Lifetime cap on student loans would hit up to 30,000 postgraduates: analysis

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By Michael Koziol

The Turnbull government’s proposed lifetime cap on student debt would hit up to 30,000 current postgraduate students who will need to pay upfront or look for work rather than finish studying, according to new analysis.

A report commissioned by the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations argues a growing number of students will come into conflict with a new $100,000 lifetime loan limit to be imposed from next year.

FEE-HELP, for full-fee paying students, was already capped at a similar level. But under the changes, Commonwealth-supported places will also count towards the lifetime limit. This will affect students who have enjoyed subsidised undergraduate study but later undertake full-fee postgraduate study.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham expects students to enter the workforce and pay down debt between degrees.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham expects students to enter the workforce and pay down debt between degrees. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The analysis, by consultant Nigel Palmer, said students on common postgraduate pathways in law, accounting, banking and business management were most likely to tip over the $100,000 threshold. This was increasingly common as students took on longer and more complex combinations of degrees, often without a break to enter the workforce.

“You can get to $100,000 very quickly,” said Mr Palmer, a former president of the council. “It’s not a luxury, it’s normal.”

As many as 30,000 current postgraduate students could come into conflict with the cap, Mr Palmer said. He found the new debt limit “presents a major threat to the viability of postgraduate study for many prospective students, as well as those who have already commenced these programs”.

The government has already compromised in the face of internal pressure by making the $100,000 limit replenishable, so that once students have paid off some debt, they can begin accruing it again.

Tax Office data shows the number of students with debt in excess of $50,000 has blown out from 23,664 to 159,475 in the past six years. Of those, 14,000 had accrued more than $100,000 in debt – up from just 2100 in 2010-11. The most indebted student in the country owed more than $462,000.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said he made “no apologies” for stopping people “trying to game the system by racking up huge taxpayer-funded loans that they never expect to repay”. He said 99.5 per cent of students would still be able to complete one or two degrees without hitting the cap.

“Most people who go on to high level postgraduate study usually enter the workforce for a period of time so in many cases we’d also expect they’d pay down some of their taxpayer loan before returning to study,” Senator Birmingham said.

But Natasha Abrahams, president of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, said about one in five students moved straight into further study without working down their debt, and this was becoming more common. Students who took VET programs before university, transferred degrees or had to repeat units would also be affected.

“For people who have taken strange journeys into university, they’re then going to be restricted later if they reach the cap,” Ms Abrahams said.

“If someone can’t borrow enough to cover the cost of their very expensive postgraduate coursework degrees, that means the only people who are going to do those degrees are those who can afford it.”

Legislation to enact these changes is expected to come before the Senate in June. The bill will also reduce the income threshold at which students must start repaying debt to $44,999 from $54,000.

Overall, the bill promises budget savings of more than $250 million over four years. But the lifetime cap on student loans will actually cost the budget $14.2 million in those years, because the savings don’t accrue until later and it is costly to administer.

In total there is more than $53 billion on the student loan books, owed by 2.6 million debtors.


Source :  The Brisbane Times

Turnbull government uses millions of super accounts to boost budget

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By Eryk Bagshaw

The Turnbull government has hoovered up more than $2 billion in inactive superannuation accounts  and claimed the revenue as its own, saying it does not trust the superannuation industry to reunite the accounts of millions of Australian workers.

New Tax Office figures show more than 4.1 million “lost” super accounts with balances of up to $6000 have already been taken by the Australian Tax Office but the ATO will not have the power to automatically redistribute them to the account holders unless measures are passed from the May budget.

The May budget papers show the government has also added another $1.1 billion taken from inactive accounts to the underlying cash balance over the next four years and will gain $166 million in tax from the super accounts it has scooped up with higher balances thanks to lower fees.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Financial Services and Revenue, Kelly O'Dwyer.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Financial Services and Revenue, Kelly O’Dwyer. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

This decision props up the wafer thin $2.2 billion surplus the government has vowed to deliver in 2019-20, despite the expectation that the majority of the money will flow back into the active funds of workers.

Former Department of Finance secretary Stephen Bartos said the accounting was “cheeky.”

“The other way to do it would be to administer it through an agency at arms length from the government where it would be treated as a a liability on their books because they would have to pay it out eventually,” he said.

“Our obsession with the underlying cash balance [debt and deficit] may be distorting our thinking about this. What matters most is not how you shift cash around, but what is the most sensible administrative arrangement.”

A Tax Office spokesman said between 2013 and 2018, 2.1 million people have successfully consolidated $10.7 billion from inactive super accounts.

Sections of the industry are now lobbying for a mechanism that would allow super funds to transfer inactive accounts between themselves, rather than having to go through the Tax Office.

They argue that with the recent budget measures to abolish fees and insurance on low-balance accounts, members may be better off leaving their super in inactive accounts earning 6 per cent per annum compared to the 2 per cent they will earn in line with inflation when the government seizes them.

But the government remains concerned that left to their own devices, many of the accounts will never be reunited, after a damning report from the Productivity Commission found this week that millions of Australians were being gouged by fees, insurance premiums and underperforming funds across the sector.

It’s understood that Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer has had to personally write to super funds accused of delaying transfers to other funds.

“For too long too many superannuation funds have stood in the way of Australians consolidating their multiple superannuation accounts,” she said. “Instead they would rather see these accounts depleted through fees and charges, even sometimes to zero.”

The escalation comes as Labor faces a looming internal battles over its refusal to back calls for independent directors to be appointed to union-affiliated super boards, potentially excluding those funds from a future top 10 list over governance concerns.

The Productivity Commission has suggested that its final recommendations – expected to be handed down in November- will include such a clause, wedging Labor between the demands of union-affiliated boards and shadow treasurer Chris Bowen’s public declarations of being open to reform.

Labor has blocked the independent directors bill in the Senate. It has been stuck there since 2015 after an Industry Super commissioned review by former Reserve Bank governor Bernie Fraser found the independence of directors had no bearing on the performance of union-affiliated funds.

On Tuesday, the Productivity Commission found the average worker could be more than $400,000 better off by the time they retire if workers were given an option of putting their super into one of the top 10 performing funds, rather than defaulted into an underperforming fund of their employer’s choice.

The Tax Office has asked people who believe they have inactive super accounts to use their online service, where they can proactively merge their accounts using their tax-file number.


Source :  The Brisbane Times

Pauline Hanson to lose ‘self-serving’ senator after company tax row

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By David Crowe

One Nation founder Pauline Hanson has come close to tears in a fiery interview about the future of her Senate team as her former ally Brian Burston approaches other parties to take him on.

Senator Burston has begun seeking a new political home after a row with Senator Hanson over the Turnbull government’s company tax cuts, making it clear his position in One Nation is now terminal.

Pauline Hanson said this wasn't the first time Brian Burston "stabbed me in the back".
Pauline Hanson said this wasn’t the first time Brian Burston “stabbed me in the back”.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Fairfax Media has confirmed Senator Burston reached out to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party in NSW on Thursday in a phone call to party officials that was passed on to the party’s NSW state MP and spokesman, Robert Borsak.

Mr Borsak said the approach was not a formal application and the party did not take up the idea.

“It took us about five minutes to say there’s nothing to talk about,” Mr Borsak said on Thursday night. “There’s no common ground in relation to him. We said thank you but no thanks.”

Mr Burston denied approaching any other political party, in remarks that directly contradicted the comments from Mr Borsak.

“The claim that I’ve approached the Shooters’ party is totally and absolutely false,” he told Sky News. “I’ve never met Borsak, nor spoken to him ever in my life.”

Mr Burston repeated, when asked again by Mr Fordham, that he had not approached any other political party.

However, Mr Borsak told Fairfax Media that Mr Burston had approached the Shooters party and had spoken to the NSW state director, Filip Despotoski.

Senator Hanson came close to tears on Sky News on Thursday night when asked about the state of her party, prompting her to reveal he had approached the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party.

“No-one, no-one will win a seat on the floor of parliament in my name,” she said.

“It is not a seat to just sit back and do absolutely nothing.

One Nation senators Brian Burston and Pauline Hanson are at odds over the party's position on company tax cuts.

One Nation senators Brian Burston and Pauline Hanson are at odds over the party’s position on company tax cuts. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

“The people of NSW do not even know who the hell Brian Burston is.”

After saying the Shooters’ party had rejected Mr Burston, Senator Hanson grew increasingly angry on Sky News over the affair, as host Ben Fordham asked if she had an issue in managing her team.

“Am I happy? No I’m not happy,” she said.

“This isn’t the first time Brian has stabbed me in the back, and it hurts me. It hurts me deeply because … it means so much to me, what I’m trying to do.

“And for him to turn around and do this to me, it’s hard. But I’m going to keep going and I’m going to get good people in that parliament beside me because it means so much to me, to help people who need help.

“They’re sick of politicians because they don’t do anything and I’ve been able to achieve so much in such a short period of time and I’m not finished.

“And if you think I’m going to let Brian Burston or anyone else to finish me. They will not just sit on the seats and do absolutely nothing and think that they can have a cosy ride and take the pay and the taxpayer funds and not work for it.”

Senator Hanson said she was sorry to the Australian people “that this has happened again” in an apparent reference to the loss of another party member, Queensland Senator Fraser Anning, who now sits as an independent.

The splits within One Nation have seen its numbers in the upper house fall from four to three since the last election, with the likely departure of Senator Burston reducing this to two.

The party also lost Western Australian Senator Rod Culleton before he was forced out of the Senate on the grounds that his bankruptcy made him ineligible. He was replaced by Peter Georgiou, who has remained loyal to Senator Hanson.

“It was the same with Rod Culleton, it was the same with Fraser Anning,” Senator Hanson told Sky News.

“They haven’t got the intestinal fortitude – it’s all about themselves. Self-serving! Well, I don’t want people like that.

“Yes, there’s going to be mistakes and I have made mistakes but I tell you what, at the end of the day, I will win.”

Senator Burston’s term in the upper house expires at the next election, putting him at serious risk of losing his seat and its $200,000 salary if he does not have the support of One Nation or another party.

One Nation is yet to confirm his position on the party ticket and Senator Hanson’s remarks suggest he has little chance of being the top candidate.

Soon after the extraordinary interview, Senator Burston responded with the claim that he and Senator Hanson could work things out even though he was determined to “cross the floor” if necessary on the company tax bill.

While Senator Hanson has reversed her previous support for the company tax cuts, worth $35.6 billion over a decade, Senator Burston has decided to honour an agreement with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and vote for the bill.

Senator Burston telephoned Sky News to respond to Senator Hanson and reject her claim he had betrayed her.

“I’ve never stabbed Pauline Hanson in the back. Many years ago she suspended me from the party when I worked for David Oldfield and I was collateral damage,” Senator Burston said.

“She was the one who approached me to come back into the party, so it was hardly a falling out between Pauline and I.”

Senator Burston said he rarely “stressed out” and could sort things out with his party leader.“I think there is a way through this. I think Pauline and I should sit down and have a drink and kiss and make up, so to speak, if she’s prepared to do that.

“I’ve no intention of destroying One Nation or causing angst.”



Source :  The Brisbane Times

Offshore hacker’s wave of calls swamped triple zero

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By Jennifer Duke

An overseas phone hacker onslaught of more than a thousand offshore calls tripped up the triple zero emergency call service on Saturday morning sparking a government investigation and raising questions about Telstra’s handling of the situation which left some Australians waiting up to nine hours for a call back.

Between 6.09am and 7.55am on May 26, there were three short periods where 600 calls at a time were directed to Australia’s 000 call centres, which are run run by Telstra. These were ‘blank’ calls with no one on the other end and the high volume resulted in genuine emergency calls from across the country going unanswered.

A second issue on the Triple Zero line is being investigated by the government.
A second issue on the Triple Zero line is being investigated by the government. Photo: James Davies

The mass dials originated from a customer of telecommunications company Vocus.

A Vocus spokesman confirmed one of its customers’ phone exchange systems had been compromised “enabling an external party to attempt international toll fraud”. Toll fraud is when a hacker fraudulently gains access to a phone system to make calls.

He said the telco’s fraud filters meant algorithmically-generated attempts to call international numbers failed, but some of the calls included a prefix of 000, which routed to emergency services.

“Steps have been taken to prevent another such occurrence,” he said.

It is understood Australia is often subject to such attacks originating from countries like Poland, though there has been no confirmation about where these specific calls originated from. Lax approaches to security by customers can make telcos more vulnerable to this type of fraud.

During the incident, triple zero calls were answered by operators and directed to a recorded service asking them to press ‘55’ to ensure the dials were genuine.

Telstra holds a multi-million dollar contract with the government to provide the call centre and connections to triple zero for all telcos.

A Telstra spokesman said the telco worked with the government, emergency services and the provider to resolve the issue, in some cases directing repeat calls to police in the state they originated in.

“There was some impact on call response times during these call bursts and our network otherwise operated normally,” he said.

This is the second recent issue affecting Triple Zero services, after a fire-affected cable pit resulted in a widespread outage of the emergency services line on May 4. This is currently being investigated by the government.

A spokesman for Communications Minister Mitch Fifield confirmed the “issue which occurred on Saturday morning will also be addressed in this report”.

Telcos are hoping this investigation will look into the time it took Telstra to alert them of the issue. Industry sources say some providers were notified after 5.30pm and only given phone numbers of customers who were not connnected to allow call backs even later.

Informing other telcos about an event like mass non-genuine calls is a requirement under the Emergency Call Service Code, which was developed by the Communications Alliance and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

We’re raising further issues about the handling of incidents, including timely sharing of information.

Vodafone spokeswoman

These guidelines do not specify how long Telstra has to alert other providers and analysing what occurred can be a time-consuming process.

An Optus spokeswoman confirmed employees received information about the outage on Saturday evening.

A Vodafone spokeswoman said all carriers rely on Telstra to provide information about calls that don’t reach an operator during a fault, with customers followed up with after the issue.

“As part of ongoing discussions with industry and government about Triple Zero operations, we’re raising further issues about the handling of incidents, including timely sharing of information,” she said.

Communications Alliance chief executive John Stanton said he would “look closely” at any findings or recommendations from the government’s investigation to determine whether the emergency code should be revised.

It is understood several providers are intending to push for a time requirement for notification of outages and issues.


Source :  The Brisbane Times

Number of abandoned cars at Brisbane Airport doubles

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By Ruth McCosker

The hunt is on for the owners of more than 30 cars that have been dumped at Brisbane Airport.

There have been 33 cars dumped at the airport so far this past financial year, up from 17 and 13 in the past two years.

The hunt is on for the owners of 33 cars that have been at Brisbane Airport for more than 90 days.

The hunt is on for the owners of 33 cars that have been at Brisbane Airport for more than 90 days. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Many of the cars that have been sitting at the airport for more than 90 days are vans and wagons, several are unroadworthy and six are missing numberplates.

A Brisbane Airport Corporation spokeswoman said there was no concrete reason for the number of dumped cars almost doubling in the past year.

“Passenger numbers are always increasing, especially internationally as more people choose Brisbane Airport as their gateway to/from Australia, which may in some way contribute to the increase in abandoned cars,” she said.

“We would only be speculating on why cars are abandoned – especially for cases where the owner is not contactable.

“The most common type of vehicles abandoned at Brisbane Airport are cheap wagons and vans in very poor, sometimes unroadworthy, condition.

“There are also cases of vehicles under finance that are left inside the car park due to defaulting on payments.”

Any cars under finance will be collected by the finance company.

The airport issued a public notice on Wednesday that the owners of the cars had 14 days to claim their vehicle or they would be scrapped or auctioned.

The BAC spokeswoman said there had been the odd occasion where the owner of the cars came forward.

“The car may have been abandoned at the airport if the owner has been incarcerated, or become ill or died while on their travels,” she said.

The money made from the cars that are scrapped or auctioned is used to cover the cost of more than 90 days of lost parking fees, the time spent trying to find the owner and towing fees.

Source :  The Brisbane Times