by Alan Thornhill
As the critical campaign for the Canning by-election enters its final week, Tony Abbott has become bolder.
He declared, on arrival in Perth at the weekend, that the Liberals would win this contest next weekend.
“Well, we’re not going to lose the Canning by-election, ” he said
“We’ve got an outstanding candidate.”
“We’ve run a strong campaign.”
“And I think the people of Canning are going to ask themselves ‘who is going to look after them?'” he said.
A reporter had asked him whether he would stand down, as Prime Minister, if the Coalition lost the seat, which was vacated when a popular local member Don Randall died.
But Mr Abbott probably wouldn’t get that choice, if the Liberals do lose, or even fail to produce a respectable result next Saturday.
That’s because the party would, most likely, make the decision for him, giving Mr Abbott his marching orders.
So Mr Abbott clearly decided he might as well be bold.
Even though there is already talk of his overthrow, anyway.
There was also a flurry of announcements, over the weekend about the good things that can be expected in this electorate if the Liberals do win well next Saturday.
These include at least one road duplication, to make traffic flow more smoothly in a notorious black spot near the southern suburb of Armadale.
There will also be a new road bridge at Byford, not far away.
The popular seaside city of Mandurah could also look forward to the installation of more CCTV cameras, as a public safety measure.
The Federal Justice Minister said the Coalition government is prepared to contribute $150,000 to a community safety project, planned by the City of Mandurah.
He made the announcement while visiting the site, with the Liberal Candidate for Canning Andrew Hastie, saying the funding will be delivered under the Coalition’s Community Development Grants Program.
Mr Keenan also let it be known, while campaigning with Mr Hastie at the weekend, that young people in Armadale would get improved mental health services.
That would happen with the opening of an Australian Government-funded Headspace centre.
It would provide access to a range of support services for people between the ages of 12 and 25.
These include mental health care, related physical health care, services associated with alcohol and other drug use and social and vocational support.
Labor hasn’t been idle, either.
The Federal Labor Leader, Bill Shorten, was also in Western Australia at the weekend, on one of several visits he has made, to support his party’s by election candidate, Matt Keogh.
He urged voters in the electorate to support Labor, to protect their penalty rates, which he accused Mr Abbott and senior Federal ministers are attacking.
Mr Shorten said this is a live issue in the campaign.
“Today we see members of the community, many people who go to work and don’t earn a lot of money just saying enough is enough Mr Abbott and the Liberals, please stop attacking our penalty rates.
“The future of Australia doesn’t depend upon cutting the wages and conditions of millions of Australians. ”
“We can have a bright future in this country if we properly fund our schools and our health care, if we stand up for new jobs and infrastructure, and most importantly if we don’t divide the country. Retail wages in this country are not high, hospitality and tourism rates are not high.
“Many of the people who depend upon penalty rates be they nurses, ambulance officers, people who look after our quality of life.”
“They need these penalty rates.”
“The future for Australia is in high skilled, reasonably paid jobs where we’re all working together,” Mr Shorten said.
by Alan Thornhill
The rich have been getting richer.
And the news, for the rest of us is pretty much as expected.
The Bureau of Statistics reported today that the average income of high income households rose by 7 per cent between 2011-12 and 2013-14, to $2,037 per week.
But Rita Scholl from the ABS said that not all households have experienced the same improvement in economic well being.
“Today’s results show that low income households have experienced an increase of around 3 per cent in average weekly household income, while middle income households changed little since 2011-12.”
Ms Scholl said the average income of all Australian households had risen to $998 per week in 2013–14.
But average wealth had remained relatively stable at $809,900.
Ms Scholl said, though, that change in average wealth had been uneven across different types of households.
For example, the average wealth of renting households was approximately $183,000 in 2013-14.
Rising house prices contributed to an increase in the average wealth for home owners with a mortgage ($857,900) and without a mortgage (almost $1.4 million).
She said too, that, most Australian households continue to have debts in 2013-14.
Over 70 per cent of households were servicing some form of debt.
These included mortgages, car loans, student loans or credit cards.
For example, the average credit card debt for all households was $2,700, Ms Scholl said.
And some had big debt burdens.
“One quarter of households with debt had a total debt of three or more times their annualised disposable income” Ms Scholl said.
“These households are considered to be at higher risk of experiencing economic hardship if they were to experience a financial shock, such as a sudden reduction in their income or if interest rates were to rise, increasing their mortgage or loan repayments,” she added.
Ms Scholl also said the Bureau’s survey also allow comparisons of income and wealth across different types of households.
“In 2013–14, couple families with dependent children had an average household income of $1,011 per week, which was similar to the average for all households at $998 per week.”
“By comparison, after adjusting for household characteristics, one parent families with dependent children had an average household income of $687 per week,” Ms Scholl said.
by Alan Thornhill
Can Tony Abbott be over-thrown before his first term has expired?
Local Labor activists in WA certainly believe so.
Even though the Liberal party is, at least nominally, taking a 12 per cent lead into the Canning by-election that is to be held on September 19.
The Federal Labor leader, Bill Shorten, has urged caution pointing to the apparent size of the lead the Liberals are taking into the by-election, following the death of a popular local member.
But local Labor party workers are having none of it.
Their organisation, Get-Up, is planning an ” an all-out, banners blazing election campaign.
And it just might work.
Get-Up is circulating its members with a strong message.
It is saying:” Here’s what you need to know. Canning in WA was a safe Liberal seat, by a nearly 12% margin.
“But thanks to the unpopularity of the Abbott Government’s radical right wing agenda, the race is virtually tied: 50.1% Labor, 49.9% Coalition.
“Senior Liberal figures say the loss from a swing of this size will likely cost Tony Abbott his job.
“And Liberal MPs in marginal seats are “mildly terrified” about their future, meaning a loss in Canning could force a political retreat on this government’s unpopular attacks on health, education and clean energy.
“A few hundred votes could tip the balance, and that’s when our movement is at its most powerful.
“But we need to act fast.
“We’re armed with polling from Canning voters telling us the very issues that will shift these key votes.
“Local GetUp members will hit the streets, joining grassroots efforts on the ground.
“And to back them up, we’ll blanket the electorate with hard-hitting outdoor, print and digital advertising.
” But ad space is in high demand and we have to make decisions now about “what we can afford to do.”
What follows in this message is the traditional appeal for fighting funds.
And then a little encouragement, in these words: “Imagine it. An end to the relentless attacks on our public schools and hospitals, pensioners and young people, a clean energy future, and fair go for all Australians.
“That’s exactly what we could see if the Abbott leadership meets its downfall on 19 September in Canning.
“Even Mr Abbott has said that Canning will be the ‘real’ test for how people feel about his government.
“The West Australian was more emphatic: “If the ReachTEL poll is reflected on polling day, it would certainly spell the end of Tony Abbott’s prime ministership.”
“The battle lines have been drawn, but how much we can tip the scales in the next 23 days depends on how much we can raise.
“It’s been two years since Mr Abbott became top dog, and in this time we’ve lost so much.
“Massive cuts to our ABC and the SBS, thousands of experts forced out of the CSIRO, attacks on clean energy, pensions and social welfare – not to mention efforts to dismantle our world-class Australian healthcare and education systems.
“No generation has been spared, no working family left unscathed.
“And despite widespread public consensus they’ve overstepped their mark, Mr Abbott’s Government continues to pig-headedly ram through his radically conservative agenda.
“But the people of Canning could change all that when they cast their ballots on 19 September, in a by-election that’s become a full-blown referendum on Tony Abbott’s agenda.
“Throwing an election campaign together in three weeks is ambitious, but rapid grassroots campaigning and cutting-edge political advertising is what GetUp does best.
“There are billboards available now in major Canning commuter corridors, but we’ve only 24 hours to book them in if we’re to get them up in time,” Get-Up says.
And – on the other side of the continent – an extra-ordinary advertisement appeared in The Canberra Times and – presumably – other Fairfax newspapers today.
It shows Parliament House, Canberra, as a house of cards and talks of “our unstable government” warning that “it could all come toppling down.”
“Then it urges Australian business leaders to prepare themselves, with the “insights” they can expect from reading the Financial Review.
This might sell newspapers.
It certainly won’t win this newspaper any friends in Canberra.
by Alan Thornhill
There is a strong case for increasing the compulsory rate of superannuation contributions to 12 per cent of wages, according to an industry association.
It is now 10 per cent.
The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) made this observation today when it released its latest Standard calculations of how much Australians will need to save for their retirements.
These showed that rising costs and changes to the Age Pension mean that an Australian couple will now need to save $130,000 more for a comfortable retirement
ASFA now estimates that Australians will need a super balance at retirement of $640,000 for a couple and $545,000 for a single,to meet that goal.
That would be an increase of $130,000 and $115,000 respectively from previous estimates.
ASFA says the June quarter figures indicate a modest rise in the cost of living for retirees, with couples aged around 65 living a comfortable retirement needing to spend $58,784 per year and singles $42,861, a respective 0.6 per cent and 0.7 per cent increase on the previous quarter.
Budgets for older retirees increased by 0.8 per cent at the comfortable level and by 0.7 per cent at the modest level.
“A combination of increasing cost pressures, increasing life expectancy and the recently legislated changes to the Age Pension means test have had an impact on the estimated savings Australians will need to live a comfortable retirement,” ASFA CEO, Pauline Vamos,said.
“In particular, adjustments to the taper rate and thresholds for the assets test will impact how people plan to fund their retirement.
While some individuals with relatively low retirement savings will receive a small increase in their Age Pension after 1 January 2017, others will receive a lower Age Pension, or none at all, until they run down their superannuation.
“As a result, many individuals and couples will require higher levels of private savings for a comfortable standard of living in retirement.
“If there are further increases to the eligibility age for the Age Pension beyond what is already legislated and a lower indexation factor is applied to future increases in the Age Pension, those retirement savings targets will necessarily increase further.”
ASFA said the most significant price rises affecting the cost of living for retirees this quarter were automotive fuel (+12.2 per cent) and medical and hospital services (+4.5 per cent).
The most significant offsetting price falls this quarter were domestic holiday travel and accommodation (-5.4 per cent) and pharmaceutical products (-1.8 per cent).
Ms Vamos said” …many individuals may want to consider making voluntary contributions.
“These are generally tax advantaged and the earlier you can put money away, the more you will benefit from the effects of compound interest.
“A useful thing you can do is get in touch with your superannuation fund to find out what options are available to you, so that you have the best chance of living your post-work years free from major financial worries,” she added.
by Alan Thornhill
Fraud has cost the Commonwealth $530 million in recent times, according to a new report
The report by the Australian Institute of Criminology exposes 265,866 cases of suspected internal and external fraud between 2010-11 and 2012-13
In one, the Director of a family day care business is alleged to have claimed Child Care Benefit subsidies totaling $3.6 million to which she was not entitled.
The accused woman is alleged to have created and lodged false documents with the Department of Human Services to support her claims.
The Federal Justice Minister, Michael Keenan, revealed this in a statement today.
He said the report shows why the multi-agency Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre (FAC Centre) is vital in the fight against serious fraud and corruption.
The Centre was established within the Australian Federal Police (AFP) a year ago and combines the resources and expertise of nine agencies.
Mr Keenan said the centre had been designed to tackle serious, complex fraud and corruption.
It ensures that suspected crimes are quickly directed to the right law enforcement agencies for action.
The agencies within the FAC Centre have access to intelligence resources, like the Australian Crime Commission’s National Criminal Intelligence Fusion Capability.
So they can draw on specialists, data and analytics to develop their own fraud-related intelligence.
Mr Keenan cited the case of Operation Agron, in which the Australian Federal Police led joint agency investigation, in which the Department of Human Services and the Department of Social Services also participated.
That led to the execution of multiple search warrants in the Albury-Wodonga area and the arrest of a 27 year old woman.
“The alleged offender is currently before Court, facing charges of: obtaining financial advantage by deception, using forged documents, falsification of documents and dealing in proceeds of crime worth $1million or more,” Mr Keenan said.
Property and cash worth more than $2.4 million had also been restrained by the AFP as part of an associated proceeds of crime action, he added.
Mr Keenan’s message to those who are tempted is blunt.
“Perpetrators of fraud are on notice.
“You will be caught.
“The Commonwealth will utilise every resource at its disposal to tackle fraud head on,” he said.
And just what are those resources?
In a word, formidable.
Mr Keenan said the FAC Centre brings together the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Australian Crime Commission, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, Department of Human Services, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Department of Defence, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Attorney-General’s Department (Advisory Participant) and Commonwealth Director of Prosecutions (Advisory Participant) in order to assess, prioritise and respond to serious fraud and corruption matters.
Like to know more?
The Fraud against the Commonwealth: Report to Government 2010-11 to 2012-13 is available at http://www.aic.gov.auwww.aic.gov.au
by Alan Thornhill
Age pensioners have faced bigger price rises than many other Australians over the past year, according to the Bureau of Statistics.
In papers published today, for example, the Bureau reports that the living costs of Age pensioners rose by 0.6 per cent in the three months to the end of June and 1 per cent in the 12 months to the end of June.
The living costs of employees, though, rose by 0.4 per cent in the quarter and 0.9 per cent for the year as a whole.
Australia’s inflation has been low, by traditional standards, over this time.
The Bureau also reported that its broader Consumer Price Index rose by 0.7 per cent in the quarter and 1.5 per cent over the year.
It noted that rising fuel prices had a big impact on the living costs of both pensioners and employed Australians in the June quarter.
The Bureau calculated, for example, that the transport costs faced by age pensioners rose by 4.2 per cent in the June quarter.
It said this was driven by the rise in automotive fuel prices.
Employed Australians saw their transport costs rise by 3.4 per cent in the same time.
Age pensions are adjusted twice a year in Australia to reflect price rises.
They were also adjusted automatically to reflect rising national prosperity, until last year, when this was discontinued.
by Alan Thornhill
The Goods and Services Tax is to be broadened to include on-line overseas transactions worth less than $1,000.
The announcement was buried deep in a communiqué that Federal and State leaders issued after the first day of their retreat in Sydney.
It said:” all Leaders agreed to keep Commonwealth and State tax changes on the table including the GST and the Medicare levy.
” As a first step, there was agreement in principle by Leaders to broaden the GST to cover overseas online transactions under $1000.
“This matter will be referred to the upcoming meeting of Treasurers to progress in detail.”
The Prime Minister, State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers who attended also agreed that changes will be needed to put the necessary reforms into effect.
That was acknowledged in the communiqué.
It said:” the key to providing the services Australians aspire to is a more productive and faster growing economy.
“Improving the way our Federation works will improve Australia’s overall fiscal position and our national productivity.
“Achieving this reform will require both the Commonwealth and the States to make policy changes that would both improve the climate for business, and ensure more efficient delivery of government services while keeping taxes as low as possible.”
The leaders will continue to talk tax as their meeting continues today.
However they will also be discussing better ways of financing Australia’s health and education services.
by Alan Thornhill
Surging fuel prices drove the Consumer Price Index up by 0.7 per cent in the June quarter and 1.5 per cent over the past year.
The Bureau of Statistics reported that automotive fuel prices leapt by 12.2 per cent in the three months to the end of March, after falling sharply late last year.
It noted also that Australia’s trimmed mean and weighted median inflation rates stayed within the Reserve Bank’s stated zone of tolerance, at 2.2 and 2.4 per cent respectively.
The bank aims to keep the nation’s inflation rate within a 2-3 per cent range, over the course of a business cycle.
In the minutes of its latest board meeting, which were published on Tuesday, the bank signalled that future decisions on its marker rate, which is now 2 per cent, would be data driven.
These developments, taken together, flag that Australia’s interest rates will stay on hold for some months yet.
Weathercoast by Alan Thornhill
A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.
Available now on the iTunes store.
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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