Thursday, August 01, 2013

Abbott to make union bosses liable

The opposition's plan to impose harsh criminal penalties, including personal fines of up to $340,000 and five-year jail terms for union officials breaking the rules, is to be a top-order priority for an Abbott government.

While Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has previously flagged putting union officials on the same legal footing as company directors, he will reveal on Wednesday legislation would be introduced in the first sitting week of the new parliament.

The change is the central part of the Coalition's policy for better transparency and accountability of registered organisations, which looks to: "Amend the laws to ensure that registered organisations and their officials have to play by the same rules as companies and their directors; ensure that the penalties for breaking the rules are the same that apply to companies and their directors, as set out in the Corporations Act 2001; and reform financial disclosure and reporting guidelines under the Registered Organisations laws so that they align more closely with those applicable to companies."

The opposition has long believed that different legal remedies between shareholders on the one hand and union members on the other, following malfeasance, has rendered individual union members powerless in the face of union corruption.

While unions and the ALP have traditionally resisted the toughening of such rules, the Australian Workers' Union national secretary, Paul Howes, has broken ranks to embrace the change.

"I can't see any reason why anyone in the [union] movement would fear having the same penalties that apply to company directors. If you're a crook, you're a crook," Mr Howes told Fairfax Media earlier this month.

"As far as I'm concerned, there's no penalty harsh enough for those who rip off workers and that's what dodgy union officials do. I can't understand why the penalties in the Corporations Act weren't pushed through when the government legislated earlier this year."

Recent scandals such as the high-profile Health Services Union corruption case in which credit cards were used by officials for personal gain and for buying gifts, flights, accommodation, and even prostitutes, have highlighted the inadequacy of penalties under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009.

Mr Abbott will argue the current regime setting maximum fines of up to $10,200 is insufficient to discourage corruption.

Mr Abbott will also announce on Wednesday the inclusion of a small-business representative to attend the G20 business forum known as the B20.

He will tell the NSW Business Chamber's third annual congress that with close to half the workforce employed by small businesses, it was an oversight by Labor not to include a dedicated small-business representative in the B20.


State govt. Slams Rudd’s TAFE Takeover Bid

Kevin Rudd’s latest plot to takeover Queensland’s TAFEs has been panned by Education, Training and Employment Minister John-Paul Langbroek.

Mr Langbroek said Kevin Rudd has just two answers to any policy question, throw more money at it or take it over.

“Mr Rudd wanted to take over hospitals a few years ago, but instead stood idly by while $103 million in Federal funding was ripped out of Queensland’s health system,” Mr Langbroek said.

“Now Kevin Rudd is in the process of trying to take over schools while today’s thought bubble is a TAFE takeover.

“After what he did to Pink Batts, the Carbon Tax, the School Halls shambles and other policy disasters, we don’t want him anywhere near Queensland’s TAFEs.”

Mr Langbroek said the Prime Minister wanted to accumulate responsibilities like properties on a monopoly board.

“The last thing we need to address a skills shortage is a federal takeover of TAFE,” he said.

“Time and time again, Kevin Rudd has proved his ineptitude at managing policy implementation.

“Queenslanders can’t afford for him to tamper with TAFE and jeopardise the quality of our training.”

Mr Langbroek said the Newman Government had released a detailed action plan for Vocational Education and Training in Queensland.

“Great Skills. Real Opportunities is a comprehensive policy response based on recommendations from an industry led taskforce,” he said.

“If we are to continue growing a strong, four pillar economy, Queensland must look at ways of increasing productivity and increasing participation in the workforce.

“To boost productivity and participation we want more Queenslanders gaining quality qualifications that are needed in the economy.

“We are lifting quality by creating a contestable training market which will encourage innovation in service delivery, course content and training outcomes.”

Mr Langbroek said the Federal Government had the opportunity to support these desperately overdue reforms but was resisting at every step of the way.

“We signed a National Partnership on Skills Reform in April 2012, but not one dollar flowed to Queensland for 14 months because the Federal Government played politics with the issue,” he said.


Woolies CEO defends use of fuel discount vouchers

WOOLWORTHS chief executive Grant O'Brien has defended his company's use of fuel discount vouchers to lure shoppers into its supermarkets, after the competition regulator foreshadowed court action to prevent use of the promotional tool.

Mr O'Brien said Woolies would continue to offer the discounts to its shoppers, who can generally receive 4 cents per litre off the price of fuel at Woolworths petrol stations in return for spending at least $30 in Woolworths supermarkets.

“Fuel discounts have been in place for 17 years at Woolworths, so it's not new ... it's provided greater value to customers, and value that they're happy with – they vote with their feet," he said.

However Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims has raised concerns over the periodic increase of these discounts to 8c and even 45c per litre.

Mr Sims said yesterday that such large discounts were only possible because Woolworths was able to subsidise fuel prices with its supermarket earnings, which could not be matched by other petrol station owners and could therefore have a negative impact on competition in the fuel sector in the long term.

The ACCC has said it has no power to ban shopper dockets but could “take court action seeking injunctions to stop the conduct and seeking penalties in appropriate cases".

Mr O'Brien said that Woolies did not have a ‘see you in court’ attitude and if necessary would use the money currently used to fund fuel discounts for other promotional activity

“If you're not going to spend that money on discounts, yes, that money is available, and we then have choices on what we do with that money in terms of the offers we make to customers," he said.

“We'd make sure that we at least maintained the offer to customers moving from one to the other, making sure they continue to get the benefits to their cost of living budget that we currently provide."

Woolworths today reported sales of $59.16 billion for the past financial year, up 4.3 per cent from the previous 12-month period, or 2.4 per cent when the benefit of an extra week's trading was stripped out.

The Australian food and liquor business, the company's biggest contributor of both sales and earnings, reported sales of $40.03bn, up 6.6 per cent or 4.7 per cent when the extra week’s trade was removed.

In an indication the company is still cutting prices to attract customers, average prices in the food and liquor division fell by 3.5 per cent in the fourth quarter and 2.9 per cent over the year.

Petrol sales were $6.8 billion for the financial year, down 0.8 per cent excluding the extra week, which Mr O'Brien attributed to a shift toward more fuel-efficient cars.


Australian study: Rich kids thinner

And lower class kids are fatter.  Whenever it is examined, social class is an important health predictor

RICH kids are thinner than their poorer classmates, who are more likely to grow obese in primary school, new research shows.

The Murdoch Children's Research Institute study of 4000 Australian children shows that disadvantaged kids who are overweight or obese by the time they start school are more likely to put on weight as they grow up.

Researchers tracked the children's weight from the age of four and five, to the age of 10 and 11.

It found 15 per cent preschool kids were overweight and 5 per cent obese.

By the age of 10 or 11, 20 per cent of the children were overweight and 6 per cent obese.

Rich kids tended to lose weight as they grew older, but those from poor families were more likely to remain chubby or put on even more weight.

Poor children were nearly four times more likely to remain "persistently obese" than their wealthier classmates.

The difference in weight between rich and poor children more than doubled between preschool and Year 5.

Lead researcher, Professor Melissa Wake, said disadvantaged children had "significantly higher" risks of growing overweight or obese.

"Clearly, targeting children with early overweight and low socio-economic background - particularly those from socially disadvantaged families - must be a top intervention priority," she said.

The research was part of the federal government's longitudinal study of Australian children, and was published today in the international journal PlosOne.


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