THE Trade and Investment Growth Committee today commenced an inquiry into the role that the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) has in attracting investment to Australian businesses and how they can help those businesses to attract investment themselves.

The terms of reference for the inquiry have particular regard to a number of significant industries or sectors: Resources and Energy, Agribusiness and Food, Major Infrastructure, Tourism Infrastructure, and Advanced Manufacturing, Services and Technology.

Committee chair Ken O’Dowd MP said, “The committee has considered the role of Austrade in previous inquiries in this Parliament, but we wanted to take a more focused look to fully understand the important role that the agency can play in promoting and encouraging investment.

“As Australia’s role in the international economy evolves, the role that Austrade has in ensuring that our businesses are competitive is crucial.”

The committee welcomes submissions from any individuals, organisations and businesses interested in the terms of reference of the inquiry. Submissions can be made through the committee’s website before 16 November 2018. The Committee anticipates holding public hearings on the inquiry and advice will be provided on the website when these are scheduled.

Interested members of the public may wish to track the committee via the www.aph.gov.au/jsctig.

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THE Australian Retailers Association (ARA) believes the three key economic Bills which passed the Senate yesterday will bring significant changes to the retail industry.

From late-2019, gift cards issued across Australia will be regulated under a new law which will enforce a minimum three-year expiry period.

Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the ARA, said while many retailers and the ARA were against the expiry extension, the new Federal legislation will remove inconsistencies which were caused when NSW acted alone on similar legislation at the start of this year.

“Although the ARA were not impressed with the three-year extension, we called for an 18-month transitional period for retailers to get rid of old stock,” Mr Zimmerman said.

“Instead we were left with a 12-month transitional period, placing more strain on retailers already operating in an unstable environment. We will continue to lobby for exemptions to the new law to ensure the impacts on retailers are limited.”

Australian retailers will also be contending with new requirements under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) with the Australian Consumer Law Review also passing the Senate yesterday. Mr Zimmerman said this new legislation will bring key changes to pricing rules regarding fees and charges, product safety provisions, and the extension of consumer guarantees.

“The positive developments coming out of yesterday’s onslaught of economic developments include the passage of the Lower Taxes for Small and Medium Businesses Bill 2018, which will mean small retailers will receive a lower tax rate five years earlier than expected,” Mr Zimmerman said.

“Previously, all businesses with annual turnover of $50 million or less could expect to see their corporate tax rate slowly decrease over 10 years.”

This new legislation means that the transition has been fast-tracked, and the small business corporate tax rate will drop to 26 percent in the 2020/2021 financial year, and then to 25 percent in the 2021/2022 financial year.

Mr Zimmerman said these moves follow on from the ARA’s continued efforts to lobby the Government to ease the pressure on retailers, to lower their costs, increase their flexibility, and provide investment certainty so that small and medium retailers can grow their businesses, hire more staff, and compete more effectively.

While this news is a boon for small and family retailers, the reality is that Australia now has a two-tiered corporate tax rate, which increases the burden of Australia’s already-complex tax system.

“At 30 percent for all businesses operating over the $50 million turnover threshold, Australia’s top corporate tax rate remains one of the highest in the developed world,” Mr Zimmerman said.

The ARA will continue to lobby the Government to apply the lower tax rate to businesses of all sizes and will update members on any further developments through their fortnightly newsletter and member alerts. 

About the Australian Retailers Association:

Founded in 1903, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) is Australia’s largest retail association, representing the country’s $310 billion sector, which employs more than 1.2 million people. As Australia’s leading retail peak industry body, the ARA is a strong pro-active advocate for Australian retail and works to ensure retail success by informing, protecting, advocating, educating and saving money for its 7,500 independent and national retail members throughout Australia. For more information, visit www.retail.org.au or call 1300 368 041. To subscribe to the ARA’s fortnightly newsletter, click here.

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The CFMMEU has been fined "yet again for bullying small business people and workers" according to Master Builders Australia.. 

The Federal Court found that the union and six of its officials had threatened and coerced contractors into signing union wage agreements and broken safety and right of entry laws in 2014 and 2015, resulting in fines totalling $313,000 and orders to publish paid advertisements about the breaches. 

“Bullying by the CFMMEU is an everyday reality for small business people and workers on building sites around the country," Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn said.

"These are people who are just trying to earn a living and build successful businesses that employ people and the CFMMEU wants to deny them that right unless they bow the union’s threats and intimidation."

Six union officials including three senior officers – former NSW state secretary Brian Parker, assistant state secretary Robert Kera, and organiser Luke Collier – were found by the court to have taken unlawful action against a group of concreting companies in order to coerce them into signing Union Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs). 

In his judgment, Justice Flick said of the CFMMEU, "The conduct… evidences a continuing commitment on the part of the CFMEU to pursue its industrial objectives by unlawful means and a continuing commitment to pay such penalties as are imposed as but the 'cost of doing business'." 

Ms Wawn said, "Without the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) holding the CFMMEU to account and bringing their appalling behaviour to the attention of the courts and the community, then the union would just get away with bullying small business people.

“This decision by the Federal Court is more evidence that the ABCC is essential to ensuring the rule of law is observed on construction sites just like it is on normal workplaces,” she said. 

“In under two years, the CFMMEU has incurred over $8 million in fines. This is money that comes out of their members pockets, every time they are caught they never show any remorse. This is why our industry needs the ABCC."

www.masterbuilders.com.au

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PARLIAMENT'S Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit has tabled its second report on Commonwealth Procurement, based on three Auditor-General’s reports.

The reports considered were:

  • No. 12 (2017-18), Management of the Contract for the Telephone Universal Service Obligations
  • No. 9 (2017-18), Management of the Pre-construction Phase of the Inland Rail Program
  • No. 61 (2016-17), Procurement of the National Cancer Screening Register

Committee chair Dean Smith said the committee had made a number of recommendations in its report to improve procurement management across the important areas of health, telecommunications and infrastructure.

“Under Commonwealth Procurement Rules, Commonwealth agencies must achieve value for money in procurement processes that are competitive, robust and transparent,” Senator Smith said.

“Effective Commonwealth procurement is a key focus of the Joint Committee for Public Accounts and Audit in its role in scrutinising the governance, performance and accountability of Commonwealth agencies.”

The report’s recommendations include that:

  • the Department of the Communications and the Arts report back on: whether it will be utilising flexibility mechanisms under the Telstra Universal Service Obligation Performance Agreement (TUSOPA) to improve value for money outcomes; how the department’s TUSOPA contract performance reporting assurance processes have been strengthened; and the transition from TUSOPA to the new Universal Service Guarantee
  • the Australian Rail Track Corporation: report back on actions taken to develop an appropriate risk management system for the Corporation and Inland Rail project; and provide a copy of the procurement guidelines used for the project to demonstrate officials have adequate procurement guidance
  • the Parliamentary Budget Office consider how information in the Budget papers could be augmented to improve parliamentary scrutiny of the expected rates of drawdown for investments and value of commitments without compromising commercially sensitive information
  • the Department of Health report back on: the implementation status of the national bowel cancer screening register and national cervical cancer screening register transition under the National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR); how it is proactively managing the contract to ensure value for money; the objectives and planned performance information for the NCSR; how it will improve consideration of risk during future procurement planning; whether the Auditor-General had access to all departmental records relevant to Audit Report No. 61; and how it is improving procurement record keeping
  • the Department of Finance, together with the Australian Public Service Commission, write to all Commonwealth entities reminding them of their obligations as regards full compliance with conflict of interest requirements

Interested members of the public may wish to track the Committee via the website.

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THE ACCC will not review Aurizon's sale of its Queensland intermodal business to Linfox.

The ACCC has considered the Linfox proposal, and has decided that a public review of the transaction is not required, as it does not consider the acquisition by Linfox will give rise to a substantial lessening of competition.

“Linfox’s operations in Queensland are relatively limited, and the transaction will mean there will remain two intermodal rail line-haul providers in Queensland, which is a good outcome for rail competition and Queenslanders,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

Aurizon had previously announced it would shut the Queensland intermodal business if it couldn’t progress the earlier transaction proposal involving Pacific National.

Under the earlier transaction proposal, it planned to sell the rail component of the Queensland intermodal rail business to Pacific National, its only competitor in intermodal rail in Queensland.

“The ACCC did not consider that Aurizon’s shut-down plans were rational given there were other options,” Mr Sims said.“The sale of the Queensland intermodal business demonstrates why the ACCC must always question claims that businesses will be shut if we don’t approve a merger.”

The ACCC litigation concerning the sale of Acacia Ridge Rail Terminal to Pacific National and Aurizon’s intermodal sale process is continuing.
 
 
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AUSTRALIA POST has announced that Westpac and NAB banks have signed historic agreements that will help guarantee the future of essential banking services, via Post Offices, in communities across Australia.

Westpac and NAB have both given multi-year commitments to partner with Australia Post, enabling their customers to continue to conduct banking transactions in 3,500 Post Offices across Australia using the Bank@Post service.

Importantly, these agreements include a new Community Representation Fee of $22 million per annum, as well as revised transaction fees that will enable critical investment in the Post Office network.

Today's announcement follows Commonwealth Bank's decision last week to also sign a landmark new Bank@Post agreement that includes a $22 million annual Community Representation Fee.

Together, the decision of these three banks means Australia Post has secured hundreds of millions of dollars of additional funding required for Post Offices in the years to come.

Australia Post Group chief executive officer and managing director Christine Holgate said, "This additional funding will enable us to invest in the Post Office network so that we can provide safe, reliable banking services, boost funding to our Licensed Post Office partners and importantly continue to support communities across Australia.

"I would like to sincerely thank Brian Hartzer, Westpac CEO, and his team, plus Andrew Thorburn, Group CEO and MD, and the broader team at NAB for demonstrating their leadership and giving their support to the Bank@Post service. In signing these agreements, they have both shown their commitment to securing the future of vital banking services which is critical to the long-term social and economic prosperity for communities across our nation.

"I have been really encouraged by the discussions with the three banks' executive teams. We are together considering additional services for small businesses including coin floats and opening/closing accounts, as well as much more."

Previously, Australia Post has lost money on providing these banking transaction services on behalf of its banking partners.

Australia Post does not have the funds to subsidise this service further or make the critical investment needed.  Many of Australia Post's local Post Offices are operated by Licensed Post Office partners, who as small businesses, do not have the capital investment needed either.

The support of these three Australian large banks is essential to maintaining Post Offices, saving jobs, and sustaining this essential community service, particularly in rural and regional Australia.

There are 1,550 communities across Australia, largely in rural and regional areas, which have a Post Office but no bank branch. These communities rely on Australia Post to provide access to banking services, such as withdrawals, deposits, balance inquiries via Bank@Post, as well as other essential government services like passports.

Australia Post will use the Community Representation Fees paid by the banks to invest in Post Office network infrastructure, including in technology, security upgrades and local marketing support.

These new agreements also enable Australia Post to increase Bank@Post base transaction payments to its Licensed Post Office partners by about 50 percent and increase the annual minimum payment to them by 25 percent.  This will be an important revenue boost for these partners and in return help ensure their viability.

Ms Holgate said she was disappointed that ANZ Bank has chosen not to commit to this request for support to community Post Offices at this time. 

"We have today given ANZ notice that their current agreement for Bank@Post services with Australia Post will end in three months," Ms Holgate said.

"We will offer ANZ a new contract to ensure their customers are still able to access the benefit of our services and they are not disadvantaged whilst ANZ continues to develop its own strategic options. The new contract will have a different Community Representation Fee to be paid annually, coupled with revised transaction costs.

"The fee is essential as Australia Post needs to make the investments in the service to ensure both our people and service are safe. With no long-term commitment from ANZ it is critical they contribute to the investment required.

"We have had a long and successful relationship with ANZ for many years, with 6,000 ANZ customers, many of whom are small businesses, using this growing service every day across 99 percent of our Post Office network. I remain hopeful that we will find a positive way forward together soon."

www.auspost.com.au/bankatpost

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THERIUM Capital Management, a leading provider of litigation finance globally with over $800 million of assets under management, announced today that it is planning to launch a full service offering in Australia on January 1, 2019.

Therium Australia will be based in Melbourne. Founded in 2009, Therium Capital Management is one of the largest and most established litigation financing firms in the world. The firm has funded claims valued at $36 billion.

Therium’s full service operations in Australia will be headed by Simon Dluzniak, an experienced litigation funding professional, who has worked in the industry in both Australia and the UK since the early 2000s.

Within Australia, Therium will finance class actions and general commercial, insolvency and arbitration claims. Therium Australia will also seek to develop the country’s emerging corporate funding and portfolio funding markets.

Outside of Australia, Therium Australia will look to fund arbitration claims in Hong Kong and Singapore, both of which are emerging markets for litigation finance.

Therium has funded claims in Australia since 2011 and is currently funding high profile shareholder class actions against financial services firms AMP Ltd and Commonwealth Bank of Australia Ltd, as well as delivery management software company GetSwift Ltd.

Neil Purslow, co-founder and chief investment officer of Therium, will be speaking about litigation funding at a Herbert Smith Freehills class action panel in Melbourne on October 17.

He said, “We know the Australian litigation funding market well as we have been active in the country for several years. We are seeing a healthy demand for our services across a range of litigation areas and industries in Australia, so it is the natural moment for us to open an office in the country.

“The market in Australia for litigation funding of class actions, general commercial cases and insolvency matters is both well-established and currently very buoyant. There is also a very substantial opportunity for Australian corporates to use funding as a form of off balance sheet finance, and for us to also provide portfolio funding to them – and the law firms that act for them. Both of these are established funding practices in the UK and the USA.”

Therium has operations across Europe, including in the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Scandinavia, and in the US. Therium was the first commercial litigation funder to be have operations on the ground in Germany and Scandinavia and it was the first European firm to launch a full service business in the USA.

Litigation funding allows individuals and companies to take on litigation and arbitration cases that they might not otherwise be able to afford, and/or to hedge the costs and risks involved in such matters. Therium pays for all of the costs, including adverse costs in the event that the case is lost, and only receives payment if the case is won.

About Therium

Founded in 2009, Therium is a leading global litigation financing firm with a market-leading track record of generating superior returns for its investors. The firm works across all forms of commercial litigation and arbitration and invests in a broad range of complex commercial disputes, from securities and shareholder actions, international arbitration, competition and antitrust cases, through to intellectual property, insolvency and class actions. In February 2018, Therium announced its latest fund of £200m, which the company is now actively deploying, and Therium has now raised nearly $800 million since its foundation. To date, the firm globally has funded claims valued at $36 billion. Therium has consistently been at the forefront of innovation in litigation finance, pioneering the combined use of insurance tools alongside funding vehicles, and introducing portfolio funding products into the UK.

The firm’s ability to develop innovative funding arrangements and bespoke financial solutions for litigants and law firms complements its unmatched experience and rigorous approach to funding a wide range of commercial disputes in varying jurisdictions throughout the world. In Chambers and Partners’ inaugural litigation support directory this year, Therium was ranked as a Tier 1 litigation funder. Therium is a founder member of the Association of Litigation Funders.

www.therium.com

RESIDENTIAL consumers and small businesses made 167,831 complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman in the last financial year (July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018).

Complaints about phone and internet services increased by 6.2 percent for the full year, however, complaints dropped by 17.8 percent in the final quarter (April to June 2018) compared with quarter three (January to March 2018).

Publishing the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s 2017/18 Annual Report on October 17, Ombudsman Judi Jones said, “The number of complaints about telecommunications services in Australia appear to be turning a corner.

“Declining complaints across all landline, mobile and internet services are a positive indicator of recent industry, government and regulator efforts to address the disruption to telecommunications products and services of the past few years.  

“We all want to get to the same point, a positive consumer experience where expectations are more likely to be met. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman continues to be committed to reducing complaints, and our purpose and unique role remains clear – to ensure residential consumers and small businesses have access to a free, fair, independent and effective alternative dispute resolution service.”

Complaint highlights for the period July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 include:

  • 167,831 total complaints were received, an increase of 6.2 percent.
  • Complaints overall dropped 17.8 percent in Q4 of 2017/18 compared with Q3.
  • 146,958 complaints (87.6 percent) were from residential consumers.
  • 20,433 complaints (12.2 percent) were from small businesses.
  • Complaints from small businesses increased 8.7 percent in 2017/18 to 20,433.
  • 52 potential systemic issues were notified to providers, and 30 systemic matters resulted in the provider agreeing to, or making, changes to its system, process or practice.
  • 51,328 complaints were about mobile phone services (30.6 percent), followed by complaints about multiple services 49,875 (29.7 percent).
  • 14,589 complaints were recorded in 2017/18 about establishing a connection to the National Broadband Network. Between January 1 and June 30, complaints per 1,000 premises added to the Network decreased from 9.2 to 9.0.
  • 27,008 complaints were recorded in 2017/18 about Service Quality on the National Broadband Network. Between 1 January and 30 June complaints per 1,000 premises added to the Network decreased from 4.1 to 3.2

Complaints about Landline, Mobile, Internet, Multiple Services and Property*

  • 51,328 complaints (30.6 percent) were recorded about mobile phone services.
  • 49,875 complaints (29.7 percent) were recorded about multiple services*.
  • 46,703 complaints (27.8 percent) were recorded about internet services.
  • 18,736 complaints (11.2 percent) were recorded about landline phone services.
  • 1,189 complaints (0.7 percent) were recorded about property.

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THE first public hearing on the Telecommunication and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 will be held on Friday in Canberra, with representations from tech companies, telecommunications carriers and user groups.

Additional hearings will be held in late October or early November.

The Committee will continue to accept submissions as part of its review of the Bill.

Public hearing details: 8.15 am – 4.30 pm, Friday 19 October, Committee Room 2R1, Parliament House, Canberra

The hearing will be live streamed (audio and visual) at www.aph.gov.au/live.

The full program of the hearing will be available closer to the hearing date at aph.gov.au/pjcis

Further information on the inquiry can be obtained from the Committee’s website.

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THE House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics will hold a public hearing in Canberra on Wednesday, October 17, 2018 for its inquiry into impediments to business investment.

The chair of the committee, Tim Wilson MP, said the committee would examine how government at all levels can better support business investment in Australia.

The committee will hear from INPEX, Japan’s largest oil and gas exploration company, which has been investing in Australia since 1986. INPEX cautioned that "Australia’s high cost business environment that reduces the country's international competitiveness’ is the ‘most significant challenge to the growth of Australia's natural gas industry".

In its submission, INPEX called for the Australian Government to better support business "through domestic policy settings that are stable and competitive; and international policies that promote open trade and investment, and stronger ties with Asia".

Commpete will cover competition in digital communications. Its submission focuses on the National Broadband Network, in particular how customers would benefit from increased competition beyond the four largest current broadband retailers (Telstra, Optus, TPG and iiNet).

The committee will also hear from the RMIT Blockchain Innovation Hub. Blockchain technology is becoming a core infrastructure for the global economy. The RMIT Hub described Australia as "having developed a crypto-friendly policy environment".

It submitted that Australia is in a unique position to take advantage of opportunities in blockchain technology for financial and other services.

Public hearing details: 11.10am – 1.10pm, Wednesday 17 October 2018, Committee Room 1R6, Parliament House, Canberra

11.10am: INPEX

11.50am: Commpete

12.30pm: RMIT Block Chain Innovation Hub

1.10pm: Finish

The hearing will be webcast live at aph.gov.au/live

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THE Queensland Resources Council said the strong demand for skills in the Bowen Basin resources sector would create new opportunities and job options for workers from the Hail Creek mine.

Glencore today announced a restructure of the Hail Creek open cut coal mine in Central Queensland. Glencore has said the total number of workers at the mine will decrease from 1360 to 930 by the time the changes are fully implemented in the second half of next year.

The changes include a reconfiguration of the mine from a two dragline operation to a truck and shovel operation.

“I understand this will be a difficult time for workers affected by the changes. But there is strong demand across Central and North Queensland for skilled workers in the resources sector,” QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said.

“Queensland-wide there are about 1250 vacancies in the resources sector, and more than 440 of those jobs are in the Mackay and Coalfields region. On top of that, there are more than 200 jobs up for grabs in the Rockhampton, Gladstone and wider Central Queensland region.

“Global demand continues to grow for the high quality coal from the Bowen Basin. It is the building block for industry around the world. The Federal Government’s chief economist predicts record export values this year and rising export volumes over the next financial year.

“Glencore’s announcement today is focussed on ensuring the ongoing viability of the Hail Creek mine. This will help sustain the project through the inevitable fluctuations in the commodity cycle.

“The Queensland coal industry has a strong future, and I expect its highly skilled and diverse workforce, including employees from the Hail Creek mine, will continue to be in demand across the sector.”

www.qrc.org.au

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