Weekly Wrap Up
3 March 2023
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- The NSW Government entered caretaker mode today, marking the formal commencement of the campaign ahead of the State Election on 25 March. For further information, see our detailed Campaign Insights & Analysis here.
- National Accounts data was released showing that GDP grew by 0.5 per cent in the December quarter with an annual growth rate of 2.7 per cent. Inflation also rose 7.4 per cent in the year to January 2023, according to the latest Consumer Price Index data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
- Federal, State and Territory governments unanimously agreed to consider a ban on engineered stone, ordering Safe Work Australia to scope out regulation for workplaces exposed to silica dust and investigate what a ban would look like.
- Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Catherine King addressed the National Press Club, outlining the Government’s plan to make legislative changes to Infrastructure Australia, including the appointment of three new commissioners to lead it.
- Minister for Agriculture and Emergency Management Murray Watt marked the one-year anniversary of NSW and QLD floods.
- The Federal Government released its response to the Review of the COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Purchasing and Procurement.
- The Federal Government announced a consultation to modernise postal services as part of a financial sustainability review of Australia Post’s letter-delivery service.
- Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus yesterday hosted a Personal Insolvency Roundtable with industry leaders to identify potential legislative changes to Australia’s bankruptcy laws.
- The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announced it will conduct an investigation of businesses for potential ‘greenwashing’, following an internet sweep of environmental claims. Of the 247 businesses reviewed, 57 per cent were identified as having made concerning claims about their environmental credentials.
On Tuesday, Treasurer Jim Chalmers confirmed the Federal Government’s plan to cut tax concessions on super account balances over $3 million as part of a proposed legislative reform that will apply from mid-2025. Those affected will have tax rates increased to 30 per cent from its current 15 per cent, which Mr Chalmers maintained is expected to affect less than 0.5 per cent of the Australian population. Noting the proposed reform will make superannuation “more sustainable”, Mr Chalmers indicated the reform would result in a $2 billion net revenue for the Government. This follows earlier revelations that super concessions have cost the Government $50 billion in lost revenue.
Following the announcement, Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor criticised the Government for “walking away” from its pre-election commitment to not make changes to superannuation. Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton vowed (paywall) that the Coalition would not support the legislative changes and would “repeal” the decision if the Party won government following the next election. Elsewhere, Greens Treasury spokesperson Nick McKim responded to the proposed reform calling for the Labor Government to revisit the stage-three tax cuts, with Mr McKim stating the current system is “a money-go-round scheme for the rich”.
The Federal Government announced it will establish a new cybersecurity office and a Coordinator for Cyber Security to combat increasing cyber threats in Australia. The plans were outlined at a cybersecurity roundtable on Monday, hosted by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neill. Noting that Australia’s current cyber security laws are “not keeping up with the challenges presented by the digital age”, Minister O’Neill indicated the need for a stronger response in the wake of recent major data breaches such as Optus and Medicare. The new National Office for Cyber Security will be situated within the Department of Home Affairs and the Coordinator will be responsible for leading the Government’s response to major cyber-attacks.
The Cyber Security Strategy Expert Advisory Board, which was formed late last year, has developed the 2023-2030 Cyber Security Strategy Discussion Paper and is currently seeking feedback on the Strategy. Submissions will close on 15 April.
Robodebt Royal Commission
This week, the fourth hearing block of the Robodebt Royal Commission continued, with former minister Stuart Robert appearing for questioning yesterday. In his role as Minister for Government Services in 2019 and 2021, Mr Robert admitted to the Commission that he made statements he believed to be false about Robodebt in media interviews because as a government minister he stood by “the approach that cabinet had signed off on”. Probed with further questions about his assertion of a false effectiveness rate of the scheme, Mr Robert responded that he had “no choice as a cabinet minister but to defend government policy.” He also rejected claims from Tuesday’s hearing from the former Department of Human Services secretary Renee Leon that he refused her advice to admit error following revelations the program was unlawful.
The ABS revealed that company gross operating profits rose 10.6 per cent in the December quarter. In comparison, wages and salaries rose 2.6 per cent.The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority released its Quarterly Superannuation Performance publication for the December 2022 quarter. Total assets totaled $3.4 trillion, a decrease of 3 per cent year-on-year.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) provided an update on its research project to explore potential use cases of a central bank digital currency. The RBA has invited 14 providers, including ANZ, Mastercard and Commonwealth, to use a limited-scale pilot CBDC that is a real digital claim on the Reserve Bank.
Treasury has opened expression of interests for the RBA Board positions. It is believed (paywall) two members of the RBA board will not reapply for their positions when their terms expire later in the year.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong visited Malaysia and India this week and also attended the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in New Delhi. At the G20 meeting, Minister Wong met with Singaporean, Turkish and Canadian foreign ministers to support ongoing bilateral cooperation.
Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy confirmed the Government signed an Australian Industry Capability Deed for the Apache Program with the Boeing Company to support national defence industry opportunities. The agreement marks a commitment from the Government to enable industry to be involved in the production of a fleet of new aircrafts.
Avalon 2023 commenced this week at the Avalon Airport in Victoria. At the event, Victorian Minister for Industry and Innovation and Manufacturing Sovereignty Ben Carroll revealed a partnership proposal between Lockheed Martin and the Victorian Government to build a space hub in the state. Additionally, Victorian Minister for Trade and Investment Tim Pallas unveiled the Government’s Advanced Air Mobility hub to display zero-emission aircraft capabilities.
Mr Carroll separately announced Melbourne will host the Land Forces International Land Defence Exposition from 2024 to support the state economy and increase global attention on its defence manufacturing capabilities.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Madeleine King hosted two critical mineral roundtables in Perth earlier this week. These roundtables were part of the Government’s consultations on the new Critical Minerals Strategy. Attendees includes key resources companies, as well as First Nations leaders and research groups.
The Government issued the September 2022 Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. The update shows that emissions for the year to September 2022 are up 0.1 per cent on the previous year.
NSW Minister for Infrastructure Rob Stokes released the Decarbonising Infrastructure Delivery Roadmap. Meanwhile, Minister for Environment James Griffin also announced that a draft of the Protection of Environment Policy for sustainable construction will be released for consultation later this year.The NSW Government has decided the final Renewable Energy Zone will be in the Illawarra along the coastline from Wollongong to Shellharbour. This is the fifth zone identified within the NSW Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Nation Housing Supply and Affordability Council met for the first time this week. The Council, led by Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz, will guide the Government on how to improve housing supply and affordability.
The first tranche of projects have been approved for funding under the Northern Rivers Resilience Initiative to improve disaster resilience in the region. Tranche 1 projects, totaling $50 million, include $17.2 million for seven combined upgrades to pumps and pump stations in Lismore.
The South Australian Government announced its Better Housing Future plan, which includes fast tracking the release of residential land to deliver 23,700 new homes. The Government will also establish an Infrastructure Planning and Development Unit to coordinate infrastructure investment.
The NSW Government granted $38 million for councils in Strathfield, Hawkesbury and The Hills for critical infrastructure projects. The projects, funded through the $5 billion WestInvest program, include sporting infrastructure and green spaces.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler announced an independent review into the National Health Reform Agreement (NHRA) will be undertaken by Ms Rosemary Huxtable PSM and Mr Michael Walsh PSM. The NHRA sets out the arrangements for public hospital funding between the Federal Government and all states and territories. An interim report is due in August 2023.
The Federal Government announced a new 10 Year National Action Plan for the Health and Wellbeing of LGBTIQA+. The Government also committed $26 million to LGBTIQA+ health research, funded through the Medical Research Future Fund. These developments follow a roundtable on LGBTIQA+ health, hosted by Assistant Health Minister Ged Kearney.
The Federal Government opened an Expression of Interest (EOI) for 14 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics (Medicare UCCs) locations across New South Wales. The Medicare UCCs seek to ease pressures on the hospital system for urgent non-life-threatening care. The EOI closes on 12 April.
Queensland Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Yvette D’Ath announced the introduction of pill testing services across the state, making them the second jurisdiction in Australia to do so. The Government has yet to develop its protocols around the testing model and associated budget.From Monday 6 March, pharmacists in Tasmania will be able to supply a month of medicines to patients if their script runs out or if a GP is unavailable for consultation. The list of medications eligible for continued dispensing includes the oral contraceptive pill, asthma puffers, statins, and medications for the management of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.