The Inside Word

2024 April Federal Politics Update

The Albanese Government finds itself, less than two weeks ahead of the budget, beset by a whirlwind of pressures that are straining its ability to present a narrative of its priorities and its vision for the future. This is all the more important given we are about 12 months out, or less, from the next election.

The Albanese Government kicked off April by outlining its Future Made in Australia Act, with the goals of building sovereign capability, reinvigorating domestic manufacturing and accelerating the transition to a net-zero economy. The details here are well covered in our Managing Director’s Inside Word. Supplementing this was the recent announcement of the reform of the foreign investment framework, to attract capital in support of new and existing industries.

One contrast here, which is likely to get more media coverage, is comparing this future vision with the ‘here’ and ‘now’. In the very same month, plastics manufacturer Qenos was placed into administration, with both the AWU and Ai Group warning that other domestic manufacturers may follow. The Government will have to set out its vision for the future while managing the economic pressures of the ‘here’ and ‘now’.

Major derailments for the Government’s agenda were the tragic murders in Bondi Junction, closely followed by the attack at the service held at the Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakely, and the subsequent community response.

Governments, Federal and State, quite appropriately took the actions needed in the aftermath. There is so much to unpack from these events, but there are two trends worth watching.

The first is that non-economic policy (social cohesion, national security, law and order etc.) matters just as much, or possibly even more to many Australians, which is strange to say when cost-of-living is such a pressing issue. While the Government has a clear economic agenda, a narrative for its defence strategy, it will also need to present a vision for how it intends to bind communities together when there are very real community divisions and anxieties.

The second issue is the role of social media in our society. There is increasing evidence that the rise of social media, has in part, contributed to a loss of community cohesion and allowed groups with dangerous views to exist in isolation, recruit other followers and broadcast their messages in ways that can’t be done in person. No doubt more policy will be announced in this space, particularly when it comes to children. Eventually, I think governments will need to think about curbing business models that are driven by sensationalist views, prioritised by opaque algorithms, generating likes, subscriptions, advertising revenue and income for those who post with little to no regard for the consequences in our cities, suburbs and regions.

Switching gears, another key decision for industry made this month has been the continued delay of ‘Nature Positive’ environmental reforms. Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek will now take a staged approach by introducing legislation to establish a statutory Environment Protection Agency and Environment Information Australia but will delay the more controversial reforms to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. Western Australian Labor Premier Roger Cook and the resources sector are taking credit while environmental groups have decried the decision.

The final reflection from April were the rallies calling for action to improve Women’s Safety. Politically, it appears that the Prime Minister’s reception at these rallies is a demonstration that any goodwill has evaporated. Prime Ministers don’t have to be liked to be successful, but it places pressure on delivering tangible results, sooner.

Looking forward, much of the Government’s messaging will be about its economic strategy in the lead up to Budget night on May 14. Recent geopolitical tensions and impacts on major trading partners are generating downward revisions to Australia’s forecasted economic growth and has placed pressure on the Government to set out a growth agenda. All the while, you have recent domestic economic data that is questioning whether interest rates will fall at all this year. 

It will be fascinating to see how this Budget threads the needle of curbing inflation, providing targeted cost-of-living relief and setting a growth agenda for the future. Labor will also be hoping for a bounce in the polls post-budget, given the Albanese Labor Government finds itself at its lowest level of support since the 2022 election.

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