Export help? Keep waiting… Banks handball e-fraud?… Fast-track s457 visas… Spend on education, says ACCI… Coonan stifles broadband data

Export help a week away

Just over a week to go until the federal budget, and only now do we have the first big leak for business. It now appears the long-awaited industry statement that would set the vision for the next two decades will be released at the budget on May 8 – and not before as was suggested.

The Government is planning to spend up to $1 billion on a massive package that will be aimed in part at getting more Australian companies to export.

Well, so they should. Remember it was the Howard Government that got rid of the excellent National Industry Extension Service (NIES) program that assisted so many companies in the early to mid-1990s to develop their export plans.

Several years ago the Government also cut the Export Market Development Grants Scheme for medium-sized companies.

No doubt the free marketers will be sharpening their pens in readiness of an attack. But I witnessed first hand through the 1990s the excellent results that stemmed from a well-targeted and highly accountable export program. So bring it on.

– Amanda Gome


Are banks trying to shirk responsibility for e-fraud?

Is there a secret push by banks to hold customers fully liable for internet fraud? The Australian Financial Review claims so, reporting that unnamed financial services representatives have been lobbying the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to make customers fully liable for internet fraud if they did not install minimum security on their computers.

Apparently they also want to raise the maximum $150 payment that institutions can charge customers who are defrauded when it isn’t their fault. Similar claims have been raised before, but each time the Australian Bankers’ Association denies its members are working behind the scenes to hold customers more liable for internet fraud.

Meanwhile the banking industry continues to debate its voluntary code of conduct with final submissions due to ASIC by Monday.

– Amanda Gome


Good employers to go on s457 visa fast-track

A new faster process for “good” employers seeking to employ foreign workers on s457 visas, and bigger penalties for those who breach the rules, will be introduced under proposals announced by Federal Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews yesterday.

Employers with a good track record when it comes to employing foreign workers under s457 visas will be able to apply to “fast-track” further applications.

The changes, which will be introduced into Parliament later this year, will also expose employers who are found to breach the laws or abuse workers imported under s457 visas to more severe penalties, based on the Workplace Relations Act.

Andrews says the increase in penalties is required to protect the integrity of the system. “We don’t want abuse of the system,” he says. “It’s not widespread, but nonetheless any abuse can undermine the importance of this program for our national prosperity into the future.”

Skilled migrants will be required to speak a higher standard of English under the changes.

– Mike Preston


Boost education to increase job skills: ACCI

A week before the federal budget, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has called on federal, state and territory government’s to increase education funding by $7.8 billion over the next three years to boost the job readiness and skill base of Australia’s workforce.

The ACCI sets out more than 150 proposals for reforming education and training in the “Skills for a Nation: A Blueprint for Improving Education and Training” report launched yesterday.

The ACCI surveyed 1337 small, medium and large businesses and found:

  • 44.9% of TAFE graduates and 38.2% of non-TAFE graduates meet the expectations of employers.
  • Just over 55% of businesses said TAFE graduates had appropriate skills.
  • 56.1% reported university graduates had the literacy and numeracy skills they required.

The ACCI says that while business spends about $36.5 billion on education and training each year, government is not meeting its end of the bargain, with public education expenditure as a proportion of GDP lagging behind many countries including the USA, Britain, France, South Korea, New Zealand and Malaysia.

In addition to its call for further funding, the ACCI report contains over 153 proposals for reform of the education and training sector, including:

  • Greater industry involvement in the preparation of training curricula.
  • The introduction of a HECS type system for TAFE students.
  • The replacement of Industry Skills Councils with less bureaucratic, industry led bodies.
  • More business involvement in the formulation of university curricula.

– Mike Preston


Coonan to ACCC: stop collecting broadband data

Federal Communications Minister Helen Coonan has ordered the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to stop conducting quarterly surveys of broadband usage in Australia, The Australian Financial Review reports today.

The broadband usage data, collected by the ACCC since 2001, has been used by Labor to criticise the Government on several occasions.

Coonan’s office says it is “impractical” and a “burden on industry” for the ACCC to collect the data and that the task of collecting such information should be left the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Labor’s communications spokesman Stephen Conroy claims the Government axed the research to hide flaws in its broadband policy. Meanwhile, industry believes Coonan favours the Optus consortium broadband plan over the others, including Telstra’s.

– Mike Preston


Economic round-up

Average monthly rent increases in capital cities have more than doubled over the past six months, according to data collected by national property management group RUN.

The data, reported in The Australian Financial Review, shows that rents in capital cities increased by an average of 8.6% from November 2006 to February 2007 compared to 4% from July to October 2006.

The S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.8% on last night’s close to 6164.9 at 11.35am. Falling prices for metals such as copper, zinc and lead led to a fall in share prices for resource companies, such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

The Australian dollar has also been hit by the commodity price drop, falling to US82.67 cents from yesterday’s US83.27 cents close.

– Mike Preston


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