THE Parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee will hear from the Institute for International Trade and then from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime at a public hearing tomorrow for its inquiry into Australia’s trade with Pacific island countries.

Chair of the committee’s Trade Sub-Committee, Dr John McVeigh MP, said the hearing would investigate the views of the Institute for International Trade on implementation of a new development-centred trade agreement, the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus), with 13 other members of Pacific Islands Forum.

The sub-committee wants to better understand how PACER Plus will encourage Pacific island countries to prosper in a regional trading system, overcome any loss of tariffs and tax revenue, benefit from Aid for Trade programs, and encourage more Australian and islander businesses to trade in goods and services.

While Australia is seeking to activate greater trade and investment opportunities with the Pacific region, the sub-committee also wants to hear the latest on combatting corruption from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the progress of its UN Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption Project.

Public hearing details:

Date: Thursday 14 May 2020
Time: 9:45am to 11:20am
Location: Committee Room 1R2, Parliament House, Canberra.

The hearing will be audio streamed live at aph.gov.au/live.

Further details about the about the inquiry, including terms of reference, details on how to contribute a submission and, when available, details of public hearings and roundtable discussions, can be obtained from the Committee’s website.

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SEATTLE -  In its first forecasts for COVID-19 deaths outside North America and Europe, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington is projecting nearly 90,000 deaths in Brazil through early August, as well as more than 5,000 deaths each in Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru.

In addition, Egypt's death toll may exceed 2,000 and the Philippines' may exceed 1,500. The new projections also include updated forecasts for European nations, as well as 147,000 projected US deaths, an increase of 10,000 since the previous forecast on May 10.

"IHME's new forecasts for a growing number of countries around the world demonstrate the wide range of responses policymakers and health officials have had to the pandemic," said IHME director Dr Christopher Murray. "We aim to inform their decisions on how best to manage and mobilize for COVID-19."

IHME's current forecasting lasts through August 4 and, as Murray noted, the Institute's projections will change as new data are acquired and analyzed. Fluctuations are to be expected.

In the US, several states' projections increased since IHME's previous forecast on May 10. Those include New York (increase of 2,448), North Carolina (increase of 3,222), Massachusetts (increase of 2,084), Pennsylvania (increase of 1,677) and Maryland (increase of 1,192).

Reasons for the some of the increases, Murray said, include increased mobility and the easing of distancing policies.

Other key findings from today's update include:

  • Brazil: 88,305 deaths projected through August 4, with a range of 30,302 to 193,786
  • Mexico: 6,859 deaths projected through August 4, with a range of 3,578 to 16,795
  • Ecuador: 5,215 deaths projected through August 4, with a range of 4,844 to 6,052
  • Peru: 6,428 deaths projected through August 4, with a range of 2,731 to 21,724
  • Egypt: 2,047 deaths projected through August 4, with a range of 805 to 6,059
  • Philippines: 1,735 deaths projected through August 4, with a range of 1,094 to 3,972
  • South Korea: 346 deaths projected through August 4, with a range of 262 to 755
  • Sweden: 5,760 deaths projected through August 4, with a range of 4,426 to 9,089
  • Israel: 272 deaths projected through August 4, with a range of 266 to 279
  • UK: 43,479 deaths projected through August 4, with a range of 40,110 to 50,128
  • US: 147,040 deaths projected through August 4, with a range of 113,182 to 226,971

Today's findings follow requests from several nations' health leaders for estimates of deaths and other COVID-19-related concerns, such as hospital resources needed to help address the pandemic. 

"The IHME team has worked closely with our collaborator network, now totaling more than 5,000 people in over 150 countries," Dr Murray said. "Many of those in the network have been essential in identifying data sources and helping verify these new forecasts."

Starting today, the Institute's forecasts for all countries and regions included are based on a new hybrid model. The model IHME released on March 26 to estimate hospital resource demand is now combined with a disease transmission model.

The new model captures the impact of changes in social distancing mandates, changes in mobility, and the impact of testing and contact tracing. It enables predicting a resurgence if and when more social distancing mandates are relaxed.

"The hybrid model allows us to better track changes to social distancing mandates and other drivers such as testing, contact tracing, and temperature," Dr Murray said.

"As with all our forecasts, these will be routinely updated and new data added as it is available. As social distancing mandates are lifted, we will be better able to understand whether behaviors, such as mask-wearing, can counteract increased mobility and keep cases down to prevent a prolonged pandemic."  

The new death projections are available at https://covid19.healthdata.org/projections.    

IHME thanked  the Microsoft AI for Health program for supporting our hosting of COVID-19 data visualizations in the Azure cloud. 

About the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation 
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is an independent global health research organization at the University of Washington School of Medicine that provides rigorous and comparable measurement of the world's most important health problems and evaluates the strategies used to address them. IHME is committed to transparency and makes this information widely available so that policymakers have the evidence they need to make informed decisions on allocating resources to improve population health.

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NEW SOUTH WALES cemented its reputation as the capital of regtech in the Asia-Pacific by sponsoring the RegTech Virtual Pitchfest.

The Pitchfest provides six early stage regtech companies a platform to promote their innovative ideas in front of investors and competition judges, with one winner each named for NSW and Victoria.

Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney, Stuart Ayres said startups on display at this year’s Pitchfest demonstrated the depth of local talent on offer.

“New South Wales leads the region in regtech and this Government believes there is enormous potential for jobs generation and investment in this space,” Mr Ayres said.

“Regtech will increase capacity and productivity across the broader economy. Leading companies such as Sydney-based Checkbox.ai are building innovative solutions that remove roadblocks and allow enterprises to achieve greater efficiencies.”

InfoSecAssure was named NSW winner, while Frankie Financial took out the Victorian title. 

Regtech is the use of emerging technology to provide advanced solutions that solve increasingly complex regulatory and compliance demands.

Sydney is home to 64 percent of Australia’s regtech companies with global spending in the sector forecast to climb from $25 billion in 2019 to $127 billion by 2024.

The RegTech Virtual Pitchfest is organised by The RegTech Association (RTA) to recognise and promote the best regtech early stage startups in Australia.

Contestants have four minutes to pitch, followed by a two-minute Q&A from the judges, with winners announced at the end of the session.

The NSW Government has a partnership with The RegTech Association to support industry initiatives, including the Pitchfest.

The Minister said NSW was committed to supporting tech entrepreneurs in a number of ways, including through the development of landmark projects such as the Sydney Startup Hub and the Sydney Innovation and Technology Precinct.

The NSW Government also supports tech innovation through a range of other measures, including the Minimum Viable Product grant of up to $25,000 for startups.

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THE Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) is in the Federal Court tomorrow, May 13, acting for Veronica 'Dolly' Talbott, as a member of the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians.
 
According to the EDO, this is an important Constitutional test case.

This case challenges the lawfulness of a decision by the federal Environment Minister not to grant protection to several 'Significant Areas of Aboriginal cultural heritage' within the footprint of the approved Shenhua Watermark open cut coal mine on highly productive agricultural land on the Liverpool Plains, northwest NSW.
 
The Minister made this decision despite acknowledging the “immeasurable” cultural value of the sacred places and objects under direct threat of destruction or desecration, the EDO is claiming.
 
The Minister acknowledged that the development of the mine would destroy or desecrate the Significant Areas but concluded that the mine’s potential economic and social benefits outweighed their heritage value.
 
Dolly Talbott expressed the deep hurt felt by the Elders and the community at this decision and that there was no choice other than to fight it.
 
“When we heard of the Minister’s decision, there was a high level of confusion and disbelief," she said. "Does our culture, our spiritual and sacred places of Aboriginal heritage, mean nothing in this country? We believe the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 was put in place to protect our heritage, but in this case it hasn’t at all.

“If this mega-mine proceeds, our interlinked sacred places will be completely destroyed and obliterated from the landscape. We will no longer be able to read our Country, share our sacred places with our children and grandchildren. Our ancestors’ footprints, their legacy to us, will be lost - lost forever.
 
“We are the only ones who have no monetary interest in this," said Dolly, “We just want to protect our heritage, our sacred places. As the oldest living culture on the planet, surely this should be of utmost importance to Australia?”
 
David Morris, CEO, Environmental Defenders Office said, “Tomorrow, EDO is privileged to represent Dolly Talbott in a hearing challenging the Minister’s decision to protect coal mining over a site of significant importance to First Nations peoples.
 
"Our client will argue that the Minister made an error of law, incorrectly applying the legislation which is designed to protect Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. This will be an important test case, interrogating the limits of the Constitutional basis for the Act and the matters which the Minister was permitted to consider in deciding to refuse protection for the areas.”
 
The Gomeroi Traditional Custodians first lodged an application for protection of the Significant Areas in April 2015 under s.10 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (Cth) (ATSIHP Act). The purpose of the ATSIHP Act is:
 
“the preservation and protection from injury or desecration of areas and objects in Australia and in Australian waters, being areas and objects that are of particular significance to Aboriginals in accordance with Aboriginal tradition.”
 
The Minister acknowledged that the development of the mine would destroy or desecrate the Significant Areas but concluded that the mine’s potential economic and social benefits outweighed their heritage value.
 
The Significant Areas, which are within the footprint of the mine, are an important cultural junction and part of a broader Aboriginal cultural landscape. They include sacred places and significant ceremonial corridors. The interlinked sites also include, but are not limited to, large grinding groove sites, scarred trees and artefactual objects of high order significance irreplaceable to the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians. If the mega-mine of three open-cut pits went ahead, not only would the existing landscape be destroyed but it would be replaced by a new, mine-created landscape.
 
https://www.edo.org.au/shenhua-watermark-coal-mine/

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MASTER BUILDERS Australia has commended the Federal Government’s move to support business through the economic shock of COVID-19 by amending its procurement and contracting arrangements. 

Denita Wawn, CEO of Master Builder Australia said, “The measures to give relief on contract terms and speed up payments  announced by the Minister for Finance today is an extremely positive initiative that will bolster confidence among building and construction businesses working on federally funded construction projects.

“It’s very pleasing to see the government making an effort to be a ‘model procurer’ and setting a good example in providing relief to businesses whose provision of goods and services is affected by COVID-19,” Ms Wawn said. 

“Master Builders has been calling for this measure since the onset of the economic emergency brought on by the coronavirus and it’s really good to see the government has been listening. We must also give credit to the Defence Department which moved early on to provide this kind of support to its suppliers. 

“Now we just need more private sector clients to follow the government’s example and also do the right thing and not take commercial advantage during the COVID-19 crisis,” Ms Wawn said.

www.masterbuilders.com.au

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THE National COVID-19 Coordination Commission has created an online planning tool to help business develop a plan to keep their workers, customers and the community safe as they reopen or increase their activities in the weeks and months ahead.

NCCC chair Nev Power said businesses were affected differently by restrictions and everyone needed a plan for when restrictions changed.

“It’s been a really tough time for business owners and their employees, and it will continue to be challenging as we head into a staged recovery," Mr Power said. "We should acknowledge the tremendous efforts of employers and workers, and make sure that we’re looking after each other as we work our way through this pandemic.

“The sooner we can get businesses open and people back in work, the sooner our lives and livelihoods can be rebuilt as our economy recovers. At the same time, as restrictions change, we need to make sure that both workers and customers are safe.

“There’s a huge effort going on across government through Safe Work Australia, industry bodies and health departments to help businesses to have COVIDSafe plans in place.”

The tool brings together information from across government on the range of help and assistance available to support businesses. This tool complements the Safe Work Australia online hub, which remains the definitive source of information for businesses to understand their work health and safety obligations. 

“We need businesses everywhere to get behind the safety protocols and have their COVIDSafe plans in place," Mr Power said.

“One of the key things will be to maintain our discipline around physical distancing and hygiene. Our success depends on everyone – business owners, workers, customers – keeping up our practices of handwashing, social distancing, covering our sneezes and coughs, staying home if you are unwell, getting tested if you have symptoms and downloading the COVIDSafe app,” Mr Power said.

Businesses should seek advice from their local WHS authority, Safe Work Australia, or contact the Fair Work Ombudsman to ensure they meet all their legal obligations.

The online planning should take about 30 minutes to complete and leave businesses with a clear idea about what they will do to keep people safe, how they will get their business back up and running and how they might adapt their operating model.

It will also help businesses to plan practical steps such as organising supplies, updating insurance and reactivating subscriptions, and provides links to the assistance available to help them reopen, including help with cash flow, wages and loans.

The tool can be downloaded from the NCCC website.

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THE Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) will hold three public hearings this week for its Review into the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (International Production Orders) Bill 2020.

The chair, Andrew Hastie MP, said, "The Committee has received a number of submissions from government, communications, and civil society on the international production orders bill.

"These hearings will allow for the Committee to engage with a wide range of stakeholders on topics relevant to consideration of the bill."

Teleconference facilities will be used to connect witnesses to Committee members.

Public hearings

12 May 2020

3.30pm – 5.30pm 

Committee Room 1R1, Parliament House, Canberra

13 May 2020

9.30am – 12.30pm

Committee Room 1R1, Parliament House, Canberra

14 May 2020

9.30am – 12.30pm

Committee Room 1R1, Parliament House, Canberra

Programs for the hearings can be found here.

Audio of the hearings will be streamed at aph.gov.au/live.

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 hear from ME Bank and Industry Super Australia at an urgent public hearing by videoconference on May 14, 2020, as part of its ongoing review of the four major banks and other financial institutions.

The chair of the committee, Tim Wilson MP, said, "Australians who put their savings into the bank or entrust it with a superannuation fund rightly expect it to be secure.

"The conduct of ME Bank has raised urgent questions about the security and flexibility of the savings of Australians with their mortgage products and necessitates scrutiny," Mr Wilson said. 

"Australians trust superannuation funds with significant savings, they hold a fair expectation that funds will provide accurate information and will act promptly if they are eligible for early withdrawal. The conduct of Industry Super Australia in publishing dubious calculations about the impacts of early withdrawal will be examined, as will processes to stop fraud," Mr Wilson said.

"Members' equity should be paramount, and concerns about liquidity also need to be answered. It was only in November last year that the sector dismissed this committee’s concerns about liquidity prompted by substantial investments by funds in illiquid assets," Mr Wilson said.

"As the superannuation system is a significant mechanism enabling Australians to support themselves in retirement, it is crucial that the superannuation sector is operating effectively, fairly and for the benefit of fund members.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has also raised a number of issues, including how banks and the superannuation sector are supporting affected customers and members," Mr Wilson said.

Public hearing details 

Date: Thursday, 14 May 2020
Time: 9.30am to 12.30pm
Location: Videoconference

9.30am – Industry Super Australia
10.50am – Break
11.00am – ME Bank
12.30pm – Finish

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

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WEALTH MANAGER Atlas Advisors Australia has become a substantial investor in the A$123 million Elanor Healthcare Real Estate Fund.

Executive chairman of Atlas Advisors Australia, Guy Hedley said as the largest co-investor in the Elanor Healthcare Real Estate Fund, Atlas aimed to increase its participation in the fund and contribute to the addition of new assets.

The fund is uniquely established to target healthcare real-estate assets such as medical centers and day surgeries.

The fund currently comprises two Queensland properties purchased from Canada-based NorthWest Healthcare Properties Real Estate Investment Trust: A multi-tenanted medical office and day surgery at 55 Little Edward Street, in Spring Hill; and a medical office and day surgery at the Pacific Private in Southport, Golc Coast.

Both assets are located in established health precincts with strong anchor tenants and present strong returns and potential for capital growth.

Mr Hedley said the importance of healthcare assets came into special focus amidst the unprecedented impact of COVID-19.

“It is an opportunity to participate in a niche investment area with assets that make an important contribution to the Australian healthcare system,” Mr Hedley said.

Mr Hedley said the investment comes as Australia’s growing ageing population drives a revolution in healthcare management with greater preference for lower risk, coordinated and cost-effective treatment in day surgeries and shared private medical facilities.

Statistics show a growing trend towards day hospitals and shared private medical facilities for elective surgery. There were around 2.3 million elective admissions involving surgery in 2017-18 with 66 percent of these occurring in private hospitals. 

There are around 300 private day hospitals across Australia.

“Day surgeries are a more efficient way of delivering quality care to elderly patients undergoing elective surgery,” he said.

In addition to the ageing population, demand for more convenient healthcare experiences is expected to propel growth in same-day healthcare surgery.

“With strong growth anticipated in this health sub-sector, we will be looking to partner in the acquisition of additional high quality heathcare assets.”

 

About Atlas Advisors Australia

Atlas Advisors Australia is a leading funds manager and investment advisory business, operating between China and Australia offering a wide range of financial services and wealth management solutions. With operations in Sydney and Melbourne in Australia and Shanghai in China, we are able to support investors in all China and Australia locations.

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THE CHAMBER of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) has announced that after lengthy lobbying by business organisations the Queensland Government has ruled that JobKeeper payments woul be exempt from payroll tax in Quenesland.

"Late last night we received news that the Deputy Premier, Jackie Trad would be announcing that JobKeeper Payments will be exempt from payroll tax," CCIQ communications manager Faith Jarvis said.

"This is something that collectively we have been advocating for, and we are thrilled the voices of our small business community have been listened to.

"We understand that this will not impact every business, but for many, it will be potentially saving them additional tax, due to accessing the Jobkeeper stimulus payments, which as we know is designed to help businesses afloat and their staff employed," she said.

"This is a great win for business and one we hope that will lead the way for the adoption of our recovery plan."

Ms Jarvis thanked CCIQ members and allies for their support and collaboration.

"We look forward to continuing to use our united voices to spur the government into action," she said.

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Faith Jarvis

Communications Manager

Chamber of Commerce & Industry Queensland

REPORTS that the Federal Government has commenced talks with Australia’s four oil refineries about the development of a domestic fuel reserve are a welcome step towards achieving energy security, but the Maritime Union of Australia has warned the plan must also address the nation’s reliance on foreign oil tankers.

The union is seeking a meeting with Energy Minister Angus Taylor to outline Australia’s reliance on foreign owned and operated tankers, which supply more than 90 percent of the nation’s liquid fuel needs, and urge the government to address this critical vulnerability.

MUA assistant national secretary Ian Bray said reports the Morrison Government was developing a more substantial energy security plan that included increased domestic fuel reserves was welcome news.

“The key concern with the Australian Government’s announcement last month that it was spending $94 million to access crude oil stored in the United States’ Strategic Petroleum Reserve was that in a crisis this reserve would still be on the other side of the world,” Mr Bray said.

“The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted just how vulnerable global supply chains are, raising questions about how this oil could be transported to Australia during major disruptions caused by natural disasters, military conflicts, or economic crises.

“It is welcome news that the Morrison Government has recognised those issues and commenced negotiations with Australian oil refineries about the joint development of a domestic fuel stockpile.”

Mr Bray said securing supply chains needed to be a key component in any fuel security plan, with the complete reliance on foreign-owned shipping posing a serious threat.

“Australia needs an energy security plan that not only addresses storage and refining capacity, but also includes a strong shipping component, ensuring oil and refined fuels can continue to be reliably delivered to Australia, even in a crisis,” he said.

“The MUA is seeking a meeting with the Energy Minister to outline the vital role of shipping in delivering fuel security, and the need to develop a strategic fleet of Australian owned and operated tankers to ensure supplies keep flowing in the event of a global crisis.”

The union has been advocating for action since 2015, through submissions to parliamentary inquiries and by commissioning shipping expert John Francis to produce a report, Australia’s Fuel Security – Running on Empty, which examined the nation’s reliance on foreign-owned tankers to supply liquid fuels.

“The union has been warning for years that the decline of Australian shipping is a national security risk, which is why we continue to urge the Australian Government to invest in the creation of a strategic fleet,” Mr Bray said.

“When 98 percent of our trade depends on foreign-owned ships, with no guarantee we could continue to access these vessels during a crisis, it is clear our nation is in an incredibly vulnerable position.

“Unless this vulnerability is addressed, the country will remain at risk of having our fuel supplies cut due to a future military conflict, natural disaster, economic crisis or pandemic that impacts seaborne trade.”

The MUA’s report ‘Australia’s Fuel Security – Running on Empty’ is available here: https://bit.ly/31cDisq

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