Weekly Wrap Up
15 December 2023
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- Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher released the 2023-24 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), revealing a $12.8 billion improvement in Australia’s fiscal position since May. Read GRACosway’s full analysis here.
- The unemployment rate rose to 3.9 per cent in November according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
- Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen delivered Australia’s National Statement at the COP28 Summit in Dubai, reiterating the Government’s commitment to increasing renewable energy in Australia’s energy mix.
- The United States Congress passed legislation enabling the transfer of three Virginia-class submarines to Australia under the AUKUS security pact. Defence Minister Richard Marles welcomed the news, stating the legislation “will transform our ability to effectively deter, innovated, and operate together”.
- ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr announced changes to the ACT Cabinet with a focus on health, housing, infrastructure, and cost of living.
Queensland Leadership Contest
Last Sunday, Annastacia Palaszczuk announced her resignation as Premier of Queensland and Member for Inala, stating it was “a great honour to be the leader of this party”. First elected as Premier in 2015, Ms Palaszczuk subsequently led the Labor Party to victory in the 2017 and 2020 Queensland elections, becoming the first Australian female Premier to win three terms of government. Her announcement follows recent speculation about the future of her leadership, despite maintaining that she would lead the Labor Party to the October 2024 State Election.
Following their endorsement at a Labor caucus meeting this morning, Steven Miles will become the next Premier of Queensland, while Cameron Dick will serve as Deputy Premier. This comes after Health Minister Shannon Fentiman initially announced that she would contend for the leadership ballot, though a deal struck between Deputy Premier Steven Miles’ Labor Left faction and Treasurer Cameron Dick’s Right Faction resulted in Ms Fentiman withdrawing from the race the next day. Additionally, Transport Minister Mark Bailey and Sports Minister Stirling Hinchcliffe have announced they will resign from Cabinet, leaving open the possibility of a broader Cabinet reshuffle.
Minister for Home Affairs Claire O’Neil and Minister for Immigration Andrew Giles released Australia’s Migration Strategy, which sets out the Federal Government’s reforms to the nation’s migration processes and reduce its intake of migrants. The Strategy follows recommendations from the Review of Australia’s Migration System released in March 2023, which found that the migration system was “not fit for purpose”, and the Rapid Review into the Exploitation of Australia’s Visa System, which showed that migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitative work practices.
The Strategy identifies eight key actions which will direct and guide the Federal Government’s future immigration policy implementation. A new ‘Skills in Demand’ will be established and have three targeted pathways: a ‘Specialist Skills Pathway’ for highly skilled workers, a ‘Core Skill Pathway’ guided by general workforce needs, and a ‘Essential Skills Pathway’ for less-skilled migrants who are eligible for lower income employment. The Strategy also proposes lifting English language requirements for international students enrolling in Australian tertiary education institutions. More broadly, Australia’s net migration numbers will be halved from approximately 500,000 to 250,000 people by June 2025, which Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described as “sustainable”. The Government has indicated that it will implement legislative changes in the Parliament in 2024.
Federal Parliament has concluded for the year and will resume on 6 February 2024.
The Federal Government published its response to the ACCC Digital Platform Services Inquiry, supporting in principle the ACCC’s four recommendations. Treasury will be tasked with commencing work on the design and form of a possible legislative framework, which could enable the creation of service-specific codes, in efforts to protect and promote competition.
Treasurer Chalmers released two consultation papers to inform the Government’s plans to modernise Australia’s payments system. The first paper proposes a licencing framework for payment service providers which recommends certain payment functions are regulated, while the second targets the Government’s approach to phasing out the use of cheque systems by 2030. Consultation on both papers closes on 2 February 2024.
Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones opened consultation for two papers which aim to support proposed changes to Australia’s tax system in response to the PwC matter. The first paper proposes to increase the power of the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) to respond to tax agent misconduct, while the second paper focuses on new obligations for tax agents by expanding the TPB Code of Professional Conduct. Consultation will close on 21 January 2024.
Queensland and NSW governments released their half-yearly reviews which provided budget updates and economic outlook for both states. In NSW, Treasurer Daniel Mookhey reported a $1.7 billion budget deterioration for this financial year, attributing pressures to recent federal funding cuts to the state’s infrastructure projects, rising interest costs, and GST revenue reduction. Meanwhile, Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick confirmed a 2.3 per cent growth in 2022-23 and forecasted a three per cent growth over the next two years, due to additional coal royalty revenues.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese released a joint-statement with the leaders of Canada and New Zealand recommitting to establish a “just and enduring peace in the form of a two-state solution” between Israel and Palestine. The statement comes after Australia voted in favour of a United Nations resolution calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza.
Trade Minister Don Farell announced that Australia will commence negotiations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on a free trade agreement (Comprehensive Economics Partnership Agreement) in 2024. The proposed trade agreement with the UAE would seek to create economic and trading opportunities for Australian exporters across various industries.
Defence Minister Pat Conroy MP announced he will travel to the United States this week to discuss the expansion of the industrial power of the Alliance and Australia’s domestic manufacturing industry and deepen cooperation on international development and the Pacific. During his visit, the leaders will discuss shared commitments to co-produce Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen said Australia will provide further climate change support for its Pacific neighbours with an initial $100 million investment in the Pacific Resilience Facility. Australia will also rejoin the Green Climate Fund, after withdrawing in 2018, with a $50 million contribution.
Also at COP28, the Federal Government reaffirmed its commitment to restoring and protecting global blue carbon ecosystems, including mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes, and announced four new projects to restore blue carbon ecosystems across the Indo-Pacific.
The Western Australian Government released the ‘Sectoral Emissions Reduction Strategy’ outlining the state’s investment and policy plan to meet its target of net zero emissions by 2050. This includes additional investment in renewable energy in the state’s grid; fast tracking approvals of priority electricity transmission infrastructure; developing a Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage action plan, and funding electric vehicle infrastructure.
The Victorian Government delivered an updated Gas Substitution Roadmap, which charts the pathway towards electrification of residential properties and offers additional energy discounts for households to transition away from gas appliances. The Government will also consult on the potential phase out of gas connections to all new residential properties and some commercial buildings.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
Federal, state and territory Workplace Relations and Work Health & Safety Ministers announced a ban of the use, supply, and manufacture of all engineered stone from 1 July 2024. The decision came after Safe Work Australia released its final report in October, recommending the complete prohibition of the product in Australia.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers confirmed the Government will make changes to the foreign investment framework on residential property. The changes would triple foreign investment fees for the purchase of established homes and double vacancy fees for all foreign-owned properties purchased after 9 May 2017. Additionally, the Government will reduce application fees for foreign investment in build-to-rent projects from 14 December.
The Federal and Western Australian Government jointly announced a $104.9 million investment in the ‘Infrastructure Betterment Program’ for flood-impacted infrastructure. Funded through the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements, this investment will see roads and bridges in the Kimberley region more resilient ahead of potential future floods and storms.
The Victorian Government finalised reform that will progressively abolish stamp duty on commercial and industrial properties, to be replaced with Commercial and Industrial Property Tax. This new tax will be set at a flat rate of one per cent of a property’s unimproved land value, with the same exemptions that apply to land tax to apply, to be payable 10 years after the last stamp duty payment.
The Federal Government opened consultation on the exposure draft of the new Aged Care Bill. The Bill seeks to strengthen aged are quality standards, provide additional whistle-blower protections, and include a Statement of Rights for older people. Consultation closes on 16 February 2024.
Andrea Kelly has been appointed as the Interim First Nations Aged Care Commissioner. The appointment of Ms Kelly is part of the Federal Government’s response to Recommendation 49 of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which recommended a statutory First Nations Aged Care Commissioner. The Commissioner will ensure culturally appropriate aged care services for First Nations people. A Warumungu and Larrakia woman, Ms Kelly will commence the role in January 2024.
The Federal Government will expand eligibility under the National Redress Scheme for Institutionalised Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018. The change will allow former child migrants, who were sent to Australian from the United Kingdom and Malta, to apply for support under the National Redress Scheme, as well as ensuring former child migrant survivors of institutional child sexual approach can receive recognition of their suffering, regardless of residency status.
The South Australian Government announced it will establish a Royal Commission into Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence. The Royal Commission will build on the findings of Victoria’s 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence, and Queensland’s Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce in 2021 and 2022 and conclude within a 12-month time period. The appointment of a Royal Commissioner and a Terms of Reference will be announced early in 2024.