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Tuesday 24th February 2015 - 12:45 pm
Comments Off on Men advance in life expectancy:ABS

Men advance in life expectancy:ABS

by Alan Thornhill

The life expectancy of Australian men is now 80.1 years.

The Bureau of Statistics, which published this figure today, said it was the first time this indicator had topped 80.

But women, on average, can still expect to live longer, with a life expectancy of 84.3 years.

However men are slowly closing the gap.

Caroline Daley from the ABS said:”… over the last ten years the gap has narrowed.

“Life expectancy for men has increased by 2.3 years while the life expectancy for women has only increased by 1.5 years,” Ms Daley said.

These figures were part of a study called “Gender Indicators.”

The Bureau also reported that both men and women had lower participation rates in sports and recreational physical activity in 2013-14 than they had in 2011-12.

“After adjusting for age, participation for males 15 years and over dropped 5 percentage points to 61 per cent and there was also a 4 percentage point drop for females to 60 per cent,” the Bureau said.

Men and women were taking different paths in education, last year, too.

“In the 18-24 age group, more women than men are studying for a Bachelor Degree or above (34 per cent compared to 25 per cent), while men are more likely to study Certificates III and IV (11 per cent compared to 6 per cent),” Ms Daley said.

“In 2014, 42 per cent of females between 25 and 29 years of age had attained a Bachelor Degree or above while just 31 per cent of males had achieved a similar education level,” she added.

There’s more, in Gender Indicators, at www.abs.gov.au

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Wednesday 18th February 2015 - 6:51 pm
Comments Off on The statistic that shocked a Federal minister

The statistic that shocked a Federal minister

by Alan Thornhill

Australians are now living longer.

Perhaps not to 150, a figure the Treasurer Joe Hockey mentioned recently.

But Mitch Fifield, the Assistant Minister for Social Security and Minister for Ageing noted today that Australia already has 3,000 centenarians.

“…and by 2050, there will be 50,000,” he added.

He said this statistic ” really hit me between the eyes when I first became the Ageing minister.”

Senator Fifield acknowledged that there are “challenges” in growing older.

He was launching Health Direct Australia’s Experience of Ageing Research project in Sydney.

“…. there certainly are some new facts that emerge that are unalterable as we get older,” he said.

” But what we can control is what we do to plan for those eventualities.”

Senator Fifield also said: “people, as they get older, we know want to be independent.

“They want to be in control.

“They want to continue to make a contribution.

” And what we in government need to do is to facilitate that.

“And in my Ageing portfolio, what I ultimately want to see is greater consumer control – having the individual at the centre and in charge,” Senator Fifield said.

Sunday 15th February 2015 - 12:44 pm
Comments Off on The budget: what’s at stake

The budget: what’s at stake

by Alan Thornhill

Analysis

The Federal government’s slide in the polls started with last year’s budget.

And Joe Hockey is already starting work on his next one.

And the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, shaken by his “near death experience last Monday, is hinting that this year’s budget will be more family friendly than last year’s.

His Treasurer isn’t so sure.

Mr Hockey is still insisting that spending cuts are necessary.

He gave a long interview, on ABC radio last week, in which he flatly dismissed any thought of tax rises, saying that going down that path would slow the economy and cost jobs.

So it’s no wonder that people are starting to talk about Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey being on a collision course.

What’s behind all this?

The issues, of course, are much broader than any – real or imagined – conflict between these two men.

The Nobel prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, says the world is still in the grip of the Global Economic Crisis, which started in September 2008, with the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

He says, too, that this is the most serious downturn the world has faced, since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Last week, Krugman wrote another article, in the New York Times, headed Nobody Understands Debt.

More specifically, he that too few understand the difference between household debt and national debt.

On Krugman’s criteria, Joe Mr Hockey, certainly doesn’t.

He constantly compares family and national debt, when he talks about the debt and deficit disaster, he insists Labor left behind.

Yet, according to Krugman, the two are quite different.

“An indebted family owes money to other people,” he says.

“The world economy owes money to itself,” Krugman adds.

Think about it.

Krugman – an unreconstructed Keynsian – is also deeply unimpressed by those who say that austerity is necessary, to restore prosperity.

He dismisses that idea, declaring that the “austerity fairy” doesn’t exist.

It was, of course, John Maynard Keynes, who suggested back in the dark days of the Great Depression, that governments should spend more, when economies were bad, to get growth going.

Sadly, they were slow to take that advice – and ended up spending far more than even Keynes – himself – would have recommended – on World War II.

The broad sweep of history should never be forgotten, when we are assessing our present circumstances, as governments do each year, when they draw up their annual budgets.

Mr Abbott understands, now, that his own political survival depends, ultimately, on his government producing a more family friendly budget this year, than it did last year.

And Mr Hockey would have some room to do just that, if he were to heed Krugman’s advice.

It’s not completely at odds, after all, with what his own advisers in the Federal Treasury are telling him.

Ultimately, though, it is our democratically elected ministers, not Treasury economists, who decide these matters.

But it is, perhaps, too easy to blame Joe Hockey for everything that goes into a budget, even though he does sign the final papers.

After all, a Cabinet leak, at the weekend, suggests that one of the most unpopular measures in last year’s budget, was “a captain’s call” by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

The Shadow Minister for Families and Payments, Jenny Macklin, says the leak shows it was the Prime Minister, himself, who insisted that unemployed people under 30 must wait six months for unemployment benefits.

She says:” This shows just how out of touch this Prime Minister really is.

“That he had no issue with pushing young people into poverty is extraordinary.”

Senator Macklin also said this leak, against the Prime Minister, shows “how dysfunctional” the government has become.

Monday 5th January 2015 - 4:50 pm
Comments Off on Broaden GST base:Liberal MP

Broaden GST base:Liberal MP

by Alan Thornhill

A fierce debate has broken out – again – over a plan to broaden the base of the Federal government’s Goods and Services Tax.

Dan Tehan, a Liberal backbencher, said that could drag as much as $21.6 billion more each year into the Federal government’s coffers.

That would alleviate its budget problems.

Mr Tehan argued his case in an article he published in The Financial Review today.

He said allowing minimal exemptions to the GST is better than lifting its present 10 per cent rate.

Corporate Australia immediately offered support.

But farmers – and the Labor party – were horrified.

Fresh food, health and education are all exempt from the GST.

The tax doesn’t have to be paid, either, on items worth less than $1,000, that are purchased on line from overseas suppliers.

Mr Tehan cited New Zealand’s GST which applies to 96 per cent of that country’s consumption.

But Australia’s GST applies to just 47 per cent of purchases made in this country and – even that – is down from 53 per cent a decade ago, Mr Tehan said.

The reaction was swift – and predictable.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry called for a major rethink of the current $1,000 online GST-free threshold.

It says that gap puts Australian companies at a significant disadvantage, against their foreign competitors.

The National Farmers’ Federation said it is “seriously concerned” over suggestions that the GST should apply to fresh food, as that would damage public health.

Two senior Labor MPs, Kate Ellis and Kim Carr, also fiercely attacked the plan, in a joint statement.

They urged the Tony Abbott government to rule out a new GST on school fees, child care and universities.

They said that would cost Australian families $3 billion a year, and damage the productivity and competitiveness of the Australian economy.

The GST will be re-assessed as part of the Federal government’s review of Australia’s tax system this year.

Monday 5th January 2015 - 1:27 pm
Comments Off on Behind that penalty rate debate

Behind that penalty rate debate

by Alan Thornhill

Analysis

 You knew it.

There is something seasonal about news.

Those stories you are seeing, now, about penalty rates, are part of it.

A hardy annual, this crop blooms in late December and early January, when most of our political leaders are on leave, and there isn’t much other news, apart from those dreadful bushfires.

This is known, in newsrooms throughout the nation, as “the silly season.”

Australia’s shopkeepers kicked it off this time, by explaining, very patiently, that they could stay open longer, provide better service and offer more jobs, if it wasn’t for those punitive penalty rates.

One coffee shop operator even painted a delightful word picture of people sitting about in a restaurant – no doubt very like his own – enjoying good company and civilised conversation.

A senior Labor MP, Doug Cameron, sees Tony Abbott’s hand in all this, stirring employers to demand action, so that he can respond to public demand.

There are, of course, Liberal denials.

And ghostly figures in the background, like the former Howard government minister, Peter Reith, who warns his successors that they could be a one term government, if they don’t put some real work place reforms in place, quickly.

Oddly, perhaps, Peter didn’t mention “work choices.”

But, yes.

You are right.

You have heard all of this, before.

But there are real issues, at stake, here.

That’s all why this keeps coming back.

So, now that we all have a little time, let’s dig deeper.

Take Margaret.

A Sydney woman, Margaret was a full time nurse, until her three babies started arriving, demanding her attention, full time.

Now that the the youngest, Shane, is three, Margaret has started working again at weekends.

She seeks midnight to dawn shifts, particularly, because they offer the best penalty rates.

Her husband, Paul, takes responsibility for the children, at these times.

The hospital – and its week-day nurses – like this arrangement, because it helps them plan predictable rosters, without exhausting their day to day nurses.

So do Paul and Margaret, as it boosts their family finances, without putting undue pressure on others, like grandparents, who, otherwise, might well be assuming responsibility for those boisterous children.

There is something common to most cases, in which penalty rates are paid.

They allow, mostly low paid workers, like nurses, waiters and shop assistants to earn a little more by accepting tough times and conditions.

There is another, deeper, aspect to all this, too.

The French economist, Thomas Picketty, says the Western world has been moving back, over recent years, towards the highly unequal distribution of wealth, last seen at the time of Jane Austen.

The landed gentry,then, dominated everything.

This has been happening almost imperceptibly.

But, if Picketty is right, this is risky.

It took a Frenchman to notice.

Marie Antoinette certainly didn’t.

When told, back then, that the peasants had no bread, she famously quipped: “Well let them eat cake.”

And that ended badly.

So those comfortable coffee shop customers – and restaurant owners – have something to think about here.

After all an extra 50 cents, for a skinny latte, has to be a small price to pay for averting the inevitable excesses of a revolution.

Thursday 1st January 2015 - 11:40 am
Comments Off on What’s new in 2015

What’s new in 2015

by Alan Thornhill

A new rule could put extra pressure on bank lending rates this year.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority now requires banks to hold enough liquid assets to be able to withstand 30 days of stress.

This is meant to bring Australia into line with the Basel III banking rules agreed upon internationally after the Global Financial Crisis.

However lending rates are now at historically low levels – and that is not expected to change.

As the ABC points out, young disability support pensioners will face tougher restrictions from today, under one of several changes to the social security system coming into effect for the new year.

Recipients under the age of 35 will have their impairments reassessed against new, tougher criteria.

The new arrangements will also cut off payments to disability support pensioners if they spend more than four weeks a year overseas.

Maree O’Halloran of the Welfare Rights Network said she was concerned the changes could leave 1,500 vulnerable people worse off.

“One of the consequences could be extreme poverty for people living in disability,” she said.

“If they’re pushed from the Disability Support Pension down to what’s called the Newstart allowance … it’s $170 per week less than the pension.”

 But Labor says young people, in particular, have had “a reprieve” because the Senate has blocked “some of most unfair” budget cuts.

Senator Jan McLucas said one such measure would have left young job seekers without any income support for up to six months.

The Acting Shadow Minister for Families and payments said other measures, that the Senate is refusing to pass, include:-

*Increasing the age of eligibility for Newstart and Sickness Allowance

*Axing the Pensioner Education Supplement and

* Axing the Education Entry Payment

Wednesday 31st December 2014 - 6:42 am
Comments Off on Make a fresh start on welfare:government urged

Make a fresh start on welfare:government urged

by Alan Thornhill

Two key welfare organisations are urging the Federal government to make a “fresh start” to the New Year.

In a joint statement, the Australian Council of Social Service and the National Welfare Rights Network said: “we want to see the Government make a new start in 2015, by scrapping harmful legislation currently before Parliament.”

They also said they want the government to develop a strategy to address growing poverty and the jobs crisis facing Australia.

The two peak bodies said some of legislation the government had brought into Parliament this year had contained: “the most extreme and harsh social security measures to come before the Parliament since the Social Security Act was first introduced in 1947.”

The Senate has blocked many of those measures.

But the two peak bodies are still worried.

Dr Cassandra Goldie,of ACOSS and Maree O’Halloran,of WRN said: “Australia’s social security system provides safety for families and individuals and helps stabilise the economy in downturns.”

But they added a warning.

“Unfortunately, a number of social security changes will take effect from 1 January 2015 that will cause hardship for families, young people and people with disabilities,” they said.

“The most welcome news in 2014 was that the Senate blocked the most extreme and harsh social security measures to come before the Parliament since the Social Security Act was first introduced in 1947,” they added.

The most extreme measure, flagged by the government, had been to deny young Australians access to unemployment benefits for six months, the two welfare leaders said.

They said the government had also planned to set aside money for food parcels for young people made destitute by this measure.

Pensioners would also have been short-changed.

“An estimated 3.8 million Age, Carer, Veteran and Disability Support Pensioners would have been short-changed by $100 a week over a decade if less generous indexation rules were passed by the Senate,” they said.

But they added:”the Age Pension eligibility age will not increase from 67 to age 70 while the Senate maintains its opposition.

“This harsh plan would severely affect older people who lose their job and on Indigenous people who have much lower life expectancy than their non-Indigenous peers,” they said.

And they added: “around 260,000 Parenting Payment Single recipients were due to have their pensions frozen in real terms under Budget 2014 plans to alter indexation arrangements from 1 January 2015.

“If this plan had been approved by the Senate it would have left single parent families around $80 a week worse off over the next 10 years,” the two leaders said.

Sunday 7th December 2014 - 7:05 pm
Comments Off on What changes can we expect from the Murray report?

What changes can we expect from the Murray report?

by Alan Thornhill

The 302 page report that the Financial Systems Inquiry delivered today is a robust document – and it needed to be.

Especially as:-

* Its lead author, the former Commonwealth Bank chief, David Murray, insists that there will be further crises – like that which followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers – and we must be ready for them.

* The Commonwealth Bank, traditionally one of the the nation’s most trusted financial institutions, was caught pursuing profit, at the expense of elderly customers, through investment advice that ignored their needs and

* Mr Murray admitted that he was shocked by the high fees superannuation funds have been charging, without producing satisfactory retirement incomes for their clients.

The report notes that Australia’s financial system has been performing strongly, since it was last reviewed in the Wallis report, back in 1997.

But it adds that it the system has “weaknesses,” too.

One also mentioned in the report is that our tax system favours the rich, over the poor.

So what changes can we expect, to flow from this splendid report?

Not quick ones, certainly.

The Inquiry’s recommendation that Australia’s big four banks beef up their reserves, for example, is to go to the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, for further examination.

The FSI suggests Australia’s big four banks should boost their reserves by billions of dollars – and the banks are not happy about that.

Especially as the inquiry didn’t buy their argument that cost recovery, on this item, shouldn’t add more than 0.1 per cent to the rates they charge, on typical home loans.

Australia’s superannuation funds responded positively to the report, though, despite its criticism of their charges.

They said they like some of the ideas that that the Inquiry has put forward.

The report’s suggestion that negative gearing, tax breaks on shares and superannuation be scrapped – and the GST be broadened – won’t produce results, overnight, either.

The best that can be expected, there, is that some high end concessions on superannuation might, eventually, be modified by a government seeking at least some relief from critics, who never stop saying that its policies are unfair.

The Inquiry’s recommendations on financial advisers and consumer protection might prove more influential, though.

Especially if the government, still well behind in the polls, starts looking for ways to improve its image.

These include seeking fair treatment based on the concept that financial products and services should perform in the way that consumers expect or are led to believe.

The Inquiry says the current framework is not sufficient to deliver fair treatment to consumers.

And it adds: “The most significant problems relate to shortcomings in disclosure and financial advice.

The Inquiry this means some consumers are sold financial products that are not suited to their needs and circumstances.

“Although the regime should not be expected to prevent all consumer losses, self-regulatory and regulatory changes are needed to strengthen financial firms’ accountability,” it adds.

Haven’t we already heard something like this, though?

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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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