by Alan Thornhill
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says the number of homes damaged by Cyclone Marcia in that State at the weekend is far higher than first thought.
Preliminary estimates put the number about 550.
However Ms Palaszczuk said later reports put the number at “three times” that level.
She said at least 100 homes had been “severely impacted.”
The ABC reports that phones and the internet are down in the flood-isolated central Queensland town of Biloela.
Major clean up operations are also under way in Yeppoon and Rockhampton.
A local councillor said the flooding in Biloela was the worst local residents had ever seen.
The ABC also reports that people in the tiny township of Marmor, 45 kilometres south of Rockhampton, are struggling to cope in the aftermath of the cyclone.
Karen Johnstone and her partner Robert Holness huddled in the laundry of their home while Marcia tore it apart around them.
“The front door kept swinging open.
“We ended up nailing it shut.
“Then, all of a sudden, the panels here just blew out and gusts of wind were blowing through the roof,” Ms Johnstone said.
by Alan Thornhill
Adult Queenslanders whose homes were “significantly damaged” by Cyclone Marcia at the weekend will be eligible for immediate payments of $1,000, under the Federal Disaster Recovery scheme.
So will people who were injured by the Cyclone, which has now been down-graded.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, said there would also be $400 relief payment for each child affected in the same way.
He made the announcement in Rockhampton this afternoon.
Mr Truss said claims can be made online at www.humanservices.gov.au or by calling the Commonwealth Government Information Hotline on 180 22 66 from 8am to 5pm local time, Monday to Friday.
“Completed claim forms can also be lodged in person at a Commonwealth Government Department of Human Services service centre,” Mr Truss said.
He said the Federal assistance announced today is over and above the support already announced under the jointly funded Commonwealth-State Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA).
Mr Truss said under those arrangements people affected by Ex-Tropical Cyclone Marcia will be able to access personal hardship assistance payments from today.
He said individuals and families impacted by the cyclone can access immediate relief payments of $180 per adult and up to $900 per family.
“These payments will provide help with immediate emergency needs such as food, clothing and accommodation, removal of debris, repairs, rebuilding and replacement of essential household contents,” Mr Truss said.
“The Essential Services Safety and Reconnection Scheme has also been made available to residents in affected areas.”
“Financial assistance under the NDRRA has also been made available to affected councils to help with the costs incurred in protecting their communities, clean-up operations and the restoration of essential public assets,” Mr Truss said.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government is tightening the rules governing foreign purchases of Australian agricultural land.
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and Treasurer, Joe Hockey, made the announcement in a joint statement today.
They said it would lead to: “better scrutiny and reporting of foreign purchases of agricultural land — delivering on our commitment to the Australian people at the last election.”
But they added that foreign investment would still be welcome.
“The Government will continue to welcome foreign investment, but the community must have confidence that this investment is coming in on our terms and for our nation’s benefit,” they said.
They said the Government would reduce the screening threshold from $252 million to $15 million from 1 March 2015.
“The new $15 million screening threshold will apply to the cumulative value of agricultural land owned by the foreign investor, including the purposed purchase,” they said.
“The Government will also establish a foreign ownership register of agricultural land to strengthen reporting requirements and provide a clear picture of foreign investment in Australia’s agricultural sector,” they added.
“From 1 July 2015 the Australian Tax Office (ATO) will start collecting information on all new foreign investment in agricultural land regardless of value. ”
They said ATO would also commence a stocktake of existing agricultural land ownership by foreign interests.
“The Government will continue to work with state and territory governments so that the ATO register will use land title transfer information,” they added.
“These measures are a significant step in protecting Australia’s national interests and in giving the community greater confidence in our foreign investment regime,” they said.
by Alan Thornhill
The Reserve Bank put aside the spectre of a Sydney housing price boom today, and cut its marker interest rate by 25 basis points to just 2.25 per cent.
The cut is expected to flow into variable home loans interest rates – and it might boost home sales and house prices.
If passed on in full, it would cut repayments on a $300,000 mortgage by $44 a month.
The Housing Industry Association welcomed the cut, noting that it was the first since August 2013 and saying it provided an opportunity for the economy to grow.
However, the bank’s Governor, Glenn Stevens warned – as he announced this remarkable decision – that his bank is “working with other regulators” to assess and contain the economic risks that may arise from the housing market.
These are substantial.
Home prices in Sydney have risen by 13 per cent over the past year, while those in Melbourne jumped by 7 per cent.
In both cases, these rises are well above even Australia’s underlying inflation rate of 2.25 per cent.
On the Consumer Price Index, our inflation rate is even lower, at 1.7 per cent.
But the Reserve Bank chief left no doubt about why his board had acted as it has.
He described overall growth in domestic demand as “quite weak.”
“As a result, the unemployment rate has gradually moved higher over the past year,” he said.
Mr Stevens also noted that the $A had “declined noticeably” against a rising $US, but “less so” against a basked of currencies.
But he signaled that the bank is still not satisfied with that, saying the Aussie dollar is still “above most estimates of its fundamental value.”
He said that was particularly so, “given the significant decline in key commodity prices.
“A lower exchange rate is likely to be needed to achieve balanced growth in the economy,” Mr Stevens warned.
The $A duly obliged, falling from 78.1 US cents shortly before the bank’s decision was announced to 76.22US cents little more than an hour later.
by Alan Thornhill
The Reserve Bank board might cut its marker interest rate by 25 basis points, when it meets today.
And Westpac economists are predicting that it will do so.
However those at the Australian National University are urging the bank to keep rates on hold again, for the 19th successive month.
The bank’s decision is to be announced at 2.30 today.
The ANU’s Shadow Board says another decision to hold rates would help to stimulate Australia’s domestic economy, in the wake of lower global oil prices and a lower $A.
Its chairman, Dr Timo Henckel, said that while Australia’s economic outlook is uncertain, core inflation remains within the RBA’s target band of two to three per cent.
“The ANU Shadow Board continues to recommend with confidence that the cash rate be held at its current level of 2.5 per cent,” he said.
“Core inflation, a measure of inflation that excludes volatile items such as energy and food, currently lies at 2.1 per cent – within the official inflation target band,” Dr Henckel added.
“It suggests that the drop in energy prices does not call for an immediate reduction in the cash rate.”
“If the dollar remains below 80 US¢ for some time, exports, in particular the tourism and education sectors, should expand appreciably and boost domestic production,” he added.
by Alan Thornhill
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has announced extra assistance for victims of the Adelaide Hills bushfires.
He did so after visiting the area this morning.
In his statement, Mr Abbott said: “People eligible for the Disaster Recovery Payment – those who have lost their homes or suffered injury as a result of the disaster – can access a one-off payment of $1000 per adult and $400 for each child.”
And he added: ““The Commonwealth Government assistance announced today is over and above the support already being provided under the jointly funded Commonwealth-State Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, which were announced on Sunday.”
Mr Abbott said that both the Disaster Recovery Payment and the Disaster Recovery Allowance will be provided to eligible residents affected by the Sampson Flat Bushfire in the Mount Lofty Ranges region of South Australia.
“This is a difficult time for those affected by the bushfire, which has had a devastating impact on local communities,” Mr Abbott said.
He also thanked fire fighters and rescue crews, saying that they: “… through their dedication and selflessness, have ensured that there has been no loss of life.”
by Alan Thornhill
A surge in wheat exports helped Australia curb its trade deficit in November.
However the Bureau of Statistics reported today that the nation still chalked up a seasonally adjusted $925 million deficit on its goods and services trade during the month.
That was 5 per cent higher than the comparable result for October.
On trend figures, which the Bureau prefers, the deficit for November was $980 million, an 11 per cent rise on the previous month’s result.
The Bureau reported that, on seasonally adjusted figures, exports of rural goods rose 6 per cent in November.
That included a 27 per cent rise in exports of cereal grains and cereal grain products.
by Alan Thornhill
Australia’s interest rates are likely to remain steady for some time yet.
This is evident in comments the Reserve Bank made. in the minutes of its latest board meeting, held earlier this month.
The minutes were released today.
In them, the bank said: “On the information available, the Board judged that the current stance of monetary policy continued to be appropriate for fostering sustainable growth in demand and inflation outcomes consistent with the target.
“Members considered that the most prudent course was likely to be a period of stability in interest rates.”
These – unusually firm – comments contrast with predictions – by other banks – suggesting that the Reserve is likely to cut Australia’s interest rates – in the New Year – to stir the nation’s sluggish economy.
One of the main aims, in the Reserve Bank’s constant review of interest rates, is to keep Australia’s underlying inflation rate between 2 and 3 per cent, over the course of a business cycle.
The latest minutes show that the Reserve Bank is relaxed, at least on this front.
It said: “With spare capacity in labour and product markets likely to weigh on domestic inflationary pressures for some time, the inflation outlook remained consistent with the target of 2 to 3 per cent, notwithstanding some temporary upward pressure from the recent depreciation of the exchange rate.”
And the bank added: “Members noted that the current acommodative setting of monetary policy was expected to support demand and help growth strengthen at the same time as delivering inflation outcomes consistent with the target over the next two years.
The bank also said, once again, that it believes the $A is overvalued.?
“Despite the depreciation of the exchange rate, the Australian dollar remained above most estimates of its fundamental value, particularly given the significant declines in key commodity prices over recent months, it said.
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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