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Web 2.0 is the new divide in business. A new SME Leaders Opinion poll shows that while half of small and medium businesses are Web 2.0 savvy and engaged in online marketing, the other half just don’t get it.

The findings sound a warning bell similar to those that sounded in early 2000, when smart businesses quickly shifted online leaving many others unable to adapt.

Web 2.0 is the second generation of internet-based services that let people collaborate and share information online in new ways. It includes forums, blogs, wikis and is used loosely to describe new internet marketing techniques such as search engine marketing. See our top story on how to use the web to market your business.

The poll of 329 companies done by SmartCompany in conjunction with Roy Morgan and Dun & Bradstreet shows that Web 2.0 is still a mystery to 47% of companies; they do not understand it or apply it.

On the other hand 53% do “get” it, with 52% saying they read blogs and 51% participating in online forums. About 14% are also writing blogs.

Many businesses are also using Web 2.0 to build relationships. About 28% say it has changed the way they deal with customers and 17% with suppliers.

But even those business owners that don’t understand Web 2.0 at least have an inkling that it is going to change their lives. About 88% expect Web 2.0 to affect the way they do business in the next five years, and 49% expect to be changing their practices within the next 12 months.

What do you think? Is Web 2.0 over-hyped or is it genuinely changing the way to do business? What is the single biggest way Web 2.0 has changed your business?

– Amanda Gome

Unemployment plummets to new record low

Australia’s unemployment rate fell to a new 30 year low of 4.2% in May, down 0.2% on the previous month.

And there is also good news in the composition of the 39,400 new jobs created, with 66,800 new full-time jobs more than making up for a 27,400 decline in part-time positions.

The rapid economic growth revealed in yesterday’s GDP results is prompting speculation of potential for further falls in unemployment to come. ANZ Bank’s head of Australian economics, Tony Pearson, predicted that we could well see “an unemployment rate with a ‘3’ in front of it before year end.”

The strong jobs figure has also sent the Australian dollar through the roof. At 12.40pm it was trading at US84.7¢ after yesterday’s strong US84.24¢. The market quickly pricing in an increased likelihood of future interest rate rises.

“The Reserve Bank has been resolutely on hold since November because of muted price and wage pressures. However its confidence that this benign inflation story will last must now be beginning to waver,” Pearson says.

– Mike Preston

Award backdoor in AWA test

Award coverage could be extended to employees by the back door if the Government does not fix proposed legislation to implement its AWA “fairness” test, business groups say.

Under the changes proposed to WorkChoices, AWAs and collective agreements must provide workers with fair compensation for any award conditions that are traded away. Where workers were not previously covered by an award, however, the Workplace Authority has the power to “designate” a relevant award that should apply for the purpose the test.

In its submission to a Senate inquiry into the legislation, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry says it is essential that changes are made so that powers given to the Workplace Authority to create new award coverage are removed.

“[T]he mere designation of an award will create new ongoing legal rights and obligations on employers,” the ACCI submission says.

Restaurant and Catering Association chief executive John Hart says the complications that are emerging in relation to the new test could create a disincentive for SMEs in the hospitality sector to enter the federal workplace relations system.

“A lot of smaller business would like to go into the federal system to take advantage of the benefits it offers, such as exemptions from unfair dismissal. The danger is if the system becomes more difficult you’ll have more of theme electing to stay in the state system and that’s where it is important to get this legislation right,” Hart says.

VECCI’s head of workplace relations policy, David Gregory, says it would be a strange outcome if employees could be made subject to awards through the AWA negotiation process. “Going onto an AWA should not be a backdoor way of employees coming on to awards when they weren’t previously covered.”

Gregory says the legislation should also be amended so that the $75,000 cutoff for application of the test is calculated on the basis of an employees’ total package rather than their base salary.

“When you talk about people approaching $75,000 in base wages, you’re getting up to a level that they’ve got enough responsibility to stand on their own without the test applying to them,” Gregory says.

– Mike Preston

What does the ABS have to hide?

Don’t expect any small-business statistics until after the election. This is the rumor swirling through small-business circles with the news that the Characteristics of Small Business report published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics has been delayed yet again. It was due out last year, then in February, them April, then June 20. Today SmartCompany has learned it is scheduled for August 8.

Even if it does come out in August, the report – which used to be published every year – will be based on statistics from 2005.

The word around town is that the figures are not good – maybe a slowing down in small business growth – and so figures will not be released until after the federal election.

As we have said before at SmartCompany, while other countries have researchers, governments and universities poring over every small business to discover trends and opportunities, Australia has a dearth of research into this vital “engine room” of the economy.

– Amanda Gome

Coonan calls for more scrutiny on broadband prices

Communications Minister Helen Coonan made a thinly veiled jab at Telstra’s refusal to make public the prices it would charge under its fibre-to-the-node broadband plan in a speech to the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia yesterday.

Although she it not name Telstra, her comment that “to date there has been little of the prices that would be charged for accessing a new fibre and the impact on consumers”, was clearly directed in the national telco’s direction.

No details of the Government’s mooted public review and tender process for a national broadband network were revealed in the speech, but Coonan acknowledged that irrespective of which proposal goes ahead, selected changes to the telecommunications regulation will be required.

The Government will release details of its new broadband tender process shortly, Coonan says.

– Mike Preston

ACCC calls for fair go on petrol prices

Competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel has slammed petrol retailers for failing to pass on the benefit of cheaper oil prices to motorists.

Samuel says a recent decline in the wholesale petrol price in Singapore, which is the benchmark for retail petrol prices in Australia, should have led to lower average petrol prices across Australia.

But, he says, instead of lowering prices retailers have taken windfall profits, leaving motorists out of pocket.

“If petrol retailers are genuine about their commitment to keep petrol prices in Australia in line with the international benchmark, they need to pass on the wholesale price savings as soon as possible to motorists who are preparing for a long weekend,” Samuel says.

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission monitors average retail petrol prices in Australia and compares them with movements in the benchmark Singapore Mogas 95 unleaded petrol price. It has a policy of not commenting on petrol prices under normal circumstances, but the “marked disparity” in between retail and wholesale price movements warranted comment in this instance, Samuel says.

Last time Samuel made similar comments, the petrol price fell quickly. Let’s hope the strategy works this time.

– Mike Preston

Schools need help from business: Bishop

Schools will only be able to access the latest and business high-tech resources if business steps in to lend a hand, federal Education Minister Julie Bishop says.

Launching a schools-business dialogue in Canberra yesterday, she admitted it was beyond the ability of government to provide schools with top of the line resources and called on business to make a contribution.

“[W]e have companies in this country who would be well provisioned to support the provision of the resources in schools,” Bishop

Many SMEs already make a contribution to schools in their local community – not to mention to education as a whole through state and federal taxes. In a time of record government revenue, should it be left to business to keep school resources up to scratch?

Email your thoughts to [email protected]

Another approach

Labor today announced a Job Ready Certificate – an initiative that would assess the job readiness of school leavers engaged in trades and vocational training and education. Students would obtain the certificate through job training placements and would be in addition to a year 12 certificate.

It would provide employers with a tangible reference and demonstrate that they have the appropriate skills in communications, initiative, teamwork and problem-solving, technology, self-management and planning and organisation.

Is this a good initiative for employers or more rhetoric? Email: [email protected]

– Amanda Gome

How do I help the kids buy property?

Many concerned parents want to know how they can best help children achieve what they still see as a very tangible investment base: property ownership – a home, an investment or a combination of both. What can parents do to help their children enter the property market with a longer-term investment performance in mind and without undermining their own financial position?

Available options will obviously hinge on the individual financial situation of the parents. Parents must, in the first instance, make their desire to help their children known to their accountant and independent financial adviser to fully explore which options are the most viable and appropriate.

Many parents are willing to allow adult children to continue living at home while they finish tertiary education or establish careers and start saving for a property deposit, and it’s not always for a home purchase. It is not unusual for me to see clients who are helping adult children buy a pure, unemotional investment property while they continue to live at home.

One couple I know wisely included their children in family financial and investment discussions from a young age, so they fully understood that property ownership and other forms of investment take dedicated, educated planning. It was made clear that beyond a certain age, living at home was not “an endless free ride”, but a vehicle for setting down the mechanisms to create their own financial security.

By the time their eldest child had graduated from university and secured a career path, he had saved a $40,000 deposit from pocket money and a part-time job, and added the first home-buyers’ grants to it.

Knowledge, education, self-discipline and an unemotional, businesslike approach to investing is the only way forward if we are to create a brighter, self-funded future for the next generations.

– Monique Wakelin. Monique is the co-founder of independent property advisory company Wakelin Property Advisory. This is an edited version of a story that first appeared in the Eureka Report.

IT News : the new MacBook Pro arrives

The long-awaited Apple MacBook Pro line has arrived. The new model uses Intel Core 2 Duo processors, LED mercury-free screens, bigger hard drives, and a full HD screen option.

IT Wire reports the new, thinner MacBook Pro is 50% faster than the original ‘Core Duo’ model.

– Jacqui Walker

Online bank fraud

Phew! The risks of online banking will continue to be assumed by banks. The Australian Banking Association has told the Australian Securities & Investments Commission that online banking customers should not be held liable for fraud and internet hackers.

There had been speculation that banks wanted to shift liability to customers who did not protect their homes with anti-virus software. The ABA is calling for financial institutions and businesses to adopt its voluntary code to cut the cost of fraud.

– Jacqui Walker

Quote of the day:

“I just believe that the greatest thing you can give someone is a job.”
     – Janet Holmes a Court

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