AUSTRALIAN Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell said she was "deeply concerned" by fresh data showing small business growth is in crisis. She is urging Federal and State Governments to do more to break down the barriers to business expansion.

“The Institute of Public Affairs’ (IPA) latest research has found an alarming decline in the rate of small business growth,” Ms Carnell said.

“What concerns me greatly about this report’s findings is the sharp drop in the percentage of small businesses hiring additional staff.

“Less than one percent of small businesses with 1-4 employees in 2017, employed more than four workers in 2018. That’s significantly below the historical transition rate of 6 percent. 

“Less than one percent of businesses with 5-19 employees were employing more than 19 people in 2018. That’s also well under the historical transition rate of 4 percent," she said.

“A major issue is Australia’s rigid industrial relations system. The research cites World Economic Forum surveys, which have consistently found Australia’s labour market regulation is the most problematic factor for doing business.

“Part of that broad picture is ensuring small business owners can feel confident they can meet their obligations and avoid an unfair dismissal claim in the event they need to let a worker go," Ms Carnell said.

“That’s why my office has recommended a number of important changes and additional checklists to the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code.

“A clearer Code would reduce the risk of unfair dismissal claims and provide small business owners with the impetus they need to hire more staff," she said.

“The government has announced a review into the industrial relations system. The Small Business Fair Dismissal Code should be number one on that agenda.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

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THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO), Kate Carnell has welcomed draft legislation that extends the unfair contract term regime to insurance contracts. However, she warned that much more should be done to improve protection for small businesses.

“Removing the current exemption for insurance contracts from the unfair contract term regime as recommended by Commissioner Hayne, is a logical step,” Ms Carnell said.

“However there’s room for significant improvements to the current unfair contract term legislation more broadly.

“While my office is able to resolve many contract disputes by using the unfair contract term provisions as a lever, on occasions when these negotiations fail, an SME is forced to seek a ruling through the courts," Ms Carnell said.

“This is a very costly exercise for small businesses and larger companies have more resources to delay court proceedings until the SME either gives up or goes out of business. 

“It’s for this reason, regulators should be given greater powers to both determine and deal with unfair contract term cases, both in the insurance space and other contracts that SMEs enter into.

“Unfair contract terms should be made illegal and penalties should apply to breaches," Ms Carnell said.

“The legislation should also be extended to cover contracts up to $5 million.

“If and when this exemption for insurance contracts is removed from the unfair contract term regime, small businesses will still have to wait a further 18 months at least before it applies to contracts they enter into.

“In the meantime, we will continue to advocate for a change in how small businesses can challenge unfair contract terms outside the court system," she said.

“At the end of the day, all changes to legislation or regulation that affect small businesses should aim to reduce red tape and level the playing field between small and large businesses.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

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WHILE the new Banking Code of Practice is an improvement on previous versions, it remains to be seen if it will be effective in addressing the imbalance of power held by the banks. That is the view of the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell.

“There have been a number of claims made in the media that this Banking Code of Practice has teeth, but clause 213 states banks need only comply with reasonable requests from the Banking Code Compliance Committee (BCCC),” Ms Carnell said.

“That calls into question the ability of the committee to be effective," she warned.

“We will be watching very closely to see just how strongly the code is enforced, particularly as it relates to small businesses.

“In the meantime, we are encouraging small businesses who have dealings with the Banking Code Compliance Committee (BCCC) to tell ASBFEO about their experience," Ms Carnell said. 

“We want small businesses to help us gain an understanding of whether this committee is doing the job that it is supposed to.

“As the code only applies to 19 banking groups – there are over 100 deposit taking institutions – small businesses must first establish if the code applies to their bank and if they meet the code’s definition of a small business.”

Ms Carnell said under the code, small businesses were defined as having an annual turnover of less than $10 million, fewer than 100 staff and crucially had less than $3 million total debt to all credit providers.”

“As the revised Banking Code of Practice works towards improving banks’ small business lending practices, we will continue to monitor its effectiveness and to advocate for safeguards against misconduct in the hope of restoring small business’ confidence in banks,” Ms Carnell said.

www.asbfeo.gov.au

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GROUNDWATER experts from several Australian universities have repeated calls for further investigations into the potential effects on heritage groundwater reserves in central Queensland if the giant Adani Carmichael coalmine gets the final regulatory go-ahead.

Adani is sticking by its environmental impact statments and recently updated aquifer research which has already received the green light from Federal Government bodies including the CSIRO. 

Concerns the ancient Doongmabulla Springs face a ‘reasonable threat of extinction’ from Adani’s proposed Galilee Basin coalmine are raised in a new position paper from the university researchers, which they say echoes previous research by CSIRO and Geoscience Australia.

The Queensland Government is due to rule on the groundwater hurdle on June 13, after clearing the way to another environmental concern, supporting Adani’s proposed management plan for the endangered black-throated finch.

Experts from Flinders University, RMIT, Monash and Latrobe universities say their report,  ‘Deficiencies in the scientific assessment of the Carmichael Mine impacts to the Doongmabulla Springs’ – now before the Queensland Government – highlights problems with Adani’s own claims that the springs are safeguarded by “an impervious layer, restricting water from flowing between the underground aquifers”.

“Adani has not properly examined the link between the mine’s groundwater drawdown and impacts to the Doongmabulla Springs, which is a fundamental requirement of the Carmichael mine’s approvals,” Flinders University professor of hydrogeology Adrian Werner said. He is a founding member of National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training.

Instead Prof. Werner, with Flinders associate professor Andy Love, Dr Eddie Banks and Dr Dylan Irvine – with associate professor Matthew Currell from RMIT University, Prof. Ian Cartwright from Monash University and associate professor John Webb from Latrobe warn the springs face a "plausible threat of extinction".  

“Six years of advice from experts that the science is flawed does not seem to have overcome critical shortcomings with the science that have persisted despite several iterations of Adani’s environmental management plans,” Prof. Werner said.

“With the deadline for approval approaching, we are compelled to reiterate concerns that flaws in Adani’s scientific methods, modelling results, and the proposed ‘adaptive management’ approach by Adani have the potential to seriously mislead decision-makers,” he says pointing to the 2013 Independent Expert Scientific Committee report, Land Court case of 2014-15 and this year’s CSIRO review.

Prof. Werner said,  “We hope that our report assists the Queensland Government by highlighting the significant risk that the Carmichael Mine will cause the Doongmabulla Springs to become extinct, and will impact other groundwater-dependent ecosystems and water users to a greater degree than has so far been suggested by Adani.”

The report pinpoints four areas where Adani’s investigation and environmental management strategies do “not stack up against the science”:

  • Adani appears likely to have significantly underestimated future impacts to the Doongmabulla Springs Complex, the university researchers said.
  • Should the Carmichael Mine cause springs within the Doongmabulla complex to cease flowing, the impact could be permanent, they claimed.
  • Adani’s safeguard against the impacts, namely ‘adaptive management’, is unsuitable and unlikely to protect the springs from extinction is teh professors' assessment; and 
  • Cumulative impacts to the springs that may result from other mining activities in the Galilee Basin have not been adequately considered, in their opinion.

www.flinders.edu.au

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QUEENSLAND can thank its buoyant resources sector for its better-than-expected employment performance, according to the Queensland Resources Council (QRC).

QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the resources sector had created more than 8400 jobs over the last 12 months – “the equivalent of a new job every hour” – and this was effectively a 0.4 percent cut to Queensland’s unemployment rate. 

“Without the contribution of the resources sector, Queensland’s unemployment rate would be 6.7 percent,” Mr Macfarlane said. “Without the contribution of the resources sector, Queensland’s unemployment rate would be the nation’s highest by 0.5 percent at 6.7 percent.

“Our industry needs stable and predictable policy to give it the confidence to invest more, export more and ultimately employ more in the sustainable, competitive and safe development of our coal, minerals, petroleum and gas,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“Without that, our sector’s confidence to invest, export and employ will be severely constrained.”

Mr Macfarlane said if the Palaszczuk Government continued to back the resources sector, the resources sector would continue to back Queenslanders, with more jobs and more opportunities.

“Every hour our industry is creating another job and investing another million dollars. Every week our industry is exporting another billion dollars and we are returning almost $100 million to the Palaszczuk Government in royalties,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“In regions like Mackay, the jobs impact has been significant. The unemployment rate has more than halved to 3.3 percent. Mackay is a critical services centre for the Bowen Basin.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has indicated her government’s long-term support for industry in the Bowen Basin, Mr Macfarlane said, and was reported as saying at a recent local event: “For as long as the world needs steel, it will look to the Bowen Basin as its pre-eminent supplier of metallurgical coal.”

www.qrc.org.au

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By Leon Gettler >>

ANYONE wanting to dip into the Australian property market needs to treat it like any business, says Jayne Robbins, the owner of Brisbane-based buyer advocate firm, The Informed Buyer.

She said buyers need to look at the micro-levels behind the macro-numbers that the media like to talk about, at a time when the market is softening.

“So yes, we are seeing a downturn, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne but I still think there are markets that are performing so that’s getting into the finer details behind that overall number,” Ms Robbins told Talking Business

“If you look at houses versus units and then down to the different suburbs, you will find there are still markets that are performing well.”

She said there are many issues to consider and even looking at the performance of a suburb, there will be some pockets that are outperforming other areas of the same suburb. That takes highly specialised information.

She said investors needed long term property goals, whether it was capital or yield. And while everyone wanted to have both, investors needed to be strategic and understand their own risk profile.

 

GET ON TARGET

Investors also needed to understand their target market.

“Like any good business decision, understanding what potential future renters would be looking for in your property and making sure you’re buying a property that fills those needs,” Ms Robbins said.

For example, if investors are looking at the family home market, they need to make sure the schools in the area are of good quality and that the property is in the right school catchment.

Similarly, if the investor was looking at accommodation for young professionals, they needed to look at issues like commute times and access to the city and workplaces.

These strategies would ensure they had long term tenants.

There were still opportunities for investors, Ms Robbins said.

“If you look at maps and things of average to medium prices, and work out what suburbs are closer in that have those sort of commute times and good schools … those are areas that are on the growth,” she said.

She said investors also needed to be right across their accounts because banks were now much more rigorous.

They needed to run various scenarios to show the bank it was affordable if things do change in the market

“It’s no longer just a budget you provide them, they’ll go and look at your history over the last three to six months to ensure what you’re saying you’re spending is actually what you’re spending your money” Ms Robbins said.

www.theinformedbuyer.com.au

www.leongettler.com

 

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at www.acast.com/talkingbusiness

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DEFENCE will have new arrangements in place to deliver health services to Australian Defence Force (ADF) members from July 1, 2019.

Defence Minister Christopher Pyne MP announced that Bupa Health Services Pty Ltd was awarded the ADF Health Services Contract, which was signed today, for the provision of health services to Defence members.

These arrangements support the delivery of a range of primary and specialist health services at both on-base health facilities and through a comprehensive network of off-base service providers. 

“Delivering health services to over 80,000 ADF members and reservists is a complex and important undertaking and after a rigorous procurement process Bupa demonstrated it is able to deliver Defence’s requirements,” Mr Pyne said.

“Under the new contract, ADF members will continue to receive the full scope of health services they currently receive.

“Defence remains committed to maintaining continuity of care in delivering high quality health services for ADF members.

“Defence thanks Medibank Health Solutions for the service it has provided to ADF members under the existing contract.”

Bupa is now the second largest healthcare insurer in Australia, with just under a third of the market, slightly behind Medibank Private. UK-headquartered Bupa entered the Australian market over a decade ago, first buying Melbourne-based insurer HBA, then in 2008 merging with Sydney-based MBF in a $2.4 billion acquisition.

www.defence.gov.au/Health/HealthPortal

www.bupa.com.au

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