Mortgage refinancing rate at a record level as property owners fight to hold onto homes
(See translation in Arabic section)
Sydney - Middle East Times Int’l: Australians are refinancing their mortgages “at a rate never before seen” to hold on to their properties as interest rates keep climbing.
Banks are preparing for a period of “significant defaults” and are reaching out to customers they have concerns about.
The Australian Banking Association (ABA) said repossessing someone’s home was the “absolute last resort” for a bank.
“It is in the commercial interest of banks to keep customers in their home, and to give them a reasonable period of time to get back on their feet and to be able to manage their payments,” chief executive Anna Bligh said.
“While we’re seeing high-interest rates now, what banks will tell you is that the things that really put people over the edge are losing your job, having a relationship breakdown — so there’s only one income coming into the family — or having a very serious prolonged health issue that prevents you from working for a period.”
That is not to say banks were not preparing for a period of “significant defaults” if interest rates kept rising, Ms Bligh said.
She said it happened “all the time” that even the most reliable of customers missed a payment.
Three strikes, however, and their loans would be classified as being in default, prompting banks to contact customers.
“Banks right now are sort of talking to customers, working with them as they’re getting into a bit of trouble,” Ms Bligh said.
“Right now, Australians — even though it’s really hard for them — they are paying their mortgages and their other loans, but banks aren’t complacent about that.
“They are anticipating that things will deteriorate over the next six months, and they’re ready with some very practical tools to help those customers.”
Ms Bligh said customers were already refinancing their mortgages “at a rate never before seen” to get a better deal.
“We’ve got about close to 2500 Australians refinancing their mortgage to get a cheaper interest rate — with their own bank or with another bank — every single working day at the moment,” she said.
“That’s certainly the very first thing that anyone who’s struggling should be talking to their bank about.”
Ms Bligh said other options included extending the length of a loan, moving to interest-only payments, or even deferring payments for a while. But beware of the latter, she says.
“There are circumstances where deferring payments gets to a point where the customer starts to lose equity in the property, and that is not in the financial interest of a customer,” she said.
More interest rate rises are still possible, says Australia’s Reserve Bank
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) says more interest rate increases are still possible as a former RBA governor argues the low-rate era is over.
In minutes from its latest meeting, where it lifted the cash rate to 3.85 per cent, the RBA reiterated that the door remains open to future hikes.
“Further increases in interest rates may still be required but that this would depend on how the economy and inflation evolve,” the bank’s board concluded.
The bank outlined the effect of a recent migration “influx” on rents, which were expected to add to inflation pressures for some time, while also noting strength in the jobs market, weak productivity growth and the rising rate of services inflation.
“If these risks materialised, they would further delay the return of inflation to target, with the prospect of a damaging shift in inflation expectations,” the minutes recorded.
“Further, members noted that the forecasts presented at the meeting were predicated on a technical assumption for the path of the cash rate that involved one further increase.”
If there was a final clincher for the rate increase this month, it was the property market’s rapid and unexpected recovery, along with a fall in the Australian dollar.
“While several factors had contributed to these developments, the decision to hold interest rates steady in April was likely to have contributed,” the minutes noted.
A keynote guest at the gas industry’s annual conference organised by the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), former RBA governor Glenn Stevens said households and businesses should brace for interest rates to staying higher for longer.
Mr Stevens told the audience that he suspected the “economic era” of low inflation had ended.
“When I finished in central banking, nearly seven years ago now, inflation was too low and it was difficult to get it to go up,” he observed.
“Who would have thought that we now be in a world where it’s too high, and I think it will be difficult to get it to come down.
“I could be wrong but, if that is the case, then I think we’ve also transitioned from a world in which interest rates were low for long[er] … to one in which they will be elevated for some time.
“Not necessarily that much higher than now, but I think a return to the ultra-low rates that we saw for a while there is unlikely.”
The man who ran the RBA for a decade between 2006 to 2016 said it was a “no-brainer” for central banks to move aggressively last year to try to stamp out inflation with steep rate rises.
The dark underbelly of Australia’s love affair with cheap solar power
Take a walk down any suburban Australian street and chances are you’ll see solar panels on probably on many roofs.
Over the past 15 years, Australia’s love affair with solar has known few bounds. There are now more than three million installations on household rooftops across the country.
But when Ramila Chanisheff looks up, she doesn’t necessarily see a symbol of renewable energy.
She sees the oppression of her people.
“It is a bitter feeling … when you see them,” Ms. Chanisheff said.
“I absolutely see the separation, the tears … the human rights abuses when I look at solar panels.”
Ms. Chanisheff is an ethnic Uyghur from the north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang, or East Turkistan as she calls it.
Xinjiang is one of the world’s biggest producers of polysilicon, a crucial ingredient in modern-day solar panels. About 45 per cent of the world’s supply comes from the province, where metallurgic grade silicon is crushed and purified in huge factories.
But researchers and human rights activists claim those factories are also home to the widespread use of forced Uyghur labour.
Ms. Chanisheff says getting direct accounts from affected workers is hard because of what she says is a vast orchestrated crackdown on Uyghurs by Beijing.
But she says many people in the Uyghur diaspora in Australia and elsewhere in the world know of family members or friends caught up in the industry.
“The Uyghurs that live in Australia, they know their families are in these labour camps working for the solar panel industry,” she said.
“But they’re unwilling to speak up due to further persecution of their family members.”
From an almost non-existent base 20 years ago, China’s solar industry has grown to become the world’s dominant supplier of panels.
In polysilicon, China accounts for almost 90 per cent of production, having crushed competitors including the US during its rise.
China’s success has been a boon for consumers, who have benefited from sharp falls in the price of solar panels. But ethical questions about parts of the industry in China appear to be growing.
Despite insistences by Beijing that its policies in Xinjiang are aimed at countering terrorism and alleviating poverty, many remain unconvinced.
Nicholas Aberle, the director of energy generation and storage at the Clean Energy Council, says the reports of human rights abuses in the solar supply chain are a worry.
Dr Aberle said while “this is not an issue peculiar to solar”, consumers and governments could not afford to turn a blind eye.
“We condemn modern slavery and forced labour,” Dr Aberle said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese cancels Quad meeting after US President Joe Biden pulls out
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has confirmed that next week’s Quad leaders meeting in Sydney will not go ahead after US President Joe Biden cancelled his visit to Australia.
Mr Albanese says it's still possible that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Sydney next week.
Mr Biden has been forced to turn his attention to domestic politics, as he works to hash out a deal with Republicans to prevent the US from defaulting on its debts at the end of this month.
"Because that has to be solved prior to 1 June — otherwise there are quite drastic consequences for the US economy, which will flow on to the global economy — he understandably has had to make that decision," Mr Albanese said.
The prime minister also said Mr Biden was "disappointed" he was unable to come to Australia and that the Quad leaders would instead try to gather on the margins of the G7 leaders meeting in Hiroshima.
"All four leaders — President Biden, Prime Minister Kishida, Prime Minister Modi and myself — will be at the G7, held in Hiroshima on Saturday and Sunday. We are attempting to get together over that period of time [and] I'll have a bilateral discussion with President Biden," he said.
"At this stage, we haven't got a time locked in for that arrangement."
Mr Albanese said it was still possible that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida would visit Sydney next week, but officials in all three countries were still trying to confirm their plans.
Cancer survival rates for Australian youth at a record high, says report
Survival rates for adolescents and young adults (AYA) with cancer are at an all-time high, with 90% of young people diagnosed with cancer alive 5 years after diagnosis.
According to the latest Australian Institute for Health and Welfare cancer in adolescents and young adults in Australia report, which reviewed national cancer outcomes for people aged 15 to 24 years, the improvement in survival was most dramatic for blood cancers where 5-year survival had increased from 64% in the 1980s to 91% in the most recent reporting period.
NSW Health Minister Ryan Park said: “NSW has some of the best cancer survival rates in the world and that simply wouldn’t be possible without the dedication and passion of our state’s health professionals and cancer researchers.
“To see so many young people survive cancer is incredibly encouraging, but work continues to achieve our vision of a time when no young person loses their life to this disease, and they can go on to live long productive lives not overshadowed by ongoing side effects or fear of another cancer diagnosis.”
NSW Chief Cancer Officer and CEO of Cancer Institute NSW Professor Tracey O’Brien says that while the overall survival increase has been dramatic there is still much to do to improve survival rates and address the long-term impacts experienced by these young people.
From 1984 to the current reporting period, rates of colorectal cancer increased almost fourfold (9 to 33 cases per million) and for thyroid cancers almost threefold (13 to 35 cases per million). Survival for these cancers, among the top 5 most common for this age group, was high at 95% and 99% respectively.
While overall survival had improved dramatically, there were certain cancers where survival rates remain lower, such as brain, bone and soft tissue sarcomas.
“Overall, these results are very encouraging and give great hope but we need to be mindful that people are not statistics. Progress made in treatment of some cancers like bone cancer is less positive, with a third of young people not surviving to five years after their diagnosis,” Prof. O’Brien said.
NSW to get paediatric heart transplant service at Westmead
Children in need of a heart transplant in New South Wales will no longer be forced to travel to Melbourne in search of life-saving treatment.
The state's first dedicated paediatric heart transplant service will open its doors at the Children's Hospital at Westmead in July after an initial $1.8 million funding package from the state government.
Until now, children and their families were required to travel to the nationally-funded Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne.
For cardiothoracic surgeon Ian Nicholson, who has worked at Westmead hospital for 30 years, it's an incredibly emotional step.
"(Travelling to Melbourne for treatment) is a major dislocation for families," Dr Nicholson said.
Some families were forced to move to the Victorian capital for up to four months with no guarantee the operation will be successful.
"Some families have refused to go to Melbourne to seek treatment because of that," he added.
Dr Nicholson said some children would have died because of the difficulty in accessing services and the pressure it puts on their loved ones.
Ahmad El Haj Youssef was one such cardiac patient. The now 17-year-old desperately required a transplant in the midst of the 2021 COVID-19 pandemic.
When Victoria's border closed, the Westmead Children's Hospital successfully performed the operation, one of five at the hospital.
That was enough to convince Premier Chris Minns that NSW could perform the surgeries.
"I've been assured by New South Wales Health that our investment of $1.8 million is designed to staff up and ensure that there are the people in place from July 1 this year," Mr Minns said.
The money will pay for medical personnel including surgeons and nutritionists.
Children under 12 will continue to travel to Melbourne for treatment while the service grows.
NSW Premier Chris Minns puts Sydney households on notice to lure more young people to city
NSW Premier Chris Minns says Sydney’s future will need to focus on creating higher density housing in urban areas in order to attract young people to the city.
While Sydney was once commonly regarded as Australia’s most populated city, Melbourne overtook the NSW city due to boundary changes enacted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in April.
Mr Minns stressed the economic and cultural importance of attracting and retaining young people to Sydney but conceded its diminished housing affordability and growing rental crisis was a key barrier.
“Forget about owning a home, it’s now become impossible to even rent a home,” he said.
“The implications for the economy are devastating, not to mention the cultural impacts for an entire generation of young people who are saying ‘this city is not for me’.”
He flagged a potential solution would be increasing affordable housing, plus more medium-density housing in transport corridors, and said his government would “rebalance” growth, flagging an increase in apartment builds.
“Sydney can’t grow by adding another street to the western fringe of Sydney every week … (because) you have to stretch social infrastructure over a bigger and bigger plane,” he said.
“I think the best way to ensure we protect open space is to have buildings that go up,” he said.
However, he also acknowledged his government would need to ensure confidence and crack down on dodgy builders when it came to building medium-density housing, crediting his Coalition-predecessor’s appointment of David Chandler as the NSW Building Commissioner.
The Premier said Sydney’s housing crisis, and its tight rental market was a key concern for his government.
He announced he would be writing to government departments to identify land available for development and would ensure 30 per cent of that land is available for affordable housing.
Progress made on Rewiring the Nation but still so much more left to do: Bowen
Brief excerpt of speech by the Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, on the Rewiring The Nation Project to CEDA (Committee for the Economic Development of Australia) in Sydney on May 15, 2023.
“CEDA has a long heritage of involvement in important economic conversations of the day. There is no conversation, not one, more important to our economic future than the energy transition well underway in our country.
“Making this energy transformation as smooth and efficient as possible, and maximising our potential to be a renewable energy power is the key to our economic prosperity like no other issue.
Australia has more to lose from climate change than any other developed country and more to gain from our renewable potential.
“That’s why I regard this as the most important job I have ever done.
“Rewiring the Nation is one of the most important elements of our energy transition plan.
It’s an economic plan. A plan for our regions. A plan for emissions reduction.
“There’s no transition without transmission. The detractors and naysayers make misinformed arguments about gold-plating and unnecessary works. This is of course just plain wrong.
“Rewiring the Nation is simply about making sure our grid is fit for purpose and future proofed to get energy from where it is made, to where it is consumed.
“It doesn’t make sense to invest in and build new renewable projects if we can’t utilise the energy they produce when they are up and running.
“The need for new transmission is like the need to upgrade a road. We aren’t driving on the same roads that were built 50 years ago – new and expanded towns need new infrastructure, heavier traffic needs more heavy-duty roads – the same is true for transmission.
“Our transmission grid needs a massive upgrade to make it fit for purpose for a modern energy system, so that’s what we are doing.
“We have made good progress. This is a big task but the opportunities are enormous – especially for job-creating, investment-attracting, nation-building projects in the regions.
“We are just getting started. There is so much more to do.”
Tasmanian Government to spend $15m on new Launceston hospital helipad
The Tasmanian Government has allocated $15 million to build a new helipad for Launceston General Hospital (LGH) with $15 million in the 2023-24 Tasmanian Budget.
The helipad will be built on top of the existing carpark on the western side of the LGH site and replace the current ground-level concrete pad in nearby Ockerby Gardens.
Premier and Minister for Health Jeremy Rockliff said the new helipad would ensure aero-medical patients will get to the right clinical area safely and efficiently.
“The LGH helipad is a critical resource for the pre-hospital care and emergency transportation of Tasmanians, and our plans to build a new helipad will provide a safe and efficient long-term solution,” the Premier said.
“The new rooftop location will allow for the construction of a new state-of-the-art, contemporary helipad that provides efficient patient transfer to the Emergency Department, ICU and theatres through an aerobridge connection. It will also provide additional flight paths which will enable operation in more difficult weather conditions.
“The Cleveland Street multi-storey car park meets or exceeds all the necessary requirements for a new helipad and we look forward to progressing this project so that we can provide a sustainable, long-term solution for the LGH and the northern Tasmanian community.”
MP for Bass, Simon Wood said it was great to see the “significant investment” into Launceston General Hospital.
Ambulance Tasmania will keep using Launceston Airport as the landing site whilst the new helipad is built in early 2024.
Victoria names new ticket operator for myki public transport system
The Victorian Government has announced a new operator for its myki public transport ticketing system.
Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll named Conduent Business Services will be the next operator of the state’s public transport ticketing system under a new, $1.7 billion 15-year contract.
The new contract will allow commuters to use smartphones,, smart watches and credit cards to buy tickets and begins on December 1.
As part of the changes, all public transport fares will be moved into the updated Myki, including school buses and regional V/Line tickets, while tourists will also be able to touch on without needing an account.
Conduent takes over from NTT Data.
Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll said: “This new ticketing contract is an important step in the evolution of myki as a future-proofed ticket to travel on Victoria’s world-class public transport system.”
“We’ve made improvements to myki over the past seven years and now this new contract will provide a greater benefit to passengers - using proven technology to make it quicker and easier to top up, touch on and travel.”
After trials begin in 2024, the existing payment options will be upgraded but the government says there will be no immediate changes to the current myki or V/Line ticketing system.
Conduent Business Services has delivered and operates more than 400 ticketing systems across 24 countries including in Paris, Dubai, Montreal and New Jersey (US).
The Labor Government said passengers have saved millions of dollars on public transport fares since its regional fare cap came into effect on March 31.
Shoe-obsessed MP wows in colourful New Balances as funding for flood victims announced
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has turned heads at a morning press conference, debuting a pair of colourful kicks as she announced a major natural disaster development.
On Monday morning, Ms Plibersek donned a pair of brightly coloured New Balance sneakers as she announced a $236m investment from the Albanese government to improve flood infrastructure.
Her sneakers, which are listed for as much as $380 on sneaker website GOAT, were paired with a sky blue suit and white shirt.
Ms Plibersek is known to have a passion for stylish footwear, and reportedly has a pair of sneakers on display in a glass case in her office.
The funding, which will be invested over the next 10 years, is aimed at improving reliability and consistency of flood data, forecasts and warnings.
Queensland will be prioritised as the most at-risk state, with the state government already committing to share the ongoing cost of operations.
The extra money will go towards high priority catchment upgrades, which will help states prepare for and respond to flood emergencies.
Ms Plibersek said severe weather events are becoming more extreme and more frequent.
“The people of Queensland and Northern NSW especially know that from recent tragic experience,” she said.
“When these events occur, people need access to the best available information, in real time. Reliable flood warnings will help Australians prepare for moments of extreme weather.
“It will keep people safer as they happen. Being better prepared will – when the water recedes – help reduce the financial impact of flooding on families and businesses.”
Ukrainian leader asks for Pope’s backing as four Russian aircraft shot down
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked Pope Francis to back Kyiv’s peace plan as the pope indicating the Vatican would help in the repatriation of Ukrainian children taken by Russians.
“It is a great honour,” Mr Zelenskyy told Francis, putting his hand to his heart and bowing his head as he greeted the 86-year-old pope, who stood with a cane.
Earlier, Mr Zelenskyy met Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who promised full military and financial backing for Ukraine and reiterated support for its EU membership bid.
A Vatican statement said that in their talks, Mr Zelenskyy and the pope discussed “humanitarian gestures”, which a Vatican source said was a reference to the Vatican’s willingness to help with the repatriation of Ukrainian children.
Kyiv estimates nearly 19,500 children have been taken to Russia or Russian-occupied Crimea since February 2022, in what it condemns as illegal deportations.
Mr Zelenskyy also said he asked the pope to “join” Kyiv’s 10-point peace plan which calls for restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops, cessation of hostilities, and the restoration of Ukraine’s state borders.
Earlier, Ms Meloni and President Sergio Mattarella reiterated Italy’s full support for Ukraine in terms of military, financial, humanitarian and reconstruction aid in the short and long term.
Ms Meloni condemned Russia’s “brutal and unjust aggression”, pledged Italy’s support for Ukraine for “as long as is necessary” and urged Russia to immediately withdraw.
She emphasised Italy’s support for Ukraine’s membership of the European Union and the “intensification” of a partnership with NATO.
• On the war front, two Russian fighter jets and two military helicopters were shot down close to the Ukrainian border, Russian news outlet Kommersant reported.
Kommersant (a respected, independent business-focused daily) said on its website that a Su-34 fighter-bomber, a Su-35 fighter and two Mi-8 helicopters had been “shot down almost simultaneously” in an ambush in the Bryansk region, adjacent to north-east Ukraine.
Kommersant provided no evidence for its report but the same assertion was also made by several heavily followed pro-war military bloggers.
Trade Minister Don Farrell says China trip ‘positive’ despite tariffs
Speaking at a press conference after the talks, Mr Farrell said there was “positive momentum” in the meeting, but acknowledged more work needed to be done.
“We made the decision on coming to Government 12 months ago we wanted to stabilise our relationship with the Chinese Government and to get our relationship back on track and to lift all these trade impediments,” he said.
“This is just another step in the road … I’m very confident that as a result of this face-to-face discussion today that we are well on track to get a stable, normal relationship with China.
“The trade impediments didn’t occur overnight and they’re not going to be resolved overnight.”
He said Wang reassured him that a recent agreement remains “on track” to end sanctions on $1.2 billion worth of barley exports.
“The wine dispute”, he said, would hopefully follow the same process.
Earlier, it was revealed China’s Foreign Minister Qin Jang plans to visit Australia in July following a meeting with Foreign Minister Penny Wong last December.
Punishing tariffs have badly hurt wine, barley and other exports from Australia, part of a campaign of economic sanctions over anti-foreign interference efforts, pushback to the Huawei 5G ban and Australia’s calls for an investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tariffs caused exports to plummet while producers searched for new markets.
Mr Wang welcomed “positive progress” after years of escalating tensions.
“China and Australia are important countries in the Asia Pacific. We do not have fundamental conflicts of interest,” he said.
“We need to see our differences and divergence in perspective, improve and maintain our bilateral economic relations.
“This is in our fundamental interests.”
Ahead of the trip, Mr Farrell played down expectations of a breakthrough in the China-Australia relationship, saying that while he would be “advocating strongly” for the full resumption of unimpeded Australian exports, he was hoping to see progress.
“Since February, we've made progress on a range of products that includes coal, cotton, and other products. And, of course, we’re making progress in terms of the issue of barley, but there are outstanding issues that are remaining,” he said on May 11.
“My job is to keep the process going, keep the pressure on to resolve it.”