Weekly Wrap Up
4 August 2023
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- At its monthly board meeting, the Reserve Bank of Australia decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 4.10 per cent.
- NSW Minister for Skills, TAFE and Tertiary Education and Minister for the Hunter Tim Crakanthorp resigned from cabinet for breaching the ministerial code of conduct after failing to disclose substantial family holdings in the Hunter region. Premier Chris Minns also referred the matter to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
- The Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media released its final report, outlining 17 recommendations including banning WeChat on federal government devices; and requiring all large social media platforms operating in Australia to meet a set of minimum transparency requirements including requiring them to have an Australian presence.
- Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neill announced a review into the integrity and governance of contracts associated with offshore processing.
- The Labor Party retained the former Western Australian Premier’s seat of Rockingham in a by-election on Saturday.
Federal Parliament returns from break
Parliament returned this week following its winter break. In its first sitting week back, the Federal Government reintroduced its Housing Australia Future Fund Bill 2023 to the lower house, which aims to deliver 30,000 social and affordable homes every year for five years. With the Coalition confirming it will not support the legislation, the Bill has been a key point of contention between the Government and the Greens, who continue to block it in the Senate. The Greens have made a series of demands in exchange for their support, including a national rent freeze. The Government has indicated that failure to pass the Bill would provide a double dissolution election trigger, though Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said he would rather pass the Bill than go to a double dissolution.
The Government was successful in passing its Strengthening the Safety Net Bill, which will increase the Jobseeker payment and other Centrelink payments by $40 per fortnight. The Coalition attempted to amend the Bill so as to reverse the $40 increase but instead lift the benefits cut-off point by $150 a fortnight, however the Bill passed the Parliament unamended. The Government’s Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill also passed the House. The Bill will enable permits to be granted for transboundary projects for carbon capture and storage into sub-seabed geological formations and give effect to Australia’s obligations under the London Protocol.
Earlier in the week, former Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a personal statement regarding the findings of the Robodebt Royal Commission. Mr Morrison fundamentally rejected the claims against him during his time as the former Minister for Human Services, labelling them as “unfounded and wrong”, and accused Labor of undertaking a “political lynching” campaign.
Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong met with their US counterparts for the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) in Brisbane last Saturday, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese commenting that “the relationship between Australia and the United States has never been stronger”. In a joint statement, Ministers and Secretaries discussed advancing the Australia-US Alliance and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and globally, raised concerns about the South China Sea and reaffirmed support for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. The US also committed to supporting Australia’s domestic advanced munitions production and upgrades to its northern bases and agreed to greater military cooperation in the space industry.
Separately, following the crash of the Australian Army MRH-90 helicopter last Friday, Chief of Joint Operations Lieutenant-General Bilton confirmed recovery operations found unidentified human remains and parts of the vehicle near Lindeman Island.
Federal, Western Australian and Tasmanian Parliaments sit next week while Queensland continues Budget Estimates. Elsewhere, the Garma Festival commences tomorrow in Arnhem Land, NT.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers announced the appointment of Dr Michelle Deaker and Professor Ross Buckley and the reappointment of Ms Gina Cass‑Gottlieb as part‑time members to the Payments System Board of the RBA for five‑year terms. The Board oversees the payments system and is responsible for controlling risk while promoting efficiency and competition.
Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones published the terms of reference for the Parliamentary Inquiry into insurer responses to the 2022 floods. The Inquiry will primarily investigate the adequacy of insurers claims handling and their preparedness for future flood events.
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced it would allow the Australian Banking Association (ABA) and its member banks to collaborate on the development of industry standards to prevent, detect, and disrupt scams. The ABA will be required to provide the ACCC with regular reports on developments of the industry standards.
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority finalised requirements for authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADIs) to publish information in relation to their remuneration frameworks. ADIs will be required to publish annually information on their remuneration frameworks, design, governance and outcomes. The measures will commence on 1 January 2024.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen travelled to East Asia to address the Australian Embassy in Japan where he discussed increasing energy and resources trade links between the two countries.
Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy awarded a contract to deliver 129 infantry fighting vehicles to Hanwha Defense Australia to improve the Australian Army’s strategic capability and support domestic defence manufacturing. The vehicles will be built in the Geelong region, with the first to be delivered in early 2027.
Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023 took place this week, which involved over 30,000 military personnel from thirteen participating countries. In his opening address, Defence Minister Marles commented on the collective significance of the Exercise to support efforts in the Indo-Pacific Region.
The United States Air Force confirmed it will build a mission planning and operations facility in Darwin, which will be used for maintenance, mission planning, intelligence, and crew briefings. The plans were outlined in US budget filings and procurement documents.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Minister for Resources Madeleine King opened consultation on updating the Critical Minerals List. As part of this consultation, the Department of Industry, Science and Resources published an issues paper[PDF], which poses a number of discussion questions. Consultation is open until 17 August.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) issued a draft decision to not list the Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’, noting the change in policies as a result of the change in Government.
Minister Bowen announced $12.4 million in funding to support five research projects aimed at increasing international collaboration on clean energy projects, including solar panel recycling, smart buildings and grid integration technology.
The Northern Territory Government held its ‘Facing North’ event in Canberra this week, which aimed to highlight the benefits of investing in the Northern Territory to the broader business community, with a strong focus on energy and resources projects. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also spoke at the event.
Last week, the Victorian Government announced that new gas connections to homes and government buildings will be banned from 1 January 2024 as part of its overall plan to reduce carbon emissions in the state. Following the announcement, NSW Premier Chris Minns ruled out implementing similar measures in NSW.
The Queensland Government announced $24 million in funding for two companies to develop iron and zinc-bromine batteries, which are an alternative to the more widespread lithium-ion batteries. This will help inform the Government’s approach on the use of batteries in the broader grid.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Auditor-General announced a formal audit into Round 6 of the Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program, following concerns that 74 per cent of funded projects were awarded to Labor-held electorates.
The Government opened the new National Road Safety Action Grants Program to provide funding to non-infrastructure road safety projects across Australia. Applications are now open with grants between $20,000 and $1.5 million available for the Community Education and Awareness and Vulnerable Road Users focus areas.
The Government announced Adam Copp as the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Infrastructure Australia. Formerly acting as CEO since 1 August 2022, Copp has now been appointed as CEO for a three-year term.
After much speculation, the NSW Government confirmed it will complete the final stage of the City and Southwest Metro between Sydenham and Bankstown. The Government has committed a further $1.1 billion from existing transport budgets with the project expected to be completed in late 2025. The announcement follows the release of the Sydney Metro Independent Review.
The Queensland Government released the draft Southeast Queensland Regional Plan, outlining a strategy to address the estimated 2.2 million new residents to the region including a plan to build 900,000 new homes by 2046. Consultation is open until 20 September 2023.
HEALTH, SOCIAL SERVICES AND EDUCATION
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler committed $148.2 million over four years for a Regional Pharmacy Transition Allowance as part of the move to 60-day prescriptions. The support will enable eligible regional, rural, and remote pharmacies to adjust to increasing prescription uptake.
Minister Butler also announced the Government will undertake a National Scope of Practice Review over the next year to consider how to best recognise, support, and utilise healthcare professionals’ skills.
The Government confirmed small business employees can now access ten days of paid family and domestic violence leave. The same entitlement was implemented for medium and large businesses in February.
The Victorian Government launched a quadrennial review of its new Voluntary Assisted Dying processes to evaluate the systems, processes and practices of the legislation. A final report is due by the end of 2024.
The Victorian Parliament passed legislation to establish a prescribing pilot which will expand community pharmacists’ roles to supply repeat oral contraceptives prescriptions, antibiotics for urinary tract infections, treat minor skin conditions, and administer certain travel vaccines. The pilot will run for the next twelve months.
Minister Guy Barnett was announced as Tasmania’s new Minister for Health after Premier Jeremy Rockliff stepped down from the portfolio last month.