Last Month in Politics: WA keeps busy as plenty of talking points continue around the world

July was a busy month for the state with Rockingham's seat now filled and the state launching their first Climate Adaption Strategy.

Government, Anthony Albanese, Government Relations, Parliament, Western Australia

Purple Editor 8 Aug 2023
8 mins

The start of the new financial year brought some reprieve for Australians, as interest rates hikes were paused, and economic data suggested inflation was slowing down. The month was filled with sport headlines, as The Ashes wrapped up, Wimbledon crowned two new champions, the Women’s FIFA World Cup started and Victoria pulled out of hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games due to pricing, leaving Queensland the only state considering the Games.

Internationally, anti-oil protesters were arrested at Wimbledon after invading Court 18 during play and littering it with puzzle pieces and confetti, Greta Thunberg was charged with disobeying police at the climate protests at Malmo harbour in Sweden, and the global average temperature reached unofficial records three days in a row, measuring 17.8°C.

The US Navy said Iran fired a series of shots at one of its tankers in the Gulf of Oman in an attempt to seize it, and the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog gave Japan approval to dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean following a two-year review.

French police arrested 157 protestors during the riots over the police shooting and death of a 17-year-old boy, the Taliban banned women’s beauty salons in Afghanistan, Hong Kong reduced the number of directly elected seats by the public from 452 to 88 in another shift away from democracy, and Serbia’s president accused the Kosovo’s government of carrying out an ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Serbs and  requested a meeting with the NATO chief and a session with United Nations Security Council.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander formally apologised for the Netherlands’ history involving slavery, and Israeli forces ended their largest military operation in decades in Jenin that ended with at least 12 Palestinians dead and extensive destruction to the city’s refugee camp.

A bombing in Pakistan killed more than 45 people and injured 200 others, Ghana voted to abolish the death penalty, and China replaced its Foreign Minister following his recent disappearance. Donald Trump was indicted on four charges of conspiracy and obstruction related to attempts to overturn the 2020 US presidential election and had his classified documents case increased in Florida to 40 criminal counts.

Closer to home, the Federal Government will ease a range of visa rules for Indonesians travelling to the country as part of a series of agreements made during the President’s visit to Sydney, and China’s Foreign Ministry accused Australia of sheltering fugitives following commentary made by Foreign Minister Penny Wong surrounding the concerning arrests of activists in Hong Kong.

The Ukraine ambassador formally asked Foreign Minister Penny Wong to visit Kyiv following the request for more weaponry, and Australia and the EU have failed to resolve long-standing negotiations on a planned free trade agreement worth almost $100 billion – Australia is wanting greater trade access on certain products while the EU wants to restrict the use of names including feta and mozzarella.

The AFP charged a man over allegedly harassing and threatening to kill Nationals MP Anne Webster, and the Senate Committee carrying out the Parliamentary inquiry into foreign interference through social media rebuked a senior TikTok advisor for claiming she didn’t know the location of the tech headquarters.

Coalition candidate Cameron Caldwell comfortably won the Fadden (Queensland) by-election with 2.7% swing to LNP, Michelle Bullock is set to become the first female RBA Governor when she replaces Philip Lowe in September, Indigenous elders are calling for a Murri Court in Logan following a lack of support in the court system, and the Albanese Government has launched The National Agricultural Traceability Strategy to protect the agriculture industry.

New data found that the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency received 841 allegations of boundary violations related to 728 individual practitioners during 2022-23, the new National Anti-Corruption Commission which opened at the beginning of the month has already received more than 40 referrals – including a call from The Greens to investigate PwC over the tax leak, which has now removed eight senior partners, and lawyer Dev Memon who was involved in the one of Australia’s largest tax frauds has been sentenced to a maximum 14 years in prison.

Four defence force members remain missing after an Australian Defence Force helicopter crashed in Queensland. Louise Taylor became the country’s first female Indigenous Supreme Court Judge and Australia has risen to number 26 in the Global Gender Gap rankings.

The South Australian Government is proposing new legislation to ban child-sex offenders from workplaces that employ children and to ban ‘no cause’ evictions under the new rental reforms, there are new calls to publish the punishments of Tasmanian public servants involved in child sexual abuse allegations who have breached their code of conduct, and Tasmanian Greens leader Cassy O’Connor has resigned and plans to run for a seat in the States Legislative Council.

The Victorian Government is proposing changes so all poker machines will need to have pre-commitment limits and carded play to reduce money laundering. Victoria is set to ban gas in new homes and public buildings from 2024, New South Wales has established Taskforce Mangus to investigate a string of shootings across Sydney, and the Northern Territory will increase the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12-years-old.

In WA, Utting Research released a poll demonstrating a big drop in popularity for the Labor Party which demonstrated they trail the Liberals 46% to 54% in two-party preferred, the state recorded the lowest year-ended inflation in the country at 4.9%, and the first instalment of the Household Electricity Credit has been delivered with a minimum of $200 coming off power bills.

Site works on the State’s second largest grid-scale battery energy storage system in Kwinana have begun, the $8.15 million underground power project in the City of Canning was completed, and the Government is running a community awareness campaign to inform voters about the changes for local government elections that’ll be effective from October.

The Cook Government is introducing higher penalties for businesses that mislead or treat consumers unfairly, the Planning Commission has approved a Children’s Hospice in Swanbourne, and a Code of Conduct has been introduced for unregulated healthcare workers.

Two new anti-harassment programs have been released as part of strategy to create safer workplaces, the $232 million Mitchell Freeway extension to Alkimos has been completed and opened, and changes strengthening the Working with Children Checks have been implemented.

Rockingham by-election

Following the shock resignation of Premier Mark McGowan, a by-election was called and held this month for the seat of Rockingham – which is the safest seat in the state.

WA Labor candidate Magenta Marshall secured 49.4% of the primary vote to win the seat, with Liberal candidate Peter Hudson behind on 17.73%.

The victory wasn’t without cause for concern for the party, as they suffered a 22.5% swing against them which reduced the margin from 37.7 to 15.8%. Voter turnout was also low, with almost one in four skipping the polls.

Premier Roger Cook acknowledged the party is in a transition following the resignation of Mark McGowan.

Becoming the first female to hold the Rockingham seat, Ms Marshall’s victory also creates gender parity in the lower house for the first time in history – which now has 29 women and 30 men.

The upper house still lags, with 15 of the 36 seats held by women.

Following the by-election, Independent candidate Hayley Edwards later expressed her surprise with how strong Labor’s primary vote was, claiming “people are still very much voting for Mark McGowan.”

Liberal leader Libby Mettam said the results put the Premier on notice, and that the ‘Liberals can take much encouragement from the result’.

Aboriginal Cultural Heritage laws

After more than five years of consultations the new Act and Regulations within the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Laws came into effect on 1 July – but it wasn’t without controversy.

The legislative reform process commenced ahead of the incident at Juukan Gorge, but publicly (at least) morphed into mechanism to prevent similar incidents occurring in the future.

The changes included modernising the legal framework to align with Native Title laws, introducing new practical exemptions and a new system to manage activities that may harm Aboriginal cultural heritage.

An implementation group was established for an initial six months to address any issues that may arise. Members of the group include representatives from industries such as mining, property, agriculture and local government.

In parallel, the Cook Government announced the appointment of four new members to the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council – including former Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Ken Wyatt.

As a result of stakeholder backlash and claimed implications, the conversation reached the Federal Senate where Minister for Foreign Affairs the Hon. Penny Wong accused the WA Liberals of using it as a ‘scare campaign’ against the Voice to Parliament referendum.

The accusations followed the Federal Opposition pressing Federal Labor on its plans to change cultural protections, demanding they rule out similar legislation to that introduced in WA.

And in a shock move to start August, it’s speculated that Premier Cook will announce within days that the State Government will scrap the laws and develop a new set of legislation to protect Aboriginal Heritage.

WA Climate Adaption Strategy 

The State’s first Climate Adaption Strategy has been released, which prioritises 37 actions to create resilient communities and economy.

The Government allocated close to $40 million in the 2023/24 Budget to begin delivering the strategy. Along with this, the Budget also outlined $65.3 million for the new Alkimos Seawater Desalination Plant which will secure WA’s drinking water supply.

The strategy outlines four key directions:

  • Producing credible climate information
  • Building public sector capability and accountability
  • Enhancing partnerships to coordinate action
  • Supporting the climate resilience of Aboriginal people

It also commits to expanding the Climate Science Initiative, developing adaption plans and designing a new fund to empower Aboriginal communities’ adaption.

The Cook Government will introduce climate change legislation this year, to establish a framework for responsible emissions reductions in order to meet net zero by 2050. It’s expected to also create statutory requirements for adaption planning.

State credit rating

For the first time since 2014, the State has been awarded the highest possible credit rating of  AAA, from Moody’s Investors Service. This follows S&P Global reinstating WA to a AAA credit rating in June last year.

WA is the only State or Territory in Australia to hold AAA credit ratings from both international ratings agencies and re-joins a small number of jurisdictions globally with that rating.

Moody’s rationale for the upgrade surrounded WA’s financial performance, describing it “as an outlier to its domestic and international peers,” following several strong budget surpluses and a material easing in debt, and explained “that governance has strengthened considerably over the past five years, including strong expenditure controls as well as the introduction of robust and conservative budgeting protocols…”.

WA hasn’t held this rating in almost 10 years, losing it from S&P in 2013 and Moody’s in 2014, under the previous Liberal National Government led by former Premier Colin Barnett.

The State’s net debt has fallen from the projected $43.7 billion when the Barnett Government left office, to $27.9 billion by June 30, 2023.

Robodebt Royal Commission findings

The 990-page report detailing the findings of the Robodebt Royal Commission has been released, with a sealed chapter revealed to recommend several unnamed individuals be referred for criminal and civil prosecution.

According to the ABC the individuals have been referred to the Australian Federal Police, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the Law society and the Australian Public Service Commissioner.

The report includes 57 recommendations that were drawn from hundreds of hours of evidence, thousands of exhibits and almost a million documents.

“I am confident that the commission has served the purpose of bringing into the open an extraordinary saga, illustrating a myriad of ways that things can go wrong through venality, incompetence and cowardice,” commented Commissioner Catherine Holmes.

Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was Social Services Minister at the time the scheme was introduced, gave a speech in parliament where he explained he completely rejected the findings.

“I played no role and had no responsibility in the operation nor administration of the robo-debt scheme,” Mr Morrison claimed.

“The scheme had not commenced operations when I served in the portfolio, let alone in December 2016 and January 2017, when the commission reported that the unintended impacts of the scheme first became apparent. This was more than 12 months after I had left the portfolio.”

The report makes the statement that Mr Morrison misled cabinet through not providing the entirety of relevant information.

It also recommends abolishing the government’s current approach to the confidentiality of cabinet documents – meaning the label ‘cabinet document’ would no longer be enough to justify keeping its contents secret. This recommendation would require repealing a section within the Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act.

Former Ministers Stuart Robert and Alan Tudge released statements explaining they had not received a notice of inclusion in the reports sealed section.

Senior bureaucrat Kathryn Campbell was the first to be suspended without pay following the report and has since resigned.