by Alan Thornhill
Queensland graziers are calling for government intervention to block the proposed Alpha coal mine, despite a Supreme Court ruling allowing it to proceed.
And they have vowed that they will “stand firm” against the GVK Hancock project themselves, in the meantime.
A West Queensland grazier, Bruce Currie, one of three who challenged the proposed project in court, declared after the court announced its decision today that “justice had not been done.”
He said he – and other graziers – had been trying for years to reach agreement with Gina Rinehart – and her company – on the impact the proposed mine would have on their operations.
“We’ve been trying for almost three years to have an honest conversation about the billions of litres of water GVK Hancock wants to take from our country,” Mr Currie said.
“But, from the start, all they’ve given us is the run-around.”
“If this mine goes ahead, it risks draining away the groundwater that our lives and businesses depend on.
“This is our lifeblood.
“We cannot sit back and allow permanent damage to groundwater supplies and the Great Artesian Basin.”
“The agricultural industry in central west Queensland absolutely depends on groundwater.
“And the proposed Alpha coal mine is stated to remove up to 176 billion litres of water over its lifetime, depleting the groundwater table and impacting family-run, sustainable farming businesses.
“We’ve had a gutful of governments and big coal fast-tracking these massive mines without proper process, and trampling on us and farming families along the way,” Mr Currie said.
” This our life.
” We are producing high quality food off this land we love.
“We are grateful that we have a legal system in Australia that protects the country we hold dear, but today I feel like we’ve been failed.”
“It’s down to the government now to stop this mine.
“If they’re interested in the future of this country, they should protect a viable farming sector, not unviable foreign miners,” Mr Currie said.
by Alan Thornhill
The Tax Office will get new compliance powers in an investment reform package that the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, introduced into Federal parliament today.
Mr Hockey also said the Foreign Investment Review Board, too, would be given extra powers, so that Australians could be assured that the rules governing foreign investment would be properly enforced.
Addressing parliament, Mr Hockey said:” Mr Speaker, Australians expect our foreign investment rules to be strong, effective and enforceable.
“Our foreign investment rules have not been significantly revised since introduction in 1975 and have not kept pace with the changes in global investment.
“The Government recognises the changing landscape and has already taken active steps to enforce the existing rules and act decisively on foreign investment breaches,” Mr Hockey said.
“One such step is to encourage those who are in breach to come forward and self-report,” the Treasurer added.
” In so doing, we have announced a reduced penalty period for foreign investors who come forward and self-report non-compliance before 30 November 2015. ”
“This legislative package shall ensure Australia maintains a welcoming environment for investment – but one that ensures that the investment is not contrary to our national interest,” Mr Hockey said.
“These reforms shall ensure that from 1 December 2015, Australia’s foreign investment framework is more modern, simple and effective.
“Importantly, it will add integrity to the system, so that everybody plays by the rules.
“With integrity comes compliance,” the Treasurer said.
“… consistent with the recommendations of the House Economics Committee, the Bill introduces a range of new and stricter penalties that are commensurate to the severity of the breach and ensure that those who break the rules do not profit by their actions,” he added.
“Criminal penalties will be increased from $90,000 to $135,000 for individuals and will be supplemented by civil pecuniary penalties and infringement notices for less serious breaches of the residential real estate rules.
“Third parties such as real estate agents, migration agents, conveyancers and lawyers who knowingly assist a foreign investor to breach the rules will also now be subject to both civil and criminal penalties.”
by Alan Thornhill
The training of Australia’s child care workers needs to be overhauled, according to a new report.
The report, ordered by the Federal government, found that while the vast majority of child care training organisations have complied with training standards, the assessments carried out by a small number raise concerns.
The Assistant Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, who released it today, said the government would increase audits on child care training organisations, consider more on the job training, enforce the use of penalties and establish a ‘preferred provider’ scheme.
Senator Birmingham said:“The Government welcomes the report and is taking strong action in response to its recommendations.
It would ensure that ASQA increases its audits of child care training organisations so that that families and child care providers can be confident that graduates have met the standard of their qualifications,Senator Birmingham said.
“Quality training is a critical component of growing the economy and helping more Australians into jobs,” he added.
That “…is why our Government is firmly focused on reforms to improve the relevancy and quality of training.
“Child care providers have told me they have ‘black banned’ graduates of specific training organisations because they do not have confidence in the competency of their graduates, particularly where those courses are “miraculously” short.
That leaves graduates of those courses with less chance of getting a job.
“That is why I will direct ASQA to work with the child care regulator, the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA).
“ASQA will also be required to work with the States and Territories to ensure they are aware of individual child care provider concerns in their jurisdiction,” Senator Birmingham said.
“I will also be working with child care providers to establish industry validation of training organisations through a ‘preferred provider’ scheme.
“I want students to know in advance which training organisations are well regarded by child care employers and to be able to make an informed choice that gives them the best chance of future employment.”
Senator Birmingham said he would also ask the newly-established Australian Industry and Skills Committee to examine child care Training Package requirements to ensure they clearly articulated the standards expected by industry, especially the adequacy of existing workplace learning components.
“Nothing beats well supervised, on the job training and experience, especially when dealing with children, which must be adequate in both duration and quality,” he said.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government will ask the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry into Australia’s intellectual property arrangements.
The Treasurer, Joe Hockey, who made the announcement today, said the Commission will examine whether Australia has the right balance between promoting competition and protecting intellectual property and our international trade obligations.
It is expected to report within 12 months.
by Alan Thornhill
Corporate criminals beware.
You could soon be hit with the – quite substantial – cost of investigating your crimes, as well as any fines or other punishments that might well come your way.
That could add many thousands of dollars to your expenses.
Greg Medcraft, who chairs the the Australian Securities and Investments Commission explained why, this morning.
He did so when he – and his ASIC team – met the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services.
Mr Medcraft noted that the Federal government has been pressing ASIC to recover the cost of its investigations.
And he signaled that it is happy to oblige.
He also said ASIC welcomes the capability review, that the government had announced, since he last met the committee.
“ASIC welcomes this review,” Mr Medcraft said.
“It is a forward-looking review and will assess our ability to meet the Government’s objectives and future challenges.
“Crucially, it is also linked to the Government’s consideration of the Murray Inquiry recommendation that ASIC’s regulatory activities be funded by industry as well as the other recommendations the Inquiry made relating to ASIC.”
He said ASIC welcomes the Murray Inquiry’s recommendation that Australia’s financial regulators be subjected to capability reviews.
Mr Medicraft said ASIC also welcomes the fact that it is “the first regulator chosen to undergo such a review.”
“Looking at our current position, we consider we are effective and efficient within the resources we have,” he added.
“Over the past few years, we have undertaken significant initiatives to enhance our effectiveness and this process will continue, including through the Capability Review process.
“We currently have several transformational, self-improvement programs under way at ASIC.
“We think the Review will further position ASIC to meet the needs of the Australian public in the future.
“Capability Reviews are not unusual.
“Over the past three years, reviews have been undertaken for 19 Federal Government departments and agencies,” Mr Medcraft said.
by Alan Thornhill
Joe Hockey has ordered six foreign investors to sell residential properties they are holding illegally.
In a statement today, the Treasurer said Australia welcomes and needs foreign investment, but investors must comply with local laws at all times.
He has issued five divestment orders.
These relate to six established properties.
One investor owns two of the properties.
These are in the Perth suburb of Kewdale.
Another of the affected properties is in the outer Brisbane suburb of Eight Mile Plains.
Three foreign investors are being ordered to sell properties in NSW.
Their properties are in Eastwood, Fairfield and Mosman.
Mr Hockey said the properties range in value from $152,000 to $1.86 million.
“Some of the five investors have purchased property with Foreign Investment Review Board approval,” he said.
“But their circumstances have changed and they have failed to comply with the divestment requirements.”
“Some have simply broken the rules by purchasing a property without approval and done so against the law,” Mr Hockey said.
“The investors linked to the five divestments voluntarily came forward to take advantage of the amnesty I announced in May,” he added.
“They now have 12 months to sell the properties, rather than the normal three month period, and will not be referred for criminal prosecution.
“Through the information provided by the public, together with our own enquiries, we now have 462 cases under active investigation,” the Treasurer added.
“I expect more divestment orders will be announced in the not too distant future,” he said.
“I once again warn foreign investors in residential real estate that they must comply with Australian law.
“Time is running out for foreign investors to voluntarily come forward if they have illegally purchased existing residential real estate.
“They have until 30 November 2015 to come to us before we come to them.
“They will still be forced to sell the properties if they are found to be in breach of the laws, but they will not be referred for criminal prosecution.”
“Australia’s foreign investment policy for residential real estate is designed to increase Australia’s housing stock.
“But those who break the rules and purchase established property illegally are doing so to the detriment of all Australians,” Mr Hockey said.
by Alan Thornhill
A senior Reserve Bank official admitted today that some young Australians are being squeezed out of Australia’s housing market.
Luci Ellis, who heads the bank’s Financial Stability Department was making her opening Statement to House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics Inquiry into Home Ownership.
She said that – overall – home ownership rates in Australia had been stable.
But she admitted:” Within that broadly stable overall rate of home ownership, the rate for younger households has declined somewhat over time.
“These are the core age groups of first-time buyers,” Ms Ellis said.
“At least some of that decline occurred before the marked rise in housing prices relative to income.
“So it cannot all be attributed to affordability issues.
Investors had probably contributed to this problem.
“Investor interest in property has been especially strong in recent years, no doubt partly encouraged by low interest rates and the prospect of concessionally taxed capital gains.
“Investors typically have more equity and borrowing capacity than first home buyers and perhaps also other owner-occupiers, and might therefore be more able and willing to pay higher prices than other types of buyers for particular properties,” Ms Ellis said.
“The result has been that the housing sales market has become unusually concentrated in investor activity, particularly in the larger cities.
“At the margin this has probably priced some aspiring first home buyers from properties they could otherwise acquire,” Ms Ellis said.
But there had been other factors, too.
“More recently, demand has been boosted by population growth and by declines in interest rates,” Ms Ellis said.
“As also noted in the Reserve Bank’s submission, Australia faces a number of longstanding challenges in meeting that strong demand.
“The population is highly urbanised and concentrated in a few large cities, and housing prices are typically higher in large cities.
Australia’s cities are unusually low density compared with those in other developed countries.
“So the urban fringe locations where first home buyers have typically located are therefore becoming further out and potentially inconvenient for access to jobs and some services,” Ms Ellis said.
She warned, though, against special financial measures, to help young prospective home buyers.
“….from a financial stability point of view it is helpful that there has been no push to improve the position of first home buyers by easing lending standards,” Ms Ellis said.
“As recent experiences in other countries have shown, such a step would probably be counterproductive in the longer run,” she added.
by Alan Thornhill
With inflation cotained – and growth low – the Reserve Bank has again decided to keep its marker interest rate on hold at 2 per cent.
In a statement today, after a bank board meeting, its Governor, Glenn Stevens, said:” While the rate of growth has been somewhat below longer-term averages, it has been associated with somewhat stronger growth of employment and a steady rate of unemployment over the past year.”
Mr Stevens also said:” Recent information confirms that domestic inflationary pressures have been contained.
“That should remain the case for some time, given the very slow growth in labour costs.
“Inflation is thus forecast to remain consistent with the target over the next one to two years, even with a lower exchange rate.”
The bank aims to keep Australia’s underlying inflation rate between 2 and 3 per cent, over the course of a business cycle.
Mr Stevens said:”” In such circumstances, monetary policy needs to be accommodative.
” Low interest rates are acting to support borrowing and spending.
” Credit is recording moderate growth overall, with growth in lending to the housing market broadly steady over recent months.”
The Reserve Bank Governor then noted that:” Dwelling prices continue to rise strongly in Sydney, though trends have been more varied in a number of other cities.”
He said:” The Bank is working with other regulators to assess and contain risks that may arise from the housing market.”
And he added:” In other asset markets, prices for equities and commercial property have been supported by lower long-term interest rates.
” The Australian dollar is adjusting to the significant declines in key commodity prices,” Mr Stevens said.
He said:” The Board today judged that leaving the cash rate unchanged was appropriate at this meeting.
” Further information on economic and financial conditions to be received over the period ahead will inform the Board’s ongoing assessment of the outlook and hence whether the current stance of policy will most effectively foster sustainable growth and inflation consistent with the target.”
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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