Weekly Wrap Up
9 September 2022
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- In response to the death of Queen Elizabeth II early this morning, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has suspended next week’s sitting of Federal Parliament.
- Support for the Labor Government increased in the latest Newspoll, with Labor leading the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis of 57-43.
- The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) lifted the cash rate by 50 basis points for the fourth month in a row, bringing it to 2.35 per cent.
- The Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released national accounts data for the June quarter, indicating 3.6 per cent growth in the national economy over the past financial year.
- From today, daily reporting of COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalisations across the country will be reduced to once a week.
- The requirement to wear a mask on international flights to Australia has also been removed from today.
- Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is seeking legal advice after questions were raised regarding a potential breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct due to a conflict of interest.
- Prime Minister Albanese indicated he is not “privy to” a $650,000 settlement payment the Government made to a former staff member of former Coalition Minister Alan Tudge.
- A NSW Fair Work Commission hearing over the dispute between the NSW rail union and state government scheduled for Tuesday was adjourned.
- Also in NSW, Speaker of the House Jonathon O’Dea announced he will not be re-contesting the March 2023 State Election.
- The Queensland Government returned 362,000 hectares of land on the Cape York Peninsula to the Gudang/ Yadhaykenu, Atambaya and Angkamuthi Traditional Owners.
- Childcare workers across the country went on strike on Wednesday in protest over pay and conditions.
Response to death of Queen Elizabeth II
Today, the Australian Government and politicians are paying tribute to Queen Elizabeth II after the monarch died overnight at the age of 96. Prime Minister Albanese has suspended next week’s scheduled sitting of Parliament and will travel to London, together with Governor-General David Hurley, to meet King Charles III in the coming days. Mr Albanese stated that “the relationship between Australia and Britain matured and evolved throughout Her Majesty’s reign” and declared “the deep respect and warm regard in which Australians always held Her Majesty will never fade”. Governor-General Hurley gave thanks for “the remarkable contribution” the Queen made throughout her reign and is due to address the nation in relation to her passing at 6:55 (AEST) this evening. Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton expressed his condolences and commented “Never in modern history has there been a more dignified monarch, a more dutiful leader, or a more decent human than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II”.
On Thursday, the Government’s Climate Change Bill passed the Senate with the support of the Greens, the Jacqui Lambie Network, and Independent Senator David Pocock. The final bill, which included amendments from Senator Pocock relating to the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from Commonwealth bodies, enshrines Australia’s emissions reduction target of 43 per cent and net zero emissions by 2050 into legislation. The Government has stated the legislation “will provide the energy policy and investment certainty needed to usher in economic growth and opportunity in a decarbonising global economy”. By contrast, the Coalition Opposition, which voted against the bill, has suggested[PDF] the legislation “paves the way for a new era of green lawfare in Australia” and will “wrap a new layer of red tape around the Australian economy”.
This sitting week also saw the introduction of a number of key pieces of legislation. This included a bill to reduce the maximum cost of general medicine scripts under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme by almost 30 per cent, and a bill to incentivise pensioners to downsize their home by extending the assets test exemption to 24 months for principal home sale proceeds. Meanwhile, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus indicated that he would introduce legislation to fulfil the Government’s pre-election commitment to establish a national anti-corruption commission “next week” in Parliament. As Parliament has now been suspended while the country pays tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, the introduction of this legislation can likely be expected when Parliament resumes.
Other key events from this sitting week include an indication from Treasurer Jim Chalmers that the October Budget will not include further cost-of-living relief, and confirmation from Speaker Milton Dick that former Prime Minister Scott Morrison will not be referred to Parliament’s Privileges Committee in relation to his secret appointment to multiple ministries in 2020 and 2021.
International relations have been a focus this week with the signing of a reciprocal Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) between Australia and Timor-Leste, following a meeting between Prime Minister Albanese and Timorese President Dr Jose Ramos-Horta. Outlining increased defence and security cooperation between the two countries, the DCA will enable Timorese military members operating or training in Australia to receive the same protections and privileges as Australian personnel will receive in Timor-Leste. The agreement was announced as President Jose Ramos-Horta addressed Australia’s National Press Club on Wednesday, where he called for more assistance from Australia in the development of his nation’s economy.
Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands Parliament voted to delay its national election from 2023 until 2024 due to a lack of financial resources, despite an offer from the Australian Government to help fund the election. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare initially labelled Australia’s offer for assistance as an “inappropriate” example of foreign interference but yesterday told his country’s Parliament he intended to accept the offer when the election takes place in 2024. Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong has denied that Australia was trying to interfere in Solomon Islands politics by offering to help fund the election and has emphasised that assistance will remain available if needed.
The Victorian, Queensland, Tasmanian and WA Parliaments are sitting next week. NSW Parliament will also resume after three weeks of Budget Estimates concluded on Wednesday.
Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones introduced[PDF] a suite of bills to Parliament to fully implement the response to the Hayne Royal Commission and the 2016 Review of Small Amount Credit Contracts.
Minister Jones also opened consultation on the Your Future, Your Super laws. The consultation will examine unintended consequences and implementation issues relating to the performance test, superannuation ‘stapling’, the YourSuper comparison tool and the best financial interests duty.
RBA Governor Philip Lowe delivered a speech to the Anika Foundation where he discussed inflation trends and recent movements in monetary policy and forecasts. He referred to high inflation as a “scourge” and emphasised that the RBA is “committed to doing what is necessary” to manage inflation.
The Insurance Council of Australia released new research from the McKell Institute that examined the cost of recent extreme weather events as well as the impact on Australian households, indicating weather events over the past year have cost every Australian household an average of $1,532.
Treasury opened consultation on proposed legislation that will exclude crypto from being treated as a foreign currency for Australian income tax purposes. Submissions close 30 September 2022.
RESOURCES AND ENERGY
In its final report as part of the hydrogen and renewable gas review, the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) recommended that Energy Ministers make changes to the national gas and retail regulatory frameworks to ensure the gas sector can transition to hydrogen and other renewable gases. The AEMC is now seeking feedback on recommended updates to the National Gas Rules and National Energy Retail Rules.
Minister for Resources and Minister for Northern Australia Madeleine King introduced a bill to Parliament that will amend legislation to ensure the Government oversees the rehabilitation and clean-up of the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park beyond 2026.
The NSW Environmental Protection Authority released its new draft Climate Change Policy and Action Plan, setting out actions to take to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. Feedback on the draft is open until 2 November.
The Victorian Government is supporting a study being conducted by a critical minerals startup, Magnium, that could develop the first net-zero magnesium foundry with technology being developed by the CSIRO.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King introduced legislation into Parliament to establish a High Speed Rail Authority. It is intended that the Authority will build on previous studies into the High Speed Rail and provide independent advice regarding the planning and delivery of the project.
The NSW Government launched an updated version of the Future Transport Strategy, which accounts for the economic, environmental and social changes that have occurred since the initial Strategy’s release in 2018. Central to the Strategy is the Government’s vision to create inter-city travel times of less than 30 minutes and inter-neighbourhood travel times of less than 15 minutes.
The Victorian Government named CPB Contractors, John Holland and Webuild as the three construction firms shortlisted to complete the tunnelling contracts on the Suburban Rail Loop (East). The first contract will be awarded in 2023 after the firms submit a detailed Request for Proposal.
The Queensland Government released tenders for the expansion of five major hospitals. Tenders have been released for the expansion of the Gold Coast University Hospital, QEII Hospital, Princess Alexandra, Robina and Redland Hospitals at a cumulative value of $144.3 million.
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport launched a new inquiry to examine the health, social, educational, and economic impacts of long COVID, as well as repeated COVID infections. Submissions for the inquiry will close on 18 November.
NSW Health launched the NSW Healthy Eating and Active Living Strategy 2022-2032, focused on addressing the health of children and adults across the state over the next decade. The strategy aims to reduce obesity in children and young people by five per cent and also aims to reverse the trend of obesity in adults by 2030 through prevention programs, routine advice, social marketing and built environments to support healthy eating and active living.