by Alan Thornhill
Australia would have been heading for recession now, if it were not for government spending, Chris Bowen says.
The Shadow Treasurer said that was clear from the June quarter national accounts, which showed the Australian economy grew by just 0.2 per cent in that time.
Mr Bowen described Joe Hockey’s optimistic assessment of the accounts as “completely dishonest and disingenuous.”
Referring to the accounts, Mr Bowen told Sky News:”…sure, there’s terms of trade factors but it’s not just that.
” We’ve got dwelling construction and dwelling investment down, we’ve got soft household consumption.
“The only positive is government spending.”
Mr Bowen said that was quite ironic in view of the Government’s rhetoric over the last few years.
” If it wasn’t for the increase in that government spending we would have had a negative quarter,” Mr Bowen said.
“What we’ve got is a lack of confidence in the economy.
“Business is not investing.
“The transition from the mining construction boom to other sorts of investment is not happening at anywhere near the pace and speed that we need it to.
“We’re seeing a lack of confidence from consumers which is feeding through to a lack of confidence from business.”
The Treasurer has insisted, in other television interviews, that Australia is “not heading for recession.”
He said this country has continued to grow while other resource based economies, including Canada and Brazil, have slipped into recession.
by Alan Thornhill
Support for the Federal government has risen by 2.5 per cent – on a two party preferred basis – but Labor would still easily win an election if one was held now.
This is shown in the results of the latest Morgan poll, which were released today.
The poll put support for the Coalition at 45.5 per cent and that for Labor at 54.5 per cent, on the all-important two party preferred basis.
The pollster said these results followed extensive union attacks on the credibility of the Trade Union Royal Commission, headed by Justice Dyson Heydon, and key Government announcements on policies involving climate change and same-sex marriage.
The poll was conducted over the last two weekends, among 3,174 voters across Australia.
It showed that L-NP support jumped to 45.5 per cent in mid-August – a rise of 2.5 per cent.
And support for Labor fell 2.5 per cent to put the ALP at 54.5 per cent.
The Executive Chairman of Roy Morgan Research Gary Morgan, noted that union attacks on the credibility of Justice Dyson Heydon, the Commissioner of the Trade Union Royal Commission, had dominated headlines last week.
But he said those attacks had little impact on Australian electors.
At the same time, the Abbott Government had announced policies in two key areas – climate change and same-sex marriage.
by Alan Thornhill
There is a strong case for increasing the compulsory rate of superannuation contributions to 12 per cent of wages, according to an industry association.
It is now 10 per cent.
The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) made this observation today when it released its latest Standard calculations of how much Australians will need to save for their retirements.
These showed that rising costs and changes to the Age Pension mean that an Australian couple will now need to save $130,000 more for a comfortable retirement
ASFA now estimates that Australians will need a super balance at retirement of $640,000 for a couple and $545,000 for a single,to meet that goal.
That would be an increase of $130,000 and $115,000 respectively from previous estimates.
ASFA says the June quarter figures indicate a modest rise in the cost of living for retirees, with couples aged around 65 living a comfortable retirement needing to spend $58,784 per year and singles $42,861, a respective 0.6 per cent and 0.7 per cent increase on the previous quarter.
Budgets for older retirees increased by 0.8 per cent at the comfortable level and by 0.7 per cent at the modest level.
“A combination of increasing cost pressures, increasing life expectancy and the recently legislated changes to the Age Pension means test have had an impact on the estimated savings Australians will need to live a comfortable retirement,” ASFA CEO, Pauline Vamos,said.
“In particular, adjustments to the taper rate and thresholds for the assets test will impact how people plan to fund their retirement.
While some individuals with relatively low retirement savings will receive a small increase in their Age Pension after 1 January 2017, others will receive a lower Age Pension, or none at all, until they run down their superannuation.
“As a result, many individuals and couples will require higher levels of private savings for a comfortable standard of living in retirement.
“If there are further increases to the eligibility age for the Age Pension beyond what is already legislated and a lower indexation factor is applied to future increases in the Age Pension, those retirement savings targets will necessarily increase further.”
ASFA said the most significant price rises affecting the cost of living for retirees this quarter were automotive fuel (+12.2 per cent) and medical and hospital services (+4.5 per cent).
The most significant offsetting price falls this quarter were domestic holiday travel and accommodation (-5.4 per cent) and pharmaceutical products (-1.8 per cent).
Ms Vamos said” …many individuals may want to consider making voluntary contributions.
“These are generally tax advantaged and the earlier you can put money away, the more you will benefit from the effects of compound interest.
“A useful thing you can do is get in touch with your superannuation fund to find out what options are available to you, so that you have the best chance of living your post-work years free from major financial worries,” she added.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government’s plan to cut paid parental leave may be blocked in the Senate, because it is seen as discriminatory.
Labor’s Shadow Minister for Families and Payments,Jenny Macklin, raised that possibility today.
Ms Macklin cited reports quoting the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, saying the proposed cuts would “exacerbate the current gender pay gap” and “prove detrimental to women’s workforce participation rates.’’
Ms Broderick, who is about to complete her term as commissioner, was also reported to have argued that the cuts would be “inconsistent with Australia’s international human rights obligations.’’
The Federal government dismissed those concerns, with the Social Services Minister, Scott Morrison, describing paid parental leave as “a first-world issue.”
Ms Macklin said that comment shows Mr Morrison is out of touch with the realities of
“….he just doesn’t get how important it is for government to support women to remain connected with the workforce when they have a baby,” she said.
Labor knows that Paid Parental Leave is an important part of supporting women in work. That’s why we built the scheme.
Under Scott Morrison’s plan, around 80,000 new mums would lose as much as $11,500.
“As a consequence, these new mums will have less time to spend with their new babies,” Ms Macklin said.
“This is bad for children and bad for families.
“Labor designed the scheme so that government and employer contributions combined could help new mums could spend…close to 26 weeks at home with their newborn.
“These new cuts will make that impossible.
“Labor will oppose this legislation when it is debated in the parliament this week, Ms Macklin said.
She said today’s developments follow a report last week by the Joint Parliamentary Human Rights Committee – chaired by a Liberal – which also warned that the cuts might breach Australia’s international human rights obligations, as they would affect women more than men.
“Labor will also continue to oppose Tony Abbott’s unfair cuts to Family Tax Benefits, which have been stuck in the Senate since last year’s budget,” Ms Macklin said.
by Alan Thornhill
Fraud has cost the Commonwealth $530 million in recent times, according to a new report
The report by the Australian Institute of Criminology exposes 265,866 cases of suspected internal and external fraud between 2010-11 and 2012-13
In one, the Director of a family day care business is alleged to have claimed Child Care Benefit subsidies totaling $3.6 million to which she was not entitled.
The accused woman is alleged to have created and lodged false documents with the Department of Human Services to support her claims.
The Federal Justice Minister, Michael Keenan, revealed this in a statement today.
He said the report shows why the multi-agency Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre (FAC Centre) is vital in the fight against serious fraud and corruption.
The Centre was established within the Australian Federal Police (AFP) a year ago and combines the resources and expertise of nine agencies.
Mr Keenan said the centre had been designed to tackle serious, complex fraud and corruption.
It ensures that suspected crimes are quickly directed to the right law enforcement agencies for action.
The agencies within the FAC Centre have access to intelligence resources, like the Australian Crime Commission’s National Criminal Intelligence Fusion Capability.
So they can draw on specialists, data and analytics to develop their own fraud-related intelligence.
Mr Keenan cited the case of Operation Agron, in which the Australian Federal Police led joint agency investigation, in which the Department of Human Services and the Department of Social Services also participated.
That led to the execution of multiple search warrants in the Albury-Wodonga area and the arrest of a 27 year old woman.
“The alleged offender is currently before Court, facing charges of: obtaining financial advantage by deception, using forged documents, falsification of documents and dealing in proceeds of crime worth $1million or more,” Mr Keenan said.
Property and cash worth more than $2.4 million had also been restrained by the AFP as part of an associated proceeds of crime action, he added.
Mr Keenan’s message to those who are tempted is blunt.
“Perpetrators of fraud are on notice.
“You will be caught.
“The Commonwealth will utilise every resource at its disposal to tackle fraud head on,” he said.
And just what are those resources?
In a word, formidable.
Mr Keenan said the FAC Centre brings together the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Australian Crime Commission, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, Department of Human Services, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Department of Defence, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Attorney-General’s Department (Advisory Participant) and Commonwealth Director of Prosecutions (Advisory Participant) in order to assess, prioritise and respond to serious fraud and corruption matters.
Like to know more?
The Fraud against the Commonwealth: Report to Government 2010-11 to 2012-13 is available at http://www.aic.gov.auwww.aic.gov.au
by Alan Thornhill
The Goods and Services Tax is to be broadened to include on-line overseas transactions worth less than $1,000.
The announcement was buried deep in a communiqué that Federal and State leaders issued after the first day of their retreat in Sydney.
It said:” all Leaders agreed to keep Commonwealth and State tax changes on the table including the GST and the Medicare levy.
” As a first step, there was agreement in principle by Leaders to broaden the GST to cover overseas online transactions under $1000.
“This matter will be referred to the upcoming meeting of Treasurers to progress in detail.”
The Prime Minister, State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers who attended also agreed that changes will be needed to put the necessary reforms into effect.
That was acknowledged in the communiqué.
It said:” the key to providing the services Australians aspire to is a more productive and faster growing economy.
“Improving the way our Federation works will improve Australia’s overall fiscal position and our national productivity.
“Achieving this reform will require both the Commonwealth and the States to make policy changes that would both improve the climate for business, and ensure more efficient delivery of government services while keeping taxes as low as possible.”
The leaders will continue to talk tax as their meeting continues today.
However they will also be discussing better ways of financing Australia’s health and education services.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government is offering a total of $4 million in grants to help fund community projects designed to reduce violence against women.
The Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, said it is vital the broader community understands and recognises domestic violence and its impacts.
In their joint statement, the two ministers said:” “This funding will support community organisations to create their own solutions to tackle violence against women and respond to local needs.
“It will enable communities to invest funding where it is needed most to create an environment where women and their children are safe and supported.”
They said the Coalition Government understands that domestic violence affects different women in different ways.
So innovative and original solutions must be sourced from communities across the country.
Funding of up to $150,000 over two financial years would be available to community groups, not-for profit organisations and local government authorities.
The offer would be open from October 1 this year to September 30 2017.
“The reduction of violence against women is a priority for this Government, but we cannot achieve this alone,” Sentor Cash said.
“Everyone – government, business, community and civil society – must work together to prevent this national tragedy.
“We are confident that creative projects will emerge from across Australia and the initiatives funded under this grants process will be an important part of our efforts to reduce violence against women,” she added.
by Alan Thornhill
A Senate Committee has delivered a stinging rebuke to the Abbott government over its health policies.
In an interim report just published, the Senate Select Committee on Health noted that since “coming to power the Abbott Government has repeatedly called into question the sustainability of Medicare.”
But it added:” the evidence given to this committee and documented in this report reveals the fallacy of such claims particularly with regard to GPs and the Medicare Benefits Scheme.”
In fact, the committee said:” Australia delivers some of the best quality and best value hospitals and primary healthcare in the world.”
And it does so at low cost.
The committee says Australia’s spending on health at 9.1 per cent per cent of GDP – is lower than comparable OECD countries.
The committee says health spending in the United States accounts for 17 per cent of that nation’s GDP.
In France health care spending takes 11.2 per cent of GDP.
Canada spends 10.6 per cent of its GDP on health care.
And in New Zealand, health care costs amount to 10.3 per cent of GDP.
But in both the United Kingdom and Spain these costs are broadly similar to Australia’s, at 9.1 per cent.
The committee also recalled that, before the last election, Tony Abbott had promised that there would be “no cuts to health” if he became Prime Minister.
Yet in its first Budget, his government “had abolished a number of national partnership agreements with the States and Territories,” the committee said.
At question time in Parliament later, the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, asked Mr Abbott, why he had cut $50 billion from projected health spending.
The Prime Minister’s response was brief.
“There is no truth whatsoever in the Opposition Leader’s assertion,” he said.
The report had said: “The cuts to health were met with the opposition from each premier and chief minister.”
And the public had been affected.
“The impacts on State and Territory budgets and the healthcare sector are already well documented and being felt in frontline delivery,” the committee said.
And that is likely to get worse.
” The 2014-15 Budget reveals cuts to health in the order of $50 billion dollars over the next ten years,” it added.
The committee didn’t have a kind word, either, for the Federal government’s unpopular plan for a $7 co-payment by patients who visit bulk-billing doctors, even though that plan was finally axed in March this year.
In fact, after conducting hearings throughout Australia, it found that:” the overwhelming sentiment of witnesses was that the $7 co-payment will have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of all Australians and is practically unworkable.”
The committee also found that the government had been guided by ideology, rather than facts, in its decisions on health issues.
“They appear to be driven by ideology rather than based on evidence and have not been developed within a vision and framework of systemic reform,” 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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