Weekly Wrap Up
8 December 2023
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- The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) left the cash rate unchanged at 4.35 per cent at its December board meeting.
- Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 0.2 per cent in the September quarter according to National Accounts data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
- Minister for Social Services Bill Shorten released the final report of the Independent Review into the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
- Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones invited individuals, businesses, and other groups to put forward their 2024-25 Pre-Budget submissions by 25 January 2025.
- Western Australia Premier Roger Cook announced a cabinet reshuffle following Bill Johnston’s resignation, with Hannah Beazley appointed Minister for Local Government and Youth with other portfolios to be distributed to other Ministers.
- Member for Dunkley Peta Murphy passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described Mrs Murphy as “the strongest of local members, the most inspiring of colleagues and the very best kind of friend.”
The final sitting week of 2023 saw the Senate debate a raft of legislation. In response to the release of 148 detainees from immigration detention — following the High Court’s ruling on the NZYQ case and the subsequent arrests of at least four ex-detainees — the Senate debated and passed the Migration Amendment (Bridging Visa Conditions and other Measures) Bill 2023. Under the new law, the immigration minister will be empowered to request that state courts issue orders to re-detain non-citizens where there is an “unacceptable risk” that a person will reoffend.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed the Interactive Gambling Amendment (Credit and Other Measures) Bill 2023, which prohibits the use of credit cards and other digital currencies for online gambling. On the environment, the Senate also passed the Nature Repair Market Bill 2023, which aims to promote private investment into repairing the environment from damage caused by landowners and miners. On cost of living, the Senate agreed to establish a Select Committee into Supermarket Prices which will present a report back to Parliament in May 2024.
With both Houses sitting on Thursday, the Government’s Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 was split in two following a deal struck with Minister for Workplace Relations Tony Burke and Independent Senators David Pocock and Jacqui Lambie. Under the deal, elements of the Bill relating to ‘same job, same pay’ for labour hire employees, wage theft criminalisation, and protections for workers experiencing domestic and family violence from discrimination in the workplace, passed both the Senate and the House. Elements relating to gig economy workers and casual employees will be considered in early 2024.
National Cabinet meeting
The Prime Minister and state and territory leaders met in Canberra for National Cabinet to discuss reforms to the health system, the NDIS, firearms laws, and the goods and services tax (GST). Following negotiations with the previous government over the GST, National Cabinet agreed to extend the GST No Worse Off Guarantee for a further three years to ensure that “GST proceeds are shared fairly and equitably”, according to the Prime Minister.
Recognising the pressures currently facing Australia’s health sector, Ministers agreed to an additional $1.2 billion package to strengthen Medicare services, including increasing funding for Medicare Urgent Care Clinics. Furthermore, National Cabinet agreed to the Federal Government boosting contributions to the National Health Reform Agreement by 45 per cent over the next ten years. In relation to the release of the Independent Review of the NDIS, Ministers agreed to implement legislative changes to the NDIS and align state and territory contribution rates with the growth of the Scheme.
COP 28 Summit
World leaders gathered in Dubai for the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP) to assess global progress on climate change with Australia being represented by Ambassador for Climate Change, Kristin Tilley. In line with the Federal Government’s priority of decreasing the share of fossil fuels in the domestic energy mix, Australia agreed to join over 100 other countries to support an initiative to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030. Australia refrained from signing a pledge to triple nuclear energy capacity by 2050.
Additionally, Australia joined the Statement on International Public Support for the Clean Energy Transition Partnership (CETP), also known as the ‘Glasgow Statement’. The statement calls for an end to public investment in fossil fuels, aligning both public and private sector finance towards the clean energy transition, and aiming to keep global warming below 1.5C. The statement has now been signed by over 40 countries across the world.
Federal Parliament will return on 6 February 2024.
Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones published the Government’s response to the Quality of Advice Review, rejecting recommendations 1, 2, 12.1 and 12.2, and proposing a new model to expand the supply of advice. The new model will modernise the best interest’s duty, replace statements of advice with a plain English record, and introduce a new class of financial advisers to advise on simple topics. Legislation will be developed to implement this model in 2024.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers hosted the third Investor Roundtable in Canberra this week, where he met with representatives from banks, superannuation funds, venture capital firms, and asset managers. At the Roundtable, the Treasurer indicated the Government will commence consultation soon on improving the superannuation performance test, and participants agreed to establish four new working groups to address barriers to investment in housing, the net zero transformation and social impact investment.
The Government released its ‘Superannuation in retirement’ discussion paper seeking views on how the super system can better provide security and income to retirees. The paper examines member navigation of the retirement income system, improving retirement income products and services, and the accessibility of lifetime income products. Submissions close on 9 February 2024.
The Government published[PDF] its Green Bond Framework to determine how green bonds will finance Australia’s key climate change and environmental priorities. The framework outlines a basis for identifying, selecting, managing, and reporting on expenditures financed with green bonds, with the Government expected to issue the first green bonds in mid-2024.
The Government appointed Rob Heferen as the new Commissioner of Taxation to lead the Australian Tax Office for the next seven years. Mr Heferen will commence the role on 1 March 2024, following the conclusion of his term as the Chief Executive Officer at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
This week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signed the Australia-Papua New Guinea Bilateral Security Agreement, which aims to improve shared security interests. Along with the Agreement, the Prime Minister confirmed $200 million for Papua New Guinea’s national security priorities.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong met with France’s Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna during her visit to Canberra, to discuss the bilateral relationship between the two countries. During the meeting, the representatives announced the France-Australia Bilateral Roadmap, which focuses on increasing shared opportunities for defence and security, resilience and climate action, and education and culture.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles travelled to New Caledonia to participate in the annual South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting (SPDMM). During the SPDMM ministers will discuss security and defence cooperation in the Southwest Pacific.
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts announced plans to travel to Qatar, Egypt, Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to represent Australia’s support for diplomacy in the region. Whilst in Israel, Minister Watts will meet with officials, and confirm Australia’s condemnation of Hamas’ attacks. Meanwhile, his visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories will involve meetings with the Palestinian Authority and senior UN representatives.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Federal Government announced the establishment of the Nature Finance Council, led by Dr Ken Henry AC, to promote business investment in environmental restoration. The council, including finance, business, environmental, and First Nations experts, will advise on increasing private nature investments and assist businesses in nature-related financial reporting.
Victorian Minister for Climate Action Lily D’Ambrosio introduced legislation to establish the state’s renewable energy target at 95 per cent by 2035 and bring forward the net-zero emissions target from 2050 to 2045. The Climate Change and Energy Legislation Amendment (Renewable Energy and Storage Targets) Bill 2023 also includes energy storage and offshore wind capacity targets for economic growth and job creation.
Queensland Minister for Resources Scott Stewart travelled to the United States to explore opportunities for greater investment in Queensland’s critical minerals industry. Minister Stewart will meet with US Government officials and industry representatives, focusing on strengthening Queensland’s role in the global critical minerals market and supporting the new Critical Minerals Queensland office in Townsville.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Infrastructure Australia Amendment (Independent Review) Bill 2023 passed the Senate, which will amend the functions and structure of the government body. The passage of the Bill was a response to recommendations from an independent review of Infrastructure Australia in 2022.
The Government introduced the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Enhancing Consumer Safeguards and Other Measures) Bill 2023, which aims to enhance safeguards for consumers and small businesses. The Bill will improve on the Statutory Infrastructure Provider regime, which ensures access to high-speed broadband and appropriate protections.
The NSW Government announced it will deliver the Sydney Metro West Project with two additional stations, increased housing and more land transport connectivity surrounding the rail network. It also confirmed Rosehill will be targeted as one of the potential new stations and relocate Rosehill Racecourse to build 25,000 new homes. The announcement came after the final Sydney Metro Review report[PDF] recommended the Government continue the project with an expected delivery date of 2032.
Also in NSW, the Government launched its Transport Orientated Development (TOD) Program which aims to rezone areas around transport hubs to increase housing supply. The TOD program will be delivered based on a two-tiered plan, with the first targeting up to 47,800 new homes across eight transport hubs in Sydney, and the second focusing on delivering 138,000 homes at 31 locations within 400 metres of rail stations across the state. The Government also confirmed it will provide $520 million to support community infrastructure as part of the tier one plan, which will include road upgrades, active transport links and public open spaces.
The Federal Government launched Australia’s first National Health and Climate Strategy. The strategy was launched by Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ged Kearney at the 28th United Nations Climate Conference (COP28) in Dubai. The Strategy sets targets for healthy, climate-resilient communities and a net zero health system.
Federal Parliament passed the Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023 to update laws relating to smoking tobacco products including e-cigarettes. The Bill will enforce new packaging requirements from 1 April 2024, place greater restrictions on advertising for vapes and new tobacco products, amongst other measures. Proposed regulations to support the reforms will be opened for consultation on 11 December and will close on 8 January 2024.
Minister for Health Mark Butler confirmed the Government will invest $90 million to support rural medical training across six medical schools across Australia. The funding will target the provision of 80 new medical Commonwealth Supported Places, and build medical classrooms, equipment, and facilities, to commence in 2024.
The Queensland Government launched a new public safety campaign alongside the funding of five additional Skin Cancer Early Detection (SCED) clinics to help combat skin cancer. The additional SCEDs will be established in regional centres costing $8.4 million.
The NSW Government established a taskforce into emergency department (ED) wait times to identify efficiencies and reduce unnecessary ED presentations. The taskforce will also aim to improve patient flow, and safely discharge patients more quickly.