Labor IR leaves business in dark… Super dooper times… Dream stock’s wakeup call… Slow ATO criticised… Rents up Economy roundup…

Business left in the dark in Labor IR revolution

Business groups are critical of the lack of detail in the Labor IR proposal announced last night by Labor deputy leader and industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard.

“There are some big unanswered questions,” National Association of Retail Grocers of Australia chief executive Ken Henrick says. “It’s all very well to make the announcement that they’re abolishing all these bodies, but without the detail it’s hard to know what it actually means.”

A Labor government would establish a single national government industrial relations body to perform compliance, decision-making and wage-setting industrial relations functions.

Under the Labor plan the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, Office of Workplace Services and Office of the Employment Advocate would all be abolished and their functions taken over by a new body, to be called Fair Work Australia.

In a joint statement with Labor leader Kevin Rudd, Gillard says Fair Work Australia would work as “a one-stop shop to provide practical information, advice and assistance to employees and employers.”

Unfair dismissal and compliance with industrial laws will be overseen by the new body, which would have offices in all major urban and regional centres and run a central information phone line and website.

VECCI’s director of workplace relations policy, David Gregory, says a crucial issue will be what powers are given to the proposed body.

“I think many employers are reasonably happy with the way bodies such as the Office of Employment Advocate are working at the moment and there will be concern if it appears that some of the powers it has to do its job were not transferred to the new body,” Gregory says.

Labor’s proposal to decentralise the operations of the body to “the local shopping centre” should also concern business, National Retail Association spokesman Gary Black says.

“The risk with offices in shopping centres is that they may listen to and act on a whole range of workplace grievances without a process that would objectively assess their merit,” he says. “If an employee can walk in the door because they’re not happy with a roster or they if don’t get a promotion, that could be catastrophic for small business.”

– Mike Preston

Super dooper times shared by all?

What a super time it is! Superannuation funds are expected to deliver their fourth year of double-digit returns, according to fund researcher SuperRatings. Returns for the 12 months to June 30 this year should be above 13%, although this is expected to be slightly lower than last year’s spectacular 14.5%.

Australians continue to tip money into superannuation to take advantage of new rules that let investors aged under 65 contribute up to $1 million of post-tax money into superannuation before June 30.

But will any of it find its way to the small end of town? Are fund managers becoming more willing to invest some of the bonanza in innovative start-ups and fast growing ventures?

It’s too early to tell, says SuperRatings managing director Jeff Bresnahan. In the past five years, super funds have been trying to get the edge on competitors, with the traditional asset classes growing from five to 18 and the allocation to private equity being much higher.

But we don’t have the data to see how much is going to the early stake private equity investments, he says. What we do know is that funds are more prepared to take a punt with a small amount of money. Here’s hoping.

– Amanda Gome

Dream stock gets wakeup call

Australia’s biggest medical technology success story, ResMed, is recovering from a product recall, which saw $50 million wiped off its latest quarterly earnings.

The problem for the medical device manufacturer is that its S8 flow generators used to treat sleep apnoea could short-circuit and need to be replaced. ResMed’s share price fell 14% to $5.08 on Tuesday on the news, before recovering slightly to $5.27 today.

– Amanda Gome

Half of ATO public rulings too slow: inspector

The Australian Taxation Office has come under further attack from the inspector-general of taxation for creating delay and uncertainty for taxpayers.

The ATO failed to meet its own deadlines for public rulings in 50% of cases in the 2005 and 2006 financial years, according to a new report by inspector-general David Vos.

The damning assessment of ATO processes was made as part of a review of the tax treatment of service trusts, a structure commonly used by accounting and law firms to reduce tax.

The review found that despite evidence of widespread confusion regarding the tax status of service trusts, it took the ATO three years to decide to issue a public ruling to clear up the issue and a further two and a half years before a draft ruling was issued.

De Vos found that much of the confusion resulted from the fact that the ATO had changed its position on the service trusts, and he criticised the ATO for “unnecessary delays” in clarifying its position.

– Mike Preston

Rising city rents

Rents were pushed higher in all capital cities in the March quarter because of a shortage of properties, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Rents are forecast to keep rising in the second half of 2007 and some commentators are predicting rising rents will drive more construction.

Economy roundup

In news that could reignite talk of an interest rate rise in the near future, the Westpac-Melbourne Institute Leading Index of Economic Activity increased by 5.7% in February 2007, well above its long-term trend of 4.1% and 0.9% up on the January figure.

The growth in the index, which measures economic activity over the next three to nine months, suggest interest rates will begin to rise “in early 2008”, Westpac chief economist Bill Evans says.

New home sales continued to be slow in March, according to a Housing Institute of Australia report released today. New home sales for the first three months of 2007 have been 16% lower than the equivalent period in 2006

Private home sales in March dropped by 0.2% and unit sales by 2%. HIA chief economist Harley Dale says the report shows that “upward momentum in new home sales has now clearly stalled”.

The S&P/ASX 200 was trading at 6209.6 at 12.30 pm, up 0.3% on Tuesday’s close. The Australian dollar has recovered much of the value lost after Tuesday’s low CPI figure, hitting US83.39¢ at 12.30pm today after falling to US82.39¢ on Tuesday’s Sydney close.

– Mike Preston


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