Weekly Wrap Up
9 February 2024
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- Labor leads the Coalition 52-48 on a two-party preferred basis while the Coalition leads Labor 36-34 on primary votes, according to the latest Newspoll.
- The Reserve Bank of Australia decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 4.35 per cent at its February Board meeting.
- The Federal Government released its draft New Vehicle Efficiency Standard for public consultation. Submissions close on 4 March.
- Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea James Marape addressed the Federal Parliament, the first by a leader of a Pacific Island nation.
- Professor Allan Fels AO published[PDF] the Final Report of the Australian Council of Trade Union’s Inquiry into Price Gouging and Unfair Pricing Practices, finding significant competition reforms are required across multiple sectors.
The Albanese Government’s focus on industrial relations reform continued into the new year with two significant pieces of legislation dominating the Parliament this week. The Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023, which seeks to increase paid parental leave from 20 weeks to 26 weeks by 2026, passed the House and will now progress to the Senate. In the other chamber, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke reportedly struck[Paywall] a deal with both the Greens and Independent Senator David Pocock over support for the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No.2) Bill 2023. The Bill subsequently passed the Senate, granting workers the ‘right to disconnect’ from their workplaces after hours, makes changes to casual employment rules, and provides greater protections for gig economy and road transport workers.
Meanwhile, Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor introduced the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment (Strengthening Quality and Integrity in the Vocational Education and Training No.1) Bill 2024 into the House. The Bill seeks to deter and remove “non-genuine” registered training organisations in Australia following the release of the Brathwaite Review and the Nixon Review in 2018 and 2023, respectively. Furthermore, the Modern Slavery Amendment (Australian Anti-Slavery Commissioner) Bill 2023 passed the House. In the event it passes the Parliament an Anti-Slavery Commissioner would be established to engage business and industry on modern slavery matters.
Changes to Stage Three Tax Cuts
Low and middle-income earners are set to receive a larger reduction in income tax following changes to the former Coalition Government’s stage three tax cuts. The changes were announced by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the National Press Club in late January. While the Prime Minister had previously stated[Paywall] the Government had “no plans” to change the already-legislated tax cuts, he highlighted that cost of living pressures and unforeseen economic circumstances required a change in policy.
The new changes would see the 37 per cent tax bracket remain in place for incomes between $120,000 and $135,000; while incomes between $45,000 and $135,000 would be taxed at 30 per cent. The lowest tax bracket is set to be reduced from 19 per cent to 16 per cent for incomes between $18,200 and $45,000.
Despite questioning the Prime Minister’s integrity, suggesting he had broken an election promise, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton announced the Coalition would support the proposed changes, stating “the Coalition is not going to stand in the way of providing support to Australians who are doing it tough”. This means the Government will not need to rely on the support of the crossbench to pass the legislation in the Senate.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers introduced the Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living Tax Cuts) Bill 2024 to the House of Representatives. The Bill needs to pass Parliament over the next few sitting weeks for the new tax changes to come into effect from 1 July.
Federal Senate Estimates commence next week while the Queensland, Western Australian, and Northern Territory Parliaments will also sit next week.
The Federal Government introduced the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Fees Imposition Amendment Bill 2024, which aims to adjust the foreign investment framework to support build to rent projects and protect housing supply for Australians.
Former Minister for Climate Change and Energy the Hon. Greg Combet AM has been appointed as Chair of the Future Fund Board of Guardians for a five-year term, starting in mid-2024. Mr Combet has extensive experience in investment and superannuation, government, and the climate and energy transformation.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) published the latest retail sales figures from December 2023, signalling a 2.7 per cent decrease. The ABS attributed the fall to a reduction in discretionary spending throughout December with consumers spending more in November to take advantage of sales.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong denounced the suspended death sentence of Australian citizen, Dr Yang Jun in China. The Government called the sentence “appalling” and summoned China’s Ambassador to Australia for an explanation, while the Government continues efforts to advocate for Yang’s release.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles announced a $340 million integrated support contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin Australia to service Australia’s Black Hawk, Apache, and Chinook helicopter fleets.
The Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth published its Interim Report[PDF] for the Inquiry into the Australian Government’s approach to negotiating trade and investment agreements. The Committee made five recommendations, including establishing a trade advisory committee and providing greater transparency in trade and investment negotiations.
NSW Premier Chris Minns and senior cabinet ministers signed two Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with Japan to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the NSW-Tokyo Sister State Agreement.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen released the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner’s Community Engagement Review along with the Government’s initial response[PDF]. The Government accepted in principle all nine recommendations of the report, which aim to improve community engagement on renewable energy projects.
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation committed $99 million in funding to further develop Neoen’s Goyder Wind Farm and Blyth Battery in South Australia. The electricity generated from the wind farm will help power BHP’s Olympic Dam copper mine.
The NSW Independent Planning Commission approved a $569 million wind farm in the Upper Hunter region to support renewable energy generation. The wind farm will be delivered by Ark Energy in the Hunter-Central Coast Renewable Energy Zone with certain conditions following community feedback.
The NSW Government gave notice it intends to implement legislation aimed at preventing the negative environmental impacts caused by offshore mining. The Bill will amend the existing Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 to forbid seabed petroleum and mineral exploration and recovery in coastal waters across the State.
The Federal and Queensland Governments released the ‘Reef 2050 Wetlands Strategy’, seeking to further progress water quality targets for the Great Barrier Reef. The Strategy highlights the direction for wetland science, planning, coordination and management in reef catchments, focussing on five key themes to protect wetlands across Central, North and Far North Queensland.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Federal and Queensland Governments published the ‘National Level Crossing Safety Strategy 2023-2032’ which focuses on reducing harm on the level crossing network. A rail level crossing safety roundtable is set to be held on 6 March in Brisbane.
The Federal Government released the ‘2024 State of Australia’s Regions’ report, which highlights issues and opportunities faced by regional communities. The report provides a snapshot of transport and infrastructure initiatives across regional Australia designed at improving liveability and productivity in rural areas.
Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland directed the Australian Communications and Media Authority to make it mandatory for telcos to provide financial hardship assistance to all customers experiencing difficulties paying their bills. The new Industry Standard on Financial Hardship replaces the current financial hardship rules that are in the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code and will come into effect on 29 March.
The Queensland Government announced its new housing plan ‘Homes for Queenslanders’. The plan includes an investment of $160 million over five years in a Renters Relief Package, a ban on rent bidding, and a target of constructing 53,5000 social homes by 2046.
The NSW Government opened consultation on the draft Master Plan for the Bradfield City Centre as part of the broader development of the Western Sydney Aerotropolis. The plan, which was released at the recent Sydney Summit, showcases the proposed layout of a new innovation and industry hub in Western Sydney. Consultation closes 4 March.
The Federal Government will invest almost $8 million in healthcare trials across rural and remote Australia under the Innovative Models of Care Program. The trials aim to attract and keep healthcare professionals in regional areas while also encouraging the sharing of healthcare resources, and multidisciplinary models of care.
The Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs launched an inquiry into the impact and mitigation of aircraft noise. The inquiry will look at the effect of aircraft noise on physical and mental wellbeing among other matters including curfews, and barriers to the mitigation and limiting of aircraft noise.
The Victorian Minister for Health Mary-Anne Thomas announced 13 fellowships are set to receive $8.8 million in grant funding under through the Victorian Cancer Agency. The funding will go towards supporting researchers specialising in cancers with low survival rates including ovarian and brain cancer.