Last Month in Politics: Tax Changes, International Affairs, and Social Reforms

June was a big month around the world. Noteworthy legislation was enacted in Australia, while Internal conflict began in Russia.

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

Bree Liddell 4 Jul 2023
8 mins
Roger Cook and campaigners on the steps of Western Australia's Parliament house after announcing the new abortion bill

As the financial year wrapped up, Australians had to endure more tax and interest rate changes. The Reserve Bank increased interest rates to 4.1% – the highest cash rate since April 2012, the Fair Work Commission announced award wages will increase by 5.75% and the minimum wage by 8.65% from 1 July and for the third month in a row house prices rose nationwide, by 1.2%.

Not even students have been spared, with HECS/HELP debts hit with the highest tax indexation in decades of 7.1%. The only reprieve was inflation dropping from 6.8% in April to 5.6% in May.

In the international news cycle, American FBI Director Christopher Wray is facing contempt of Congress charges over an alleged failure to hand over information on President Biden’s family dealings; Mike Pence has announced his candidacy for 2024 US election; and the US have avoided hitting the debt ceiling by two days as President Biden signed legislation to lift the ceiling to $US31.4 trillion, suspend the debt limit until 2025 and restrict government spending.

Two separate poison attacks have been carried out at primary schools in northern Afghanistan resulting in nearly 80 girls being hospitalised; 23 people were detained in Hong Kong for ‘breaching the public peace at the scene’ on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown; and the world watched as the rescue mission for the OceanGate submersible crew was launched, only to learn that it was known days prior the vessel had imploded and those on board died instantly.

At a national level, Minister Plibersek introduced the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment Bill 2023 to Parliament; the Federal Government launched a new dashboard to report Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody in real-time to increase accountability across all government levels; cattle producers have accused the Federal Government of having ‘contempt’ for pastoralists after the $215 million settlement offer in the live export class action; and the Brittany Higgins scandal has now cast the spotlight on Labor with Senators Katy Gallagher and Penny Wong accused of prior knowledge of some details of Higgins rape allegations before the story went public.

Papua New Guinea delayed signing a bilateral security treaty with Australia over concerns the proposed wording encroaches on the nation’s sovereignty; two Australian citizens who were facing the death penalty in Vietnam were granted clemency, nine Australian women and 17 children currently being held in a Syrian detention camp are launching legal action against the Department of Home Affairs to convince the Federal Government to bring them home; and Australia signed a $105 million decarbonisation agreement with Vietnam.

The Greens are set to update their human rights policy position on Palestine and Israel with concerns over the “ongoing colonisation of Palestinian land” and have called for the Australian Government to boycott meeting with two far-right Israeli ministers.

The Government will provide $6.2 million to The Embrace Collective to help children with body image issues; $2 billion will be delivered across the States and Territories as part of the Social Housing Fund Accelerator; and Australia will phase out cheques by 2030.

Across the States and Territories, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption handed down findings highlighting corrupt conduct against former Premier Gladys Berejiklian and former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire; the Queensland Government is set to make kindergarten free from next year; and Queensland and South Australia handed down their 2023-24 Budgets.

Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff is again facing scrutiny after the party made the promise of a $1.2 million grant to a rum distillery that has ties to Liberal Party staff; experts on government transparency and integrity have criticised the Tasmanian Government’s refusal to release departmental advice on the new stadium plans on the basis of ‘cabinet confidentiality’.

The ACT will become the first Territory or State in the country to provide free sanitary products at designated locations; and the Territory passed the country’s first law protecting the medical rights of intersex people. Queensland has passed new legislation making it easier for trans and gender diverse people to change their birth certificates and a Brisbane facility will manufacture needle-free vaccine patches with a roll out expected in three to five years.

In WA, the newly formed Cook Government has announced a target to create 125,000 new jobs: a parliamentary inquiry into the effectiveness of the WA flagship domestic gas policy will be conducted; the $4.1 million upgrades to Collie Health Service have be completed, the Senate voted to form an inquiry into the Perth Mint; Perth will host this year’s National Conference of the Australia India Chamber of Commerce; and the Government will host a summit in to address critical medical and nursing workforce shortages.

Ruah Community Services was awarded $4.4 million to build a new centre for women and children experiencing family and domestic violence; Attorney General John Quigley has welcomed the national review into the access to WA legal assistance by Independent Reviewer Dr Warren Mundy; Matthew Howard SC was appointed to the Supreme Court of WA; construction has begun on resurfacing the WA portion of Tanami Road; and the Cook Government announced a range of new measures to improve safety and welfare at Banksia Hill.

Child and Adolescent Health executive Maureen Lewis has been appointed to a new five-year role as the new Mental Health Commissioner; the Government will increase income and asset limits for its Bond Assistance Loan Scheme, allowing more people to rent privately; and the first locally manufactured C-series train has been completed and is ready to begin testing.

Cook Government introduces abortion Bill

Abortion laws in WA have remained stagnant for more than 25 years, however this month the Cook Government introduced a historic abortion Bill to Parliament, proposing the full decriminalisation of abortion and the repeal of the Criminal Code offence.

The Government ran a public consultation process over four weeks at the end of last year, with overwhelming agreement from the community and medical practitioners that change is needed.

More than 17,500 people completed the survey, of which more than 91 per cent were WA residents and more than 81 per cent of respondents were women.

Under the proposed Bill, abortion will be added to the Public Health Act 2016 and removed from the Criminal Code. It will address access inequalities and bring the legislation into line with the rest of the country by:

  • Increasing the gestational limit from 20 to 23 weeks;
  • Reducing the number of health practitioners required to be involved from two to one;
  • Abolishing the Ministerial Panel requirement for later-term abortions;
  • Allowing health practitioners to conscientiously object to the care of a woman wanting an abortion, but be required to transfer the patient’s care, or information, to another practitioner;
  • Removing mandatory counselling provisions; and
  • Removing Ministerial approval required for late abortions.

With these changes it will remain an offence for an “unqualified person” to perform or assist with an abortion.

In a statement the Premier said: “The introduction of these historic reforms to Parliament is a significant moment for women in this State, who deserve fair, equal and timely access to legal medical services.

“It is unacceptable that WA women face greater barriers in accessing what is a critical health care service, and the extensive consultation undertaken confirms that health professionals and the public overwhelmingly agree.”

Australian Government terminates land lease for Russian embassy

After a press conference by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil, Federal Parliament introduced a Bill to terminate the Russian Federation’s lease for a proposed diplomatic presence next to Parliament House.

With the support of the Coalition, Parliament pushed through the legislation in just over an hour and terminated the land lease.

Prime Minister Albanese explained the Government had received advice that Russian plans posed an intelligence threat, and the cancellation would protect the country’s national security interests.

The newly passed legislation gets around a decision previously made by the Federal Court that invalidated an eviction order from the National Capital Authority (NCA). NCA had been in dispute with Russia over the land with it announcing last year the lease would be terminated as they had been on the land for too long.

Shortly after Russia described the decision as a “hostile” action and that Australia was only joining other countries in displaying “Russophobic hysteria”.

Russia filed an urgent application to temporarily prevent the Government for entering the site of the partially completed embassy. The High Court dismissed the bid for an injunction on the basis the challenge was “weak” and “hard to understand”.

Senator David Van resigns from Liberal Party over allegations

Liberal Senator David Van has quit the party over multiple allegations of inappropriate behaviour, stemming from Senator Lidia Thorpe using parliamentary privilege to accuse him of sexual harassment and assault – which she later withdrew.

The next day Senator Thorpe spoke in Parliament, detailing the encounters that had made her feel unsafe in the workplace. She said she would not take her concerns to police but called on Parliament to increase security staff and cameras.

Senator Van has denied the allegations but admitted to taking up the offer from then-Senate President Scott Ryan and moved offices after the complaint was made by Senator Thorpe.

After Senator Thorpe’s allegations, former Queensland Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker accused Senator Van of inappropriate touching in 2020 – an allegation he strongly denied.

In response to the first two accusations, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton released a statement that the Senator would no longer sit in the Liberal party room. After the third he called on him to quit parliament.

Shortly after the Senator resigned from the Party and has taken leave from Parliament until it returns to sitting in July.

Since these events unfolded Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce has accused Senator Thorpe of misusing parliamentary privilege. However fellow party member Senator Bridget McKenzie supported her actions and endorsed the actions of the Opposition Leader.

Broader conversations around the treatment of women at Parliament House have now resurfaced.

Referendum plan passes Senate

During the June sitting, the Senate passed legislation to hold a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament this year, with 52 votes in support and 19 against.

This means Australians will take part in their first referendum since 1999, when the referendum for the establishment of a republic failed.

Senators who voted against the legislation were from the Nationals, One Nation, crossbenchers Lidia Thorpe, Ralph Babet and nine Liberals.

Deputy Liberal Senator leader Michaelia Cash said that while the majority of the Coalition voted in favour of the Bill, it wasn’t because of their support for the establishment of a Voice to Parliament, but rather the right of all Australians to have their say on the matter.

The Prime Minister must now set a referendum date for between two and six months from now.

National polling is a cause for concern for the Yes campaign, showing about half of Australians would vote no.

Wagner group mutiny in Russia

On 23 June, private military group Wagner threatened a coup to overthrow the Russian army and leadership.

The Wagner group had been fighting alongside the Russian army in Ukraine and was heavily involved in the capture of the city of Bakhmut.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy Russian warlord and the leader of the mercenary group, had been vocal in his criticism of the Russian military leadership and its handling of the war in Ukraine. He accused the military of attacking his troops and hiding the bodies of 2000 dead Wagner soldiers.

Mr Prigozhin claimed he wanted to punish the military leadership and had 25,000 troops “willing to go all the way”. The fighters captured military facilities in two cities, Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh, and began moving towards the country’s capital Moscow.

President Vladimir Putin made an emergency televised address, labelling the group’s actions as a “knife in the back of the country”. The Russian anti-terrorist committee imposed a counter-terrorist regime in Moscow and surrounding regions and the Government opened a criminal case against Mr Prigozhin for his call of armed mutiny.

Several military helicopters began firing at the convoys and establishing reinforcement checkpoints on the edge of the capital. Wagner troops got to within 200km from Moscow before a deal was made with the Government, brokered by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, that meant Mr Prigozhin called off the advances.

Mr Prigozhin has now been transported into exile in Belarus, with charges against him in Russia set to be dropped. He is reported being kept in a hotel with no opening windows and is anticipated to remain inactive for an extended period.

Donald Trump faces more charges

This month the federal indictment against the former US President was unsealed, revealing the mishandling of classified documents discovered at his Mar-a-Lago property and lying to government while they recovered them.

Trump is being accused of violating seven federal laws and is facing 37 separate charges.

Mr Trumps charges are:

  • 31 counts of wilful retention of national defence information
  • 3 counts of withholding or concealing documents in a federal investigation
  • 2 counts of false statements
  • 1 count of conspiracy to obstruct justice

He has maintained his innocence and has vowed to continue his presidency campaign.

US District Judge Aileen Cannon has opted for a speedy trial with the initial date set for 14 August in Florida.

Bree Liddell More from author

Bree is Cannings Purple’s Government Relations Consultant, working with a diverse set of clients across the energy, resources, education and health sectors.

Qualified with a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts (Politics and International Relations) and Bachelor’s Degree in Science (Sport Science)(Nutrition), Bree is currently pursuing her Graduate Certificate in Public Policy.

Bree is skilled in strategic communications with the capability to review and analyse policies and procedures to deeper understand the government’s position, particularly identifying areas of opportunity for clients to engage government and create a working relationship.

With a broad range of working knowledge of the political system and internship experience in a state members office, Bree is perfectly placed to assist clients in navigating government process, policies and approvals.

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