NEW ENGLAND NEWSLETTER FOR MARCH 2016
HEADING FOR A DD?
In my opinion the Prime Minister had no option other than to recall Parliament to try and get the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) legislation passed. This legislation has already been rejected once by the Senate but the recent report from the Trade Union Royal Commission has highlighted the need for its reintroduction. Before it was abolished by Labor in 2012, productivity in the construction industry increased by 20% but has gone backwards since then. We know Labor won’t support the Bill because they are backed by the unions (17 of the 25 Labor Senators are sponsored by unions) and the Greens also receive significant financial support from them. The government needs 6 of the 8 cross bench Senators onside but Senators Lambie and Lazarus have a track record of voting three times as often with Labor and the Greens than with the Coalition. It is ironic both Senators claim they are being blackmailed, but yet are prepared to condone blackmail on construction sites! If the legislation does not pass it is inevitable the nation will be heading to an early election in the hope the Senate can be made more workable.
SENATE VOTING REFORM
Tempers were frayed and there were many weary Senators when this legislation finally passed on the Friday afternoon. Labor used every means possible to delay debate but when it finally commenced the filibusting started. The Bill was always going to pass because of the Greens support but they would not support the debate being guillotined. When you receive your Senate paper at the next election, you choose who you vote for, rather than losing control of your vote.
Reforming Section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act has been in the sights of the Nationals for many years. The government has announced there will be major changes to the misuse of market power provisions in the Act which is what small business has been calling for. The reforms to Section 46 will address weaknesses in the current law and will give the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission more teeth to protect businesses that have been subject to the misuse of market power by their bigger competition. The new wording will be - “A corporation that has a substantial degree of power in a market shall not engage in conduct if the conduct would have the purpose, or would have or be likely to have the effect of substantially lessening competition in that or any other market.” This signals a big win for small business and was driven by the Nationals.
CLAWING BACK WELFARE DEBTS
As at the end of June last year, current and former social welfare recipients had accumulated $3.04 billion in debts. Of these debts approximately $870 million is held by around 270,000 former recipients who do not make sufficient or regular payments. The government has introduced legislation, supported by the Opposition, which will enable a concerted effort to reclaim this money which has been overpaid for various reasons. Social welfare debtors will not be allowed to leave the country if they have not set up a repayment plan and the six year limitation on recovery will be cast aside. In relation to the six year rule, as the law stands currently if a person refused to repay a debt, comes off welfare and six years have passed, that debt cannot be pursued if they go back onto welfare. That will change under this legislation. All debtors will receive a letter asking them to contact the Department of Human Services within 28 days to organise a payment plan or interest will begin accumulating. Those still receiving welfare will have repayments automatically deducted. This is a welcome initiative by the government to ensure people meet their responsibilities.
Written and authorised by Senator John Williams, 144 Byron Street, Inverell 2360
WIN FOR THE REGIONS
The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) will be moving to Wagga Wagga, and Barnaby Joyce has asked the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to consider relocating to Armidale which will be a great boost to that city.
MIS – A BITTER HARVEST
The Senate Economics committee has handed down its report into the reasons for the failure of so many Managed Investment Schemes (MIS). These schemes typically are forestry but in the case of Timbercorp (raised around $1 billion) and Great Southern ($1.8 billion) which were the two major collapses in 2009, people invested in olives, almonds, macadamias, stone fruit, citrus, mangoes, avocadoes and table grapes. MIS encouraged investors to borrow heavily and pay tax-deductable fees in the first few years as orchards were planted with the promise of big returns at harvest time. But the Senate committee determined the industry descended into nothing more than an ‘abhorrent Ponzi scheme’. Most investors walked into the concept blind to the consequences, and poured an estimated $8 billion into MIS from 1998. However most of the investment was doomed for reasons ranging from the GFC, the change in the ATO treatment of tax deductions, drought, commodity prices and a failure of advisors to adequately explain the complexity of MIS. Many people lost their investment, their home, their health, their financial future and in some cases their marriage as the banks which had lent the money came calling. Those who invested in Timbercorp had taken out recourse loans which makes the borrower personally liable – the bank can take legal action, garnish wages, levy bank accounts and use other methods to collect the outstanding money. A financial nightmare for ordinary Australian families. Some were even given legal advice to cease repayments on the loans but now find they are still required to pay an even larger amount. The committee found “some advisers failed comprehensively in adhering to the requirements to know their client and the product they were recommending, and to have a reasonable basis for their advice. In numerous cases, advisers and accountants withheld important information, particularly about the high risks involved; wilfully downplayed risks; and exaggerated the returns on investment. They put their own interests above those of their clients in giving poor advice, which resulted in their clients sustaining substantial financial losses.” Farmers who leased their land are in a quandary as to their legal rights over the land and trees. Today the agony continues for those caught up in the failed MIS and is just another piece in the puzzle towards the establishment of a wider inquiry into the financial sector in this country.
ROAD SAFETY REMUNERATION TRIBUNAL
Owner-drivers in the trucking industry are in uproar over an RSRT Order that sets out minimum rates they must charge for trips of more than 500 kilometres or cross border work of more than 200 kilometres. It will cost them work because hirers will look for cheaper options. Following an appeal to the Federal Court the Order has been stayed pending further court action but the Government will introduce legislation to extend the introductory date of the Order to the 1st of January next year so the problems with it can be ironed out.
ASPECTS OF ROAD SAFETY
At a recent Senate committee hearing, I questioned various agencies and a transport company over the issuing of licences to people who are not qualified to drive trucks, This was prompted by the recent incident in Sydney where a driver caused traffic chaos by first trying to illegally enter a freeway tunnel, and then not knowing how to reverse the truck out to get out of the dilemma. The worry is people are coming to this country on visas and their abilities are not being properly scrutinised before they are put in the cabin. Hopefully this inquiry will address this in its report.
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