Last month in politics: a Budget, a rate hike and an environmental action plan

Government, Anthony Albanese, Government Relations, Parliament, Political Leaders

Purple Editor 8 Nov 2022
4 mins
Mark McGowan walking with Jim Chalmers

Mandatory COVID-19 isolation was ended in October across all Australian states and territories, as we ticked over 629 million global cases.

The United Kingdom named Rishi Sunak their third Prime Minister in three months, after Liz Truss resigned after just 45 days in power, and the world paid tribute to the victims of the Bali Bombings 20 years on from the tragedy.

In a deliberate escalation to gain the attention of Tokyo and Washington, North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan. The US, Japan and South Korea all conducted military drills in response.

Closer to home, interest rates went up another 25 basis points, the ACT decriminalised small amounts of illicit drugs, Victoria announced negotiations with First Nations groups for a Treaty are set to begin next year and the McGowan Government – in partnership with Hockey WA – made a $135 million bid to keep the High-Performance hockey program in Perth fending off calls from the Victorian Government to send it east. 

Albanese Government’s first Budget

Treasure Jim Chalmers’ ‘bread and butter budget’ was handed down on the 25th, with a deficit for 2022-23 just under $37 billion – significantly down from the forecast of $78 billion back in March.

Despite the Albanese Government’s first Budget delivering a meaningful reduction in spending, debt is forecast to increase  by 28 per cent in 2025-26.

With cost-of-living pressures at the forefront of everyone’s minds, the Government focused on five areas to provide relief:

  • Commitment of $5.4 billion over forward estimates for cheaper childcare
  • Extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks by 2026, at a cost of $532 million over 4 years
  • $770 million towards cheaper medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme
  • An addition 10,000 affordable homes under the Accord, costing $350 million over 5 years
  • Policies aimed at aiding wage growth

The Budget saw the introduction of a new section titled “Wellbeing”, with the Government outlining plans to create a stand-alone Measuring What Matters Statement alongside next year’s Budget, which is aimed at measuring wellbeing and “what matters” to Australians.

Other notable Budget inclusions:

  • $75 million will be provided to prepare for the delivery of a referendum to enshrine a First Nations Voice to Parliament in the Constitution
  • $1.7 billion over 6 years to support women’s safety, working to end violence in one generation
  • $204 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef – assisting in delivering the Labor Party’s commitment to spend a record $1.2 billion to protect, manage and restore the historic reef
  • A $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund will be established to support, diversify, and transform Australian industry and the economy
  • A $1.9 billion Powering the Regions Fund targeting regional opportunities for decarbonisation
  • $265 million for the new Schools Upgrade Fundand $192 million for the Student Wellbeing Boost
  • The aged care sector will receive reforms costing $2.5 billion aimed at improving care standards, installing a registered nurse in aged care homes around the clock and increasing general funding and transparency to the sector
  • An additional $38 million will be provided to Disaster Relief Australia for more than 5,000 extra volunteers
  • Foreign aid to be increased under this Budget with $900m more allocated for the Pacific and a $470m more for South-East Asia

Collie Power Station shut down

Fears of blackouts have arisen after the Collie Power station was shut down to conserve the state’s coal supplies. The Collie Power Station generates 7% of power for WA’s main power grid.

Following a request from the Australian Energy Market Operator, Synergy confirmed it made the move to take the Collie Power Station offline for three months “to further build its coal stockpiles”. They have given reassurances that the power station can be brought back online quickly if needed.

The closure comes at a time of growing fears about the security of WA coal supplies after receivers were recently appointed to Griffin Coal. 

McGowan Government’s Auditor General Amendment Bill 2022

October’s parliament sitting saw the introduction of the Auditor General Amendment Bill 2022, which is aimed at improving accountability, transparency and integrity across Government.

The amendments will see the WA Auditor General provided with unprecedented express statutory rights to access highly sensitive Government information through aspects of reforms enhancing public transparency and accountability.

The Government will provide the Auditor General access to legal advice, and rather than having to physically attend the Department of Premier and Cabinet to view documentation, the highly sensitive information will be made available in an electronically secure form.

The Bill will also ensure that any matters of Parliamentary Privilege remain the remit of Parliament.

There has been longstanding uncertainty surrounding the Auditor General’s ability to access this type of information and, until now, there has been no clarification around the legal framework or the authority in the Auditor General’s information-gathering powers.

Federal Government threatened species action plan

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has outlined the government’s threated species action plan, which includes a commitment to protecting an additional 50 million hectares of land by the end of the decade.

The government has joined more than 50 nations to pledge to reserve 30 per cent of land for conservation to improve biodiversity.  Ms Plibersek acknowledged the government had not decided where the land would be located, with consultation still to take place.

Potential priority locations include Bruny Island, French Island, Kangaroo Island, Christmas Island, Norfolk Island and Raine Island.

The action also includes the goal of no new extinctions, following the addition of fifteen new animal and plant species to the endangered list, largely because of the Black Summer bushfires. Fourteen sensitive regions on the mainland are set to be prioritised under the new plan.

Nature Conservancy Australia have welcomed the new threatened-species action plan, agreeing it is ambitious.

Federal Government’s methane emission pledge

The Albanese government has pledged its support for the Global Methane Pledge, which will reduce global methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.

The newly announced move contrasts with the previous Morrison Government and the Albanese Opposition which both supported not signing up to the pledge, despite board global support, including from the United States and the European Union.

Minister for Climate Change Chris Bowen made the announcement commenting, “Methane is 24 per cent of Australia’s emissions and we are the world’s 11th-biggest emitter of methane so it’s very important that we have a seat at the table, and we are part of the solution.”

“If this pledge is met, it will contribute to an avoidance of 0.2 degrees of warming, which is very important as we strive to keep the world as close as possible to one and a half degrees of warming.”

The Nationals, however, believe the pledge will drive the cost of meat up in Australia and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton claims the pledge will lead to a ‘tax on cattle’.

New Zealand is introducing a methane tax on their livestock sector in 2025 to tackle the issue, but the Labor Government has repeatedly ruled out introducing a similar tax in Australia.