Weekly Wrap Up
30 September 2022
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- The Federal Government released the Final Budget Outcome for 2021-22, showing a deficit of $32 billion last financial year.
- Meanwhile, the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Consumer Price Index data was published, indicating inflation increased seven per cent in the year to July.
- On Thursday, the reduction of the fuel excise ended after six months.
- Treasury opened consultation on the Employment White Paper, which will build on the outcomes of the Jobs and Skills Summit and is intended to shape the future of Australia’s labour market. Submissions close 30 November.
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attended the funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe alongside former Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott and John Howard.
- Prime Minister Albanese issued a joint statement with the leaders of the United Kingdom and United States to mark the one year anniversary of the AUKUS agreement.
- Governor-General David Hurley appointed Jayne Jagot as a Justice of the High Court of Australia, marking the first time that a majority of Justices on the High Court will be women.
- Commissioner Catherine Holmes delivered her opening statement at the initial hearing of the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme, confirming senior government officials will be called to give evidence explaining their role in the scheme.
- Elsewhere, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability published an overview of responses to its issues paper on the impact of the Omicron wave of COVID-19 for people with disability.
- In Queensland, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk used her 2022 State of the State address to announce a $62 billion clean energy plan and pledge to phase out the state’s use of coal by 2035.
- Also in Queensland, Premier Palaszczuk confirmed the Government’s land tax policy will be abandoned.
- In NSW, Liberal MP and Minister for Infrastructure; Cities; and Active Transport Rob Stokes announced[PDF] this morning he will retire from politics at the March 2023 State Election.
- Following AGL’s announcement that it will bring forward the closure of its coal-fired Loy Yang A Power Station in Victoria by 10 years, the Victorian Government confirmed it will work with AGL to help employees at the plant reskill and transition into the renewable energy sector.
- Star Entertainment responded to the NSW independent inquiry into its suitability to hold a casino license in the state.
Mandatory COVID-19 isolation removed
This morning, National Cabinet agreed[PDF] to remove mandatory isolation periods for COVID-19 from 14 October, at which time Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments (PLDP) will also end. Prime Minister Albanese has confirmed that targeted financial support will still be provided in line with the PLDP for casual workers in high-risk settings, including aged care, disability care, and Aboriginal healthcare. This will be funded on a joint basis between the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments and reviewed at the National Cabinet’s meeting in December. Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly stated that while there have been low rates of COVID-19 transmission and high vaccination rates, the decision to remove mandatory isolation “does not in any way suggest that the pandemic is finished” and that future peaks of the virus can be expected.
Following the suspension of Parliament as a result of the Queen’s death, both Houses resumed sitting this week with a raft of legislation introduced in line with key pre-election commitments from the Albanese Government. As foreshadowed last sitting week, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus introduced legislation to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission with power to investigate corruption across the Commonwealth public sector. Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton has since reaffirmed the Coalition’s support for an integrity commission and confirmed he believes the legislation put forward by the government strikes the correct “balance”.
The Attorney-General also introduced legislation that implements recommendations from the Respect@Work report delivered by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in 2020 in relation to sexual harassment in the workplace. This legislation introduces a positive duty on employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and provides the Australian Human Rights Commission with the ability to give compliance notices to employers who are not meeting their obligations under this new duty. The bill has since been referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 3 November 2022. Meanwhile, Minister for Education Jason Clare introduced legislation to reduce the cost of child care through increasing subsidies, which has also been referred to a parliamentary committee for report in November.
After a late night debate in the Senate on Tuesday, the Government’s legislation to repeal the cashless debit card passed both Houses, with participants in some regions now able to opt out of the scheme after 4 October.
Spotlight on cyber security
The issue of cyber security has been a key focus this week, with the response ongoing to a data breach within telecommunications giant Optus where the personal data of millions of Australians has been leaked. Minister for Cyber Security Claire O’Neil expressed her concern over the attack and indicated that the incident demonstrated the need for privacy law and cyber security reform. The Minister suggested that she will be examining Government powers to enforce cybersecurity provisions on private companies and indicated the Government may legislate fines over the breach.
The Prime Minister has stated that the data breach should serve as a “wake-up call to corporate Australia” on the matter of data protection. He also confirmed the Government has requested that Optus cover the costs of new passports for customers affected by the breach, despite Opposition calls for the Federal Government to cover these costs. Meanwhile, the Australian Federal Police has launched ‘Operation Hurricane’ to investigate the attack and ‘Operation Guardian‘ to protect customers at risk of identity theft as a result of the attack. As Optus faces two potential class actions over the data breach, the telecommunications company has offered a year of credit monitoring to affected customers following calls from Minister O’Neil.
On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York late last week, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong met face-to-face with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi for the second time since the Albanese Labor Government’s election in May. In a press conference after the meeting, Minister Wong told media that she expressed Australia’s concern with ongoing “trade blockages” and indicated that her aim was to continue engagement with China in attempt to “stabilise the relationship”. However, the Minister played down her hope of an end to China’s tariffs on Australian exports, referring to the matter as an “issu[e] of difference” between the two countries. She also stated that Australia believes China has a “special responsibility” to “use its influence” on Russia to end the war in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Minister issued a statement where he indicated that China is ready to “properly manage differences” with Australia. He commented that both nations “should meet each other halfway”. On the topic of trade tensions between the two countries, Mr Wang merely stated that “the Australia-China trade benefits both sides, and Australia hopes to maintain an open international trading system”.
No Parliaments are sitting next week.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) published the Payments System Board Annual Report, which outlines the work of the board over the last 12 months in supporting payments reform and maintaining the country’s financial system, across the five strategic priorities laid out in 2021.
The RBA also launched its White Paper on its central bank digital currency research project, outlining the objectives and approaches of the project in detail, as well as opportunities for industry to participate in the research.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) released new regulatory guidance for financial firms on their consumer remediation practices. This guidance applies to both Australian Financial Services licensees and Australian credit licensees. Meanwhile, Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones opened consultation on ASIC’s industry funding model, with submissions due 28 October.
The Statutory Review into the Consumer Data Right published[PDF] its final report, making 16 recommendations on how to improve the operation of the program.
The Council of Financial Regulators released its Quarterly Statement, discussing the evolution of the financial system and rising interest rates and inflation, as well as other work the Council has undertaken.
The WA Government released its 2021-22 Annual Report on State Finances, revealing a final surplus of $6 billion, $344 million higher than forecast.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Australian Energy Regulator released its State of the Energy Market 2022 report, examining the effects of a wholesale market under pressure on consumers and the likely increases in network costs.
Minister for Resources and Minister for Northern Australia Madeleine King announced the Federal Government and East Coast LNG Exporters have signed a new Heads of Agreement in an effort to prevent a gas supply shortfall.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency launched a $43 million Industrial Energy Transformation Studies Program. Grant funding will be provided in two streams to support feasibility studies and engineering studies to establish the business case for projects that demonstrate energy efficiency and renewable energy technology solutions for the industrial sector.
The Victorian Government committed to a target of reaching 2.6 gigawatts of renewable energy storage capacity by 2030, as well as 6.3 gigawatts of storage by 2035. The announcement came alongside a $157 million investment to support renewable energy generation and storage projects.
The WA Government welcomed Oz Minerals’ final investment decision for its $1.7 billion West Musgrave critical minerals project, stating that the decision “reinforces WA’s leadership in global battery and critical minerals industry”.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Consultation opened on the Government’s National Electric Vehicle Strategy, which aims to increase electric vehicle uptake and facilitate Australia’s goal of reaching 43 per cent emissions reductions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.
Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Carol Brown announced $34.8 million in funding for 18 projects under the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program.
Infrastructure Partnerships Australia published its annual Australian Infrastructure Investment Report 2022, which analyses sector wide challenges and trends and captures the views of international and Australian investors in infrastructure.
Following the Fair Work Ombudsman’s investigation into Queensland water authority Seqwater in 2020, it was revealed that 800 employees were underpaid by more than $7 million.
The WA Government released 13 planning sites to develop new residential infrastructure in Perth’s outer suburbs to assist in alleviating housing shortages across the state.
Survey results from the ABS indicated the number of households experiencing cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms in August decreased by six per cent from July, alongside a five per cent decrease in those testing for COVID-19 as well as those receiving positive results. Meanwhile, the Therapeutic Goods Administration provisionally approved the paediatric dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged between six months and five years.
The Government’s National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022 passed both Houses of Parliament this week. First announced as an election commitment, this will see the maximum cost of general medicine scripts under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme reduced by almost 30 per cent from January 2023.
As part of the latest round of funding under the Medical Research Future Fund, the Federal Government awarded $33.6 million to 41 research projects focused on heart disease and stroke.
The Victorian Opposition announced a $325 million Future Health Workforce Plan aimed at recruiting, upskilling, and supporting staff across the state health system’s public and private sectors. A Victorian Ministerial Health Workforce Council has also been proposed to carry out various objectives of the plan.