Union survey finds that about four out of five horticulture workers underpaid, with some earning as little as $9 a day

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 20 in our series for 2021 and today’s date is Friday June 18.

First, I’ll be talking to Neil Littlewood, the CEO of national shipping container company Royal Wolf which has created a bespoke shipping container solution for a Griffith University product investigating the production and use of maggots for medicinal purposes. And I’ll be talking to economist Nicholas Gruen.

But now, let’s talk to Neil Littlewood.



Real estate prices around the world are flashing the kind of bubble warnings that haven’t been seen since the run up to the 2008 financial crisis, according to Bloomberg Economics. New Zealand, Canada and Sweden rank as the world’s frothiest housing markets, based on the key indicators used in the Bloomberg Economics dashboard. The U.K. and the U.S. are also near the top of the risk rankings. “A cocktail of ingredients is sending house prices to unprecedented levels worldwide,” economist Niraj Shah wrote in the report. “Record low interest rates, unparalleled fiscal stimulus, lockdown savings ready to be used as deposits, limited housing stock, and expectations of a robust recovery in the global economy are all contributing.” Stay-at-home workers in need of more space and tax incentives offered by some governments to home buyers are also stoking demand. For many countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the price ratios are higher than they were ahead of the 2008 financial crisis, according to the Bloomberg Economics analysis.


The Group of Seven richest democracies has sought to counter China’s growing influence by offering developing nations an infrastructure plan that could rival President Xi Jinping’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative. US President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders hope their plan, known as the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative, will provide a transparent infrastructure partnership The G7 has been searching for a coherent response to the growing assertiveness of Mr Xi after China’s surging economic and military rise over the past 40 years. US President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders hope their plan, known as the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative, will provide a transparent infrastructure partnership to help narrow the $US40 trillion ($51.9 trillion) needed by developing nations by 2035, the White House said.

Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson have signed an in-principle agreement towards a free trade deal. It is  Britain’s first bilateral free trade deal since Brexit. Mr Morrison said Britain joining the European Common Market in 1973 had “a devastating blow on Australian producers” and Brexit “was an opportunity for us to pick up where we left off all those years ago”.  Under the agreement, certain quantities of Australian beef and lamb can be imported into Britain tariff-free each year. Anything above that quota gets a tariff, but the quota gets larger every year. After 10 years, the quota will be scrapped. But for a further five-year period, if import volumes into Britain pass a certain threshold then tariffs are re-applied on the rest of that year’s inflow. The deal the deal extends the tenure of an Australian’s UK visa from two years to three, and the maximum age to 35. However, Britain’s youth mobility program for Australians is typically undersubscribed.





Australia recorded the fourth-fastest house price growth out of the world’s advanced economies over the past 20 years, according to a new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Local households are the second-most indebted in the world and it takes six years longer to afford a home in Australia: 16.4 years of disposable income for a 100-square-metre dwelling versus 10.4 years for the OECD average. The cross-country analysis exposes how expensive Australian homes have become in the past two decades and that restrictive state and local government regulations are exacerbating the price pressures. Paris-based OECD director of policy studies in the economics department, Luiz de Mello, said low interest rates had contributed to rising house prices. But restrictive regulations were also a leading reason why the supply of new housing had failed to keep pace with demand from high population growth and strong immigration levels before the pandemic, he said.






Australia’s runaway house prices are making the national economy less stable and lowering productivity, according to research which warns home ownership is now out of reach for anyone under the age of 35 as governments repeat failed policy fixes. Special research led by UNSW finds the property market is now a “triple threat” to the nation’s economic future with the ongoing surge in prices creating economic instability, diverting money away from more productive pursuits and affecting the lending policies of the nation’s major banks. House prices globally have accelerated since the middle of last year as government stimulus and record low interest rates have been funnelled into property markets. Melbourne’s median house price has reached $908,000 while in Sydney, it is $1.2 million. The Reserve Bank has said it is focused on keeping interest rates low to drive down unemployment. Governments have pumped money into various policies aimed at first-home buyers including the NSW which plans to offer a $25,000 grant, replacing existing stamp duty concessions. The UNSW research, based in part on a survey of the nation’s leading economists and housing policy experts, suggests such an approach would do nothing to make homes more affordable. It found that since the mid-1990s, house prices had outstripped income growth, contributing to a 4% drop in national home ownership, heavily concentrated on young people. Home ownership levels among under-35s has halved since 1995.




Overseas residential property investment shrunk to the lowest levels in seven years through the pandemic, causing the supply pipeline of apartments to dwindle over the coming years. Developers spent $4bn on residential sites across the country in 2020, according to international real estate firm Knight Frank Research’s latest Australian Residential Development Review. The change in spending represents a 19.6% fall from the $5.03bn spend recorded in 2019 and a significant drop from the 2014 peak of $11.3bn. The decline was severely impacted by low levels of offshore investment, which fell to less than $0.5bn.



Bidding wars, cheap funding and growth aspirations as Australia’s Covid-19 risks recede are driving frenzied takeover activity amid expectations 2021 will be a record year. The activity is also being helped by the nation’s sharp bounce back from recession, private equity’s desire to deploy billions of dollars and larger domestic superannuation funds looking to get directly involved in mergers and acquisitions. Announced domestic, inbound and outbound Australian M&A totalled $US93.7bn ($121.6bn) as at June 11, a record calendar year-to-date tally, according to Refinitiv data. That is up from a pandemic-depressed total of just $US20.5bn in announced deals this time last year, and has surpassed a 2007 pre-GFC June 11 high of $US82.1bn. If momentum is sustained, 2021 may beat the prior annual announced M&A high of $US196.6bn from 2007. The bonanza M&A activity has touched many sectors this year, and bankers and lawyers are confident 2021 will mark a new record.

More women are working for listed and unlisted fund managers than ever before, but the historically male-dominated industry still has much work to do to improve gender diversity, the latest HESTA research reveals. Survey responses from 60 of the industry super fund’s investment partners found the proportion of women in investment management roles at an aggregate level had improved from 17% in 2018 to 22% in 2020. Improvement was predominately from an increase in women working in more junior roles, with unlisted fund managers the main contributor to better gender balance across the Fund’s investment partners. Women filled 24% of investment team roles at unlisted managers surveyed, up from 17% in 2018. Listed managers diversity shifted slightly, increasing from 16% to 17% in 2020.





Fortescue Metals Group chairman Andrew Forrest has secured the inside running on developing the world’s largest hydro power project – which alone carries a $US80 billion ($103.8 billion) price tag – and associated port, green hydrogen and green ammonia capability in the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo. Dr Forrest said Fortescue’s green energy and green hydrogen projects in Africa were not confined to the DRC and included projects in Kenya and Ethiopia, with investors and financiers already indicating a willingness to commit more than $US100 billion. He put Fortescue’s weight behind the Grand Inga dam project on the Congo on Sunday as part of his ambition to diversify the iron ore miner into a global force in green energy and green hydrogen.

Punting upstart BlueBet says it has secured its first American wagering licence, opening the door to the lucrativw US sports betting land-grab as it heads towards an ASX listing next month. The outfit founded by veteran bookmaker Michael Sullivan in 2015 which opened a public offering on Thursday and is set to land on the ASX boards on July 2 with a market value of around $220 million.

Macquarie has seen off a pair of activist billionaires in its quest to grab a stake in Italy’s biggest toll road network, on Saturday announcing that its consortium had clinched a deal to buy most of Autostrade per l’Italia (ASPI) from Benetton-controlled Atlantia. The €9.3 billion ($14.6 billion) deal had been on the cards since last year, but was almost derailed in April when Spanish billionaire and Real Madrid soccer club owner Florentino Perez swooped in with a dramatic last-minute bid. But Macquarie has prevailed: its consortium, which also includes US investment group Blackstone and Italian state investment firm Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), has agreed terms with Atlantia for its 88% stake.

Marley Spoon is moving to seize a greater share of the Australian grocery market, with the food delivery service ramping up manufacturing and distribution in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, underscoring its ambition to become a €1bn ($1.57bn) company by 2025. The move comes as Covid-19 has accelerated the uptake of e-commerce, while traditional bricks-and-mortar grocery stores – including Woolworths and Coles – have battled panic buying and rationed inventory during the pandemic. Marley Spoon, Australia’s second-biggest player in the $500m meal kit delivery market, says the trend is here to stay and Australia is part of its plans to expand across three continents. Rather than see Marley Spoon as a threat, Woolworths has joined forces with the food delivey service, striking a five-year strategic partnership in 2019. The tie-up – the first example of a leading Australian supermarket partnering with a meal kit delivery service – involved a marketing alliance and Woolworths taking an equity stake in Marley Spoon. In the past year, Marley Spoon has delivered 45 million meals across Australia, Europe and the US, and the company is looking to grow by about 30% this year as it steams ahead with expanding it

Over 40% of financial advisers are considering leaving the profession due to stress, and another 17% are unsure if they will stay, according to a report.

The ‘Australian Financial Advisers Wellbeing Report 2021’  by The e-lab and Deakin University found that in terms of wellbeing, financial advisers scored far worse on the majority of the survey’s measures than other stressful and demanding occupations.

The report said advisers scored the worst in:

  • Worst mental health (this also included comparison to the average Australian);
  • Worst wellbeing;
  • Lowest levels of flow (a high-performance state where you are absorbed in your work);
  • Highest stress levels;
  • Highest feeling of overload;
  • Highest impact of stress on them (in terms of considering leaving the profession, impact on their medical health, negative impact on sleep quality, chance of being overweight, risk of heart disease);
  • Lowest rates of incorporating innovation into their work;
  • Lowest in psychological capital (a psychological construct made up of resilience, hope, optimism, confidence);
  • Lowest in adaptive performance (the ability to respond and adapt to change); and
  • Second lowest levels of work-life balance (school principals were the only group with lower scores


A union survey has found that about four out of five horticulture workers have been underpaid, with some earning as little as $9 a day. The joint study by Unions NSW and Victoria’s Migrant Worker Centre found 78% cent of 1300 horticulture workers reported being underpaid at some point, with 80% underpaid piece rates and 61% hourly rates. Unions will seek to use the study to bolster their case to change the horticulture award and supplement decades-old piece rates with a guaranteed minimum rate of $24.80 an hour. However, farmers have said that they will have no capacity to pass on the extra costs and argue the union’s issues go to enforcement, not the award. According to the survey, about 15% are paid between $0 and $7 an hour, 16% earned $16 to $19 and only 11% were paid $20 to $23. In some instances workers said they earned less than $1 an hour. The lowest daily wages were reported in the grape and zucchini farms, where workers earned an average $9 a day, and blueberry farms, where workers earned $10 a day. Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said farmers have “made fantasy submissions to the Fair Work Commission, claiming that the piece rates system allows workers to earn above the minimum wage”. He said the workers were treated like “pawns” as about 25% said they have had shifts as short as one hour a day.

Beleaguered analytics software outfit Nuix has lost both its chief executive officer and chief financial officer, with CEO Rod Vawdrey retiring and CFO Stephen Doyle “terminated by mutual agreement” after the tech company issued its third earnings downgrade since February. The departures from Nuix cap a stunning fall from what was the biggest IPO of 2020. The company’s board, which is facing ongoing pressure over governance and transparency issues, said in a statement that Mr Vawdrey will continue in his role while an international search is conducted for a new CEO. The announcements followed a board meeting on Thursday evening. According to Nuix executives, Mr Doyle has not been seen in his office in Nuix’s headquarters in Sydney for the last fortnight, including May 31 when the company announced its second earnings downgrade in six weeks. It’s not known whether Mr Doyle was working remotely from Brisbane, where he has a house, or taking leave. Mr Doyle’s departure and CEO Rod Vawdrey resignation come after a 78% drop in the share price since January which has cost shareholders $2.9 billion.



Atlassian has signed on to a new deed of equity, created by its charitable foundation, which it is hoping other companies will also sign, to make it legally enforceable to make good on public pledges of donations.  The Australian tech giant co-founded the Pledge 1% movement in 2014, with the idea being that participating companies agree to donate 1% of their equity, profits, time and/or products to non government organisations. Until now, such pledges were not legally enforceable in Australia, but this new deed of equity changes this, and if implemented gives such promises greater weight. Atlassian Foundation head Mark Reading worked together with his former employer, PwC, Herbert Smith Freehills, and Australian Philanthropic Services to help work out what legal instrument would work best for Pledge 1%-ers, and also to check that formalising this corporate giving would not inadvertently trigger additional tax obligations. Typically, charitable gifts are tax deductible. Under the deed, start-ups and companies must pick what charity they want to donate their pledges to. The need to donate the gift is triggered by any major liquidity event, like an initial public offering, that happens within 10 years of signing the deed. Atlassian Foundation head Mark Reading described the Pledge 1% movement as a “simple framework for baking social impact into the DNA of an organisation,”

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank are again under scrutiny for their compliance with anti-money laundering laws, after an investigation into one of their partners is set to result in sanctions being imposed in Papua New Guinea. BSP Financial Group, which listed on the ASX last month and trades as the Bank of South Pacific, faces possible fines or regulatory action in PNG for breaches of the country’s anti-money laundering laws. Under Australian law any sanctions handed out to BSP would be problematic for CBA and NAB, which are required to undertake “regular due diligence assessments” on their “correspondent banks” to ensure they are not facilitating money laundering.

And that’s for this week. And next week, I’ll be talking to Jo Asquith, CEO of the Royal College of Healthcare, the country’s leading training provider for aged care, early childhood, etc – two of the country’s most booming sectors where jobs are in demand and they desperately need quality workers – particularly in the face of the outcomes of the aged care royal commission.  And I’ll be talking to Indeed economist Callam Pickering about the latest unemployment figures.

In the meantime you can catch me on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And if you want leave a comment. Wishing you all a safe and healthy week. And looking forward to bringing you Talking Business next week.