Weekly Wrap Up

8 March 2024 

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  • National Accounts data shows the Australian economy grew 0.2 per cent over the December 2023 quarter. In response, Treasurer Jim Chalmers stated the Australian economy is “subdued but steady.”
  • The Albanese Government announced superannuation payments will be included in reforms to the Paid Parental Leave scheme from 1 July 2025.
  • Following defeat at the Dunkley by-election, Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton revealed a cabinet reshuffle to the Coalition’s Shadow Ministry.
  • Simon Kennedy has won Liberal Party preselection for the NSW seat of Cook following the resignation of former Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
  • To mark International Women’s Day, Minister for Women Katy Gallagher released Australia’s first national gender equality strategy, called ‘Working for Women: A Strategy for Gender Equality’.

ASEAN Summit

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed regional leaders to Melbourne for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. The Prime Minister said it was an opportunity to “affirm our shared belief in ASEAN centrality”. Discussions revolved around trade and investment opportunities, the climate and clean energy transition, maritime cooperation, and regional security.

Mr Albanese held bilateral meetings with the leaders of Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Laos, and Vietnam, as well as discussions with up to 100 Australian and Southeast Asian business leaders. The Prime Minister committed to delivering on key recommendations in the ‘Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040’, including the establishment of a $2 billion Investment Facility to increase Australian investment in Southeast Asia, focusing on clean energy and infrastructure development.

Also making headlines this week was the elevation of the Australia-Vietnam relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, symbolised by both countries deepening cultural ties and enhancing economic engagement. At the conclusion of the Summit, ASEAN leaders signed the ‘Melbourne Declaration’, which outlined member states’ commitment to a shared future.

Dunkley by-election

Over the weekend the Labor Party retained the Victorian seat of Dunkley with Labor candidate Jodie Belyea winning the seat 52.7 to 47.3 on a two-party preferred basis. Dunkley was previously held by former Labor member Peta Murphy on a 6.2 per cent margin following the 2022 election. In response to the victory, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Labor ran a “positive” campaign focused on cost of living and increasing opportunities for Australians.

Liberal candidate Nathan Conroy secured a 3.6 per cent swing, which fell short of the 6.3 per cent swing required to flip the seat back to the Coalition. Despite the loss, Deputy Liberal Leader Sussan Ley stated it sent the Government “a really strong message”.

While the Liberal Party’s primary vote increased by 6.8 per cent, some media reports [paywall] suggest this was caused by the absence of right-leaning parties such as One Nation and United Australia not fielding a candidate. Labor’s primary vote also increased by 0.8 per cent.

Looking Ahead

 The New South Wales, Western Australian, and Northern Territory Parliaments will sit next week.


Federal Developments

Recent data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed Australia’s current account figures from December 2023 have an increased surplus from $1.3 billion to $11.8 billion. The data also shows the net primary income deficit has reduced by $1.9 billion to $20.2 billion.

Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones announced the Financial Accountability Regime (FAR) has been finalised and is set to apply to banks, insurance, and superannuation entities from 15 March 2024 and 15 March 2025 respectively. The transition to the FAR is a key recommendation of the Financial Services Royal Commission and replaces the Banking Executive Accountability Regime (BEAR).

The Department of Finance released the Monthly Financial Statements for January 2024, revealing the underlying cash balance was a deficit of $12.9 billion, which is $20.5 billion lower than the 2022-23 October Budget profile deficit of $33.4 billion.

Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones appointed Mr Howard Insall SC as a part-time Chairperson of the Companies Auditors Disciplinary Board for a three-year term, following the retirement of Ms Maria McCrossin. Mr Insall has experience in corporations and trust law and has been involved in a number of commercial cases involving auditors and auditor’s duties.


Federal Developments

Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell returned from the 13th World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi. During his visit he outlined Australia’s support for the renewal of the e-commerce moratorium and welcomed Timor-Leste and Comoros to the WTO. However, no targeted agreements on agricultural reform or subsidies for fisheries were reached.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) released a statement concerning proposed national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law of Hong Kong. DFAT called for Hong Kong authorities to ensure any new laws comply with China’s human rights commitments, and for consultation on the legislation to take place.

The Federal Government announced the establishment of an ASEAN grants program for businesses, universities, and communities aimed at fostering closer ties with Southeast Asian nations. Some of the programs that will receive grants include Australia-ASEAN Youth Summits, mentorships for women in business, and educational workshops.


Federal Developments

Minister for Resources Madeleine King travelled to Canada to discuss critical minerals cooperation with Canada’s Minister of Energy and Natural Jonathan Wilkinson. The two leaders signed a joint statement which detailed the countries’ shared priorities, such as increasing mining and service trade investment and strengthening supply chain transparency.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton revealed that a future Coalition Government would replace current coal-fired power stations with nuclear power plants. Under the Coalition’s plan, retiring coal assets would be replaced by nuclear power plants to make use of existing transmission infrastructure. The full energy policy is expected to be released in the coming months.

The Federal and Victorian Governments announced the development of an offshore wind zone off the coast of western Victoria. An estimated 2.9GW of offshore wind energy is expected to be generated despite the zone being one-fifth of the original planned size. Feasibility licence applications for the Southern Ocean zone will close on 2 July.

State Developments

Victorian Minister for Energy Lily D’Ambrosio introduced the National Electricity (Victoria) Amendment (VicGrid) Bill 2024, which aims to empower the VicGrid to progress energy infrastructure development across the state. Under the Bill, landholders will be compensated up to $200,000 per kilometre of new transmission infrastructure on private land, which will be indexed and paid over 25 years.

In South Australia, consultation opened on draft regulations under the Hydrogen and Renewable Energy Act 2023 (HRE Act). The HRE Act, which passed in November 2023, aims to facilitate hydrogen and renewable energy development across the state. Consultation closes on 15 April.


Federal Developments

Minister for Infrastructure Catherine King announced the signing of an Australia and Singapore Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish the Australia-Singapore Green and Digital Shipping Corridor (GDSC). Under the MoU, both countries will work towards decarbonising the maritime industry through initiatives such as developing low-emission technologies and upgrading port infrastructure.

In an address to the National Press Club, Greens spokesperson for Housing and Homelessness Max Chandler-Mather revealed the Greens’ housing policy. The policy outlines a “public property developer” would be established by the Federal Government and tasked with constructing 360,000 homes across five years. Of those homes, 70 per cent would be solely for renters with rent capped at 25 per cent of household income. The Parliamentary Budget Office predicts the project would cost $27.9 billion over 10 years.

State Developments

The NSW Government announced a $300 million investment into TAFE NSW this financial year. The funding is targeted at delivering essential upgrades to classroom and campus infrastructure and will seek to improve outdated teaching and learning materials.

Queensland’s Education Minister Di Farmer committed $33 million towards increasing the early childhood education workforce. The new initiative aims to benefit 2,300 educators annually with various opportunities for career development. Funding will include implementing a $29 million Qualifications Pathway Program, as well as a $2 million Practicum Placement scheme.

The WA Government committed $7.6 million towards the conservation of Geraldton Heritage Precinct, Ngurra Barlunggu. The precinct includes a variety of local community and tourist-based locations and is managed by the National Trust of Australia (WA). Project funding aims to address security and safety issues, as well as urgent structural repairs.


Federal Developments

Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Bill Shorten appointed Michael Phelan APM as the interim acting NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commissioner for a three-month term. Mr Phelan is the former Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. He will commence the role on 12 March.

Health Minister Mark Butler welcomed news that the average cost of private health insurance premiums has risen less than wages, pensions, and general inflation. Data shows that premiums rose by 3.03 per cent with inflation increasing by 4.1 per cent in 2023.

State Developments

The Queensland Government will invest $1 billion in women and girls’ health under the ‘Women and Girls’ Health Strategy 2032’. The investment will be made over the next five years and include $40 million for the expansion of pregnancy termination services and $46 million for four new walk-in clinics to be established.

The NSW Government announced it will increase investment into Women’s Health Centres by $34.2 million. The funding will be allocated to 19 health centres across NSW. Under the increased funding package, peak body Women’s Health NSW will receive $369,500 to support capacity building activities.


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