Master Builders applaud High Court decision that 'sees through' CFEMU attempt to erase law breaking history

THE FOLLY of the Labor Party policy to abolish the construction watchdog, the Australian building and Construction Commission (ABCC), has been highlighted by a significant High Court decision, according to Master Builders Australia.

The decision of the High Court to overturn a Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia ruling is "a significant relief for the nation’s $210 billion building and construction sector" according to Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn. Mr Wawn said the High Court decision "brings to an end attempts to erase from history countless examples of bullying, intimidation and other illegal behaviour demonstrated by the CFMEU and other construction unions for decades".

Ms Wawn said, “This is a huge relief for our industry and means that the horrific track record of building unions will be relevant when courts consider penalties for future breaches. 

“Construction unions have a long and sorry history of law breaking, particularly right of entry, misrepresentation and anti-coercion, which far exceeds any other union. This case means that record won’t be erased from history and remains relevant,” she said.

“Over the last five or so years, the ABCC has succeeded in around 98 of 107 cases in the courts, which resulted in around $16 million in penalties for breaches of the law by building unions. Over $14.5 million of these penalties were imposed on the CFMMEU for well over 1600 separate contraventions of workplace laws,” Ms Wawn said.

“To say that a track record like that isn’t relevant misses the point of why we have the ABCC and why it must be retained.

“The High Court decision has backed the reason why we need the ABCC – to ensure that penalties can determined in a way that stops the continuation of the CFMMEU’s history of non-compliance with the law, by making it something that is too expensive to maintain.

“The ALP has promised that the ABCC will be abolished if there is a change of government and this decision should hopefully make them reconsider. We are an essential part of economic recovery, so they need to tell the 400,000-plus businesses and almost 1.2 million workers we employ what their plans are to stop lawbreaking in our industry.”

www.masterbuilders.com.au

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Urgent Queensland coal shipment to assist Ukraine

AN AUSTRALIAN resources company has stepped up to supply a cargo of essential humanitarian aid to war-torn Ukraine -- thermal coal for vital electricity services.

Whitehaven Coal is supplying Ukraine with 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal to help keep the lights on and stave off freezing conditions, following an urgent request from the Australian Government.

The Australian Government is donating the shipment, worth close to $30 million, as part of its humanitarian response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Queensland Resources Council (QRC) chief executive Ian Macfarlane said council member Whitehaven Coal's shipment would be welcomed, following reports of civilians bunkering down in cities with no electricity and limited heating in bitterly cold conditions. 

“I'd like to commend Whitehaven Coal for working so quickly with the Australian Government to provide access to a cargo of thermal coal, which isn’t easy at the moment because it’s in such high demand,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“Whitehaven has also contributed $250,000 to the Australian Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal to help the people of Ukraine, so it’s wonderful to see such a heartfelt, local response to this unfolding and tragic situation.”

Mr Macfarlane said the war in Ukraine had shone a harsh spotlight on the strategic issue of energy security.

“The secure and consistent supply of electricity is essential to so many aspects of everyday life,” he said.

“With millions of displaced Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, it’s vital they still have access to electricity for heating, lighting and even for charging phones so they can stay in touch with family members around the world, including in Australia.”

Today’s announcement comes shortly after many Queensland resources companies dug deep to help people in flood-affected parts of the state by donating millions of dollars to relief efforts, Mr Macfarlane said.

www.qrc.org.au

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TWU urges government to provide rapid testing kits to save supply chains

EMPTY supermarket shelves underscore governmental failure to provide rapid antigen testing kits (RATs) for transport workers, according to the Transport Workers Union (TWU), with "as up to 50 percent of truck drivers are absent due to COVID-19".

TWU national secretary, Michael Kaine said Australia's supply chain is now under significant pressure, with large logistics operators reporting up to half their workforce absent amid testing delays and the inability of workers to secure rapid tests.

Mr Kaine said reports of empty supermarket shelves across Australia was a predictable outcome of the government's failure to prioritise rapid tests for the country's most mobile workforce. The union has been told by large transport operators working out of major Australia ports that between a third and half of their workforces were missing each day.

“The TWU wrote to the Prime Minister in October urging the government to provide rapid tests to road transport workers to avoid unnecessary delays and keep drivers on the road," Mr Kaine said. 

"Instead, we have a completely predictable scenario where drivers are delivering rapid tests to be sold on the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies -- but they, like most Australians, can't access them themselves."

Mr Kaine said road transport was Australia’s most mobile industry and interstate truck drivers were at increased risk of virus exposure. The TWU and Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) have been calling on the Federal Government to implement a COVID-Safe National Transport Roadmap with rapid testing at its heart to combat the risk of covid spreading across states and territories as other restrictions are eased.

"We need to prioritise critical industries like transport," Mr Kaine said. "These tests are an important weapon in the fight against the virus, and without them, the virus is hitching a ride through transport supply chains, putting workers and the industry in danger.

“It’s always too little, too late with this government. First it was the sluggish vaccine rollout that left transport workers behind, and now it’s the failure to protect transport workers and supply chains from Omicron.

“It is vital that rapid tests are free and readily available. The government must prioritise access to transport workers and their employers who the community is again depending upon to keep Australia moving safely.”

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Ombudsman wants Banking Code Compliance Committee's 'SME inclusion' to be adopted

THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson has welcomed the final report of the independent review of the Banking Code Compliance Committee (BCCC), which includes recommendations to improve small business representation and engagement.

A key recommendation in the Khoury review is the addition of a fourth member on the committee with expertise in small business.

The final report also includes a recommendation to revitalise the BCCC’s engagement with the small business and agribusiness advisory panel, highlighting a need to incorporate systematic ways of engaging with the panel particularly when developing strategy and planning inquiries

“We welcome the final report of the independent review of the BCCC, noting the adoption of two significant recommendations my office has advocated for,” Mr Billson said. 

“Having a committee member with expertise in small business will provide balanced representation and help the BCCC meet community expectations.

“We are equally encouraged by the final report’s recommendation for the BCCC to engage more with the small business and agribusiness advisory panel, particularly when planning and conducting inquiries," he said.

“The panel is critical to the committee’s purpose to monitor and drive best practice Code compliance. A greater understanding of the unique challenges faced by small business customers will enhance the work of the BCCC and help meet the needs of the small business community.”

In addition to the review of the Banking Code Compliance Committee, Mr Billson also welcomed the Callaghan review of the Banking Code, which includes recommendations around access to banking services.

“While there is work to do to improve relationships between small business customers and banks, and de-banking is still an issue for certain small business sectors,” Mr Billson said.

“The Code review recommends seeking a commitment from banks to communicate with the customer before denying a banking service or closing an account, with an opportunity for the customer to respond, in accordance with AUSTRAC guidance. In the case where a service is denied, or account closed, it recommends the bank give a reason. It finds these decisions should be on a case-by-case basis.

“My office also supports the recommendation the BCCC consider conducting an inquiry into banks’ performance in accordance with these commitments.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

 

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International skills crucial for resources and energy growth says AMMA chief Steve Knott

RE-OPENING skilled migration to supplement Australia’s talent pool will be crucial to securing "the enormous pipeline of projected growth" in the resources and energy industry, according to resources and energy group the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA).

“Today’s announcement on international skilled immigration is very welcome news for Australia’s resources and energy industry which has been crippled by skills shortages,” said AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said.

“In daily conversations with AMMA’s resources and energy members, working in all sub-sectors right across the nation, finding the right number of skilled employees continues to be the most pressing and most severe challenge. 

“Despite leading the nation’s economic performance throughout COVID-19, difficulties in attracting skilled employees in the scale required has presented a very real risk to future resources and energy project growth and the enormous role it will play in Australia’s fiscal recovery.”

AMMA’s annual workforce forecasting report has identified 98 projects that are advanced in planning stages and could create over 100,000 jobs between now and 2026.

“Without access to supplementary international skilled labour, even in the very small numbers utilised by resources employers historically, many of these projects may be deemed unviable to proceed,” Mr Knott said.

“The national Labour Market Portal also predicts key resources and energy occupations – including mining and petroleum engineers, geophysicists, skilled operators and trade technicians – will remain in very tight supply over coming years.

“There needs to be a circuit breaker to the present unsustainable situation of Australian industries cannibalising each other for talent. This is occurring across the skills spectrum from operators and tradespeople to chefs, hospitality professionals and cleaners.

“The arrival of skilled migrant employees in some of these key occupations will ease the great anxieties of employers on how they will both continue to resource existing operations and secure the skills required to support expansion and new project growth.”

www.amma.org.au

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Resources sector says new low emissions technology commercialisation fund 'good move'

A NEW $1 billion Low Emissions Technology Commercialisation Fund announced by the Federal Government will help secure the long-term future of Queensland's $82.6 billion resources sector, the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) said today.

QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the initiative announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison would lead to better technology, lower emissions, improved environmental outcomes and long-term economic security for every Queenslander.

“The QRC supports the Minerals Council of Australia’s ambition for the resources sector to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, so today’s announcement will accelerate the development of new technology to help Queensland resources companies play their part in meeting this target,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“Achieving net zero by 2050 requires a practical pathway forward, so we welcome the government’s decision to stimulate large-scale investment in the commercialisation of low emission technologies as an important starting point post-COP26.”

Mr Macfarlane said every Queenslander benefitted from "a strong and sustainable state resources sector and the economic security and job opportunities it provides".

“I have no doubt Queensland resources companies will continue to be early adopters of new technologies and other innovations that deliver better environmental outcomes,” he said. 

“Queensland is well known for having one of the most technologically advanced and environmentally regulated resources sectors in the world, and many of our companies are already investing heavily in research into carbon capture use and storage, hybrid energy systems at mines sites, hydrogen production and automation.

“Our companies will continue to move as quickly as the technology allows to lower their emissions, improve energy efficiency, adopt renewable energy, invest in co-generation and implement demand management.

“You can count on resources to create a sustainable future for Queenslanders.”

A QRC report released earlier this year found the number of member CEOs investing in low emission technology research and development almost doubled over the past two years, increasing from 40 to 70 percent.

www.qrc.org.au

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Ombudsman wants more decisive action from Reserve Bank on small business payments

SMALL BUSINESS owners and leaders have every right to be frustrated by the Reserve Bank’s review of retail payments regulations, according to Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson.

Mr Billson said while some progress was being made, it was disappointing this report "fell well short of delivering the vital changes small and family businesses have been crying out for".

“More decisive action is urgently needed to stop small businesses and family enterprises paying more than they need to for payment services,” Mr Billson said.

The Reserve Bank said it expected payment providers to “offer and promote least-cost routing” by the end of 2022 but it fell short of mandating this as the default option and provided no explicit regulatory requirement, according to Mr Billson. 

Debit cards are now the most frequently used payment method in Australia and the Reserve Bank said 90 percent of debit cards were dual-network debit cards (DNDCs) which means they allow payment via either eftpos or one of the international debit schemes such as Debit Mastercard or Visa Debit.

The widespread use of 'tap-and-go' and other contactless electronic payments, such as smart phones, means customers are no longer offered a choice to push a button to choose CHQ or SAV from the typically lower-cost eftpos network and it defaults to the international network that can have higher costs for merchants.

Mandating least-cost routing as the default would mean the cheapest payment method would be available to merchants, according to Mr Billson.

“For too long, small businesses have been slugged with unnecessarily high fees from credit card networks, when there is a cheaper option,” Mr Billson said.

“The Reserve Bank could have and should have done more after years of ‘urging banks to do the right thing’ which has resulted in an inadequate response and poor access and uptake of least-cost routing for small merchants.

“We are keen to work with sector participants to make least-cost routing the mandated default option for all small business payment methods, especially smart devices used as touchless payment tools.”

The Reserve Bank review also said the eight biggest card issuers would be expected to continue to issue DNDCs and called for this to include all forms of payment, including mobile-wallet providers.

However, Mr Billson warned, there was no enforcement behind this sentiment and the Reserve Bank report does not require other providers of debit cards, with a smaller market share, to provide DNDCs, which will cause confusion in the market place by creating two sets of rules.

Mr Billson said the small business sector would welcome the Reserve Bank’s finding that it would be “in the public interest” for buy now, pay later (BNPL) providers to remove their no-surcharge rules but noted there was no action to enforce this or help small businesses if they receive push back from BNPL operators.

“Small businesses are currently forced to absorb the cost of BNPL offerings and with often slim margins this places pressure on businesses’ bottom-line. The rapid growth in the BNPL industry means it will no longer be an optional extra for a small business and they will be significantly disadvantaged unless they are able to pass on the surcharges, “Mr Billson said. 

Mr Billson said he was heartened that the Reserve Bank acknowledged it was important to reduce the cost to small and medium-sized merchants of accepting card payments, but much more was needed to deliver on this.

“A safe and robust retail payments system that provides access to affordable and efficient means for small business owners to accept payments is crucial to their viability,” Mr Billson said.

www.asbfeo.gov.au

 

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