Tag archive: Australia

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.

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.”

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”.

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.

When is the Best Time of the Year to Buy Property?

As 2017 is ending soon, it is the perfect time to set your financial goals and plans for the next year. This might include buying property. However, what time of the year would be the best to purchase real estate in Australia?

Experts vary on their opinion. Advantage Property Consulting director Frank Valentic said the end of the year marks the “prime buying time”, due to the lead-up to the Christmas holiday.

“At this time of the year, particularly leading up to Christmas, some vendors are getting very keen to be done and dusted … They want to get a deal done this side of Christmas and go off on holidays and not worry about inspections and cleaning the house,” Valentic told news.com.au.

John Cunningham, president at Real Estate Institute NSW, also has similar views. “Many sellers will have already bought their next home and will be under a lot of pressure to sell before the real estate industry shuts down over January,” Cunningham told the Daily Telegraph.

However, the right time to buy also depends on other matters, such as seasons and personal conditions. For example, spring and summer are the best times to inspect coastal houses, while winter and autumn would be better suited for regional villas.

If you need more advice on property buying, consider consulting local real estate agents to find out more information about market trends and best purchasing times.

New Zealand Experience Shows Same-Sex Marriage Could Provide Huge Economic Boost for Australia

Andrew Gorman-Murray, Western Sydney University

Even though it’s still uncertain as to when Australian same-sex couples will be able legally to wed, New Zealand’s example shows how much this could be worth to our economy.

New Zealand has long been a destination for international wedding tourism. This was boosted from August 2013, when New Zealand same-sex couples could also marry. The majority of same-sex weddings between overseas couples conducted in New Zealand have been between Australian couples unable to marry at home.

In 2016, 2,490 heterosexual couples from other countries celebrated marriages or civil unions in New Zealand, comprising 11% of all heterosexual couples’ ceremonies. The proportion of same-sex couples from other countries entering into marriage or civil union in New Zealand has been even higher.

In 2016, 49% of same-sex marriages or civil unions in New Zealand were between overseas couples, and Australians accounted for 58% of these couples. Altogether, Australian couples comprised 29% of same-sex marriages or civil unions celebrated in New Zealand in 2016.

The figures for 2016 are not an outlier: since 2013, Australian couples have made up 25% or more of same-sex weddings celebrated per annum.

All the business of marriage

This phenomenon has both social and economic implications. Trans-Tasman same-sex wedding tourism underlines a real desire for marriage by Australian same-sex couples.

New Zealand wedding operators have been willing and able to absorb this demand. While of course the significance of marriage lies in the couple’s enduring commitment and love, supported by family, friends and community, there is also tangible economic value from the wedding celebration.

The wedding industry is a complex network of small and medium businesses. It includes everything from planners, celebrants to florists, photographers and entertainers. Beyond the ceremony itself, the industry also includes operators of honeymoon destinations.

In 2015, ANZ economists Cherelle Murphy and Mandeep Kaura crunched some numbers on the economic benefits of same-sex marriage in Australia. They used 2011 Census data on the number of same-sex couples in Australia, and we might update their estimate using the more recent 2016 Census figures.

Murphy and Kaura estimated the average spend on a wedding ceremony and reception at A$51,000. The 2016 Census counted 46,800 same-sex couples.

They applied other survey findings from 2010, and further assumed that out of the half of all same-sex couples who will want to marry, half will do so in the year after same-sex marriage is legalised.

The sentiments expressed in the 2010 survey findings may have shifted since then, especially in light of the marriage equality postal survey. But let’s use that proportion for consistency.

We might suppose 11,700 same-sex couples will marry within one year of the legalisation of same-sex marriage, spending on average A$51,000, totalling almost A$597 million dollars in wedding and reception costs.

This does not include honeymoon spending. For those couples choosing to honeymoon within Australia, we can add spending on travel and accommodation.

A 2015 survey by Bride To Be magazine found the average spend on wedding and honeymoon at A$65,482. This figure is clearly biased towards dedicated bridal magazine readers – those who might be willing to save up and fork out more for their perfect wedding and honeymoon.

Arguably many would not be able or willing to spend this amount. Nevertheless, A$65,482 would be equivalent to an annual salary for many, so this is suggestive of how lucrative some segments of the wedding and honeymoon market are.

Apart from what the couple (and their families) spend on the wedding and honeymoon, we might also consider guest spending. Obviously, purchasing wedding gifts contributes to the retail sector.

Out-of-town guests also have to pay for travel, accommodation, food and beverage, and other expenses. Some couples opt for destination weddings, with benefits for tourism operators.

Some operators hope that Australia, like New Zealand, might become a destination for international same-sex wedding tourism, and so provide a boost to the tourism industry.

In addition to this, Murphy and Kaura found other economic benefits of same-sex marriage, such as increased state government revenue from marriage licence fees and ceremonies in state-run births, deaths and marriages registries.

The ConversationWith the debate on same-sex marriage now turning to whether or not businesses will be able to refuse couples based on moral objections, it seems at least the economic case incentive is there for these businesses to say “yes”.

Andrew Gorman-Murray, Professor of Geography, Western Sydney University

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

Aussie Wage Inequality Rising – Are We the Next America?

Well this is a somewhat concerning thought; with the growing wage inequality (read: absolute struggle) it looks like we’re on track to developing a similar unhealthy work culture we see form America. ‘What is that culture?’ you may ask? Well in America there is a constant struggle with employers demanding longer hours for lower wages and diminishing job security, meaning that company A will demand that person A work longer hours with no over time pay and maybe time in lieu (but that’s only because the company loses a normal rate of pay instead of increased over time/weekend pay). Person A is reluctant to refuse the unfair offer because they know that all the recent job cuts mean that there are plenty of more desperate people who are willing to take their place despite the unfair agreement.

 

You would have heard about the government reducing the amount of weekend pay that employees in certain sectors get and this could very well be just the beginning. Bill Shorten himself said that the direction that this economy is going is not at all in our favour.

 

So in a climate where the poor struggle more and still get poorer, while the rich get away with less tax and get richer, what are we to do? Can we do anything? Will we soon see the day where hospitality workers are paid $3-$10 an hour and must scrounge to hell and back to get enough tips so that they don’t lose money? I mean… we’re already seeing the rich benefit from the ability to live and work in better areas with better jobs, while the more disadvantaged spend more on travelling to work, get paid less to do their job and are more likely to live in worst conditions and more dangerous neighbourhoods.

Australia’s Housing Crisis to Continue for Another 40 Years, Report Finds

Australia’s housing crisis could last for another 40 years unless changes are made to the market, a report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) found.

CEDA said housing affordability is unlikely to improve for the foreseeable future, especially in capital cities. “Barring any major economic jolts, demand pressures are likely to continue over the next 40 years and supply constraints will continue,” said CEDA.

The report said the current structure of land release discourages house developers from getting more supply in the market, leading to increasing numbers of Australians retiring without owning a property.

The committee said changes are needed now at all government levels to avoid longer-term consequences. It made eight recommendations to ease the demand, including providing stronger legal protection for tenants, replacing stamp duty with land-based taxation, increasing capital gains tax and relaxing house planning restrictions.

CEDA research and policy committee chairman Rodney Maddock emphasised the latter, saying the government needs to allow more and bigger residential buildings to be built.

“We’ve got a free market on the demand side but all sorts of restrictions on the supply side,” said Maddock.

“Overall, the conclusion must be that our housing system has been designed – inadvertently, of course – to supply new additions at a lesser rate than needed to keep housing prices and affordability within acceptable limits,” said CEDA.

Australians Increasingly Under Financial Stress, Report Finds

Concerns over rising costs of necessities, stagnant income growth and prospects of increased loan rates are stressing Australian households, a survey has found.

The latest ME Household Financial Comfort Report, which surveyed 1,500 Australian households, revealed that concerns over budget balancing are increasing, as 51 per cent are found to have no spare cash at the end of each month. Rising costs of groceries, fuel and utilities have been blamed, along with weak salary growth and rising underemployment.

“Australian households are under financial stress,” said ME Bank consulting economist Jeff Oughton to ABC’s AM. “They’re concerned about the rising cost of bills but also there are income woes, interest rates are starting to rise and there’s mortgage and rental stress.”

While the unemployment rate has gone down, underemployment is still strong, with 27 per cent of casual and part-time workers saying they were eager to increase their hours.

Furthermore, 68 per cent of the respondents reported wage fall or stagnation in the past 12 months, and 40 per cent of households in debt are becoming less confident about their ability to repay their mortgage.

RBA’s eventual plan to lift the cash rate is also expected to worsen this burden on Australians “as it will impact monthly cash flows, ability to pay off debts, save and spend”, Oughton said. “It will bite into those young couples with children, single parents and also generation X-ers who are concerned about the impact on their monthly cash flows from rising rates.”