Dump media ownership restrictions to save those suffering with TV blackspots Liberal MP says

The Government should dump media ownership restrictions in order to fix TV blackspots across the country, a Federal Liberal MP says.

Successive governments spent almost $1 billion switching televisions from analog to digital, but the Federal member for Hume, Angus Taylor, says many regional people have been left worse off.

“There are tens of thousands and perhaps more Australians across regional areas who are suffering from poor TV coverage, and I think it’s time for the Government to fix it,” he told ABC Rural.

He has managed to secure funding for a new tower in Crookwell in regional NSW, where locals say reception is hopeless.

“If you’re watching something like the Antique Roads Show and the fella’s explaining some technical thing about something, the sound goes and it’s very annoying,” local resident Bryan Kennedy explained.

Ron Cummins has lobbied for a new tower for the past three years. He said the offer of government subsidies during the digital switchover did not help.

“If you weren’t on a full-time pension, then you had to pay for the installation of the VAST system. And that could work up to $650 to $900 for the black box and satellite dish,” he said.

“And we didn’t think that was quite right given the Government had switched off the service and we had to pay to get free-to-air TV.”

Mr Kennedy said the satellite option was confusing for elderly people and that it did not provide local content.

“All the ads are now Alice Springs or somewhere like that,” he said.

Regional communities plagued by poor reception

Mr Taylor is concerned that other regional communities will continue to be plagued by poor reception.

He hopes the Turnbull Government will find his proposal attractive because it solves two problems: TV blackspots and the campaign by regional TV networks to lift 1980s media ownership restrictions.

Those laws prevent TV networks from owning newspapers and radio stations as well. They also permit metro stations and overseas companies such as Google and Netflix to stream into regional areas, while country networks cannot.

  Photo: Bryan Kennedy and Ron Cummins are sick of “hopeless reception”. (ABC News: Lucy Barbour)

Mr Taylor said deregulation would allow the Government to hold regional networks to account.

“If they’re healthy and if they’re not being hurt by bad regulation, outdated regulation, then it’s very reasonable for them to make commitments,” he said.

Regional players like Prime, Southern Cross and WIN have lobbied hard for the laws to be scrapped. They argue the laws are forcing them to close local newsrooms.

“New entrants into our market are left to operate unlicensed, unrestricted and unregulated,” Prime chief executive Ian Audsley said.

“And what that does is that leaves us like the dog chained to the post. All we can do is sit back and watch our house be burgled.”

He said his company was “sympathetic” to Mr Taylor’s proposal.

“All things are possible if there’s regulatory reform,” Mr Audsley said.

But some media moguls like Kerry Stokes are sceptical and have argued against change.

In his former job, Malcolm Turnbull was sympathetic to media reform but it is still unclear whether he will implement change.

In Crookwell, Mr Cummins is tuned in and hoping the new Prime Minister will act.

“For a small community to go through four years of waiting in this day and age — I think that’s just too long,” he said.

“And if the PM took it on himself, surely other small towns could get a service a lot quicker than what we’ve gone through.”

South Australian Government shifts focus to rail not roads following toppling of Tony Abbott

The South Australian Government’s lobbying efforts for federal transport funding have switched focus onto tram and rail projects, and away from roads, following the departure of Tony Abbott from the prime ministership.

Acting Premier John Rau said the State Government would make new submissions to Infrastructure Australia to significantly expand Adelaide’s tram network and complete the electrification of the Gawler railway line.

“Mr Abbott as prime minister wasn’t very interested in rail,” he said.

“The fact that we now appear to have a different attitude in Canberra is very welcome and that means we shift our emphasis now from road projects that we’ve got sitting there, over to rail projects.”

Mr Rau said he had been encouraged by comments from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and recently appointed Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, Jamie Briggs.

The tram network expansion plan was unveiled in 2013 and would see new lines branching out to destinations including Semaphore, Blair Athol, Mitcham, Magill and the airport.

But Mr Rau said he was happy to consider alternatives.

“If the Commonwealth’s happy to talk about going up O’Connell Street, so are we,” he said.

The full electrification of the Gawler rail line was announced in 2008 but later delayed for budgetary reasons.

“We’re talking in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a significant investment,” Mr Rau said.

“We have to sit down with [the Federal Government] and find out what they’ve got in terms of their budget.”

Small businesses warn they are at risk of being left behind as corporations embrace social media

ppitt (L) and Todd Sainsbury are developing a platform to help small businesses engage with social media. (ABC News: Louise Merrillees)

“Hospitality by nature, is a younger person’s domain and we’ve seen over the last five years in particular, how wedded they are to their mobile phones,” he said.

“The traditional weekly or monthly media wasn’t dynamic enough, things like Instagram, Facebook became more viable options, and they are more cost effective as well and have an instantaneous reach to a wide demographic.

“I still think the word of mouth is important, but social media reinforces that.

“We had a target to get to 10,000 followers, then 15,000 followers, and I think it is north of that figure now.”

50pc of consumers access social media daily: report

Almost 50 per cent of consumers now access social media every day — up to 79 per cent for the 18-29 age group — according to a report on social media by marketing company Sensis (formerly yellow pages) released in May.

But the survey found only 31 per cent of SME (small to medium size enterprises) businesses actively operate a social media plan.

The report found Facebook users were spending the equivalent of a full working day on the social media site each week.

It also said ratings and reviews should be a major focus for businesses online, with 62 per cent of people open to changing their opinion of a business if it responds to negative feedback on social media.

Professor Leaver said review websites could make or break a small business, depending on the tone of the reviews.

“If you are not putting out something yourself on social media, you can pretty much guarantee some of your customers are,” he said.

“If you don’t have your own presence, those reviews become the very first thing people find. Which can be great if it is an excellent review, but not so great if it is not a flattering review.”

People like to be informed but they don’t want to feel like you are watching over their shoulders 24/7.

Michael Keiller, Northbridge Brewing Company

Michelle Xa Rechichi is the owner of a pizza restaurant in Mt Lawley, and is also a food blogger.

The restaurant took part in a trial with Mr Trappitt and Mr Sainsbury to capture customers’ details throughs social media.

“Every time people came and turned on wifi, we could track data to see how often they were logging on, get email addresses, and we also ran some focus groups to see how engaged people were with wifi and social media, which was pretty cool,” Ms Rechichi said.

“Traditional advertising is expensive and disposable, and I think there is more power in the word of social media because it is the average person saying something about your product and the opportunity for it to be shared widely.”

Good business or Big Brother?

Professor Leaver said business need to balance using data from social media with an increasingly wary public.

“You should be extremely upfront — if you are not just using a Facebook page, but using an app or another tool that is recording customer information where it goes above and beyond what is transparent, you are doing yourself a disservice by not making that clear to your customer,” he said.

  Photo: A cafe in North Perth advertises cheap coffee in return for following them on Instagram. (ABC News: Louise Merrillees)

“Because at some point there will be a privacy backlash. Some shopping malls have trialled passively pinging mobile phones, and you don’t need to inform people you are using their phones to work out repeat customers, and there was a big push back where people found it creepy and didn’t want to shop at those malls.”

Mr Trappit said consumers were being tracked almost from the moment they stepped out the door.

“Your phone sends a pulse out to wifi access points in the local vicinity to try and find out if there are any wifi networks available, it does this every minute regardless wether you are connected or not,” he said.

“Large corporations like David Jones, Dan Murphys track phones, so they know busy times, they know how often people come back, they know how long you are in the store for, and it is all anonymous, but they know your phone comes back once per week etc.

“Google does it also. If you go to a website and you click on something or browse or buy something, have you notice the ads follow you around now? That’s tracking.

“With our platform, we make it clear that this is what is going on, we are collecting information, if you want to take part we would love you to do so, but it is opt-in.”

Mr Keiller agreed that there was a fine line between engaging with customers and spamming them.

“We tend not to direct email as much, I think you run the risk of getting too intrusive,” he said.

“People like to be informed but they don’t want to feel like you are watching over their shoulders 24/7.

“You need to strike the right balance. But in this day and age, if you don’t use social media you’ll be left behind your competitors.”

Vocus-M2 merger to create $3b telecommunications firm

Telecommunications firms Vocus and M2 are planning to merge to create a $3 billion company that can better compete with industry giants Telstra and Optus.

The boards of the two firms are unanimously recommending an all share merger deal that will see M2 shareholders receive 1.625 Vocus shares for every M2 share they own.

If shareholders agree, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) gives its blessing, the deal would create the fourth biggest integrated telecommunications company in Australia.

ACCC approval appears highly likely given comments this morning from its chairman Rod Sims, distinguishing this deal from an earlier observation about telecommunications takeovers.

“The comment around reluctance about more mergers was certainly about a four to three [player shrinking] and therefore is not relevant to this transaction,” he told Fairfax Media.

“So obviously if it was Telstra, Optus or TPG acquiring M2 I would say that it fits straight under what I was talking about and would be something we would have strong concerns about.

“Having said that, I’m going to be neutral and say we’re going to look at it … with an open mind.”

Top 100 company

The two firms say the combined entity would easily sit within the ASX 100 index of Australia’s biggest listed companies, with a market value of more than $3 billion.

Combined revenue is expected to be around $1.8 billion, with pre-tax earnings of approximately $370 million this financial year.

However, the companies expect to make cost savings of around $40 million per annum by financial year 2018 from the synergies of combining the businesses.

The companies are also hoping to boost revenue as a combined firm, by being able to bundle more services together for clients.

If the merger goes ahead, the combined company will offer retail internet, electricity and gas sales, corporate internet and IP voice, wholesale internet and IP voice, data centre and cloud services and access to various fibre.

Vocus chairman David Spence said the deal makes sense for both sets of shareholders.

“The businesses combine Vocus’ telecommunications infrastructure and corporate customer base with M2’s demonstrated expertise in the consumer and SME [small-medium enterprise] segments,” he noted in a statement.

The board of a combined company would include four representatives from each of the current boards.

Vocus chief executive and founder James Spenceley will remain on the board as an executive director, as will Vaughan Bowen, the founder and an executive director of M2.

M2’s chief executive Geoff Horth will continue on to run the combined group

Junk food, alcohol and gambling advertising banned on Canberra’s ACTION buses

Junk food, alcohol and gambling advertisements will be banned on ACTION buses under a strict new ACT Government policy.

Under the new rules, fossil fuels and weapons advertisements will also be prohibited.

Minister for Territory and Municipal Services Shane Rattenbury said buses were a government provided service and it was important that the products and messages promoted were appropriate.

He said the policy was particularly important given a significant number of ACTION passengers were school children.

“Across the board we’re looking to promote healthier food to school children and so leaving junk food advertising off the buses helps contribute to that overall objective of delivering a healthier message to our kids,” he said.

“It’s quite clear that junk food advertising is targeted at children, in many many places it’s quite pervasive and I think the buses are just another example of that and we need to make sure that kids are getting a healthier message given the level of childhood obesity we see in our community.”

Mr Rattenbury said advertising on government assets needed to be in line with community expectations.

Government following lead of community campaign

The ACT Government recently decided to divest from fossil fuels due to their environmental impact.

Mr Rattenbury said similarly, it was only appropriate that the Government did not promote investment in fossil fuels on publicly owned buses.

“We have also recently seen the launch of a community campaign to remove weapons advertising at the Canberra Airport, as this advertising does not represent the Canberra community nor does it reflect the image we want visitors to Canberra to see,” he said.

“I think the same should be said for our ACTION buses as a reflection of our Canberra.”

The previous ACTION advertising policy already restricted the type of material that could be promoted, including political or religious advertising, tobacco products and anti-social or offensive messages.

NSW Government cracks down on illegal ride-sharing puts Uber on notice

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.”

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.