Weekly Wrap Up
21 April 2023
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- Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong delivered an address to the National Press Club (NPC), emphasising the importance of Australia’s role in “lowering the heat” on potential conflicts including the increasing tension between Taiwan and China.
- Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill Shorten also addressed the NPC, outlining a plan of six policy directions to “reboot” the Scheme with the intention of increasing access and improving outcomes for people with disability.
- Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus opened consultation on proposed reforms of Australia’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regime, with stakeholders invited to provide feedback until 16 June 2023.
- The Federal Government released the first report of the interim Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee, which was established in December 2022 to help inform social policy considerations for upcoming budgets. The Government is yet to respond to the report’s 37 recommendations.
- The Solicitor-General’s opinion[PDF] on the proposed model for a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament was released, noting that the Voice is unlikely to “fetter or impede” the powers of the parliament or executive.
- The Victorian IBAC presented a special report following Operation Daintree, an investigation into the procurement process and awarding of a contract by the Department of Health and Human Services. The report found several breaches of duties and obligations by ministers, ministerial advisors and senior public servants in the awarding of a contract.
- NSW Legislative Council results were finalised following the recent state election.
- Also in NSW, the State Liberal Party elected former Attorney-General Mark Speakman as the new NSW Liberal Leader.
Review of the Reserve Bank of Australia
On Thursday, Treasurer Jim Chalmers released the final report of the independent Review of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), entitled An RBA fit for the future[PDF]. The review examined in detail the RBA’s governance, monetary policy framework, leadership, culture and performance over the last 30 years. In response, the Government has outlined its in-principle support for all 51 of the Review’s recommendations, which it wants to implement by 1 July 2024.
The Review grouped its recommendations under five key themes, stating the need for a clearer monetary policy framework; stronger monetary policy decision making and accountability; an open and dynamic RBA; more robust corporate governance; and steps to ensure that RBA leaders should drive institutional and cultural change.
Key recommendations include a call for the role of the RBA board to be split, with a Monetary Policy Board responsible for interest rate decisions and the RBA’s contribution to the financial system, excluding payments policy, which will be overseen by a new expert body. The Governance Board would then have responsibility for the examination of general operations of the bank including currency supply. The Review also suggested a number of other operational changes, including to reduce the number of Board meetings from 11 to eight each year, and that the RBA Governor hold a press conference after each decision meeting to explain the Monetary Policy Board’s view of policy and economic developments.
Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor welcomed[PDF] the Review and indicated that the Opposition intends to approach the implementation of the Review with bipartisan support. Treasurer Chalmers stated that the Government will work closely with the RBA as well as the Opposition when drafting legislation required to implement a number of the Review’s recommendations.
Australia’s First National Electric Vehicle Strategy
Earlier this week, the Albanese Government released the first National Electric Vehicle Strategy. The strategy outlines measures aimed at supporting the Government’s target to increase the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) in Australia and confirms the Federal Government’s commitment to collaborate with state and territory governments to ensure a national approach on encouraging EV uptake and use.
A key tenant of the strategy is the Government’s plan to impose a new Fuel Efficiency Standard on new cars, which it hopes will encourage car manufacturers to supply more EVs to Australia, leading to increased accessibility and affordability for EV models. This standard will set an average efficiency target, likely measured in grams of CO2 per kilometre, for vehicles sold by each manufacturer. Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen indicated that the Government intends to release its proposed Fuel Efficiency Standard by the end of 2023. Consultation on the design of fuel efficiency standards is open until 31 May.
Coalition Shadow Ministry Reshuffle
On Tuesday, Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton announced changes to the Coalition’s Shadow Ministry. The reshuffle follows the recent resignation of Liberal MP Julian Leeser from his Shadow Cabinet portfolios after the announcement that the Liberal Party would oppose the proposed model for a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Announcing these changes, Mr Dutton also confirmed that Liberal MP Karen Andrews had made the decision to step down from her positions as Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Shadow Minister for Child Protection and the Prevention of Family Violence, and additionally would not be seeking re-election to Parliament at the next election in 2025.
The Coalition’s Shadow Ministry now includes two first-term parliamentarians – Senator for the NT Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, and Senator for SA Kerrynne Liddle, both of whom are of Indigenous background. Senator Price has taken on the role of Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, while Senator Liddle will take on the portfolios of Child Protection and the Prevention of Family Violence. Senator for VIC James Paterson has assumed responsibility for the Shadow portfolio of Home Affairs and, following Ms Andrews’ resignation, former Attorney-General Michaelia Cash will take on the role of Shadow Attorney-General.
No Australian Parliaments are sitting next week.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission published[PDF] its latest annual Targeting Scams report, noting that combined losses to scams has reached in excess of $3 billion. In an interview, Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones flagged a potential increase in fines and penalties for banks who do not take increased action to prevent scams.
The Federal Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce published its priorities for the upcoming Federal Budget. The Taskforce’s recommendations included a requirement of superannuation payments for primary carers on Paid Parental Leave, a pay-rise for early childhood educators and aged care workers, and the abolition of the Childcare Subsidy Activity Test.
Treasury opened consultation on its election commitment to set education requirements for financial advisers. The proposed legislation would require that financial advisers have 10 years of cumulative experience and no record of disciplinary action on the Financial Advisers Register. Consultation is open until 3 May.
The Victorian Government announced it will establish a scheme to compensate Porter Davis customers who signed their contracts and paid their deposits but were impacted by Porter Davis’ failure to take out Domestic Building Insurance.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong travelled to New Caledonia and Tuvalu to reinforce bilateral relationships and Australia’s commitments to the Pacific. During her visit to New Caledonia, Minister Wong met with the High Commissioner Louis Le Franc and President of New Caledonia Mr Louis Mapou, and addressed the Congress of New Caledonia.
Minister Wong also announced the appointments of four public servants to Australian High Commissioner and Ambassador roles. Those appointed include Mr Ian Biggs, Ambassador to Austria, Ms Karen Bray, High Commissioner to the Republic of Kiribati, Mr Allaster Cox, High Commissioner to Singapore, and Dr Greg French, Ambassador to the Netherlands.
Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell departed for Vietnam and the Philippines. During his visit to Vietnam, Minister Farrell co-hosted the Economic Partnership Meeting with Vietnamese Minister of Planning and Investment Dr Nguyen Chi Dung to reiterate trade relations, including the recently announced Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles confirmed the re-appointment of Mr Andrew Seaton as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Australian Naval Infrastructure for the next five years.
ENVIRONMENT, RESOURCES AND ENERGY
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency announced $70 million in funding for innovative methods in electric vehicle charging. Funding will be allocated under the Driving the Nation Program.
The Federal Government confirmed an investment of $150 million in a new program to improve the quality of water flowing to the Great Barrier Reef. The funds will support repairs to land in catchments that negatively affect the Reef.
The Standing Committee on Environment and Communications released its report on oil and gas exploration and production in the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo Basin. The report made 14 recommendations.
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND WATER
The Federal Government allocated $12.6 million in funding to improve roads in WA under the national Black Spot Program. As part of this funding, 24 road across the State were identified as dangerous crash sites will be upgraded.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences released the latest Water Market Outlook, detailing data from state water agencies and updated seasonal conditions in the southern Murray–Darling Basin. The outlook indicates that water allocation prices in the southern Murray-Darling Basin are likely to remain low, with the average price forecast to reach $80 per ML in 2023-24, up from $29 per ML in 2022-23.
Victorian Deputy Premier and Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Jacinta Allen confirmed that completion of the State’s airport rail link will be delayed beyond its original 2029 target. Deputy Premier Allen attributed the delay to ongoing negotiations with Melbourne Airport.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler unveiled the $220 million Strengthening Medicare – General Practice (GP) Grants Program. This program which will see grants of $25,000 – $50,000 available for GPs to invest in their practices through digital transformation, infection prevention measures and maintenance of RACGP accreditation.
Minister Butler also launched an independent investigation into the National Mental Health Commission following media reports of allegations of workplace, financial and governance issues at the agency. Professor Deb Picone AO will lead the investigation.
NSW Premier Chris Minns announced the statewide expansion of the virtualKIDS Urgent Care Service, which assesses children before travelling to hospital by connecting families with a clinical nurse via video conference.
The SA Government opened consultation on proposed new smoking and vaping laws that would ban smoking within ten metres of schools and children’s education centres, within five metres of non-residential building entrances, and at major sports or events facilities. Fines for non-compliance would also double under the proposed legislation.