Australia news live: Virgin announces in-cabin travel for small cats and dogs; Chalmers spruiks fix to super gender gap | Australian politics

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Virgin Australia announces plan for pets in cabin flights

Virgin has announced its intention to become Australia’s first airline to operate flights with pets on board, as part of a plan unveiled today.

The service is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to launch within 12 months, the airline said in a statement.

Using a social media survey on Facebook in 2021, Virgin found 85% of respondents voted in favour of pets in cabin flights. More recent research found nearly 70% would travel with their pet in the cabin, and 57% would fly more regularly if the service was a reality.

The service would be limited to small cats and dogs on specific domestic routes, and pets must be carried in a Virgin Australia-approved carrier under the seat in front of the owner.

Chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said:

Overwhelmingly, our guests tell us they want to travel with their pets, and we are now on a journey to make that a reality. It’s something that commonly happens overseas and is proven to work well.

The proposal would not result in any change to approved assistance animals being able to travel in the cabin at no additional cost, the airline said.


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Key events

Q: Are you obsessed with delivering a surplus?

Treasurer Jim Chalmers responded that he is “obsessed with responsible economic management”.

You know, I think the foundation of a good government is being responsible with taxpayer dollars … I think one of the things that we have been very successful at the first couple of years of this Albanese government is funding our priorities – running a tight ship but funding priorities, all of that [builds] on a really solid foundation of responsible economic management.

That’s what the expenditure review committee is charged with delivering, that’s what we’re doing. That doesn’t always make us popular, we know that there are more good ideas that can’t be funded, that’s just the reality of a good government [but we do] our best for people, we do our best for ministers, and we do our best for the country, and from time to time you get stories like this, so be it.

At the end here, Chalmers was referencing an article in the Sydney Morning Herald today, which claimed federal ministers are frustrated that key spending proposals are being rejected by prime minister Anthony Albanese’s “powerful inner circle”.


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Treasurer says he won’t ‘second guess’ November 2023 interest rate rise

Q: Was the November 2023 interest rate hike by the RBA unnecessary?

Jim Chalmers said he was not going to “second guess it”.

You know that I don’t engage in running commentary on [the RBA’s] decisions [in the] past and [what] they may or may not take in the future … I’m just not gonna take the bait.

I maintain this position for good reason. The Reserve Bank’s got a job to do, it does it independently. It has a lot of opportunities to explain the decisions that it takes and I have my own opportunity to explain the strategy that we are pursuing.


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Chalmers says inflation ‘still the main game’ in economy

Speaking about the economy, and the upcoming budget in May, treasurer Jim Chalmers said:

I think inflation is still the main game in our economy but the balance of risks is shifting and so will our strategy – not in fundamental ways but in terms of the difficult balances that we strike between cost of living help and budget repair, and investing in both in the budget.

We will maintain a primary focus on inflation but not a sole focus on inflation. Now as the risks shift in our economy, the balance shifts in our budget strategy as well and I think people will see that [in the May budget].

Asked if people can expect a stimulatory budget, Chalmers said there won’t be a “fundamental shift” with a focus remaining on inflation but “we can’t and won’t ignore the way that the economy is slowing”.


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Treasurer says final costings for super initiative will be announced in the budget

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, is currently speaking to ABC radio about the new super initiative.

He said it makes up part of finance minister Katy Gallagher’s gender equality strategy, which she will launch at the National Press Club today. Chalmers said:

Our super system is the envy of the world but it’s not perfect and one of its imperfections is this gender gap in super. And what we’re announcing today will address that – it won’t eliminate that gap but it will help to address it.

Asked why the initiative would kick in after the next election, Chalmers said “we’ve got to get the systems right”.

You can’t just click your fingers and make this work immediately.

He said final costings would be announced in the budget.


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Super Members Council says changes a ‘major stride forward on gender equity’

The Super Members Council has also welcomed the government’s new initiative to tackle the gender super gap as a “major stride forward on gender equity”.

Chief executive Misha Schubert said this “watershed reform” would make a “powerful difference to the lives and retirement incomes of generations of Australian women in the decades ahead – and narrow the gender gap at retirement”.

It will powerfully propel Australia closer towards the goal of ending the financial ‘motherhood penalty’ in the early years of having children – which has a compounding effect across women’s working lives.

New Super Members Council analysis shows the gender super gap has narrowed for all age groups but women in their 30s have gone backwards – mostly due to not being paid super on parental leave.

Paying super on parental leave is a highly effective gender equity measure and could reduce the gender gap at retirement by around a quarter, the council says.

It is also advocating for a boost to the low-income super tax offset – a super tax refund that mostly benefits lower income women but has not increased in line with the tax brackets.


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Rest CEO praises super changes

Superannuation fund Rest says the government’s commitment to include super contributions on the paid parental leave scheme is a “major milestone” towards closing the gender super gap.

Chief executive Vicki Doyle said the change was a recommendation in Rest’s pre-budget submission, and it has long been an advocate for the change.

The gender super gap for Rest members nearing retirement sits at around 27%. In recent years, this gap has been wider than the national average and is progressively widening.

We know significant work is required to improve super settings to address this imbalance, including dealing with the motherhood penalty experienced by those who engage in unpaid caring work, such as time on parental leave.

Rest noted that modelling shows a mother of two children who received super on the paid parental leave scheme would be $14,500 better off in retirement.


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Cait Kelly

Cait Kelly

NSW government urged to double social housing by 2050

Homelessness NSW is urging the state government to spend $1bn each year for a decade to double the supply of social housing by 2050.

Chief executive Dominique Rowe said the state must build 5,000 dwellings annually to lift NSW’s share of social housing from one in 20 to one in 10 homes:

NSW has failed to invest in social housing for decades. Last year, just one-fifth of people seeking help from homelessness services could find long-term accommodation.

Right now, many of the 57,000 households on the social housing waitlist are forced to wait up to a decade for a safe and stable place to call home.

In its budget submission, Homelessness NSW is warning frontline services risked staff cuts and closure without a 20% funding boost.


Underfunded frontline providers are being flooded with calls for help and forced to turn away one in every two people who need accommodation. Services will be unable to keep staff on or their doors open without more funding.

Even for people who get through the door, help is limited. Half of those who need temporary or crisis accommodation cannot access it. That means women and children are forced to return to violent partners, seek shelter in a vehicle, on a couch or the street.


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Josh Butler

Josh Butler

Linda Burney says there has been ‘no improvement’ in closing the gap on life expectancy

Josh Butler has got more on the Closing the Gap data released overnight:

The Indigenous Australians minister, Linda Burney, cautiously praised “some progress” in the report, noting that five of the 19 targets were now on track – an uptick from four of 19 in previous reports.

“Encouragingly”, Burney said, “the proportion of First Nations babies born at a healthy weight has improved and is on track to meet the target of 91% by 2031. The target of a 15% increase in land and sea country covered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples legal rights is also on track.”

But there has been no improvement in closing the gap on life expectancy, with Indigenous Australian males and females expected to live 8.8 and 8.1 years respectively, less than other Australians.

The target to reduce the number of children in out of home care is not on track, while the target to reduce adult imprisonment is not on track and worsening.

The report shows the life expectancy for Indigenous men is 71.9, and 75.6 for women.

The minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Burney last month announced hundreds of millions for a new remote jobs program, a new national commissioner for Indigenous young people, and continued funding for Indigenous justice policies addressing incarceration rates. She said:

The government is committed to strengthening efforts to work in partnership with First Nations people to make progress on Closing the Gap and improve life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.


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Finance minister says Labor had to ‘find room in the budget’ for super initiative

Speaking on the superannuation initiative, Katy Gallagher said it would be funded in the budget, the legislation will move through and the funding would flow from 1 July 2025.

The final cost would be decided through the budget process, she said.

She was asked whether Labor regrets previously dumping this policy at the 2022 election? Gallagher:

We have had to find room in the budget for it. We have taken the difficult decisions, finding savings and not spending in other areas to make sure we have got the room and we can do it in a responsible budget way. That is what has led to be in a position to make the announcement today. It is not in isolation of all the other work we are doing to improve the lives of women in this country.

The finance minister, Katy Gallagher. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

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Katy Gallagher says super change to paid parental leave about valuing women

Making news overnight: parents will receive 12% superannuation, or about $106 a week, on their publicly funded paid parental leave from July 2025.

As Paul Karp reports, this is part of a major initiative to be announced by the Albanese government, expected to cost at least $250m a year to the federal budget and aimed at closing the retirement savings gap between women and men. You can read more below:

The finance minister, Katy Gallagher, was talking about the initiative earlier on ABC News Breakfast and said:

This is an important announcement. We know women, because of their various caring roles primarily, but also because of the nature of the work that women predominantly do, retire with less super than men.

One of the issues that has existed for some time, or forever, has been super isn’t paid on paid parental leave, on the government’s paid parental leave. Many employers do it but on that scheme we haven’t paid superannuation. When you take time out of the work force to care for children, you don’t get super going into your super account. That contributes to the super pay gap.

This announcement, and it will be funded in the budget so it is not linked to the election, is about making sure we are sending women a message that we value the care that they provide for young children throughout their careers, and also that this will ensure we are doing what we can to close that super gender pay gap.


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Bankwest closing all branches and going digital

Bankwest has announced it will be closing all of its branches and going digital.

Bankwest, a subsidiary of the Commonwealth Bank, said on its website that its branch network would close by October this year. Fifteen branches will be converted to CommBank branches by the end of this year, it added.

Bankwest ATMs will also be closing. The website reads:

We recognise this may be difficult news if you or your loved ones bank in branch, or if you feel reassured knowing a branch is nearby. We’re committed to supporting you through this change.

This change enables us to invest in the digital channels the majority of our customers are increasingly choosing to do their banking with us.

This comes amid widespread bank closures across regional towns, leaving many having to drive hundreds, or thousands, of kilometres to access a branch. You can read more on this from the Rural Network, below:


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Emily Wind

Emily Wind

Good morning, and happy Thursday. Thanks to Martin for kicking things off! I’m Emily Wind and I’ll be bringing you our rolling coverage here on the blog today.

See something that needs attention? You can get in touch via X, @emilywindwrites, or send me an email:

Let’s get started.


Some Closing the Gap indicators getting worse, new data shows

Josh Butler

Josh Butler

National progress on Closing The Gap on Indigenous life outcomes is improving, but several crucial indicators are not getting better and in some cases are getting worse.

The Productivity Commission overnight released a new data set for Closing The Gap, showing more bleak pictures on government efforts to improve outcomes for Indigenous people. Statistics on suicide, child protection and imprisonment rates were not on track to meet government-set goals, and are actually going backwards and getting worse.

Nearly 30 people per 100,000 population took their own life in 2022, according to the data; 57.2 children per 1,000 were in out of home care in 2023, and 2,265 adults per 100,000 were in prison in 2023.

There were 29.8 young people in detention per 10,000, a figure which represented “no change from the baseline”.

The overnight data is newly updated numbers, a separate dataset to that shared in last month’s Closing The Gap report in federal parliament, but showing broadly the same picture – some targets on track, others in limbo and some getting worse.


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Headspace survey finds loneliness reported by three in five young people

Young women are among the loneliest and most isolated group of people in Australia, according to a study that found four in five felt left out and lacking companionship, Australian Associated Press reports.

A Headspace survey released today – the eve of International Women’s Day – found young women suffered loneliness more than their male counterparts, even though young men were less likely to ask for help.

The Headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey found three in five young people reported feeling like they lacked companionship, felt isolated or left out.

But the rates of loneliness were highest among women aged between 18 and 21, with almost four in five reporting feelings of loneliness.

Headspace clinical leadership head Nicola Palfrey said the findings may reflect a challenging stage of life, in which young adults gain greater independence and leave primary school or the family home.

“People in their late teens and early 20s are doing many things for the first time,” Palfrey said.

But Palfrey said other factors could also challenge young women’s mental health, including a smaller likelihood to participate in community sport and the larger influence of social media for the group.


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Where now for the government’s fight against the overwhelming market power of Coles and Woolworths after the prime minister ruled out breaking up the companies?

Our business reporter Jonathan Barrett talks to retail analysts about the hurdles for new entrants such as finding suppliers who are already tied up with the big two, locating new stores in inner-city and suburban areas where property is very hard to come by and very expensive. He also looks at what can be done to help.

Read his full story here:

And the head of the competition watchdog will highlight today how she intends to help consumers struggling with the cost of living crisis and will demand more powers to take on companies.

Read Peter Hannam’s full story here:


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Good morning and welcome to our rolling news coverage. I’m Martin Farrer and I’ll be bringing you the top overnight stories.

Having not donated to any Australian political party for more than a decade, one of the world’s biggest tobacco companies chose the moment the industry faced the biggest crackdown for years to gift the Nationals $55,000. The last time British American Tobacco donated to the Nationals was when the government planned to introduce plain-packaging laws for cigarettes.

Supermarket competition, energy prices, consumer protection and pricing are priorities for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, its chair, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, is expected to say in a speech today. With a full-blown investigation into supermarket pricing under way, Cass-Gottlieb will say that cost of living pressures and the push towards net zero emissions top the agenda based on complaints the agency received. “This new priority reflects significant price increases in food and groceries and the concerns of many Australian consumers and farmers about supermarket pricing,” she is expected to tell the audience at an event held by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia. More coming up.

The New South Wales environmental watchdog will announce this morning that it has found 75 sites where mulch has been contaminated with asbestos. The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has finished trawling through the state’s complex supply chain and will now turn its focus on its criminal investigation after the completion of contact tracing. The state’s environment minister, Penny Sharpe, has pledged to tighten regulations after the scandal, with “multiple lines of inquiry still live”, according to the government.

And a new survey has found that young women suffer loneliness more than their male counterparts, though men are less likely to ask for help. More on that, too, in a few minutes.