Posts by Sandra Morris

AGL Announces Power Price Drops

AGL has announced price drops for power in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia, following competitor Origin’s similar move this week.

Residential electricity prices will be cut by 0.3 percent in NSW, 1.5 percent in Queensland and 0.4 percent in SA, much lower than what market analysts predicted.

“While these price cuts are slight, they’re part of a downward trend that is emerging as more investment in new sources of supply comes into the market,” said AGL’s chief customer officer Melissa Reynolds, referencing the increasing network and green costs.

“We understand power prices have been high and that has put pressure on many households.”

On Tuesday, Origin announced that it will cut residential electricity prices in south-east Queensland and SA by 1.3 percent and 1 percent respectively, while maintaining the same prices for NSW and the ACT.

Origin’s Power Price Changes. Source: Origin/ABC

Both drops are far lower than the Australian Energy Markets Commission’s (AEMC) forecast, which expected 5.8 percent fall in NSW, 7 percent in south-east Queensland and 6.9 percent in SA in 2018-19.

Julian Meehan Adani

Queensland Government Considers Using Public Funds for Adani Road Project

The Queensland government is considering covering the $100 million cost of road access for Adani coal mine, despite promising that no taxpayers fund would go to the project.

The ABC said documents obtained under a right to information revealed the Palaszczuk government is still in negotiations with Adani and Isaac Regional Council about upgrading access to the proposed Carmichael mine site in central Queensland.

However, the Department of Transport and Main Roads said no decision has been made yet.

In November, Palaszczuk said she would not rule out helping the local council fund the access road. A spokesman for the government said it would cooperate with local councils in regard to their infrastructure needs. “Significant projects can impact on local road networks and improvements to those networks can benefit the greater community,” he said. “Costs associated with major projects are recovered by the state on a commercial basis.”

The ongoing negotiations have received backlash. “Annastacia Palaszczuk has lied to Queenslanders and has broken yet another election promise,” said Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington.

The Mackay Conservation Group said the government must rule out funding the road project. “The Queensland Coordinator General recommended Adani be responsible for road upgrades and Adani said it would pay for the upgrade,” said the group’s spokeswoman Maggie McKeown. “Why then would the premier spend public funds on this project?”

Ricoh Becomes Australia’s First Carbon-Neutral IT Services Company

Ricoh has become the first IT services company in Australia to achieve carbon-neutral status.

Following its achievement as the first tech services organisation in the country to achieve a carboNZero certification, Ricoh went further in its efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. The company worked closely with not-for-profit Enviro-Mark Solutions to develop a multi-pronged GHG reduction strategy.

The strategy covered a number of areas, including a reduction in electricity consumption, freight and fuel usage, staff air travel and waste to landfill.

“Every aspect of our national operations was put under the microscope so we could understand the sources of all our existing GHG emissions,” said Tori Starkey, general manager – marketing at Ricoh Australia. “Taking such a holistic approach meant we would be well placed to make our subsequent activities as effective as possible.

“Far from being a set-and-forget exercise, these strategies will continue to be evaluated and improved over time. At the same time, customers are enjoying more efficient service and product deliveries while also being able to achieve their own footprint improvements … With increasing attention being paid to achieving a reduced corporate environmental footprint, many businesses have set a goal of making their operations carbon neutral. For Ricoh Australia, this goal has become a reality.”

Adelaide’s Real Estate Market Continues Speedy Sales Boom

Real estate Adelaide continues its boom as houses sell up to four times as fast as they did a year ago.

According to realestate.com.au data for the six months to April 30, Gilberton is the fastest selling suburb for houses with median time of 13 days on the market. This is a significant improvement from 35 days for the same period last year.

Hyde Park and Sefton Park houses follow with median market time of 17 days, while Clarence Gardens and Melrose Park houses sell in 18 days.

For units, Kensington Gardens rises to the top with 19 days, less than a third of last year’s 65 day median. It is followed by Brompton with 20 days and Klemzig with 22 days, way down from its 88 days last year.

Realestate.com.au chief economist Nerida Conisbee said sale times would continue to go down due to the declining stock trend over the winter.

Trump’s Cancellation of North Korea Summit Sends Markets Down

US and European stocks fell after US president Donald Trump cancelled a planned June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

On Thursday morning, Trump cancelled the June 12 Singapore meeting, citing Pyongyang’s “open hostility” even though North Korea followed through on its pledge to destroy tunnels at its nuclear test site.

The Dow Jones fell 75.05 points (0.3 per cent) to finish at 24,811.76 while the S&P dipped by 5.53 points (0.2 per cent) to close at 2,727.76. Nasdaq also dropped 1.53 points (0.02 per cent) to 7,424.43.

European bourses had a sharp dip, with London and Frankfurt down by almost one per cent each.

The markets were also impacted by Trump’s order of investigation into vehicle part imports, which could lead to tariffs on foreign auto goods. US carmakers such as General Motors and Ford rose with 1.4 and 1.5 per cent respectively.

Lachlan Fearnley Brisbane

Brisbane House Price Growth Slides to a 5-Year Low

Home prices in Brisbane have fallen, leading the annual growth to drop to a five-year low.

According to the latest Domain Group’s quarterly house price report released in late April, median house prices were down 0.4 per cent across the area, while unit prices dropped by 1.9 per cent.

Alex Jordan of McGrath Paddington told Domain that changes in Sydney might have influenced buyer activity in Brisbane. “I think the change to Sydney’s market is affecting our confidence,” Jordan said. “When Sydney is going up, we look at them as a leading indicator, so when they turn, confidence in our market also goes down.”

This is despite the fact that the city made the latest Knight Frank Global Residential Cities Index as one of the world’s cities with highest home price growth last month. Brisbane achieved the 100th rank with a growth of 2.1 per cent in the past 12 months, beating cities like Beijing and London.

However, local agents claimed that sales were robust for Brisbane real estate. “Overall, the data might show not much is happening but in certain areas, there will be a real momentum and demand driving things along,” said Lachlan Walker, advisory director at Place. “We’re also a very seasonal city when it comes to property — traditionally things are quieter in the March quarter and September quarter.”

AGL to Build $400 Million Gas-Fired Power Plant in NSW

AGL will build a $400 million gas-fired power plant near Newcastle, NSW to replace the ageing Liddell coal-fired station.

The energy company said it is assessing sites for a 252-megawatt facility development, due for completion in the end of 2022.

“AGL is committed to supporting the orderly transition of Australia’s electricity generation capability to modern, clean and reliable energy supply,” said AGL chief executive Andy Vesey.

“That’s why we gave seven years’ notice of when we intend to close the Liddell power station at the end of 2022 and we are pleased to commit today to build the power station near Newcastle.”

AGL also said there were plans to “assess the potential” to develop a further 500 megawatts of gas-fired generation capacity, pending commercial and industrial demand.

The company’s announcement to the Australian stock exchange followed pressures from the federal government to sell Liddell power plant instead of closing it. Rivalling company Alinta has expressed interest in acquiring the power plant to keep it open until 2029.

Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said Liddell’s closure would still bring blackout risk, even with the replacement plan. “That’s why it’s really important that the executives of AGL consider on its merits this offer that comes from Alinta,” Frydenberg said.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said there would be a potential shortfall in capacity of 850 megawatts if Liddell was to be closed, but it also said AGL’s replacement plan “would deliver sufficient dispatchable resources to fill the identified 850MW resource gap”.

Noosa’s Property Market Growth Continues

Noosa real estate market has continued to grow, thanks to limited land supply and increasing demand from international visitors and expats.

The median house price in the suburb grew by 6.2 per cent in 2017, just around $15,000 under Brisbane LGA’s median price.

In February, a record $22 million deal was made for a seven-bedroom beachfront estate at 21-23 Webb Road. Only two weeks earlier, Pat and Lara Rafter’s beachside mansion was sold for $18 million. In November, a property in Noosa’s north shore and another at Noosaville each sold for over $10 million.

Michelle van der Splinter, sales agent at Tom Offermann Real Estate said Noosa’s performance was at its best over this summer season.

“Wealthy sea-changers, those from interstate and overseas, make up nearly half of our interested buyers for top end houses along the beachfront and canals, and are adding to the strengthening market,” said van der Splinter.

Offermann himself said the tourist destination’s attraction reaches way beyond the local population. “Many think of it as a northern suburb of Sydney; even ‘Toorak in shorts’ for Melburnians,” he said. “But expats from London, Dubai, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore have been very active in the past year.”

Real Estate Institute of Queensland CEO Antonia Mercorella said Noosa’s natural topography is what makes the property market both desirable and limited in supply. “Noosa’s world-class beaches, stunning natural bushland settings and wonderful warm community are factors that are fanning the flames of buyer demand,” said Mercorella.

“It is inevitable that this will push up prices.”

Do You Really Need Private Health Insurance? Here’s What You Need to Know Before Deciding

Sophie Lewis, UNSW and Karen Willis, La Trobe University

Every year at the end of March and early in April, the 11 million Australians who have private health insurance receive notification that premiums are increasing.

Premiums will increase by an average of 3.95% from April 1 and will vary with the insurer and the product. The increase is lower than previous years but still higher than any wage growth, leaving consumers wondering if they should give it up or downgrade to save money.


Read more:
Private health insurance premium increases explained in 14 charts


Why go private?

Australia has a universal health care system, Medicare. Health care is available to all and is financed, in part, through a 2% tax on our wages (the Medicare levy). Access to general practitioners and public hospitals are just some of the benefits.

The Commonwealth government encourages Australians to have private health insurance. It imposes penalties for not taking it out (paying more income tax: the Medicare levy surcharge) and offers incentives for those who do (rebates on premiums).

Some 45.8% of Australians have private health insurance, a rise from 31% in 1999.

Australians have different reasons for taking out private health insurance. For some, it makes financial sense to take out policies to avoid paying the Medicare levy surcharge.


Read more:
Explainer: why do Australians have private health insurance?


Others choose to take out policies to avoid waiting times for elective treatment (predominantly surgery); to choose their own specialist or hospital; or to have the option of a private room, better food or more attractive facilities.

Some people perceive that private health insurance will give them access to better care in the private system. Many are fearful they won’t get the services they need in the public system.

Shorter waits than the public system

A universal health system is based on people with the most clinical need gaining access to the services required.

Most emergency treatment is provided in public hospitals. The case is different for “non-urgent” or elective surgery, with patients encouraged to use their private health insurance, mainly because of waiting times for such surgery in the public system.

Elective surgery waiting times for public hospitals vary according to whether patients are publicly or privately funded. In 2015-2016, the median waiting time (the time within which 50% of all patients are admitted) was 42 days for public patients, 20 days for patients who used their private health insurance to fund their admission, and 16 days for those who self-funded their treatment.

Bear in mind, however, that waiting times vary according to clinical urgency. In 2016-17 in New South Wales, 98% of public patients were admitted within the clinically recommended time frame.

Differences in waiting times also vary according to the type of procedure. In 2015-2016, cardiothoracic (heart) surgery had a median waiting time of 18 days for public patients and 16 days for all other patients. In contrast, the median wait for public patients needing total knee replacement was 203 days, and 67 days for all other patients.

The question of choice

Choice of provider is a leading reason people take out private health insurance.

The idea that consumers should have choice in the services they receive has been promoted by government and private health insurance companies for some years, with great success. Many consumers now believe that more choice is better and private health insurance is an “enabler of choice”.

But do people really have choice? Choice is not equally distributed, and not everyone with private health insurance gets the choices they desire.


Read more:
Private health insurance and the illusion of choice


Private health insurers reserve the right to restrict benefits, or provide maximum benefits for using their “preferred providers”. This, in fact, limits the choices consumers can make.

A recent example of this is the announcement from Bupa that, from August 1, members will face higher out-of-pocket costs in private hospitals that don’t have a special relationship with the company, and some procedures will be excluded from particular policies.

Finding the best policy

If you decide to keep your private health insurance, make sure you’re getting the best deal on a policy that’s right for you. Shop around for a policy that meets your needs.

Take note of what is excluded. If you are thinking about starting a family, you may want to look at whether obstetrics care is covered. For those who are older, inclusions such as hip replacements and cataract removal may be more important.

The Australian government website PrivateHealth.gov.au or the Choice health insurance finder are good places to start. These include all registered health funds in Australia and allow you to compare what is covered in each policy.

Other “free” comparison sites may compare only some health funds and policies, or earn a fee per sale from insurers.


Read more:
Here’s what’s actually driving up health insurance premiums (hint: it’s not young people dropping off)


Before taking out extras cover, see whether you are better off to self-insure: setting aside money for if and when you need to pay for extras such as dental or optical care.

Review your policy each year and talk to your health insurance fund about your changing needs. Seek redress if something goes wrong.

If you need a procedure, find out the waiting period in the public system, rather than assuming it will be quicker in the private system. Check the out-of-pocket costs if you choose to use your private health insurance. Then you can assess whether the price tag is worth getting your surgery a few weeks earlier.

The Conversation* This article originally said more than half of Australians had private health insurance. This has now been corrected to 45.8%.

Sophie Lewis, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW and Karen Willis, Professor, Allied Health Research, Melbourne Health, LaTrobe University, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.