark Binskin as the Chair of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) board for another three years. Mr Biskin is a former Chief of the Defence Force and has significant experience in aviation.

The Federal Government confirmed an addition $1 billion construct new homes under the Priority Works Stream of the Housing Support Program. States and territories will be able to access the funding to build supporting infrastructure, including roads, sewers, and related community amenities. The funding adds to the Government’s housing measures in last month’s Budget.

The Federal Government and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator implemented the Safer Freight Reform to improve road conditions for heavy vehicle operators. The reforms will include equipping heavy vehicles with upgraded safety devices such as stability control and advanced emergency breaking. The announcement comes in the wake of changes to the Australia Design Rules allowing an increase in maximum width of heavy vehicles from 2.50 to 2.55 metres.

State Developments

NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Paul Scully released the final designs of the Bradfield City Centre’s Central Park for public comment. The proposed Central Park includes a Gathering Ground for community and cultural events, a Skyring to celebrate Sky Country and various public art. Public submissions close 24 July.


HEALTH AND EDUCATION

Federal Developments

The Federal Government allocated $30 million in research grants to explore new ways to use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve accessibility and quality of health services. The Medical Research Future Fund awarded 10 grants to Australia’s leading universities for AI-driven projects in healthcare, including improving multiple sclerosis care, preventing cardiac health issues, and expanding access to skin cancer assessments.

Minister for Education Jason Clare released two consultation papers as part of the Government’s ongoing reforms to the tertiary education sector. These include establishing the Australian Tertiary Education Commission and implementing a new funding scheme for higher education by 2026. Both measures are recommendations under the Universities Accord.

The Federal Government appointed a new board of the Australian Research Council. Professor Peter Shergold and Professor Susan Dodds were appointed Chair and Deputy Chain respectively and will be supported by two key advisory committees. The announcement comes in response to a Review of Australian Research Council Act 2001.

State Developments

The VIC Government signed a four-year agreement with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. The agreement includes a 28.4 per cent wage increase for nurses and midwives, improved night shift penalties and various enhancements to working conditions. The deal aims to retain and recruit more nurses and midwives to bolster the Victorian healthcare workforce.

 

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