THE Financial Services Council (FSC) has announced that life insurers will treat people making a claim related to the bushfires as vulnerable customers requiring additional support under the FSC Life Insurance Code of Practice (The Code).

FSC CEO Sally Loane said this announcement was in addition to the individual commitments already made by life insurers to support people affected by the bushfires.

“This means affected Australians will have their claims assessments and decisions prioritised and people may have access to advance payments to help alleviate financial hardship,” Ms Loane said.

“There are no general exclusions in life insurance which would stop an insurer from paying claims after a natural disaster like a bushfire. Australians can rely on their life insurance.

“The Code requires that all customers are treated with compassion, respect and empathy, but also recognises that some vulnerable people may have unique needs when making a claim on their life insurance, and if so, additional support will be provided,” Ms Loane said.

Last week the FSC launched a simple new service for Australians and their loved ones to use, if life insurance policy details have been lost or destroyed as a result of the bushfires. Detail of this service can be found on the FSC website.

Australia’s life insurers have also made a broad range of additional, individual commitments when handling claims related to the bushfires. While they vary from company to company, they include:

  • Prioritising bushfire related claims;
  • Waiving premiums for volunteer firefighters who are putting themselves at risk so they can maintain their vital cover while not earning in their usual job;
  • Waiving premiums for affected people;
  • Special leave days for staff who are emergency service volunteers who have been impacted;
  • Reducing the evidence requirements for related claims;
  • Offering mental health, Employment Assistance Program (EAP) and other support services to affected customers and their families;
  • Proactively contacting customers in affected postcodes;
  • Donating cash to fund raising organisations;
  • Allowing more time for customers to submit documents;
  • Contacting customers after hours; and
  • Providing immediate information and referrals for affected customers to government agencies.

To access a copy of the Code: https://www.fsc.org.au/resources/1695-life-insurance-code-of-practice-with-appendix.

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WHARFIES employed at DP World in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle have had approved leave cancelled by the huge global stevedoring operator, with the maritime union describing the move as an unlawful and aggressive attack on workers’ rights.

Dubai-based DP World Australia, which is the largest stevedore in Australia employing more than 1800 waterfront workers, notified workers that previously approved leave had been cancelled immediately, leaving workers unable to fulfil family obligations.

The company also banned workers from meeting with union representatives on company property, kicking union officials out of car-parks where they were waiting to meet members during work breaks.

The Maritime Union of Australia said workers were outraged by the unlawful attacks, saying the aggressive escalation was aimed at bullying workers into accepting management’s demands in a new workplace agreement.

“To strip wharfies of their approved leave at this time of year, when many had arranged approved leave to care for their kids or take family holidays, is an extraordinary attack on their own workforce by DP World,” MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith said.

“The timing, in the middle of the summer school holidays, has clearly been chosen to cause maximum hardship for workers. All the company is doing though is solidifying the unity and resolve of wharfies nationally to stand up and fight back until they win their just demands off this global giant.”

Mr Smith said during this period of negotiation DP World had sought to intimidate workers using workers’ family and social benefits such as income protection.

"We’ve seen dockings, actual sackings, threats of mass sackings, leave cancelled, attacks on democratic rights, and cancellation of Christmas bonuses," he said

“This ‘take it or leave it’ stuff might work for DP World elsewhere in their global operations, but wharfies will fight hard to defend against the threats and intimidation of this multinational stevedore,” Mr Smith said.

“Rather than backing down, workers will be responding to this latest attack with a fresh round of industrial action, including strikes, rolling stoppages during each shift, and the imposition of a range of work bans.

“MUA members are standing firm in their desire to finalise a new workplace agreement, but it must be one that addresses the deeply important job security issue, as well as locking in vital workplace conditions but that can’t occur while DP World management remains intent on launching aggressive attacks on Australian wharfies.”

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THE Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance, the nations’ largest grassroots advocacy group representing taxpayers, came out swinging against the $15 million the Sydney Swans just received from the Federal Government for new facilities. 

“Football is one of the great Australian pastimes. But because it is so popular, sports teams are the last people in need of government handouts,” ATA policy director, Emilie Dye said. “If anyone could afford to pay for their own facilities it is the Sydney Swans.

“The Swans made a profit for the last eight years with crowds averaging over 30,000. If the Swans can afford to bring players like 'Buddy' Franklin over for $10 million, building their own facilities shouldn’t bust their budget. The government is robbing the taxpayer to pay the rich.

“Australia’s budget surplus has dropped due to bushfires, but instead of tightening their belts pollies are dropping taxpayer money into key electorates. Throwing money at a major sports team with tens of thousands of fans is no different," Ms Dye said.

“The fans of the Greater Western Sydney Giants can’t be happy to see their hard-earned tax dollars filling the coffers of the Swans. Politicians in Canberra are yet again arbitrarily picking winners and losers. And per usual the taxpayer loses and power-hungry pollies win.” 

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THE Commissioner of Taxation, Chris Jordan today announced he has extended a package of tax assistance for people impacted by the recent devastating bushfires in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania as part of the whole-of-government response to the disaster.

Approximately 3.5 million businesses, individuals, and self-managed superannuation funds in impacted local government areas will now have until May 28, 2020, to lodge and pay business activity statements and income tax returns.

Mr Jordan said he hoped the additional time – on top of the two-month extension already granted – would give people the breathing space they need to recover and start to rebuild.

“If you’ve been impacted by these bushfires, we don't want you to be concerned about your tax affairs," Mr Jordan said. "Now is the time for you, your family and your community. We'll help you sort out your tax affairs later.”

Additionally, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is fast tracking any refunds that are due to taxpayers in the impacted regions.

“If you run a business and you’re expecting a refund – on, for example, as a result of GST credits due to large purchases to replace stock – I encourage you to try to lodge or ask your tax professional to lodge your activity statements on your behalf. Refunds generated by lodging may provide some helpful temporary cash flow relief during these difficult times,” Mr Jordan said.

The ATO will also be remitting any interest and penalties applied to tax debts since the commencement of the bushfires that have been applied to accounts of individuals and businesses located in impacted regions.

Mr Jordan said taxpayers or their agents in these areas do not need to apply for a deferral, a faster refund, or remission of interest or penalties. This will be done by the ATO automatically.

For people who have had documents destroyed by the bushfires, the ATO is able to assist by re-issuing documents it has on hand.

For those taxpayers in affected areas with a tax debt or outstanding obligation, the ATO will not initiate debt recovery action until at least May 28, 2020. Taxpayers can also request payment arrangements for outstanding debts. The ATO will also consider releasing individuals and businesses from income tax and fringe benefits tax debts if they are experiencing serious hardship.

Affected taxpayers are also able to vary their income tax instalments to nil without penalties. This also applies if taxpayers end up in a tax payable situation for that quarter once they have lodged their tax return.

The ATO recognises the ongoing effects of this disaster, such as cash flow problems for business owners who have suffered reduced trade. This includes businesses that are not located in the identified regions.

“If you’ve been affected by this disaster but your postcode is not currently in the identified list, phone our Emergency Support Infoline on 1800 806 218 for tailored help," he said.

“It’s important to note that we recognise everyone’s situation is different. We understand there may be situations where additional support or extensions may be required beyond the automatic deferrals that we’ve announced. We’re standing by, ready to work with people who have been impacted on a case-by-case basis and I have made it clear to my staff that I expect them to be flexible, reasonable and pragmatic when considering each request on its merits,” Mr Jordan said.

The ATO will continue to assess the impact of the bushfires and will keep the community informed as it receives more information on additional impacted postcodes and available support.

This tax assistance currently applies to multiple local government areas in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania. A complete list is available on our website at ato.gov.au/NaturalDisasters

Employers are reminded that they still need to meet their ongoing super guarantee obligations for their employees. Automatic deferrals do not apply to large pay as you go withholders however large withholders can contact us for assistance with their tax obligations if required.

Any member of the community impacted by disaster and needing assistance or anyone suffering financial hardship is encouraged to talk to their tax or BAS agent or contact the ATO on 1800 806 218, when they are ready, to discuss their situation.

More information about assistance available is at ato.gov.au/NaturalDisasters including:

  • A list of impacted local government areas
  • Lodgment and payment deferrals
  • Faster processing of refunds
  • Damaged or destroyed property
  • Reconstructing your tax records
  • Fuel tax credits for individuals, businesses and others
  • Donations to assist disaster victims
  • Supporting your wellbeing, and
  • Other support available.

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THE EXCLUSIVE provider of towage services at the Port of Gladstone has been accused by the Maritime Workers Union of using sham contracting to undermine wages, conditions and safety after contracting out a tug delivery job traditionally undertaken by local workers.

Local maritime workers are this morning protesting outside the Gladstone office of multinational Smit Lamnalco, following revelations that the work traditionally carried out by direct employees had instead been outsourced to a business using half the number of crew members and paying them 60 percent less.

The Maritime Union of Australia accused Smit Lamnalco, which was last year awarded a five year contract to operate all towage services at the port, of using sham contracting arrangements to undermine the jobs of local workers.

“Multinational towage operator Smit Lamnalco, which operates more than 180 vessels in 30 countries, has brought sham contracting arrangements to Gladstone, undermining the wages, conditions, and safety of local maritime workers,” MUA Queensland Branch deputy secretary Jason Miners said.

“The decision to contract out this tug delivery job — work traditionally done by local employees — to a company using half the number of crew members and paying them just 40 per cent of the wages is a shocking attack on local workers and threatens safety standards at the port.

“Smit Lamnalco claimed it supported local workers when it was seeking the exclusive contract to provide towage services at the Port of Gladstone, but the decision to use a shadowy arrangement to avoid paying decent rates of pay or adhere to appropriate safety standards shows the exact opposite.

“Instead, the company has undertaken blatant adverse action against local workers, avoiding the conditions negotiated in good faith into a workplace agreement, without any kind of consultation process," Mr Miners said.

“If Smit Lamnalco can get away with this sham arrangement it will open the floodgates for any business wanting to avoid wages, conditions, and safety standards put in place following good faith bargaining.

“Shame contracting does not belong in Gladstone, which is why these workers are seeking the support of their local community for their principled stand against this cancerous practice.”

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WHILE HOUSES in Tasmania have enjoyed exceptional price growth in recent years, there has been a marked drop in this increase which is highly likely to continue, According to the latest RiskWise Property Research Risks & Opportunities Report.

As projected in previous reports, the Tasmanian market has been experiencing decelerated price growth over the past year.

RiskWise CEO Doron Peleg said one of the key reasons for the deceleration was that the state remained less affordable than five of the states and territories (in price-to-income ratio) making the market less attractive to investors and owner-occupiers.

“Other factors include the economic growth of Tasmania, which is ranked fifth in Australia, having the lowest median weekly wage and low annual wage growth of 2.3 percent,” Mr Peleg said.

“As house prices continue to rise, they are becoming less affordable due to the low median household income and less affordability means less demand, which affects price growth.”

He said houses in the southern state had enjoyed exceptional capital growth in recent years due to low supply, affordability, lack of attractive investment destinations at the time, for example the Sydney and Melbourne markets, a tighter rental market and strong rental returns.

“However, while houses in Tasmania are expected to deliver positive capital growth in the short term, the market has been experiencing decelerated price growth and we expect this to continue in 2020 with some areas likely to deliver very low or negative capital growth," Mr Peleg said.

“It should also be noted that the recovery of the Melbourne market, with its strong fundamentals and affordability in a number of areas, such as the Western suburbs and Geelong, are providing more attractive investment opportunities than Tasmania, especially Hobart which has become less affordable.”

CoreLogic figures show the annual price growth for houses in Hobart is 3 percent compared with 9.7 percent last year.

Mr Peleg said, however, that houses in Tasmania carried a low-medium risk level as approximately 86 percent were owner-occupied.

“In addition, houses in high-demand areas, particularly affordable houses, still enjoy strong demand and present low risk,” he said.

“Furthermore, unlike some other states, lending restrictions have had a relatively modest impact.”

Mr Peleg said while units had also delivered strong growth, they carried a higher level of risk due to the relatively high number in the pipeline compared to population growth.

“The relatively high proportion of units that are investment properties also increases the risk associated with such properties, particularly with the improved attractiveness of the Melbourne market,” Mr Peleg said.

“Also, there are a number of risk factors that may have a negative impact on units in the medium to long term. For example, off-the-plan units carry a significantly higher level of risk.

“Furthermore, the unit-to-house price ratio in Tasmania is high. Our research shows that, statistically, if the unit-to-house ratio exceeds 65 percent it makes houses a much better investment option for buyers with significantly higher capital growth.

“Conversely, if it falls below 45 percent, units are preferred. In Greater Hobart, the median unit price is $378,846, while the median house price is $492,465, placing the unit-to-house ratio at 77 percent, which is considered high and this means there is certainly a higher risk for units.”

www.riskwiseproperty.com.au

NEW YORK and Hong Kong-headquartered investment banking firm Jefferies has announced that on Wednesday, January 22, 2020, the firm will dedicate a day of trading to support relief efforts needed after the devastation caused by the recent wildfires taking place in Australia.

Specifically, Jefferies will donate net trading commissions on Wednesday, January 22 for all trading in Asia Pacific securities, including equities, fixed income and FX, by the firm’s clients globally.

Simultaneously, all of the firm’s global employees will also be given the opportunity to personally donate to the relief effort. Jefferies will match all client trading commissions generated that day, as well as match all employee donations from across the firm. The total contribution will then be donated to relief organizations directly involved in the rescue and recovery efforts in Australia.

Rich Handler, CEO, and Brian Friedman, president, of Jefferies said, "All of us at Jefferies, including our 57 colleagues in Australia, 423 across Asia Pacific and 3,813 globally, are deeply saddened and concerned about this catastrophic devastation. We hope this donation from Jefferies will help, in some small way, to ease the pain of those affected by this disaster, and we encourage our global clients and employees to join our efforts to contribute to those in need.”

Jefferies Group LLC, is said to be the largest independent full-service global investment banking firm headquartered in the US, focused on serving clients for over 55 years, and is a leader in providing insight, expertise and execution to investors, companies and governments.

The firm provides a full range of investment banking, advisory, sales and trading, research and wealth management services across all products in the Americas, Europe and Asia. Jefferies Group LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Jefferies Financial Group Inc. (NYSE: JEF), a diversified financial services company.

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NEW HOME starts have hit a seven-year low, but infrastructure starts have finally begun to kick in, according to Master Builders Australia.

“The number of new homes started during the September 2019 quarter has dropped to its lowest point since early 2013, although the news on infrastructure work was a little better,” Master Builders chief economist Shane Garrett said.

“Official results released this morning by the ABS indicate that new home building starts suffered an 11.7 percent reduction during the September 2019 quarter. The volume of engineering construction work done inched up by 0.5% over the same period,” Mr Garrett said.

 “The fall in new home starts was more pronounced in the high-density part of the market where a 21.9 percent decline occurred during the September 2019 quarter. This was due to a number of one off factors including the reputational issues around apartments during the middle of last year as well as the adverse fall out from the banking Royal Commission and its detrimental impact on credit.

“Despite these disappointing figures, the latest indicators around building approvals and house prices do suggest that a resumption of growth in new home building is not too far off,” he said. 

“Having recently sagged to a decade low, engineering construction did take a small step in the right direction during the September 2019 quarter. Engineering activity is positioned to benefit the most from the host of new infrastructure projects announced in recent times.

“It is taking longer than we would like to see new infrastructure announcements translate into real action on the ground. The figures today provide welcome evidence that activity here is finally gaining ground, albeit it gradually,” Mr Garrett said. 

“There remains a strong onus on government to ensure that infrastructure project work is still delivered as quickly as possible so that the considerable gap in economic growth can be closed."

www.masterbuildersaustralia.com.au

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DWELLING prices have reached the bottom in Adelaide as buyer confidence rises alongside auction clearance rates.

According to the latest RiskWise Property Research Risks & Opportunities Report, housing finance in South Australia is showing signs of improvement with an increase of 8.6 percent since February 2019 after a reduction of 6.6 percent relative to August 2018.

RiskWise CEO Doron Peleg said in recent years the market had delivered modest capital growth for houses and poor capital growth for units.

“While the labour market has improved in the past couple of years, the effective unemployment rate in South Australia is still above 9 percent and the employment market is still soft,” Mr Peleg said.

“This has a strong connection with low population growth (only 0.8 percent per annum) and, therefore, low demand for dwellings.

“While serviceability measures have improved due to the RBA’s interest rate cuts (with another expected sometime in the new year), the relatively high unemployment rate increases the risk of credit defaults.

“That, combined with some properties that suffer from low demand, require special attention in relation to credit provisioning.”

However, he said in some high-demand areas the housing market was showing some evidence of recovery, particularly those with steady recent price growth rates.

“Buyer confidence has increased in South Australia, particularly Adelaide. This has also improved auction clearance rates and, consequently, it appears dwelling prices have reached the bottom,” Mr Peleg said.

“However, while South Australia enjoys high levels of public and private expenditure, in the short term, the economic growth is projected to remain relatively low, around the 2 percent mark.

“Long-term economic growth will be a slow process and with a soft labour market no significant changes to demand are expected in the short to medium term, with less popular areas experiencing modest growth only.”

He said despite low building approvals, demand for houses was projected to remain moderate with, therefore, only moderate capital growth forecast.

However, he said the growth rate was projected to vary greatly across the state with houses in areas close to the Adelaide CBD, such as Adelaide Central and Hills, likely to deliver better growth.

Houses in areas that do not enjoy good growth drivers still carry a risk of delivering poor / negative capital growth. For example, according to CoreLogic, the median house price in the Barossa-Yorke-Mid North area declined by 0.2 percent in the past 12 months.

He said while South Australia offered healthy rental returns for both houses and units, demand for units among owner-occupiers, despite good affordability, was generally low.

“In addition, units in some suburbs are subject to voluntary lending restrictions by the major lenders, such as lower loan-to-value ratio (that is, higher deposit) due to oversupply,” he said.

“Units are not considered a popular dwelling option among families especially off-the-plan units in high rises, and these carry the highest level of risk. Overall, units in South Australia are likely to deliver poor capital growth.”

Adelaide Central and Hills has the highest rate of oversupply in South Australia with 2696 units in the pipeline (an 8.2 percent increase to the current stock). This unit oversupply has led to a price decline of 0.3 percent in the past year.

www.riskwiseproperty.com.au

IN RESPONSE to the devastation being caused by the Australian bushfires, Henry Schein, Inc. (Nasdaq: HSIC) announced today that it is raising money for recovery and rebuilding efforts, donating much-needed health care supplies, and supporting its dental customers who may be impacted by the ongoing crisis.

The Company and the Henry Schein Cares Foundation are seeding a 2020 Disaster Relief Fund with a $50,000 donation and will match employee contributions up to $25,000. In addition, Henry Schein plans to donate up to $50,000 worth of health care product to relief organiSations. Locally, Henry Schein Australia is also donating a portion of its January sales to local relief efforts.

“Team Schein stands ready to assist our relief agency partners and local health care providers in their efforts to rebuild and recover from these terrible fires,” said Stanley M. Bergman, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Henry Schein.

“Our company has long been committed to supporting disaster preparedness and recovery, and we are working with our supplier partners and Team Schein Members to provide relief agencies with the resources they need to support public health.”

The fund is not limited to Team Schein Members. Credit card donations can be made on the Henry Schein Cares Foundation website, and checks can be made payable to Henry Schein Cares Foundation and mailed to Kate Sorrillo, Henry Schein Cares Foundation, Inc., 135 Duryea Road, Melville, NY 11747.

About Henry Schein Cares

Henry Schein Cares stands on four pillars: engaging Team Schein Members to reach their potential, ensuring accountability by extending ethical business practices to all levels within Henry Schein, promoting environmental sustainability, and expanding access to health care for underserved and at-risk communities around the world. Health care activities supported by Henry Schein Cares focus on three main areas: advancing wellness, building capacity in the delivery of health care services, and assisting in emergency preparedness and relief. Firmly rooted in a deep commitment to social responsibility and the concept of enlightened self-interest championed by Benjamin Franklin, the philosophy behind Henry Schein Cares is a vision of “doing well by doing good". Through the work of Henry Schein Cares to enhance access to care for those in need, the company believes that it is furthering its long-term success.

www.henryschein.com/socialresponsibility.

About Henry Schein, Inc.

Henry Schein, Inc. (Nasdaq: HSIC) is a solutions company for health care professionals powered by a network of people and technology. With approximately 19,000 Team Schein Members worldwide, the company's network of trusted advisors provides more than 1 million customers globally with more than 300 valued solutions that improve operational success and clinical outcomes. Business, Clinical, Technology, and Supply Chain solutions help office-based dental and medical practitioners work more efficiently so they can provide quality care more effectively. These solutions also support dental laboratoriesgovernment and institutional healthcare clinics, as well as other alternate care sites. Henry Schein operates through a centralised and automated distribution network, with a selection of more than 120,000 branded products and Henry Schein private-brand products in stock, as well as more than 180,000 additional products available as special-order items. A Fortune 500 Company and a member of the S&P 500 index, Henry Schein is headquartered in Melville, New York and has operations or affiliates in 31 countries. 

www.henryschein.com

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THE Northern Territory's poor economy continues to play a part in its subdued property market with 15.6 percent price reductions for houses in the past five years and a massive 29.4 percent for units.

According to the latest RiskWise Property Research Risks & Opportunities Report, much of the negative capital growth in recent years is due to population decreases following the end of the mining boom and lack of employment, leading to high interstate emigration.

RiskWise CEO Doron Peleg said the territory was the only state in Australia that experienced population loss in 2017-18.

“While dwelling supply in relation to population growth is low and dwellings are very affordable, the low demand for housing makes the Northern Territory a risky area especially given the low level of private investment that is significantly below the growth levels during the mining boom,” Mr Peleg said.

“According to CoreLogic, Darwin house prices peaked in 2014 and fell 15.6 percent over the past five years. However, improved housing affordability slightly reduces the risk associated with houses from medium-high to medium.”

He said it was likely houses in the Northern Territory would deliver poor or negative capital growth in the short to medium term.

However, as more than 67 percent of houses in the territory were owner-occupied and held for a long period of time, he said they carried a lower level of risk than units.

“Units carry a very high level of risk to deliver negative capital growth, due to the combination of oversupply, lending restrictions and low demand,” Mr Peleg said.

“The current supply of units, while not considered high in relation to population growth, still exceeds the low demand for them.

“This is particularly the case in areas with a high concentration of off-the-plan units, such as Darwin with 2034 units in the pipeline (10.2 percent increase to the current stock). They delivered -33.7 percent capital growth over the last five years.”

www.riskwiseproperty.com.au

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