Volkswagen staff warned about emissions cheating software years ago German media reports

The New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) has put controversial ride-sharing giant Uber on notice, issuing 40 suspension notices against offending drivers.

RMS Director of Safety and Compliance Peter Wells said ride-sharing services were illegal and the Government was cracking down on those allowing their vehicles to be used.

“Taxi and hire car services in NSW must be provided by an operator accredited by Roads and Maritime, in a licensed and insured vehicle which is driven by an authorised driver,” Mr Wells said.

“Thousands of dollars in fines have already been issued to drivers offering illegal ride-sharing activities and compliance actions will continue.

“If drivers continue to offer illegal ride sharing services – they will continue to risk registration suspensions and fines.”

Mr Wells said 40 drivers have already been issued with suspension notices.

“The vehicle suspensions will take effect from midnight 30 September and will be in place for three months.

“The suspension notices have been issued to registered owners of vehicles found to be operating a privately registered vehicle for business purposes.

“If a suspended vehicle is found on the road after 1 October, the vehicle is deemed unregistered and uninsured, with penalties of $637 for each offence, increasing to around $2,200 if heard in court.”

An Uber spokesperson told the ABC the RMS was denying drivers due process and the company is reviewing its legal options to reverse the decision.

“The people of Sydney are choosing Uber in their hundreds of thousands and we look forward to seeing the Government recognise this by putting sensible ride-sharing regulations in place as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said.

In a statement, The NSW Taxi Council said it “welcomes the announcement by RMS that it will enforce the law to crack down on illegal ride-sharing.”

“The Taxi Industry meanwhile will continue to focus on safe, reliable transport and good customer service,” the statement reads.

The NSW Government has established an independent taskforce to examine the future of the taxi and hire car industry.

Premier Mike Baird said “We’re waiting for that review to be completed and obviously we will be responding appropriately.

“But at the moment the status quo is the status quo and that’s what we expect participants to abide by.”

NSW Government to sell off luxury hotels in Sydney to fund projects

The New South Wales Government has announced it will fund an upgrade of Sydney’s Circular Quay by selling off several sites, including luxury hotels.

The Shangri-La and Four Seasons hotels in the city’s CBD, the Novotel and Mercure hotels at Darling Harbour, and commercial offices at Darling Quarter are among the properties owned by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA) that will be put on the market.

The Government said it would raise $200 million to fund the construction of new state-of-the-art ferry wharves, with construction expected to begin in 2019.

Premier Mike Baird said the Government did not need to be the landlord for luxury hotels and the money raised would be put to good use.

“For those of us that looked at the wharves for a long time, we know that they’re functional but we think they can do much, much more.” Mr Baird said.

“They can provide the sort of gateway you see in global cities around the world that’s attractive, that’s inviting, that’s vibrant.”

The Government’s vision for the wharves included double-storey buildings with new retail facilities.

Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet said the SHFA assets were deemed to be not of long-term strategic importance.

“There is absolutely no reason in the 21st century why the NSW Government needs to be the landlord for these luxury hotels,” Mr Perrottet said.

However, Mr Perrottet refused to reveal how much ongoing revenue the state would be foregoing from lost rent.

“Some of those assets obviously bring on revenue, but we will make sure that the assets that are divested make economic sense and importantly are invested into productive infrastructure” he said.

“This is about making better use of our assets. You can’t have our assets locked up and build the infrastructure of the 21st century.”

Pro-business groups urge ACT Opposition to abandon plans to tear up light rail contracts

Three prominent pro-business groups have urged ACT’s Liberal Opposition to reconsider its plans to tear up light rail contracts if they win the 2016 territory election.

Earlier this year, the Canberra Liberals said they would cancel any light rail contracts signed by the current Government.

The move attracted a stern rebuke from then prime minister Tony Abbott, who said all contracts should be honoured.

But the Liberals went on to formally warn two consortia shortlisted to help construct it the light rail project that a change in government would put an end to the project.

Now the Business Council of Australia (BCA), the Australian Industry Group (AIG) and Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA) have weighed in, asking the party to change its policy.

IPA chief executive Brendan Lyon said Australia needed investment to fill the infrastructure gap and grow the economy beyond the resources boom.

He said for this reason, voiding light rail contracts would damage the national interest, and cost Canberra dearly in compensation.

“Australia has a hard-won reputation as one of the world’s safest places to invest, but the axing of Victoria’s East West Link contract has already damaged that standing,” he said.

“We have no tradition of incoming governments using their lawmaking powers to dud businesses by avoiding their legal obligations under contracts.

“These sovereign-type risks are usually associated with countries with weak formal institutions, not modern global economies like Australia.”

Oragnisations lobbying on behalf of members

The ACT Opposition was quick to hit back at claims its plan to axe contracts would damage the territory’s reputation as a stable market for investment.

Opposition transport spokesman Alistair Coe said the groups represented private organisations, some of which were bidding for the light rail contract.

“Companies such as Downer EDI are members of the Business Council. The Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi is a member of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia and companies such as John Holland or Oricon are members of the Australia Industry Group,” he said.

“So these organisations are lobbying on behalf of their financial members – and good luck to them.

“But we’re lobbying on behalf of Canberra voters.”

Contracts for the light rail project are likely to be signed early next year, with construction planned to start by the middle of the year.

Housing market slowdown not sharp, mortgage arrears as good as it gets

Despite a large number of auctions over the weekend, clearance rates around the capital cities managed a small bounce back above 70 per cent.

With the spring selling season in full swing, 2,820 auctions took place last week, with almost 1,200 each in Sydney and Melbourne dominating the figures.

The rise in auctions reflects a spring surge in the number of Sydney homes listed for sale, with plenty of homes on the market in Melbourne as well.

The national average clearance rate was 71.3 per cent, up from 69.9 per cent the previous week, according to preliminary figures from CoreLogic RP Data.

Sydney (74.2 per cent) and Melbourne (73.3 per cent) continued to lead the national market, with Adelaide just under 70 per cent and Brisbane just under 60 per cent.

About half the 58 homes auctioned in Canberra sold, while few homes were up for auction in Perth and Tasmania with well under half reported as selling at auction.

Auction clearance rates in Sydney were consistently well above 80 per cent for much of the year, pulling the national rate to a peak around 80 per cent.

However, despite the auction clearance rate falling from earlier highs, home price growth remains fairly robust.

CoreLogic RP Data’s index shows Melbourne recording a weekly price rise of 0.7 per cent, monthly gain of 2 per cent and annual growth of 14.3 per cent.

On these figures, it is closing in on Sydney, where prices have stalled over the past month and the annual growth rate has slipped to 17.1 per cent.

Both cities remain light years ahead of any other market, with Brisbane posting modest growth and other capital cities showing flat or falling prices.

Mortgage arrears ‘as good as it gets’

At the same time as some steam appears to be coming out of bubbling property markets as more properties are listed for sale, a leading credit rating agency is warning that the level of mortgage arrears is likely to rise from current levels which are near record lows.

Fitch Ratings said the percentage of mortgages where borrowers are more than 30 days behind in repayments fell by 5 basis points to 1.12 per cent in the June quarter.

The ratings agency noted that arrears have stayed at low levels of between 1-1.2 per cent since late 2013, as the Reserve Bank cut interest rates.

However, Fitch warned that, with the cash rate at a record low 2 per cent, there is little prospect for further improvement.

“Fitch believes there is little capacity for significant improvement in delinquencies, given current the low interest rates, strong housing market, and stable unemployment rate,” the agency noted in the report.

“We believe arrears may increase if unemployment rises in line with expectations at end-2015.

“Household expenses are expected to have a crucial role in borrowers’ serviceability, although CPI rose by just 1.5 per cent year-on-year in June 2015. Fitch believes that if the cost of living increases and outpaces income growth, mortgage performance will be negatively affected.”

Some pressures are already showing for, mainly self-employed, low-doc borrowers, where 30-day-plus arrears rose 28 basis points to 5.72 per cent.

So-called non-conforming borrowers, a small group that do not meet regular lending standards but were still issued home loans, are recording a delinquency rate of 7.96 per cent.

However, the continued strength in home prices is so far insulating banks from taking significant losses on mortgage defaults.

“The annualised loss rate continued to improve marginally year-on-year, as the national house-price gain of 9.8 per cent year-on-year helped to clear long-dated arrears, and limit losses and claims to lenders’ mortgage insurance providers,” the report added.