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by Alan Thornhill
Some might call it a mini-budget.
All the Prime Minister said, in an interview with Leigh Sales on the ABC last night, though, is that his government would release “an innovation statement” within the next two weeks.
Well, perhaps he did add a little dressing, to make the prospect enticing.
By promising, for example, that he would would “set out a very large number of substantial measures. to drive the innovation that would ensure that Australians, their children and grandchildren, will have great jobs.”
“…better jobs in the future that will drive our economy,” he added.
Then he laid it on the line.
“I don’t think anybody has any doubt that if we are to remain the high wage, generous social welfare net country, first world country that we want to be then we need to be more innovative, more competitive, more productive and the innovation statement will be a good example of the measures the government is undertaking to achieve that.”
Yet Mr Turnbull, himself, has some catching up to do in this regard.
He saddled Australia with the pursuit of an internet system which, even if achieved, would offer speeds be well below those of many other first world countries, such as France.
Of course, with its vast expanses to connect, Australia does have difficult – and expensive – problems to overcome, in building anything that could – even remotely – be called a fast internet system.
Yet the picture emerging from Mr Turnbull’s attempt to do so – on the cheap – has not been impressive, so far.
Long waits for connection.
There can be no doubt about one thing.
This “innovation statement, when it appears, will be drawn up to underwrite Mr Turnbull’s bid for re-election next year.
Politically, his situation has its difficulties, despite what some are calling his initial “honeymoon” period.
He is still the man who became Prime Minister, without a popular mandate.
And he is not short of opponents who stand ready to remind him of that fact, if he starts making mistakes, as most Prime Ministers do, as they start to settle into office.
Mr Turnbull also declared during his interview last night that he is “comfortable” in his new job.
But make no mistake.
His handling of the Brough affair is already being watched very closely.
by Alan Thornhill
Australians may find it harder to provide for their retirements in future,
The Reserve Bank Governor, Glenn Stevens, mentioned that possibility in a speech he gave to the Annual Dinner of Australian Business Economists in Sydney last night.
He said:“In a low interest rate world, the problems of providing retirement incomes will become ever more prominent.
“The very low level of yields on fixed income assets means that it is very expensive today to purchase a secure stream of future income, which is what someone who is retiring is usually seeking.
“ And there are more of such people, living longer. “
So there will be choices.
Mr Stevens said:“The retiree can of course respond to this by holding more of her portfolio in dividend-paying stocks – accepting more risk.
“She may hope for a dividend stream that is fairly stable from year to year but that tends to grow over time.
“ It certainly seems that many Australian listed corporates feel the pressure from shareholders to deliver that, even some whose earnings are inherently volatile.”
Then he presented a question.
“Can the corporate sector realistically promise growing dividends over a long period? “ Mr Stevens asked.
And an answer.
“Not without being prepared to take the risk on investment in new products, processes and markets.
“How much of that risk an older shareholder base will allow boards and managements of listed entities to take is an important question.
“Overall, in a world where a higher proportion of the population wants to be retired and living (even if only in part) off the return on their savings, those returns are likely, all other things equal, to be lower.
“ Part and parcel of the same adjustment may be higher real wages for the smaller proportion of the population that is working.
“These changes, driven by demographics, may require some adjustment to our collective thinking about what is ‘normal’, not just for rates of return on assets but also for returns to labour,” Mr Stevens said.
by Alan Thornhill
Australian families will be encouraged to play bigger roles in the nation’s work force under new measures the Federal government announced today.
These include “restructuring” Family Tax Benefits to fund a $$3.5 billion “Jobs for Families Package.”
Three ministers sought to explain this complex strategy in a joint statement they issued this afternoon.
The Opposition had made rival claims, earlier in the day, saying it had forced the Federal government to “back away” from its threat to freeze Family Tax Benefits.
In their statement, the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, Social Services Minister, Christian Porter and the Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, outlined the government’s revised strategy.
They said: “The Turnbull Government will restructure Family Tax Benefit (FTB) payments to give better targeted assistance to families, encourage workforce participation and fund the Government’s $3.5 billion Jobs for Families package.
The Government has already introduced the necessary bill into Parliament to change Family Tax measures first flagged in its unpopular 2014 budget.
The three ministers said their had been extensive talks on the changes proposed now.
“The Turnbull Government is committed to protecting taxpayers by responsibly funding our spending commitments, ” Mr Morrison said.
“We are ensuring that additional funding measures are offset by responsible savings.”
Mr Porter said the Government is committed to helping Australian families in a generous but sustainable welfare system.
“These reforms will give families greater on-going day-to-day financial assistance and will help ensure children get the best possible start in life,” the Social Services Minister said.
These measures will replace the unlegislated 2014-15 FTB measures including maintaining FTB rates, limiting FTB-B to children under six years of age and maintaining eligibility thresholds, he added.
The new measures will provide FTB-B to families with children under the age of 13, encouraging workforce participation for parents with children in high school.
Single parents and grandparents with children over the age of 13 will receive an FTB-B payment of $1,000 a year.
From July 2016, all eligible families with a youngest child under one year will receive an extra $1,000 a year through an increase to their FTB-B standard rate.
In addition, from 1 July 2018, for families with a child aged up to 19 years, the maximum rate of FTB-A will be increased by about $10 per fortnight.
“Significantly, we’re also increasing the fortnightly rates of Youth Allowance and Disability Support Pension so they’re aligned with the new FTB-A rate,” Mr Porter said.
“This is an important step towards simplifying and harmonising our complicated welfare system,” he added.
As part of the reforms, the Government will phase-out the end of year FTB supplements.
Mr Porter said the end-of-year supplements were introduced in 2004 substantially to help families manage FTB overpayments (because of underestimation of income).
“The great majority of FTB recipients are never overpaid or are overpaid a small amount and this is an issue that will be substantially addressed by technical changes scheduled for 2018-19,” Mr Porter said.
The money saved by phasing out the supplements will be redirected to increasing fortnightly payments and providing more affordable child care.
Senator Birmingham said: “We are investing almost $40 billion in child care over the next four years, including an extra $3.5 billion into the Jobs for Families package, to make child care simpler, more flexible, and more accessible.
“As a result of the new child care package, families using child care services from July 2017, on incomes of between $65,000 and $170,000, will be on average of $30 a week better off.”
Senator Birmingham described increased access to child care as an important productivity measure that will boost workforce participation.
“By better supporting parents who want to work or work more hours, Jobs for Families will encourage an estimated 240,000 families to increase their involvement in paid work, including almost 38,000 jobless families.
“Our Government’s new child care package supports parents as they balance work and family responsibilities, whilst protecting those most vulnerable, and continuing to ensure high-quality early learning,” Senator Birmingham added.
Mr Porter said: “We believe our new package of reforms strikes the right balance between equity and sustainability.”
by Alan Thornhill
Labor is claiming a big win for families, saying it has forced the government to back down on a planned freeze to family tax benefits.
But full details of the proposed changes have still to emerge.
Meanwhile the Senate Opposition Leader, Penny Wong, has issued a statement saying: ”Labor is pleased to have secured a win for families by forcing the Abbott-Turnbull Government to back down on the freeze to family tax benefit rates.”
She declared:“This is a major back down from the government – and it’s all thanks to Labor standing with families since the disastrous 2014 Budget.“
Then Senator Wong cautioned:“…as always with this Liberal Government the devil is in the detail.”
“At first glance it is clear that this package will have some very harsh consequences for some families – including for single parents and grandparent carers.”
“What we do not want to see is hard working Australian families ripped off by out of touch Liberals. “
“I am very concerned about what some of these cuts will mean for families, and we will be seeking more details from the government on the impacts of these cuts on various types of families. “
“Two years after Tony Abbott first introduced these cuts Malcolm Turnbull has now assumed ownership of the Liberal cuts,” Senator Wong added.
“Labor has spent two years fighting for families,” she said.
“The last thing we are going to do is give the Government a rubber stamp on cuts to families”, Senator Wong declared.
by Alan Thornhill
A senior Labor MP, Anthony Albanese, says he expected the “honeymoon” that the new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is enjoying in the polls.
The latest – a Morgan poll – published today confirmed that the Coalition is well ahead of Labor, with 56-44 per cent lead on a two party preferred split.
This trend has also been evident in other recent public opinion polls.
It would give the government an easy victory in an early election, if one were held now.
That is a major reversal.
Labor had been consistently ahead in the polls, until Mr Turnbull successfully challenged Mr Abbott for Liberal leadership last month, defeating him 54-44 in the subsequent party room ballot.
But Mr Albanese said Australians are just pleased that the previous unpopular Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has gone.
With a Federal election due next year – or early in 2017 – the Coalition’s resurgence in the polls has left some Labor people wondering if the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, really is the right person for the job.
However Mr Albanese, who stood against Mr Shorten in the most recent ballot for Labor leadership, said he is certain that there will not be a fresh challenge to Mr Shorten.
Speaking on ABC radio, Mr Albanese said people would soon realise that although there had been a change of leadership, the government is still working on its old inadequate policies.
“I think what people are interested in is policy solutions for Australia,” Mr Albanese said.
by Alan Thornhill
A Reserve Bank chief says “the fundamentals” of the Australian economy “are strong” and provide grounds for “optimism” about the future.
Philip Lowe, the Bank’s Deputy Governor, made the observation in a speech he delivered to the CFA Institute Australia Investment Conference in Sydney today.
Mr Lowe said the central message of his speech was: “that these fundamentals are strong.”
“…and that they provide us with the basis to be optimistic about the future.”
“ At the same time, none of us has a crystal ball, so we can’t be sure exactly what that future holds,” Mr Lowe added.
“What we can be sure of is that we will be best placed to take advantage of our strong fundamentals if our economy is flexible and if it is able to adapt to the changing world in which we find ourselves,” Mr Lowe added.
“Hence the title of my remarks this morning: Fundamentals and Flexibility.”
Mr Lowe said advancing technology had greatly affected the way Australians work.
“The advances in technology are reshaping, in unexpected ways, the jobs that we do,“ he said.
“If we were to go back to 1995, or perhaps even to just 2005, I suspect that there are very few of us who could have imagined many of the new occupations that have emerged.”
“There are big data architects, cloud computing experts, social media strategists, mobile app developers, information security technicians, green retrofit architects, genetic counsellors and the list goes on.”
“Each of these new occupations is possible only because of advances in technology.”
“More broadly, the huge growth in employment in the services sector has taken many by surprise,” Mr Lowe said.
“I suspect that if in the early 1990s we had known that there would be a net loss of over 100 000 jobs in the manufacturing sector in Australia over the next 25 years, there would have been a sense of despair about the future.”
“This despair would probably have been compounded if we had also known there would be no growth in jobs in both the utilities and wholesale trade sectors over the next quarter of a century.”
“Yet, over this period, we have enjoyed a strong rise in our living standards, the unemployment rate has come down substantially and we have generated around 4 million new jobs across the economy, mostly in the services sector.”
by Alan Thornhill
Malcolm Turnbull declared today that violence against women and children is never acceptable, as he unveiled a package to tackle domestic violence.
The $100 million package is heavily symbolic, as it is the first formal business announced by Mr Turnbull, since he became Australia’s Prime Minister last week.
Domestic violence has already claimed the lives of 63 women this year.
In a joint statement, with four of his ministers, Mr Turnbull declared:” Women and children in Australia have the right to feel safe and live without fear of violence.”
The others, joining him in the statement, were the Minister for Women Senator Michaelia Cash, the Attorney General, Senator Brandis, the Health Minister, Sussan Ley and the Social Services Minister, Christian Porter.
They said:”We must elevate this issue to our national consciousness, and make it clear that domestic, family or sexual violence is unacceptable in any circumstances. ”
“Today the Australian Government is announcing a $100 million package of measures to provide a safety net for women and children at high risk of experiencing violence.”
“The package will improve frontline support and services, leverage innovative technologies to keep women safe, and provide education resources to help change community attitudes to violence and abuse. ”
“The package includes $21 million for specific measures to help Indigenous women and communities.”
The Ministers noted that the Council of Australian Governments had made domestic violence a national priority.
And they said:”governments are acting.”
However they admitted:”recent events show we are not moving fast enough.”
by Alan Thornhill
Strikes over a bitter pay dispute are continuing to disrupt Federal public services and they are expected to spread on Thursday afternoon.
The Community and Public Sector Union said in a statement Wednesday that tens of thousands of public sector workers would be out when Medicare, Tax Office staff and others join industrial action that has already hit international airports.
Their half-day action will begin at lunchtime.
It will also involve workers from the departments of Human Services, Employment, Environment, Education, Agriculture, Defence and Veteran Affairs, along with the Tax Office, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Bureau of Statistics.
The uinion’s National Secretary Nadine Flood said: “These workers are extremely frustrated with the Government’s 18-month attack on their rights and conditions.”
She said:“ We are calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister Michaelia Cash (who assists him with public service matters) to rethink this failed bargaining policy and work with the union to find a sensible way forward.”
Ms Flood also said: “This dispute was caused by Government policy requiring Commonwealth agencies to go to war with their own workforce.”
Important workplace rights and conditions had been stripped from enterprise agreements.
Ms Flood said the strikers would include “mums and dads working at Centrelink and Medicare who are are deeply worried about the loss of family-friendly conditions.”
“The previous Minister responsible, Senator Eric Abetz, refused to even meet with the union to discuss these concerns since January, 2014,” Ms Flood said.
She said the on-going industrial action is sending a clear message to the government.
“Minister Cash now has a clear opportunity to move away from the failed bargaining policy of her predecessor and instead take a modern, productive approach to public sector workplace relations,” she added.
Ms Flood noted that Mr Turnbull had clearly stated that he does not want to wage war with workers or unions.
“We are calling on the Government to change the way it deals with its own workforce,” she declared.
She said, though, that many government departments still do not have new enterprise agreements..
“Earlier this week workers with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection became the latest to emphatically reject the Government’s negotiating approach to date,” Ms Flood said.
Alan Thornhill has just pubblished hia his e-novel, Weathercoast.
It’s available at
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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