by Alan Thornhill
Tony Abbott was in a forgiving mood today, after two Indonesians were caught trying to smuggle galahs and parrots out of Australia.
The Indonesians, both military personnel, were part of an air crew that came to Australia to take possession of an old Hercules military aircraft, that Australia has given to their country.
They were caught, at Richmond air base, loading five galahs and two parrots into the plane, hidden in bags.
Two more parrots were found when the Hercules landed at Darwin, to refuel.
Australian Customs officers questioned the two Indonesians, but no charges were laid.
Mr Abbott told reporters in Adelaide that the investigation had been appropriate.
But he was forgiving.
“From time to time Australians do things in Indonesia,” the Prime Minister said.
“And it shouldn’t be a complete surprise that occasionally it’s a two-way street.”
by Alan Thornhill
Small business owners are facing tougher conditions, even though their confidence improved with the election of the new Federal government.
And – in a separate development – the government has welcomed a new code of conduct the giant supermarket chains have negotiated with their suppliers.
The Federal Minister for Small Business, Bruce Billson, described this as a “historic” and “very significant” step.
However a new survey, shows that the trading conditions most small business owners face continued to deteriorate in the September quarter.
The chamber’s chief economist, Burchell Wilson, said: “The only real positive, reflected in the survey conducted by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was ‘a marked improvement’ in small business expectations.
However Mr Wilson, said all actual indicators, except labour costs, had been mired in contractionary territory since the global financial crisis.
And they are still showing no convincing signs that they starting to bottom out.
Meanwhile Mr Billson noted that Woolworths, Coles and the Australian Food and Grocery Council had “collaboratively developed a supermarket industry code.”
Farmers and other suppliers have long complained that the two supermarket giants exert crushing pressures on them, when purchasing their produce for resale.
Mr Billson noted that talks between these parties had been under way for a long time now and he said these negotiations had been derailed under the previous government.
But he added: “We’re back on track now to see an important part of our economy establish mutually respectful collaborative relationships that are good for retailers, good for the suppliers and good for consumers.”
“….we welcome that development today,” Mr Billson said.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal Treasurer, Joe Hockey, has approved Saputo’s bid to take over Warrnambool Cheese & Butter Factory Company Holdings Limited.
In his announcement today, Mr Hockey said: “No conditions have been placed on this approval.
“The future ownership of WBC is ultimately a matter for the shareholders but this decision provides certainty in relation to Saputo’s bid.
“Australia is open for business and we welcome foreign investment when it is not contrary to the national interest,” Mr Hockey declared.
However the Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, said the government is still hopelessly divided over foreign investment.
National Party MPs – and bush Liberals – still oppose the proposed foreign takeover of Graincorp.
And Mr Hockey, who favoured it, has declared that he “won’t be bullied” on this issue.
“Public slanging matches between Government Ministers over takeover bids aren’t the way to prove ‘Australia is open for business,’”Mr Bowen said.
by Alan Thornhill
The Reserve Bank warned again today that the value of the Australian dollar is still too high.
The bank’s Governor, Glenn Stevens, said that “while below its level earlier in the year” the $A “is still uncomfortably high.”
“A lower level of the exchange rate is likely to be needed to achieve balanced growth in the economy,” Mr Stevens added.
He made these observations in a statement announcing that the bank had decided today to keep its marker interest rate on hold at 2.5 per cent.
The $A was trading at 94.73 US cents earlier today.
Builders said they had expected rates to be kept on hold today.
Howevert the Chief Economist of the Housing Industry Association, Dr Harley Dale said the bank had “left the door ajar” for another rate cut in future.
The Australian Retailers’ Association was less pleased, though, saying the bank’s decision would do little to encourage customers to spend before Christmas.
The National Farmers Federation was more sanguine, welcoming the fact that “all eight banks” had now passed on the last rate cut to their customers.
by Alan Thornhill
As expected, the Reserve Bank board has decided to keep the bank’s marker interest rate on hold at 2.5 per cent.
In a statement explaining the decision, the bank’s Governor, Glenn Stevens, said: “recent information is consistent with global growth running a bit below average this year, with reasonable prospects of a pick-up next year.”
Mr Stevens also noted that the Australian economy had been “growing a bit below trend” and that the nation’s unemployment rate had “edged higher” over the past year.
He said: “this is likely to persist in the near term, as the economy adjusts to lower levels of mining investment.
“Further ahead, private demand outside the mining sector is expected to increase at a faster pace,” Mr Stevens said.
But he warned that: “considerable uncertainty surrounds this outlook.”
“There has been an improvement in indicators of household and business sentiment recently,” Mr Stevens said.
“But it is still too soon to judge how persistent this will be,” he added.
“ Public spending is forecast to be quite weak,” Mr Stevens said.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government believes Australia has a big future in service exports.
That’s why the Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb will be visiting the United States this week.
Mr Robb will be taking part in the Global Services Summit which is to be held in Washington DC on October 30.
He said: “Australia has an enviable reputation across a broad array of services.
“And this presents boundless opportunities in the years ahead for our country in helping to cater for growing global demand,” Mr Robb said.
He said the services sector is already a critical part of the Australian economy.
It represents about 70 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product and employs four out of five Australians.
“There are literally dozens of key areas in which Australian businesses specialise in delivering innovative and high quality services,” Mr Robb said.
“These span across mining and resources, energy, agriculture, education, healthcare and medical research, finance and banking, tourism and events management, construction and project management,” he added.
by Alan Thornhill
A little scepticism about election promises is usually wise.
Voters should be realistic.
But these things need watching.
So how is our new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, measuring up against the promises he made, before last month’s Federal elections?
He was clear, above all, about trust.
“You could trust us in opposition and you will be able to trust us in government,” Mr Abbott promised in his policy speech, in late August.
“…This election is all about trust,” he said.
Mr Abbott then reinforced his message, saying: “’We will be a no surprises, no excuses government.”
This was the central message of his campaign.
Even before the September 7 election, though, some doubts were emerging.
The Liberal Leader had promised, repeatedly, for example, that the Coalition’s costings would be delivered in good time, well before the election.
But they were not published until the Thursday before the election, giving voters very little time to assess them.
There have been some surprises, too, in the early weeks of his new government.
Disclosures about expense claims, for example, have raised more than a few eyebrows, over that time.
Who knew, before the elections, for example that the costs of attending a colleague’s wedding, or entering an iron man competition, were being seen as legitimate electoral expenses?
Or that a West Australian Liberal MP, Don Randall, would charge taxpayers more than $5,000, for a trip he and his wife made to Cairns, where they had just purchased an investment property.
Mr Abbott’s explanation that Mr Randall had ”very important discussions” with the then Coalition whip, while he was there, looks, at least a little, like an excuse.
Mr Randall strengthened that impression, by later refunding the money.
Then there is the issue of debt.
The new Treasurer, Joe Hockey, spoke often, before the election, about Australia’s “debt crisis.”
Yet, already he has moved to raise the Federal government’s debt limit from $300 billion to $500 billion.
Mr Hockey explained that the blame, for this, lay with Labor.
However this, too, left many voters mumbling over the newspapers which carried this story.
Still, the Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde, had a point, when he said that: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
That observation has force in this debate as:-
• Some Labor MPs, too, have made questionable expense claims and
• Australia’s Federal finances have certainly been tested, in the wake of the global crisis, which arrived in 2008.
Mr Abbott has moved quickly, though, on other promises.
He has already prepared bills, for example, to scrap both the carbon tax and the mining taxes.
But the outcome of his promises to stop the boats is still clouded – and his plan to buy fishing boats, before refugees could use them, has been quietly forgotten.
There are other reasons, too, for concern about some of Mr Abbott’s promises.
His determination to scrap the carbon tax, for example, borders on the obsessive.
Yet the Prime Minister’s declaration that the carbon tax is just “….socialism masquerading as environmentalism” isn’t convincing everyone.
And, whatever else, the early bushfires that have struck New South Wales over the past week, are deeply disturbing.
The head of a United Nations committee on climate change, Christiana Figueres, saw a connection between those fires and climate change.
Mr Abbott responded, less than acutely, by accusing Ms Figueres of “talking through her hat.”
Who, though, is backing him, with reputable research, on this critically important matter?
by Alan Thornhill
A dry winter.
A warm Spring.
And then the fires came.
They hit the Blue Mountains – and other Highland areas in New South Wales.
And an uncounted number of houses – certainly more than 200 – were destroyed.
By any standards these fires produced “a human tragedy.”
And in October, too.
This kind of thing is not meant to happen, so early.
Our new Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, has some wise advice.
He said attempts to link the bushfires to the need for greater action on climate change amounts to “politicising a human tragedy.”
The Minister Hunt spelt it out, very plainly.
“There has been a terrible tragedy in New South Wales,” he said.
“And no-one, anywhere should seek to politicise any human tragedy, let alone a bushfire on this scale,” Mr Hunt added.
Who could disagree with that?
Or stop wondering, perhaps, if terrible events like these fires are, actually, painting a picture of what is to come, as climate change advances.
Mr Hunt, of course, was responding to comments by the Greens Deputy, Adam Bandt, who had made that link, in a radio interview late last week.
Mr Bandt noted, then, that scientists and firefighters had already been warning that extreme weather events, like those which produced these fires, could become the norm, in future.
Mr Hunt says we needn’t worry about that.
He supports Tony Abbott’s plan to scrap the carbon tax.
But he assures us that the Coalition’s direct action plan will not only reduce Australia’s emissions, but protect the competitiveness of local industry as well.
Critics say that, essentially, amounts to paying polluters, and argue that, as such, it is not likely to succeed.
There had been some empirical evidence, though, that the old carbon tax was, in fact, encouraging polluters to revise their plans.
This showed up in data produced by the Bureau of Statistics.
Tony Abbott doesn’t yet have the numbers he would need, in the Senate, to abolish the carbon tax, as he has promised to do.
And he won’t have until July 1 next year, when the new Senators take their seats in the nation’s upper house.
Labor is saying it won’t vote to abolish the tax before then, unless Mr Abbott agrees to replace it with an emissions trading scheme.
The Prime Minister is not likely to do that.
Some might argue that our politicians, like Nero, are fiddling while Winmalee, at least, if not Rome, burns.
Mr Hunt is very comforting, of course.
But it’s hard to stop wondering, isn’t it?
Especially as the stakes are so high.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
Thursday December 12
Australia’s unemployment rate rises slightly to 5.8 per cent in November 2013 (seasonally adjusted):ABS
The Dow Jones index fell 129 points to 15,844
The High Court upholds a Commonwealth government challenge to an ACT law permitting same sex marriages. Some 30 couples will now find their marriages void.
The Federal government admits it won’t meet its time or cost targets, in its broadband roll-out
|Aud To Usd||0.9033||N/A||N/A|
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|Qbe Insur. Fpo||10.400||-0.610||-5.54%|
|Origin Ene Fpo||12.990||-0.350||-2.62%|
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