Australian household income barely rising

Low-income growth is not something new that has just crept up on the economy and explains why Australian households may be struggling to make ends meet.

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But new figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show inequality is only marginally higher.

“When you look at it on a global scale, Australia is still low,” ABS chief economist Bruce Hockman told AAP on Wednesday.

In its two-yearly survey of income and housing, average household debt has almost doubled since the early 2000s, with about three in 10 Australian households considered to be “over-indebted”.

A separate ABS report also shows that while energy costs are at the centre of a heated political debate, education has seen the biggest increase in household spending since the start of the decade.

The ABS found that while the average weekly household income grew by $274 to $982 in the four years between 2003/04 and 2007/08, it grew by only $27 to $1009 in inflation-adjusted terms during the next eight years.

However, average household wealth increased 11 per cent between 2013/14 and 2015/16 to $929,400, largely as a result of rising property values.

At the same time, average household debt rose to $169,000 in 2015/16, up from $94,000 in 2003/04.

One in four households carried debt equal to three or more years’ worth of disposable income and a further two per cent held debt equal to three-quarters of the value of their household assets.

“Based on either of these comparisons, around three in 10 households with a debt in Australia are considered to be ‘over-indebted’,” Mr Hockman said.

Using the so-called Gini coefficient – an international measure of inequality – income inequality rated 0.323 in 2015/16 but within a range of 0.320 and 0.333 that has stood since 2007/08.

Values closer to zero represent higher equality while closer to one represent higher inequality.

Wealth is less equally distributed than income among Australians, scoring 0.605 in 2015/16, the same as two years ago but higher than the 0.573 recorded when it was first measured in 2003/04.

The bureau’s separate six-yearly household expenditure survey found between 2009/10 and 2015/16 spending on education jumped 44 per cent followed by household services and operations such as cleaning products and pest control, which increased by 30 per cent.

Energy and healthcare were joint third, rising 26 per cent, while at the other end of the scale, spending on alcohol, tobacco, clothing and footwear, and household furnishings showed no significant change.

Trengove AFL future at Port up in the air

Port Adelaide captain Travis Boak says he’d be sad if teammate Jackson Trengove leaves the AFL club.

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Trengove is weighing up free-agency offers to return to his native Victoria after being dropped from Port’s team for the last month of the season.

“He has got to make a decision … it’s up in the air,” Boak told reporters on Wednesday.

“This is footy now. Free agency comes around and he has got to look at what is best for him and his family.

“We respect that; we understand that. We as a club love Jacko and Jacko absolutely loves the club but he has got to do what is best for him.”

The Western Bulldogs are believed to be pitching for Trengove, a versatile 153-gamer, while the Power are understood to be keen on Brisbane midfielder Tom Rockliff.

“I don’t even know if we have spoken to him but he’s a quality player … it elevates your midfield if you bring someone like that in,” Boak said of the Lions’ ex-captain.

Boak said he and his teammates were still grappling with their crushing extra-time elimination final loss to West Coast.

Eagle Luke Shuey kicked a goal after the extra-time siren in a result still raw at Port.

“There is no doubt there’s going to be a lot of hurt from that and a lot of burn that will drive a few players,” Boak said.

“It’s probably the worst result and worst loss I have ever been involved in, in a final like that where we controlled the game for a lot of it and wasted opportunities.

“And to go down in extra time, after the siren, is pretty hard to cop.”

The Power skipper downplayed president David Koch’s post-game remarks that players were to blame for not following coach Ken Hinkley’s game plan.

“We (players) have spoken about it,” Boak said.

“We have got to talk about it. We know that we’re all on the same page and all looking for the same outcome.

“He (Koch) is really passionate about the club …there is no doubt every player at out club cares about winning a premiership and that is all they want, and he knows that.”

Floral tribute to Princess Diana mocked online

A floral tribute to Princess Diana in the UK town of Chesterfield has been widely ridiculed as “dreadful” and “a heinous monstrosity”.

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Created as part of a traditional festival for dressing wells in the Derbyshire town, the flower arrangement commemorates the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death, The Telegraph reports. 

Chesterfield Borough Council posted photos of the tribute on Facebook, and was quickly inundated with negative comments.

Post by Chesterfield Borough Council.

“What an atrocity. Poor Diana. But hope she is looking down and having a giggle about it bless her,” wrote Jan McCulloch.

“There must have been some local opposition to this heinous monstrosity,” commented Michael Field.

Welbeck Kane wrote: “I live here [Chesterfield] and, let me tell you, I can feel its eyes on me, even now in my house.”

Others suggested the face looked more like British comedy character Father Ted, singers Sir Rod Stewart and Sir Bob Geldof and children’s character Worzel Gummidge.

The council have defended the memorial, which will be displayed in Chesterfield Market Place until the weekend.

“The well dressing is produced by 14 volunteers using the ancient Derbyshire art of well dressing, which involves creating designs from flower petals and other natural materials,” a council spokesman said.

“All art is meant to be a talking point and that certainly seems to be the case with this year’s design.

“The well dressing is designed to attract visitors to the area and if the publicity encourages more people to come and experience our historic market town and local shops then that can only be good for Chesterfield.” 

I think Cecilia Gimenez has been at it again. #PrincessDi #BeholdtheMonkey pic.twitter苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/N5KnWjc7p2

— Natalie Mitchell (@Mitchell_Nat) September 12, 2017Chesterfield’s Princess Diana floral tribute is drunk and wants to fight you苏州美甲培训学校,长沙SPA,/mcPuhEd3Pf

— Emma Richards (@EmmaRichards85) September 12, 2017#Chesterfield you are lucky no one can be sent to the tower for your dreadful memorial#KensingtonPalace no one had the guts to say NO

— Amber Zoe (@AmberZoe12) September 12, 2017I don’t know what the fuss is all about, this new memorial looks just like @rodstewart. #Dianapic.twitter苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/fp42M4Yck5

— Anthony Minto (@anthonymminto) September 12, 2017

But others defended the tribute.

Its a tribute. I loved Di. I think its lovely! 💜💜BBC News – Chesterfield’s ‘awful’ Princess Diana tribute mocked 苏州美甲培训学校,长沙SPA,/dEYIg6B8LS

— The Feed Bags (@TheFeedBags) September 13, 2017Absolute masterpiece from my hometown, #Chesterfield, commemorating the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death. pic.twitter苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/fTXMHnwfqf

— Tom J Newell (@tomjnewell) September 12, 2017Love that Diana memorial and glad the council didn’t buckle and apologise, or even worse remove it. It was made by volunteers!

— John Baker (@jpbaker) September 12, 2017

0:00 Diana: In Her Own Words Share Diana: In Her Own Words

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We’ve got a long way to go on North Korea: Bishop

Australia is playing down North Korean threats to inflict the “greatest pain” on the US following additional sanctions on the rogue nation.

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“On this scale of threats, intimidation and insults it’s probably just par for the course from North Korea,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Wednesday.

The sanctions reflected the international community’s view that maximum economic pressure would force the regime to change its calculation of risk.

“To change its behaviour, deter it from carrying out illegal tests and bring it back to the negotiating table,” Ms Bishop said.

0:00 North Korea sanctions ‘nothing compared to what will have to happen’: Trump Share North Korea sanctions ‘nothing compared to what will have to happen’: Trump

The measures approved by the security council this week build off sanctions across numerous sectors of the North Korean economy imposed in early August.

“They were the toughest and most comprehensive set of sanctions that had been imposed on North Korea to date,” Ms Bishop said.

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The latest sanctions include a complete ban on the export of textiles from North Korea – an almost one billion dollar hit to the regime’s economy.

They also reduce by about a third the amount of oil North Korea can import.

The foreign minister, who will be in New York next week for UN leadership meetings, called on all nations to fully implement the sanctions.Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop arrives to speak at a Tourism & Transport Forum Leadership Summit at Parliament House in Canberra, September 13.AAP

“It’s overwhelmingly in Australia’s interests to ensure there is a peaceful resolution to the tensions on the Korean peninsula,” Ms Bishop said.

Three of Australia’s four largest trading partners are in north Asia and at risk of economic fallout if hostilities erupt.

Ms Bishop denied sanctions only stirred the pot when it came to the North Korean leadership.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop speaks at a Tourism & Transport Forum Leadership Summit at Parliament House in Canberra, September 13, 2017.AAP

“The alternative would be to allow a rogue regime to continue down an illegal path that is in direct defiance of the UN security council. That is not acceptable,” she said.

Australia was not considering options beyond diplomatic, political and economic measures but Ms Bishop acknowledged: “We’ve got a long way to go.”

Stillbirth discovery gives hope to women

Stillborn deaths could soon plummet on the back of a breakthrough discovery by Australian researchers.

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A simple blood test to identify babies at risk of dying in the womb could be just three to five years away after scientists pinpointed the role ageing placentas play in stillbirths.

The researchers discovered that placentas, which deliver oxygen and nutrients to unborn babies, age rapidly in the final weeks of pregnancy.

Crucially, they also found deteriorating placentas emit an enzyme called aldehyde oxidase, which ends up in the mother’s blood.

That’s the exciting part because it means a blood test might be able to identify at-risk babies, who can be delivered early before their lifelines fail.

“This is very exciting and I have to say it’s big,” says Professor Roger Smith, of NSW’s Hunter Medical Research Institute.

The blood test is already being developed.

Prof Smith was driving to work one morning about five years ago when he had a light-bulb moment.

He doesn’t like to listen to the radio or music during his commute. For him, it’s valuable thinking time.

That’s how the came to be mulling over the mathematical definition of ageing.

“Most people would say they know what ageing is but it’s difficult to define and there is a mathematical definition – that the risk of death increases with time.”

He was soon at work poring over data with a new perspective and what he found surprised him.

“When I looked at the data on stillbirths – with that definition of ageing in mind – it screamed to me that stillbirth is related to the ageing of the placenta,” he said.

“That was the key idea but then we had to test it. “

Prof Smith and his colleagues Kaushik Maiti and Zakia Sultana started looking at placentas from 37-week pregnancies and compared them with placentas from 39 and 40 weeks, looking for biochemical markets of ageing.

“We found dramatic changes in those last few weeks of pregnancy,” he said.

While the focus now is on the blood test – including how often mums should be tested for the enzyme – other related research ambitions are already taking shape.

Prof Smith and his team also plan to investigate ways to suppress the enzyme if placentas start to age and deteriorate early in pregnancy, but that’s something that could take a decade.

About one in every 150 pregnancies in Australia ends with stillbirth, but the figure is much higher in most other places.

The team’s discovery will be published in the coming edition of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Sorting out the sound and fury of energy

Power bills are skyrocketing, there are dire predictions of blackouts and politicians are calling each other silly names.

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Welcome to the energy policy debate – full of sound and fury and leaving one wondering if it signifies anything.

The Turnbull government is reshaping the clean energy target recommended by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel into something palatable to the conservatives on its backbench.

It received the Finkel report in June and quickly agreed to 49 of its 50 recommendations.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reluctantly – during a media interview – set himself a December deadline for sorting out the final recommendation of a clean energy target or similar policy.

Industry and experts have repeatedly warned the policy paralysis cannot continue if there is to be the investment in new generation or storage necessary to replace ageing coal-fired generators.

The problem is that investing in any kind of power generation is a decades-long prospect and no one wants to put their money on the line if the government might change the rules and make it unviable.

For the past month or so the government has said it was waiting on a report from the Australian Energy Market Operator about electricity generation needs in the future before developing a policy.

It got that report just over a week ago and has used its warning the grid will need an extra 1000 megawatts of dispatchable power (which can be sent when it’s needed) before the Liddell coal-fired power station closes in 2022 to pressure owner AGL into keeping it open longer.

But policy expert Oliver Yates – who led the government’s green finance bank until May – says it’s exactly that kind of intervention that is causing chaos and reluctance to invest.

Coal power, while dispatchable, isn’t suited to the changing market in the long term because its capacity can’t be quickly ramped up or down to respond to demand levels, unlike gas plants or storage options such as batteries or pumped hydro.

Expect to hear more about “demand response measures” soon too.

This is when energy companies or AEMO pay energy users – usually large industry – to volunteer to cut their power consumption during extreme spikes in demand, meaning others don’t face forced blackouts.

WHAT IS THE CLEAN ENERGY TARGET?

* Sets an emissions intensity threshold – Finkel modelled this at 600kg of carbon dioxide or equivalent pollution per megawatt hour (600kg CO2/MWh) of energy produced

* New generators that produce electricity below this threshold would receive certificates based on how far under it their emissions are.

* Existing generators could earn certificates if they produce more electricity than they do now – increase capacity – and it falls under the emissions threshold.

* Emissions-free generators – such as wind or solar – would get a whole certificate while dirtier forms – such as gas or coal – would get a fraction of one, meaning they would have to generate more power to receive the same number of certificates.

* Electricity retailers would have to buy and surrender to government each year a certain number of certificates, to show there is enough clean energy in the system.

* If the CET level was set at 700kg CO2/MWh it would incorporate the newest technology, high-efficiency low-emissions coal stations – of which there are none in Australia at the moment.

Same-sex marriage: What next? A ban on ‘mum and dad’, says Hanson

The One Nation leader has told parliament she will ignore a majority “yes” result of a postal survey on the issue.

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“I feel it’s a sham, it’s farcical and it’s a waste of money,” she said of the $122 million ballot.

Senator Hanson also slammed gay couples for trying to “take the word ‘marriage'”.

“Why won’t you try and compromise?” she said.

Senator Hanson warned marriage equality meant schoolchildren would be banned from calling their parents “mum and dad” so as not to offend the children of same-sex couples.

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Meanwhile, she said proposed anti-vilification laws being debated in the Senate on Wednesday would shut down the “no” campaign and free speech.

Earlier senior Labor figure Penny Wong delivered an impassioned speech urging the prime minister to protect children like her own.

“How do you think it feels for children in same-sex families … to be told politely and courteously `Actually you’re not quite normal, your families aren’t as good’?” asked Senator Wong, who is a parent in a same-sex relationship.

The bill makes it an offence to vilify, intimidate or threaten to cause harm to a person on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status or religious conviction during the survey.

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Senator Wong lamented that those opposed to gay marriage were using “odd, bizarre and unconnected things” to make their argument.

“They want to talk about our children, they want to talk about – what’s the phrase – `radical gay sex education’.”

The bill could not protect the LGBTI community from hurt.

Greens senator Janet Rice, who married her transgender wife Penny 30 years ago when her partner was Peter, said she wanted to be able to hold her partner’s hand in public, the way they used to, without fear of abuse.

“We used to hold hands, we used to kiss in public but over the last 13 years we self-censor,” she told parliament.

“We generally don’t hold hands in public, we get used to the fact that if we are holding hands in the street we need to be ready for the possibility of having a car driving past, wind down its window and hurl abuse at us.”

0:00 Same-sex marriage across the world Share Same-sex marriage across the world

Cabinet minister Mathias Cormann said the bill was seeking to add extra protections to existing safeguards in federal, state and territory legislation.

“This will help ensure the integrity in this process and that Australians can have complete confidence that the outcome of the survey reflects the freely given views of the respondents,” he said.

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Conservative crossbencher Cory Bernardi also opposes the legislation, warning there would be spurious claims from people claiming to be upset.

“This is essentially 18C on steroids to protect people from being upset,” he said, referring to race hate-speech laws he has fought to scrap.

It was “wholly inappropriate” that Attorney-General George Brandis has responsibility for judging complaints, given he supports marriage equality.

“Do we want really a cheerleader… anyone who is a partisan cheerleader for a side in a camp to be rendering any form of judgment about the conduct of one side or the other?” he said.

Myer expected to unveil weak FY sales

Myer’s struggle to overcome sluggish consumer spending will be back under the spotlight on Thursday, with the department store giant expected to confirm a fall in sales amid its full-year results.

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Fierce rival David Jones last month called out falling consumer confidence as a major factor behind a 0.7 per cent fall in full-year comparable sales, and Myer looks set to suffer too.

Chief executive Richard Umbers has been trying to turnaround the business for two years but Myer already warned in May that “challenging trading conditions” would continue to hurt sales.

The retailer reported a 3.3 per cent fall in its third quarter sales in May with comparable sales down two per cent.

Citi analyst Bryan Raymond wrote in a note that the second half was tough for David Jones and that Myer would likely have had a weaker performance.

“David Jones and Myer’s stores and customers overlap in many parts of Australia,” Mr Raymond said last month.

Citi has forecast Myer’s comparable store sales to drop 2.8 per cent and for earnings before tax and interest to have slipped in the second half of the 2017 financial year.

Mr Raymond said the second-half results will highlight the challenging conditions Myer has faced, particularly as Mr Umbers tries to cut back on discounting.

Myer announced in July that it will take a total $45.6 million hit after writing off the value of its 20 per cent stake in Topshop’s Australian franchisee and impairing the value of its struggling sass & bide brand.

The retailer had previously expected net profit to exceed 2016’s $60.5 million but the writedowns and another $20 million of costs are expected to weigh.

The company expects underlying net profit to be in the range of $66 million to $70 million.

Myer has shed many of its private labels and brought in more popular brands as concession stalls – outlets inside the department store – in the past year as part of its turnaround strategy.

The higher mix of concession stalls, with a focus on popular brands, including John Lewis and Veronica Maine, has reduced Myer’s operational costs.

Dutton introduces draft laws to ban phones, drugs in detention centres

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton wants the power to ban anything he deems poses a “risk” to Australia’s detention centres – including mobile phones.

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Draft laws introduced to parliament on Wednesday will also give authorised officers greater power to search for prohibited items without a warrant.

The move follows a court ruling in February that blocked a bid by the Australian Border Force to confiscate phones of detainees in immigration detention.

Mr Dutton said phones were enabling criminal activity within centres, including – in at least one case – to organise the contract killing of another detainee.

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They had also been used to arrange escapes, riots and drug distribution, as well as to access child pornography.

They had become a form of currency in the facilities with owners of phones being subjected to “standover tactics” and threats.

Mr Dutton said existing arrangements were inadequate to manage the increasing risk of contraband.

“This government and I will not tolerate behaviour that is illegal or that threatens the stability of detention facilities, placing my officers, visitors or detainees at risk,” he said.

The federal government lost an appeal in August over a Federal Court ruling that determined guards don’t have the right to confiscate phones from people held in immigration detention.

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Mr Dutton said about half of the detention population are non-citizens who have had their visas cancelled.

Asylum seekers who arrived by boat make up nearly 30 per cent, including “people with criminal histories and other security concerns”.

That meant more than half of detainees consist of a “high-risk cohort”.

“These cohorts have significant criminal histories like child sex offences, or links to criminal gangs such as outlawed motorcycle gangs, and other organised crime groups, or they represent an unacceptable risk to the Australian community,” Mr Dutton said.

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“These criminals often have serious behavioural issues and pose a critical threat to the health, safety, security and good order of the detention network.”

The proposed laws will allow the minister to determine ‘prohibited things’ by legislative instrument.

It will also allow the use of detector dogs for screening detainees or people entering the facilities, and give authorised officers and assistants permission to search accommodation and common areas, rooms, medical examination areas, storage and the personal effects of detainees without a warrant.

Give up the slush fund, Hanson tells ABC

Pauline Hanson is demanding the ABC should give up its taxpayer-funded “slush fund” if it wants to bid against media rivals for programs.

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As the Senate debated media ownership reform laws on Wednesday, the One Nation leader questioned why the ABC was using public money to compete in the commercial market.

“If we intend to have diverse media outlets in Australia then the ABC has to get out of trying to compete with the commercial market,” she told parliament.

“If the ABC chooses not to then I suggest foregoing taxpayer funding to become a commercial enterprise. See how well you do without your slush fund.”

The ABC and SBS will be forced to disclose staff salaries of more than $200,000 under a deal struck between the Turnbull government and One Nation on the media reforms.

The deal will also have the national broadcasters face an inquiry into “competitive neutrality” and the ABC have the words “fair and balanced” slotted into its charter.

But Senator Hanson has rejected claims the deal has any impact on ABC funding, insisting that was “never discussed” during her negotiations with the government.

“I intend to pursue the ABC funding with the relevant ministers at an appropriate time in the future,” she said.

A revised version of the media reforms is expected to clear the Senate after the government struck a deal with the Xenophon team.

Crossbencher Nick Xenophon says his deal, which includes a three-year government assistance fund for small and regional publishers, is all but done.

Labor opposes the legislation, which seeks to repeal the two-out-of-three rule, which bars a person owning newspapers and licences for TV and radio in a single market.