In Brief

Resources and agriculture sectors welcome Qld Govt promise to intervene if extended COVID laws ‘unfairly’ lift council rates

THREE peak bodies have joined forces to welcome an assurance by the Queensland Government it can use existing powers under the Local Government Act to defend their industries from ‘unfair and inequitable’ council rate increases.

An increase in rates could potentially be levied under a proposed amendment to new COVID-19 laws introduced last year, which are due to be debated in Parliament this week.

Queensland Resources Council (QRC), Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) and AgForce representatives appeared before the government’s Economics and Governance Committee inquiry into new COVID-19 legislation over the past month, providing a joint submission to speak against a draft provision to extend councils’ ability to increase rates outside the standard, annual budgetary process.  

In its submission, the groups had sought an assurance Local Government Minister Steven Miles would intervene if a ratings decision breached rate setting principles and misaligned with local government’s Guideline on equity and fairness in rating.

QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said all three bodies fully appreciated the impact COVID had inflicted on regions, but industries like resources and agriculture were facing their own challenges and could not be expected to soak up further unpredictable and unjustified costs. 

“The draft provision in the legislation could make the already unpredictable local government rating system more unstable at a time sectors like resources, which contributed $200 million in local government rates and charges in the past financial year, need to remain competitive to help Queensland recover economically from COVID-19,” Mr Macfarlane said.

QFF chief executive officer Georgina Davis said there was already no statutory constraint on the power of local government to determine rates and the visibility of council budgets was limited.

“The existing framework has created an unsustainable system that lacks transparency and provides local government with unfettered powers and the ability to effectively plug budget gaps by raising rating revenue on selected industries without clear justification,” Dr Davis said.

"The additional powers proposed in this draft provision exacerbate that.”

AgForce chief executive officer Michael Guerin said industry sectors understood regions needed to be financially sustainable, but this could be achieved through a predictable rate system that fostered industry growth.

“Our sectors are jointly advocating for greater transparency and accountability in local government budgets and rate setting, and we are very keen to work with the State and local governments to improve the fairness of the system,” Mr Guerin said.



Firefighters Union welcomes Vic Govt investment in mental health

PROFESSIONAL firefighters suffering from post-traumatic stress injury and other mental health issues will be able to quickly access targeted services thanks to the Victorian Government's delivery of a Centre of Excellence for emergency service workers. 

The United Firefighters Union of Victoria (UFU) welcomed the Labor Government's announcement that it has committed $6 million in establishing the centre, which will guarantee Victorian professional firefighters have access to world class support and care. 

"Professional firefighters are exposed to trauma everyday through the course of performing their duties," secretary of the UFU Victorian Branch, Peter Marshall said. "Underneath their protective clothing, they're human beings -- the accumulated trauma they are exposed to in the course of performing their duties takes a heavy toll on their mental and physical health. 

"Victorian professional firefighters serve and protect members of the community and do so without wanting accolades.  It is refreshing to see that this silent dedication, which results in firefighters sometimes sacrificing their own work through the performance of their duties, has been recognised by the Andrews Government.  

"The UFU welcomes the Andrews Government's guarantee that when professional firefighters need support, help will be there."

The United Firefighters Union has long campaigned for greater protection for professional firefighters.  On a daily basis, they are exposed to the impact of responding to incidents that involve death, trauma and tragedy.   This accumulated exposure takes a toll on the physical and psychological wellbeing of professional firefighters. A report by Newcastle University found that 68 percent of Victorian career firefighters showed symptoms of moderate to serious levels of post-traumatic stress inhury (PTSI).  

"Extensive research conducted in Australia and internationally has shown that first responders, including professional firefighters, suffer PTSI, depression and other psychological illnesses at a much higher rate than the population," Mr Marshall said.

"If left untreated this can lead to alcohol and drug abuse, relationship breakdowns and even suicide. Providing specialised support and making it available early on means people can manage the pressure of their work."

The centre is the first of its kind in Australia. First responders will be able to be quickly referred to the dedicated specialists working in the centre by their GPs. The centre will also invest in training for health professionals to support frontline responders and internationally recognised research.

"We are pleased to see that the Andrews Government is protecting the protectors," Mr Marshall said.


Ombudsman says affordable childcare 'essential for women in small business'

THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell said universal access to high-quality, affordable early education would deliver essential support to women in small business.

Speaking in support of the Thrive By Five campaign, following today’s National Press Club address by Jay Weatherill and Nicola Forrest, Ms Carnell reiterated the urgent need for affordable childcare as women and families work to get their small businesses back up and running.

“Women make up more than a third of Australia’s small business owners (38%),” Ms Carnell said.

“The latest data from the Productivity Commission shows there was a 21.7 percent rise in the number of parents and carers in Australian who didn’t work due to childcare costs in 2020, compared with the previous year. 

“According to those figures, 90,000 Australian parents stayed out of the workforce last year because the cost of childcare was too high," Ms Carnell said. 

“At the moment Australia’s childcare costs are the fourth highest in the OECD, taking an average of 27 percent of household income.

“For women and families in small businesses, particularly those that are relying on JobKeeper or still in the process of recovering from the COVID crisis, childcare is unaffordable. 

“We know the COVID recession had a disproportionate impact on women. With childcare fees remaining too high, mothers – more often than not – need to spend more time at home to look after their kids rather than working to grow their business. It’s bad for small business and even worse for the economy.   

“Now is the time for the government to be considering innovative ways to increase participation rates for women to ensure productivity gains and to benefit businesses," Ms Carnell said.

“There are a number of ways for government to do this, including making childcare more tax-effective or by phasing in an expanded subsidy scheme as recommended by the Grattan Institute, estimated to deliver an $11 billlion boost to the economy.

“Crucially, affordable childcare would allow more women to work on growing their businesses – an important contribution to Australia’s economic recovery.”


Ombudsman says JobKeeper flaw creates staffing issues for struggling small businesses 

THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell is calling on the Federal Government to change JobKeeper rules to allow struggling small businesses to replace staff.

Ms Carnell said as the economy recovers from the COVID crisis and more jobs become available, small businesses that are still trying to get back on their feet are losing their staff and cannot hire replacement employees under JobKeeper rules.

“While some small businesses are doing well, there are a significant proportion of small businesses that are still doing it tough,” Ms Carnell said.

“JobKeeper was reduced again on 4 January, 2021, and with some eligible businesses unable to afford to top up wages, they are having to reduce the hours of their staff. It means staff are resigning to go to jobs offering more hours and pay.

“While the JobKeeper program was originally designed to allow businesses to keep their existing staff, the economic recovery is presenting new challenges for some small businesses," Ms Carnell said. “Under JobKeeper rules, eligible businesses cannot replace their staff with a new staff member and still attract the government payment.

“Unfortunately this rule has the unintended consequence of increasing the divide between the haves and have nots in the small business sector. From a struggling small business perspective, this JobKeeper rule makes a bad situation worse because they are losing their staff and cannot afford to replace them," she said. 

“It’s imperative that the government changes JobKeeper so that small businesses that have been hit hardest by the COVID crisis can replace their staff to help them get their businesses back up-and-running.

“Our national economic recovery will be driven by jobs growth and that’s why it’s critical to support small business employers during this difficult time to allow them to survive, grow and hire in the future.”


Ombudsman backs ACCC’s concerns over Woolworths’ PFD acquisition

THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) was right to be concerned about Woolworths’ proposed acquisition of 65 percent of PFD Food Services Pty Ltd.

In October, Ombudsman Kate Carnell wrote to the ACCC to formally oppose the $552 million deal, saying it would be detrimental to small businesses in the food distribution space and the economy more broadly.

“We share the ACCC’s competition concerns as detailed in its preliminary statement ahead of its final decision next year,” Ms Carnell said.

“My office has made it clear to the ACCC that the proposed deal would likely add to Woolworths’ already substantial bargaining power in its dealings with food manufacturers. 

“Woolworths has described its push into the food services sector as a ‘strategic investment’ but the timing is opportunistic at best," she said.

“As a major beneficiary of COVID restrictions, Woolworths’ supermarket operations saw a significant upswing in sales, while independent food distributors struggled.

“Now that Woolworths has exhausted its acquisition opportunities in the large supermarket space, it is moving into the smaller supermarket and food services arena. Allowing Woolworths to buy a controlling stake in PFD would give it significantly more power over other small supermarket operators that rely on PFD for deliveries and food services," Ms Carnell said.

“This deal would dramatically impact on the food distribution market – many of which are small and family businesses – especially outside the major cities.

“I am also concerned about the potential for significant job losses as smaller suppliers and distributors would have a battle on their hands to compete, particularly if a major player like Woolworths moves aggressively into this sector.

“Australian small businesses have been hit hardest by the COVID crisis and now is not the time for opportunistic takeovers by large corporations.”


Incent makes crypto sense out of spending dollars and cents

By Leon Gettler >>

IMAGINE a customer loyalty scheme that rewards customers by increasing their wealth with cryptocurrency. That’s the aim of the start-up Incent.

Incent offers a reward to consumers with cryptocurrency every time they make an expenditure to a merchant from their bank account.

The company was started in 2016 and has been trading on one of the largest crypto exchanges since 2017. It has been trading at around 28 Australian cents for every Incent token.

“We have developed a technology around open banking API (application programming interface) infrastructure which allows us to seek a users’ permission to understand where they’re spending and when they’re spending – and that allows us to drive reward value into their Incent account every time we track a transaction,” Incent CEO and co-founder Rob Wilson told Talking Business.

He said the API open banking technology was not particularly new. 

“Our unique IP (intellectual property) is the machine learning we put on top of open banking API technology, in order that we can identify the specific merchant and reward against expenditure at that specific merchant,” Mr Wilson said.

“And the reason that’s tricky is because across the banking system there’s no universal standard for identifying merchants, so the machine has to learn as we gather information about who’s who, in order that we can precisely reward against specific merchants regardless of where a consumer might be banked,” he said. “So that’s our clever bit.”


Mr Wilson said the process involved the user ‘syncing’ whatever bank they want to be rewarded against. They do not have to swipe a card or have any specific affiliation with that merchant. He said it was a totally “frictionless experience for the user”.

“Once that is done, every time we track a transaction out of that bank account, we reward the user proportionately in Incent, so it allows the user or the consumer to literally build cryptographic wealth as they go about living their life,” Mr Wilson said.

“They don’t need to swipe a card, they’re rewarded with something with real monetary, tradable value.

“Our aim is to allow ordinary Australians to experience building their own sovereign wealth because they’re just going about living their lives. That’s our first objective.

“And I should be clear, it’s a genuine trade. Consumers are in possession of sovereign data, their expenditure habits, which when aggregated and anonymised we believe will have a tremendous value for commerce.”


Incent changes the dynamics of personal data away from how current loyalty programs utilise it.

“At the moment, traditional loyalty programs harvest that data essentially for free and they re-market that data and sell that data at profit,” Mr Wilson said.

“Down the road, we definitely see a commercial use for that data and what we would like to do is encourage merchant partners to drive even more cryptographic wealth back into consumers’ pockets for patronising their business.”

Right now, however, the company is examining whether the Australian consumer wants to be rewarded in this way.

At this stage, the company is acquiring prospective users at about 100-150 a day, according to Mr Wilson.

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



Woolworths’ planned PFD purchase 'opportunistic' says Ombudsman

THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell has written to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to formally oppose Woolworths’ proposed acquisition of PFD Food Services Pty Ltd, claiming the deal would work against small business in the food retail industry.

The Ombudsman is urging the ACCC to block Woolworths’ proposed $552 million purchase of a controlling interest (65%) in PFD. Ms Carnell said the deal would be detrimental to small businesses in the food distribution sector and the economy more broadly.

“Woolworths has described its push into the food services sector as a ‘strategic investment’ but the timing is opportunistic at best,” Ms Carnell said.

“Woolworths has been a beneficiary of COVID restrictions, with its supermarket operations seeing a significant upswing in sales, while independent food distributors have struggled." 

PFD Food Services customers include pubs and clubs, cafés, airlines, hotels, restaurants, aged care and retirement villages, resorts and theme parks, convenience outlets, venue and field caterers, fast food outlets, schools and kindergartens, and sporting, child care and correctional facilities. The company's website proclaims that it "delivers a superior range of dry goods, frozen and chilled products, fresh seafood and meat, confectionery, paper products and cleaning solutions".

PFD Food Services began in 1943 as a family business "amid the noise and chaos of the Melbourne Fish Markets". PFD is now Australia’s largest privately owned foodservice network.

“Now that Woolworths has exhausted opportunities in the large supermarket space, it is moving into the smaller supermarket arena," Ms Carnell said. "Allowing Woolworths to buy PFD would significantly improve its competitive position against other smaller supermarket operators. Claims by Woolworths about plans to establish Chinese walls to prevent PFD passing on information about small supermarket competitors is questionable.

“This deal would also dramatically impact on the food distribution market – many of which are small and family businesses – especially outside the major cities," Ms Carnell said.

“Small food distributors are only now starting to get back on their feet after months of heavily restricted trade due to the forced closure of pubs, clubs and other commercial venues. To allow this deal to go ahead would be a real kick in the guts.

“I am also concerned about significant job losses as smaller suppliers and distributors would have a battle on their hands to compete, particularly if a major player like Woolworths moves into this sector.

“I share ACCC chair Rod Sims’ concerns about companies that have too much market power. Independent Food Distributors Australia (IFDA) estimates Woolworths – which already accounts for about a third of supermarket sales – would pick up a large chunk of the food services market as a result of this deal, setting smaller competitors up to fail.

“The ACCC should also consider the impact this deal could have on manufacturers and farmers," she said. "The last thing they need right now is a dominant market player putting price pressure on suppliers.

“Australian small businesses have been hit hardest by this pandemic and now is not the time for opportunistic takeovers by large corporations. Intervention by our regulators may be the only way to stop it.”


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