Victorian shopping spree and dining splurge provide recession bounce

Chris and Sharee Favoloro’s restaurant Vivace in Melbourne’s Brighton is now booked out until Christmas.

“It’s been so busy – rehiring, retraining – we have been living on adrenalin. It’s been a whirlwind. We are going to need to close and take a holiday,” Mr Favoloro said.

“Usually people in Brighton go on holidays but now they are staying.”

Among their first dining customers was NAB chief economist Alan Oster, who noted the restaurant had expanded into the car park to make up for reduced capacity under COVID-19 restrictions.

NAB analysis of real-time bank credit and debit card data points to further strong gains in November.

“Melbourne’s full reopening in November should further support retail sales in the December quarter, along with recent income tax cuts,” NAB’s Tapas Strickland said.

“The rollback of government support through JobKeeper and JobSeeker does not seem to have materially affected retail sales data or labour force figures in October, which is encouraging.”

Other economists such as ANZ’s Adelaide Timbrell agree.

“ANZ data suggests that November retail sales will be much stronger than recent months, as pent-up demand from Melbourne’s lockdown flows through to very strong sales, and Black Friday lures in more retail spending and pulls forward some Christmas shopping,” she said.

Another huge jump in Victoria’s October retail sales results was the clothing, footwear and personal accessory category, which rose 42 per cent to $338 million. Nationally the category rose 6.8 per cent, while department store sales advanced 4.5 per cent.

This growth is expected to keep rising into December.

On Collins Street, in the heart of the Melbourne CBD, Mary Poulakis owns the luxury fashion shop Harrolds, which has experienced strong trading despite a quieter CBD due to lower office tower occupancy.

“We only opened in the week leading up to Melbourne Cup, which is usually our biggest week of the year. This year our sales were just as strong as the same week last year and that’s even without the races being open,” Ms Poulakis said.

“People were just so delighted to get out and spend and get rid of that sting in the tail.”

“Sales have dropped off a bit again. I think the restrictions need to relax further – it’s hard enough selling a Tom Ford dress from 1.5 metres away with a mask on.

“I have hired a DJ to draw people in and create a bit of energy. For us this is about making the recovery sustainable.”

Investment analyst at DNR Capital Chris Tynan said household savings, which are now 18.9 per cent of net disposable income, will be a key determinant of future retail sales growth. As savings shrink, consumption rises.

“Retail sales have been boosted and the question is whether improved households balance sheets can facilitate continued spending when government assistance rolls off.”

“The savings rate shows nationally the record stimulus hasn’t been squandered by households, despite the overall lift in selected categories of retail sales over the period, especially household goods.

Nationally, online sales inched up 0.2 per cent in October but rose 70.8 per compared to October 2019.

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Apprentice Lachlan Neindorf set to extend Victorian stint at stables of Anthony and Sam Freedman

South Australian apprentice Lachlan Neindorf is leaning towards extending his Victorian stint when his six-month loan to the Anthony and Sam Freedman stables expires in two weeks.

Superior opportunities are an enticing lure for Neindorf who initially joined the Freeman camp for a three-month term following the Adelaide autumn carnival.

As well as working out of Pinecliff, Neindorf has been encouraged by his support from leading stables such as Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig.

“I have to make a decision in two weeks and I will probably stay,” Neindorf said.

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“I like it over here, race riding every day.

“I love working at Pinecliff, it is a nice set up and more laid back than track work at normal tracks. Anthony and Sam are really good.

“Anthony is a bit of a hard task master, a bit old school and he tries to get the best out of you. Robbie Scarlett rides trackwork and he has been an enormous help for me.

“He helps me out a lot and is always giving advice. I could not have asked for a better track work rider to help me out.”

Neindorf rode Cataracta from the Ciaron Maher and David Eustice stable, and Harpuna at Moonee Valley when they had their most recent starts and the pair will meet over 1200m at Morphettville on Saturday.

So which horse would the youngster ride in the BenchMark 64 race if he had to choose?

“Harpuna is a progressive horse which hasn’t really come into his own,” Neindorf said.

“He is still doing things wrong.

“At the Valley, and (Morphettville) Parks the start before, he struggled to get around the turn. When he straightens up he does rocket.

“I was lucky I had a horse outside me keeping me in, otherwise I probably would have run off the track. “

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Victorian Government raises trade concerns directly with China

The Victorian Government has raised concerns directly with China over escalating trade tensions between it and Australia.

Victorian Trade Minister Martin Pakula has told the Public Accounts and Estimates parliamentary committee that he raised concerns about the ongoing dispute with the Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Melbourne as well as the Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.

“I have spoken to Senator Birmingham on a couple of occasions and I have to say that he and I are in very strong alignment,” Mr Pakula said.

“I’m also happy to indicate that I’ve had detailed conversations with the Chinese Consul General to convey Victoria’s concerns and Brett Stevens, the Victorian Commissioner in Shanghai, who was on the conversations, has also had two direct meetings with the National Development and Reform Commission in China, again to convey Victoria’s concerns.”

Mr Pakula did not reveal what was specifically discussed but said there had been a response to the conversations.

He also told the committee that he would support a move by the Federal Coalition Government to refer the disputes to the World Trade Organisation.

Mr Pakula defended Victoria’s controversial Belt and Road agreement with Beijing but admitted it did not “immunise” Victorian exports from increased tariffs.

Opposition says Belt and Road agreement ‘has to go’

Yesterday, Premier Daniel Andrews condemned a Chinese official’s doctored tweet of an Australian soldier but said he would stick with his government’s Belt and Road agreement.

The offensive tweet was posted by a Chinese foreign policy spokesperson and has stoked diplomatic tensions between the two nations.

Mr Andrews said the post was indefensible but added it was important that a strong relationship was maintained with China.

“I hope the rhetoric, commentary and inflammatory social media posts comes to an end … this relationship is far too important to farmers, to manufacturers, to profits for Victorian companies and therefore prosperity for our state,” Mr Andrews said.

“This is not just our biggest customer, but it is all about jobs, we need a good relationship, but it has to be a fair and a respectful one.”

The Victorian Opposition claimed the Belt and Road agreement was “useless” if it could not be used to resolve trade tensions.

Leader Michael O’Brien said the Government had been compromised by its commitment to the Belt and Road deal.

“The Belt and Road deal has to go, not even Labor’s Federal Leader Anthony Albanese will have a bar of it,” Mr O’Brien said.

“We need to have a proper relationship with China, not a lopsided one.”

Victoria’s Belt and Road agreement could be torn up if new foreign interference laws pass through the Federal Parliament.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been scathing of the Victorian Belt and Road Agreement with Beijing, claiming it is against the national interest.

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Victorian Government bans financial institutions running school banking programs like Dollarmites

The Victorian Government says it will ban “low-quality” school banking programs run by financial institutions from next year, spelling an end to the controversial Dollarmites program in state schools.

The bank-run schemes will be replaced with school-run programs about financial skills in line with the Victorian curriculum.

Nearly two thirds of the nation’s schools participated in school banking programs in 2019.

The most well known is the Dollarmites program, delivered by the Commonwealth Bank (CBA).

Corporate regulator ASIC launched a review of school banking in October 2018, weeks after the ABC revealed CBA paid almost $400,000 to Queensland state schools in the previous year to encourage more students to join the program.

In a preliminary report in September 2019, ASIC found there was “limited evidence” school banking programs created a “lasting” money-saving behaviour in students.

Consumer advocacy group Choice and the Australian Education Union have both been pushing to remove the banking programs from Australian schools in recent years.

Consumer group Choice named Dollarmites a ‘winner’ at its Shonky awards in 2019.(Supplied: Choice)

According to Choice research conducted last year, 46 per cent of Australians open their first bank account with CBA — and 34 per cent of people still have that account.

State Education Minister James Merlino said the findings of the banking royal commission and the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted a need for financial literacy.

“Victorian students deserve high-quality financial literacy free from commercial interests that’s why we’re banning financial institutions from delivering school banking programs,” Mr Merlino said in a statement.

The Government statement said students often missed out on compounding interest due to “unfairly low” interest rates offered through the school banking programs.

Commonwealth Bank ‘surprised and disappointed’ by decision

A spokesperson for CBA said the bank was “surprised and disappointment with this decision by the Victorian Government”.

“This will have an impact on thousands of children, families, school communities and volunteers, right across the state,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The bank said the decision would see the loss of about $4 million in financial literacy programs and school contributions by CBA’s School Banking and StartSmart arms, which it said would affect about 100,000 Victorian students across the more than 500 participating schools.

“We will be supporting our impacted teams and school partners across Victoria and determining what this means for them going forward.”

The spokesperson said CBA has been “engaging constructively with the ASIC review” and had “refined” the program since the findings of the preliminary report.

The State Government will introduce new teaching resources and what it said was practical information on avoiding scams, saying the resources would “replace low-quality activities run by external organisations trying to find new customers”.

“The Victorian curriculum sets our expectations for financial literacy and that must be our focus,” Mr Merlino said.

“It is time to draw a line under this issue.”

The ban will come into effect from term one next year.

A list written by school children which outlines what the ideal bank should do.
Reservoir East Primary in Melbourne is one school that has rejected school banking in favour of a comprehensive in-house financial literacy education program.(ABC News: Gemma Hall, file photo)

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Victorian government bans school banking

“Victorian students deserve high-quality financial literacy, free from commercial interests – that’s why we’re banning financial institutions from delivering school banking programs.”

“The Victorian curriculum sets our expectations for financial literacy and that must be our focus. It is time to draw a line under this issue.”

The state government’s concerns include complaints from students, teachers and families about the quality of the education and the financial literacy outcomes of the programs. There are also concerns about the tactics some banks have used, including luring children with prizes to build brand loyalty in young children. Another concern is the interest rates offered through the school banking programs are low compared to adult banking products.

Consumer group Choice has called upon other state and territory governments to follow the Victorian government’s move to ban the programs.

“Programs like the Commonwealth Bank’s Dollarmites are little more than slick marketing programs aimed at primary school aged children,” Choice chief executive Alan Kirkland said.

“Choice has never been able to find any evidence that programs like the Dollarmites have any impact on long-term savings habits. The only impact they have is to give the Commonwealth Bank a steady stream of young customers, many of whom stick with the Commonwealth later in life.

“We welcome the Victorian government’s commitment to genuine financial literacy programs.”

The Commonwealth Bank and the peak body representing the banking industry, the Australian Bankers Association, have been contacted for comment.

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South Australia records no new coronavirus cases, to lift Victorian border restriction

South Australia has recorded no new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, as authorities announce the state will ease restrictions including at social gatherings and along the Victorian border.

From Tuesday the border restriction with Victoria will be lifted, allowing free travel from that state into South Australia for the first time since March.

“The border restrictions which have existed with a Victoria will be completely lifted as of midnight on Monday night,” Premier Steven Marshall said.

The number of active cases in South Australia has dropped from 36 to 23, as people are cleared of the virus.

Mr Marshall announced an easing of restrictions within South Australia for two weeks in the lead-up to Christmas.

The changes include increasing density in outdoor venues — from one person per four square metres to one person per two square metres — and increasing caps on funerals and private functions at licensed venues to 150.

Dancing and drinking while standing up will once again be allowed at weddings.

But the cap of 10 people at home gatherings will remain.

The Premier has also written to the Prime Minister asking to extend the pause on international flight arrivals by another week to December 7.

More than 12,000 people were tested yesterday and about 5,000 people identified as close contacts are still in quarantine.

More to come.

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Victorian Sport Minister Martin Pakula denies Hawthorn Hawks missed funding due to Jeff Kennett criticism

Pakula pointed out the federal government had not announced the Dingley funding in its recent budget as evidence that more funding could come from the state for the Hawks.

“The fact is you’ve got a number of those projects that we funded; St Kilda, Carlton a couple of years ago, Essendon, Richmond – all have Commonwealth funding that we were going in with.

“I see today the Commonwealth will announce funding, that certainly wasn’t the case by the time the budget came down.

“It’s a green-field facility, all of these others are existing facilities which clubs are in now.

“Dingley is in my electorate. I am really keen to see progress there, particularly from a community point of view and it will be considered in the future budget.”

Kennett told the Herald Sun that the state government had not funded Dingley because of how outspoken he was about the failures of hotel quarantine.

“I understand politics, and at times politics can be very vindictive and personal, so I am not complaining. We get on with the job,” Kennett said.

“They are playing politics against me, but in real terms they are playing politics against the community of the southeast.”

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Build-to-rent developers set for a boost with new Victorian tax break

“This change will make more projects viable as BTR and enable groups like Lendlease to achieve a development profit (e.g. 15 per cent margin on cost) for Victorian build to sell (BTS) projects, which are re-purposed as BTR.”

Lendlease chief Steve McCann signalled in August that the global property giant was actively considering the Melbourne Quarter and Brisbane Showgrounds projects for their potential to become build-to-rent housing

“We do believe there is capacity for conversion of some product. We are already focused on how we might tweak the design aspects to maximise their value as rental products,” he said at the time.

One of the strongest prospects such conversion is the second apartment tower, an 800-unit proposal, which Lendlease has on the drawing board at its $3 billion urban regeneration site in Melbourne’s Docklands.

Diversified developer Mirvac is an early leader in the emerging BTR sector as well, completing a project in Sydney and with at least three more in the pipeline in Melbourne.

“We welcome the land tax concession from the Victorian Government which will help facilitate a successful and scalable BTR sector in Victoria, as it allows BTR developments to be subject to similar amounts of state tax as build to sell,” Mirvac chief Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz told The Australian Financial Review.

“We are keen to work closely with government to ensure that the details of the scheme work to assist the sector. Experiences in other states has shown the need for industry and governments to work closely together to ensure the best outcomes.”

UBS analysts said that investors were underestimating the potential of the sector and the ability of operators, including Mirvac and Lendlease, to achieve development returns once BTR projects are completed and sold down.

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Victorian Labor expels hundreds of members after review into branch-stacking allegations

More than 1,700 Victorian Labor members have been expelled from the party in an attempt to clean up the “scourge of branch stacking” that has dogged the state branch of the ALP.

But there are warnings from Labor MPs and figures that some of the expulsions have removed legitimate members who volunteer at elections.

A review of the Victorian Labor Party, conducted by former premier Steve Bracks and former minister Jenny Macklin, has also set a target of 20,000 members by December 2024.

The pair has made dozens of reform recommendations on governance, party membership and local branches.

Premier Daniel Andrews said legitimate members had nothing to fear from party reform and that branch stacking must be weeded out.

“We have got some work to do to change the culture of our show, and it’s for genuine members, it’s for those true believers,” Mr Andrews said.

“We can’t change what has happened in the past but we can build a better culture, so we are focused on the battles that really matter and that’s not internal squabbles that’s building a fairer, stronger, safer more prosperous Victoria.”

Ms Macklin said the audit of the party’s 13,000 Victorian members was not yet finished.

“The only way to restore confidence in the integrity of the Party’s membership roll was to conduct an objective and forensic audit across all branches,” Ms Macklin said.

Senior Labor figure Jenny Macklin says the audit of party memberships will continue.(AAP: Alan Porritt)

Branch-stacking allegations lead to ministerial sacking

The audit was triggered by claims of branch stacking levelled at former state minister Adem Somyurek earlier this year.

Mr Somyurek has always maintained his innocence.

Branch stacking is the process of recruiting and paying for other people’s membership to amass internal political power.

Often people are signed up without their knowledge.

Premier Daniel Andrews responded by sacking Mr Somyurek and asking Labor’s National Executive to appoint administrators to run the Victorian branch.

Local members’ voting rights are suspended until 2023.

Daniel Andrews, Victorian Premier sitting in front of a microphone.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says the Labor Party needs to build a better culture.(AAP: Rob Blakers, file photo)

“The analysis was challenging,” a report sent to Labor’s National Executive and seen by the ABC says. “It was hindered by a poor membership system, and data sets that lacked critical information.”

The review found that the “insidious practice” of branch stacking was widespread, and that it had become more sophisticated.

“The scale has brazenly increased,” it said.

“It is clear the problems of branch stacking go beyond a certain group of people operating in isolation from the rest of the Party.

“Organisational inertia, poor culture, and a level of acceptance of the practices meant requirements under the Rules were not always observed.”

Steve Bracks smiles, with the Melbourne CBD in the background.
Former Victorian premier Steve Bracks carried out the review, along with former federal minister Jenny Macklin.(ABC Melbourne: Kristian Silva)

Party memberships revoked after legitimacy questioned

The report slammed the party’s governance and called for reform of the powerful administrative committee.

It recommends a party monitor be appointed.

The party monitor would oversee membership record keeping and an undertake regularly integrity audits of the membership.

As part of the audit, questionable members, often with no phone or email, were contacted to assess their legitimacy.

If no response was given their membership was revoked.

Some members were given an opportunity to show why they should not be removed. Some members are expected to resign to avoid scrutiny of the ongoing probe.

Victorian MP Adem Somyurek
Former minister Adem Somyurek was sacked earlier this year over branch-stacking allegations.(AAP: Julian Smith)

The review recommends people expelled who resigned during this period be banned from re-joining until 2023.

“Those who caused such profound pain and shame to our Party must, and will, be held to account,” the report says.

Purge gets ‘far too many of the wrong people’: Senator

Some Labor figures are “furious” with the purge, saying some members were not properly contacted, with emails going to junk folders.

They warn it will hamper Labor’s ability to have volunteer at elections in key seats.

Kim Carr points towards his desk as he speaks in the Senate
Labor Senator Kim Carr fears too many genuine members may have been expelled from the party.(ABC News: Jed Cooper)

Labor Senator Kim Carr told the ABC the audit had removed hard-working bona fide members and called for an appeal mechanism to allow procedural fairness.

“Far too many of the wrong people have been arbitrarily purged,” Senator Carr said.

“And far too many of the stacked branches have retained their memberships.”

The Senator said that branch stackers were sophisticated operators but the audit of memberships by accountants was not thorough enough.

Steve Bracks defended the review process and said any member who was expelled could appeal if they were able to explain why they failed to respond to the audit.

“Where a member has a genuine reason for failing to respond to correspondence received through the audit, we will take this into consideration,” he said.

“We are determined not to waste this once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform the Party and ensure it is made up of genuine, consenting and self-funding members.”

New limits to be put on electorate branches

The Bracks and Macklin review makes several recommendations to clean up the party, including only allowing one branch in each state electorate, with no more than 20 new members allowed to join each month.

In seats covering bigger geographic areas, more than one branch would be permitted.

There has been a long-running push to have members pay their dues by “traceable means”, and the review recommends only credit or debit card payments be accepted.

An existing central branch that people can join, regardless of address, will also be abolished.

Members who made submissions to the review called for the rank and file to have a greater say in policy-making and decision-making.

The report has been handed to Labor’s National Executive for consideration.

The ABC has contacted the ALP for comment.

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Search called off for solo yachtsman missing off the eastern Victorian coast

Police have called off the search for a missing yachtsman, whose vessel was discovered 145 kilometres off the coast of Lakes Entrance in eastern Victoria on Friday night.

The 62-year-old New South Wales man left Hobart on Friday, November 13, heading for Eden on the NSW coast.

After a week of sailing solo, the man came into strife in significant winds, in the darkness of night early Friday morning.

He made contact with the volunteer Marine Rescue Group, which monitors radio channels, about 2.00am to say his sails had been damaged in 75 km/h winds, rendering the vessel inoperable.

He told the volunteers he planned to wait until morning to pull the damaged sails down and put a new one up before making his way into Eden.

The officer in charge of Water Police in Victoria, Inspector Greg Barras, said a high-tech jet plane was dispatched by the Australian Maritime Search Authority in Canberra to search over rough seas.

“Sea conditions at the time were ‘sea state five’ and that’s waves of between 2.5 – four metres and that creates a really big challenge when you are looking for a small object in the water,” Inspector Barras said.

The man’s nine-metre yacht was spotted 81 nautical miles offshore at 8.00pm that night.

Container ship called to help

A police boat based at Paynesville was dispatched but it was a 22-hour return voyage from port to collect the yacht from so far offshore.

“Clearly from a fixed-wing it is very difficult to work out whether the person’s on board,” Inspector Barras said.

“We actually diverted a container ship to the location and the container ship tried to call him on radio and also sounded the horn and there was no presence on the boat.”

Inspector Barras said the water temperature was between 15-17 degrees Celsius at the time, and that in those conditions, the man would have only been able to survive for between 12-14 hours.

“By the time the searchers were able to get to him it was probably too late.”

Police are preparing a report for the Victorian Coroner.

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