Poor old Chris Bowen, better known lately as the embattled Federal Immigration Minster.
What did Bowen do to deserve what some might call the political kiss of death portfolio? Sadly, immigration is one of those portfolios where you can easily divide a nation and end up being typecast in a way that sticks with you forever. Inevitably some people will love you and others will hate you. If you let too many people into the country you may be considered soft on border security. If you let in too few, then you’re considered mean-spirited.
Of course, on occasion you get a flamboyant immigration minister like Al Grassby. Whatever words could be used to describe Chris Bowen, flamboyant is certainly not one of them.
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Well, the time has come for Graeme Samuel to finish up as ACCC Chairman. His departure will no doubt provoke mixed feelings and for that reason it’s worth pondering some of the alternative perspectives on Samuel’s tenure at the ACCC.
There will be those that will applaud his departure for the simple reason that they believe that Samuel could have done much more to promote vigorous and effective competition in a wide variety of sectors. With key Australian sectors having become more highly concentrated during Samuel’s time at the ACCC, there is a real and growing danger that consumers will increasingly be price gouged.
Samuel doesn’t appear to be too concerned about the growing concentration in key sectors. Free market theorists like to say that Australia is a small market and because of that we shouldn’t be too concerned if we end up with just a couple of large and powerful companies dominating particular sectors.
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As the Aussie dollar has surged in recent months it’s clear that those buying online from overseas websites are enjoying amazing savings as compared to buying locally from bricks and mortar retailers.
In fact, online retailing is growing at a rapid pace and will continue to do so as long as the Aussie dollar remains strong. But it isn’t just the strong Aussie dollar that’s driving the rush to overseas online retailers.
The harsh reality is that a key reason Australian bricks and mortar retailers are finding it harder and harder to compete with online retailers is that retail rents in Australia continue to rise. Australian retail rents are some of the highest in the world and that’s bad news for local retailers operating out of a major shopping centre.
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With the Commonwealth Bank announcing a record profit last week you have to wonder if the big banks are laughing all the way to bank at consumer’s expense. What are struggling Aussie families with mortgages to make of the ever growing profits by the big banks and warnings from bank CEOs to expect more interest rate rises?
Well, consumers and Aussie families need to be really upset at the failure of the Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan and the ACCC to protect competition in the banking sector. Wayne Swan and the ACCC just stood by and let the major banks take out vigorous competitors.
This failure has allowed the four major banks to increase their stranglehold of the banking sector to such dangerous levels that the major banks can now just increase interest rates and fees at will.
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Federal Small Business Minister, Craig Emerson has taken the Federal Government’s spin and smear approach to policy issues to new depths. With a debate raging about the Federal Government’s failure to respond to the needs of small businesses and consumers, Craig Emerson took time out to reflect on the contribution being made to the small business and competition law debate by this author.
It’s extraordinary that a Federal Minister has the time to reflect on the contribution being made by a particular individual. Surely there are better things the Minister could be doing such as explaining why the Federal Government wasted millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on a failed GroceryChoice website.
Perhaps the Minister’s time could be better spent explaining why Australia consistently has some of the highest levels of food inflation in the developed world which is pushing up grocery prices for Aussie families.
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While politicians are always quick to say “feel good” things about small businesses being the “engine room” of the economy, few MPs from either side of politics are ready to act to ensure that we have a vibrant small business sector.
Why? Simply because the big end of town is very quick to shoot down any proposal that puts the spotlight on attempts by the big players to drive small businesses out of business in any way they can. Similarly, any MP that dares suggest such proposals is dismissed by the big end of town as some sort of heretic or “maverick.”
Clearly, big business and their hired guns always want their way and they will whinge loudly when they don’t get it. Sadly, they are also very good at making self interested and, even personal, attacks on those proposing stronger competition laws.
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Last week we were treated to a bizarre week of self-congratulatory media releases by Coles and Woolworths. Was this just another round of spin from the chains or were we finally seeing some real “action”? Well, only time will tell and until will see all the details from Coles and Woolworths the jury will be out.
Let’s look at the PR trail last week. First, we had Coles announce on Australia Day that as of 1 February it was moving to a single national price for 8,000 grocery items and that 97% of products would have the same price within a State.
Why Australia Day? Well there are a couple of theories. Announcing price changes on Australia Day could be seen as patriotic. The other possibility being that Australia Day is ordinarily a “slow” day for business media stories and a “feel good” story may get some attention.
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