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Small business sector welcomes fair contracts law

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THE Australian small business sector has embraced and welcomed legislation that protects them from unfair contracts.

Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, said a recent survey showed high awareness among small business operators of the unfair contract terms (UCT) legislation, which has now been in force for one year.

The East & Partners SME survey* of 1280 businesses showed 49.6 per cent had relied on the UCT legislation to negotiate fairer terms in the previous six months and the awareness level was 78.2 per cent.

“There is no doubt this protection was badly needed,” Ms Carnell said.

“Protections for consumers were introduced as part of the broader Australian Consumer Law and fully implemented in 2011.

“From 12 November 2016, the unfair contract terms law was extended to cover standard form small business contracts.

“Regulators have been enforcing the law and small businesses have welcomed the protection.”

Ms Carnell said her office had handled more than 20 assistance cases involving unfair contracts.

One example involved a standard form commercial lease.

“With the assistance of my office, the small business was able to negotiate removal of potentially unfair contract terms in the agreement,” Ms Carnell said.

Earlier this year, the Ombudsman worked with ASIC and the big-four banks to ensure small business loan contracts were fair and easier to understand.

“This means that banks can no longer unilaterally vary a contract,” she said.

“They no longer have the power to terminate a loan for an unspecified negative change in the circumstances of the customer.”

Ms Carnell said she was encouraged that most big businesses understood their obligations and had acted to ensure compliance.

“I wrote to Amazon recently to ensure their Australian contracts conform with the legislation and received a positive response. I’ve also written to Ali Baba along similar lines,” she said.

“After a Federal Court ruling against the contracts used by JJ Richards I wrote to other waste management companies and received assurances of their compliance.

“If a court finds that a term in a standard form contract is unfair, the term is void. This means that the term is treated as if it never existed.

“The effect of this legislation has been to level the playing field for small business in dealings with large entities that have much greater financial power.”

Small business operators who believe that contract terms are unfair can contact the Ombudsman’s office for assistance, phone 1300 650 460.

 

* The question was asked as part of the East & Partners SME Transaction Banking survey, which examines and forecasts demand for transaction banking product lines and service offerings within Australia’s Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) segment (A$1-20 million turnover per annum).

 

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Australia to host a unique new aid-for-trade program to assist women entrepreneurs

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THE Export Council of Australia (ECA), in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Australia Awards, are hosting a delegation of female small business owners from across the Pacific in Australia from 12-24 November.

Lisa McAuley, CEO of the ECA said, “Given the contribution made by SMEs to job creation, programs that foster their growth can help raise incomes and reduce poverty in developing countries. Supporting developing countries to trade and prosper will ultimately benefit Australia’s trade and investment opportunities.”

The “Australia Awards: Women Trading Globally” course has been designed under the Aid for Trade initiative to assist small business owners from the Pacific to develop the capabilities needed to open their businesses to new international markets, as well as connect with other women entrepreneurs in Australia.

The program consists of one week of training in Brisbane, and one week of training in Sydney and is the first of its kind to be supported by the Australian government.

“In supporting the engagement of developing market SMEs into trade-based economic flows, Aid for Trade assists in ensuring the overall health and sustainability of global supply chains, and serves as a mechanism for encouraging sustainable sourcing, good governance, labour and child safety, anti-corruption measures and a range of related 21st Century trade practices.” Ms McAuley said.

Ms Collins Rex, Programme Manager and Head of Skills Development for the Export Council of Australia said, “We were overwhelmed by the response to our call for candidates, with over 250 remarkable women from across the Pacific submitting applications. It was extremely difficult to whittle down the original 250 to a shortlist of 100 and, ultimately, to select 15 extraordinary women to participate in this two-week intensive international business training program.”

The program consists of an intensive training course in Brisbane to assist particpants in developing their export strategy and business plan, followed by an interactive agenda in Sydney that will include a series of roundtable table events with trade experts and business leaders.

The program includes site visits with two fantastic female leaders in international trade, Samea Maakrun the Managing Director of Sasy n Savy and Jane Lu the Founder & CEO of Showpo, who have kindly opened their doors to the delegation. Participants will also undertake tours of innovation hubs including Triangles XYZ, Tank Stream Labs and Fishburners, as well as Indigenous advocacy training at UNSW.

The Export Council of Australia will host two networking events — in Brisbane, hosted by Microsoft Australia, and in Sydney — to encourage female exporters in New South Wales and Queensland to meet and network with the delegation.

www.export.org.au

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Global broadband giants come to Sydney

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NBN Co chief executive officer, Bill Morrow, will today address the Global Broadband Futures conference in Sydney – which brings together an acclaimed line up of international telecom executives.

Speakers at the event include: Mike McTighe, Chairman of UK network operator Openreach; Bruno Jacobfeuerborn, chief technology officer of Deutsche Telekom; Byungki Oh, vice president of global development at Korea Telecom; and Jeff Finkelstein, executive director of advanced technology of US cable operator Cox Communications.

These companies will discuss how they are delivering next-generation broadband networks in their countries to meet the growing demands of end users.

NBN Co has a unique view to share in terms of the complexity of its build and the technology it will use to deliver universal access to every Australian by 2020.

Mr Morrow said, “We are very proud to be part of the Global Broadband Futures conference, this is a really important event for the local broadband industry.

"We continue to learn from our peers around the world and share our insights. Having these experts in the country allows us to learn from one another and make sure we deliver for Australia in the best way possible.

“It is so important for Australians to hear the facts about what is going on in the rest of the global broadband market.

“The reality is that the vast majority of countries around the world are adopting the same approach as nbn and deploying a range of technologies to deliver improved services, the significant difference being scale.

“For Australians to be able to hear that message from some of the leading telecom operators in the world will be extremely valuable in a noisy, often misinformed environment.”

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Industry groups unite on roadmap to drive Qld's economic growth

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FIVE Queensland peak industry groups have united to release a joint roadmap outlining how the next State Government can create jobs, drive growth and build confidence across key sectors of the economy.

The ‘Driving Queensland’s Economic Growth’ State Election platform was developed and agreed upon by the peak representative bodies for broadacre primary producers, tourism businesses, the property industry, the resources sector and the timber industry.

These five industries directly employ almost half a million Queenslanders, and are responsible for feeding, powering, housing and showcasing the state.

AgForce, Queensland Tourism Industry Council, the Property Council, Queensland Resources Council and Timber Queensland are calling on the next State Government to:

  • Improve environmental management in Queensland by simplifying environmental regulations, investing in good quality land management on both state and private land, and recognising the work industry does as land custodians;
     
  • Build business confidence through innovation, investment and infrastructure, including by ensuring tax stability, cutting energy costs for all users, using infrastructure as an enabler of regional growth, and through skills development;
     
  • Commit to fact-based policies by guaranteeing evidence-based planning decisions and a genuine regulatory impact process for all major legislative changes;
     
  • Work with industry to identify, develop and implement solutions via a targeted Roundtable bringing together key industry and Ministerial representatives to develop a shared vision for the future, agreed solutions, and to track progress;
     
  • Pursue a genuine regional agenda with investment in regional strategies, and a senior Minister for Regional Development to ensure Queensland maximises the benefits of the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility and that regional aspects of Government decisions are explicitly considered as part of the normal Cabinet process.


Queensland Resources Council Chief Executive Ian Macfarlane said: “The jobs of Queenslanders depend on a Government that works constructively with industry.

“Our combined industries employ hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders, particularly in regional communities across our vast state.

“What Queensland needs from its next Government is a commitment to policies that build our state’s foundation industries – including the resources sector – through a stable and consultative framework that encourages new investment.”

Property Council Queensland’s Executive Director Chris Mountford said the state’s property industry was seeking action from Queensland’s political leaders to unlock economic activity, create jobs and build confidence.

“There is significant room for improvement in Queensland’s regulatory and legislative framework to better support industry to attract new investment to Queensland,” he said.

“Whether it is tax arrangements, infrastructure investment or any other area of policy, Queensland can be a far more competitive destination to do business.

“Queensland’s shifting environmental regulation, in particular, provides little certainty for industry stakeholders and too often uses red tape as a substitute for evidence-based policy solutions. Greater collaboration with industry is needed to develop win-win environmental outcomes which benefit both Queensland’s ecology and economy.”

AgForce General President Grant Maudsley said demand for Queensland’s high-quality food and fibre was soaring, and the primary production sector needed political parties to commit to policies that take agriculture forward, not hold it back.

“We want fair and balanced policies that allow farmers to increase their productivity and profitability, as well as increased investment in infrastructure to make it safer, easier and cheaper to get our farm goods from the paddock to the plate,” he said.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council Chief Executive Daniel Gschwind said key priorities for the tourism industry included competitive investment of tourism marketing and event attraction and building the competitiveness of destination.

“Tourism needs the infrastructure and it needs the marketing, but it also needs an industry that has the capability, skills and capacity to drive innovation and create market-leading experiences,” he said.

Mr Gschwind said the tourism industry would also like to see government develop sustainable business opportunities through Queensland’s natural and cultural heritage.

Timber Queensland CEO Mick Stephens said the Queensland timber industry generated $3 billion in value each year and underpinned more than 25,000 jobs.

“Over 80 percent of timber industry jobs are located outside the Brisbane area so it is therefore crucial that all parties recognise and support this industry for regional growth and prosperity,” he said.

“Policies need to address critical issues such as high energy costs and improve our timber manufacturing competitiveness.”

A copy of the 'Driving Queensland's Economic Growth' Joint Election platform is available at http://bit.ly/2ABgQwy

www.qrc.org.au

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Business bank model urged for consideration

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THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman has called for an Australian version of the British Business Bank to be considered.

Speaking at the Franchise Accountants Network conference in Sydney, Ombudsman Kate Carnell said access to finance was a major challenge for Australian small-medium enterprises.

“Banks are happy to lend to small businesses, but only if they have security such as property or cash,” Ms Carnell said.

“I’m concerned about SME lending constraints due to prudential requirements implemented after the Global Financial Crisis.

“The requirement for property security limits capital availability for small businesses with good cash flow and good prospects. Funding for many small businesses is unavailable at a reasonable cost.

“I’ve asked the Productivity Commission to explore the extent to which prudential risk weighting standards and capital requirements have had unintended consequences on lending to small businesses.”

Ms Carnell said the option of a Government-backed approach to small business lending like the British Business Bank should be considered.

“Other countries have identified a similar problem and come up with solutions,” she said.

“The British Business Bank can provide a government-backed 75 per cent guarantee against the outstanding facility balance, potentially converting a ‘no’ credit decision from a lender to a ‘yes’.

“The British Business Bank can also help small finance providers to tap institutional investors’ funds.

“Without a creative approach to small business lending in Australia we risk stifling growth, investment and employment.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

 

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