Corporate engagement with Indigenous consumers reviewed

HOW the corporate sector establishes models of best practice to foster better engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consumers will be the focus of a new inquiry by the House Indigenous Affairs Committee.

Recent major corporate scandals in relation to the treatment of Indigenous people including organisations such as Rio Tinto, Telstra, and Woolworths, indicate that corporate Australia needs to walk the walk and talk the talk in relation to reconciliation.

The committee will be looking at the role played by corporate Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) in assisting with these engagements and practices.

"Reconciliation Australia has done a great job with their reconciliation plan process," Committee Chair Julian Leeser MP said. "The purpose of this inquiry is to look at ways in which these kinds of plans can be strengthened and ways in which a greater corporate commitment to reconciliation can be achieved.

“There have been some shocking high profile examples of major Australian companies failing to meet expected standards when dealing with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The $50 million dollar penalty imposed on Telstra earlier this year for unconscionable sales of unaffordable mobile phone plans to vulnerable Indigenous customers is one such example.

"This and other cases indicate that significant gaps still remain in the corporate sector’s understanding of the needs of Indigenous people and the barriers that many of them face. This is true even among businesses that have a RAP in place and have done some good things in relation to Indigenous engagement," Mr Leeser said.

The Committee will report by March 31, 2022.

For more information about this inquiry, including its terms of reference, details of upcoming public hearings, and instructions on making a submission, visit the Inquiry webpage. Track the committee to receive email updates on the inquiry by clicking the blue ‘Track Committee’ button.

The terms of reference of the inquiry are:

  1. The way the corporate sector supports meaningful engagement with Indigenous consumers.
  2. How to strengthen corporate sector cultural understanding, and how this is demonstrated through their engagement with Indigenous consumers.
  3. The impact of Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) in developing targeted approaches on engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through such actions.
  4. Other matters as required.

 

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Exploring renewable hydrogen opportunities at the Port of Newcastle

THE Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced $1.5 million in funding to support a feasibility study into the development of a 40 MW hydrogen hub located at Port of Newcastle in New South Wales.

The $3 million study will be led by Port of Newcastle and Macquarie’s Green Investment Group and supported by project partners Idemitsu, Keolis Downer, Lake Macquarie, Snowy Hydro, Jemena and project collaborators Macquarie Agriculture and University of Newcastle. It will determine a broad and comprehensive range of potential use cases for green hydrogen, including customer-led studies into mobility, bunkering, energy production, and industrial applications such as renewable ammonia at scale for domestic fertiliser use.

The project will benefit from the deep expertise of the joint developers, project partners, collaborators and globally recognised specialist consultants. The study will ultimately determine the optimal site within the Port for the hub as a springboard for renewable hydrogen to flow within the region and future export.

The study will also investigate the potential to scale up hydrogen production for export, leveraging the Port of Newcastle’s existing domestic and international supply chain links. While stage one of the project is underpinned by a 40 MW electrolyser, the study will also consider the future staged scale up of an electrolyser to around 1 GW with the ability to produce up to 150,000 tonnes of hydrogen per year for domestic and export use.

Port of Newcastle is the largest port on Australia’s east coast and currently handles about 4,400 ship movements and over 160 million tonnes of cargo annually while utilising less than 50 percent of its channel capacity. Newcastle is an ideal location for a hydrogen hub due to the existing industries, infrastructure, access to a deep-water port, and a highly skilled workforce. Port of Newcastle's existing export routes to Japan and Korea represent potential renewable hydrogen export markets in the future.

Since the release of Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy by the Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) Energy Council in November 2019, the Australian Government has been advancing international collaborations, undertaking national coordination and supporting priority industry projects to grow a clean, innovative, safe and competitive hydrogen industry.

The development of clean hydrogen is one of the key stretch goals outlined in the Australian Government’s Low Emissions Technology Statement. The stretch goal is to produce hydrogen for less than $2 per kg, or ‘H2 under 2’, which is the price where hydrogen is expected to become competitive with other energy sources for industry and transport.

ARENA has also recently launched its new 2021 Investment Plan with the project strongly aligned with the strategic priority of commercialising clean hydrogen, which aims to support a viable domestic and international clean hydrogen economy. 

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said if the study proved the project to be feasible, it could enable Newcastle to become a major player in producing clean hydrogen.

“We’re excited to be a part of this feasibility study which presents an opportunity to accelerate the diversification of Port of Newcastle which is crucial as Australia starts its journey to net zero by 2050," Mr Miller said.

"Newcastle is an ideal location for this project due to existing infrastructure and skilled workforce, both of which will be so important as we scale up. With the backing of Macquarie’s Green Investment Group, Newcastle could become a hub for the production and use of hydrogen for domestic and export opportunities for Australia.”

ARENA recently approved $103 million in funding to support three 10 MW electrolyser projects through the Renewable Hydrogen Deployment Funding Round. Since 2018, ARENA has also invested $60 million to support pre-commercial activities across 36 projects, including a number of feasibility studies focusing on smaller scale deployments with domestic end-use cases. 

The project represents ARENA’s second feasibility study for a large-scale hydrogen production project. With funding previously announced for Stanwell to complete a feasibility study for a proposed hydrogen export market located in Gladstone, Queensland.

 

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ALGA welcomes $150m for local disaster mitigation projects

THE Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has welcomed the release of guidelines for the $150 million community infrastructure component of the Commonwealth’s $600 million Preparing Australian Program.

The program is focused on disaster preparedness and responds to recommendations of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements aimed at better preparing communities for more severe and frequent disasters.

The release of the funding guidelines comes 13 months after the Royal Commission’s report.

Under the 'Preparing Australian Communities – Local' component of the program, local governments and communities can apply for grants from $20,000 to $10 million for projects that will help them better prepare for future disasters and lessen their impacts.

ALGA president Linda Scott said the opportunity to enhance the resilience of essential local infrastructure and boost post-COVID economic recovery would be welcomed by all communities.

“Investing in betterment funding saves communities and governments millions of dollars in the long term by ensuring that our community infrastructure can better withstand natural disasters,” Cr Scott said.

“By funding local governments, the Federal Government is investing in our communities who receive additional benefits through the creation of new jobs, local economic growth, lower insurance premiums, and faster reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Cr Scott said consultation with ALGA and its members was an excellent example of the Commonwealth and the sector working together to ensure maximum impact for local governments and their communities.

Grants will be open to all local government areas at high risk of disasters (not just the 110 disaster-declared ones) and the Commonwealth has reduced co-contribution requirements. 

Projects under $100,000 will require no co-contribution, nor will planning and awareness-raising projects. For infrastructure projects over $100,000, local government’s co-contribution can be in kind.

“There is a mismatch between the amount of local government infrastructure exposed to climate change risks, and the resources we have to effectively manage these risks,” Cr Scott said. 

“Preparing for natural disaster events is a shared responsibility, and we look forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure the Royal Commission’s disaster risk reduction recommendations are fully implemented.” 

www.alga.asn.au

 

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Infrastructure procurement inquiry turns for home

KEY PRIVATE INVESTORS, small to medium enterprise groups, and government departments will be among the final bodies to appear as part of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities infrastructure procurement inquiry, in a series of videoconference public hearings on Wednesday November 10, Tuesday November 16 and Thursday November 18.

The committee will examine the enormous opportunities and challenges presented by the Australian Government’s $110 billion commitment to major infrastructure projects over the next decade, and the central role this pipeline will play in Australia’s post-pandemic economic recovery.

Committee Chair John Alexander OAM MP said, "These nation-building infrastructure projects will be challenging to deliver given their scale, so it’s critical that we’re smart in sequencing and coordinating our capital investment. We also need to get more innovative in our project and contract management to ensure that small to medium Australian businesses have the opportunity not just to contribute but to thrive in delivering infrastructure. That’s why we’ll be focusing on investors and small to medium business groups in these hearings.

"And finally, it’s vital that we also hear from Infrastructure Australia and key government departments to test the ideas generated so far by this inquiry."

Groups appearing on November 10 include IFM Investors, Plenary Group Holdings Pty Ltd, and Hughes et al, while the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman and Apricity Finance Group Pty Ltd will feature in an afternoon panel discussion on 'Small and Medium Enterprises'.

Taking centre stage on November 16 will be the Business Council of Australia, JNT Consulting, Mace Group, the Australian Institute of Building, and North Projects, followed by a panel discussion on ‘Sustainability and renewables’ involving the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia, the Green Building Council of Australia, and Tindo Solar.

On November 18, the committee will hear from Infrastructure Australia, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, and the Department of Finance.

The terms of reference and submissions received are available on the committee’s website.

Public hearing details

Date: Wednesday, 10 November 2021
Time: 11am to 3.15pm
Location: Videoconference

Date: Tuesday, 16 November 2021
Time: 9.15am to 3.30pm
Location: Videoconference

Date: Thursday, 18 November 2021
Time: 10.00am to 4.15pm
Location: Videoconference

Programs for the hearings are available on the Committee’s website.

Due to health and safety concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, this hearing is not currently scheduled to be open for public attendance. Interested members of the public will be able to view proceedings via the live webcast at aph.gov.au/live.

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Business Council for Sustainable Development calls for greater ambition at COP26

THE Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) Australia has written to encourage Prime Minister Scott Morrison, as he heads towards the G20 Summit in Italy, before heading off to the UN Glasgow Climate Conference, to use the opportunity to call for greater ambition by all G20 countries on climate action.

“Almost 800 companies have signed an Open Letter to G20 Leaders ahead of the G20 Summit and COP26, appealing to governments to go all in to keep the 1.5ºC of the Paris Agreement within reach,” BCSD Australia CEO Andrew Petersen said. The companies that have signed the letter have operations covering all G20 countries, represent over US$2.7 trillion in revenue and employ more than 10 million people worldwide, he said.

The BCSD Australia is the focal point for the We Mean Business Coalition in Australia, which gathered the signatures of businesses and called for greater policy ambition from the G20 for business and government to accelerate action together "to keep 1.5 degrees celsius within reach".

Mr Petersen said the list of signatories included many companies from diverse sectors headquartered within Australia, including Atlassian, Stantec, Intrepid Travel, Energetics and Sendle..

In its letter to G20 leaders, the We Mean Business Coalition called on them to raise their national climate commitments, including NDCs and net-zero strategies in line with at least halving global emissions by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2050, phasing out coal power, removing fossil fuel subsidies by 2025, putting a meaningful price on carbon, delivering on the US$100 billion finance commitment to developing countries and making climate-related financial disclosures mandatory.  

The BCSD Australia letter to the Prime Minister can be viewed here.

The signatory list and full text of the letter coordinated by the We Mean Business Coalition can be viewed here.



About BCSD Australia 
BSCD Australia is an Australian coalition of over 70 private and public organisations advocating for progress on sustainable development. Its mission is to be a catalyst for innovation and sustainable growth in a world where resources are increasingly limited. The council provides a platform for companies to share experiences and best practices on sustainable development issues and advocate for their implementation, working with governments, non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations. BCSD Australia’s members include leading Australian businesses, from all sectors, who share a commitment to economic, environmental and social development, public sector enterprises institutions, business and industry non-government organisations and community organisations, which in turn represent more than 100,000 Australian employees.

 

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AWU: Shearing Contractors Assoc email proves Ag Visa a threat to regional jobs, especially women’s

A RECENT email from an employer group obtained by the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) confirms the union’s fears that the Federal Government's new Ag Visa scheme "will flood regional Australia with poorly paid foreign workers at the expense of local jobs, especially among young women".

AWU national secretary Dan Walton said the email was proof that the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia, "in cahoots with the National Farmers Federation", is basically saying, “Let’s get in on the chance for cheap labour.”

The Ag Visa scheme, hastily announced in the wake of the new Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement signed at the G7, targets vulnerable workers from South East Asia.

In the email to its members, the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia (SCAA) said it envisaged members “accessing some of the 700 ‘Non-skilled’ workers from an ASEAN country -- most likely Indonesia but that is to be confirmed -- who will arrive over summer”.

“The workers will be paid Shed Hand Award wages (not the higher rates),” the letter said. “This is not the only opportunity to engage overseas workers, just the first opportunity. Once the system is established, it’s likely you can engage the workers directly and therefore at a lower cost.”

Mr Walton said what the AWU has feared – that the Ag Visa will simply be used as a way for unscrupulous employers to cut wages and conditions – is now happening.

“This email is just like an order form: How many cheap workers do you want? Put in your request now so you can pay them a much lower rate,” Mr Walton said.

Stef Mackey, a roustabout and shed hand working in a contracting team near Young, NSW, said more than 80 percent of the nation’s roustabouts were young women.

“These Ag Visas will not only take jobs from young Australians in regional towns with high unemployment, they will also target young women and deny them a foot in the door of the shearing industry,” Ms Mackey said.

“And every single shearer on our team started out rousting, so if they don’t get that opportunity because it's no longer there, we’ll soon run out of shearers.”

Mr Walton said he could not see how the Federal Government, NFF and SCAA could justify claims of a shearing-industry labour shortage.

“What shortage? We have had two years of pandemic, wool prices are up, total wool production is up and the flock was shorn, even though they said it couldn’t possibly be done without overseas workers,” he said.

 

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Sparking the arts sector

RECOMMENDATIONS to support the recovery of the Australia’s arts and cultural sector, after the significant impacts of the bushfires then COVID, will be laid out in a report released today by the House of Representatives Communications and the Arts Committee.

The committee is taking the stance that Australia is home to a vibrant and diverse landscape of creative and cultural industries and institutions, which form a vital part of its culture, identity, and economy. As home to the world’s longest continuously living culture, Australia boasts a unique and invaluable artistic and cultural identity.

Communications and the Arts Committee Chair, Anne Webster MP, said, "Australia’s cultural industries were significantly impacted by recent events – including the bushfires of 2019 and 2020 as well as COVID-19 – which resulted in the closure of public venues, performance spaces, community hubs and Indigenous artistic centres.

"The committee recognises the resilience, adaptiveness and innovation shown by the industry in dealing with these significant challenges.

"The committee has made 21 recommendations that will support the recovery of the industry, maximise employment, and contribute to economic growth," Dr Webster said.

"A healthy, sustainable arts industry will allow Australia’s creative and cultural industries and institutions to emerge from the COVID-19 public health emergency and allow Australia’s arts to reach new heights," she said.

The report can be accessed from the committee’s website.

 

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Local protest calls for NSW Planning Minister to reject Kurri Kurri fossil fuel power plant as decision looms 

HUNTER VALLEY locals protested outside NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes’ office today as concerns mount over the climate impacts of burning fossil fuels and the lack of long-term economic economic benefits the Kurri Kurri gas plant will bring to the Hunter Valley community. 

The protest was led by the Gas Free Hunter Alliance and local constituents - starting at 10am at 1725 Pittwater Road, Mona Vale - and presented Mr Stokes with a 55,000 signature petition calling on him to reject planning approval for the outdated and polluting Kurri Kurri gas plant. 

It comes as a recommendation by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is expected “imminently” on the Kurri Kurri gas plant. 

Mr Stokes is then likely to then rapidly make a decision based on that recommendation, as the project has Critical State Significant Infrastructure status.

“Kurri Kurri needs jobs with a future, like renewable energy, not to be fobbed off with only a handful of ongoing jobs created using last century's technology and more than $600 million of public money,”  Kurri Kurri local Janet Murray said. 

Just this week over 100 countries, excluding Australia, signed up to a global methane pledge aimed at curbing methane emissions at COP26 in Glasgow, due to the immense global warming effect of the gas. The type of gas that would be burnt at the proposed Kurri Kurri power station is predominantly made up of methane.

At the event, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the world that Australia was tackling climate change, however, the Morrison Government continues to push ahead with its gas-fired recovery by subsidising fossil fuel projects, like the outdated and polluting Kurri Kurri gas peaking plant.

The Gas Free Hunter Alliance are calling for the Morrison Government and the NSW Government to make urgent plans to invest in more clean renewable energy projects in the Hunter Valley to generate electricity and create new jobs, instead of funding new fossil fuel projects. 

GFHA co-coordinator Carly Phillips said she had concerns about carbon emissions from the gas plant.

“The building of any new gas infrastructure is entirely incompatible with NSW and Federal Government targets of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, never mind the fact that very few local jobs would be created,” Ms Phillips said. 

“The conservative International Energy Agency has categorically stated that no new gas infrastructure can be built around the world if we are to align with Paris Agreement climate commitments of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees by 2050.”

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Review of tax administration: inquiry into the 2018-19 Commissioner of Taxation Annual Report

THE House of Representatives Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue has today presented its report titled 2018-19 Commissioner of Taxation Annual Report. The report focuses on matters arising over the 2018-19 financial year with further insights on the taxation system more broadly.

In its report, the committee made 19 recommendations to deliver better services to taxpayers and improve the efficiency of the administration of Australia’s tax system. Based on the needs of the Australian tax system, the committee recommended upgrading the Inspector General of Taxation to an office based on the ‘Taxpayer Advocate,’ as developed in the US.

The committee’s recommendations also include proposed amendments to legislation that provides taxpayers with protections when dealing with debts; specifically, to ensure that a debt is not payable until a final determination is made by a relevant dispute body or court.  

Further, the committee advocated for the use of blockchain and other leading technologies to optimise the use of the Australian Business Register and minimise any ongoing costs of maintaining it. In relation to reporting, the committee recommended that the Australian Taxation Office provide more detailed reporting for each financial year to reflect both the number of complaints, feedback and compliments received, as well as the complaints resolved within the relevant timeframes.

Committee Chair, Jason Falinski MP said, "I believe this report to be a very important contribution to tax administration in Australia. It highlights a number of legislative frameworks that the government should change in order to provide taxpayers with better service."

Mr Falinski said, "the Australian Taxation Office has undertaken considerable reform and restructuring recently and is staffed by experienced and dedicated people who are to be congratulated for having got us through the economic chasm of COVID. However, some if its functions have been neglected, and moreover, there is considerable expertise in this country, human and technological, waiting to be deployed in many areas of taxation. We encourage urgent intent in this area to get ahead of the global curve."

A full copy of the committee’s report can be found on the inquiry’s website.

 

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Minimum wage rise brings added strain ahead of Christmas rush

ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTY may force employers covered under 21 awards to rethink their Christmas strategy as the minimum wage increases from November 1.

Unlike most awards that saw the increase take effect on July 1, these 21 awards, which include hospitality, restaurant, fitness, and hair and beauty are the last to receive it. As of November 1, the national minimum wage for those covered under these awards is $20.33 per hour. In other words, the minimum a full-time employee receives is $772.60 per week.

“This rise, while in line with other industries, could not have come at a worse time for businesses heading into the busy end of the year, particularly those in eastern states who have just emerged from lockdown and not seen a steady profit come in for quite some time,” Employsure Business Partner Emma Dawson said.

“The rise doesn’t just mean the minimum wage goes up, but also casual loading rises along with it. For businesses in the hospitality and restaurant industries who are looking to take on more staff to help with the upcoming Christmas and summer rush, this may make them rethink how much staff they are able to hire, ultimately hurting the financial prospects of casual employees.

“Employers should educate themselves on the changes to the minimum wage, and update their payroll systems and processes accordingly to avoid the risk of underpaying employees.”

The topic of wages has dropped off the minds of employers in recent months due to lockdown. Employsure’s advice line for business owners recorded 2,100 wage related calls in September, the lowest of any month in 2021 and a 14 percent decrease compared with September last year.

In the lead up to Christmas, employers will need to ensure more than ever they’re paying their staff correctly in line with the wage rise, and it is expected the topic of wages will again become the centre of attention, alongside workplace vaccinations.

While a rise to the minimum wage may cause greater financial stress initially it does present a silver lining for employers. More money in the pockets of employees means more cash that gets funnelled back into the economy, which could ultimately lead to more being spent in the businesses who need it most.

“While wage increases are a challenge for any business to implement, it does present an opportunity to improve financial health. Being creative with cost savings and identifying new efficiencies can help a business manage when wages increase, particularly in the lead up to Christmas,” Ms Dawson said.

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Tax practitioner banned for using an unregistered preparer and pilfering client money

THE Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) has terminated the registration of tax agent Reis Cibala Kaluka and banned him for two years after investigations revealed he allowed an unregistered preparer, Namro Services Pty Ltd (Namro Services), to provide tax practitioner services on his behalf.

Namro Services had previously been terminated by the TPB.

Mr Kaluka allowed Namro Services – who he knew to have been terminated by the TPB – to use his registered agent number and access client data via the Australian Taxation Office’s Online services for agents. Namro Services then invoiced and received client tax refunds directly, resulting in four client refunds being misappropriated.

Namro Services also amended two client income tax returns (ITRs) during pre-issue audits and amended four client business activity statements (BAS) resulting in cash flow boost payments being disallowed.

TPB chair, Ian Klug said, "Mr Kaluka’s failure to act honestly and with integrity and to provide adequate supervision over the unregistered preparer caused significant detriment to multiple clients. Such behaviour puts the Australian community at risk and casts a shadow over those tax agents who do good work.

"The TPB has a duty not only to maintain the integrity of the registered tax practitioner profession, but to also protect consumers who fall victim to unlawful tax practitioners like Mr Kaluka."

TPB investigations also revealed that Mr Kaluka failed to lodge BAS, ITRs and tax file number (TFN) declarations relating to his own personal affairs and two companies of which he is the sole director.

"By failing to ensure his associated entities were complying with their tax affairs, those entities were subsequently placed into liquidation. He then allowed one company to engage in insolvent trading. This clearly demonstrates a pattern of widespread and reckless behaviour," Mr Klug said.

Based on the findings of the investigation, the TPB determined that Mr Kaluka is no longer fit to provide tax agent services, terminated his registration, and prohibited him from applying for re-registration for two years.

To report a dishonest or unregistered tax practitioner, submit a complaint to the TPB.

About the Tax Practitioners Board

The TPB regulates tax practitioners in order to protect consumers. The TPB aims to assure the community that tax practitioners meet appropriate standards of professional and ethical conduct.  Twitter_@TPB_gov_auLinkedIn and Facebook.

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