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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Just Cuts stylists call on clients to get vaccinated, sort out 'at-home hair'

WITH THE NSW Government roadmap to re-opening including some welcome changes for hairdressers across the state, 85 percent of Just Cuts stylists have had at least one vaccine dose as they prepare to welcome clients back into salons.

There are 756 Just Cuts Stylists across NSW, and 55 percent of Just Cuts stylists surveyed are fully vaccinated and 30 percent have had one dose. 

About 11 percent are still waiting for their first appointment, which includes many stylists from regional NSW. About 4 percent of Stylists are unable to get the vaccine for medical or personal reasons.

Just Cuts CEO Amber Manning said teams across the state continued to do everything in their power to welcome clients back into their salons as soon as possible.

“As a close contact personal service we’ve always understood and appreciated the severity of the pandemic, which is why we’re seeing such high vaccination rates within our network,” Ms Manning said. 

“We know from all the conversations our stylists have with their clients that there is still vaccine hesitancy in the community, when you sit in one of our salons no topic is off-limits.”

“So that’s why Just Cuts Stylists are cutting out the misinformation and getting vaccinated.”

Once NSW reaches the 70 percent double vaccination target, the NSW roadmap to reopening states hairdressing salons can open with one person per 4sqm, capped at five clients per premises.

Unvaccinated people will continue to only be able to access critical retail, and Ms Manning hopes clients understand the extra burden this will place on salons, many of which have been shut since June.

“Our salons are no appointments, just walk in, so the five clients rule means there will be some wait times – I encourage everyone to download the Just Cuts app for contactless check in," she said.

“Some of our stylists are also concerned about how assessing the vaccination status of clients will work, as that remains unclear.

“While these measures represent a first step on our road to reopening, there is still more work to do around securing COVID rent relief from commercial landlords for our small business owners.”

Ms Manning said Just Cuts encourages everyone that is eligible to book their first available vaccine dose.

“At the moment we have so many stylists from regional NSW salons who are in the difficult situation of having to wait until November for their vaccination appointments,” Ms Manning said. “And as our Victorian salons know only too well, at any time hairdressers in particular areas may again be subject to harsher restrictions if COVID case numbers increase.

“So I encourage everyone to take the first available opportunity you have to get vaccinated, so we can see you again as soon as possible in our salons and fix up your at-home hair," she said.

“Vaccination is the best and fastest way to get you looking and feeling your very best again.”

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Ombudsman applauds cancellation and suspension of some Australian credit licences

AUSTRALIAN Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson has welcomed ASIC’s announcement that they have cancelled or suspended Australian credit licences for failing to be a member of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA).

Australian credit licence holders are required by law to join AFCA, which has been set up to sort out complaints between financial firms that are members and their small business and consumer customers that can’t resolve matters themselves.

In the period January 1, 2021 to June 30, 2021, 24 licences were cancelled.  

“AFCA provides free, fast and binding dispute resolution to small businesses, saving them time and money by significantly reducing the need for litigation,” Mr Billson said.

“Small businesses do not have the time or the money to hire lawyers and challenge banks and other financial institutions through the court system to get a fair outcome to a financial complaint.

“If a finance provider that is an AFCA member can’t resolve a complaint directly with a customer, including a small business customer, AFCA decides what a fair and appropriate outcome is and the decision is binding on the financial firm.

“This is a really important service as finance is the oxygen of enterprise, yet too often small and family businesses feel powerless in sorting out complaints they may have with finance providers," Mr Billson said.  

“This move by ASIC serves as a timely and critical reminder to small businesses to ensure the lender or financier they are considering dealing with is an AFCA member.

“Small business borrowers can only access AFCA’s free and independent dispute resolution ‘umpire’ process for their financial complaints if their lender is an AFCA member.

“Not all lenders are AFCA members – in fact many are not – and small businesses need to be aware of the risks and inability to reach out to AFCA to decide a matter.

“My office regularly hears from small businesses that have taken out a loan or some kind of financing deal with a non-AFCA member, and end up in a dispute they are not able to resolve," he said.

“My office can and does help with seeking to facilitate a resolution via mediation, but can’t determine and impose a fair outcome like AFCA can when the finance provider is an AFCA member.

“My tip is to always check out your financing options with an AFCA member for your own piece of mind.”

Small businesses engaged in a dispute with a financial institution are encouraged to contact ASBFEO for assistance on 1300 650 460 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For complaints involving an AFCA member, call 1800 931 768 or lodge a complaint online via www.afca.org.au

 

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CPAs call for post-lockdown business support strategy to avoid 'hard landing

THE  Federal Government can avoid a 'hard landing' in the recovery phases from the COVID pandemic by developing a post-lockdown business support strategy, according to professional accounting body, CPA Australia.

“New national arrangements on COVID-19 business supports are a positive development,” CPA Australia CEO Andrew Hunter said.

“The missing piece is what happens once a lockdown ends. The impact on businesses doesn’t stop the moment a government calls time on a lockdown. If support is withdrawn immediately, many businesses may experience a damaging hard landing. 

“By tapering business support for a couple of weeks post-lockdown, the government can soften the negative effects of withdrawing support.”

CPA Australia is calling for a national post-lockdown business support strategy, involving a combination of Commonwealth and state or territory supports for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs).

“We’ve participated in hundreds of discussions with governments, industry and members since the pandemic began," Mr Hunter said. "We’ve heard countless stories of lockdown hardship from business owners.

“Based on our experience, a coordinated national approach, including direct and indirect supports, makes a big difference to businesses’ success after an extended lockdown.

Our view is that a successful strategy will involve five elements delivered in the period immediately post-lockdown."

Mr Hunter named the five strategies as: Tapered support for SMEs with eligibility based on decline in turnover; Deferral of Commonwealth and state or territory SME revenue collection; A moratorium on Commonwealth and state or territory compliance activity, such as ATO debt collection; Consumer incentives, such as dining, travel and accommodation vouchers; and Financial assistance for businesses to seek professional advice.

"We urge the Federal Government to discuss a post-lockdown business support strategy at the next National Cabinet meeting," Mr Hunter said.

“If the government takes the initiative immediately, we could have a strategy in place for when current lockdowns end, and for any future lockdowns.

“We acknowledge that this will require a high level of coordination between different levels of government, but we don’t think that’s too much for Australians to expect.”

www.cpaaustralia.com.au

 

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Ombudsman praises women as 'key drivers of business growth' on World MSME Day  

THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson has recognised the rise of ‘womenpreneurs’ and the key role women will play in driving future business growth on World MSME Day (Sunday June 27).

World MSME Day 2021, declared by the UN, has identified the evolution of womenpreneurs as one of the Top 10 Trends of the year.

Mr Billson said this was also an emerging trend in Australia, with women-owned women-led enterprises increasing at a faster rate than male-owned businesses. 

“On World MSME Day I want to thank all small and family businesses for their vital contribution to Australia’s prosperity, wellbeing and community,” Mr Billson said. 

“Female entrepreneurs have been acknowledged on World MSME Day as being a crucial part of the global SME ecosystem who are looking for new growth opportunities.  

“In Australia, about 38 percent of small businesses are owned by women and we are likely to see that number continue to grow.

“In the decade to 2019, of the 171,000 newly established businesses in Australia, two-thirds were led by women.

“Research has found the economic opportunity for Australia by boosting the number of female entrepreneurs to parity with men would be worth between $71 billion and $135 billion to the nation’s economy.”

Resilience has also been listed as one of the Top 10 Trends of 2021 as part of World MSME Day.

“The past 18 months has been incredibly challenging for small businesses, but I have been inspired by the courage and agility shown by our small business community,” Mr Billson said.

“Our Small Business Counts report noted ABS data revealing 40 percent of small businesses have changed the way they provided products and services as a result of the pandemic.

“More than ever we have seen the deep personal commitment it takes to run a small business and I thank Australian small and family businesses for their fighting spirit, hard work and determination.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

View ASBFEO’s World MSME Day video here.

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