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Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has announced that the Federal Government is abolishing the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the body designed to independently assess life-changing government decisions including on deportations, NDIS payments, child support, visas, veterans’ entitlements and Commonwealth workers’ compensation, due to cronyism by the former government. This win follows Australia Institute research that exposed that up to 40% of appointments to the Tribunal were political under the Morrison Government, up from 6% under Howard and 5% under Rudd/Gillard – and that political appointments were far less likely to have legal qualifications. A new Tribunal with merit-based appointments has the opportunity to right past wrongs and restore some faith in democracy. This is a major step forward for integrity an accountability in Australia.
And that’s just the latest! As we close out 2022, all of us here at the Australia Institute have been reflecting on a year of incredible triumphs and challenges, despite global and local disruption that has impacted all of us.
We’ll be taking a couple of weeks off over the holidays but Between the Lines will be back in January. We hope you and your loved ones can enjoy a break too!
For our final newsletter of the year, we have put together some highlights and reflections from what has been a transformative year. From framing key political debates that would shape the federal election, to outlining reform priorities for the next year, our research has had major impact where it matters. And our amazing community has been with us every step of the way – we can’t thank you enough for the support that you’ve given the Australia Institute to do this important work.
PS – make sure to check out our Essential Reading List for 2022 if you haven’t already!
Climate & Energy
A year of change for climate change! The federal ‘climate election’ in May was the culmination of many things, including three years of climate impacts and economic realities. The Institute played a critical role, helping link climate impacts like floods and fires to the cause through our call for a disaster levy on fossil fuel exports. The Institute helped build diplomatic pressure for greater action through engagement on the international level, including recently at COP27 and through the visit of former Pacific Island Presidents to Canberra. Finally, the Institute’s drumbeat of work on fossil fuel subsidies, our woeful fossil fuel tax revenue and the unreliability of gas and coal power challenged the economic case for fossil fuels from the Morrison Government.
During the energy crisis that soon followed the federal election, the Institute helped expose the narrative of a gas supply problem as a myth, when what we really have is a gas export problem. More fossil fuels is not the solution and the Institute, together with Rewiring Australia, has advocated the need for deploying renewable energy for electricity generation and electrification of households, industry, and transport to accelerate the transition. The Institute has also called for a windfall profits tax which is not only popular but capable of capturing up to $40 billion in gas and $45 billion in coal wartime profits and channelling the revenue back to help Australian households and manufacturers facing high energy costs.
In August, the Institute partnered with the Smart Energy Council, Electric Vehicle Council and Boundless to co-host the National Electric Vehicle Summit. Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen used the moment to finally commit to fuel efficiency standards to ensure Australia can attract lower-emission, lower-cost cars that are currently bypassing our market.
In November, the Institute launched the benchmark Climate of the Nation 2022 Report with former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Australian Museum, Sydney. The annual poll, now in its 15th year, showed that four in five (79%) Australians believe coal-fired power stations should be phased out and most Australians blame increasing electricity prices on the privatization (48%), excessive profit margins of power companies (46%), and excessive gas exports making domestic gas really expensive (42%). Climate of the Nation remains a valuable tool to support the broader work of the Institute and those advocating for climate action and shows most of the country is behind the Australian Government bid to host a future UN climate conference in 2026.
While the new Australian Government has improved its 2030 target and its language around climate action, it still has a long way to go. The Government’s modest reforms to its key climate policy for limiting emissions, the Safeguard Mechanism will encourage greater reliance on dodgy carbon credits while leaving the door open to new gas and coal projects. The Government’s Chubb Review into the integrity of Australian carbon credits, due in January 2023, needs to bring integrity to the carbon market. That is why the Australia Institute is hosting a Climate Integrity Summit in 2022.
— Richie Merzian, director of Climate & Energy
Economics has been front of mind for Australians this year and Australia Institute research has been at the core of public discussion. From higher education, early childhood education and care and the impact of the pandemic on youth unemployment, to inflation and stage 3 tax cuts, our economists have been producing hard-hitting research and media to drive the debate.
The stage 3 tax cuts, due to start next year, will cost the budget over a quarter of a trillion dollars over the next 10 years, mainly flow to high income earners and deliver twice as much benefit to men compared to women. The Stage 3 tax cuts were one of many issues discussed at our Revenue Summit in October, just weeks before the Labor Government’s first budget.
This week we published an open letter signed by over 100 economists and tax experts labelling the tax cuts as economically unaffordable and unfair. This is just the beginning – we will continue to push the Government to scrap these tax cuts in the lead up to next year’s May budget.
In 2022 we also saw interest rates rise as the Reserve Bank tried to reduce inflation. While the Governor of the Reserve Bank worried about wage increases, Australia Institute research showed that inflation was actually driven by increases in profit.
In this episode of Spin Bin, Matt Grudnoff and Eliza Littleton explain why Philip Lowe and the Reserve Bank have got it so wrong.
These issues aren’t going anywhere – and neither are we. Next year will be just as important. The Australia Institute will continue to fight for a more equitable and fair economy that works for us all.
— Matt Grudnoff, director of Economics
Democracy & Accountability
2022 was the first full year of the Democracy & Accountability program’s work to address declining trust in government and democratic backsliding, and what a year it’s been!
We started with a Senate Lecture from Program Director Bill Browne and former Executive Director Ben Oquist on the role of the Senate in protecting democracy through government accountability and diversity of representation in Parliament.
Then, at election time we launched the Democracy Agenda for the 47th Parliament with Helen Haines, Rebekha Sharkie and Zali Steggall from the crossbench, outlining a number of reforms to strengthen our democracy and improve the functions of Parliament.
After the election, we supported the inquiry into the 2022 election. Our major submission, backed in by Bill’s work as an expert witness, made the case for truth in political advertising laws, more parliamentarians and transparency for political contributions.
Since then, the Parliament has passed legislation to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission (a huge win after years of research and advocacy), a restoration of rights after 25 years for the territories to legislate voluntary assisted dying, and Zali Steggall tabled her Stop the Lies Bill for truth in political advertising laws.
Australia Institute research has been at the heart of all of these wins for democracy and we’re looking forward to keeping the pressure up into the new year.
— Bill Browne, director of Democracy & Accountability
International & Security Affairs
As the global community emerges from the COVID pandemic – sort of – and the lingering conflict in Ukraine refuses to collapse into a stalemate, it is worth taking comfort from the things that have gone tolerably well in the international and security affairs domain.
The May election and the arrival of the Albanese government saw an immediate refocus on Australia’s relations in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, and the importance of both regions to Australia’s prosperity and security. Within hours of his swearing-in, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was in Tokyo for a meeting of the Quad, the curiously anodyne group comprising Australia, India, Japan and the US. The Quad’s broad set of collective aims legitimises its undeclared interest in containing/constraining China, but without resorting to bluster, hyperbole and the megaphone.
In both substance and style, this signalled a clear departure from the boisterous rhetoric of the previous government.
While the Prime Minister was taking his first international steps, so too was the Foreign Minister, Penny Wong. An immediate visit to the Pacific began the process of restoring the confidence of Pacific leaders in Australia’s credibility as a partner. Its purpose was not to lecture them on the dangers of Chinese ambitions in the Pacific but to listen to their concerns about the effects of global warming and their hopes for much improved economic relations with Australia. She immediately followed the visit to the Pacific with a joint visit to Indonesia with the Prime Minister, and then a carefully constructed program of visits to other Southeast Asian countries where the Foreign Minister revitalised Australia’s agency in Asia.
Within weeks, a new, calibrated and respectful approach to international affairs was in place. The results were seen in the Prime Minister’s constructive meeting with President Xi of China in the wings of the G20 meeting in Bali.
Months before the election, The Australia Institute laid out the essential elements of a contemporary international engagement strategy. On 1 March 2022, No Enemies No Friends arrived in the nation’s bookshops advocating a set of foreign policy principles with which the new government’s approach is fully aligned. No Enemies No Friends was subsequently short-listed for the Political Book of 2022 Award.
Since the May election, The Australia Institute has released a number of national security-related reports: outlining a more engaged Australian approach to strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); recommending a reaffirmation of the basic bipartisan principles of Australian strategic policy; advocating greater accountability to the Parliament by the executive on decisions to commit the Australian Defence Force to armed conflict; and explaining the “wicked” problems that need to be addressed in any consideration of the desirability or otherwise of acquiring nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy.
— Allan Behm, director of International & Security Affairs
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has abolished the Administrative Appeals Tribunal after Australia Institute research exposed cronyism in appointments by the former government.
The replacement administrative review body, to be designed in consultation with stakeholders, is committed to being user-focused, efficient, accessible, independent and fair.
A new, better process for reviewing government decisions regarding migration, veterans’ entitlements, and welfare has tangible impacts on people’s lives, and the Australia Institute is extremely proud to have played a part in this win.
To explain the issues in-depth, here’s a video with co-author Liz Morison and Bill Browne.
The Australian fossil fuel industry’s hysterical response to the Albanese government’s announcement that it would put a temporary one-year price cap on gas and coal, as part of measures to address skyrocketing energy prices:
“This Soviet-style policy is a form of nationalisation”
– Santos chief executive Kevin Gallagher. Santos paid just $6 million income tax on $28.9 billion of income and paid no income tax from 2015 to 2018 and 2020.
“Reckless free market intervention”
— ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest privately owned oil and gas company. ExxonMobil Australia paid no income tax in 2020-21.
Scrap Stage 3 Tax Cuts: By cutting taxes for high-income earners, these reckless Stage 3 tax cuts will permanently undermine Australia’s progressive tax system. Add your name to our petition calling on the Parliament to scrap them.
Climate Integrity Summit: Bringing together leading experts to discuss and address integrity risks that could jeopardise Australia’s emissions reduction policies.
Wednesday, 15 February 2023 at 9:00 am AEDT (updated date).
Follow the Money – Summer Series
Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast Follow the Money, where we explain big economic issues in plain English.
In this week’s episode, we unpack the rise in political appointments to the AAT, but after Christmas our Summer Series will bring you some of the best conversations from our webinar series in 2022. Subscribe wherever you normally listen to podcasts.
Webinar series – Playback
This year we have hosted some amazing guests and conversations on our webinar series and they are all publicly available on australiainstitute.tv
Thank you for supporting the Australia Institute. This has been an incredible year and we couldn’t do it without supporters like you.
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Tanya Martin Office Manager
Jake Wishart Senior Media Adviser