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Monday 25th January 2016 - 5:17 pm
Comments Off on Australia explores opportunities in Singapore

Australia explores opportunities in Singapore

by Alan Thornhill

Australia may soon be seeing more students from Singapore.

This is part of the adjustment that this country has been forced to make to the collapse in iron ore and coal prices.

We are now looking to expand service industries – like education – instead.

Australia’s Trade and Investment Minister, Andrew Robb, who is now in Singapore to drum up business is well aware of all that.

In a statement today Mr Robb said he would be seeking both to assess the Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and to advance progress with it,

The Prime Ministers of both countries launched the partnership last June.

It marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Mr Robb said the new partnership identifies a wide range of initiatives across the economic, foreign affairs, defence and security fronts.

“One of the many initiatives identified was an early review of the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), which entered into force back in 2003,” he added.

“ The review is scheduled for completion by July this year,” he said.

“Other economic initiatives include expanding two-way investment flows and exploring investment opportunities in sectors such as food, agribusiness and infrastructure in areas like northern Australia.”

Mr Robb  also spoke of increasing the flow of skilled labour and visitors; joint tourism cooperation; building additional research and development partnerships and enhancing aviation and maritime connectivity.

“There are also various initiatives to deepen defence cooperation in areas such as military training, exchanges and postings; intelligence sharing, counter-terrorism, organised crime and cyber-crime,” he said.

“A strong focus has also been placed on deepening links between our educational, scientific and research institutions, including new opportunities for students under the New Colombo Plan,” he said.

“There will also be more cooperation between our arts institutions,”Mr Robb added.

He said, too, that a shared strategic perspective and complementary economies are the cornerstones of the Australia-Singapore relationship.

“To me our ambition for deepening our relationship and economic integration should be akin to the close relationship we enjoy with New Zealand,” he added.

Mr Robb said the FTA is an important component of our economic relationship, and the review provides an opportunity to further strengthen our bilateral trade and investment links with our fifth largest trading partner and foreign investor.

“The review of the FTA is timely and consideration is being given to enhancements in areas such as goods trade, services, investment and government procurement,” he said.

“There are significant opportunities to build on our relationship across a range of sectors including in science and research, advanced manufacturing, agribusiness and infrastructure.”


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Tuesday 29th December 2015 - 1:17 pm
Comments Off on School funding row looms

School funding row looms

by Alan Thornhill

The Federal government is flatly denying reports that it will walk away from funding the last two years of the Gonski agreements  with the Sates on school funding.
In a statement today the Federal Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham said:“Nothing has changed in relation to the Turnbull Government’s policy on schools funding. “


“The Coalition is continuing to deliver record Commonwealth funding for schools of $69 billion over four years, representing growth of 28 per cent to government schools from2014-15….” he said.
But he added:” Labor continues to talk about a model they never funded and still don’t commit to funding themselves, which they compromised through special deals for different states and sectors.
Labor’s ’previous approach left Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory unfunded, requiring the Coalition to boost four year funding by $1.2 billion upon our election.
“The Turnbull Government knows that funding is important but that what you do with it matters even more important.,” Senator Birmingham said.
He said the government’s discussions on future funding would not just be about how more money is spent.

They would also  seek to lift school outcomes , as well.


However Australians should not expect a cash splash in which the Coalition would compete with Labor in its plans for funding government schools, in the final two years of the Gonski agreement in on the
funding of Australia’schools.

It is based on needs.

The reports appeared today in Fairfax newspapers.
They said the elevation of Malcolm Turnbull – a close friend of school funding reform architect David Gonski – to the prime ministership had fuelled hopes among state governments and teachers’ unions that the government would fund the six years of Labor’s school agreements.
The NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli and Victorian Education Minister James Merlino have been lobbying for the Gonski deals to be funded in full.
But in an interview with Fairfax Media, Senator Birmingham said the Coalition would seek to strike fresh funding deals with the states from 2018 – the year two-thirds of the $10 billion funding was scheduled to start flowing.
Instead of handing out big funding increases, he said his focus would be on creating a simpler funding system that holds state governments accountable for how they spend federal money.
“I don’t see much benefit for anyone if we dedicate two more years of funding just to create more uncertainty down the track,” Senator Birmingham said.
“The previous [Labor] government’s approach showed great largesse in tipping additional funding into the system, but they created a complicated model that lacks fairness and transparency.
“I want a school funding system that is genuinely needs-based and is targeting the money where it’s most required.”
Senator Birmingham said he supports the underlying principles of the Gonski model – which distributes more funding to schools with disadvantaged students – but that simply spending more will not necessarily improve educational outcomes.

He said he hopes to negotiate new funding deals with the states to last at least four years from 2018.


These are unlikely to be negotiated before the next federal election, which is due to be held in September or October.

“We won’t be driven by what Labor will or won’t do,” Senator Birmingham said.

“We will run our own race.”


In a signal to the states to expect tough negotiations, Senator Birmingham said the federal government does not have a “limitless” amount of money to spend on schools.


The budget update released earlier this month showed the Commonwealth deficit blowing out by a further $26 billion over four years.
Many states are in fact in a better fiscal position than the federal government, he said.
In a significant change from the Abbott era, Senator Birmingham flagged a more interventionist role for the federal government in schools policy, with new funding tied to specific measures such as giving principals more control over their budgets and improved teacher quality.

Tuesday 15th December 2015 - 6:32 pm
Comments Off on Mini-budget takes “safe road” to surplus:Treasurer

Mini-budget takes “safe road” to surplus:Treasurer

by Alan Thornhill

The Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, insisted that he is taking Australians on “the safe road” to a balanced budget when he published his Mid Year Economic and Financial Outlook document today.

However he admitted that the nation will still face deficits of $37. 4billion in 2015-16, $33.7 billion in 2016-17, $23 billion in 2017-18, and $14.2b in 2018-19.


Mr Morrison said the journey to budget balance needed to be “safe and careful” with the expected date of a return to surplus pushed back another year to 2020-21.

Using the metaphor of the Christmas car trip, he said he expected a lot of Australians to ask  “are we there yet?”.


“We need to take a safe and careful route and one (that) does not put at risk our jobs and growth,” he said.


The government has announced extra spending on its humanitarian program since its May budget.


Its decision to permanently accept an extra12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq , in particular, will cost $158 million in 2015-16, and $909 million over four years to 2018-19.

Offsetting savings were announced in today’s mini budget.

These will include removing bulk-billing for pathology services and reducing bulk-billing for diagnostic imaging services and MRI services.

This will reduce spending by $197 million in 2016-17 and by $639 million over four years to 2018-19.



There will also be cuts to childcare.

These will include reducing the childcare subsidy for families earning more than $250,000 a year.

Monday 14th December 2015 - 7:18 pm
Comments Off on Tomorrow’s mini-budget “will fail” Labor

Tomorrow’s mini-budget “will fail” Labor

by Alan Thornhill

Australia does not need the “tax secrecy” adopted by the Liberal Party and the Greens in the final session of Federal parliament this year, a senior Labor figure warned today.


Andrew Leigh, the Assistant Shadow Treasurer, said it is likely to curb growth and impede revenue collections.


He said:” The Government’s economic update tomorrow will likely fail both its own test for the economy and Labor’s test for the economy.
“ When they came to office, the Abbott-Turnbull Government said that they would pay down debt faster and make sure that Australia was running a surplus in the first year and every year after that


“ Well we’ve seen deficits blowing out; doubled over the course of the last year alone,” Mr Leigh said.


And he added:”….the mini-budget is also likely to fail Labor’s test and that of the Australian community.


Mr Leigh said:“ Australia now has a Prime Minister and a Treasurer that are looking to slash the best-targeted social safety net in the world.


“We know that this will not only hurt the most vulnerable but will also potentially impede growth because those in the middle and bottom of the distribution spend all of their pay packets.


“ So the cuts to family support that remain on the table are a signal threat to growth in the years to come. .


Speaking to reporters in Melbourne, where he was supporting a local ALP candidate, Mr Leigh said:”Labor believes that all Australians and companies should pay their fair share of tax.


“We’ve been leading the debate around multinational taxation.

“Earlier this year, Bill Shorten, Chris Bowen and I introduced our multinational tax plan which would close debt deduction loopholes and add more than $7 billion to the budget bottom line over the course of the next decade.


“And yet from the Government all we’ve seen is a multinational tax plan that has asterisks where revenue estimates should be.

Worse, at the close of parliamentary sittings we saw the Liberals and the Greens band together in favour of tax secrecy.


“That’s not what Australia needs.


“We need more transparency and we need a Government that is willing to do the right thing on multinational taxation,” Mr Leigh said.

Sunday 13th December 2015 - 2:46 pm
Comments Off on Scott Morrison’s challenge

Scott Morrison’s challenge

by Alan Thornhill



Welcome to “the silly season.”

At the risk of revealing one of the news industry’s deeper secrets, we can confirm that’s the name often given to times like the present, when so many solid newsmakers are on leave, or travelling, that traditional news sources tend to dry up.



Those with less compelling stories to tell can then step in to plug the gap.

Sometimes it works.

Indeed the growing national debt stories that Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott told, before the last Federal election, became so powerful that the then Labor government fell, in their wake.

And Joe Hockey, who became Treasurer, after that election, went right on telling his highly alliterative stories of Labor’s looming ”debt and deficit disasters.”


Most notably, perhaps, in his budget speech last May.


He said then:-

“We inherited $123 billion of deficits when we came to office.



“We have now brought that down to $82 billion over the next 4 years.

“This is despite the fact that we have lost $90 billion in expected tax revenue over the same period.

And added:-“We have now brought that down to $82 billion over the next 4 years.



Politically effective?




But we have moved on since then.


So Mr Hockey’s successor, Scott Morrison, the new Treasurer, will need to do more than simply adopt Mr Hockey’s arguments, when he delivers his Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, or MYEFO, document on Tuesday (this week).


The Turnbull government has already tried to do that with its recently published Innovation Statement.


There is more work to be done in that area, too.


But how is it all looking, on an interim basis, now?


Westpac economist, Andrew Hanlan, isn’t exactly bubbling with enthusiasm,.


He is predicting “a modest further slippage”in the government’s budget position, with the revelation of a further $4 billion deterioration in the Turnbull government’s likely deficit for 2015-16.


Not good, but not necessarily disastrous either.


In fact, a development of that kind could draw attention to a serious weakness, in the debate so far.


It has been based on the unspoken assumption that debt – particularly big debt – is always a bad thing?


But is it?



Young couples, who take on a big mortgage to acquire their first home, often find later in life that it turns out later to be an excellent investment, as property prices rise.


The same kind of thing can happen with government investments, too.


And they, too, face risks.


Malcolm Turnbull’s pre-election decision to go for a national internet system that will be slower than the best available – simply because it was cheaper – is now looking highly questionable in that regard.



It will give our better equipped rivals, like France, a permanent advantage in  a highly competitive world.


Regardless of who is, technically right or wrong, in this argument, we should be looking for a better perspective on it all.
That can be hard to find.


But it is essential in this highly competitive world.

Friday 11th December 2015 - 6:44 pm
Comments Off on Tax talks bog down

Tax talks bog down

by Alan Thornhill

Consensus on tax reform proved elusive when the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull met State premiers and Territory leaders  in Sydney today.

The State and Territory leaders went into the meeting of the Council of Australian governments seeking reversal of the $80 billion cuts to their health and education spending that flowed, ultimately, from the unpopular 2014 Federal budget.



Mr Turnbull, for his part, was seeking more stable revenue flows, as the mining boom subsided.



That led to the Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, ordering the Federal Treasury to model the likely impact of possible changes, including several that would include a higher Goods and Services Tax.



Although the Opposition has been warning that Mr Turnbull wants to impose a 15 per cent GST on “everything” in place of the present 10 per cent, a 12.5 per cent rate is now starting to look more likely.



But the Coalition remains determined to curb the big Federal deficits it inherited from its Labor predecessor,


Mr Turnbull opened today’s meeting by thanking the Premiers and Territory leaders for what he called “very collaborative discussion we had last night.”
He said:“We all understand that Australia’s economy is transitioning from an enormous mining construction boom.”

And added:”We recognise that we’ve seen a high rise in our terms of trade and as was always going to happen that has now subsided.


I think we all recognise that to ensure our continued prosperity we do need to be more competitive, more productive and more innovative.




However the COAG leaders did agree to keep on examining options for tax reform.


They also accepted a March deadline on their discussions.



”Mr Turnbull said after today’s meeting “there are many different options.”

“There are many different approaches and… ultimately what we need is a tax system for the 21st century.”


The Tasmanian Premier, Will Hodgman, said he was looking forward to putting some concrete proposals on the table by the proposed deadline of March next year.
Mr Hodgman said his focus was not to increase the tax burden.
“We believe that the better and more appropriate approach is to ensure that we use this discussion, which also has a very important element of understanding the inefficiencies in our systems,” he said.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said there are still some fundamental issues in the tax system that need to be addressed ahead of the looming deadline.

“Importantly, out of today was recognition from states and territories as well as the Commonwealth that this is a shared challenge,” Mr Barr said.

“But it’s one that the clock is ticking on and we can’t have another meeting like today in March.
“We have to start making decisions.”


Wednesday 9th December 2015 - 8:58 am
Comments Off on Warming up for next year’s election

Warming up for next year’s election

by Alan Thornhill

Speculation on tax reform has peaked ahead of a meeting between the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, and State premiers on Friday.


The Federal government has insisted, in the lead up to this meeting, that “everything will be on the table” as these talks progress.


Labor has responded by alleging that Malcolm Turnbull is secretly planning to increase the GST.


Opposition strategists know that an effective campaign on the GST will be their best chance of defeating the still popular Prime Minister, at the Federal elections expected next year.
Lingering divisions in the Liberal party – mostly flowing from the September coup in which Mr Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, might help.


Especially as Mr Abbott is finding it difficult to remain heroically silent, about his loss.


But Mr Turnbull knows, deep in his political heart, that his own scare campaign, on the carbon tax, is also the best card he has in his hand.


And – perhaps for that reason – he has been reluctant to say – flatly – that his government won’t increase the GST if it is re-elected next year.


There are several good reasons for not doing so.


After all, coalition governments don’t have a particularly good record, when it comes to keeping pre-election promises, particularly on tax.


Why draw attention to that?


Then there would be recalcitrant premiers to convince, if a Prime Minister did want to increase the GST.


Why give them time to organise, too?



Much better to keep mumbling about “everything being on the table” when it comes to tax reform.

There are risks, of course.


That was illustrated – all too well – today when Fairfax newspapers claimed to have a secret document showing not only that massive increases to the GST are likely, but that the Medicare Levy could rise as well.


There is an old game, in politics, called “frightening the horses.”


And our politicians – on all sides – are quite good at it.

Wednesday 2nd December 2015 - 6:30 pm
Comments Off on New measures will “support families”

New measures will “support families”

by Alan Thornhill

The Federal government says its new child care package and related tax bills will encourage workforce participation and provide a more flexible, accessible child care system.
The Minister for Education and Training Simon Bimingham said the savings from the Family Tax Benefit bill would be used to fund the $3.2 billion Jobs for Families Child Care package.


Senator Birmingham said these measures would provide better support Australian children.


“Families using child care in 2017 on family incomes of between approximately $65,000 and $170,000 will save an average of $30 a week on their child care bills,” he said.

“The Jobs for Families Child Care package provides the highest rate of subsidy to those on the lowest income levels and more hours of subsidy to those who work the most,” he added.

“Our priority is to increase access to care for those families who need it most, particularly working parents.”


“We know the cost and accessibility of child care is a barrier for parents who want to work or work more.”

“Since the Jobs for Families Child Care package was announced in the Budget the Government has consulted widely with parents, child care providers and businesses,’ he added.


“We have modified the child care subsidy for two reasons.”

“The first being feedback that the previously announced subsidy rate was too generous for high income families and the second being the fact this package was to be funded through Family Tax Benefit reform, where savings have not been realised.”

“Accordingly we have reduced the subsidy rate for families on incomes of more than $250,000 and reduced the subsidy floor for higher income families from 50 per cent to 20 per cent.”

Senator Birmingham said the package represents the Government’s response to the recommendations from the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Child Care and Early Childhood Learning.


“The Commission found the current child care system with its numerous payments, is unnecessarily complex and that poorly targeted programs are failing to support families to be in jobs or provide additional support where it is needed.”

“The package includes a strong safety net that will provide additional learning opportunities for children in low income families or at risk or in the care of their grandparents.”


“The package will also support learning opportunities for all pre-school children,” he said.

Meanwhile the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, said the Family Tax Benefit bill would put more money in family pockets each fortnight, through increases in the maximum rate of FTB Part A, Youth Allowance, and Youth Disability Support Pension

“These are real and sweeping reforms – but they need to be paid for,” Mr Porter said.
“That’s why we are restructuring family tax benefits and redirecting the funding.”

In addition, the FTB Part B standard rate will be increased by $1,000 each year for eligible families whose youngest child is aged under one year.
The Government also said it would ensure that single parents aged over 60 years and grandparent and great-grandparent carers with a youngest child aged 13–18 years will be eligible to receive FTB-B at the standard rate.
But it also said the end-of-year supplements would be phased out, given they are no longer fit for purpose.
“The supplements were introduced to fix a FTB debt problem that’s largely resolved,” Mr Porter said.

“It makes sense to redirect the money from the supplements back into families but in a way that allows parents to re-enter the workforce.

“He said research had shown that is the single best way to increase family wealth and prosperity.”


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Alan Thornhill

Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.

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