Weekly Wrap Up
11 February 2022
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- The Federal Government confirmed that Australia will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated international travellers from Monday 21 February.
- The Government accepted the recommendation of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) that the national definition of ‘up to date’ with COVID-19 vaccinations be changed from two doses to two doses plus a booster.
- Federal Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher committed $4.2 billion in funding for the ABC and SBS over three years.
- The Federal Government announced it will deploy personnel from the Australian Defence Force to support staff in aged care.
- State by-elections will be held in NSW tomorrow for the seats of Bega, Monaro, Strathfield and Willoughby.
- The NSW Auditor-General released the State Finances 2021 Report, indicating “significant uncertainties” with investment and returns in the State’s Transport Asset Holding Entity (TAHE). Subsequently, the Auditor-General suggested her position would need to be reaffirmed, after parliamentary testimony from Treasury that access fees to TAHE would be renegotiated on an annual basis.
- Leader of the Australian Greens Adam Bandt indicated that in exchange for supporting Labor if it holds the balance of power in the House or Senate after this year’s election, his party will seek a six-month moratorium on new coal, gas and oil projects.
- The WA Government commenced a new screening process under which all arrivals to WA are provided two free Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs).
- Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce offered to resign from the frontbench after text messages were leaked where he criticised the Prime Minister.
Parliament Returned for 2022
Federal Parliament resumed for its first sitting week of the year with the Government’s controversial religious discrimination bill taking centre stage. The House of Representatives passed the bill in the early hours of Thursday morning following a ten-hour debate over various amendments. Significantly, five Coalition MPs crossed the floor to support an amendment backed by Labor and the crossbench aimed at preventing discrimination against LGBTQ+ students. The legislation ultimately failed to reach debate in the Upper House as the Senate denied the Government’s motion to amend standing orders to exempt the bill from the cut-off period. It is understood that the bill has now been shelved indefinitely and is unlikely to be considered ahead of the election.
In the Senate, Opposition and crossbench Senators defeated the Government’s proxy advice regulations that would see the Australian Financial Services Licensing (AFSL) regime extended to further proxy advice activities and require advisers to be independent of institutional clients. The latter reform would have had significant implications for the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI).
Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews introduced the Government’s Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2022 into the House. The Bill intends to implement the second set of amendments proposed to the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018, after the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Act 2021 passed Parliament and came into effect late last year. The new bill includes an obligation to maintain a critical infrastructure risk management program, a Ministerial power to declare if infrastructure is of national significance and a series of enhanced obligations which can be applied to infrastructure of national significance.
The Government’s Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill 2022 was also presented to the House with debate adjourned after Minister Fletcher’s second reading speech. The legislation aims to address defamatory messages on social media and proposes that owners of a social media page may be liable for defamatory action based on material posted on their page.
Spotlight on Women’s Safety
The first day of Parliament for the year opened with both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition delivering respective apologies to those who have experienced bullying, harassment and sexual assault while working within Federal Parliament. Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins watched in the gallery as she received direct acknowledgement from Mr Morrison and Mr Albanese following allegations first raised last year.
The following day, Ms Higgins and 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame jointly addressed the National Press Club. Both women were critical of the Prime Minister and Federal Government’s actions on the topic of safety for women and children, including the draft National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children.
The House of Representatives will resume sitting next week, while Budget Estimates will be on in the Senate. NSW State by-elections for the seats of Bega, Monaro, Strathfield and Willoughby will be held tomorrow.
The Federal Parliament passed legislation enabling the permanent use of electronic signatures and the electronic execution of documents for registered companies and schemes. The reforms were initially introduced as a temporary measure during the pandemic, but Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has stated that making the changes permanent will save close to $450 million for affected businesses annually.
The Federal Government finalised the design of the reinsurance pool for cyclone and related flood damage. The pool will be supported by a $10 billion Commonwealth guarantee and will cover approximately 880,000 properties across northern Australia, allowing them to access cheaper premiums.
Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar announced that the Government will introduce legislation to confirm that work-related Rapid Antigen Tests will be tax deductible. This change will take effect from the beginning of the 2021‑22 tax year and will be in place permanently.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) released its quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy, outlining the RBA’s assessment of current domestic and economic conditions, as well as forecasts for selected economic measures such as growth and inflation.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Snowy Hydro Limited awarded a $185 million contract for the construction of a 660MW power station in Kurri Kurri, NSW to CIMIC Group’s UGL. It comes as environmental approval was granted for the Hunter Power Project.
Following the decision of energy company AGL to bring forward the closure dates of its Bayswater and Loy Yang A coal-fired power stations, Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor noted that replacing the gap in the National Electricity Market with new and timely dispatchable capacity will be a ‘critical’ focus for the Federal Government. The Bayswater plant in NSW will now close by 2033, while the Loy Yang A plant in Victoria will close by 2045.
The Queensland Government committed $60 million toward a new coal shiploader for the Port of Gladstone, which it plans to build on site in Gladstone.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) awarded the $143 million contract for the supply of concrete sleepers for the Inland Rail project to Austrak. Under the agreement, Austrak will supply 1.3 million sleepers to upgrade existing track as well as completing new sections of rail from Albury in NSW through to the Inland Rail end point in QLD.
AECOM Australia won the planning contract for the $225 million upgrade of the Cairns Southern Access Corridor, Foster Road intersection as part of the Cairns Bruce Highway Upgrade Master Plan in Queensland. The Plan provides the long-term upgrade strategy for the Bruce Highway from Gordonvale, to Draper Street, near the Cairns city centre.
The NSW Supreme Court approved the sale of Sydney Airport in a $23.6 billion takeover from a consortium led by IFM Investors and New York-based Global Infrastructure Partners. The airport ceased trading on the stock exchange on Wednesday.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt announced an investment of $15 million to support the establishment of a cancer genomics laboratory in South Australia that will advance the research of treatment options for cancer patients.
Minister Hunt also confirmed up to $24 million in available funding under the Medical Research Future Fund for research projects focused on improving acute care systems and minimising pressure on Emergency Departments.
Victorian Minister for Health Martin Foley released a $1.4 billion package to support resourcing of healthcare workers and hospitals, with funds to contribute towards PPE supplies, surge payments for staff, and general resourcing.