WITH THE AUSTRALIAN comeback underway, executives from Australia’s four major banks will appear before the House Economics Committee at public hearings on Thursday and Friday this week to discuss their response to the pandemic, the direction of the housing market, small business lending, and their progress implementing the Hayne Royal Commission recommendations.

Chair of the House of Representatives Economics Committee, Tim Wilson MP, said, "With the phasing out of taxpayer-funded COVID-19 support and mortgage deferrals, we are keen to hear what the initial data is showing on the recovery of the economy and household balance sheets.

"Surging property prices, fuelled by historically low interest rates, have left many Australian first home buyers high and dry. Many young families are forced to save larger deposits while also paying increasingly higher rents. The committee will discuss the role of banks in empowering hard-working Australians to purchase property and invest in their future," Mr Wilson said.

The hearings will also examine the four major banks’ progress in implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

"It is disappointing that compliance issues regarding unconscionable conduct and misrepresentations over fees continue to come to light," Mr Wilson said. "These behaviours erode the community’s trust in financial institutions.

"These hearings give the committee an opportunity to follow up on how they can be prevented in the future so that the industry can regain the community’s trust," Mr Wilson said.

For more information about the hearings, or to read transcripts from previous hearings, you can visit the committee’s website.

Public hearing details

Date: Thursday, 15 April 2021
Time: 9.15am to 4.15pm
Witnesses: CBA, Westpac

Date: Friday, 16 April 2021
Time: 9.15am to 4.15pm
Witnesses: NAB, ANZ

Due to health and safety concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, this hearing is not currently scheduled to be open for public attendance. Interested members of the public will be able to view proceedings via the live webcast at aph.gov.au/live.

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THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson has welcomed the government’s proposed reforms to the Franchising Code of Conduct, including changes specific to the automotive industry.

Under the proposed amendments to franchising laws, big businesses will face penalties of up to $10 million for wilful, egregious and systemic breaches of their obligations under the Franchising Code.

The suite of reforms seeks to specifically mitigate the power imbalance between multinational car manufacturers and Australian dealers.

“These proposed changes represent significant progress and once passed, will go a long way to levelling the playing field in the automotive franchising sector,” Mr Billson said.

”They will ensure that franchise-like arrangements where dealers are operating as the car-maker’s new vehicle sales agent still benefit from the Franchising Code protections.

“The changes that apply to the automotive industry are welcome as is the government’s commitment to continue working with the automotive franchising sector to examine unfair contract terms in their agreements," Mr Billson said.

“A mandatory best practice framework will help address the ongoing issue of multinational car manufacturers who fail to follow the current voluntary principles.  Examples of small car dealers being devastated by the actions of multinational manufacturers in recent years has warranted this action.

“Higher fines for significant breaches of the Franchising Code will act as a big stick that will force the larger players to think twice before acting unfairly towards their franchisees.

“We also welcome the government’s interest in exploring arbitration to provide small businesses with access to binding and right-sized dispute resolution pathways that are less costly and faster than going through the court system – a theme pursued in our Access to Justice report," he said.

“My office looks forward to seeing the detail of this announcement and has been pleased to see the bipartisan support for the much-needed reforms to the franchising sector.     

“I continue to encourage franchisees who believe they have been unfairly treated by a franchisor or are engaged in a franchise dispute to contact my office for assistance.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

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THE Foreign Affairs and Aid Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade will hold a public hearing on Tuesday April 13 in Canberra to examine recent worrying developments in Myanmar in greater depth, and to hear from concerned sectors of Australian society about the troubling direction Myanmar has taken since the military coup of February 1.

Chair of the subcommittee, Dave Sharma MP, said, “More than 60 individuals and organisations responded to our call for expressions of interest to participate in the public hearing. There is clearly a high degree of community concern within Australia about the escalating violence and rising death toll in Myanmar, and the increasingly inhumane behaviour of the military leadership there."

Deputy Chair Julian Hill MP said,"The response from across the community has been overwhelming. On Tuesday the subcommittee will hear from individuals and organisations part of the Myanmar diaspora and community, government departments, and other experts.”

The program has been published on the Committee’s website.

The public hearing is being held with limited numbers in a controlled and COVID safe manner. The hearing will be broadcast, and can be viewed through the APH website.

Public hearing details

Date: Tuesday 13 April 2021
Time: 9.30am to 4pm AEST
Location: Main Committee Room, Parliament House, Canberra

9.30am: Open
9.30am–10.30am: Government Departments
10.45am–12.30pm: Diaspora, community groups and individuals
1.15pm–2.30pm: Experts, academics and NGOs
2.40pm–4pm: Experts, academics and NGOs
4pm: Close

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

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THE Joint Standing Committee on Migration will hold a public hearing in Sydney on Monday April 12 at the NSW Parliament.

Committee Chair Julian Leeser MP said, "Following the tabling of the interim report on 18 March 2021, the focus of the committee will be the remaining terms of reference such as the skills lists, the administrative requirements for Australian businesses and the complexity of Australia’s skilled migration program.

"Australia has always been an attractive destination for migrants and the current challenge is to ensure that we can streamline processes to make it easier for Australian businesses to find and hire the skilled workers they need," Mr Leeser said.

"Hearing from the peak associations as well as their small businesses will assist the committee in its consideration of the issues at all levels."

More details on the inquiry and the hearing program are available on the Committee website.

Public hearing details

Date: Monday 12 April 2021
Time: 9am to 5pm
Location: Macquarie Room, NSW Parliament (not open to the public)

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

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THE Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth recently commenced an Inquiry into the prudential regulation of investment in Australia’s export industries. 

The inquiry is investigating the potential impact of changes in practices by banks, insurers and superannuation funds, as well as the advice and guidance provided by financial regulators, on the investment opportunities for Australian exporters.

Committee Chair, George Christensen MP, said the committee was particularly interested in hearing from businesses that have experienced difficulty in sourcing funding or insurance for their export businesses.

‘It is vital that the committee hear how changes in practices or guidance from financial institutions and regulators may impact on Australia’s exporting businesses, in sectors such as resources, agriculture and services. Businesses should be reassured that they can make a submission confidentially, and we can also arrange for hearings to be held in private."

Submissions from interested individuals, businesses and organisations are invited by Friday, April 30, 2021. Requests can be made for a submission to be kept confidential, or to be published with a name withheld if required.

More information about the inquiry, including the full terms of reference and further details on how to lodge a submission, is available on the committee’s webpage. The preferred method of receiving submissions is by electronic format lodged online using a My Parliament account.

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MORE INVESTORS Are prioritising investments that generate positive social outcomes and avoiding or divesting assets that harm the environment or community such as fossil fuels and gambling.

Stoic Venture Capital Partner Geoff Waring said more investors were turning to socially responsible investing strategies that allocate more towards companies in sectors such as healthcare and technology addressing climate change.

“Recent disasters such as the pandemic and NSW floods and bushfires have led more investors even further towards socially responsible investing,” Dr Waring said.

“Investors want to know that their money is working towards positive social goals and are seeking more rigorous reporting from companies about how they achieve those goals.”

Another area investors are keenly focusing on is diversity and inclusion in line with increasing community concern about progress towards equality, he said.

“Start-ups that rank higher in terms of diversity and inclusion are preferred among companies whose technology has positive social impacts,” Dr Waring said.

“Investors understand that companies which prioritise gender diversity and supporting more inclusive places for LGBTQI+ are more socially sustainable in the longer term.

“Investors are taking proactive steps to urge fund managers and companies to do more and be more transparent about advancing real change.”

Dr Waring said to answer the sustainability wishes of the public, large fund managers and individual wealthy sophisticated investors are looking at allocating more to venture capital managers as they invest in nimble and fast-growing start-ups that target big unmet environmental and social needs.

“The high performing venture capital firms will be those that concentrate on innovative and economically viable solutions to society’s big problems,” he said.

“This is seen as a more socially responsible alternative to listed equity funds that focus on more established companies using mature technologies with poorer environmental and social outcomes.

Dr Waring said socially responsible venture capital investing could generate attractive returns, but it was important that investors were careful when selecting the right venture capital managers.

“You must be rigorous in assessing whether a venture capital manager invests in genuine socially responsible start-ups, and still has the ability to generate superior returns” he said.

“These are managers that select companies who value diversity along with solving social problems or who offer sustainable solutions.

“In the long-run these companies offer investors attractive returns along with the comfort that their funds are working towards the greater good.”

About Stoic Venture Capital

Stoic Venture Capital provides financing for early-stage companies, particularly those arising from university research. Stoic is unconditionally registered as an Early-Stage Venture Capital Limited Partnership (ESVCLP) and takes a collaborative approach to investing in the highest potential companies. Atlas Advisors Australia AFOF is the major limited partner for the Fund.

www.stoicvc.com.au

Stoic Venture Capital’s investments include:

  • Cardihab (Digital cardiac rehab); 

  • Ena Therapeutics (Enhancing immunity to fight respiratory diseases);

  • Certa Therapeutics (Drug for treating kidney disease);

  • Wildlife Drones (Drones tracking animals); 

  • Agerris (Agricultural robots);

  • Kinoxis (Addiction rehabilitation);

  • Occurx (Drug to treat eye damage from diabetes);

  • Que Oncology (Breast cancer side effects treatment);

  • Ferronova (Magnetic nanoparticles for cancer diagnosis); and 

  • Q-Sera (Blood collection);

  • PERKii (Probiotic drink);

  • Occurx (Eye damage from diabetes).

THE NSW Government’s digital licensing revolution continues, with trade licences to be added to the digital wallet within the Service NSW app. 

Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation, Kevin Anderson said under the next stage of the state’s digital transformation, the NSW Government would digitise the licence card for more than 30 Home Building and SafeWork licence categories. 

“Currently tradies are required to carry anywhere up to 15 plastic licence cards with them on the job. It's an outdated system that is costing tradies time and money,” Mr Anderson said. 

“Under these changes tradies will finally be able to say goodbye to the plastic licences clogging up their wallets and have quick and easy access to all the work licences they need on their smart phones.” 

The White Card – which permits the holder to undertake construction work in NSW – is the first category to go digital, followed by a range of other categories including Home Building industry contractors, supervisors and tradesmen, and high-risk work licences. 

Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello said the reforms build on the success of the digital driver licence, which has been downloaded by more than 2.54 million motorists since its launch in October 2019. 

“There are close to 1.5 million site managers, surveyors and tradies who hold a White Card in NSW and whose lives will be made easier by this reform,” Mr Dominello said. 

“We know people love the convenience of a digital licence and this is another example of NSW leading the nation on digital transformation.” 

Customers will need a MyServiceNSW account and to download the Service NSW app in order to display their digital White Card.

More information about the Digital Trade Licence program is available at www.nsw.gov.au/nsw-government/projects-and-initiatives/digital-trade-licence

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THE Accommodation Association said while the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble was "a very welcome step in the right direction, the reality is that there will be very little real benefit for Australia’s tourism sector in the short term".

Tailored support was still desperately needed for Sydney and Melbourne CBD properties which rely so heavily on international and corporate markets despite the opening of the two way corridor from April 19, according to the association.
 
The association warned that the initial wave of travellers to take up the travel corridor would be visiting family and friends and unlikely to drive any significant benefit to Australia’s tourism sector including hotels and motels.

Accommodation Association CEO Dean Long said, “The opening of the trans-Tasman corridor is a very welcome step in the right direction but the reality is while it’s good news for the travel sector, given most travellers will be catching up with friends and families there’s very little immediate benefit for our tourism sector or our hotels and motels.

“With the end of JobKeeper and given the massive holes in the market especially in Australia’s international hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, the flow on benefits for our hotels and motels, and the many small businesses who supply them is negligible.

“There’s no doubt it will be a big kick along for consumer confidence but it doesn’t erase the need for tailored support for our accommodation sector. The reality is it’s great news for our travel sector but not so good for tourism," Mr Long said.

“New Zealand will have a net positive gain with an open border with Australia. Australians represent over 50 percent of all visitors to NZ and we spend nearly $1700 per trip with the majority on their ski fields. Total spend prior to COVID was A$2.5 billion with 1.5 million Aussies visiting as at year-end December 2019. Kiwis spend around $1800 per trip with 1.2 million visitors to Australia, with total spend of $2.1 billion.”

Key statistics

  • The Accommodation Association represents close to 3,500 hotels, over 150,000 rooms and employed nearly 100,000 people across Australia (this is unfortunately now down to 58,000).
  • Prior to the closure of the international and state borders, the accommodation industry contributed $17 billion to the Australian economy.
  • 80% of revenue for Sydney CBD properties comes from international and corporate markets.
  • Sydney is currently the worst performing city market in Australia with revenue declines of 67% and forward booking rates of less than 10% for the next 90 days. Melbourne, Australia’s other international hub, is similarly decimated.
  • Initial take-up of the trans-Tasman corridor will be for visiting family and friends i.e. great news for airlines but not significant for tourism sector including accommodation.

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The Accommodation Association
The Accommodation Association represents over 80% of all known accommodation providers from small regional parks, caravan parks, serviced apartments and resorts through to the largest hotel groups in the world including Accor, Hilton, Wyndham Destinations and IHG

THE INQUIRY into pathways and participation opportunities for Indigenous Australians in employment and business is holding further public hearings by conference call on Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

Julian Leeser MP, Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs, noted that stakeholders appearing would include health organisations, Indigenous businesses, university researchers and government agencies.

"These hearings will contribute significantly to the existing body of evidence for this inquiry," he said.

"The committee looks forward to discussing gaps and opportunities in the workforce and future growth sectors that could result in employment and enterprise options for Indigenous Australians," Mr Leeser said.

"We will be particularly interested to hear from Indigenous business owners about their experiences running successful enterprises. It will be particularly useful to learn about present challenges and how Government can better facilitate business opportunities."

Public hearing details

Date: Wednesday, 7 April 2021
Time: 9.50am to 4pm AEST

A live audio stream of the hearing will be accessible at https://www.aph.gov.au/Watch_Read_Listen.

A full program will be available at the inquiry website.

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THE Electric Vehicle Council has welcomed the Australian Labor Party’s pledge to make electric vehicles more affordable.

Labor has undertaken to introduce an Electric Car Discount to make electric cars cheaper for Australians.

As part of the discount, Labor would exempt many electric cars from: Import tariffs – a five per cent tax on some imported electric cars. Fringe benefits tax – a 47 percent tax on electric cars that are provided through work for private use

These exemptions would be available to all electric cars below the luxury car tax threshold for fuel efficient vehicles ($77,565 in 2020-21). 

Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari applauded the ALP’s announcement.

“Australians want to make the switch to electric vehicles, but the lack of leadership nationally has limited their options,” Mr Jafari said.

“Electric vehicles are cheaper to run, require less maintenance and are better for the environment. It is only government inaction that is causing us to trail the rest of the world in electric vehicle uptake.

“This policy would encourage car manufacturers to import and supply more affordable electric models in Australia. This makes it a win for the environment and a win for fairness.

“This is the type of sensible action that has been taken by world leaders from all sides of politics. It is proven to work by making electric vehicles more affordable for more Australians.

“Unlike Victorian Labor, which is making electric vehicles more expensive with an unnecessary and premature electric vehicle tax, the federal ALP has steered in the right direction.”

Mr Jafari said Labor has also promised to: 

  • Work with industry, unions, states and consumers to develop Australia’s first National Electric Vehicle Strategy, including consideration of:
    • Further measures to increase electric car sales and infrastructure;
    • Policy settings to encourage Australian manufacturing of electric car components (especially batteries) and possibly cars themselves; and
    • Ways to address the revenue and policy implications of declining fuel excise.
  • Consider how the Commonwealth’s existing investment in infrastructure can be leveraged to increase charging stations across the country; and
  • Consider how other existing Commonwealth investments, including in its fleet, property and leases, can also be leveraged.

 

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A MORE COORDINATED and comprehensive national approach is needed to make a meaningful reduction in the unacceptable rates of family, domestic and sexual violence, according to a bipartisan report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs released today.

In its report, the committee makes 88 bipartisan recommendations which seek to inform the development of the next National Plan to reduce violence against women and their children, due to commence in mid-2022.

The committee’s recommendations include the development of a uniform national definition of family, domestic and sexual violence, universal age-appropriate respectful relationships and sexual consent education, measures to address coercive control and technology-facilitated abuse, and the establishment of a National Commissioner to have independent oversight of the next National Plan.

The committee’s recommendations also include measures to ensure that the welfare of victim-survivors and their children is at the centre of responses to family, domestic and sexual violence, a continued focus on education and primary prevention, and a stronger focus on programs to change perpetrators’ behaviour.

Chair of the committee, Andrew Wallace MP, said evidence to the committee highlighted that a whole-of-society response was essential.

"While all Australian governments have made substantial investments in an attempt to reduce family, domestic and sexual violence, it remains that one woman is killed on average every eight days at the hands of her partner or former partner. This senseless violence and abuse is sadly all too common, and its impact is profound and long lasting on family, friends and indeed the entire community," Mr Wallace said.

"There is much more work to do. As a nation we must do better to begin addressing these appalling statistics.

"The committee’s recommendations are wide ranging, but our clear message is that we need a more coordinated and comprehensive national approach to ending all forms of family, domestic and sexual violence. It is perpetrators that are responsible for their use of violence, but everyone has a role in bringing about change and stopping violence before it starts."

The committee is indebted to many organisations and individuals who contributed evidence throughout the inquiry, he said, in particular, the committee acknowledges the contributions made by victim-survivors who shared their experiences with the committee.

A full copy of the committee’s report can be found on the inquiry’s website.

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