Albanese and National Cabinet discuss pressing issues
(See translation in Arabic section)
Sydney – M E TIMES Int’l: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with state and territory First Ministers in in Canberra on Friday to discuss how the National Cabinet could build on efforts to support the COVID-19 health response.
Recognising pressures on the healthcare system due to the pandemic, the Federal Government will extend the national partnership on COVID-19 response for another three months to December 31, at a cost of about $760 million.
The First Ministers agreed to identify practical improvements to the health system, specifically the connections between GPs and hospitals and finding ways to get aged-care residents and NDIS participants out of hospital and into a more appropriate setting.
National Cabinet affirmed its commitment to overcome skills shortages and will work urgently to address a backlog in processing visa applications in areas of skills shortages and training.
The Council on Federal Financial Relations (CFFR) will also provide advice within three months to National Cabinet on pressures on federal, state and territory budgets, including anticipated fiscal pressures with a focus on joint funding responsibilities.
National Cabinet will next meet before the Federal Budget in October to discuss these reforms and how the federal and states governments will work better together in the future.
State and territory representatives expressed their support for the Commonwealth’s commitment to progress a referendum to constitutionally enshrine a Voice to Parliament in the Constitution as a matter of priority.
National Cabinet also noted other issues facing the nation including energy supply problems in eastern Australia and the Cabinet members agreed to continue working to improve outcomes for consumers.
The National Cabinet also affirmed a commitment to the Commonwealth’s revised Nationally Determined Contribution to a reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions of 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Cabinet members agreed to invite a local government representative to future National Cabinet meetings once a year to ensure all levels of government are represented.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong will travel to New Zealand and Solomon Islands this week
Foreign Minister Penny Wong has visited New Zealand and Solomon Islands this week to discuss climate change and regional security in what will be her third visit to the Pacific since being sworn in last month.
"New Zealand is an indispensable partner in our ambitions for a stronger Pacific family," Senator Wong said in a statement.
"As part of our discussions, we will consider ways we can work together, to make the most of the new energy and resources the Australian Government is bringing to the Pacific."
"There are new possibilities for collaboration with New Zealand in support of regional security and on climate change.
This was echoed by Ms Mahuta in a statement released ahead of Senator Wong's visit.
"At a regional level, the number one security issue for the Pacific is the impact of climate change," Ms Mahuta said.
"I look forward to talking to the new Foreign Minister in more detail on Australia's climate change agenda, and further ways we can assist Pacific Island nations on mitigation and adaptation measures."
The importance of indigenous perspectives in foreign policy, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and the war in Ukraine will also be on the agenda.
"I also look forward to drawing on New Zealand's experiences as Australia develops a First Nations foreign policy," Senator Wong said.
Senator Wong will travel to Solomon Islands on Friday today to meet with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and a number of cabinet ministers, amid concern over the regional impact of a security deal between the Pacific island nation and China.
Australia said it was committed to deepening cooperation with the Solomon Islands on shared challenges including climate change, and Senator Wong would meet with Mr Sogavare, the statement said.
"I look forward to discussing the ways we can continue to make progress on pandemic recovery, economic development and labour mobility priorities, and addressing our shared security interests," she said.
The Solomon Islands security pact, as well as a proposal by China for a sweeping security and trade agreement with 10 Pacific islands nations, will be discussed at next month's Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in Suva, several island nations have said.
China's Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, met with Mr Sogavare in Honiara last month, as part of an eight-nation Pacific tour, agreeing to deepen cooperation between China and Solomon Islands in fisheries, mining, infrastructure and trade.
"China supports Pacific Island countries in strengthening security cooperation and working together to address regional security challenges," he said during the visit.
Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States have said they are concerned Beijing could establish a military presence in the Pacific, although Mr Sogavare has denied the pact would allow a military base.
Suspension of the energy market in Australia to ensure the supply of electricity to homes and businesses
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has taken the extraordinary step of suspending the spot market for wholesale electricity.
The electricity sector has been dealing with soaring costs, forcing AEMO to cap prices and compel generators to offer their services.
AEMO has now suspended the spot market entirely across the National Electricity Market — which includes Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, NSW and the ACT — saying it is impossible to ensure reliable electricity supply under the current circumstances.
The suspension will be reviewed daily in each state.
AEMO chief executive Daniel Westerman says suspending the market will simplify operations of the electricity market.
"In the current situation, suspending the market is the best way to ensure a reliable supply of electricity for Australian homes and businesses," Mr Westerman said.
"The situation in recent days has posed challenges to the entire energy industry, and suspending the market would simplify operations during the significant outages across the energy supply chain."
The spot market is what AEMO uses to match the supply of electricity from power stations with real-time consumption by households and businesses.
AEMO says the spot price tells generators how much electricity the market needs at any moment in time to keep the physical power system in balance.
Soaring costs have prompted AEMO to cap prices in recent days.
That led to power generators withdrawing electricity on the basis that their operations would be unprofitable under the price cap.
This meant AEMO forced operators to supply electricity into the grid to avoid blackouts, with the operators being compensated for the supply.
Energy ministers have welcomed the decision.
"This decision will help prevent energy companies from putting energy reliability at risk by unnecessarily withdrawing supply," NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean said.
Queensland Energy Minister Mick de Brenni said the decision reduced the risk of supply shortfalls and unplanned outages.
"Importantly, this means your power will stay on," he said.
"I can assure Queenslanders there is surplus supply to meet demands in our state and a further generating unit is scheduled to return to service later this week."
South Australia's Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said AEMO made the right decision.
"Unprecedented action to meet an unprecedented crisis," he said.
Eugene Kuo Yujen: "After what happened in Ukraine, it sends a very threatening signal to Taiwan, Japan and the surrounding countries"
Analysts say China's leader Xi Jinping has set the legal basis for an expansion of the Chinese military's role in other countries, just weeks after Beijing signed a security pact with Solomon Islands.
With little published detail, Mr Xi's government declared he had signed off on a set of new trial outlines that allowed for Chinese "armed forces operations" that were not war.
Chairman Xi, as he is widely known in China in reference to his position as chairman of the Central Military Commission, signed off on 59 articles, according to state media, but they were not published.
Instead, government reports say they set a legal basis within China for the People's Liberation Army to "safeguard China's national sovereignty, security and development interests", according to an article in the Communist Party's media Global Times.
"Chinese troops can prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China's overseas investments, projects and personnel," the report in the Global Times said.
It also said the guidelines would define the military's role in activities that it already undertook, such as disaster relief, aid missions and peacekeeping.
Mr Xi's decision to promote and legally legitimise non-war "military operations" has raised eyebrows because it has come just months after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine under the guise of a "special military operation".
Mr Putin still has not formally declared war on Ukraine despite the bloody invasion, and the timing of Mr Xi's declaration has caught the attention of observers in Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims ownership of.
"I think it's definitely a copy of Putin's 'special operation' language," Eugene Kuo Yujen, an analyst with Taiwan's Institute for National Policy Research, said.
"And after what happened in Ukraine, it sends a very threatening signal to Taiwan, Japan and the surrounding countries in the South China Sea.
"I think Xi Jinping is trying to enhance China's grey-zone activities," Dr Kuo said, referring to acts that harm other states but fall below the definition of war.
Wu Qiang, an independent analyst in Beijing who previously taught at China's top university Tsinghua before being ousted for political reasons, also sees parallels with Vladimir Putin's language and his territorial claims to Ukraine.
"The way Beijing looks at it, a future mission to unify Taiwan would just be a continuation of the unfinished civil war of 1949," he told the ABC.
"So this is about seeking to define a future military intervention in Taiwan as a 'non-war' operation."
Dr Kuo says Mr Xi released news of the guidelines partly to offset political infighting within the military in the lead-up to a major reshuffle of the ruling Communist Party leadership later this year.
But he also believes it is linked to the recent security pact signed with Solomon Islands and a failed effort by China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi to convince other South Pacific nations to sign on to a similar agreement.
Sydney Swans urge drivers to put their phone away
The NSW Government has partnered with the Sydney Swans to release a new social media campaign featuring Swans players Harry Cunningham, Callum Mills and Tom McCartin to highlight the dangers of driving using a mobile phone.
Minister for Metropolitan Roads Natalie Ward said the ‘Flying Blind’ campaign shows the three football players attempt to perform general football activities while blindfolded.
“As you would expect, the blindfold prevents the players from performing tasks that would usually be second nature to professional athletes,” Mrs Ward said.
“If you look at your phone while driving for two seconds you may as well be wearing a blindfold because at 60 kilometers per hour you are driving blind for 33 metres.
“Trying to catch a footy while blindfolded may result in being harmlessly hit by the ball, but holding and using your phone while driving can have life-threatening consequences.
“In the past ten years there have been over 20 deaths and more than 300 people injured in crashes on NSW roads where someone was holding and using a phone.”
Swans player Harry Cunningham urged motorists to put their mobile phone away while driving.
“I hope that my involvement in this campaign helps people stop and think about how much of a difference even a few seconds taking your eyes off the road can make when they’re driving,” Mr Cunningham said.
“At the end of the day you’re putting yourself and other people around you at risk. Reduce the temptation by putting your phone away. It’s just not worth it.”
$20 Million to help women smash the gyprock ceiling
An ambition to triple the number of women working in the construction industry will be backed by a $20.2 million commitment in the NSW Government’s 2022-23 Budget.
Treasurer Matt Kean said the Government will lead the way with a goal of 15 per cent women in construction by 2030, with a view towards reaching a more gender-balanced industry into the future.
"The latest estimates show that skills shortages in the Australian construction industry could top 105,000 workers by 2023," Mr Kean said.
"Increasing the number of women in the construction industry is essential to lower the gender pay gap and ensure we have the skilled workforce required to deliver the Government’s record $110.4 billion infrastructure pipeline."
Minister for Infrastructure, Cities and Active Transport Rob Stokes said that women currently make up about 5% of the construction workforce and Infrastructure NSW would work closely with industry to reach the 2030 goal.
“This funding will go towards breaking down the cultural barriers that stop women from considering a career in construction and help them smash through the gyprock ceiling.”
Minister for Women's Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence Natalie Ward said the Government will work towards its 15 per cent goal by shifting the culture in construction and leading by example on its own worksites.
Western Sydney families crushed by staggering energy bills
The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC), representing councils in Greater Western Sydney, is urging the NSW and Federal Governments to work with the Australian Energy Council to address a mounting energy cost crisis now devastating Western Suburbs households, including hundreds-of-thousands of low-income families.
“As gas and electricity prices soar, some 207,000 households in Greater Western Sydney are dependent on pitifully inadequate government energy rebates which have left families struggling to pay their bills,” said WSROC President, Councillor Barry Calvert.
“The Australian Energy Regulator has foreshadowed New South Wales residential electricity price increases of between 8.5% and 18.3% commencing 1 July this year, but WSROC has been contacted by local families who have been slapped with electricity rate increases of more than 50% — and gas price increases of 200%.
“According to research conducted by the Canstar financial comparison site, the average annual electricity bill for NSW families is presently $1,424.
“A 50% increase would see a typical yearly household peak usage electricity bill rocket to over $2,100 — up over $700. One supplier has increased its off-peak tariff by 261%.
“Families are also facing increased charges for gas, with the winter gas usage tariff in some cases being more than doubled.
“Yet, the current Low Income Household Electricity Rebate is just $285, and the maximum Family Energy Rebate is a miserly $180.
“Do the maths. The maximum Family Energy Rebate would be wiped out nearly four times over by a 50% increase in electricity charges,” said Councillor Calvert.
“Similarly, the current $200 per year Seniors Energy Rebate and other government Energy Social Program rebates are wholly inadequate to help low-income households deal with the worsening household energy cost crisis.
“WSROC is urging the NSW and Federal Governments to work with the Australian Energy Council and energy regulators to increase investment in new energy production capacity and for the NSW Government to review the Energy Social Program rebates as a matter of urgency.”
“At very least, the Energy Social Program rebates should be doubled or tripled to help families keep up with energy costs.
“Ordinary families in Greater Western Sydney are struggling already with record petrol prices, unprecedented grocery costs, unaffordable housing and sluggish wage growth,” said Councillor Calvert.
Nation-leading reform as NSW introduces universal pre-Kindergarten
NSW will launch one of the biggest education reforms in a generation, starting with the introduction of a universal pre-Kindergarten year of education.
The 2022/23 NSW Budget will set aside more than $5.8 billion over 10 years to introduce universal pre-Kindergarten for all children in NSW by 2030.
Premier Dominic Perrottet said the huge investment in families was on a scale never seen before in Australia.
“This is incredible reform that will change lives and deliver enormous educational benefits for children across the state, securing a brighter future for NSW families,” Mr Perrottet said.
“We’re ensuring our youngest learners thrive by introducing a full year of preschool education before Kindergarten, as we know how important it is to have a strong educational foundation.”
NSW Treasurer Matt Kean said that children who receive quality early childhood education are more likely to get better results at school and earn more across their lifetime.
“This Budget is all about investing in a better future, and setting our kids up for success is priceless,” Mr Kean said.
Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell said “Universal pre-Kindergarten will give every child in NSW access to a specialised year of play-based learning, smoothing their transition to school and solidifying their path to a brighter future”.
“Universal pre-Kindergarten is something I have been working hard to bring to NSW for a number of years, having seen the benefits of it for children and families in countries like Canada. It is so exciting to know that in NSW we will soon be unleashing the power of universal pre-Kindergarten.”
Thousands more households to benefit from washing machine pilot
Another 2,500 social housing tenants now have the chance to upgrade their washing machine for as little as $150, to help save water and ease the cost of living, after the NSW Government expanded its successful washing machine replacement pilot.
Minister for Lands and Water Kevin Anderson said there had been a record response to the new program since it launched in April, which is why the government is almost doubling the number of available machines and rolling out the program statewide.
“We have increased the total number of washing machines to 5,500. Each of these will save approximately 25,000 litres of water per year, which means that in one year the program could save enough water to fill 55 Olympic Swimming pools.
Minister for Planning and Homes Anthony Roberts said the water efficiency program is also lowering everyday living costs.
“By upgrading their washing machine from a top loader to a front loader we’re helping households make real hip pocket savings by reducing annual household electricity bills and detergent costs by an average of $245,” Mr Roberts said.
“This means the upfront fee to replace the washing machine is likely to be recovered in the first year of ownership making it great value for money for people on low incomes.
“Given the popularity of the pilot I encourage households to apply immediately.”
Spokesperson of Community Housing Industry Association, Caitlin McDowell said the NSW Governments' decision to expand the eligibility criteria of this program to all social housing tenants with top loaders is great news.
Big changes coming to Coles and Woolworths
Coles and Woolworths have announced new measures to help customers respond to the rising cost of living.
Woolworths will freeze the prices of essential trolley items until the end of the year to ease pressure on shoppers.
Coles will give customers 10 per cent off gift card for their stores.
Food costs have steadily climbed across the country over the past year, putting the squeeze on Australian households.
While the price hikes initially impacted meat and imported products, they have since spread to almost every other food product.
The price of vegetables has skyrocketed, with some Australian supermarkets charging up to $10 for a lettuce because of the shortage caused by a poor growing season and floods.
It has prompted Woolworths to freeze the prices on homebrand products and essential trolley items like flour, sugar, canned tomatoes, frozen peas, chicken tenders, laundry powder and dishwashing liquid.
Woolworths Group chief Brad Banducci said the average family spent more than $200 on groceries and everyday essentials per week.
“We know this is a significant portion of weekly household budgets,” he said.
“As we all lean into the challenges of inflation, rest assured the whole team at Woolworths is committed to making sure you can always Get your Woolies worth.”
Mr Banducci advised customers to be creative and shop seasonally, look for the Woolworths logo on packaging and use the fuel discount when filling up the car.
It comes at a crucial time for consumers who are dealing with soaring prices for basic goods and amenities like petrol and fresh produce.
From Wednesday for one week only, Coles is offering 10 per cent off the total transaction price for $100 and $250 gift cards, though there is an added purchase fee.
A $250 Coles Mastercard gift card, with a $7 purchase fee, will cost $231.30, meaning a saving of $18.70.
Customers will get an extra $5.50 when they buy a $100 Coles Mastercard Gift Card, with a $5 purchase fee, for $94.50.
There is a limit of five gift cards per customer, meaning shoppers would save $93.50 if they were to purchase five $250 gift cards.
The majority of consumers (58 per cent) use the gift cards on their weekly grocery shop, followed by utilities and service bills.
Coles non-food general manager Jonathan Torr said the offer is about helping Australians deal with the current cost of living crisis.
“We understand many Australians are feeling the pinch with rising cost of living pressures and we’re always looking at ways we can provide the very best value at Coles to help make a difference,” he said.
“The 10 per cent off selected Coles Mastercards will provide some temporary relief on everyday expenses, as the gift cards can be used on anything from the weekly shop to paying the household bills – it can even be used to maximise savings at other retailers during end-of-financial-year sales.”
This offer is only available until next Tuesday while stocks last at Coles supermarkets.
Labor using ‘doublespeak’ on border protection policy
Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker says Labor confirming its commitment to Operation Sovereign Borders while “conveniently dropping out those bits that they don’t like” is “doublespeak at its best”.
This comes as a third asylum seeker boat arrived on Australia’s shores since election day.
“You’re not committed to Operation Sovereign Borders if you’re not prepared to do all of the three steps necessary to make it work,” Ms Stoker told Sky News host Rowan Dean.
She said “people smugglers know that” as they’ve “already got people lining up to get on boats” and arriving on our shores.
Government hopes to overcome ‘sticking points’ in trade relationship with China
Trade Minister Don Farrell says he hopes to meet with his Chinese counterpart to discuss important trade issues.
“As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the ball’s in China’s court now – we’ve put out the olive branch, we’ve said, ‘look, we’d like to meet with you, we’d like to discuss these issues’,” Mr Farrell told media.
“We have a huge trade with China, it’s getting up towards $300 billion a year, but we have some sticking points in that relationship.”
He said the issue of wine sales to China is “very important” and needs to be sorted out.