Weekly Wrap Up
4 November 2022
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- The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) increased the cash rate by 25 basis points, bringing it to 2.75 per cent.
- Latest Newspoll data was released, showing Labor continues to lead over the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis but with a slight decrease in support, 55-45.
- As nationwide vigils occurred this week to honour 15-year-old Indigenous boy Cassius Turvey, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese condemned the fatal attack on the boy in Perth as “clearly racially motivated” and marked the incident as a “human tragedy”.
- Meanwhile, the Prime Minister indicated he will not be attending the COP27 climate change Summit in Egypt next week due to prior commitments.
- The Victorian Government announced it will sponsor Netball Australia through a $15 million partnership with Visit Victoria.
- The final report from the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption’s Operation Keppel inquiry, investigating the former NSW MP for Wagga Wagga Daryl Maguire, was delayed, with the Commission announcing the term of the Commissioner overseeing the inquiry has been extended to finalise the report.
- The Federal Government issued online betting companies with new guidelines for gambling advertisements, requiring the use of one of seven new options of accompanying taglines from April 2023.
- Micaela Cronin was appointed Australia’s inaugural Domestic, Family, and Sexual Violence Commissioner.
- The Federal and Victorian governments announced a new joint $877 million Recovery Support package for organisations and farmers affected by recent floods.
- The ACT Director of Public Prosecutions confirmed former Liberal staff member Bruce Lehrmann will face a retrial next year over allegations relating to former staff member Brittany Higgins.
- The Victorian Government has entered caretaker period, with parties having now officially launched their election campaigns ahead of the November 26 election. Please see our first Victorian 2022 Election newsletter for further campaign insights and analysis.
Robodebt Royal Commission hearings
The former Government’s “robodebt” scheme, which saw automated matching of data to raise debts against welfare recipients, was a key focus this week as the first block of hearings for the Royal Commission into the scheme commenced. Throughout the week, the Commission heard about the establishment and implementation of the scheme from representatives[PDF] from the Department of Social Services and the Australian Taxation Office, as well as Legal Aid Victoria and a number of “personal case study” witnesses. Today, it will hear from organisations involved in debt collection for the scheme.
The first hearing revealed[PDF] that in 2014 the Department of Social Services received advice that “at the very least, raised significant questions about the legality of the scheme”. The Commission also heard[PDF] that the Department received further legal advice in 2018 suggesting the scheme was not lawful and that the scheme had the support of the Minister for Social Services in 2015, Scott Morrison. At yesterday’s hearing, a former director of payment integrity and debt management at the Department of Social Services indicated that his team had immediate concern about the robodebt proposal in 2014 and viewed it as “unethical”.
This hearing block will conclude next Friday, 11 November.
Ongoing discussion around energy prices
The topic of rising energy prices has continued to be a focus over the past week, particularly in light of the revelation within last week’s Budget Papers[PDF] that electricity prices are forecast to increase by 56 per cent while gas costs are expected to rise by 44 per cent. Treasurer Jim Chalmers has since stated that he “can’t see a situation where the types of outcomes forecast in the Budget can endure” and indicated that the Government is considering its options to avoid the forecast spike in prices as a “top priority”, but has not yet specified the action that will be taken. Meanwhile, Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic accused gas companies of creating a problem in the market through “a glut of greed”.
Last Friday afternoon, energy ministers across Australia met[PDF] and agreed to amend the National Gas Law to give the Australian Energy Market Operator powers to manage the supply and reliability of gas for the east coast gas market “over winter 2023 and beyond”. Ministers again committed to “consider all options” to address rising energy prices “as a matter of energy” but did not agree upon any specific measures.
The House of Representative will sit next week in Canberra while Senate Estimates will take place. Meanwhile, the NSW, Queensland and Tasmanian Parliaments are also sitting, and Annual report hearings will continue in the ACT. The Parliamentary Committee inquiring into the Government’s ‘Secure Jobs, Better Pay’ Bill is holding its first public inquiry today.
The Australian Taxation Office published its annual Corporate Tax Transparency Report, outlining the tax paid by 2,468 corporate entities over the 2020-21 financial year.
The Australia Bureau of Statistics released the system of national accounts for the 2021-22 financial year, indicating 3.6 per cent growth of the national economy last financial year.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) held its Annual Forum and discussed topics including crypto, climate change, superannuation, and ASIC’s priorities. ASIC also released its enforcement priorities for 2023, outlining misconduct, systemic compliance failures, and new or emerging risks in the financial system as priorities.
RBA Governor Philip Lowe spoke at the Reserve Bank Board Dinner in Hobart, where he discussed the rationale behind rate rises as well as Australia’s economic circumstances. The RBA also released its quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy, which sets out the bank’s assessment of current economic conditions.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers appointed Australian Prudential Regulation Authority’s (APRA) Deputy Chair John Lonsdale as the new APRA Chair, and appointed Margaret Cole as Deputy Chair. The Treasurer also appointed two new APRA members – Suzanne Smith and Therese McCarthy Hockey.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen issued the new Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Regulations. The new regulations outline changes to the licensing, fees and levies, spatial referencing and treatment of pre-existing infrastructure to provide increased investment and regulatory stability for the development of offshore renewable energy projects.
NSW Minister for Infrastructure, Cities and Active Transport Rob Stokes released the State Government’s Net Zero Cities Action Plan. The plan outlines the Government’s intentions to position Redfern, North Eveleigh, Central, Blackwattle Bay and Bays West as zero emissions precincts.
In collaboration with Western Power and Synergy, the WA Government launched its Summer Readiness campaign, aiming to raise awareness on peak energy use and encourage households to limit power usage during peak times.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Infrastructure Australia published its independent evaluation of the business cases of nine proposals across NSW, WA, Queensland and Victoria. Significantly, the Mitchell and Kwinana Freeways Upgrade proposal in Western Australia was found to have a benefit-cost ratio of 4.56 and has been recommended as ‘investment-ready’.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation awarded a $200 million contract to McConnell Dowell for construction of the first Inland Rail sites in Victoria. This tranche of the project, which will see the upgrade of existing infrastructure throughout regional Victoria such as Seymour-Avenel Road bridge, is expected to be completed in 2025.
The NSW Government announced it will fast-track the assessment of three interrelated proposals that could lead to the construction of 19,000 new homes in South West Sydney. Also in NSW, as part of the Community Project Grants stream of the WestInvest fund, the Government distributed $69 million in funding between 12 projects across five Local Government Areas.
In WA, Minister for Ports Rita Saffioti awarded WSP Australia with a $15.2 million contract to lead the Supply Chain Integrated Design project for Westport. Over the next 18 months, WSP will model and refine design options for the new terminal and will also design supporting road and rail network.
The Medical Research Future Fund released[PDF] its 2022-24 Priorities in conjunction with the Australia Medical Research and Innovation Strategy 2021-2026, to ensure alignment with the objectives set out in the strategy. Priorities take into consideration the burden of disease on the Australian community, as well as the role of providing medical research and innovation.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler appointed six members to serve on the Reference Committee for the Health Technology Assessment Review. Adjunct Professor Deborah Picone will serve as Independent Chair.
The QLD Government committed to invest an additional $171 million to improve palliative and end-of-life care for Queenslanders. Through the proposed five-year Palliative and End-of-Life Care Strategy and Queensland Health Specialist Palliative Care Workforce Plan, the investment aims to provide more specialised services and support for people with life-limiting illnesses. The QLD Government has also appointed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board to oversee, monitor and report on the operation of voluntary assisted dying in the state from 1 January 2023.
In WA, 18,000 eligible health professionals and hospital administration staff accepted the State Government’s offer of increase wages. The new agreement stipulates an agreement from WA to reduce the use of agency and casual staff, and promote permanent employment.