PEAK lodging Industry body, the Accommodation Association, has welcomed the Victorian Government’s announcement of a $3 billion support package of cash grants, tax relief and cashflow support as a much needed step in the right direction.

The Association has also thanked the Victorian Government for acknowledging the fact that Victoria’s hospitality businesses were “the bedrock of our economy, but right now, many are going through a tough time” and thanked them for the establishment of a $251 million dedicated Licence Venue Fund with additional relief via the waiving of liquor licence fees for 2021.

Accommodation Association CEO Dean Long said, “Our member hotels, motels and accommodation providers have been incredibly hard hit by COVID travel restrictions, border closures and the Victorian lockdown provisions. While we are still to work our way through the detail of today’s announcement, the Premier’s acknowledgement of the importance of our sector and the perilous reality we are now find ourselves in through no fault of our own is very welcome indeed..

“Fixed costs are driving hotels, motels and accommodation providers and  businesses right around Australia to the wall and we need relief there too.

“Our people, particularly those people and properties on the frontline supporting the government’s mandatory isolation program, are doing it incredibly tough and I know from the calls and emails received today that they too are very grateful for the acknowledgement," Mr Long said.

“We look forward to continuing to work closely with government to find the way forward that strikes the best balance between protecting people’s health while also protecting their jobs and businesses.”

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WELD AUSTRALIA has partnered with Gotcha4Life to help build the mental fitness of Australia’s welders.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between 15 and 44 years of age, and men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. Workers in construction and other trades - including welding - are even more at risk. Tradies are 70 percent more likely to die by suicide than their behind-the-desk counterparts. This means that every second day an Australian tradie takes their own life.

Despite these alarming statistics, mental health definitely isn’t something that tradies talk about at smoko or after knocking off. Weld Australia and Gotcha4Life believe that, together, they can strengthen the emotional muscle to help build strong social connections, which in turn develops the resilience required to deal better with the challenges that life throws at us.

Gotcha4Life’s founder, Gus Worland, said, “Gotcha4Life’s vision is focused on a society where people are open, honest and supportive in their relationships and comfortable to express themselves when they are not ok. A society in which everyone has a Gotcha4Life mate who they can open up to and rely on no matter what.”

“Weld Australia's commitment to building this mental fitness amongst their members ties in perfectly with our aspirations and we’re so excited to be partnering."

According to Weld Australia’s chief executive officer, Geoff Crittenden, Weld Australia has made supporting the mental health and wellbeing of its members and the wider welding community a priority, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic—partnering with Gotcha4Life was a natural extension of this.

“Weld Australia is proud to partner with Gotcha4Life," Mr Crittenden said. "Mental fitness is a complex issue and there is no one simple solution. However, it’s clear that Australian tradies, including welders, need more support. The statistics around suicide and tradies are frightening, and we recognise how important it is for us to take a leadership role in helping to spread awareness and education in the welding community.

“It’s vital that we work together, that we back one another, and that we remove the stigma associated with mental health issues. Remember: it’s okay not to be okay,” he said.

Gotcha4Life is a not-for-profit foundation that believes in the concept of 'prevention through connection' and raises awareness of the importance of identifying a close friend in life, someone you can speak openly and honestly to when times are tough.

Gotcha4Life enables this connection by funding educational workshops and training programs that build mental fitness in individuals and communities across Australia, to enable strong, open and binding relationships.

To do this, Gotcha4Life partners with programs such as Tomorrow Man and Tomorrow Woman, Man Anchor and Rural Outreach Counselling to help build emotional muscle in communities across the country. 

Lifeline has 24 hour crisis support available on 13 11 14. 

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WHILE it has impacted Australian lives dramatically, one silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic is the opportunity it is now offering owner-occupiers, particularly first homebuyers.

RiskWise Property Research CEO Doron Peleg said COVID-19 had helped strengthen ‘work from home’ opportunities meaning owner-occupiers could take advantage of ‘lifestyle’ prospects instead of being tied to employment hubs.

“While there’s nothing new about mobile professionals, the onset of COVID-19 changed the way we work as a nation with vastly increasing numbers working from home - and it’s here to stay,” Mr Peleg said.

Pete Wargent, co-founder of Buyers Buyers, a national marketplace offering affordable buyer’s agency services to all Australians, said lifestyle buyers were out in force.

“Those who work in a stable corporate environment, but do so remotely, are now taking advantage of great buying opportunities in NSW, Victoria and South East Queensland," Mr Wargent said.

“Before COVID-19 hit, there was already a strong trend of sea- and tree-change homebuyers looking for the best of all worlds – lifestyle, accessibility to employment hubs and affordable housing” he said.

RiskWise Property Research has summarised the key locations experiencing this trend.

Mr Peleg of RiskWise said, “These include areas of South East Queensland such as the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast, just over the NSW border in Byron Bay and further south on the Central Coast, in areas such as North Avoca, Terrigal and Wamberal. Then there’s also sought-after locations such as the Hunter Valley, Wollongong and the South Coast, and in Victoria, the Mornington Peninsula, Geelong and Ballarat.”

Mr Peleg said beachside suburbs especially outperformed the market as they offered such fantastic lifestyle opportunities.

As RiskWise reported in November 2019, there is a clear trend regarding their popularity and potential for capital growth as outlined in research it undertook on the Top 10 Suburbs to Retire and Build Equity.

He said even in Sydney, for example, despite COVID-19, and previous events such as the credit restrictions by APRA, scrutinising of loan applications as a result of the Royal Commission and material price reductions until the election results in May 2019, houses simply enjoyed strong demand with the chronic undersupply ensuring solid capital growth.

“The average holding period of houses in Sydney, that in 75.9 percent of cases belong to owner-occupiers, is 12.2 years. This means owner-occupiers with secure jobs and no serviceability issues are not impacted by short-term market movements, unless they need to re-finance,” Mr Peleg said.

He said the Sydney property market, had delivered solid capital growth of 22 percent in the past five years and houses in popular areas delivered much stronger capital growth during that period. For example, houses in Paddington experienced price increase of 56 percent and in St Peters houses saw capital growth of 51 percent during that period.

“Home buyers with long-term holding strategies were well positioned to negotiate aggressively to purchase high-quality houses that usually enjoyed very strong demand,” he said.

While Sydney is a good case study, houses in Greater Melbourne delivered even stronger capital growth of 38 percent during the past five years.  

Strong demand for houses has also resulted in strong capital growth in the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast with 28.4 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

Working remotely an accelerating phenomenon

In 2016 the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported almost a third (3.5 million) of all employed Australians regularly worked from home. Since the onset of COVID-19, this number has skyrocketed.

In March a Gartner survey showed 88 percent of Australian organisations have adopted working from home as part of their coronavirus response many to cut costs during the pandemic by focusing on “effective use of technology (cited by 70 percent of respondents) and freezing new hiring”.

“While many organisations were using remote working to improve productivity and the attractiveness of workplaces to entice the best talent, reduce office costs and reduce international and intrastate travel prior to the onset of COVID-19, it has now become an accelerated phenomenon with offices across large cities trying to minimise face-to-face meetings that required commuting," the Gartner report said.

“Interestingly, since COVID-19 and the increase in remote working there has actually been an improvement in productivity.”

The Gartner survey said 49 percent of respondents said they had been more productive during the time they would normally spend commuting to work, 36 percent were less stressed and 32 percent were better able to concentrate as they were not distracted by colleagues.

Office vacancy rates are a clear sign of how the pandemic has affected employment. According to the latest Property Council of Australia's Office Market Report, Sydney’s has almost doubled from 3.9 percent to 5.6 percent for the six months to the end of July while in the Melbourne CBD it rose from 3.2 percent to 5.9 percent.

“While there was definitely uncertainty during the first wave of the pandemic, the second wave shows us quite clearly these new work practices are here to say most likely until end of 2020 and well into 2021,” the report said.

“Therefore, the demand for regional areas offering great lifestyle choices is likely to further increase among those with stable incomes.”

There are also several other incentives that put home buyers and especially first home buyers in an enviable position. These include Federal Government programs such as the First Home Buyers Deposit Scheme whereby a deposit of just a 5 percent deposit can be used to enter the property market and the avoidance of Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI), as well as stamp duty exemptions.

“Lower interest rates also materially improve housing affordability in terms of serviceability ratio, i.e. the monthly repayments for any price point are simply lower,” Mr Peleg said.

“What this all means is now is the time to buy if you are a first home buyer or an owner-occupier as this current slowdown in the property market is only temporary, with houses in popular areas likely to experience solid capital growth in the medium to long term.

“Once the COVID-19 issue is resolved, most likely in 2021, the traditional connection between low interest rates and increase in dwelling prices is likely to take place.”

He stressed, however, that investors buying rental apartments unsuitable for families were taking an enormous gamble, with both equity and cash flow risk expected to materially increase. Serviceability is also a major factor for investors who rely on a stable rental income to cover the costs associated with property and particularly the mortgage.

Pete Wargent of Buyers Buyers said navigating the current market conditions was challenging but understanding the nuances of the local market and negotiating accordingly on price and terms was the key.

“If you negotiate well, you can secure a very good property and manage the risk of lower prices in the short term by simply paying less,” he said.

Rich Harvey, Buyers Agent and CEO of propertybuyer.com.au said the pre-spring and spring market would supply a range of opportunities for buyers to consider getting a better foothold in the market as listing volumes started to rise.

“With the onset of COVID-19, areas such as the Sutherland Shire, Inner West and Inner South West, that were showing good promise have paused their strong growth trajectory and now represent good value for buyers,” he said.

“The traditionally strong markets of Eastern suburbs, Northern Beaches and North Shore are also giving buyers the chance to get in for lower prices than last year.”

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A SENATE inquiry into Australian shipping has heard that the nation needs to urgently reduce its dependence on foreign shipping, with the COVID-19 pandemic highlighting the need to strengthen the resilience of maritime supply chains and increase self-sufficiency.

Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) national secretary Paddy Crumlin outlined the case for major industry reform at a public hearing of the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport inquiry into Australian shipping.

The union recommended a range of urgent steps to improve the sustainability and resilience of the sector, including:

  • reducing Australia’s dependence on foreign shipping, particularly for essential goods and high-risk cargoes like ammonium nitrate;
  • the development of a strategic fleet of Australian trading vessels;
  • strengthening the Coastal Trading Act to ensure that it actually supports Australian vessels, following years of decline under the Liberals;
  • regulatory reform to support the domestic cruise sector;
  • reform of the maritime crew visa system for foreign seafarers, including limitations on the length of time vessels can operate  in Australian waters;
  • reform of the maritime crew visa system for foreign seafarers, including limitations on the length of time seafarer can remain in Australian waters;
  • addressing the dysfunctional and inadequate dual system of qualifications currently in place for Australian seafarers; and
  • steps to take advantage of emerging opportunities for Australian ships, such as in the transition to renewable energy and the rebuilding of local manufacturing industries.

“Australia was caught unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, with this global crisis highlighting the urgent need to reduce Australia’s dependency of foreign shipping in both domestic and international trade,” Mr Crumlin said.

“The need for secure and resilient supply chains is fundamentally incompatible with the country’s current reliance on foreign ships operating under temporary licences around our coast.

“Recent cases, such as the detention of the Unison Jasper in Newcastle over the mistreatment of seafarers, reinforce the urgent need to reform this licensing system.

“Sustainable shipping policy is critical not only for the domestic maritime industry, but the many Australian industries that depend on it, such as steel, aluminium, construction, retailing, oil refining, tourism and agriculture.”

Mr Crumlin said it was imperative that the inquiry’s final report, due to be released by December, set the foundations for government, industry and stakeholder actions that revive and grow Australian shipping.

“As we move towards the recovery phase from the COVID-19 crisis, one of the most vital steps to strengthen the resilience of Australia’s supply chains is to ensure our island nation has a merchant shipping fleet crewed with Australian seafarers,” he said.

“This requires the creation of a national strategic fleet of fuel tankers and large trading vessels, to ensure that we have access to vessels to carry the essential goods we rely on, in Australia and internationally.

“By making needed amendments to the Coastal Trading Act, restoring its original design intention, along with getting the tax incentives right, local shipowners will be able invest with confidence in a core Australian fleet.

“This regulatory reform is also vital to support a domestic cruise sector, in a way that is sustainable and improves the economic and social benefits to the country. The international cruise industry operating from Australian ports employed almost no Australians, severely mistreated its international crew, and has truly lost its social licence to operate here.”

Mr Crumlin said the inquiry must also recommend improvements to maritime safety.

“The current system has created a dysfunctional and inadequate dual system of qualifications for Australian seafarers,” he said.

“An appropriate balance needs to be restored between the ships that should be covered by the Navigation Act, where seafarers are required to hold internationally recognised qualifications, and the qualifications and standards for Domestic Commercial Vessels under the National Law.

“The regulation of safety, crewing, training and qualifications on domestic commercial vessels must be improved.

“The development of a maritime workforce development forum is also needed to address the skills and qualifications issues facing the sector, ensuring Australia maintains a highly skilled and qualified maritime skills pool.”

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INFRASTRUCTURE investment approaches and international lessons are on the agenda for the videoconference public hearing on Monday, September 14, for the inquiry into options for financing faster rail.

John Alexander MP, Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities, said, "Major infrastructure projects will play an important role in Australia’s economic recovery.

"Strategic investment in rail infrastructure can enhance connectivity between Australia’s cities and regions, and deliver significant economic and social benefits to Australians," Mr Alexander said.

The committee will hear from investment specialists QIC and IFM Investors about infrastructure investment opportunities and challenges, and UK rail infrastructure expert Professor Andrew McNaughton will provide an international perspective on lessons applicable to the Australian context.

Public hearing details

Date: Monday, 14 September 2020
Time: 2pm to 5pm
Location: Videoconference

2.00pm: QIC
2.50pm: IFM Investors
3.40pm: Break
4.00pm: Professor Andrew McNaughton
5.00pm: Finish

The hearing will be broadcast live at aph.gov.au/live.

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MANSFIELD QLD 4122