Weekly Wrap Up
3 February 2023
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- Earlier today at National Cabinet’s first meeting for 2023, leaders agreed to focus on healthcare reform as the first priority issue of the year, and also committed to working collaboratively to support a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament for First Nations Australians.
- Also this morning, Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler released the report of the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce, outlining a series of recommendations to reform primary care in Australia.
- The Federal Government launched Australia’s new National Cultural Policy entitled Revive, outlining a $286 million funding commitment to the arts, entertainment and cultural sector over the next five years.
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton attended a meeting of the working group examining the Government’s planned referendum to implement the Voice to Parliament.
- Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus opened consultation on a series of proposed changes to family law in Australia.
- Workplace entitlements providing the right to ten days of paid family and domestic violence leave came into effect on Wednesday.
- Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles and Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong travelled to France and the UK, where they attended the Australia-France Foreign and Defence Ministerial Consultations and later visited Australian soldiers providing training to Ukrainian recruits.
- Treasurer Jim Chalmers wrote an essay for magazine The Monthly, outlining his economic ideology of values-based capitalism while reflecting on major economic crises and the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In WA, Nationals MP Mia Davies resigned as Leader of the Opposition and announced she would not be contesting the 2025 election, with Shane Love later elected to replace her.
- Meanwhile, Libby Mettam was chosen as the new Leader of the WA Liberal Party following the resignation of David Honey.
- In NSW, the CEO of ClubsNSW was terminated following comments made about Premier Dominic Perrottet’s approach to gambling reform.
Community Safety in Central Australia
Following the recent introduction of alcohol restrictions in the NT, both Chief Minister Natash Fyles and Prime Minister Albanese have been under the spotlight regarding the ongoing response to community safety in the NT region. Yesterday, Mr Albanese met with Ms Fyles to discuss the recommendations of a report requested by recently appointed Central Australian Regional Controller Dorrelle Anderson. During his visit to Alice Springs last week, Mr Albanese outlined that Ms Anderson had been asked to recommend further potential changes to alcohol restrictions in Central Australia and provide a report to him and Ms Fyles by 1 February. Yesterday, Mr Albanese indicated that the report will be released by the NT Government after cabinet consideration next week, at which time both the Federal and NT governments will consider next steps.
Robodebt Royal Commission
This week, public hearings continued for the Royal Commission into the former Robodebt Scheme that saw the automated matching of data to raise debts against welfare recipients. Alan Tudge and Christian Porter, former ministers under the Turnbull and Morrison Coalition governments, appeared before the Commission for questioning.
As Minister for Human Services in 2016 and 2017, Mr Tudge told[PDF] the Commission that he found it “unfathomable” that a department Secretary would implement a scheme that they knew was unlawful. He also stated that the fact the scheme may not have been lawful “just had not crossed [his] mind” until the matter gained media attention years later.
Former Attorney-General Christian Porter appeared before the Commission yesterday to discuss his involvement with the scheme as Minister for Social Services between 2015 and 2017. Stating he was “assured” by departmental officials that the scheme was legal, Mr Porter conceded to the Commission that he now understands information he gave to the media in defence of the scheme to be “inaccurate or untrue”.
Tony Burke’s address to the National Press Club
On Wednesday, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Minister for the Arts and Leader of the House of Representatives Tony Burke delivered the first National Press Club address of the year, outlining the Albanese Government’s legislative agenda for 2023. Minister Burke spoke extensively of the Government’s intentions in the realm of industrial relations reform, indicating that the Government will this year implement pre-election commitments it did not have the capacity to enact in 2022. He stated that the more “controversial” elements of reform will be addressed in the second half of the year to enable longer periods of consultation.
Key changes planned in the area of industrial relations relate to the areas of workplace protections for migrant workers, superannuation rights, wage theft, and the gig economy. Minister Burke also highlighted a number of other priorities, including enactment of the legislation required for the referendum on the Voice, as well as the establishment of the Housing Australian Future Fund.
The Federal, Victorian, SA and ACT Parliaments all resume next week for their first sitting of 2023.
Last Wednesday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) figures, indicating the CPI rose 1.9 per cent in the December quarter and 7.8 per cent in the 12 months to December.
The ABS also opened the first round of consultation for its comprehensive review into how Australian occupations are classified. Submissions for the first round of consultation close on 28 April 2023.
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) announced changes to the structure and responsibilities of the Executive team, including new appointments to its leadership team. On the same day, APRA published the Annual Superannuation Bulletin for the 2021-22 financial year, showing total superannuation assets reached $3.35 trillion.
Meanwhile, APRA released its policy and supervision priorities for 2023. Priorities include completing key reforms to strengthen APRA-regulated entities, progressing the plan to modernise the prudential architecture, and reviewing core standards.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong confirmed the Australian Government will enforce sanctions and travel bans on perpetrators of human rights abuses in Myanmar and Iran, as well as Iranian representatives involved in the supply of Russian drones. Amongst those sanctioned include 16 members of the Myanmar military establishment and other related entities responsible for the coup d’état, and 16 Iranian individuals and bodies involved in ongoing oppressive behaviours.
Secretary of Australia’s Department of Home Affairs Michael Pezzullo AO joined The Quad Senior Cyber Group Principals meeting in New Delhi alongside representatives from Japan, India, and the United States. The meeting reinforced collaborative efforts to improve cybersecurity resilience across the Indo-Pacific and identified the need for implementing a number of cyber initiatives.
The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) released the Australian State of Exporters Report, outlining the contributions of exporters to the Australian economy during the 2020-21 period. Key highlights of the report include $646.6 billion in revenue generated across 234 global markets.
Victorian Minister for Trade and Investment Tim Pallas announced that a Victorian Government Trade and Investment office will open in Paris this month. The office will facilitate greater international trade and investment opportunities between Victorian businesses and the EU, targeting key sectors such as life sciences, technology, renewable energy, and defence.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Minister for Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek announced new appointments to the Circular Economy Ministerial Advisory Group, which was first established in November last year to provide guidance to the Government to support Australia’s planned transition to a circular economy by 2030. Professor John Thwaites AM, the group’s inaugural Chair, will lead the group’s first meeting later this month.
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Netherlands Minister for Climate and Energy Rob Jetten focused on collaborating on green hydrogen supply chains between the two countries.
In WA, two MoUs were entered into with Japan in relation to energy and cooperation. The first agreement, between the State Government and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, centres around low emission technology, hydrogen, ammonia and decarbonisation. The second agreement will see the exploration of more opportunities in the renewable energy supply chain between Japan’s Port of Himeji and WA’s Pilbara Ports Authority.
SA Deputy Premier and Minister for Climate, Environment and Water Susan Close opened consultation on proposed regulations and exemptions for the next stage of the State’s single-use plastics ban. This consultation will run for the month of February, with single-use plastic pizza savers, cotton buds, bowls and plates included in the proposed ban.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The NSW Government formalised the end to industrial action on the rail network following 93 per cent of rail workers voting in favour of a new Enterprise Agreement. Also in NSW, the State Government opened expressions of interest for delivery of the Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2, with the process closing on 14 March.
The SA Government released[PDF] tenders for the construction of 133 new public homes under its $177.5 million Public Housing Improvement Program, with plans to build 400 new public housing homes in total. Applications close on 21 February.
The ACT Government engaged Evo Energy to begin building electrical infrastructure to enable the housing of up to 300 battery electric buses as Canberra transitions to a zero emission public transport fleet.
Queensland Health established a shortlist of companies to build $8 billion worth of health infrastructure, including three new hospitals and nine major hospital expansions. Contracts are expected to be announced from April 2023.
Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney appointed 30 experts to the new National Women’s Health Advisory Council. Significant appointments include Dr Danielle McMullen from the AMA, Dr Nicole Higgins from the RACGP and Associate Professor Aliza Werner from the Black Dog Institute.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler and Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Emma McBride announced the establishment of two independent national mental health lived experience peak bodies, aimed at providing services to vulnerable people as well as their carers and families.
The Federal Government called for expressions of interest (EOIs) to set up seven Medicare Urgent Care Clinics in WA. EOIs for the clinics, in various locations throughout WA, are open to existing practices.
ACT Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith unveiled plans for a new cancer research centre in Canberra, which will bring together academics, clinicians, industry and health professionals alongside the existing Canberra Region Cancer Centre (CRCC).
The Tasmanian and Federal governments entered into an agreement to pilot a new employment model for General Practitioners. Under the new model, GP Registrars will have the option of being employed by the Tasmanian Health Service as salaried employees, rather than changing employers with each change of rotation of 6-12 months, allowing doctors to remain in regional areas to complete their training.