By Leon Gettler >>

IMAGINE PEOPLE in a community engaging in peer-to-peer trading of energy. Or high schools that have 50 kilowatt systems on their roofs that sell their energy to parents during the school holidays.

All of this is the work of Enosi, a not-for-profit foundation set up to disrupt big power companies with community energy programs. 

The system is designed for people to trade energy between them before the retailer comes in. This is done through an online service with everyone in the community agreeing to trade energy at a price they choose.

Steve Hoy, the CEO of Enosi, told this week’s Talking Business podcast that Enosi is all about decentralising the energy market, and giving it back to the community.

Mr Hoy said the price is determined by the community.

“You might be trying to arbitrage the fee you normally get from your retailer and the normal price people pay, or you might try for something different like making a donation to the community,” Mr Hoy said.

“Or you might pay for someone else’s energy as some sort of commercial proposition.”

He said a number of retailers, like Melbourne-based Energy Local and Enova Energy out at Byron Bay, which focuses on community energy, had signed up to the platform.

He said while the sector had been deregulated, with generation separated from retailing and distribution of electricity, it had in effect been re-regulated and there had been a re-aggregation producing oligopolies.

“We need to lower the barriers for the small guys,” he said.

Enosi also promotes renewable energy.

“Frankly the big retailers are not really welcoming solar. It’s not in their interests as large oligopolies. They lose something like 40 percent of their revenues for every household,” Mr Hoy said.

”But for small retailers, this is a way to encourage innovation and to get some mind-share.”

He said the platform works anywhere worldwide where there is a deregulated model. Enosi has now been talking to retailers in Japan and the US.

The company uses blockchain technology to make trades transparent and ensure the accounting stacks up.

www.leongettler.com

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

ends

By Leon Gettler >>  

EXPECT TO SEE lots of infrastructure spending in areas like power plants, renewables, roads, new rural hospitals and aged facilities in the next Budget, according to economist professor Sinclair Davidson.

Professor Davidson told this week’s Talking Business podcast that the Federal Budget, to be delivered on April 2, will be aimed at winning votes for the poll in May. It will be an election budget.

He said the government’s budget strategy would be determined by its interpretation of the hammering delivered to the Liberals in the Victorian state election.

“If we take the view that the Victorian election was just a state government technocrat being re-elected, then it will be what they were planning to do anyway,” Prof. Davidson said.

“If, however, they take the view that there has been a fundamental shift in the Australian psyche around economics, then it is definitely going to be a big spending, big infrastructure splash money around Budget, and I kind of suspect that’s where we’re going to be.

“I think they’re going to take the view that Daniel Andrews went to the electorate with big infrastructure spending and I think the Commonwealth may take the view that big spending is back on the agenda, that there may have been a change of attitude towards public debt.”

Prof. Davidson forecasts the government will try to wedge the Labor Party around their campaign promises

“I think we will see a government that will be targeting aged care and older Australians, people who the Labor Party will be targeting for tax increases so it will be a very clear choice.”

He said this would see the government increase its borrowings at a time when debt levels in other economies were either stabilising or decreasing. This was a problem, with many economists forecasting a global economic downturn.

“We are in a situation where we are going heavily into debt,” Prof. Davidson said. “Now this does become problematic if you take the view of where the international economy is going.

“If we have an international downturn when we are borrowing more, this will be problematic,” he said.

www.leongettler.com

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

ends

   

By Monica Jain >>

A TASMANIAN company has invented acoustics technology that feeds farmed shrimp and fish through sound.

Other Australian ventures are working on turning abalone waste into bioactive pharmaceuticals, developing low-cost processes that clean fish-farming waters while nourishing commercial algae production, and more original solutions to seafood challenges.

When people talk about seafood industry powerhouses, no one brings up Australia.

But after learning about these innovators and researching the island continent’s potential, I really wonder, why not?

That Tasmanian company is already the world’s leading supplier of sensor-based feeding control technology for aquaculture. Australian universities are full of exciting seafood technology advances the rest of the world (and often even the rest of the country) has never heard of. And Australia’s advantages as a seafood producer — a comparatively pristine environment, premium wild and aquaculture species, and trusted quality — line up perfectly with what global consumer markets want right now. 

FLOATING ON THE HIGH END

Australia’s proximity to fast-growing Asian markets and favourable trade agreements with them position the country well for growth.

In China especially, an expanding, seafood-loving middle-class values the safety, quality, and sustainability of Australian seafood, and perceives it as a higher-status choice. Plus, Chinese import tariffs on Australian seafood will drop to zero by 2019.

The value of Western Australia’s Marine Stewardship Council–certified Rock Lobster fishery rose 131 percent in real terms from 2006 to 2016 — entirely through price increases at its main markets in Japan, Hong Kong, and mainland China, rather than through increased catches.

And Tasmanian Atlantic-farmed salmon — worth A$718 million in 2016 — fetches a higher price in Asian markets than Norwegian farmed salmon, trading on Tasmania’s clean and green reputation and great year-round conditions.

In fact, Australia is an aquaculture pioneer: the country invented tuna ranching and is now working to improve the method’s sustainability, as well as to successfully and sustainably farm other high-value species, such as Cobia (rich in omega-3), Queensland Giant Grouper, and Yellowtail Kingfish.

SOLVING THE MASS LUXURY CONUNDRUM

The Australian seafood sector is poised at a delicate point. The country’s Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) would like to see “innovation so audacious that it helps double the value and volume of sustainable seafood in Australia in the coming decade”.

To do that while maintaining the assets that support Australian seafood’s price premium — high quality, clean conditions, and sustainable production — is going to require technological and marketing leaps forward, along with stronger connections between innovative seafood ventures and investors. 

I believe that the country’s seafood sector is well-positioned to master the challenges of responsible growth. A lot of innovation is happening here — in aquaculture disease control, waste management, feeds, production systems, and other areas.

Australia also has abundant opportunities for value growth in underused species that could be sustainably harvested, like Australian salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Many of these species are in demand, but the industry needs to develop supply chains and creative marketing strategies for both domestic and Asian markets.

The missing piece is connections for Australian seafood entrepreneurs with investors and international partners that can help them expand their reach to premium markets.

FRDC is sponsoring an Australia track in the 2018–2019 Fish 2.0 competition for sustainable seafood businesses in a bid to give up-and-coming ventures the opportunity to form those essential relationships.

BUILDING THE RIGHT CONNECTIONS

The other good news is that there’s plenty of capital in Australia to support a breakout sustainable seafood sector.

The impact investment movement is growing fast here: Australian impact investment products more than quadrupled from $1.2 billion in June 2015 to $5.8 billion by December 2017, according to Australia’s Impact Investment Group.

We just have to connect these investors with the exciting ventures and ideas currently siloed in university departments and narrow supply chains. The Fish 2.0 Australia track is all about bringing these people together and introducing them to a global community. 

Australia is primed to take a huge role in driving the global sustainable seafood sector forward, and the opportunities are clear.

When investors, entrepreneurs and industry leaders connect to support supply chain, technology and market innovations, the nation will burst onto the world seafood stage.  

www.fish20.org

Monica Jain is the founder and executive director of Fish 2.0, a global network, competition platform and event series that builds connections to spur growth, investment and innovation in the sustainable seafood sector.

By Ian Macfarlane, Queensland Resources Council chief executive >>

ON BEHALF of the 282,000 men and women working in the Queensland resources industry, can I say how proud we are of the industry’s contribution to the State Budget.

Within the pages of the Budget, the Palaszczuk Government has confirmed royalties from coal, minerals, petroleum and gas will be $4.327 billion this financial year and it projects royalties paid to the Government will be more than $20 billion between now and July 1, 2023. 

For every man and woman working in the resources sector - from Weipa to Wynnum, from the Cooper Basin to Coorparoo - they will each generate more than $72,000 over the next five years for the Government to reinvest in vital services and infrastructure across our State.

These royalty payments are in addition to more than $1 billion per week the industry generates in exports. Indeed, we deliver almost 80 percent of Queensland’s total overseas trade in goods.

As well, Queensland’s export growth -- in resources, in agriculture, in tourism -- has always been based on investing in infrastructure. Economic infrastructure drives regional growth. The Queensland Resources Council applauds Deputy Premier Jackie Trad for investing the dividends of today’s growth in the infrastructure to drive tomorrow’s growth.

The opportunity for Queensland with increased overseas demand, particularly for increased spending on infrastructure, renewable energy projects and electric vehicles, is for our resources industry to grow – to increase jobs to more than 300,000, to increase exports to more than $60 billion and, of course, to maintain the increased revenue flow from royalties into the State Government to the benefit for all Queenslanders.

The risk is dramatic changes in policies, including changes to the rates of royalties and applying additional layers of regulation.

In terms of royalties, only now is the 2012 move to increase the rates by the Newman Government taking effect with the high and stable prices for metallurgical coal required for steel-making. It would be a grave mistake – and a risk to its own projections of $20 billion in royalties – for the Palaszczuk Government to revisit these rates.

There is strong international competition for investment in resource projects and market share for resource commodities. Higher prices for prized commodities, such as metallurgical coal, only opens the door to less attractive deposits overseas being developed and less competitive suppliers being more aggressive in our traditional markets.

Queensland cannot afford to be complacent about recent reports that US suppliers are seeking to make in-roads into our well-established Japanese markets due to supply concerns as a result of actions by Aurizon.

Similarly, the Queensland resources industry works within very strict environmental and workplace health and safety regulations -- and necessarily so.

Successive governments have set these regulations in place, and we should be proud of and promote internationally the high benchmark set, particularly when we look at more lax regimes elsewhere around the world. Our industry, like all industries, needs to ensure it manages its impacts and provides a safe working environment.

That said, additional regulatory burden, particularly implemented with little or no consultation, adds further costs and deters international investment looking for stable, safe and secure projects to develop the resources the world needs.

Already the Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies, released in February 2018, reports that while Queensland was third of 92 international jurisdictions for “mineral potential” and fifth for “availability of labour and skills”, Queensland is falling to 12th for “investment attractiveness” impacted by its 68th position for “uncertainty about environment regulations”.

Ahead of the State Budget, the resources sector’s contribution of extra royalties was likened to the actions of “a white knight on a trusty steed”.

The industry will continue to deliver if policies, particularly on royalties, are stable and we can work with the Government on a shared commitment to growth. We want a partnership and ahead of the next Budget and the next election, the industry certainly does not want to be like the Kerrigan family reading the classifieds to see how much it costs to buy a pair of jousting sticks.

Instead, we can help make Queenslanders’ dreams a reality.

www.qrc.org.au

ends

Speaking in Sydney at the recent 5th Annual Australia Domestic Gas Outlook Conference 2017, Mr Sims said, “One year ago at this conference I warned of '…an urgent need for both new and importantly more diverse sources of gas supply' into the domestic market. 

“The outlook for gas supply is now even worse than it was a year ago. Indeed, our worst fears are being realised,” Mr Sims said.

Mr Sims noted the word 'crisis' could be overused but that the scarcity of available gas on the east coast had seen prices increase from a range of 1.5 to four times above historic levels. These price increases had seen a significant reduction in gas used for electricity generation and were expected to flow through to significantly higher prices for residential customers.

“The most important problem, however, perhaps the real crisis, is the difficulties faced by industrial companies who rely on gas as a feedstock or as an energy source,” Mr Sims said.

“Some are experiencing difficulties gaining supply; all are, or seem likely to, face huge price hikes that will perhaps permanently damage their businesses.”

Mr Sims pointed out that Australia has a surprising number of industrial companies for whom gas makes up 15-40 percent of their costs. For many other companies, gas as an energy source is around 5 percent of their costs.

“At best, it makes it hard for these companies to invest and plan with such high and uncertain gas prices and with considerable supply uncertainty. At worst, plants will close and jobs will be lost purely as a result of the current gas crisis,” Mr Sims said.

“Australia often makes it hard to be involved in manufacturing. We are now making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for some," Mr Sims said.

Mr Sims referred to the April 2016 inquiry’s description of a “triple whammy” affecting east coast gas supply. First, the introduction of LNG exports tripled the demand for gas; second, oil prices fell faster than the optimistic forecasts underpinning these projects; third, regulatory uncertainty and exploration moratoria had significantly limited, or delayed, gas supply.

“Arising out of this triple whammy we now have a strange debate about the three Queensland LNG projects,” Mr Sims said.

“As our ACCC Inquiry pointed out Australia has enormous gas resources. Gas availability is clearly not the issue. The inquiry also pointed out that Australia has and will benefit enormously from the three large LNG projects in Queensland,” Mr Sims said.

“These three projects also saw gas resources developed that otherwise would not have been.

“If there is a criticism of the three LNG producers it is that they fell into the usual commodity project trap of assuming then-high $100 plus oil prices would continue, when long run average prices of around $55 would have been a better planning assumption.

“The three LNG producers, however, could not have foreseen that after their investment decisions were made east coast onshore gas exploration and development would be largely prevented,” Mr Sims said.

“I doubt anyone in the industry expected Victoria to ban all onshore gas exploration and production which has stopped even conventional gas projects. Nor could they have foreseen the delays and uncertainty over projects in NSW and the NT.

“It is of course up to governments to make such decisions. Having made them, however, it is difficult to see how people can then criticise the commercial contracts that were freely entered into by the LNG producers at a time when the likely supply outlook was very different,” Mr Sims said.

“That said, if I was providing private advice to the LNG producers, I would say they would be well advised to support the domestic market as much as they can at this critical time,” Mr Sims said.

“They could, for example, weigh carefully their willingness to sell gas on the LNG spot markets above meeting their contractual commitments. Alternatively, they could develop additional gas for the domestic market.”

Mr Sims went on to discuss some recent supply developments and progress with some of the other recommendations from the ACCC Inquiry’s 2016 report.

Mr Sims' speech is available at Recognising Australia's east coast gas crisis.

ends

opinion-feature-img.jpg

MANY YEARS of complaints by small business people who have been brutalised by certain terms in bank loan contracts have finally been recognised through a comprehensive inquiry by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

ASBFEO Ombudsman Kate Carnell’s research found the big four banks “consistently engage in practices that have caused significant harm to some small business customers”. Stock image

The research highlighted many cases in which banks had allegedly re-valued businesses negatively and forced businesses to pay down debt at a much faster rate than contracted – and in the worst cases forced liquidations.

The ASBFEO inquiry – completed in just over three months – investigated the circumstances surrounding a number of cases of alleged small business mistreatment by the banks, and concluded loan contract arrangements, between banks and small businesses, put the borrower at a distinct disadvantage.

“Fundamentally, what we’ve found is that small businesses who take out a loan, do so under the impression that if they keep up their payments, they will stay out of trouble,” Ms Carnell said. “The reality is that this is not the case; that the clauses contained in standard small business loan contracts give banks an inordinate level of power over the borrower, who has zero ability to do anything about it.

“Basically, the terms in these contracts allow the bank to take action to protect itself from financial risk, by inflicting added demands on the borrower,” Ms Carnell said.

“For example, banks may conduct a new valuation on the assets securing the loan.  Now if the value is found to have fallen, the borrower faces significantly increased – and potentially unmanageable – loan costs.  Banks also have the power to unexpectedly call in the loan, and demand repayment in an unrealistic timeframe.

“So what ends up happening is that through no fault of their own, small businesses could quickly find themselves in default, even though they’ve made each loan payment, on time, every time.

“The banks argue that they don’t use these contract clauses, however our inquiry found this is simply not true; that banks do in fact utilise these clauses, much to the surprise and heart-break of their small business borrowers,” she said.

Ms Carnell said the ASBFEO report outlined recommendations that can be implemented – many in a short timeframe – to help alleviate the vulnerability of small business borrowers when entering contracts, while not impacting on the financial viability of the banks.

“The cases we examined during our inquiry highlighted the glaring need to ensure small business bank customers are provided with simple standard contracts that are written in plain English and that get rid of the clauses giving banks all the power,” Ms Carnell said.

“It’s also clear from the cases we looked at, that current thresholds governing small business external dispute resolution are insufficient, so we will certainly support work in establishing a mechanism to provide timely and affordable access to justice for cash-strapped small businesses.”

Ms Carnell said the ASBFEO would publish six monthly scorecards on the progress banks were making in response to the recommendations contained in the ASBFEO report.

“Since the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) there have been 17 inquiries and reviews that have produced more than 40 recommendations over the years, relating to the small business sector,” ” Ms Carnell said. “Despite this, the banks have consistently failed to implement changes to address persistent problems.

“Frankly, the banks take ‘kicking the can down the road’ to new levels.  This is no longer acceptable and I’m determined the recommendations we’ve made are adopted as quickly as possible.  This report is a living document; it’s only the beginning of our work in this area,” she said.

Ms Carnell said she hoped that as industry leaders, the four major banks would seize the opportunity to be exemplars for change, saying the ASBFEO has already secured varying levels of in–principle support from the banks on a range of issues.

“While there’s certainly a lot of work to be done, it’s important to give credit where it’s due, with the big four banks committing – albeit to varying degrees – to make changes in a number of problem areas identified during our inquiry process,” Ms Carnell said.

These include amending the Code of Banking Practice to provide greater small business protections, the creation of customer advocates and improved transparency on valuations.

The ASBFEO report came about after a September 6, 2016 request by Federal Small Business Minister Michael McCormack for ASBFEO to inquire into the “adequacy of the law and practices governing financial lending to small businesses”

The ASBFEO inquiry investigated a selection of cases examined as part of the Parliamentary Joint Committee Inquiry into the Impairment of Customer Loans.

Throughout the inquiry process, executives from the four major banks were summonsed to attend public hearings, with the ASBFEO using its Royal Commission-like powers to compel banks to produce required case documentation. 

The inquiry also heard evidence from bank customers during private hearings, and considered the findings of previous inquiries and reviews.

www.asbfeo.gov.au

 

THE ASBFEO RECOMMENDATIONS

The ASBFEO has made a series of clear recommendations to the big four banks as a result of the inquiry. These are:

  • Strengthen the Australian Bankers’ Association’s six-point plan;
  • Code of Banking Practice be revised to include a specific small business section, with the code to be approved and administered by ASIC;
  • No defaults on loans below $5 million where a small business has made payments and acted lawfully;
  • A minimum 30-business day notice period for potential breach of contract conditions;
  • A minimum 90-business day notice period for bank rollover decisions for loans below $5 million (longer for rural properties and complex businesses);
  • Banks required to provide a one-page summary of loan default triggers;
  • Banks to put in place a new and clearly written small business standard form contract;
  • Borrowers be provided with a choice of valuer, valuer instructions and valuation report;
  • Borrowers be provided a copy of instructions given to investigating accountants and the subsequent report;
  • Banks to eliminate perceived conflict of interest when investigating accountants appointed as receivers;
  • An industry-funded one-stop external dispute resolution body, with a unit dedicated to resolving small business disputes regarding credit facilities of up to $5 million;
  • Bank customer advocates be made available to consider small business complaints;
  • External disputes resolution schemes be extended to include disputes with third parties appointed by the bank and to borrowers who have undertaken farm debt mediation.
  • A national approach to farm debt mediation;
  • ASIC to establish a Small Business Commissioner.

ends

 

 

ends

COUNCIL of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA) CEO Peter Strong may not have been able to personally attend the recent Vodafone National Small Business Summit – on doctor’s orders, coping with a fever – but his video address to the event raised the event’s temperature.

Mr Strong got straight to the point about where politicians, union leaders and big business ‘oligopolies’ were going wrong in relation to Australia’s business environment.

Impossible to keep him away completely, Mr Strong said he addressed the Summit by video as a demonstration of how vital technology is to how businesses operate today – a prime theme during the two-day event. 

Mr Strong said COSBOA was “disappointed with the Australian Labor Party’s approach to small business” in two key areas.

“We believe if the Labor Party had have embraced small business, for example, supported the Effects Test and increased the threshold to $10 million to define a small business; there’s a good chance they would have been in power, because we would have supported them and not condemned them,” Mr Strong said.

Mr Strong also pledged that he and COSBOA would continue to fight penalty rates, “as the only people that suffer from this is small business people, as the unions have all struck deals, so big business does not have to pay”.

These views may have challenged the official opening address of Queensland Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy – and Minister for Small Business – Leeanne Enoch, but as she said Queensland was a small business-friendly state and understood the challenges the sector faced. 

Ms Enoch said how crucial small business is to the state’s economy and as an employer – for investing in small business meant more jobs.

“The Queensland Government wants to help small business start, grow and employ to ensure we secure the next generation of leaders and small business owners,” Ms Enoch said.

The Minister expressed to business leaders the importance of collaboration in supporting small businesses, driving them to “fulfil their passion and drive a new generation of leaders and ideas that will put Queensland on the map”.

A keynote session entitled Critical Business Infrastructure featured Energy Australia head of marketing segments and planning, Renee Garner, and Vodafone Australia chief strategy officer and corporate affairs director, Dan Lloyd.

Ms Garner said she knew from direct experience that small business people were spirited and the lines between family and business were always blurred. Her parents and family ran their own business as she was growing up.

During the session, Ms Garner outlined how small business people were so busy with running and building their businesses that they did not always consider energy savings. However, she said, in order for a business to operate successfully both reliability and sustainability in energy should be thought of as intricately linked.

When she asked the room if small businesses would be willing to pay three times more for sustainable energy, about 99 percent of people said no. Ms. Garner responded by saying the control that technology gives us, means we will in the future have on-and-off ability, wherever we are, leading to significant cost reductions.

Similar challenges and advantages faced small business in the telecommunications area, Vodafone’s Dan Lloyd said. 

Mr Lloyd presented an overview of Vodafone’s infrastructure and how the business had overcome challenges, mainly the lack of competition in the market, which drives costs up.

“Australia had one of the least competitive telecommunications industries in the world,”  Mr Loyd said, before challengers like Vodafone came into the market.

Importantly, Mr Lloyd discussed The Effects Test and pressed the urgent need to continue the work to enact Section 46.  

Elizabeth Skirving from Rural Business Tasmania also addressed the session, highlighting how small businesses were often compromised by disruption to transport, supply distribution and telecommunications.

Ms Skirving stressed because these three elements were vital to business operation, small business needed to take steps to protect themselves and have a crisis plan in place.

“For example, what does a coffee shop do if the water supply is obstructed?” Ms Skirving asked.

She urged businesses to identify the local critical business structure and that way they would be “one step closer to protecting themselves should something happen”. Unfortunately, she lamented, too many businesses do not do this until a situation had played out.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Michael Schaper and Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, also addressed the summit.

Mr Schaper provided a regulator update to help small businesses understand the ACCC’s position and its activities. Ms Carnell explained in detail how the Ombudsman would support small business.

Ms Carnell’s Ombudsman role, which she commenced in March 2016, is set be an independent advocate for small business. Ms Carnell promised to make life easier for small business people by addressing important issues such as cutting red tape, making payment times shorter and providing support, which helps owners to  their businesses better.

Ms Carnell then took part in panel sessions on how to work with small business, with the ATO and Institute of Certificate of Bookkeepers, and “how not to deal with small business” alongside the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA). The session used ALRTA’s experience with the road safety remuneration issue as a case study.

www.cosboa.org.au

 

ends

Contact Us

 

PO Box 2144
MANSFIELD QLD 4122