Weekly Wrap Up
4 March 2022
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- Latest Newspoll data shows Labor remains ahead of the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis, 55-45.
- The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has again maintained interest rates at 0.1 per cent, citing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as adding to global economic uncertainty. The RBA also stated that the board will not raise rates until inflation is “sustainably within the 2 to 3 per cent target range”.
- Polling data ahead of the SA election indicates Labor is ahead of Steven Marshall’s incumbent Liberal Government on a two-party preferred basis, 53-47.
- The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) found that former NSW Labor MLC Ernest Wong engaged in “serious corrupt conduct” in organising a $100,000 cash donation to the NSW Labor party in 2015.
- The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) published its Digital Platform Services Inquiry Discussion Paper, on which it is seeking stakeholder feedback relating to future regulatory reform aimed at addressing concerns identified in digital platform services markets to date. Consultation closes 1 April 2022.
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report on global climate challenges, suggesting governments and corporations are likely to face stronger pressure from investors in relation to climate action.
- The Victorian Government abandoned its proposed tax on new residential developments, as well as its proposed planning reforms.
- Victorian Labor MP Anthony Byrne confirmed he will not recontest his seat at the upcoming Federal Election, months after he exposed branch stacking allegations in the Victorian Labor Party.
- Australia joined over 170 countries at the United Nations Environment Assembly to adopt a legally binding agreement by 2025 to end plastics pollution.
- WA opened its borders to fully vaccinated interstate arrivals after almost two years of being closed to the eastern states.
Australia Strengthens Ukrainian Support and Russian Sanctions
In response to escalating Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Australian Government joined international allies and imposed further economic sanctions against key Russian banks, institutions and individuals. Australia has now removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT global payments messaging system; imposed restrictions on the Russian Central Bank’s use of its international reserves; limited passports for Russians connected to the Russian government; and implemented a trans-Atlantic task force to identify and freeze the assets of sanctioned individuals and companies. Further, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison met virtually with the Quad Leaders in India, Japan, and the US, the leaders reaffirmed their position that they “cannot allow what is happening in Ukraine now to ever happen in the Indo-Pacific”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Defence Peter Dutton also announced a number of measures to support Ukraine. The Australian Government will provide $70 million in lethal military assistance through NATO partners, particularly the UK and the US, in addition to an “opening contribution” of $35 million in humanitarian aid. When announcing these measures, both the Prime Minister and Minister for Defence voiced concern over China’s hesitancy to condemn Russia’s aggression or impose sanctions, with Minister Dutton referring to China’s support of President Putin as “a catastrophic mistake”.
Together with Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy Jane Hume, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg compelled Australian superannuation funds to divest any holdings in Russian assets. Meanwhile, NSW Treasurer Matt Kean indicated[PDF] that the NSW Government will sell its holdings of Russian assets in its investment funds. The move is expected to see the sale of over $75 million of Russian assets acquired by the NSW Generations Fund.
Flooding Crisis Continues
As floods continue to overwhelm NSW and QLD, multiple support packages have been rolled out. The Federal Government has activated the Disaster Recovery Payment (AGDRP) for impacted individuals. Assistance of $1000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child is available, with $62.7 million of payments provided so far. The NSW and Federal governments also announced the launch of grants of up to $75,000 for affected primary producers and up to $50,000 for small businesses and not-for-profit organisations. Elsewhere, the Insurance Council of Australia has estimated the current cost of flood-related claims to be $900 million.
Speaking from home isolation after testing positive to COVID-19, Prime Minister Morrison provided an update on efforts of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in flood response, recovery and clean-up assistance. The Prime Minister noted that ADF assets are pre-positioned in Sydney and southern NSW in the event that storm fronts intensify there, with 650 ADF personnel and 5 ADF helicopters currently deployed in affected areas across Queensland and NSW.
NSW Budget Estimates will continue next week, while the Victorian and Tasmanian Parliaments will sit. Pre-polling for the SA Election, due to be held on Saturday 19 March, opens on Monday.
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) published its Quarterly Superannuation Performance report, outlining that total assets in Australian super grew by 14 per cent over 2021, to a total of $3.47 billion.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the national accounts for the December quarter, indicating that gross domestic product (GDP) growth rose 3.4 per cent, with total economic growth over 2021 reaching 4.1 per cent.
Outgoing ACCC Chair Rod Sims outlined the Commission’s compliance and enforcement priorities for 2022-23 as part of a speech to the Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA). Priorities include supply chains and misleading information in digital advertising and as well as deceptive environmental claims.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) allocated $22.8 million in funding towards Viva Energy Group Limited’s development of a New Energies Services Station in Geelong, Victoria. The station will include a 2MW electrolyser and a 150kW electric vehicle charging facility.
Prime Minister Morrison announced that Australia will co-host the Indo-Pacific Clean Energy Supply Chain Forum with the International Energy Agency in July this year. The Forum, hosted in partnership with Business Council Australia, will bring together global leaders in business, finance, technology, and clean energy to discuss renewable energy supply chains and development across the Indo-Pacific.
The final report of the Australian Government’s review into its $1.1 billion National Landcare Program (NLP) has been released, with Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia David Littleproud and Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley stating the Program is achieving positive outcomes. The report suggests the NLP is improving water, soil and biodiversity while supporting jobs in the agriculture sector.
The Queensland Government’s Economic Development Queensland (EDQ) and Powerlink have signed agreements with Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) to connect sites and allow renewable electricity to power potential hydrogen projects. The three organisations will work together to build new transmission networks to power FFI’s developments in Queensland.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Federal and NSW Governments selected CPB Contractors and United Infrastructure to deliver the $538.5 million contract for 10.4 kilometres of surface and civil alignment works on the Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport line.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) signed a $292 million contract with Whyalla-based Liberty Primary Steel for the supply of heavy duty rail. Under the contract, Liberty Primary Steel will provide over 110,000 tonnes for Inland Rail, as well as upgrades between Narrabri and Turrawan, and the Southern Highlands line in NSW.
The Victorian Government announced the creation of a new transport safety authority that will combine the functions of Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria and Transport Safety Victoria into one entity. The new authority will commence in July 2022.
Melbourne Water awarded the re-tendering of its maintenance and minor capital works contract across its service delivery function to Programmed. The project will involve delivery of critical water services with a focus on continuous improvement. Meanwhile, Victorian Minister for Water Lisa Neville appointed Melbourne Water as the lead agency to oversee the implementation of the Yarra Strategic Plan.
The NSW Government opened the $95.5 million upgrade of Ocean Drive in Port Macquarie for tender. The upgrade will see the duplication of Ocean Drive spanning up to 3.4 kilometres.
Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston committed $10.7 million in additional funding to increase frontline services for women experiencing violence in the Northern Territory as part of the National Partnership on Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Responses.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) granted provisional approval for AstraZeneca’s combination therapy for COVID-19 pre-exposure prevention. Known as EVUSHELD, the therapy is for those who have not yet been exposed to the virus but are at risk of infection, with the TGA noting that the therapy is not a substitute for COVID-19 vaccination.
In partnership with Deloitte and Curtin University, the Consumers Health Forum of Australia released a white paper examining consumer perspectives on digital health throughout the pandemic. The white paper presents recommendations on transitioning to a digital healthcare system based on changing consumer preferences and expectations.
The NSW Government called for expressions of interest for the Westmead Innovation Ecosystem Fund, with $10 million available for health innovation organisations and facilitators to help commercialise medical research in areas such as biotechnology and digital health. Stage 1 applications close midnight 28 March.
Victorian Minister for Health Martin Foley announced the appointment of Kane Constructions to deliver the first stage of a $41 million expansion of the Royal Children’s Hospital. The first stage will see the development of a 30-bed high-dependency inpatient unit at the hospital, scheduled for completion by the end of 2022.