The new Albanese Government has already sent strong signals about tackling some of Australia’s most pressing social and environmental issues. The first sitting week, scheduled to commence 26th July, will be pivotal in further understanding the Government’s priorities and how it intends to address some of these important reforms. This is what we know so far.
State of the Parliament
Ahead of the first few sitting weeks, the new government is continuing to outline its vision on issues important to the retail community and its members. With a majority in the House of Representatives, and a climate-progressive Senate, there is expectation that new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese MP will lead change on a number of sustainability and inclusion issues through the term of this parliament.
House of Representatives
- Australian Labor Party: 77 members
- Coalition: 58 members (comprising Liberal Party of Australia, The Nationals, Liberal National Party of Queensland)
- Crossbench: 16 members (comprising 10x Independents, 4x Greens, 1x Centre Alliance, 1x Katter’s Australia Party)
- Australian Labor Party: 26 senators
- Coalition: 32 senators (comprising Liberal Party of Australia, The Nationals, Liberal National Party of Queensland)
- Crossbench: 18 senators (12x Greens, 2x One Nation, 2x Jacqui Lambie Network, 1x United Australia Party, 1x Independent – David Pocock)
The appointment of Tanya Plibersek MP as Minister for Environment and Water has been a welcome and pleasant surprise.
Her National Press Club address in July 2022, releasing the 2021 State of the Environment Report, spoke to the Government’s vision for environmental management, remediation and protection in Australia. The commitment to respond to the Samuel Review by the end of the year should be seen as a springboard into far-reaching environmental law reform and development of a blueprint for modernising Australia’s legal environmental protections.
Domestically, the incoming government is committed to increasing federal involvement in recycling modernisation, through a $60 million commitment, as well as supporting transition to the circular economy through government procurement guidelines and preferences.
On an international level, Australia has pledged to sign the New Plastics Global Economy Commitment, a 2018 agreement between governments and business around the world to strive for a fully circular plastics economy.
Under the stewardship of Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen MP, the new government has already begun changing the global perception of Australia’s climate action intentions and policies.
The first sitting weeks will bring with them attempts to enshrine Labor’s election-era climate target, a 43% reduction on 2005 levels by 2030, into legislation. The Prime Minister has previously stated that he wants this figure to act as a floor (not a ceiling) on Government climate policy, which could act as the basis of further debate and division when the bill is introduced. It will be interesting to see how the Australian Greens navigate the passage of this legislation – will they support the Government’s 43% target or hold out for a higher number?
Internationally, Australia recently signed an agreement at the Pacific Islands Forum that declared a climate emergency and called for immediate action to mitigate the most severe impacts of climate change.
In efforts to support sustainable and ethical trade, the Albanese Government has already made and signalled some significant changes, such as moving responsibility for administration of the Modern Slavery Act to the Attorney-General’s department, under the charge of Mark Dreyfus QC, MP.
The ARA has engaged with the government about the current legislative review into the Modern Slavery Act and we remain hopeful that the new government will invite business and industry to share its insights as part of that review.
Diversity, Equality and Inclusion
Throughout the election campaign, Labor made commitments to building a more inclusive Australia, with a focus on supporting women and First Nations communities.
The government’s two core commitments include fully implementing the Respect@Work Report and the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which will fall to Senator Katy Gallagher as Minister for Women and Linda Burney MP as Minister for Indigenous Australians.
In terms of gender equality, Labor has also signalled a $200 million investment in women’s safety and support for legislative tools to support women, such as paid domestic violence leave and enshrining gender pay equality as an objective of the Fair Work Commission. First Nations communities will see $100 million in investments for health services and workers for their communities.
Implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart will require a referendum within the government’s first term, to enshrine a First Nations Voice to Parliament. Australia’s constitution has not been amended due to a referendum since 1977, and while support for a Voice has increased since 2019, it is unclear whether such a referendum would pass at this time.
As Special Envoy for Reconciliation and Implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Senator Pat Dodson will be central to the education campaign and discussions that will be required to communicate the scope of change and the need for its implementation.
Labor’s health policy is a work in progress but there are early signs that mental health will be a priority for the Albanese Government. This includes pledges to reintroduce subsidies for regional mental telehealth services, aiming to cut out of pocket costs by 50%, as well as investing in workforce additions to alleviate current strains on the health network across the country.