THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell has welcomed plans by the Victorian Government to establish a $250 million Business Growth Fund to help small and medium businesses access capital, and looks forward to seeing further details about the fund.

“I’m supportive of any initiative that gives SME operators access to funding at a time when they are being heavily impacted by tightening requirements by lenders,” Ms Carnell said.

“We know that the biggest barrier to SME growth is access to finance.

“While we understand the design of the fund has yet to be finalised, it should be focused on long-term funding solutions for SMEs.

“Ideally, the fund would allow SMEs to access amounts between $250,000 and $5 million, with terms up to seven years.

“The involvement of superannuation funds in providing an initial pool of capital is also something we have previously recommended.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

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QUEENSLAND PREMIER Annastacia Palaszczuk has reaffirmed the importance of the resources sector and its role in renewables as a recipe for regional resilience and prosperity, according to the Queensland Resources Council.

QRC Chief Executive Ian Macfarlane said the Premier’s speech to CEDA, with former US Vice-President Al Gore in Brisbane today, made it clear there was a strong future for the resources sector in Queensland and the benefits to regional communities from it.

“In the Premier’s words – ‘in Queensland, we are and we will continue to be a State where minerals continue to sustain human existence are dug up from the ground’,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“The QRC, our members and the 315,000 Queensland men and women working in the resources sector are committed to delivering the resources – the coal, the metals, the gas – for the everyday needs of people living across the State, across the nation and around the globe.

“The QRC and the resources sector embraces renewable energy, not only as a supplier of electricity for operations but as a market for the coal and metals we mine. Advanced manufacturing, electric vehicles and battery storage are all markets for our mining companies," he said.

“The future is not a choice between resources or renewables.  The future is a commitment to resources and renewables.

“Queensland can be the energy superpower of the future, including a renewables superpower, while at the same time building on our strengths in coal, gas and other minerals.

“Queenslanders don’t want to be lectured by visiting activists from interstate and overseas, whether it is Bob Brown or Al Gore. They want their efforts, their hard work, their investment and their futures supported.  The Premier has done that today.”

Mr Macfarlane said QRC was committed to working with the Premier, her Government and all Members of Parliament to ensure there was stable and predictable policy to allow the resources sector to invest, grow, employ and export more. 

www.qrc.org.au

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THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell has welcomed the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) proposed exemption to collective bargaining for small businesses.

“This proposal is good news for small business.” Ms Carnell said.

“It is broad-ranging and in line with our submission to the ACCC regarding this issue.

“The proposed exemption allows most small businesses to collectively negotiate with their suppliers and processors, without having to seek ACCC approval first.

“Franchisees in particular will see tangible benefits as they band together to bargain for better outcomes on pricing and contract terms.

“This proposal makes it simpler and cheaper for eligible businesses and franchisees to collectively negotiate if they choose.

“It’s another important step towards levelling the playing field for small business.”

THE LATEST Federal Court judgement handing down over $130,000 in fines sees the total penalties against building unions for breaking workplace laws now exceeds four million dollars – this financial year alone – according to Master Builders Australia.

"Building unions have now racked up over $4 million in fines for bullying and illegal conduct on building sites in just one financial year alone" said Denita Wawn, CEO of Master Builders Australia. 

"This high amount over such a short time gives four million extra reasons why the ABCC is essential to ensure everyone plays by the rules on building sites," she said. 

Within the judgment (ABCC v Richard Xavier Hassett, Kevin Harkins and the CFMMEU) the Federal Court found that two building union officials had committed serious safety breaches and broke Right of Entry of laws, representing six separate contraventions of the Fair Work Act 2009 and resulting in penalties of almost $140,000. 

In handing down the penalties, Justice O’Callaghan said that the officials conduct was a: 

 "serious breach of [the Fair Work laws]… because it was very dangerous, which [the official] must have known, and it was serious because [the official] gained entry to the site purportedly in respect of safety corners – only to place the crane operator and others potentially in harm’s way."

The Court went on to find that the dangerous conduct: 

"…was made all the more serious by the fact that when he was told to get off the crane, he refused." 

His Honour also noted the same official had committed similar breaches of safety and workplace laws on multiple occasions in the past, and referenced the conduct of the union more broadly noting it was: 

“a large organisation with significant financial resources which exhibits apparent willingness to contravene the [Fair Work Act] in a serious way to impose its will”. 

"Building unions need to stop thinking that the laws don't apply to them and play by the rules like everyone else," Ms Wawn said.  

"This is exactly why the ABCC is so crucial in protecting workers and small businesses."

 

THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell is pleased by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) proposal for improved transparency around the Australasian Performing Rights Association’s (APRA) operations, but says more needs to be done to ensure small business artists and venues are treated fairly.

“The ACCC has clearly heard our concerns over the lack of transparency with regard to APRA’s reporting obligations,” Ms Carnell said.

“We are encouraged by the regulator’s proposal to grant authorisation for a further five years with conditions that require APRA to be far more transparent about licence fees and the way it pays royalties to members.”

As part of the proposal, APRA would be required to publish information about how it calculates licence fees, produce a plain English guide to its distribution policies and to publish an annual transparency report with information on rights revenue, operating costs and payments to members.

“While these measures are a step in the right direction, we believe the requirements need to go further,” Ms Carnell said.

“APRA must also be required to disclose in detail exactly what licence fees cover, for example artists on streaming services are not necessarily covered by APRA’s licence.

“In our follow-up submission to the ACCC, we will again raise the need for comprehensive community radio coverage, so that emerging Australian artists whose airplay is mostly through alternative channels such as community radio, internet radio and other broadcasters are paid the royalties they are entitled to.

“We will also re-submit our view that APRA must ensure licence fees provided to venues are tailored for actual use, rather than capacity.

 “These and a number of other issues are critical to the future of Australian small businesses and need to be addressed before the APRA licence is re-issued.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

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RESEARCH released today proposes low carbon gas policy incentives that could help efforts to decarbonise the nation’s economy.

The report, by energy consultant Energetics, will be launched at the Renewable Gas in Australia Symposium, jointly hosted by Energy Networks Australia and Bioenergy Australia.

Energy Networks Australia CEO Andrew Dillon said the research was a welcome contribution to work such as the National Hydrogen Strategy, exploring how to harness existing resources and new technologies to help reduce emissions.

The Renewable Gas Symposium will explore emerging innovations and research in hydrogen and biogas.

Delegates will hear about projects and case studies underway, the drivers pushing businesses to consider utilising low carbon gas and the injection and policy mechanisms needed to support it being blended into existing gas networks.

The event will also feature international presentations showcasing the lessons Australia could learn from other countries that have capitalised on low carbon gas opportunities.

Recent advice released by Energy Networks Australia confirmed that injection of hydrogen into the gas distribution network can be done under current gas legislation.

“Hydrogen can play an important role in not only helping Australia’s gas networks decarbonise but as energy storage,” Mr Dillon said.

“Flexible hydrogen production can help soak up excess renewable electricity on sunny and windy days, then fuel cells can generate emissions-free power on still evenings.”

As demonstrated in Energy Networks Australia’s Gas Vision 2050 report, hydrogen’s scope is impressive, with potential to widen customers’ power options, improve and increase renewable generation, provide options for mobility and even create a new energy export market.

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THE Queensland Electricity Users Network (QEUN) has slammed the current Queensland Government for inaction on creating a competitive energy market in Regional Queensland.

Queensland Electricity Users Network coordinator Jennifer Brownie claims the government is unfairly charging consumers for public services that do not exist.

“The Queensland Government plans to rip nearly $100 million out of regional Queensland next year by charging customers for retail competition that does not exist in regional Queensland,” Ms Brownie said.

“(The) announcement by the Queensland Competition Authority of a small reduction in regional power bills completely ignores the Queensland Government is adding around 10 percent to regional power bills for something that doesn’t exist.”

The QEUN claims that an average residence in the regions pays 25 cents extra for non-existent retail competition.

This is estimated to reduce $56 million from the regional economy, affecting primarily low-middle income residents.

Small businesses in regional Queensland are also impacted, paying approximately 28 cents per day, adding another $9 million.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission estimates it costs $48 to acquire and retain an electricity customer.

Ms Brownie also claims Ergon Energy holds a "near monopoly" over regional Queensland as a sole power provider.

“Ergon Energy Retail is a near monopoly and doesn’t have to fight to acquire or retain its customers," Ms Brownie said.

“This means the Queensland Government drains another $34 million from the regional Queensland economy.

“This $100 million should be in the pockets of regional Queensland homes and businesses.” She said.

Last year Ergon Energy Retail more than doubled its profits to $263 million, with $177 million being paid to the Queensland Government.

“This exorbitant profit caused businesses to sack staff and nearly 13,000 homes to have their electricity disconnected for non-payment.

“The QEUN urges the Queensland Government to support regional jobs and to reduce the cost of living by further reducing regional power bills.”

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THE Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has delivered some welcome and not entirely unexpected news to the market today, with the Board announcing its first rate cut in almost two years.

“The RBA has today decided to cut the nation’s official cash rate to the new historic low of 1.25 percent, marking the first rate cut since August 2016,” Mortgage Choice chief executive officer Susan Mitchell said.

“While today’s decision will no doubt bring relief to borrowers across the country, the question now is how soon, and by how much will the nation’s lenders pass on the savings to borrowers?

“Throughout 2018, the Reserve Bank made it clear that leaving monetary policy unchanged would be consistent with achieving sustainable economic growth and its inflation target of 2-3 percent. However, a weakened housing market, consistently lacklustre inflation and mixed messages from the labour market, may have encouraged the Board to shift its long-held stance on monetary policy.

“In the minutes of the May Monetary Policy meeting, the RBA Board said that if labour market conditions deteriorated, the Bank would be inclined to lower the cash rate. Given that the nation’s unemployment rate and underemployment rate rose month-on-month to 5.2 percent and 8.5 percent respectively, the RBA Board may have been pressured into lowering the cash rate in order to help stimulate the economy.

“Today’s cash rate cut is good news for the Australian property market which could see a boost from lower interest rates. According to the latest CoreLogic Hedonic Home Value Index, national dwelling values fell 0.4 percent in April and 7.3 percent annually," Ms Mitchell said.

“The Reserve Bank would be acutely aware that any cuts to the cash rate may serve to bolster overall activity in the property market and while I do not see dwelling values rebounding to their 2017 peak any time soon, monetary policy stimulus could help put a floor under falling dwelling values."

With the Board opting to trim the cash rate by 25 basis points, Ms Mitchell said all eyes will now be on the nation’s lenders.

“If recent history is anything to go by, the last time the RBA cut the official cash rate, few lenders actually passed on the full rate adjustment to borrowers, however lenders would be aware of the intense public backlash they would receive if they did not deliver some relief to borrowers," Ms Mitchell said.

"Financial markets are speculating that a second rate cut is on the cards in 2019, and some economists predict as many as three rate cuts by Christmas. Regardless of what the RBA has in store, I urge anyone looking to secure a home loan to speak to their local mortgage broker to ensure they are getting a good deal.

“Interest rates are already hovering at historic lows, and if lenders respond to the RBA’s move by slashing their interest rates, there is an even more compelling case for those with property buying plans to take action.

“Mortgage Choice brokers have access to a panel of over 25 lenders with varied lending policies and preferences catering to a wide range of borrowers so we can help borrowers get the most suitable deal, whatever the cash rate,” Ms Mitchell said.

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NOMINATIONS are now open for the 2019 APAC Food Safety Awards, the leading event that recognises and rewards individuals who have contributed to food safety in Australia and New Zealand. 

Hosted by global leader in integrated risk management solutions SAI Global (saiglobal.com), the Food Safety Award winners will be announced at the APAC Food Safety Awards Gala Dinner on August 21 in Sydney. The dinner is held as part of the APAC Food Safety Conference (August 20-22).

The APAC Food Safety Awards comprise three categories, with nominations closing on July 25. Entrants are shortlisted by an independent panel of recognised Australian food experts – with this year’s panel including:

  • · Andrea Currie, Coles Brand Manager Policy and Technical Standards
  • · Debbie Peters, wife of the late Ross Peters, the founder of the Ross Peters Award for Excellence in Food Safety
  • · Paul Holder, 2018 winner of the Ross Peters Award for Excellence in Food Safety
  • · Kimberly Coffin, SAI Global Head of Food, Retail and Hospitality – Assurance

The award categories are:

  • · Ross Peters Award for Excellence in Food Safety. This category is open to any individual who has made a notable contribution to food safety in Australia. They can work within any sector of the agri-food industry.
  • · Leaders of the Future – Food Safety Learning Scholarship. Applicants in this category must work within the food industry and have a junior quality assurance role or equivalent. They must have a background or experience that shows a unique perspective on food safety, a drive towards continuous improvement and leadership potential through vision. The winner will receive a scholarship to complete food safety courses with SAI Global to the value of $10,000.
  • · Innovators in Food Safety. This award recognises an individual or organisation that has developed best in class innovations in technology, process, procedure and training in relation to food safety. The winner of this award will have made a positive and influential impact on food safety through an innovative idea or product.

SAI Global Assurance CEO John Rowley said, “The APAC Food Safety Awards is an annual event that publicly recognises the achievements of food safety professionals. Their commitment to the industry should be celebrated and rewarded, as there are many individuals in the industry who work tirelessly to ensure the safety of our food supply and the minimisation of any potential harm. Now, more than ever, it’s important that we continually strive to the challenges and changes within the food industry.”

Jessica Kelly, winner of the 2018 APAC Food Safety Award for ‘Leaders of the Future – Food Safety Learning Scholarship’ said, "It was very exciting and humbling to have been recognised for an APAC Food Safety Award last year, so early into my career. Winning this award has provided me an opportunity to expand my presence in the industry and explore new networks, career directions, skills and mentor opportunities. I highly recommend anyone thinking about entering to apply as early as possible to demonstrate their skills, passion and commitment in being a part of a strong future for the industry."

Nominations for the APAC Food Safety Awards close at 5pm, July 25, and finalists will be announced on August 14 . Award winners will be announced at the APAC Food Safety Awards Gala Dinner at Doltone House, 48 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont, Sydney on August 21.

For more information on the APAC Food Safety Awards and to nominate yourself, visit www.foodsafetyapac.com/award-nominations.

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AS THE PROPERTY downturn draws to an end, there are important lessons for policy-makers, lenders and investors to be learned, according to RiskWise Property Research.

RiskWise beleives Labor’s loss has eliminated the number one risk to the property market and this, combined with the high likelihood of interest rate cuts by the RBA this year, the introduction of the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme and APRA’s proposal to remove the 7 percent ‘stress test’ replacing it with a 2.5 percent buffer, will support the bottoming of the Sydney and Melbourne markets by the end of the year and then a gradual recovery.

RiskWise Property Research has identified six key lessons to be learned from the downturn and how to mitigate them to avoid another property crash in the future. They are:

1. RiskWise CEO Doron Peleg said despite claims by some experts it had been on the verge of collapse, the market remained viable, despite price falls. And, with a “good arsenal of tools” by the policy-makers, there should be no crash.

“In September last year, some experts warned of collapse due to ballooning household debt, compounded by sliding prices in Sydney and Melbourne, that would escalate to falls of 40 to 45 percent in the next 12 months,” Mr Peleg said.

“Not only has it not happened -- and would not even if the Labor had won the election -- but more importantly, policy-makers have taken measures to boost demand.

“The First Home Buyers Scheme (that could also be a larger-scale first home buyers’ grant, if needed) was introduced prior to the election by the Coalition and was adopted a few hours later by Labor. In addition, the flow-on effect of lower property prices on household wealth, consumer spending and also on dwelling commencements and, consequently, lower GDP, increases the likelihood of interest rate cuts to ‘almost certain’.”

He also said APRA’s credit restrictions to reduce investor demand had eased and it was proposing lenders scrap the 7 percent ‘stress test’ requirement on home loans replacing it with a buffer of 2.5 percent on top of the interest rates.

“The important thing to remember here is that in the future don’t expect total collapse of the housing market in a US GFC-style meltdown. It is extremely unlikely, and policy-makers take actions when required,” he said.

“It’s equally important that decisions should not be made under the assumption that very extreme scenarios will take place, for example, following the 60 Minutes story in September 2018 in which it was reported there could be a 40 percent drop in Australia's house prices … this had an impact on sentiment and confidence to some extent.”

2.  A more aggressive monetary policy is required by the RBA.

“The RBA should have cut interest rates already and should not have made statements declaring the next move being upwards when there were so many economic indicators and key risk indicators that should have been taken note of, such as the strong connection between dwelling prices, household wealth and spending,” Mr Peleg said.

“An example of this is the stronger than expected fall in dwelling commencements, as published by RiskWise in December 2018, alongside an extended period of time when inflation was consistency well below target and wage growth was poor.”

3.  Investors amplify credit and dwelling price cycles contributing to financial stability risks.

Therefore, any major reduction in investor activity has an impact on the demand of both existing and new properties,” Mr Peleg said.

“It is unrealistic to expect an increase in dwelling commencements when investor activity is significantly reduced. This is a key lesson for any policy-maker who proposes a policy with a major impact on investor demand, and the proposed taxation changes by Labor are a prime example for that.”

4. Off-the-plan units mainly in high-supply areas carry a high level of risk.

Since mid-2017, RiskWise has been warning that many areas subject to unit oversupply carry high risk of low demand and price reductions.

“This risk is very relevant to construction lenders, developers and obviously buyers, largely investors,” he said.

Prime examples include the Brisbane CBD where, even as early as June 2016 in Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4) Brisbane Inner-City, price growth was -1.8 percent with 17,417 units in the pipeline, an addition of 24.5 per cent to the current stock.

A recent analysis by BIS Oxford Economics also demonstrates that two out of three Melbourne apartments sold off-the-plan over the past eight years made no price gains or lost money upon resale, despite a property boom and record immigration.

5. It’s important to listen to mainstream economists and research houses which provide accurate and up-to-date predictions. This was particularly the case from the end of 2017 when it was obvious property prices would materially decrease.

“The only question then was ‘by how much exactly?’,” Mr Peleg said. “This is a key lesson, mainly for lenders and investors, as the majority of the assets that were purchased in the past couple of years experienced material price reductions, and many of them with negative or very little equity. Obviously, in some cases poor credit decisions have been made and some investors will need a number of years to see their property value increasing to the original purchase price.

“Mainstream leading economists and research houses shared with the media the results of their analysis – the same results they provide to their clients, in most cases lenders and investment funds. They have no incentive to mislead their clients and talk the market up or down.”

Mr Peleg said any major policies must be constantly reviewed and their impact reassessed according to recent developments in the housing market. Eg Labor’s proposed changes to negative gearing did not have a visible reassessment process from when it was suggested in 2016, despite major changes in the property market.

“Policy-makers should have a proper process of challenge and feedback from mainstream bodies that research the market, especially if that research is saying the implications could be adverse,” he said.

6. Affordable areas show more resilience than the top end of the market.

This can be demonstrated using CoreLogic’s latest Quarterly Economic Review from February which showed despite a 7 percent fall across Melbourne for the last three months of 2018, the bottom end enjoyed a 0.5 percent increase.

Also, in the past 12 months houses in the lucrative areas of the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney have fallen by 10.9 percent and the Inner-East in Melbourne by 18.8 percent.

“Investors or owner-occupiers with low equity have to reconsider purchasing a property at the top end of the market as they could suffer from high volatility in the short term.

“For example, if you plan to refinance or sell and move to another property in three to five years expecting strong capital growth, this could be significantly impacted by major economic events. However, the lower end is by far less volatile and generally less subject to such strong market movements.”

www.riskwiseproperty.com.au

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THE  Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell has welcomed the new federal shadow ministry, and looks forward to working closely with Shadow Minister for Small and Family Business, Brendan O’Connor and Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, Tony Burke.

“Brendan O’Connor has a long political history and has previously served as the Minister for Small Business,” Ms Carnell said.

“He has a good knowledge of the sector and what small businesses need to thrive. Mr O’Connor will be supported by Shadow Minister Assisting for Small and Family Business, Matt Keogh.

“There are a number of issues we are particularly keen on working through in the interests of small businesses.

“Small businesses have told us their major concerns are tax cuts, energy prices and cash flow.

“Access to affordable capital is fundamental to the growth of small to medium enterprises (SMEs), so the delivery of the Australian Business Securitisation Fund and the Australian Business Growth Fund is essential.

“Equally vital to small business is finding the right people with the right skills to employ and simplifying industrial relations so they can more easily employ," Ms Carnell said.

“We have identified a number of simple steps to tackle the overly complex industrial relations system for small businesses that would make a real difference to the sector.

“We would also urge the Opposition to work with the government to deliver its faster payment times policy.

“We look forward to working closely with the shadow ministry to achieve better outcomes for the engine room of our economy.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

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