Australian Taxpayers are paying at least $59m for major government advertising campaigns to run in the lead-up to the 2022 election

Welcome to Talking Business, a podcast produced in Melbourne Australia. The podcast is available on the Acast app, the Apple Podcast store or wherever you go to get your podcasts. Or you can get it at the Business Acumen website at

I am Leon Gettler. My job is to review and monitor      the week’s news in business, finance and economics. I bring it all to you, every week.

This is episode number 46 in our series for 2021 and today’s date is Friday December 17.

First, I’ll be talking to Ben Nowlan, the co-founder and CEO of one of Australia’s largest last mile delivery firms Shaparency, the platform built and funded in a 10-week period during COVID-19 lockdown. Shaparency is an online ecosystem that automates and digitises the    process of board meetings and shareholder management. Digital minute taking, reporting, signatures and storage, replace inefficient and costly paper-based administration for board members, while its shareholder portal sets it apart from others offering visibility and engaging shareholders – hence the name “Shaparency” shareholder- transparency.  And I’ll be talking to AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver about what we can expect form the market and economy in the 2022 post-lockdown period

But now, let’s talk to Ben Nowlan.

Time Magazine has announced its pick for 2021 Person of the Year — Elon Musk, the richest person in the world and the chief executive of both Tesla and SpaceX. Musk — who’s worth some $266 billion ($A373b) — has had a breakout year that’s seen him add more than $100 billion ($A140b) to that fortune and steal the title of world’s wealthiest person from rival Jeff Bezos.

The Coalition will spend $5.2m of taxpayer funds to promote the Morrison government’s online safety reforms in the lead-up to next year’s election. The advertising campaign is timed to come into effect “likely January”, ahead of an election in the first half of next year.  In addition to the Online Safety Act, the government will campaign for its online privacy bill and a social media anti-trolling bill. Meanwhile the “Australia’s making positive energy” campaign promoting the Coalition’s technology based approach to climate has spent more than $200,000 on Facebook ads. Liberal MPs used the government advertisements on their personal social media profiles. In total, taxpayers are paying at least $59m for major government advertising campaigns to run in the lead-up to the 2022 election

Productivity grew at a paltry 0.2% last financial year, continuing a decade-long deterioration in the most important input into economic growth and prompting calls for a shake-up. The result comes after the International Monetary Fund last week said Australia should redouble efforts to boost productivity with more investment in research and development, and technology. Productivity accounted for more than 80% of national income growth over the past 30 years, according to the Productivity Commission, but the rate of growth has stagnated in recent decades. Multifactor productivity (MFP) – the ratio of output to combined input of labour and capital and the primary measure of productivity – rose 0.2% in 2020-21, after rising 0.1% in 2019-20, and nil a year prior. Over the past six years, MFP grew on average just 0.4% per year, compared with 0.7% in the five years to 2014-15, 0.3% in the 10 years to 2009-10, and 1.8% in the five years to 2000.

Supermarket giant Woolworths says profit growth could suffer as much as an 8% slide in earnings and it’s slowing as $150 million in extra costs from operating its business in the COVID-19 pandemic hits the bottom line at the same time as the at-home consumption shift eases, with shoppers returning to more normal habits and backing off from pantry hoarding. Chief executive Brad Banducci said profits in the Australian Foods division are expected to be weaker for the first half 2021-22 compared with a year earlier. They are also being restrained by between $60 million to $70 million in indirect costs from supply chain disruptions and higher fuel costs. For the first half of 2021-22, earnings before interest and tax from the Australian Food division is expected to be between $1.19 billion and $1.22 billion, compared with $1.312 billion for the same period a year ago.

NBN Co has become the first federal government business to sign on to a global group targeting net zero emissions, joining 18 Australian-based companies and a total of 110 operating here that have made the commitment to do their bit to avert dangerous climate change. The federal government-owned national broadband company has joined RE100, a global group of businesses committed to net zero emissions, with ambitious milestones along the way. NBN Co will set its course towards net zero emissions by aiming to purchase 100% renewable energy by 2025 and all-electric or hybrid petrol-electric vehicles by 2030. Its first renewable energy power purchase agreement will deliver 80 gigawatt hours a year, or about 19% of power demand in the 2022-23 financial year. The company also plans to reduce its annual energy requirements by 25GWh through the use of efficient LED lighting, solar panels on NBN installations, and actions such as switching off in active equipment until it is needed, to save on standby energy.

Federal and state governments have launched a review into who can call themselves a cosmetic surgeon, and upping penalties for deceptive advertising and social media abuse. The states and Commonwealth released a 108-page proposal regarding the use of the title “surgeon” and “cosmetic surgeon”  It will be open for public consultation until April 1, 2022, with the public invited to anonymously provide feedback about their experiences. Under the current law, anyone with a basic medical degree can call themselves a cosmetic surgeon, even though they aren’t registered or trained as specialist surgeons. The planned overhaul would see breaches of the law for advertising offences increase to $60,000 for an individual and $120,000 for a body corporate. Health ministers are also proposing to ban misleading testimonials, offering a gift or inducement without stating the terms and conditions, or encouraging the unnecessary use of health services. It follows revelations of disturbing practices at a network of clinics run by celebrity cosmetic surgeon Daniel Lanzer, including allegations of hygiene and safety breaches and botched surgeries that left patients in extreme pain.

Victoria will become the home of mRNA vaccine technology in Australia under a landmark deal agreed between US pharma giant Moderna and the state and federal governments. The on-shore facility will have capacity to produce 100 million messenger RNA vaccine doses per year from 2024, and is expected to boost priority access to other drugs, medical research and development, clinical trials and global supply chain access. Once operational, Moderna will help meet Australia’s ongoing needs for COVID-19 vaccines, and for other respiratory mRNA vaccines as they are developed and approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration. Messenger RNA vaccines work by prompting cells to make proteins that induce an immune response, causing the body to produce antibodies. The in-principle agreement to create the country’s first mRNA manufacturing facility will also allow priority access to non-pandemic vaccines including potential influenza shots.  Under the Moderna deal, the facility will produce 25 million doses a year from 2024, with the capacity to ramp up production to 100 million doses for future pandemics. The Victorian government expects the deal will create up to 500 jobs during construction and about 500 ongoing roles.

Thousands of Australians are cutting ties with an energy retailer that sold itself on its clean and green credentials after it announced it was being bought by Shell. The Anglo-Dutch multinational oil and gas company announced in November that it was buying Powershop for an undisclosed price.  Data from Powershop’s competitors indicates it has likely lost at least 6,000 customers following the announcement. Powershop operates across Australia, New Zealand and the UK, and is currently owned by New Zealand’s Meridian Group. In a complex arrangement, Meridian is also partially owned by the NZ government. The looming sale – which is subject to regulatory approvals – will see Meridian Group’s Australian arm entirely sold off. As well as Powershop, Meridian’s Australian wind farm and hydro projects are being bought by Infrastructure Capital Group as part of a consortium deal with Shell. Powershop was founded in 2007 and has since built up 185,000 customers in Australia. Its credentials in the renewable energy space included being Climate Active Certified. That is a standard certified by the Australian Government that shows when a company is guaranteed as being carbon neutral. That’s usually achieved by a company buying carbon credits to offset emissions.

The federal government has launched a crackdown on home care rorts amid revelations that providers spend about $1 billion a year on administration costs in what a former health department secretary has dubbed a “broken” system. Researchers from the Grattan Institute extracted a 10% sample of home care provider data from the federal government’s My Aged Care website and found price gouging and high management fees were rife in the federally funded sector, which received $4.2 billion in 2020-21. The institute’s paper found administrative and management costs were about a quarter of the total allocated for a home care package, regardless of the level of service delivered. The health department has launched a home care program assurance review, starting with an audit of 100 providers with a focus on administration charges. The sector is experiencing explosive growth after the government allocated $6.5 billion for 80,000 additional home care packages, to be delivered over two years to 2022-23, in the May federal budget.

Buy now, pay later has moved into SME loans. Given its rapid adoption in consumer finance, it was only a matter of time before buy now, pay later concepts extended into lending to business. Fintech SME lending models that shift the cost of short-term credit to suppliers of goods to help drive more trade sales, and which replace interest payments with fixed fees, are emerging. It is a dynamic that puts major banks on notice that small business loans could be the next frontier for disruption. Given large lenders missed the arrival of BNPL in the consumer space and have been relatively slow to innovate business lending products, this emerging fintech sub-sector is set to come into sharper focus next year, according to investors. Buy now, pay later for business is being marketed as a cashflow management tool and like its consumer cousin, it operates at the intersection of payments and small-scale credit at the point-of-sale. The focus is funding the business supply chain; the product offers credit-on-demand for particular purchases, contrasting with open-ended loans or lines of credit. One of the new players in the emerging category is Cloudfloat. It has just raised a $30 million debt facility from the Aura Group and kicked off a fresh $3 million equity raising. Another player is Marketlend, which has a product known as UnLock that pays suppliers up front and lets buyers pay it back on extended payment terms. Zip, the second-biggest consumer BNPL player after Afterpay, is also moving in on the space with Zip Business, Meanwhile, another operator, Bizpay, is looking to float next year.

A survey reveals two in three SMEs have been hit by a lost, stolen or fraudulent paper-based bank guarantee. A YouGov survey of 520 SME business owners showed four in 10 (43%) of the business owners surveyed suffered because the bank guarantee process took too long and more than half (52%) consider a bank guarantee to be an ongoing financial risk for their business.

Ramsay Health Care is expanding its operations in Britain with its $1.4bn acquisition of mental health care operator Elysium Healthcare, which will also strengthen the Australian hospital operator’s partnership with the National Health Service. It will give the $16bn diversified private hospitals and healthcare provider a greater slice of the British mental health sector estimated to be worth as much as $27.75bn and at a time when the pandemic and other issues are pushing up the demand for mental health services.

Australia’s crypto workforce could explode by 17 times its current numbers, according to a report launched by senator Andrew Bragg, who is responsible for helping deliver the federal government’s landmark crypto and digital payments reforms. Cryptocurrencies and related digital assets could generate as much as $68.4bn for the economy and employ 205,700 Australians by 2030, according to the report by advisory and accounting firm EY. Last week, it was reported that the Reserve Bank of Australia and Treasury will consider the feasibility of a central digital currency.

Labor will play matchmaker between private enterprise, government and the $3.4 trillion superannuation system  to try to convince funds to put more of the nation’s retirement savings into infrastructure assets. The policy will elevate the federal government into playing a co-ordinating role between the private sector, state governments and super funds, in an attempt to encourage the sector to direct more capital into local infrastructure projects. The release of Labor’s policy comes as both major parties lay the groundwork for an election campaign, which will take place in the first half of next year. Labor will ask funds to put forward ideas for new funding mechanisms to boost investment in large-scale infrastructure projects.

Gilbert + Tobin partner Gina Cass-Gottlieb will be the first woman to head the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission after Rod Sims stands down as chairman next year. Mr Sims will end his 11-year reign about four months early so Ms Cass-Gottlieb can take over the top job on March 21 before the federal election. Ms Cass-Gottlieb founded Gilbert + Tobin’s competition practice, which is now the strongest in Australia, in the 1990s. Ms Cass-Gottlieb has represented many big companies against the competition watchdog, including the landmark banking cartel case in which the regulator has accused global investment giants Deutsche and Citi of criminal conduct on an ANZ capital raising. Ms Cass-Gottlieb is representing immunity witness JPMorgan in the case, which is slated for a five-month trial next year during the time she will transition to the chairwoman’s role. She also worked on high-profile mergers such as Tabcorp-Tattersalls – which the ACCC unsuccessfully opposed – and IOOF’s acquisition of ANZ’s OnePath.

Law firms are cashing in on the push to net zero as demand for energy transition advice booms, while they cut emissions themselves as their junior staff demand they walk the talk on ESG issues. Herbert Smith Freehills launched a new ESG team this year, for example, while Norton Rose Fulbright pointed to energy transition work as a “high-growth area” and Allens flagged environmental concerns as “a core focus” for clients. Companies pursuing net zero also often included the carbon footprint of their suppliers – such as lawyers – in their targets, which meant law firms also needed to cut their emissions as a matter of business necessity, said Allen & Overy energy and resources partner Goran Galic.  The global firm has committed to cutting its absolute carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 – meaning it will actually decrease carbon output rather than merely offset it for a net reduction – both directly and in its supply chain. Lander & Rogers has “ambitious” targets to be carbon neutral by next year and net zero by 2025 through changes such as limiting air travel and using 100% renewable energy. COVID-19 has helped firms make this transition, allowing them to cut back on emissions-heavy activities such as air travel for court and client meetings.

 Biotech giant CSL has sealed a $16.4 billion buyout of  Switzerland’s Vifor Pharma Group, gaining a foothold in rapidly growing markets for kidney disease and iron deficiency treatments that complements its core immunodeficiency and haemophilia therapies. The Melbourne-based blood products giant said kidney disease was a rapidly growing market estimated to exceed $US25 billion annually by 2026, driven by ageing populations and rising rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

And that’s for it for this week. This was the final episode of 2021. Talking Business will return on Friday February 4 2022.

In the meantime you can catch me on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And if you want leave a comment.

Wishing you all a safe, healthy and happy Christmas and new year. And looking forward to bringing you Talking Business in 2022.