The Albanese government is hitting the ground running with new legislation being tabled that aims to implement its policies taken to the election in May.
A speech delivered by governor-general David Hurley in the senate chamber yesterday in accordance with Westminster traditions provides a snapshot of the agenda the new government is pursuing.
The speech is a run-through of all of the various spending promises made by the government across a range of portfolios. It also provides a big picture view of where the government wants to position Australia in the world.
There is a lot more going on than legislating for the reduction in carbon emissions and talking about nuclear submarines. Here are some of the highlights.
Voice to Parliament
The governor-general’s speech gives centre stage to the establishment of the Voice to Parliament as a key policy objective for the Albanese government. The Uluru Statement of the Heart was released in 2017 and is at the core of Labor’s policy to improve consultation with and the quality of life of Indigenous communities across the country.
Embedded in the speech is a commitment from the Albanese government to end certain measures regarded as disempowering for those in First Nations communities.
“At the centre of the government’s determination to close the gap is to believe that First Nations people, like every other Australian, should be made to feel empowered,” Hurley said.
“To this end, the Community Development Program, compulsory income management and the cashless debit card will all cease. In their place will be policies that provide First Nations people with greater support to secure good jobs and earn proper wages in safe conditions.”
The speech also flags that the federal government wants to implement new Indigenous employment targets for the public service and the top 200 companies in Australia,
All of the key election buzzwords appear in the speech on the economy, with the rising interest rates and inability of people to buy what they want because of disruption of supply chains as well as a lengthy period with no significant wage increases. The more pointed policy objective in the speech, however, is the government’s commitment to implementing measures that attempt to get more money out of multinationals.
A key campaign promise was cheaper childcare, and the Albanese government is proposing to reduce child-care costs. It is also piling some additional work on agencies such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Productivity Commission. The ACCC is being tasked with finding a way of keeping the out-of-pocket expenses parents pay to access child-care as low as possible, while the Productivity Commission is set to review the entire sector. The ultimate policy objective is to put in place a universal subsidy
Appearing under the same heading in the speech is the government’s commitment to a Women’s Economic Security Taskforce, a promise to strengthen the ability of the Fair Work Commission to support wage growth in female-dominated sectors and also a pledge to implement the Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work report.
Other measures seeking to improve women’s safety were also raised in the speech.
“The government will establish 10 days’ paid family and domestic violence leave, increase the supply of emergency housing for women and children fleeing family violence, and invest in more case workers to assist women leaving violent situations,” the speech says.
Fair Work Act
The speech notes that there has been a change in the working environment and that new work arrangements and the gig economy mean that laws need updating.
“The government will seek to ensure that Australia’s laws catch up with this reality and protect people from exploitation and unsafe working conditions. The government will make secure work an objective in the Fair Work Act,” the speech says.
Albanese promised to shake up the aged-care sector in his Budget-in-Reply speech and the government has maintained its commitment to those promises made then. The promised measures include ensuring that there is a registered nurse on site in aged-care facilities at all times of the day as well as each resident receiving 215 minutes of care per day. “It will deliver better food, an increase in transparency and accountability, and a cap on the fees people can be charged for administration and management of their home care package,” the speech says.
Public sector employment
Buried at the bottom of the address are the changes flagged by the Albanese administration on the public service.
“The removal of the average staffing level cap, rebalancing the use of labour-hire, limiting fixed-term contracts and undertaking a strategic reinvestment of funds will form the first phase of the government’s plan to rebuild the Public Service’s capacity to deliver the best outcomes for the Australian people,” the speech says.
“The government will ensure the APS becomes a model employer and an employer of choice, including—and especially— for First Nations people, and those living with disability.”