National: Apartment Boom Drives Residential Building Growth

Approval rate for apartments continues to rise, boosting the Australian residential building growth beyond expectation.

Latest reports from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that apartment approvals rose by 30.6 per cent in November, while house approvals dipped 2 per cent. The gain was the largest since November 2016.

Victoria contributed the most to this increase, with an 80 per cent surge since October to 6,359 approvals for private-sector dwelling excluding houses while NSW and Queensland experienced month-on-month declines.

Overall dwelling building approvals rose by 11.7 per cent for the month, beating forecasts of 1 per cent fall by Reuters.

National: Amazon Launches in Australia

US retail giant Amazon has finally launched its Australian operations, threatening local retailers with tougher competition.

Amazon’s Australian marketplace now offers items from 23 categories including electronics, toys, clothing, accessories, beauty and household goods.

“Focusing on customers and the long-term are key principles in Amazon’s approach to retailing,” Amazon Australia country manager Rocco Braeuniger said in a statement.

“By concentrating on providing a great shopping experience and by constantly innovating on behalf of customers, we hope to earn the trust and the custom of Australian shoppers in the years to come.”

In the lead-up to Christmas holiday season, Amazon is also offering free shipping for orders over $49 and one-day delivery for select cities. The goods will be sent from the company’s fulfillment centre at Dandenong South, Melbourne.

“Over time, we will create thousands of new jobs and invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Australia,” said Braeuniger.

“The result will be an ever-improving customer experience driven by the regular introduction of new products and services that we hope customers will love.”

Politics: Jacqui Lambie to Resign from Senate Over Dual Citizenship

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie has announced that she will resign from the Federal Parliament following confirmation that she was a UK citizen.

Lambie’s father was born in Scotland, which means that she holds a dual citizenship with the UK and Australia. The UK Home Office clarified Lambie’s status this morning.

“I will be resigning from the Senate, it’s been made quite clear that because of my father I am also Scottish,” Lambie told Grant Broadcasters radio.

The senator indicated that while she would not participate in the upcoming state election, she is interested in running at the next federal election.

“I have got candidates running out there for the state election — I’m going to put on my Jacqui Lambie Network jacket and I’ll be right beside them,” said Lambie. “[But] you can’t keep a Lambie down.”

The former Palmer United Party member also said the first thing she would do after resigning was “renounce my [British] citizenship”.

Lambie has become the latest parliamentarian who fell victim to the section 44(i) of the Australian constitution, which rules that people who hold dual citizenship are disqualified from federal political office.

Lambie is set to table her resignation today.

National: Telstra to Offer Refund for Slow NBN

Telstra has offered refunds to around 42,000 customers who experienced slow National Broadband Network (NBN) speeds.

The service provider admitted that it may have made false or misleading representations in its advertising, in breach of the Australian Consumer Law.

An analysis by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found that 26,497 people, or 56 per cent of the paying customers, were not getting the speeds that were promised by the NBN advertising, which claimed download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of up to 40 Mbps.

“Our investigation revealed many of Telstra’s FTTN and FTTB customers could not receive the maximum speed of their plan,” said ACCC chairman Rod Sims.

Telstra will offer customers the opportunity to switch to another plan with refunds, or cancel their plans at no charge.

Sims said while he is happy the ACCC took the initiative to come forward and notify the consumer watchdog about the issue, it remains a problem industry-wide.

“It is an industry problem where consumers are often not getting the speeds they are paying for … We will continue to investigate other retail service providers selling broadband plans over the NBN and take enforcement action where appropriate.”

Source: SBS, ABC, AFR

National: Real-Time Bank Transfers to be Available from January 2018

Fund transfers between accounts from different banks could be done in real-time starting January, thanks to a billion-dollar infrastructure upgrade.

Instant payments will be available for 80 per cent of accounts in Australia, including all customers from the big four banks, starting Australia Day 2018. More international and smaller banks are also expected to join the system soon.

“The core benefit at launch is the faster receipt of money in real time, and that will happen 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Adrian Lovney, chief executive of the New Payments Platform initiative, which built the technology.

“Through the weekend, public holidays, at 3 o’clock in the morning — funds will arrive in the recipient’s bank account in about 30 to 45 seconds.”

Lovney said while the old way of batch processing transfers helps with preventing frauds, customers are looking for immediacy in their financial services.

“They expect things to happen instantly, with a mobile phone, in a 24/7 digital economy they expect if I’m going to send you money that you’ll receive it today and not next week,” said Lovney.

However, he said banks will continue to keep their fraud mechanisms up to task after the upgrade is finished.

International: $70 Million Resettlement Deal for Manus Island Detainees Approved

A compensation deal worth $70 million for over 1,300 current and former Manus Island detainees has been approved by Victoria’s Supreme Court.

The class action settlement, reached with Australia’s federal government and the Island’s Regional Processing Centre operators, sought to compensate the detainees for the illegal detention and negligence in housing and protection.

“I am comfortably satisfied that a figure of $70 million to be distributed without deduction of costs amongst participating group members is a fair and reasonable sum,” said Justice Cameron Macaulay on Wednesday.

“[We wanted] to put an end to this fiction the Commonwealth seeks to maintain for political purposes that it’s PNG [that] holds these people, that PNG has the duty of care for these people,” said Rory Walsh of Slater and Gordon, the firm who led the legal action.

“The Commonwealth settled this case and paid $70 million not to have that fiction tested in court.”

Out of 1,923 former and current detainees who are eligible for the compensation, 1,383 have registered to get their share by Monday.

However, more than 160 detainees have objected to the compensation amount, saying that it would not address the plights of those who remained in the Island. About 800 men are expected to remain at Manus Island after the detention centre closes next month.

“Getting that money is not the issue. It is not the matter of the amount of money,” Iranian refugee Amir Taghinia told ABC’s AM.

“We are still in the same situation, we are still suffering from the same conditions, under the cruel regime of the defendant, and the case is finished, the case says ‘yeah, that’s it, it is already settled’ … It is absolutely not in favour of any of the detainees in here, but it is in favour of the law firm and the defendant.”

International: Melbourne Named As World’s Most Liveable City for Seventh Year Running

Melbourne has again been named as the world’s most liveable city for the seventh year in a row.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) annual Liveability Index ranks 140 cities around the world based on healthcare, education and infrastructure – for which Melbourne received perfect scores this year – as well as stability, culture and environment. Overall, Melbourne scored 97.5 out of 100 points.

“This world record is an amazing feat that all Melburnians should be extremely proud of today,” City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said.

“This accolade is an important selling point for Melbourne internationally: for businesses to invest or move here, for the best and brightest people to make Melbourne their home and for tourists to visit us.”

Vienna in Austria followed in the second spot, while Vancouver in Canada came third. Adelaide established itself as Australia’s second most liveable city at number five, while Perth came seventh. On the other hand, Sydney’s position dropped from the seventh place last year to the eleventh with a score of 94.9.

“Sydney in Australia is another city that has seen a decline in its ranking, reflecting growing concerns over possible terror attacks in the past three years,” the Global Liveability Report 2017 stated.

Damascus in Syria was ranked as the least liveable city, followed by Nigeria’s Lagos and Libya’s Tripoli.

National: Government Threatens Mandatory Takata Airbags Recall

The Australian government may impose a mandatory recall of defective Takata airbags if car manufacturers are not doing enough to fix them voluntarily.

The malfunctioning Takata airbags, which have been linked to 18 deaths and over 180 injuries around the world, may explode and launch metal shards at passengers when deployed.

Investigation by consumer advocate group CHOICE revealed that 12,300 vehicles with faulty airbags are still on Australian roads, and even some of the replacement device are similarly potentially malfunctioning.

In a statement released on Monday, Minister for Small Business Michael McCormack warned car manufacturers that the federal government has “the power to impose mandatory recalls if necessary”.

Car manufacturers involved, including BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Honda, Ferrari, Jeep, Lexus, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Performax, Subaru and Toyota are currently doing voluntary recall programs. Lexus and Toyota have admitted to be replacing faulty airbags with identical ones, and would need to refit some of the vehicles.

CHOICE spokesman Tom Godfrey said the use of potentially defective airbags as the replacement was disappointing. “With 2.3 million vehicles in Australia requiring their potentially lethal Takata airbags to be replaced, it’s clear the car companies are under pressure to fulfil their obligations under Australian consumer law,” Godfrey told News.com.au.

“However, refitting vehicles with the same dangerous airbags still leaves people driving ticking time-bombs.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has started an investigation into the matter.

Chairman Rod Sims said consumers should act as soon as they can. “Do not ignore or delay responding to a letter from your car’s manufacturer or retailer asking you to have your car’s airbag replaced,” Sims said.

National: TasWater Lifts Boil Alert as TAS Government Continues Takeover Plan

Mole Creek residents can now drink tap water safely for the first time in 70 years, as boil water alert has been lifted.

Tasmania’s water provider TasWater said the alert lift was a significant step in addressing water quality issues in 24 towns across the state, which are expected to be cleared of boil water alerts by August next year.

“The Mole Creek water supply is just one of many projects in a fully-funded, affordable 10-year-plan to improve Tasmania’s water and sewerage infrastructure,” said TasWater chairman Miles Hampton.

However, Premier Will Hodgman remained sceptical about the provider’s ability to deliver the promise in time.

“There are plenty of communities across this state that for years have been calling out for boil water alerts to be lifted,” Hodgman said. “They were meant to be fixed by now. They’ve said in the past these communities would be fixed sooner and it hasn’t been the case.”

The state parliament is set to table a legislation after the winter break to enable the utility takeover from July next year. The government said the acquisition would allow speedier infrastructure upgrades.

National: Southern Sydney’s F6 Freeway Extension to Cost $18 Billion

The planned freeway extension linking Sydney and Wollongong has been priced at $18 billion, about three times as much as the rail alternative.

Government documents seen by the ABC and Fairfax reveal that the F6 toll road’s 32-kilometre extension is also estimated to cost $1 billion more than WestConnex.

The toll road would extend from St Peters to Waterfall through the Royal National Park. The construction costs are estimated at $14.5 billion, while operation and maintenance costs are at $3.5 billion.

Roads Minister Melinda Pavey said the cost for the F6 is still tentative. “We’re still in the very early stages, so no decision has been made regarding the final alignment,” Pavey said. “There is no decision on final cost.”

NSW Greens transport spokesperson Mehreen Fahruqi described the $18 billion price as “madness”.

“$18 billion of taxpayer’s money for yet another toll road, potentially through a National Park, is just obscene.”