Weekly Wrap Up
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- After returning from Washington DC this week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will travel to China for a meeting with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang to discuss trade, economic links and human rights. This marks the first bilateral trip by an Australian Prime Minister to China since Malcolm Turnbull in April 2016.
- The International Monetary Fund advised the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to continue lifting interest rates ahead of the RBA Board’s final meeting for the year on Tuesday 7 November.
- The Government’s changes to Medicare bulk billing came into effect, tripling the incentive for general practitioners to bulk bill children under 16, pensioners, and concession cardholders.
- Safe Work Australia released its report into silicosis, recommending several options to prohibit the use of engineered stone.
- NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles announced a minor reshuffle, appointing two new Ministers to the Cabinet.
- Trade Minister Don Farrell and EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis met on the sidelines of the G7 Trade Ministers’ Meeting in Osaka to continue discussions on the Australia-EU trade deal. However, media reports have suggested that the trade talks have stalled due to challenges with certain agricultural products.
- Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Andrew Leigh delivered a speech to the Australia Institute, outlining the Government’s plans for multinational tax reform.
Energy and the Net Zero Transition
Treasurer Jim Chalmers used a keynote address to the 2023 Economic and Social Outlook Conference in Melbourne to detail the Government’s plans for the energy and net zero transition. Speaking to Australia’s ambitions of becoming a “renewable energy superpower”, the Treasurer discussed how energy transformation is key to boosting productivity and competition in the Australian economy, and furthermore, is a primary cost of living consideration.
Mr Chalmers outlined the five key aspects to the energy transformation he is considering as Treasurer: firstly, the need to deliver more renewable energy projects at pace; secondly, the importance of public and private capital; thirdly, defining Australia’s answer to financial incentives, like the US Inflation Reduction Act; fourthly, the need to modernise policy frameworks to support investment; and finally, engaging with the Productivity Commission to develop climate and energy policy.
To that end, Treasury is now consulting on a three-pillar ‘Sustainable Finance Strategy’ to guide its approach, with proposed policies including issuing Australian sovereign green bonds, developing a labelling system for investment products marketed as sustainable, and building on the Government’s work to implement sustainability-related financial disclosures. Consultation closes on 1 December.
The events of the Israel-Hamas conflict continue to be a major focus for the Government. As of Friday 3 November, 20 Australians trapped in the Gaza strip were able to flee through the Rafah border into Egypt, with 65 remaining. Further, Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong has called on Israel to “listen” and warned that “the international community will not accept continuing civilian deaths”.
Six of Australia’s seven former Prime Ministers also signed a joint letter condemning the “hatred” spread by Hamas and expressing solidarity with both the Jewish and Palestinian communities in Australia. The Australian Government recently abstained from a vote in a United Nations (UN) resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian truce in Gaza. Australia’s representative to the UN James Laesen said that the non-binding motion did not identify Hamas as the as the perpetrator of the October 7 attacks and was thus “incomplete”.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton offered the Coalition’s support for Israel. He suggested the Israeli Government should show “no restraint” in defending itself, which saw Minister Wong accuse him of trying to “play…domestic politics”.
The Federal Senate and WA Parliament will sit next week. Elsewhere, NSW Budget Estimates also continues.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities, and Treasury Andrew Leigh appointed Kerry Schott, John Asker, Sharon Henrick, David Gonski, and John Fingleton to the Competition Taskforce Advisory Panel.
Finance Minister Katy Gallagher appointed John Mann and Debra Hazelton as non-executive Directors to the board of Australia Post for three-year terms. Both Mr Mann and Ms Hazelton have diverse sets of experience across freight, audits, financial management, and corporate cultural transformation.
NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey announced that privatisation and long-term lease agreements signed by the previous Coalition Government will be made public. Key privatisation agreements that are expected to be released include ports across NSW, electricity networks, and various power stations.
The SA Government introduced draft legislation into Parliament that seeks to reform residential tenancy laws. Among other things, the legislation will seek to introduce prescribed grounds to terminate or not renew a tenancy, extend the termination notice period from 28 days to 60 days, and ensure rental properties comply with minimum housing standards.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy has announced that the Federal Government will provide an initial $800,000 to support the Government of Vanuatu’s response to Tropical Cyclone Lola. The package will include essential items for impacted communities, including shelter and water purification supplies, as well as funding to the Australian Humanitarian Partnership.
Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell chaired the inaugural Trade 2040 Taskforce this week. The forming of this body delivers on an election commitment, which will bring together the government, industry, unions, and community representatives to inform Australia’s trade policy to 2040. Discussions will centre on trade diversification, the transition to net zero, as well as enhancing supply chain resilience and economic security.
Minister Farrell will also visit Japan to represent Australia at the G7 Trade Ministers’ Meeting in Japan. The meeting will focus on how the G7 and partners can cooperate on supply chain resilience, economic security, sustainable trade, and support for the rules-based multilateral trading system.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy Jenny McAllister travelled to Abu Dhabi on 28 October to lead international climate talks ahead of COP28. Senator McAllister facilitated key negotiations to track and enhance efforts to address the impacts of climate change.
The Queensland Government committed $1.3 billion to progress work on the CopperString 2032 project, with a construction expected to commence in mid-2024. The funding will enable publicly-owned energy cooperation Powerlink, alongside construction partners UGL and CPB, to undertake detailed design and engineering and environmental assessments.
The NSW Government released the ‘NSW Plastics: Next Steps’ discussion paper for consultation. The paper identifies and addresses items and materials that are frequently littered or release microplastics into the environment including lollipop sticks, cigarette butts, bread tags and heavyweight plastic bags. The consultation is open until 4 February 2024.
In WA, Premier Roger Cook hosted a forum of Japanese businesses and investors to promote green industry opportunities for Western Australia. The forum included representatives from BP Japan, CWP Global, JOGMEC, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Marubeni Corporation, Mitsui, and Tokyo Gas, and focused on opportunities in new lithium hydroxide projects, rare earth processing facilities, and hydrogen projects.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Government opened consultation on the Universal Service Obligation, a safeguard for national access to telecommunications services including fixed phone services and payphones. The consultation will explore improvements in telecommunications outcomes, particularly for First Nations, regional, and rural communities. Submissions close on 1 March 2024.
Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic represented Australia at the AI Safety Summit in the United Kingdom. At the Summit, Australia signed the Bletchley Declaration which affirmed that AI should be designed, developed, deployed, and used in a manner that is safe, human-centric, trustworthy, and responsible.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attended the Darrell Lea factory reopening in Ingleburn, NSW. In his address, he labelled the reopening a “homegrown success” and praised the renewed investment in the state-of-the-art facility.
The NSW Government has approved the $320 million BlueScope Steel factory in Western Sydney to increase the supply of steel products for the building and construction industry. Slated for completion by 2025, the factory will be situated at the existing BlueScope Western Sydney Service Centre on Templar Road, Erskine Park.
The Federal Government launched the Australian Cancer Plan (the Plan). The Plan, developed by Cancer Australia and in consultation with the states and territories, aims to improve prevention, screening, treatment, and management of all cancers in Australia. It also provides a 10-year strategic plan to achieving equity for First Nations.
The Queensland Government announced that influenza vaccinations in 2024 will be free for eligible Queenslanders. The $40 million commitment is aimed at increasing the number of Queenslanders vaccinated against the flu after only a third of residents were received a vaccination in 2023.
The ACT Government introduced the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2023 to the Legislative Assembly. Under the laws, an individual will have access to voluntary assisted dying if they are 18 years or older and diagnosed with a condition that is advanced, progressive, and expected to cause death, amongst other eligibility requirements. Unlike in other jurisdictions, the scheme will not require a doctor to give the patient a life expectancy of less 12 months to be eligible.
The Victorian Government has decriminalised public intoxication, effective from 1 November. In December 2022, modelling by the Victorian Government supported the decriminalisation of public intoxication. The decriminalisation of public intoxication was a key recommendation in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody’s final report published in April 1991.