Weekly Wrap Up
7 July 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.
- The National Anti-Corruption Commission commenced operations this week, and confirmed on Tuesday that it had received 186 online referrals and 116 calls.
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said China’s issuing of arrest warrants on eight overseas-based activities is “unacceptable”, noting that Australia will “continue to cooperate with China where we can, but we will disagree where we must”.
- The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission released its interim report[PDF] for its inquiry into childcare services and found that between 2018 and 2022, fees for all types of early childhood education and care rose by between 20 and 32 per cent.
- The Department of Finance released the Monthly Financial Statements for May 2023, revealing a $19 billion surplus in the Government’s cash balance for the 2022-23 financial year.
- Minister for Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek requested advice on progress of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan from the Murray Darling Basin Authority due to concerns the plan is “too far behind and likely requires significant change to make substantial progress”.
- Former NSW Liberal MP Darryl Maguire’s lawyer released a statement on Monday, denying “all allegations” relating to the projects in Mr Maguire’s former electorate, as revealed in findings from the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption’s final report.
Robodebt Royal Commission final report released
The Royal Commission today handed down its final report into the former Government’s Robodebt Scheme, labelling it a “massive failure of public administration”. The scheme was initially developed in 2015 to recover debt from welfare recipients backdated to the 2010-11 financial year through “income averaging”, which was found to be unlawful and inaccurate, and was discontinued in May 2020. Led by Commissioner Catherine Holmes, the Royal Commission’s report was based off testimonies from over 100 witnesses, including former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose evidence provided to the Commission on the scheme’s income averaging process was partly rejected as “untrue”. Commissioner Holmes stated Mr Morrison “failed to meet his ministerial responsibility” and “allowed cabinet to be misled”. Other Ministers from the former government were also singled out, including former Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert; former Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge; and former Attorney-General Christian Porter, who were all involved in the administration of the scheme.
The report made 57 recommendations categorised into 12 chapters: effects of robodebt on individuals; the concept of vulnerability; the roles of advocacy groups and legal services; experiences of Human Services employees; failures in the Budget process; data-matching and exchanges; automated decision making; debt recovery and debt collectors; lawyers and legal services; Administrative Appeals Tribunal; the Commonwealth Ombudsman; and improving the Australian Public Service. The report also contained a “sealed chapter” recommending certain individuals be referred for civil and criminal prosecution, however Commissioner Holmes confirmed she would not reveal the names. The chapter will be submitted to the Australian Public Service Commissioner; the National Anti-Corruption Commissioner; the President of the Law Society of the ACT; and the Australian Federal Police.
In response to the findings, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese affirmed that the Government will “carefully consider” the report’s recommendations and commented on the scheme as “a gross betrayal and a human tragedy”. Mr Albanese also said that the Labor Government’s public service administration is “very different” to the Coalition’s. Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten also shared his sympathy for the victims of the Robodebt scheme, stating that the former Government and public officers “gaslighted the Australian people”.
President Widodo’s visit to Australia
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed President of the Republic of Indonesia Joko Widodo to Sydney for bilateral discussions and to support joint initiatives between the two nations. During his visit, the two leaders met for the Australia-Indonesia Annual Leaders’ Meeting where they announced a $50 million fund, under the Australia-Indonesia Climate and Infrastructure Partnership, to support Indonesia’s small and medium enterprises transition to clean energy technologies. The leaders have agreed to cooperate on developing an electric vehicle production ecosystem with the communique outlining that “leaders directed officials to advance cooperation and collaboration on this matter”.
Mr Albanese also confirmed new visa arrangements during the meeting, including extending visa access for Indonesian business travellers from three to five years and enabling Indonesian citizens to obtain a 10-year visa arrangement through the Frequent Traveller Scheme. Commenting on the announcement, Mr Albanese stated it will make “enormous difference in removing bureaucratic impediments to our closer relationship” with Indonesia. The leaders also discussed the importance of an open, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region and welcomed greater cooperation through the higher education sector. Also at the meeting, WA Premier Roger Cook signed a 2023-2025 Plan of Action with Indonesia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN) to support investment and collaboration in the critical minerals supply chain.
Linda Burney’s National Press Club address
In her address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney provided details regarding the remit and role of the Voice to Parliament, stating “we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by supporting the Voice”. Ms Burney confirmed that she will direct the Voice to prioritise health, education, jobs, and housing as its four focus areas, and provided specific questions she would ask the body when it first meets if the referendum is successful later this year.
During her speech, Ms Burney also criticised the messaging from the ‘No’ campaign calling it “post-truth” and likening it to “Trump-style politics”, following which the campaign’s spokesperson Liberal Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price stated Ms Burney’s comments were an “arrogant attack on ordinary Australians who are voting No”.
No parliaments are sitting next week.
The Federal Government launched the National Anti-Scams Centre. The Centre commenced operations on 1 July through a phased approach, beginning with the launch of a fusion cell to to disrupt, remove, and monitor investment scams.
The Federal Government announced it will provide an additional 50,000 new places through the Home Guarantee Scheme. Eligibility criteria for the scheme has also been expanded to allow friends, siblings, and other family members to make joint applications.
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) published the early findings from its study on cyber resilience in financial services. Around 24 per cent of APRA regulated entities have been assessed as part of the study, with APRA finding a number of common inadequacies in cyber resilience amongst financial institutions.
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission’s Better Banking for Indigenous Consumers Project found that individuals in high-fee transaction accounts, including First Nations people, are paying up to $3,000 in overdraw fees over a year.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
The Federal Government appointed Mr Ewen McDonald as Australia’s next High Commissioner to the Republic of Fiji and Australia’s inaugural Special Envoy for the Pacific and Regional Affairs. The envoy will be tasked with growing Australian engagement with Pacific regional organisations such as the Pacific Islands Forum.
The Federal Government signed a six-year $2.7 billion contract with Viva Energy Refining to supply fuel for the Australian Defence Force. The fuel will be refined in Geelong, with the contract aimed to reduce reliance on imported fuels.
The Indo-Pacific Endeavor (IPE) began this week in India, and will visit an additional 13 countries over the next four months. The IPE is a combined program that aims to grow Australia’s defence and diplomatic partnerships across Southeast Asia and the Northeast Indian Ocean.
Minister for Defence Richard Marles appointed Vice-Admiral Jonathan Mead as the Director-General of the new Australian Submarine Agency. The agency will be responsible for managing the nuclear-powered submarine program and will replace the Nuclear-Powered Submarine Taskforce.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission granted conditional authorisation for major supermarkets, Coles, ALDI, and Woolworths, to continue collaboration on soft plastics recycling and resume in-store collections following REDcycle’s suspension of operations.
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen opened consultations on the design of the Hydrogen Headstart program and the proposed update to the National Hydrogen Strategy. The Headstart program will support sovereign renewable hydrogen projects across Australia and the strategy will direct the Government’s priorities in the hydrogen industry. Feedback on the design is open until 3 August.
The NSW Government announced it will increase support payments under the Energy Accounts Payment Assistance Scheme through the Energy Bill Relief Fund to support energy savings for small businesses and households. Those eligible to the scheme will receive support from 31 July.
The SA Government released a green paper on South Australia’s Energy Transition[PDF] for consultation. The Green Paper explores the opportunities and challenges for the state’s energy transition, with submissions open until 14 August.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Federal Government commenced phase 4 funding allocations worth $750 million as part of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure program. The program will support local councils across Australia, with $250 million allocated for work on rural, regional, and outer urban roads.
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King allocated $55 million to support works on the international terminal facilities at Newcastle Airport. The works are projected to be completed in 2024.
Minister King also announced the appointment of Mr Michael Hopkins as the new CEO of the National Transport Commission (NTC). The NTC is responsible for policy reform in relation to transport productivity, safety, and environmental performance.
The NSW Government launched the first round of funding of the Towards Zero Safer Roads Program. The program will support road infrastructure works through an initial 27 projects and 11 safety upgrades.
The NSW Government also opened consultation on its proposed rental reforms, which aims to end no grounds evictions for lease holders; streamline pet application and rental bond transfer processes; and improve renter privacy. Consultation is open until 11 August.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler opened funding applications for universities to apply for additional Commonwealth supported places (CSPs) for rural-trained medical students, equating to 80 places per year, and capital works for training facilities in regional centres up to $82 million.
The Department of Health and Aged Care released the ‘National One Stop Shop for Clinical Trials and Health-related Human Research’ consultation report, which was aimed at developing a national health-related human research platform. The platform is intended to make it easier for industry, sponsors and researchers, to find, invest and conduct research in Australia.
Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth released the Disability Employment Services Quality Framework, which is aimed at improving disability employment. Consultation will continue throughout the implementation process in the latter half of 2023.
Queensland Minister for Health, Mental Health and Ambulance Services Shannon Fentiman confirmed the tender for the new $1.2 billion Bundaberg Hospital, 360km from Brisbane, has been awarded to CPB Contractors. The project is expected to be completed in the second half of 2027.
The Queensland Government confirmed Metro North Hospital and Health Service will establish a review of Caboolture Hospital’s approach to care for children and babies in its Emergency Department. The announcement follows concerns about the care of ‘baby Jarrod’ who was repeatedly misdiagnosed by the hospital.
NSW Minister for Health Ryan Park appointed the state’s first Deputy Secretary for Regional Health, Mr Luke Sloane. Sloane is the former Coordinator General, Regional Health Division at NSW Health.