Weekly Wrap Up

3 May 2024 

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  • Minister for Finance Katy Gallagher released the General Government Sector Monthly Financial Statements for March 2024, which shows a $1.8 billion deficit for the sectors underlying cash balance.
  • In line with the Future Made in Australia agenda, the Federal and Queensland Governments announced a $1 billion investment in technology company PsiQuantum to build the world’s first fault tolerant quantum computer in Brisbane.
  • The Federal Government published the Post-Incident Review into the Optus Network Outage. Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland confirmed that the Government will implement reforms around Triple Zero services over the next 12-18 months.
  • Airline Bonza entered voluntary administration following numerous flight cancellations across Australia. In response, Minister for Transport Catherine King said the Federal Government remains “determined…to try and improve competition.”
  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese travelled to Alice Springs where he visited an indigenous health hub funded by the Federal Government’s Central Australia Package.
  • Following an alleged data breach at ClubsNSW, police arrested the suspected perpetrator and are continuing to work with relevant cybercrime authorities. The NSW Government confirmed that they are actively working with affected patrons “to reduce their risk of identity theft.”

National Cabinet on Gender-based Violence

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called a National Cabinet meeting with his state and territory counterparts to discuss measures to combat gender-based violence. The meeting comes in the wake of a multitude of violent incidents against women across Australia and subsequent nation-wide rallies. “Violence against women is not a women’s problem to solve. It is a whole-of-society problem to solve”, Mr Albanese said.

National Cabinet agreed to a raft of immediate measures, most notably $925.2 million over five years in emergency funding to establish the Leaving Violence Program, which delivers up to $5,000 in financial support to women experiencing intimate partner violence. Recognising the influence of misogynistic online content, Mr Albanese and Federal Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland also announced a number of reforms “to help combat toxic male extremist views about women online.”

These include banning deepfake pornography, reviewing classification regulations, and fast-tracking anti-doxxing laws. Of note, $6.5 million in funding will be used to pilot age-verification technology to prevent children from accessing age-inappropriate material. A new phase of the ‘Stop it at the Start’ campaign, which seeks to counter misogynistic influencers, will resume from June 2024 and run until May 2024.

The Prime Minister also confirmed that Attorney General Mark Dreyfus will host his state and territory counterparts as well as Police Ministers in Canberra to discuss potential reforms to bail laws and other measures to combat gender-based violence.

Reforms to Australia’s Foreign Investment Framework

In his address to the Lowy Institute, Treasurer Jim Chalmers revealed changes to Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) process. Under the reforms, applications from foreign investors with a trusted compliance record in non-sensitive areas will be “streamlined” through the FIRB process through measures such as fee discounts and reduced paperwork. “Streamlining means investors who we already know, who are making investments that don’t raise any sensitivities, and who have a good compliance record, gets decisions faster”, the Treasurer said. He also declared that by January 2025, Treasury will aim to process 50 per cent of FIRB applications within the statutory timeframe of 30 days.

Acknowledging geopolitical uncertainty, Dr Chalmers also confirmed that “high risk” applications would be placed under greater scrutiny, particularly investments related to sensitive areas such as critical infrastructure, critical minerals, and other national security priorities. Under this risk-based approach, Treasury officials will be empowered with greater monitoring and enforcement powers, including tax examinations, “to ensure that all risks are identified, understood, and managed.”

As part of his pre-Budget announcement, the Treasurer also revealed two streams, the National Interest and the Net-Zero Transformation stream, and a five-part test for grants under the Future Made in Australia Act.

Looking Ahead
The Victorian Budget will be handed down on Tuesday 7 May, while the New South Wales and Western Australian Parliaments will also sit next week.


Federal Developments

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus opened the second stage of consultation on Australia’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF) regime. The reforms primarily aim to bring Australia in line with global standards set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) by expanding Australia’s AML/CTF regime to “tranche two” entities, such as lawyers, accountants, and real estate professionals. Submissions close on 13 June.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest Retail Trade data, showing retail turnover decreased by 0.4 per cent month-on-month in March 2024. All industries experienced a fall in turnover, except for food retailing which increased by 0.6 per cent. ABS Head of Retail Statistics Ben Dorber attributed the reduction in retail spending to cost-of-living pressures.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released its Annual Scams report, revealing Australians lost over $2.7 billion to scams in 2023, a 13.1 per cent decline in reported losses compared to the previous year. Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones reiterated the Government’s intention of establishing mandatory sector-specific scam codes.

Treasury opened consultation on draft regulations that would exempt interfunding transactions from the mandatory notification requirements and fees under the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975. Treasury is seeking feedback until 31 May.

Under the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Fair Go for Consumers and Small Business) Bill 2024, the Government outlined it will designate up to three designated complainants, and this week opened applications for interested consumer and small business advocates. Applications close on 24 May 2024


Federal Developments

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong met with Korean counterparts Cho Tae-yul and Shin Won-sik in Melbourne to discuss the Australia-Republic of Korea Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The Ministers agreed to promote bilateral and regional cooperation to preserve stability in the Indo-Pacific and expressed support for ASEAN.

The Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth released its final report into the Australian Government’s approach to negotiating trade and investment agreements. The report made several recommendations including establishing a consistent independent process for trade agreements, considering human rights and ethical sourcing, promoting First Nations intellectual property, and establishing a legislative framework for guiding trade negotiations.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese congratulated Jeremiah Manele on his election as Prime Minster of the Solomon Islands. The Government previously provided AU$25 million to assist with the nation’s election logistics and voter awareness. Mr Albanese emphasised the importance of continuing a close relationship with the Solomon Islands into the future.

Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell  co-chaired the 17th Joint Ministerial Economic Commission (JMEC), a virtual meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Wentao at The Ministers welcomed progress in the countries’ trade relationship, especially the recent return of Australian exports to the Chinese market. Minister Farrell advocated for remaining trade impediments on seafood and red meat exports to be lifted.


Federal Developments

In a joint statement, the Federal and Victorian Governments announced the first feasibility licenses have been awarded to six projects, in efforts to advance the offshore wind zone off Gippsland in Victoria. The licenses enable developers to determine the feasibility of their proposed offshore wind projects. Should projects be found to be feasible, developers can apply for a commercial licence to construct an offshore wind project to generate electricity commercially.

Public consultation opened on the proposed amendments to the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (NGER) Scheme. The proposed changes include phasing out Method 1 for fugitive emissions from open-cut coal mines, as well as various amendments to improve clarity and enhance reporting. Consultation closes 24 May 2024.

Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen addressed the Energy Users Association of Australia where he outlines the Federal Government future energy strategy. In his address, Minister Bowen revealed that drafts for both the First Nations Clean Energy Strategy and the Future Gas Strategy will be released in the “coming weeks” for public consultation. He also outlined the Government’s intention to pair the Capacity Investment Scheme with Renewable Energy Transformation Agreements.

State Developments

Queensland Premier Steven Miles announced all households in the state will receive $1,000 rebates on electricity bills from July this year, which doubles the rebates paid this financial year. The Premier has cited the state’s progressive coal royalties as the reason the rebate was made possible. Eligible seniors, pensioners and concession card holders will receive a $1,372 rebate.

The Victorian Government appointed Simon Corbell as Chair of the State Electricity Commission. Corbell previously served as the CEO and Chair of the Clean Energy Investor Group. He will be joined by board members Joycelyn Morton, Anna Skarbek, Jo Benvenuti and Damien Barnes


Federal Developments

Minister for Transport Catherine King acknowledged outgoing Airservices Australia CEO Jason Harfield for his eight years of services in the role, with his term set to finish on 8 June. Mr Harfield has been involved in Australia’s aviation sector for over 30 years. The Airservices Australia Board have commenced a search for a new CEO while Peter Curran serves as interim CEO.

State Developments

The NSW Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure approved concept plans for two new commercial and retail buildings above the new Hunter Street Station as part of the Sydney Metro West project. The proposed development will include a 58-storey building above Hunter Street Station East, as well as a 51-storey building above Hunter Street Station West.

The Queensland Government became the first to introduce legislation to support low and middle-income earner access home ownership, which will facilitate the Federal Government’s ‘Help to Buy’ program. The Help to Buy (Commonwealth Powers) Bill 2024 will introduce a shared equity scheme providing eligible Queenslanders with a 40 per cent equity contribution for new homes and 30 per cent for existing homes to purchase their own homes.

The NSW Government finalised planning reforms that will enable the delivery of diverse housing for the Transport Oriented Development (TOD) Program. The amended State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) include changes to design standards, affordable housing requirements, and other planning controls for the first 18 TOD locations. Local governments can lodge development applications from 13 May.


Federal Developments

Minister for Education Jason Clare appointed Dr Mary Russell as the new CEO of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) for a five-year term. Dr Russell has significant experience on regulatory boards, most notably in the telecommunication, health, and education sectors. TESQA’s Chief Commissioner, Emeritus Professor Peter Coaldrake AO also advised the Minister that he will step down with a new Chief Commissioner to be appointed in due course.

Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler announced a $1.89 billion investment into medical research as part of the Health Research for a Future Made in Australia Package. $1.4 billion will be used to fund new research into cancer treatments and other priority areas via the Media Research Future Fund.  The package also provides $411 million to support 229 researchers via the National Health and Medical Research Council, $62 million to support 29 clinical trials, and $18.8 million for the National One Stop Shop for clinical trials and health research.

The Federal Government launched the Nurse and Midwife Health Program Australia. $25.2 million has been allocated to establish four in-person hubs across Australia to compliment the existing telehealth line and website. The program is designed to help nurses and midwives across Australia deal with stress and burnout.

The Federal Government announced $4.6 million to support research into youth mental health. The funding will be made available through the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Partnership Project scheme. Projects receiving funding include screening university students to identify students at increased risk of suicide.

State Developments

NSW Minister for Families and Communities Kate Washington confirmed the establishment of an urgent review of the NSW foster care system following a report by the Advocate for Children and Young People (ACYP). The ACYP has conducted private hearings across the state where young people described their experiences in emergency accommodation. The review will focus on the system’s overreliance on emergency accommodation and seek to understand how taxpayer money is being spent by non-government providers.


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