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Thursday 1st September 2016 - 7:01 pm
Comments Off on Consumer watchdog taking VW to court

Consumer watchdog taking VW to court

by Alan Thornhill

A leading motoring body has welcomed the consumer watchdog’s move to take Volkswagen to court  over allegations of misleading conduct, in dealing with  emissions from its diesel engines.

 

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it would challenge the German car maker  in the Federal Court.

 
The Australian Automobile Association said this is an important step in delivering clarity to affected owners.

 
Its Chief Executive Michael Bradley said: “The Volkswagen Group has been shown to have misled millions of consumers globally and is being pursued for alleged breach of laws in other countries.

 

 

“It’s fitting the legality of the company’s actions be tested against Australian law.”

 

US authorities found that Volkswagen had intentionally programmed turbocharged direct injection diesel engines to activate certain emission controls only during laboratory tests.

 

They ordered VW to pay each of its customers an average of $5,000 each in compensation.

 

The company has said it won’t be making similar offers in Australia.

 

 

“But irrespective of whether or not the Federal Court finds the company guilty of a breach of law, Volkswagen Group is clearly guilty of breaching the trust of the Australian owners of tens of thousands of vehicles,” Mr Bradley said.

 

He said, too, that Australian authorities need to do more to protect motorists and the environment.

 

 

“More broadly, the actions of Volkswagen Group have called into question Australia’s emissions compliance regime and highlighted the fact that no independent vehicle compliance testing is performed in Australia to protect consumers, or the environment,” he said.

 

Mr Bradley said the AAA itself would be undertaking critical work in this area.

 

“Amid growing concerns that laboratory emissions testing is susceptible to manipulation and does not reflect the true emissions or fuel usage profiles of vehicles on Australian roads, the AAA is investing $500,000 to conduct an on-road emissions pilot test program of 30 vehicles on the Australian market,” he said.

 

Initial test results are due next month.

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Thursday 1st September 2016 - 5:25 pm
Comments Off on Retail sales “flat” ABS

Retail sales “flat” ABS

by Alan Thornhill

Retail sales were flat in July, according to figures the Bureau of Statistics published today.

 
The bureau also reported that new private capital spending continued to fall sharply in the June quarter.

 

But it said and that the number of working days lost through strikes – and other industrial disputes – rose over the past year.

 

 

The bureau said retail turnover did not change in July, although it had risen by 0.1 per cent in June.

 

It made this comparison on seasonally adjusted figures.

 

On the same basis, there were rises in food retailing (0.7 per cent), cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (1.2 per cent), and other retailing (0.2 per cent).

 

Sales of clothing, footwear and personal accessories also rose by 0.3 per cent.

 

However department store sales fell during the month.
The bureau also said that, in seasonally adjusted terms, retail sales rose by 0.5 per cent in Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania while sales in WA rose by 0.3 per cent and those in the ACT increased by 1.2 per cent.
Sales in the Northern Territory rose by 0.4 per cent.

 

However these rises were offset by falls of 0.6 per cent in Victoria and 0.2 per cent in NSW.
The bureau also noted that private new capital spending fell by 5.4 per cent in the June quarter of this year and dropped 17.4 per cent from the level seen in the same quarter of last year.
These falls are generally associated with the end of the mining boom.
The bureau also noted that Australia lost 100.7 thousand working days through strikes, in the 12 months to the end of June.
That was up from 76.8 thousand working days in the previous 12 months.

 

Wednesday 31st August 2016 - 5:53 pm
Comments Off on Police raids referred to Senate Privileges Committee

Police raids referred to Senate Privileges Committee

by Alan Thornhill

Federal police raids on the home and office of Labor frontbencher Stephen Conroy – and later on Parliament itself – will go to the Senate Privileges committee.

 

Senator Conroy, himself, proposed the move today.

 

The committee will be asked to rule on whether the raids amounted to improper interference with Senator  Conroy, in the performance of his parliamentary duties.

 

The government did not object to his proposal.

 

The police were searching, both times, for the source of a leak alleging cost over-runs and patchy performance of the Federal government’s national broadband network.

 
This copper wire network is now said to have become more expensive than the faster fibre to the node alternative that Labor had proposed.

 
Malcolm Turnbull, who is now Prime Minister, pushed hard for the copper wire network, at the time, largely on the basis of cost.

 
That has since been described by the first man chosen to operate the NBN as “a colossal mistake.”

 
Senator Conroy recalled that the police raids on his home and office in Melbourne took place on May 20 this year, and that on Parliament House in Canberra occurred on August 24.

 
Both times Senator Conroy accused the Federal government of using “police State” tactics to investigate a leak, which he said was a common event in politics.

 
However Mr Turnbull  has denied the charge, saying the police were simply carrying out their usual duties.

Sunday 21st August 2016 - 6:52 pm
Comments Off on Government pressures Labor on budget cuts

Government pressures Labor on budget cuts

by Alan Thornhill

 

The Federal government says it is “absolutely critical” that Bill Shorten sticks to his promise to support some $650 billion worth of budget cuts.

 

But, speaking in a television interview, the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, Kelly O’Dwyer, also hinted at the possibility of  further adjustments to a superannuation policy that the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, once described as ironclad.

 

Ms O’Dwyer said it is for the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, not the government, to explain why Labor is no longer saying that it will support the budget repair measures that it promised to back, before the July 2 elections.

 

She said Mr Shorten would have: “…no economic credibility if he is prepared to walk back from the commitment that he made to the Australian people prior to the election.

 

“ Now they banked on over $6.5 billion worth of savings, they banked that in their bottom line, in their Budget figures.

 

“If they are saying now, ‘no we didn’t really mean it,” that would show that Labor cannot be trusted.

 

“ We absolutely believe it is important for Bill Shorten to honour his commitments,” Ms O’Dwyer said.

 

Several Liberal MPs, particularly in the Senate, have been pressing the government for bigger tax breaks on super, than it was prepared to concede before the election.

 

And Ms O’Dwyer’s reply, when questioned on the subject today, suggests that they may have been making some progress.

 

She said  : “What we have said on superannuation is that as the fiscal pressures increase and as our demographics change we need to make sure that superannuation is fit for purpose going forward.

 

“That it is affordable, that it is sustainable and that it is flexible and that it allows Australians to be able to save for their retirement.

 

“We’re going to be legislating an objective for superannuation that says that it is for the retirement incomes of Australians that will either supplement or substitute for the Age Pension.

 

“What we’re doing at the moment is we are having discussions with stakeholders, we’re having discussions with colleagues as we would ordinarily do…”

 

She said that is being done with an open mind.

 

“ We’re encouraging people to put money into their spouse’s superannuation if they’ve got a lower income spouse.

 

“And we’re giving them a tax offset to do that.

 

“ We’re making it a level playing field for people who want to be able to have tax deductions for their superannuation contributions so that if they’re employed by a small business that doesn’t actually offer this, they’re not put at a disadvantage.

 

“ We’re creating a level playing field for people to be able to contribute to their superannuation because at the end of the day, it’s their retirement income and we want them to be able to have a good and strong retirement,” Ms O’Dwyer said.

Friday 19th August 2016 - 3:43 pm
Comments Off on Women’s pay “catching up” government

Women’s pay “catching up” government

by Alan Thornhill

The Federal government says there has been ‘encouraging” progress with its efforts to reduce the gap between the pay of men and women.

The Minister for Employment and Women , Senator Michaelia Cash, said today this is reflected in the latest average weekly earnings figures published by the Bureau of Statistics.

These showed, on average, that men working full-time earned $1,613.60 a week in May this year, while women were earning $1,352.50.

Although Senator Cash admitted that this still represents a difference of $261.10 a week, she said a close look at the Bureau’s figures also suggests that women are starting to catch up.

For example, she said that: “between May 2015 and May 2016, women’s weekly earnings grew by 3.4 per cent while men’s weekly earnings grew by 1.3 per cent.”

She said there is other evidence, too, that the “gender gap” between the pay of men and women is being trimmed.

The ABS data, for example, also showed that the gap,for full time employees has narrowed to 16.2 per cent, a decrease of 1.7 percentage points from a year ago.

However Senator Cash also said that while this is “encouraging,” the Government’s determination to cut this still “stubbornly high gap is unwavering.”

“Given that less than two years ago the gender pay gap was 18.5 per cent, these figures demonstrate significant progress,” Senator Cash said.

She claimed progress, too, in the government’s efforts to employ more women.

“In the month of July, the level of employment for women rose by 8,100 and is now at a record high of over 5.5 million.

“Furthermore, the participation rate for women has also trended upwards over the last 12 months,” she said.

Senator Cash also said: “the Turnbull Government is working to close the gender pay gap by:

* Ensuring women have the skills and support they need to work in growth industries, with $13 million invested through the National Innovation and Science Agenda in

getting more women into science, technology, engineering and maths

* Shining the light on pay equity through the work of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency

* Setting a new target of men and women each holding 50 per cent of Australian Government board positions and strengthening the BoardLinks program and

* Its scholarship and mentoring programs, improving gender diversity in senior leadership roles

*Partnering with UnitingCare on the Springboard Project to give women the opportunity to train and build a career in the UnitingCare network, while also

providing the flexibility to care for their families

* Supporting Australian women to participate in the workforce through our Jobs for Families Child Care package

* Boosting the superannuation of women who have taken time out of work through the Low Income Superannuation Tax Offset.

Senator Cash said it is clear from these latest figures that employers are taking action and this effort is producing results.

“To see these encouraging results continue we all need to maintain our attention on improving gender equality and that applies to Government, employers and individuals – ensuring we achieve true gender equality will require a concerted and lasting commitment from everyone,” she added.

Tuesday 16th August 2016 - 1:48 pm
Comments Off on Housing price growth “overstated” RBA

Housing price growth “overstated” RBA

by Alan Thornhill

The Reserve Bank admitted today that estimates of recent housing price growth had been “overstated.”

 

The admission, made in the minutes of the meeting of the bank’s board meeting on   August 2 , is significant.

 

That’s because the bank has been relying on stronger than expected growth in the building and housing sectors to offset weaker performances in major resource export sectors, such as coal and iron ore.

 

However in today’s minutes the bank said:  “data on housing price growth from CoreLogic, which had been discussed at previous meetings, indicated that housing prices had increased very strongly in several cities in April and May.”

 

 

But it added:  “… new information had revealed that these growth rates were overstated.”

 

 

The bank said that had happened: “.. because of changes to CoreLogic’s methodology.”

 

 

And it added:  “data from other sources indicated that housing price growth had instead remained moderate in the June quarter.

 

 

“Other information showed that, while auction clearance rates had recently picked up a little in Sydney and Melbourne, the number of auctions was lower than in the preceding year and the average number of days that properties were on the market had increased.

 

“Housing credit growth had been little changed in recent months and remained below that of a year earlier.

 

“Rent inflation had declined to its lowest level since the mid 1990s and the rental vacancy rate had drifted higher to be close to its long-run average.”

 

However, the minutes also noted that net exports are expected to make a positive contribution to output growth over the forecast period, supported by the earlier exchange rate depreciation and ramp-up in LNG production.

 

“ In contrast, mining investment was expected to fall further,” the bank said.

 

It said there had been some signs that non-mining business investment was rising in some parts of the economy.

 

But, overall,  “it is still expected to remain subdued in the near term,” the bank’s notes said.

Tuesday 16th August 2016 - 12:18 pm
Comments Off on South Australian families “ripped off” on electricity bills

South Australian families “ripped off” on electricity bills

by Alan Thornhill

South Australian families are paying hundreds of dollars  a year more for their electricity than those in other parts of the country, according to a new report.

 

The report by the research group GetUp says that’s because the big three energy companies have been exploiting their market power in that State.

 

It says AGL, Origin and Energy Australia regulate what retailers can charge their customers.

 

Miriam Lyons  of GetUp   says the report, written by Bruce Mountain, reveals the hidden costs of big three’s stranglehold on the South Australian retail market.

 

And she said South Australian families, in particular, are being “ripped off. “

 

“Many South Australians are just keeping their head above water, and they shouldn’t be being ripped off by companies who are taking advantage of their oligopoly position to rake in massive profits,” Ms Lyons added.

 

“How is that, after deregulation, retail charges went from next to nothing to a huge 38 per cent slice of the average customer’s bill?” she asked.

 

The report says AGL, Origin and Energy Australia have a stranglehold on the state’s retail market.

 

 

“How is that, after deregulation, retail charges went from next to nothing to a huge 38 per cent slice of the average customer’s bill?” she asked.

 

This has huge impacts for people struggling to pay unaffordable energy bills.

 

 

Ms Lyons said the three companies are still  lining the pockets of  their energy executives “at the expense of Australian families.”

 

 

“Companies like AGL, Origin and Energy Australia are big enough that they should be able to undercut new entrants to the market ,”  Ms Lyons said.

 

“Instead the new players are much cheaper and the big guys have been able to overcharge customers whatever they want,”   she added.

 

 “When this kind of behaviour was revealed in the UK, there was a huge public outcry – yet their retail charges are a fraction of what the Big Three charge here.”

 

So far, none of the three companies has replied to these allegations.

 

 

 

Monday 15th August 2016 - 7:42 pm
Comments Off on Tourist industry urges government to scrap its backpacker tax

Tourist industry urges government to scrap its backpacker tax

by Alan Thornhill

 

Young travellers will avoid Australia if the Federal government does not scrap its planned backpacker tax, tourism and transport operators warned today.

 

Margy Osmond, CEO of the Tourism and Transport Forum, said Australia would see an even bigger exodus of young backpackers from Australia if the government persists with the tax..

 

The backpacker tax, introduced in the last Federal budget, would have seen backpackers paying 32.5 cents in the dollar in tax, from the first dollar they earnt in Australia.

 

At present working holidaymakers  only pay tax on earnings above the $18,200 tax threshold.

 

However the government announced before the July 2 election that it would review working holiday visas and postpone any changes to the current tax system until January next year.

 

The delay, in implementing the new backpacker tax will cost the Federal government an estimated $40 million.

 

However the tourism and transport operators want it scrapped altogether, not just suspended.

 

Ms Osmond warned that the most likely result of keeping the proposed tax would be an exodus of working holiday makers to other countries.

 

She described it as as “ill-considered cash grab.”

 

Ms Osmond said her Federation  had welcomed the commencement of the review.

 

And she said it would be “… making the strongest case on behalf of the tourism industry for the Government to abandon the backpacker tax.”

 

Ms Osmond recalled that the Federation had been  “…one of the first industry groups to sound the alarm on the impact of the backpacker tax.”

 

“…and we will continue to campaign for the Federal Government to abandon this ill-considered cash grab,” she added.

 

She said the tourist:  “…industry wants to work in a positive and supportive manner with the Federal Government to grow the sector.”

 

“But a 32.5 per cent tax on backpackers on every single dollar they earn while working in Australia is simply absurd,” she added.

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Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
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