THE Northern Australia Committee has welcomed news of the resignations of senior Rio Tinto executives in the wake of the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge.

Committee Chair, Warren Entsch, observed that the need for high level accountability for the Juukan Gorge incident had become obvious to all interested stakeholders.

"The evidence received by the Committee has made clear that the internal culture at Rio Tinto was a significant factor in the destruction of these sites," Mr Entsch said.

"New leadership, new structures and new operating principles within the company are essential to preventing such catastrophes in the future."

The Committee welcomed the commitment made by Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson, to ensuring that "the destruction of a heritage site of such exceptional archaeological and cultural significance never occurs again at a Rio Tinto operation". Mr Entsch expressed the hope that similar commitments would be forthcoming from other mining companies.

The Committee also expressed a desire to meet at the earliest opportunity with the outgoing executives to further discuss Rio Tinto’s previous evidence to the inquiry and explore the implications of the announced changes at the company.

Earlier this week, the Committee announced the inquiry into the destruction of the Juukan Gorge sites will continue, despite having to postpone its planned visit to Western Australia because of difficulties associated with interstate travel.

Further details of the inquiry can be found on the Committee’s website.

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DESPITE having to postpone its planned visit to Western Australia because of difficulties associated with interstate travel and the Western Australian Government’s recent changes to its quarantine directions, the Northern Australia Committee remains determined to pursue its inquiry into the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge.

The Committee will soon commence a new series of remote access public hearings involving a cross section of stakeholders.

Committee Chair, Warren Entsch, assured all stakeholders of the Committee’s resolve to visit Western Australia at the earliest possible date.

"It is vital for the Committee to see the destruction first hand and share the experience—and the consequences—of this policy failure with the Traditional Owners," Mr Entsch said. "It is vital that we hear directly from those most affected, the Traditional Owners of this country, and that can only be done in a meaningful way on country."

In the meantime, the Committee has urged all stakeholders to be aware of the potential consequences of proceeding with actions that could cause irreversible damage to heritage sites.

"No government and no company wants another Juukan Gorge on its conscience," Mr Entsch said. "If nothing else, the ongoing damage to Rio Tinto’s reputation should give pause for thought for all concerned."

Further details of the inquiry, including terms of reference, can be found on the Committee’s website.

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FITNESS AUSTRALIA has received confirmation that gyms and fitness facilities will reopen from Monday, October 26, with certain restrictions in place provided key trigger points are met, while regional Victoria facilities may be able to reopen earlier subject to trigger points and public health advice.

Fitness Australia CEO Barrie Elvish said the confirmation follows the weekend roadmap announcement by Premier Andrews, which did not provide clarity on the dates and restrictions for the industry to reopen.

“This week Fitness Australia has received confirmation that fitness facilities and gyms in metro Melbourne will be able to open with set restrictions from Monday October 26, provided trigger points are met, while other areas of Victoria may be able to open earlier if trigger points are achieved,” Mr Elvish said.

“Although the restrictions are still to be determined Fitness Australia also welcomed the verbal confirmation we received that the industry will be engaged to develop protocols and procedures for reopening and we are looking forward to working with the Victorian Government in coming weeks.

“We know gyms can open and operate safely with a robust COVID-Safe plan in place. We have successfully achieved this in Queensland with the endorsement and state-wide implementation of a Fitness Australia-led Fitness Industry COVID Safe Plan and need to make this a priority in Victoria.”

Mr Elvish said the mental and physical health of Victorian’s had suffered during isolation, job losses and continued uncertainty and getting people back to the gym safely to resume an exercise routine was essential.

“Fitness facilities and gyms are an essential service and we cannot underestimate the vital role they play in managing and maintaining mental health, physical health and wellbeing,” Mr Elvish said.

Fitness Australia will continue to work with Victorian authorities to provide further reopening information to the fitness industry over the coming weeks, he said.

www.fitness.org.au

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SUPERANNUATION mergers have led to a 20 percent decrease in fees for fund members, according to research from Rainmaker Information.

This result is based on a detailed study of 13 mergers that occurred over the past three years involving 22 super funds that represent $410 billion in member’s money.

Mergers have become more common since the findings of the Productivity Commission were publicly released in January 2019.

Of the 13 mergers, 11 were traditional mergers, while two were integrations of  super funds, being the combining of Virgin Super and Mercer Super Trust and the integration of the trustee offices of Catholic Super and Equipsuper.

In all 11 of the traditional mergers the more expensive fund’s fees lowered, with an average decrease of 21 percent.

For the fund with lower fees in the traditional mergers, seven of the 11 saw their fees drop, a reduction of 5 percent on average.

“Mergers have created efficiencies and economies of scale for the funds, which has led to members being better off,” executive director of research at Rainmaker Information, Alex Dunnin said.

“Regulators and political leaders continue to heap pressure on funds to merge, particularly if they lack scale or consistently under perform.”

Nine of the 11 funds saw their fees drop or stay the same when comparing the average pre-merger fees against the post-merger fees.

Of these results the average fall was 14 percent.

However, of the two fund integrations, fees actually went up on average across the funds.

"Fees don’t go down just because a super fund merges, they go down because the trustees redesign the product," Mr Dunnin said. “Products are more likely to be redesigned in a merger but not when funds just combine their back offices.”

Seven mergers occurred in the 18 months since the findings of the Productivity Commission were announced, compared to six in the two years prior.

Further to this, several other large-scale mergers have been announced since Rainmaker conducted this research, including:

  • NGS Super and Australian Catholic Super
  • CBUS and Media Super
  • The acquisition of MLC by IOOF, which could overtake the merger of First State Super, VicSuper and WA Super (to form Aware Super) as the biggest merger in Australia’s superannuation history if it was to lead to the consolidation of their APRA-regulated superannuation funds.

On top of this, more details have been announced regarding the merger between MTAA Super and TasPlan.

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KEY PLAYERS in the superannuation sector will be scrutinised at the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics public hearing on September 10, 2020, as part of the committee’s ongoing review of the four major banks and other financial institutions.

Chair of the Committee, Tim Wilson MP, said, "These hearings are an important part of the committee’s scrutiny of the financial sector.

"Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic a significant number of Australians have accessed their super to support themselves during this difficult time. It is crucial that the superannuation sector is operating effectively, fairly and to the benefit of fund members," Mr Wilson said.

The committee’s examination of the groups will also include monitoring the sector’s progress on implementing relevant recommendations from the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

Public hearing details

Date: Thursday, 10 September 2020
Time: 10am to 4.45pm
Location: Videoconference

10am—ISPT Pty Ltd
11am—Break
11.15am—Industry Super Holdings
12.15pmLunch break
1.15pm— Mine Super
2pm—Hostplus
2.45pmBreak
3pm—AMP
3.45pm—CBUS
4.45pmFinish 

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

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