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Victoria’s Infrastructure Pipeline Gets a Fresh Start Under Premier Jacinta Allan



Victoria’s mammoth transport infrastructure pipeline has a new minister at the helm, as Premier Jacinta Allan unveils her first ministry.

Ms Allan was responsible for transport infrastructure and Suburban Rail Loop portfolios but vacated the roles after she was made premier following Daniel Andrews’ shock resignation last week.

As the new ministry was sworn in at Government House on Monday, Assistant Treasurer Danny Pearson was handed the reins to oversee the state’s multi-billion dollar construction program.

Ms Allan has held the transport infrastructure portfolio for almost five years amid budget blowouts on signature projects such as the West Gate Tunnel and Melbourne Metro Tunnel.

Ben Carrol as Education Minister

Deputy Premier Ben Carroll has become minister for education and medical research, declaring he picked the education role.

His move to education is a return of the portfolio to the deputy premier, previously held by James Merlino until he stepped down from cabinet before retiring last year.

Tim Pallas, who vied for the deputy premier role, stays on as treasurer after speculation he could follow Mr Andrews out the door.

Mr Carroll’s replacement as public transport minister is Gabrielle Williams, while Natalie Hutchins swapped education for jobs and industry, women and returns to the treaty and first peoples portfolio.

Colin Brooks has become minister for Development Victoria, precincts and creative industries.

In a major promotion, Harriet Shing takes over from Mr Brooks as housing minister after Labor released its housing statement last month.

Ms Allan denied it was a demotion for Mr Brooks and said her new-look ministry would have a strong focus on building more homes.

“We’ve got a massive job here,” she told reporters.

“This is the number one issue here in Victoria.”

Blandthorn takes charge of children portfolio

Lizzie Blandthorn has taken charge of the expanded portfolio for children, bringing together the work across government on education and the protection system.

Tourism, Sport and Major Events Minister Steve Dimopoulos becomes environment minister, replacing Ingrid Stitt who is in charge of mental health, aging and multicultural affairs.

Eltham MP Vicki Ward was elevated into cabinet, filling Mr Andrews’ vacant spot, as minister for prevention of family violence and employment.

Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas adds ambulance services to her responsibilities.

Ms Allan was last week sworn in as Victoria’s second woman leader and the first Labor premier from regional Victoria in almost 100 years.

Victorian Opposition Leader John Pesutto almost simultaneously revealed his new shadow ministry on Monday, prompted by Matthew Bach stepping down to take a teaching role in the United Kingdom.

Under the shake-up, former opposition leader Matthew Guy returns to the frontbench as shadow public transport minister after leading the coalition to a second election drubbing in November.

Mr Guy, who was referred to the corruption watchdog by the electoral commission last year over a donor scandal involving his former chief of staff Mitch Catlin, suggested he would stay in parliament until at least the next election.

He cited his love of trains, instilled in him by his father, as a reason for taking the opposition public transport role.

“It’s in the blood,” he said.

In other moves, opposition finance spokeswoman Jess Wilson picked up early childhood and education as the coalition’s new upper house deputy leader Evan Mulholland replaced her as shadow home ownership and housing affordability minister.

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China drops heavy tariffs against Australian winemakers



China drops heavy tariffs against Australian winemakers

Most recently, China has abolished heavy tariffs against Australian wine, marking a significant step towards improved diplomatic relations and trade ties between the two nations. The Chinese government had agreed to review the wine tariffs five months ago and has gradually unwound the trade barriers since then. The Commerce Ministry in Beijing announced on Thursday that it was no longer necessary to impose anti-dumping duties and other levies on imports of Australian wine.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed his gratitude for this development, stating that the re-entry of Australian bottled wine into the Chinese market will benefit both Australian producers and Chinese consumers. The removal of these tariffs comes at a critical time for the Australian wine industry, which had faced difficulties exporting to China due to the imposed trade barriers.

In 2019, Australian wine exports to China were valued at $1.1 billion before the tariffs were implemented during the height of diplomatic tensions in 2020. The removal of these duties means that Australia will no longer pursue legal action against China at the World Trade Organisation, which had been initiated by the former coalition government.

While the Australian government’s approach is to cooperate with China when possible and engage in its national interest, some trade barriers still remain. Chinese tariffs are still in place for Australian rock lobster and beef, and in 2020, Beijing imposed trade sanctions worth $20 billion on a variety of Australian products, including coal and cotton. The tariffs on Australian wine specifically amounted to a hefty 220 per cent tax.

As South Australian Wine Industry Association president Kirsty Balnaves noted, the Chinese market has evolved since the imposition of tariffs. There is now stronger in-market competition for wine, increased choices for consumers at various price points, and a decline in alcohol consumption. Balnaves emphasized that South Australian exporters will need to invest time in assessing opportunities, creating awareness, educating consumers, and reintroducing their wines to the market.

Despite the remaining challenges, Prime Minister Albanese reaffirmed his government’s commitment to trade diversification and supporting Australian businesses in selling their products on the global stage. The removal of tariffs on Australian wine is seen as a positive step towards strengthening trade relations between Australia and China, and it is hoped that further trade impediments affecting Australian exports will be addressed in the future in the interests of both countries.

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Emma mistakenly flew with her wheelchair



Emma mistakenly flew with her wheelchair

Many people with disabilities face challenges when it comes to air travel, and Emma Weatherley’s recent experience highlights some of these issues. Emma, who has Facioscaplohumeral Dystrophy (FSHD), a muscle-wasting condition, was left stranded when she was told her motorised wheelchair could not be transported on a recent flight.

Despite having a wheelchair that met aircraft-approved specifications and weight limits, Virgin staff prohibited Emma’s 190kg chair from boarding the Link Airways-operated flight, citing a 120kg weight limit on the plane. This left Emma, a regular traveller and mother of two, feeling frustrated and discriminated against.

Virgin Australia later admitted that allowing Emma’s wheelchair on a previous flight was a mistake due to procedural errors made by staff members. The airline issued an apology to Emma and refunded the cost of the initial flight. They also pledged to improve their service and processes for passengers with specific needs.

Emma’s ordeal sheds light on the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities when it comes to air travel. Despite having her mobility information stored in the airline’s system, Emma still had to navigate through misunderstandings and a lack of awareness surrounding procedures for wheelchair transportation.

Issues like these not only impact the individual’s confidence and independence but also highlight systemic barriers faced by people with disabilities. Emma’s experience of being rerouted through another city at her own expense due to a lack of accessible flights underscores the financial burden and inconvenience faced by many in similar situations.

Furthermore, Emma’s call for financial penalties for transport services that fail to provide adequate accessibility support raises important questions about accountability and inclusivity in the transportation industry. She also advocates for increased awareness about conditions like FSHD and the need for government funding to support new treatments and clinical trials.

Emma’s story serves as a reminder of the importance of creating a more accessible and inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities, both in air travel and broader community settings. By sharing her experience and advocating for change, Emma hopes to prevent others from falling through the gaps and facing similar challenges in the future.

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Australians Doubt Labor’s Efforts to Ease Cost of Living



There has been a dip in support for the Labor government as Australians continue to feel the burden of the high cost of living, according to the latest Newspoll.

The poll, conducted for The Australian, shows that Federal Labor’s primary vote has fallen by a point to 32 per cent, while the Coalition has gained a point, reaching 37 per cent.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers highlighted the government’s efforts to alleviate cost-of-living pressures without adding to economic inflation, stating, “Our job is to do the right thing for the right reasons and the politics will take care of themselves.”

However, opposition finance minister Jane Hume criticized the government, suggesting that they are focusing on the “wrong priorities” and are distracted by the “chaos on our borders.”

The poll also revealed that Labor’s two-party-preferred lead over the Coalition has been reduced by two points to 51-49 per cent.

With a year to go before the next federal election, Nationals leader David Littleproud emphasized the importance of addressing the cost-of-living crisis, stating that voters will support the party that can best explain how they plan to tackle this issue.

Overall, 31 per cent of voters indicated that they would not support either Labor or the Coalition, signaling a trend away from the major parties. Combined support for Labor and the Coalition stood at 69 per cent.

On the other hand, the Greens saw a one-point increase to 13 per cent, while Pauline Hanson’s One Nation also rose one point to seven per cent in the poll.

Approval ratings for both leaders, Mr. Albanese and Mr. Dutton, saw little change in the past month. Mr. Albanese’s approval rating rose to 44 per cent, while Mr. Dutton’s approval remained at 37 per cent.

In terms of the better prime minister choice, Mr. Albanese saw a one-point increase to 48 per cent, while Mr. Dutton fell one point to 34 per cent.

The Newspoll surveyed 1223 voters nationally between March 18 and 22, providing insights into the current political landscape and public sentiment amidst the ongoing cost-of-living pressures.

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