Last Month in Politics: The Voice, submarines and super

March was a month of movement in politics, as new legislation, leaders and escalating protests filled headlines at a rapid pace.

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

Purple Editor 6 Apr 2023
5 mins
Anthony Albanese shaking hands with Joe Biden as Rishi Sunak watches on

March was a month of movement in politics, as new legislation, new leaders and escalating protests provided little time to grasp news before something new hit the headlines.

The big topic that consumed Australia was the AUKUS deal, with mainstream media outlets running it on repeat for the first half of the month as everyone tried to understand the acronym, the deal and why it was important.

Overseas, three American Presidents (past and present) made headlines. Joe Biden made an odd ice cream joke while addressing recent mass shootings, Donald Trump foreshadowed his indictment and arrest, while Barrack Obama visited Australia for the first time since 2018.

Tens of thousands of people protested in Israel following the dismissal of the Defence Minister after he urged the government to halt its highly contested framework to overhaul the judicial system, the collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank sent stock markets reeling in the United States, while Switzerland averted serious collateral damage after Credit Suisse teetered on the brink   before it was taken over by UBS.

Scotland elected a new leader in Humza Yousaf, and India’s parliament was adjourned following protests by opposition MPs after Rahul Gandhi was stripped of his parliamentary seat, raising concerns over the government’s movement towards authoritarianism.

Back home, New South Wales has a new Premier after Labor leader Chris Minns defeated Dominic Perrottet, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk moved to cap the amount of times property owners and landlords can increase rents to once every 12 months and South Australia became the first jurisdiction to pass laws on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

In WA, the first tracks were laid for the anticipated METRONET Morley-Ellenbrook line, Premier Mark McGowan will travel to China in April in an attempt to bolster relationships, the State Government has announced a $3 million dredging project to unclog waterways in Carnarvon , a new domestic violence youth counselling service opened in Rockingham, new legislation will be introduced to strengthen the Banned Drinkers Register following trails in the Pilbara, Kimberley and Goldfields and the WA Government released its response to the Perth Casino Royal Commission, supporting 49 of the 59 recommendations.

Voice to Parliament – Constitution Alteration Bill introduced

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese took the next steps towards the Voice Referendum, by introducing the Constitution alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023 Bill into Parliament.

The wording for the referendum question will now be considered by Parliament:

A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Do you approve this proposed alteration?”

If the referendum is successful, a new chapter will be written into the Constitution:

Chapter IX Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

  1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice; 
  2. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
  3. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.”

The Government is hoping to get the Bill passed through Parliament by the end of June for the referendum to be held between October and December this year.

After bipartisan support of the Voice wavered due to the Coalition wanting further details, a deal has now been struck surrounding the management of the Voice to Parliament referendum. Labor has made the concession to allow an official pamphlet outlining the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ cases to be distributed across the country but will not provide Commonwealth funding.

The deal sidelined both the Greens and Senate crossbenchers who have been pushing amendments to the Bill.

AUKUS submarine deal

Much of the politics talk in March was around the AUKUS submarine deal, which is set to heavily benefit South Australia and Western Australia.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, along with US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, announced the implementation of AUKUS, a deal that was signed in late 2021.

The pledge will see America and Britain assist Australia in the construction of a minimum of eight nuclear-powered (not nuclear armed) attack submarines. The submarines will be jointly designed by Britain and Australia, based on Britain’s current next-generation attack submarine and augmented with American technology.

The nuclear-powered submarines will carry conventional missiles and will hold advanced capabilities to collect intelligence and deploy special forces ashore.

The first submarines are set to be constructed in Barrow, England and be ready in the late 2030s.

Following that, vessels will be built and finished in Adelaide after 2040, with the creation of 8,500 domestic jobs.

The deal also includes vital changes to the defence postures of both the US and Britain – which will include the deployment of up to four Virginia-class attack submarines and potentially one Astute-class submarine through HMAS Stirling, the naval base off the Perth coast.

Australia will also purchase between three and five Virginia-class submarines, to bridge the gap until the new submarines can be constructed, in the early 2030s.

The AUKUS deal replaced the previous deal between France and Australia for the purchase of diesel-electric submarines, that gained much coverage when it was broken by the Morrison Government.

Perth naval base to hold AUKUS submarines

Following the AUKUS announcement, the Australian Government committed $8 billion to the expansion of HMAS Stirling, which will create approximately 3,000 domestic jobs.

The naval base is set to expand capacity to acquire and operate the nuclear-powered Virginia-class and Astute-class attack submarines as part of Submarine Rotational Force-West agreement, from 2027.

From later this year, the port will host more visits from American submarines, with British subs to follow in 2026, in order to strengthen experience with nuclear powered submarines in WA.

The state will operate, maintain and safely steward the submarines, with an additional 500 jobs to be created throughout the initiative between 2027 and 2032.

The McGowan Government and the Albanese Governments will work together to develop the necessary skills and training programs to implement the initiative.

New Labor super policy

The Albanese Government announced a new 30% tax rate on earnings above $3 million on superannuation balances that will come into effect from July 1, 2025.

Currently, earnings from super are taxed at a rate of up to 15%. This will continue for all accounts with balances under $3 million, which covers 99.5% of accounts.

According to the government, around 80,000 people will be paying tax at the new rate.

The Opposition does not support the new changes, claiming they are a ‘attack on middle Australia’ and will affect hundreds of thousands of Australians over time.

Industry super funds, HESTA and Aware Super have welcomed the cap, but are calling for some of the $2 billion that the new tax rate will generate to go towards supporting those with fewer retirement savings – particularly women and low-income earners.

“We’re calling on the government to prioritise paying super on the Commonwealth Parental Leave Pay scheme and other important equity measures that will help finally close the gender super gap that sees women retire with, on average, about a third less super than their male counterparts,” commented HESTA Chief Executive Debby Blakey.

Independent review into WA Health System Governance

In 2022, the Independent Review of WA Health System Governance panel was formed to assess the operational and practical effectiveness of the governance structures that were introduced following the Health Services Act 2016, as well as their impact on patient outcomes.

The Review found the current model of Health System Governance is working to deliver better healthcare to local communities than before 2016.

The McGowan Government released its response to the review midway through March, expressing support for 49 of the 55 recommendations.

A working group has been established to provide further advice on two further recommendations relating to the establishment of local authorities to fund and plan services to align work current underway by the Department of Health.

At this time the State Government has not supported the recommendation to shift key responsibilities of the Mental Health Commission to the Department of Health, however the working group will assist in developing a model for best practice in mental health governance.

“We are committed to ensuring patient care and lived experience is at the centre of our health system and these recommendations will help us to strengthen governance arrangements already in place to support this,” said Amber-Jade Sanderson, Minister for Health and Mental Health.