PM holds line on WorkChoices… Coonan catch-up on broadband… Fast food fortune… Competition for YouTube…

PM holds line on WorkChoices

Prime Minister John Howard has re-affirmed his commitment to his Government’s WorkChoices laws and rebuffed suggestions the re-election of the NSW Labor Government on Saturday was partly attributable to the IR laws.

In his victory speech on Saturday night, NSW Premier Morris Iemma told supporters that the Federal Government ignored the unpopularity of WorkChoices, which were introduced one year ago today, “at its peril.”

Polling conducted by ACNielsen to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the legislation found 59% of Australians oppose the changes and 24% support them, while an exit poll conducted by NSW unions found 27% of those who voted Labor were motivated by opposition to the laws.

But John Howard has scotched suggestions he would bow to political pressure and amend the laws. “We’re not going to be making any changes of substance to WorkChoices,” he said yesterday.

“WorkChoices is a very good policy and we also believe on the first anniversary of WorkChoices, which will be next week, looking back it’s very hard to accept that WorkChoices has been unfair when we have a 32 year low in unemployment.”

Despite a 3.2% swing to the Coalition, Labor was comfortably returned to Government in NSW on Saturday. At last count Labor looked like picking up 51 to 52 seats, while the Coalition will have 34 to 35.

– Mike Preston


Coonan plays catch-up on broadband

A privately funded national broadband network could be rolled out in capital cities within three years if talks taking place between the Federal Government and telecommunications companies are a success, federal Minister for Communications Helen Coonan says.

But she has admitted in an interview on ABC TV yesterday that there is only a “reasonable” chance the negotiations will be successful. Her comments follow the announcement last week by federal Opposition leader Kevin Rudd that an ALP government would build a faster broadband network.

The Government’s talks with telecommunications companies including Telstra are being held behind closed doors, leading to speculation that the Government could give concessions on competition regulation to get agreement on a broadband network – to get the government out of political strife.

The Competitive Carrier’s Coalition represents many of the telecommunication companies in competition with Telstra. Executive director David Foreman says Coonan’s three year timeline for a private broadband network roll-out is reasonable, but he is concerned about the secrecy surrounding the talks.

“The thing that’s really worrying about reports of talks between the Minister and Telstra is that none of it is public, just as talks last year with ACCC were,” Foreman says. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime investment that affects every Australian – there is no room for secrecy in that.”

Foreman says the key issue that has not been canvassed is what the end price to home and business consumers of any private network would be, and that comes down to competition and regulation. “If we put in place incentives that make the lack of competition in the industry worse, then we’ll simply be chasing our tail forever,” he says.

Marsden Jacob Associates senior economist Jasper Mikkelsen says the prices businesses and other consumers will face depends heavily on how competition regulation of the broadband network is dealt with. “To simply give Telstra or any other group too many concessions would be problematic,” he says. “Obviously we need broadband infrastructure, it’s not something we can live without. The question is how we go about this.

“Telstra has previously said they want regulatory relief to build this infrastructure – this is understandable, because they want to give a return to their shareholders.

“The problem with this and the reason why Telstra never got anywhere before is that they were asking for too many concessions. If they are given concessions now they may get some monopoly rent out of this investment. That would not be a good end result for users such as businesses.”

– Mike Preston


Big sales for fast food franchise

Australian Fast Foods, the owner of the Red Rooster and Chicken Treat chains, is expanding nationally and considering a possible float on the Australian Stock Exchange to fund international expansion, reports the West Australian newspaper.

The company is expecting to come close to making a record profit for 2006-07 after a strong half year, particularly in Western Australia, where the company is head-quartered. Most of the company’s revenue – $330 million in 2005-06 – comes from 330 Red Rooster stores nationally. But AFF is looking at expanding Chicken Treat, a smaller format model, nationally.


IT news: Competition for YouTube is coming

Media giants NBC Universal and News Corporation plan to join forces to create an online video website aimed at competing with the wildly popular YouTube owned by Google, reports IT Wire.

The two companies have said they are planning a mid-year launch and the site will include “thousands of hours of full-length programming, movies and clips, representing premium content from at least a dozen networks and two major film studios”. Clips from high-rating TV and movies will be shown and supported by ads.

The site has agreements with Time Warner’s AOL, Microsoft’s MSN, News’s MySpace and Yahoo, which will be the site’s initial distribution partners and which capture an audience representing 96% of US internet users. Advertisers will include Cadbury Schweppes, Cisco, Esurance, Intel and General Motors.


Economic round-up

The exposure to credit risk in the Australian economy is at a good level, with mortgage arrears low by historical and international standards, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia Financial Stability Review released this morning.

But while householders remain cautious, businesses are likely to grow their credit significantly on the back of further leveraged buyout activity by private equity, the report says.

The Australian dollar is trading at US80.37 cents at 12:35pm, down slightly on yesterday’s Sydney close of US80.60 cents.

The S&P/ASX 200 is up 0.4% on yesterday’s close, to be 5977.2 at 12:35pm.


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