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Governor Bullock to make first appearance before House Economics Committee

THE House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics will hold its biannual public hearing with the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Michelle Bullock, on Friday, February 9.

This will be Ms Bullock’s first appearance before the committee, with additional Bank representatives also appearing.

Committee Chair, Daniel Mulino MP, said, "The RBA’s decision at its latest meeting this week saw another pause in interest rate rises — no doubt welcome news for many Australians, including mortgage holders."

Inflation fell to 4.1 percent in the year to December, its lowest level in two years.

"The ABS has shown that our cost-of-living polices across energy bills, rents and childcare are helping, but inflation is still too high," Dr Mulino said.

"The committee takes its scrutiny of the RBA seriously and will continue to examine the bank’s approach to tackling high inflation. The committee is interested to hear how the RBA will factor in future data and evolving risks as it continues to support a return to the target inflation rate."

Public hearing details

Date: Friday, 9 February 2024Time: 9.30am – 12.30pm (AEDT)Location: Committee Room 2R1, Parliament House, Canberra

The hearing will be broadcast live at aph.gov.au/live.

 

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Australia's approach to trade negotiations: interim report published

THE Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth has released its interim report into the Australian Government’s approach to negotiating trade and investment agreements, examining how the process can be strengthened to build on Australia’s success as a trading nation and ensure agreements are of the greatest benefit for all Australians.

Australia’s agreements reduce barriers to international trade and investment for Australian goods and services, playing an important role in creating well-paid and secure jobs, improving our economic resilience, and contributing to economic growth and increased living standards.

Throughout the inquiry to date, the Committee has heard about the immense benefits of Australia’s participation in international trade, as well as the need to consider the potential effect of agreements on a wide range of stakeholders and how the benefits of trade are shared.

Chair of the Committee, Steve Georganas MP, said, “Australia’s approach to negotiating trade and investment agreements has served us well, however the Committee has sought to understand how the approach could be improved to ensure agreements are of greatest benefit to the Australian community.

“It’s evident to the Committee that more transparent consultation processes will allow increased understanding of the impact of trade agreements on stakeholders and that better utilising their insights and expertise can contribute to improved negotiation outcomes for Australia.”

The interim report makes five recommendations focussed on strengthening Australia’s approach by improving transparency, accountability, and oversight in the negotiation of trade and investment agreements. These include:

  • Establishing a tripartite trade advisory committee to achieve a better balance between transparency and confidentiality in negotiations, enabling in-depth and informed feedback to government.
  • Codifying the practice of publishing information outlining negotiation aims and objectives for all future trade and investment agreement negotiations.
  • Providing transparency and information to stakeholders and the public about negotiations equivalent to the information provided by the other party.
  • Regular briefings to parliamentary committees on the status and progress of trade and investment agreements.
  • Undertaking independent periodic reviews of agreements to ensure that they are operating as intended and achieving the expected benefits.

In the final report, the Committee will cover the remaining inquiry Terms of Reference.

So far during the inquiry, the Committee has held six public hearings in Canberra and Melbourne, in addition to receiving 54 written submissions from businesses, unions, industry associations, government agencies, community groups and individuals. The Committee will hear more evidence before the inquiry concludes.

The Committee has thanked people who have taken part in the inquiry by providing written submissions and giving evidence at public hearings. The Committee said it was looking forward to engaging further with stakeholders as it continues the inquiry and will provide a final report in due course.

The interim report can be found on the Committee’s ​inquiry webpage.

 

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Joint Statement on the implementation of recommendations from the Set the Standard report

TODAY, on the second anniversary of the adoption of the Set the Standard report, we acknowledge that an unacceptably high rate of people, particularly women, in Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces have experienced bullying, sexual harassment, or actual or attempted sexual assault at work.

This misconduct is unacceptable, and we acknowledge the grave impact it had or continues to have on previous and current staff.

For two years, the Parliamentary Leadership Taskforce has led the implementation of the Set the Standard reforms. The Parliament thanks the Taskforce for their continuous work and leadership.

Today, we recommit the Parliament to positive change, and acknowledge achievements to date, including:

  • Establishing the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service as a statutory body, offering independent and confidential support to everyone in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces.
  • Reforms to modernise the Members of Parliament Act to ensure employees are protected from discrimination, as well as refreshed professional development and improved management practices.
  • Undertaking reviews to further enhance inclusivity and dignity of access of Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces.
  • Endorsing clear and consistent Codes of Conduct with consultations on the proposed Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission expected to commence shortly.
  • Supporting the health and wellbeing of parliamentarians and staff with enhanced wellbeing services.
  • Improving work health and safety, with a new framework to manage shared risks.
  • Additional professional development opportunities to support leaders at all levels, particularly induction programs and training on safe and respectful workplaces.

While significant progress has been made, the journey towards truly respectful and inclusive Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces is ongoing.

Cultural change will only come with the goodwill of parliamentarians. We must remain committed to building a workplace reflecting the nation’s values and expectations, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of everyone who works in, and supports the Parliament of Australia.

 

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Pacific Island nations talk tourism and education

THE Trade Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade will hold a public hearing in Canberra today for its inquiry into Australia’s tourism and international education sectors.

The Subcommittee will speak with the following representatives: New Caledonia -  Dr Yves Lafoy, Counsellor; Samoa - Her Excellency Ms Hinauri Petana, High Commissioner, Her Excellency Mrs Anna Main, Deputy High Commissioner; Solomon Islands - His Excellency Mr Robert Sisilo, High Commissioner; Republic of Vanuatu  - His Excellency Mr Samson Vilvil Fare, High Commissioner.

Chair of the Trade Subcommittee, Senator Deborah O’Neill, said, "Continuing the dialogue in relation to tourism and international education between Australia and the Pacific is critical to enable all countries to reach their potential growth in these two important sectors.

"COVID-19 presented some clear challenges to all countries, especially in terms of trade and growth. The Subcommittee looks forward to discussing some opportunities for growth in both tourism and international education, now and into the future," Senator O’Neill said.

Further information about the inquiry and program is available on the inquiry webpage. This hearing will be broadcast via the APH website.

Public hearing

Date: Wednesday, 7 February 2024Venue: Committee Room 2S3, Parliament House, CanberraTime: 9:15am – 10:30am (AEDT).

 

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Australia’s road infrastructure at a crossroads

THE House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Development, Infrastructure and Transport has today tabled the report for its inquiry into the implications of severe weather events on the national regional, rural, and remote road network.

Chair of the Committee, Luke Gosling OAM, MP, said, "The severe weather events over the past few years have taken a tremendous toll on our road network and our nation. The unprecedented scale and intensity of floods, torrential downpours, and bushfires have caused catastrophic damage to our road infrastructure, exposing its vulnerability against severe weather events and a changing climate.

"Our communities and supply chain networks are heavily reliant upon a safe and functional road network to ensure connectivity and access to health and other essential services, food, fuel, and other resources. We have reached the crossroads of changing climate risks, socio-economic growth, and long-term resilience."

The 26 recommendations made by the committee complement the Australian Government’s announcement to double the Roads to Recovery Program funding over the next four years and aim to build nationally resilient road infrastructure including:

  • collaboration across all levels of government to develop road asset infrastructure resilience guidelines, planning and investment frameworks, and address existing road asset data gaps;
  • engagement across all levels of government, the scientific community, and industry to revise national road design and construction standards and incorporate innovative and recycled road materials and technologies;
  • a review of local government funding allocation to support asset maintenance works under the Australian Government’s Infrastructure Investment Program;
  • consider the distribution of local government Financial Assistance Grant program road component funding;
  • an assessment of betterment access and claims approvals under Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements; and
  • embedding resilience design and construction procurement requirements under the new Federation Funding Agreements on transport infrastructure.

Further information in relation to the inquiry and a full list of its recommendations is available from the Committee’s website.

 

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Economics Committee probe into insurers’ responses to 2022 flood claims: hearings begin

THE House Standing Committee on Economics will hold its first public hearings over the next four weeks as part of its inquiry into insurers’ responses to claims resulting from the major floods in 2022.

Many thousands of people were affected by the floods all along the east coast – from south-east Queensland down to Tasmania. The trauma is continuing for many people – with delays in being rehoused just one issue. A number of the affected towns were also hit again by floods over the recent Christmas/New Year period, compounding the trauma.

The inquiry is considering the experiences of people in dealing with their insurance company and the challenges that insurers faced in responding to a record number of claims.  

The inquiry’s Terms of Reference cover the floods in south-east Queensland and northern NSW in February and March; in greater Sydney and the Hunter Valley in July; in Victoria, NSW and Tasmania in October; and in the central west of NSW in November and December.

Committee Chair, Daniel Mulino MP, is familiar with many of the issues people have faced when making insurance claims and dealing with their insurer.

“Maribyrnong is a riverside suburb in my electorate of Fraser, and it was hit hard by the October 2022 flood. More than 500 homes and businesses were flooded and I and my staff are continuing to advocate for residents who are still trying to resolve issues with their insurer,” Dr Mulino said.

The committee has received numerous submissions – including from consumer advocacy groups that worked closely with policyholders and insurers following the floods; regulators; local councils; and more.

“Many of the submissions articulate the struggles that residents faced, including long delays in damage assessments and repairs, claims being denied because of ‘wear and tear’ exclusions, inadequate cash settlements and poor communication, which all compounded people’s frustrations,” Dr Mulino said. “The committee is looking forward to hearing all the evidence.

“Given the increasing frequency of natural disasters, it is critical that the insurance industry remains robust to withstand these challenges, and that policyholders can be confident that they will be properly supported in future claims regardless of their insurer.”

So far, 391 people have also provided feedback about their experience with their insurer through an online survey, which will remain open for the duration of the inquiry. The committee encourages affected individuals to complete the survey. There is also time for people and organisations to make a submission to the inquiry through this online link.

Australia’s eight largest insurers have also lodged submissions, which have provided insights into how prepared each insurer was to deal with the record number of flood-related claims made in 2022; the measures taken to improve their preparedness for weather-related claims; and the effects of skills, labour and materials shortages on handling claims. The Committee looks forward to questioning the insurers further on these matters.

The first public hearing, involving consumer groups, will be held on Wednesday, January 31.

Public hearing – Consumer groups

Date: 31 January 2024Time: 9.30am to 4.30pm (AEDT)Location: Videoconference

Public hearing – Consumer groups

Date: 1 February 2024Time: 9.30am to 3.00pm (AEDT)Location: Videoconference

Public hearing – Regulators (Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Australian Prudential Regulation Authority)

Date: 2 February 2024Time: 9.30am to 12.45pm (AEDT)Location: Videoconference

Public hearing – Insurance Council of Australia, Major insurers

Date: 5 February 2024Time: 9.15am to 4.30pm (AEDT)Location: Committee Room 2R1, Parliament House

Public hearing – Major insurers

Date: 9 February 2024Time: 1.30pm to 4.45pm (AEDT)Location: Committee Room 2R1, Parliament House

Public hearing – Major insurers, Australian Financial Complaints Authority

Date: 21 February 2024Time: 10.00am to 3.30pm (AEDT)Location: Videoconference

Public hearing – the General Insurance Code Governance Committee, Reinsurers

Date: 23 February 2024Time: 9.15am to 4.30pm (AEDT)Location: Videoconference

Programs for the hearings are available on the inquiry website.

A live video stream will also be available on the APH website.

 

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Committee to scrutinise Administrative Review Tribunal Bills

THE House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs has commenced an inquiry into the Administrative Review Tribunal Bill 2023 (ART Bill) and the Administrative Review Tribunal (Consequential and Transitional Provisions No.1) Bill 2023 (Consequential and Transitional Bill).

Chair of the committee, Susan Templeman MP said, "The committee is seeking written submissions by 18 January 2024 to assist in its scrutiny of the ART Bill and Consequential and Transitional Bill to ensure the bills achieve the Government’s policy objectives and do not have unintended consequences, but will accept submissions after that date."

The ART Bill would establish the Administrative Review Tribunal (Tribunal) and set out its key features, processes and procedures. The Consequential and Transitional Bill repeals the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975, makes consequential amendments to a number of Commonwealth Acts and provides for the transition of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s (AAT) operations, caseload and staff to the Tribunal. The Bills are intended to, among other things:

  • provide for a mechanism of review that is fair and just; timely, informal and inexpensive; accessible and responsive; improve the transparency and quality of government decision-making and improve public trust and confidence in the tribunal;
  • re-establish the Administrative Review Council;
  • retain the jurisdiction of the AAT within the tribunal and essential modifications to the operation of the merits review framework;
  • promote consistency and simplicity by repealing special arrangements that overlap, duplicate or unnecessarily displace core provisions of the ART Bill.

The bills would implement all three recommendations of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the performance and integrity of Australia’s administrative review system, four recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme and two recommendations of the Rapid Review into the Exploitation of Australia's Visa System.

Further information about the inquiry is available on the Committee's webpage.

 

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New Year Audit Committee Public Hearings on Services Australia and the NDIA, Probity and Ethics, and Policy and Program Design

THE Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) is holding public hearings this Thursday and Friday.

These public hearings include:

  1. The CEO of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) appearing as part of the procurement at Services Australia and the National Disability Insurance Agency inquiry.
  2. The Secretary of the Department of Health is appearing for the inquiry into probity and ethics in the Australian public sector.
  3. The first public hearings kicking off the new policy and program design and implementation inquiry.

Chair of the Committee, Julian Hill MP, highlighted the importance of starting the year strongly with the examination of the agencies involved in the current committee inquiries.

“The committee was concerned by evidence received last year in a public hearing with vendor Salesforce regarding procurement at the NDIA arising from the Watt Review," Mr Hill said. "The CEO of the NDIA will appear so the committee can examine issues arising, to the extent possible, while further internal investigations continue.

“The Secretary of the Department of Health will appear to explore issues arising from the Department of Health’s earlier appearance in 2023, and the subsequent hearing with the Australian Government Solicitor.

“The committee will kick-off public hearings in the program and policy design implementation inquiry to investigate serious findings across the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Home Affairs, Treasury, Agriculture, Education and Health and Aged Care to understand the larger issues at play.”

For context, these first public hearings for the policy and program design and implementation inquiry will include:

Thursday

  • A roundtable with the ATO, the Department of Home Affairs, and the Department of Treasury will appear to examine the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report No. 39 of 2022–23 Implementation of the Government Response to the Black Economy Taskforce report.
  • The Department of Home Affairs will appear to discuss the ANAO report No. 16 of 2022–23 Management of Migration to Australia—Family Migration Program report.

Friday

  • The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry will appear to examine the following reports:​
    • ANAO report No. 6 of 2022–23 Implementation of the Export Control Legislative Framework report; and
    • ANAO report No. 17 of 2022–23 Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s cultural reform report.
  • The Department of Education will appear to examine the ANAO report No. 42 of 2022–23 Access and Participation Programs for Regional and Remote Students report.
  • The Department of Health and Aged Care will appear to examine the ANAO report No. 10 of 2022–23 Expansion of Telehealth Services report.

Public hearing details

Date:              Thursday 1 February 2024Time:             1pm–5pm (AEDT)Venue:           Committee Room 2R1, Parliament House, Canberra

Date:              Friday 2 February 2024Time:              9.15am–3pm (AEDT)Venue:           Committee Room 2R1, Parliament House, Canberra

 

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Intelligence and Security Committee to review new citizenship repudiation law

IN RESPONSE to a Senate Resolution of December 4, 2023, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) has commenced an inquiry into the operation, effectiveness and implications of new provisions in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (Citizenship Act), implemented by the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Act 2023 (Citizenship Repudiation Act).

The Citizenship Repudiation Act was passed by Parliament on December 4, 2023, following High Court decisions which determined that the citizenship cessation regime previously set out in Subdivision C of Division 3 of Part 2 of the Citizenship Act was unconstitutional.

The Citizenship Repudiation Act repealed and replaced the relevant provisions to now provide that the Minister may make an application to a court to make a citizenship cessation order in certain circumstances, as part of sentencing on conviction of a person for certain serious offences. On receiving such an application, the court may, as part of sentencing the person to a period or periods of imprisonment, also order that they cease to be an Australian citizen.

At the direction of the Senate, the committee will also consider amendments proposed in the Senate which did not pass and do not form part of the final Act. These amendments are available on the Committee’s website.

Chair of the PJCIS, Peter Khalil MP said, “This review will provide a valuable opportunity to consider the new citizenship repudiation law that needed to be very rapidly put in place by Parliament following the decisions of the High Court. The review provides the opportunity to examine the operation, effectiveness and implications of the new citizenship repudiation regime, as well as amendments that were proposed during the Senate’s consideration of it.

“The committee will carefully consider the new law and looks forward to receiving the views of interested people and organisations on it,” Mr Khalil said.

The committee has combined this review with its current review of Subdivision C of Division 3 of Part 2 of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 and will report on both reviews together.

The committee has requested submissions to the inquiry by Thursday, February 8, 2024. Any submissions made to the committee’s statutory Review of Subdivision C of Division 3 of Part 2 of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 will be taken as a submission to this inquiry.

Further information on the inquiry can be obtained from the Committee’s website.

 

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Committee launches inquiry into the transition to electric vehicles

THE House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water has commenced an inquiry into the transition to electric vehicles (EVs).

Chair of the Committee, Tony Zappia MP, said, "Australian motorists are increasingly choosing EVs when purchasing a new car. The percentage of EVs sold is growing every year, moving to 7.2 percent of all new cars sold in 2023 up from less than 3 percent in 2022. The inquiry will consider the necessary resources, systems and infrastructure for this transition and the impacts of moving away from traditional vehicles.

‘The committee will also explore opportunities such as fuel savings and affordability for residents in outer regions to make this shift beneficial for everyone. Our focus will also be on the future of EV battery manufacturing, and we will consider challenges on electricity consumption and demand and our limited EV supply compared to other countries," Mr Zappia said.

The committee is seeking written submissions providing recommendations relating to any or all of the inquiry terms of reference by Friday, March 22, 2024.

The committee will examine:

  • the establishment of resources, systems and infrastructure required to support transition to EVs;
  • the impact of moving from internal combustion engine vehicles, including fuel excise loss, existing auto industry component manufacturers and the environment;
  • the opportunities for fuel savings, such as by combining EVs with other consumer energy technologies and savings for outer suburban and regional motorists;
  • the impact on electricity consumption and demand;
  • the opportunities for expanding EV battery manufacturing, recycling, disposal and safety, and other opportunities for Australia in the automotive value chain to support the ongoing maintenance of EVs;
  • the impact of Australia’s limited EV supply compared to peer countries; and
  • any other relevant matters.

Further information about the Committee’s inquiry is available on the inquiry webpage.

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Treaties Committee recommends ratification of Amendments to the Annex of the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic

THE Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has tabled a report recommending the ratification of the Amendments to the Annex of the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, 1965 (FAL Convention Amendments).

The FAL Convention facilitates international maritime traffic and prevents unnecessary delays, aids cooperation between governments and secures uniformity, to the highest practicable degree in maritime procedures and formalities. The Annex to the Convention contains Standards and Recommended Practices on formalities, documentary requirements and procedures for the arrival, stay or departure of ships. The Annex also contains implementation procedures and appendices with additional information.

The Amendments to the Annex cover topics such as definitions and general provisions, illicit activities, digitalisation of vessel reporting requirements, identification, treatment of stowaways, public health, and implementation.

Committee Chair Josh Wilson MP said, "As a signatory to the original treaty, the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, Australia is a strong supporter of ensuring the streamlining and simplification of maritime traffic.

"The FAL Convention ensures that there is a standard, consistent, harmonised approach to maritime traffic around the world. Cooperation between governments on these issues is important in ensuring international standards and that Australia is in alignment with those standards," Mr Wilson said.

The committee noted the support of the government and from industry for the treaty.

The committee supported ratification and recommended that binding treaty action be taken.

The report can be found on the Committee website, along with further information on the inquiry.

 

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