TWU urges government to provide rapid testing kits to save supply chains

EMPTY supermarket shelves underscore governmental failure to provide rapid antigen testing kits (RATs) for transport workers, according to the Transport Workers Union (TWU), with "as up to 50 percent of truck drivers are absent due to COVID-19".

TWU national secretary, Michael Kaine said Australia's supply chain is now under significant pressure, with large logistics operators reporting up to half their workforce absent amid testing delays and the inability of workers to secure rapid tests.

Mr Kaine said reports of empty supermarket shelves across Australia was a predictable outcome of the government's failure to prioritise rapid tests for the country's most mobile workforce. The union has been told by large transport operators working out of major Australia ports that between a third and half of their workforces were missing each day.

“The TWU wrote to the Prime Minister in October urging the government to provide rapid tests to road transport workers to avoid unnecessary delays and keep drivers on the road," Mr Kaine said. 

"Instead, we have a completely predictable scenario where drivers are delivering rapid tests to be sold on the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies -- but they, like most Australians, can't access them themselves."

Mr Kaine said road transport was Australia’s most mobile industry and interstate truck drivers were at increased risk of virus exposure. The TWU and Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) have been calling on the Federal Government to implement a COVID-Safe National Transport Roadmap with rapid testing at its heart to combat the risk of covid spreading across states and territories as other restrictions are eased.

"We need to prioritise critical industries like transport," Mr Kaine said. "These tests are an important weapon in the fight against the virus, and without them, the virus is hitching a ride through transport supply chains, putting workers and the industry in danger.

“It’s always too little, too late with this government. First it was the sluggish vaccine rollout that left transport workers behind, and now it’s the failure to protect transport workers and supply chains from Omicron.

“It is vital that rapid tests are free and readily available. The government must prioritise access to transport workers and their employers who the community is again depending upon to keep Australia moving safely.”

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Ombudsman wants Banking Code Compliance Committee's 'SME inclusion' to be adopted

THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson has welcomed the final report of the independent review of the Banking Code Compliance Committee (BCCC), which includes recommendations to improve small business representation and engagement.

A key recommendation in the Khoury review is the addition of a fourth member on the committee with expertise in small business.

The final report also includes a recommendation to revitalise the BCCC’s engagement with the small business and agribusiness advisory panel, highlighting a need to incorporate systematic ways of engaging with the panel particularly when developing strategy and planning inquiries

“We welcome the final report of the independent review of the BCCC, noting the adoption of two significant recommendations my office has advocated for,” Mr Billson said. 

“Having a committee member with expertise in small business will provide balanced representation and help the BCCC meet community expectations.

“We are equally encouraged by the final report’s recommendation for the BCCC to engage more with the small business and agribusiness advisory panel, particularly when planning and conducting inquiries," he said.

“The panel is critical to the committee’s purpose to monitor and drive best practice Code compliance. A greater understanding of the unique challenges faced by small business customers will enhance the work of the BCCC and help meet the needs of the small business community.”

In addition to the review of the Banking Code Compliance Committee, Mr Billson also welcomed the Callaghan review of the Banking Code, which includes recommendations around access to banking services.

“While there is work to do to improve relationships between small business customers and banks, and de-banking is still an issue for certain small business sectors,” Mr Billson said.

“The Code review recommends seeking a commitment from banks to communicate with the customer before denying a banking service or closing an account, with an opportunity for the customer to respond, in accordance with AUSTRAC guidance. In the case where a service is denied, or account closed, it recommends the bank give a reason. It finds these decisions should be on a case-by-case basis.

“My office also supports the recommendation the BCCC consider conducting an inquiry into banks’ performance in accordance with these commitments.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

 

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International skills crucial for resources and energy growth says AMMA chief Steve Knott

RE-OPENING skilled migration to supplement Australia’s talent pool will be crucial to securing "the enormous pipeline of projected growth" in the resources and energy industry, according to resources and energy group the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA).

“Today’s announcement on international skilled immigration is very welcome news for Australia’s resources and energy industry which has been crippled by skills shortages,” said AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said.

“In daily conversations with AMMA’s resources and energy members, working in all sub-sectors right across the nation, finding the right number of skilled employees continues to be the most pressing and most severe challenge. 

“Despite leading the nation’s economic performance throughout COVID-19, difficulties in attracting skilled employees in the scale required has presented a very real risk to future resources and energy project growth and the enormous role it will play in Australia’s fiscal recovery.”

AMMA’s annual workforce forecasting report has identified 98 projects that are advanced in planning stages and could create over 100,000 jobs between now and 2026.

“Without access to supplementary international skilled labour, even in the very small numbers utilised by resources employers historically, many of these projects may be deemed unviable to proceed,” Mr Knott said.

“The national Labour Market Portal also predicts key resources and energy occupations – including mining and petroleum engineers, geophysicists, skilled operators and trade technicians – will remain in very tight supply over coming years.

“There needs to be a circuit breaker to the present unsustainable situation of Australian industries cannibalising each other for talent. This is occurring across the skills spectrum from operators and tradespeople to chefs, hospitality professionals and cleaners.

“The arrival of skilled migrant employees in some of these key occupations will ease the great anxieties of employers on how they will both continue to resource existing operations and secure the skills required to support expansion and new project growth.”

www.amma.org.au

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Resources sector says new low emissions technology commercialisation fund 'good move'

A NEW $1 billion Low Emissions Technology Commercialisation Fund announced by the Federal Government will help secure the long-term future of Queensland's $82.6 billion resources sector, the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) said today.

QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the initiative announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison would lead to better technology, lower emissions, improved environmental outcomes and long-term economic security for every Queenslander.

“The QRC supports the Minerals Council of Australia’s ambition for the resources sector to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, so today’s announcement will accelerate the development of new technology to help Queensland resources companies play their part in meeting this target,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“Achieving net zero by 2050 requires a practical pathway forward, so we welcome the government’s decision to stimulate large-scale investment in the commercialisation of low emission technologies as an important starting point post-COP26.”

Mr Macfarlane said every Queenslander benefitted from "a strong and sustainable state resources sector and the economic security and job opportunities it provides".

“I have no doubt Queensland resources companies will continue to be early adopters of new technologies and other innovations that deliver better environmental outcomes,” he said. 

“Queensland is well known for having one of the most technologically advanced and environmentally regulated resources sectors in the world, and many of our companies are already investing heavily in research into carbon capture use and storage, hybrid energy systems at mines sites, hydrogen production and automation.

“Our companies will continue to move as quickly as the technology allows to lower their emissions, improve energy efficiency, adopt renewable energy, invest in co-generation and implement demand management.

“You can count on resources to create a sustainable future for Queenslanders.”

A QRC report released earlier this year found the number of member CEOs investing in low emission technology research and development almost doubled over the past two years, increasing from 40 to 70 percent.

www.qrc.org.au

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Ombudsman wants more decisive action from Reserve Bank on small business payments

SMALL BUSINESS owners and leaders have every right to be frustrated by the Reserve Bank’s review of retail payments regulations, according to Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson.

Mr Billson said while some progress was being made, it was disappointing this report "fell well short of delivering the vital changes small and family businesses have been crying out for".

“More decisive action is urgently needed to stop small businesses and family enterprises paying more than they need to for payment services,” Mr Billson said.

The Reserve Bank said it expected payment providers to “offer and promote least-cost routing” by the end of 2022 but it fell short of mandating this as the default option and provided no explicit regulatory requirement, according to Mr Billson. 

Debit cards are now the most frequently used payment method in Australia and the Reserve Bank said 90 percent of debit cards were dual-network debit cards (DNDCs) which means they allow payment via either eftpos or one of the international debit schemes such as Debit Mastercard or Visa Debit.

The widespread use of 'tap-and-go' and other contactless electronic payments, such as smart phones, means customers are no longer offered a choice to push a button to choose CHQ or SAV from the typically lower-cost eftpos network and it defaults to the international network that can have higher costs for merchants.

Mandating least-cost routing as the default would mean the cheapest payment method would be available to merchants, according to Mr Billson.

“For too long, small businesses have been slugged with unnecessarily high fees from credit card networks, when there is a cheaper option,” Mr Billson said.

“The Reserve Bank could have and should have done more after years of ‘urging banks to do the right thing’ which has resulted in an inadequate response and poor access and uptake of least-cost routing for small merchants.

“We are keen to work with sector participants to make least-cost routing the mandated default option for all small business payment methods, especially smart devices used as touchless payment tools.”

The Reserve Bank review also said the eight biggest card issuers would be expected to continue to issue DNDCs and called for this to include all forms of payment, including mobile-wallet providers.

However, Mr Billson warned, there was no enforcement behind this sentiment and the Reserve Bank report does not require other providers of debit cards, with a smaller market share, to provide DNDCs, which will cause confusion in the market place by creating two sets of rules.

Mr Billson said the small business sector would welcome the Reserve Bank’s finding that it would be “in the public interest” for buy now, pay later (BNPL) providers to remove their no-surcharge rules but noted there was no action to enforce this or help small businesses if they receive push back from BNPL operators.

“Small businesses are currently forced to absorb the cost of BNPL offerings and with often slim margins this places pressure on businesses’ bottom-line. The rapid growth in the BNPL industry means it will no longer be an optional extra for a small business and they will be significantly disadvantaged unless they are able to pass on the surcharges, “Mr Billson said. 

Mr Billson said he was heartened that the Reserve Bank acknowledged it was important to reduce the cost to small and medium-sized merchants of accepting card payments, but much more was needed to deliver on this.

“A safe and robust retail payments system that provides access to affordable and efficient means for small business owners to accept payments is crucial to their viability,” Mr Billson said.

www.asbfeo.gov.au

 

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Ombudsman welcomes faster payment times for small business sub-contractors by Fed Govt

BUSINESSES with Federal Government contracts will have to pay their small business sub-contractors within 20 days or risk fines and penalties under new laws now enacted, according to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson.

“Fair payment times are incredibly important for the viability of small businesses, and I welcome the beginning of this significant policy,” Mr Billson said. 

Under the Payment Times Procurement Connected Policy introduced by the Federal Government, large businesses with Commonwealth government contracts of more than $4 million are required to pay their small business sub-contractors of up to $1 million within 20 calendar days or pay interest.

Importantly, they must also take reasonable endeavours to ensure smaller businesses throughout the supply chain of their contract are paid on time by other sub-contractors.  

“Challenging large businesses payment practices can be daunting for smaller businesses. I always encourage an initial conversation between the parties to try to resolve a dispute,” Mr Billson said.

“But if this is difficult, my office is here to provide support and guidance to try to resolve your dispute.”

Under the policy, where disputes arise, small and family businesses will now be able to lodge a complaint through the Treasury at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Businesses can also contact the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman for guidance and support on how to navigate the process at https://portal.asbfeo.gov.au/dispute or https://www.asbfeo.gov.au/contact-us.

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman’s website www.asbfeo.gov.au has a more detailed fact sheet on the Payment Times Procurement Connected Policy and the ‘5 steps to resolve your dispute’ tool to assist with ways to manage this process.

 

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Metallurgical coal demand drives Qld economy

IT IS A GREAT TIME to be a Queenslander, thanks to the Sunshine State being Australia’s largest producer of metallurgical coal, the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) said today.

QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the latest Resources and Energy Quarterly report, released by the Federal Government today, showed metallurgical or ‘coking’ coal would continue to deliver record national export earnings and remain Queensland’s most valuable export.

Australia’s resources and energy exports are forecast to earn a record $349 billion for 2021-22, up from $310 billion in 2020-21, largely driven by a strong recovery in metallurgical coal prices. 

Mr Macfarlane said surging demand for Australian coking coal from major steel-producing nations, such as Japan and South Korea, had helped negate the impact from China’s decision last year to ban Australian imports.

“We’re very fortunate that Queensland’s resources sector has been able to keep operating, earning and employing people throughout the pandemic,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“I hate to think what the Queensland economy would look like right now without the strength of the resources sector behind it. In 2019-20,our sector contributed $82.6 billion to the state economy and supported the jobs of more than 420,000 people, which is something every Queenslander can feel good about.

“Our industry has gone from strength to strength because we have the traditional and emerging commodities and raw materials the world needs to transition to a lower emissions economy, as well as the operational expertise to run what is Queensland’s largest export industry.”

Other highlights of the report were:

  • South Korean demand for Australian metallurgical coal rose by 56 percent, and Japan was up by 65 percent, between January and June 2021.
  • Higher demand from India is expected to add further to pressure on Australian coking coal exports, with buyers in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan expressing interest in greater supply in the December quarter;
  • The Chief Economist expects thermal coal imports to South East and South Asia will increase by around 20 million tonnes to 2023, with the region providing the strongest growth in coal-fired power relative to other regions.
  • The Galilee Basin is considered an area for potential growth for thermal coal if mooted projects such as GVK Group/Hancock’s Alpha and Kevin’s Corner projects, Waratah Coal’s Alpha North and Galilee projects, and AMCI’s South Galilee Coal Project proceed;
  • Australia’s LNG exports to China is forecast to increase to 74 million tonnes in 2021, making China the world’s largest LNG importer. Its demand for gas is expected to rise by about 20 percent over the September quarter, driven by the industrial and residential sectors and ongoing gas-to-coal switching. According to Gladstone Ports Corporation, more than two thirds of Queensland’s LNG was exported to China in 2020-21, so Queensland is well positioned to benefit from this uptake in demand.
  • The Asia-Pacific region remains the key driver of import growth for LNG, with a 12 percent year-on-year expansion in the first half of 2021. In this period Pakistan’s LNG imports rose by 7.3 percent year-on-year, and Bangladesh’s by 10 percent. The region, including India, is forecast to import 84 million tonnes of LNG by 2023, which is 44 percent higher than 2020 volumes.
  • There is good news for Queensland’s copper, zinc and aluminium industries, with base metal prices more than recovering from COVID-19 losses thanks to the global economic rebound. Supply concerns have also kept the pressure on some prices, with copper hitting record highs. Base metal demand should continue to rise, as world industrial activity recovers and the global energy transition accelerates.
  • Copper prices in particular have surged in 2021 and are expected to retain most of this gain in the years ahead, thanks to demand supported by economic recovery and the expanding use of copper in low-emissions technology.

The QRC has also welcomed today’s announcement by Federal Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister, Angus Taylor of a $250 million grant program to accelerate the development of carbon capture and storage technology to help reduce industry emissions.

Mr Macfarlane said the resources sector is investing in and embracing low emission technology at an unprecedented rate to meet the challenges of climate change.

“Resources companies are moving as fast as they can to lower emissions, decarbonise their operations and embrace new sources of green energy,” he said.

“Carbon capture and storage technology is an important part of this response and Queensland’s resources sector fully supports government investment in this area.”

www.qrc.org.au

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