Architect-designed home at lower cost? No problem, say these builders

Lifespaces founders Elliot McLaren, Simon Babb and Grant Downie and renders of their proposed projects by Auhaus Architecture. Photo: LifespacesFive things you shouldn’t say to an architectAustralia’s best houses for 2016The worst renovations in heritage properties

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A Victorian company’s innovative business model is enabling more consumers the opportunity to own a quality-built home designed by a leading architect.

Founded by three builders, Lifespaces Group offers customers the ability to purchase limited release, pre-designed plans by architects to be built by the Lifespaces team.

Co-founder of Lifespaces Group Elliot McLaren says the business started after observing consumer demand for more affordable and hassle-free architecturally-designed homes.

“I’ve always been to privy to what I believed was a gap in the market, and that was clients coming in looking for a higher-end product but not really either wanting to go through the process, or not having the budget to seek higher-end architecture,” McLaren says.

Each design produced by Lifespaces’ architects is limited to 10 uses, thereby guaranteeing customers a relatively exclusive home.

“That’s a very firm, set-in-stone part of the Lifespaces brand,” McLaren says.

“Once the tenth home is built, the plan is retired, never to be seen again.”

The collective construction experience of the founders ensures all materials and fixtures in the homes are carefully sourced and installed by the team.

“Each toilet comes from Spain, each oven comes out from France ??? We have proper limestone not acrylic baths, and the taps are all handmade out of Melbourne. Nothing comes out of China,” McLaren says.

The first five Lifespaces designs have been created by acclaimed Victorian based architectural firm Auhaus Architecture.

“We’ve used the same design principles as we do for all our regular homes, looking at light, connection to outdoor spaces, how the light moves across the house throughout the day, natural ventilation, good natural volume and connection between spaces,” says Kate Fitzpatrick, co-founding director of Auhaus.

The first Lifespaces home – the Courtyard House designed by Auhaus – is priced at $675,000. This is an upfront, unwavering price that includes the cost of architecture and construction.

“That’s a 30 square home [about 278 square metres] which equates to about $22,500 per square for the entire project,” McLaren says.

“We can hit a certain price point that sees us well below what it would normally cost to access this level of architect, and with a product that really is tapping into the raw design ethos of Kate Fitzpatrick and Ben Stibbard of Auhaus.”

According to the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia, currently only five to 10 per cent of Australian homes are architect-designed.

“Lifespaces is about creating a platform for high-end architects to design the way they would like to design as if creating a home for themselves,” McLaren says.

Lifespaces plan to eventually introduce more architects to the business who specialise in a range of residential styles and climates.

The company’s home in Barwon Heads, the Courtyard House, will be completed next month, and will open to the public shortly after.

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The suburb where it really does matter what side of the road you’re on

ken100611.001.001.melb.s/age property. photograph ken irwin story by chris vedelagoshows residential niddrie SPECIAL 00000000 Photo: Ken IrwinBaristas, Albion needs you (and you’d make a killing)The tiny suburb that’s one of Melbourne’s giantsThe suburb even real estate agents keep secret

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Sometimes the suburb divide is so obvious that it’s laughable. Head down Hoffmans Road, which divides Niddrie from Essendon North, and it’s like Target on one side and Myer on the other. The houses tell the story. Carefully, almost fastidiously presented versus, well, liveable.

It’s the same with the schools that keep this area popular with families: there’s Rosehill Secondary College on the Niddrie side of super-hilly Rosehill Road, and St Bernard’s College on the other. There’s way more love (and money) on one side. “Even the sign is so glossy!” comments my son. You can guess which school he’s talking about, right?

Niddrie just doesn’t have the bloodline that Essendon does. It doesn’t have the number of sporting fields that its neighbour does. It certainly doesn’t have its own AFL team. And when it comes to Melbourne’s most desirable forms of public transport (yes: we’re talking trams and trains, don’t give me that ‘what about the bus?’ line), bar a couple of tram stops for the 59 in the busy Niddrie Shopping Precinct, it’s completely outswamped by its neighbour.

Yet Niddrie has quite a bit going for it. It’s just 13 kilometres from the CBD. And it’s getting on a few lists: affordable rentals not so far from town, being one. Development opportunities, being another. “Almost a million-dollar suburb” could be another.

According to Domain Group chief economist Andrew Wilson, Niddrie’s median price is $950,000, up 15 per cent in the past six months. “The north is very hot at the moment” says Dr Wilson “It’s a boom. There are queues of buyers.” The REIV listed it as one of Melbourne’s 120 million-dollar ‘burbs in the last December quarter.

And who are these buyers? Developers, baby. Most of Niddrie’s homes are being advertised with the focus on their land size. They’re usually in the 600-plus square metre range and are often being sold complete with permits for between three and five townhouses. Properties like these – blank canvases – are asking $1.48 million -$1.6 million. A completed townhouse in Niddrie will set a buyer back at least $500,000.

Despite the suburb’s small size, the shopping’s big in Niddrie. Niddrie Shopping Precinct sits on Keilor Road on its Calder Freeway edge. This strip gets a lot of love. It’s the kind of place where “roving entertainers” take over on special days, like Easter, and Valentine’s Day. It’s got its own website and hashtag: #niddrieprecinct (get in quick and you could be its first tag on Insta!). There’s every kind of business there, and it looks like it’s thriving.

Less lit up is Steele Creek, which forms a natural border of Niddrie (the others are aforementioned Hoffmans and Rosehill Roads, and the Calder Freeway). The shared use path runs from the southern boundary of Melbourne Airport to the Maribyrnong River. It’s a well-linked suburb by road, too, close to the freeways that matter to the commuter: the Tulla, the Western Ring Road and the Calder.

You get the impression that once the concrete trucks have moved on and the dyed black woodchips have been laid, it’ll be more like Myer v David Jones. However, Essendon North and West’s period homes, parks and schools will probably always give it an edge. Five things you didn’t know about Niddrie

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Cbus offers affordable housing at Newmarket Randwick

Cbus Property has entered into an agreement with Randwick City Council to construct a minimum of 10 apartments for affordable housing on the site of the Newmarket Big Stable area, near Randwick Racecourse, which has been designated for community use.

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The plan to offer the more affordable units comes from negotiations with Randwick City Council for Cbus Property to dedicate the community facilities under a voluntary planning agreement.

Cbus, as part of the agreement, will also offer the council, what is known as the stable area, being a 5000-square-metre public park and six new roads. It is all part of the redevelopment of the William Inglis & Sons property, to be marketed as Newmarket Randwick.

The five-hectare Newmarket property in Randwick was sold to Cbus Property for $250 million in 2015, and there are plans to build more than 750 apartments on the site.

The Inglis group will move its headquarters to new premises at Warwick Farm, in Sydney’s west.

Cbus Property chief executive Adrian Pozzo said the planning agreement was a “great step forward for its Newmarket Randwick project and the wider community”.

“Housing affordability is a significant issue in our society and we know how crucial it is for housing to be accessible for all so it was important for us to include these affordable housing apartments as part of this voluntary planning agreement,” he said.

“We have worked closely with council during the thorough planning and assessment process for our Stage 1 Masterplan DA to arrive at a development proposal that will create a new sustainable and sensitive redevelopment of this iconic property whilst retaining and celebrating its remarkable heritage.”

Cbus also plans to pay tribute to the past by including the restoration and adaptive reuse of Newmarket House and retention of historically significant vegetation on the site including Moreton Bay Fig, Norfolk Island Pine and Port Jackson Fig trees.

Newmarket Randwick will be developed in three stages, with completion expected in early 2021.

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Banks lift ASX to another high

The Australian sharemarket defied weak offshore leads and falling iron ore prices to push higher again on Tuesday, with strength in the major banks helping keep the benchmark index at its highest level since early 2015.

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The S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.3 per cent to 5929.3, while the broader All Ordinaries Index added 0.3 per cent to 5964.6.

“The highlight was a bit of support for the banks, which have been toing and froing between believers and disbelievers for a while,” said Paterson’s Securities economist Tony Farnham.

The big four banks rose between 0.4 and 0.7 per cent, with the exception of Westpac, which soared 1.2 per cent. With all other sectors trading in the red or narrowly in the black, the financials sector as a whole made up almost all the index’s upward movement, rising 0.8 per cent as a whole.

Meanwhile, the materials sector was the major drag on the market, largely due to BHP Billiton giving up some of yesterday’s outsized gains. On Monday, BHP shares soared 4.6 per cent to their highest levels in two years after a hedge fund that owns 4.1 per cent of the company’s London-listed stock urged the board to separate its petroleum arm and collapse its dual listing.

On Tuesday, BHP shed 1.2 per cent, which Mr Farnham put down to “a bit of profit-taking after the run-up yesterday”.

Rio Tinto, however, closed up 2.0 per cent. Fortescue Metals dipped 1.5 per cent. Most gold miners were up, though Saracen Mineral Holdings plunged 4.2 per cent after informing the market its March quarter gold production fell short of guidance due to heavy rainfall.

Shares in Asaleo Care plunged 8.4 per cent, their biggest fall in 9 months, after a Credit Suisse note cut the toiletries manufacturer to ‘neutral’.

Ardent Leisure also had a bad day, down 1.0 per cent, after it revealed on Monday a 34.3 per cent fall in revenue at its parks due to the impact of Cyclone Debbie. UBS downgraded the stock on Tuesday, which may have played into its fall. ???

Woolworths was 0.7 per cent lower after news broke of a $100 million class action being brought against it by Maurice Blackburn over its shock 2015 profit downgrade. Wesfarmers was also dragged lower, closing down 0.3 per cent.

While market turnover was “reasonable” on Tuesday, “you’d expect to see it thinning out towards the end of the week because of the Easter holidays”.

Stock watch: Costa Group

Shares in horticultural company Costa Group hit an all-time high on Tuesday, soaring 7.1 per cent to $4.69, after Goldman Sachs lifted its price target for the stock. Goldman reiterated its ‘buy’ rating and raised its price target by 27 per cent to $5.10, saying Costa’s move into the avocado market last year and the positive outlook for blackberries will lift earnings. “The avocado market has experienced robust growth over the past decade. We expect steady volume and value growth driven by increased consumption and potential expansion into the export markets over the medium term,” the analysts write. Three analysts have a ‘buy’ rating on the stock and one a ‘hold’, with an average price target of $4.44, according to Bloomberg. Market movers

Coking Coal

Premium coking coal prices surged above $US300 a tonne as the damage from Cyclone Debbie continued to sideline Queensland coking coal exports. Aurizon’s share price surged 3.6 per cent on Tuesday as the first shipment of coal reached Gladstone port via Aurizon’s Blackwater rail line, which transports 15???20 per cent of cross border coking coal. But other lines remain damaged. Aurizon estimates it will take another four weeks to repair its Goonyella rail line, which transports 35???40 per cent of global coking coal exports.

Iron ore

Iron ore’s descent into bear-market territory may herald further weakness. Barclays pinned the blame for the slide on lower steel demand in China driving a shift from mills toward lower-quality ore, and raised the prospect of a drop into the $US50s. Ore with 62 per cent content in Qingdao fell 1 per cent to $US74.71 a tonne overnight, following a 6.8 per cent drop on Friday that pushed the commodity into a bear market from a February peak. Iron ore futures in Dalian are trading flat at 523 yuan

AUD/CAD

Short Aussie against the Loonie: that’s the way currency traders are playing the contrasting fortunes of two key commodities – iron ore and oil. While the price of the latter, Canada’s main export, has been boosted by Middle Eastern tensions, iron ore has dropped into a bear market. The Australian dollar dropped below parity against the Canadian dollar on Monday night for the first time in two months, and was fetching 99.95 Canadian cents. in late trade on Tuesday, having declined 2.2 per cent in the past two weeks.

NAB survey

Business conditions jumped in March to highs not seen since before the global financial crisis with sales, profits and employment all at levels that bode well for a pick up in economic growth in coming months. NAB’s monthly survey of more than 400 firms showed its index of business conditions climbed 6 points to +14 in March, well above the long-run average of +5. The survey’s measure of business confidence, however, dipped a point to +6 which was in line with its long-run average. The major services sectors and wholesale reported the strongest conditions.

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Woolies’ suburban supermarket expansion stretches to Rosanna

A sleepy corner of middle suburbia, Rosanna in Melbourne’s north-east, is set to get a radical shakeup with a new full-line Woolies supermarket, railway station and elevated train tracks.

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Supermarket giant Woolworths has won the right to build a 2700 square metre store on Banyule Council-owned land after overcoming objections in a legal appeal at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Woolies development company Fabcot has a conditional contract to purchase a site next to Rosanna Station from Banyule Council if it gains planning approval for its supermarket

It lodged plans with the council after the land was rezoned in 2012 from public use.

The site includes an open car park off Douglas Street behind the Rosanna library and a strip of land owned by Melbourne Water.

Council offices currently on the premises will be moved to Greensborough.

The Rosanna shopping strip stretches down a steep hill along a main road before eventually crossing the Hurstbridge rail line.

The Lower Plenty Road and rail intersection have been earmarked by the state government for a level crossing removal, part of a multibillion-dollar, multi-year program to remove dangerous level crossings around the city.

As part of the project a significant portion of rail line will become elevated and the station adjoining the shopping strip will be rebuilt.

The new Woolies supermarket will sit on the opposite side of the railway line to the suburb’s shopping strip next to a theatre.

Tribunal member Margaret Baird dismissed objections from local residents that the new Woolies was too far from the rest of the Rosanna shopping strip and would affect the area’s “village” feel.

Numerous other objections included selling public land to a private company, removal of established trees, congestion from vehicles and deliveries, noise, and the supermarket’s impact on neighbouring buildings.

“Objectors believe that the council’s interest in the land has been a factor in its determination. They say the proper course of action by the council would have been to request an independent body to determine the application or propose a more appropriate form of development,” the tribunal said.

The tribunal also supported the council’s decision to issue a liquor licence with 10pm restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

Woolworths has multiple plans to expand its footprint in key suburbs.

In March it paid up to $50 million to buy public broadcaster the ABC’s former studios in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick.

The prime 6155 square metre block was on six separate titles in a mixed-use zone with frontage to Selwyn and Sinclair Streets, as well as a rear laneway.

Last year it bagged $30 million from selling a North Melbourne site in Canning Street after it gained planning approval for a 4400 square metre supermarket with 304 apartments above in a 16-level tower.

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Australia should consider Republicans’ tax plan: Garnaut

Australia should consider a tax plan being pushed by Donald Trump’s Republican Party which could stop multinational corporations avoiding tax, prominent economist Ross Garnaut says.

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Professor Garnaut said that while it was difficult to know what President Trump intended to with corporate tax rates, despite campaign promises of a cut to 15 per cent, there was merit to the Republican Party leadership’s proposal to fund rates cut of between 15 and 25 per cent by scrapping deductions.

“Our existing tax base for the corporate income tax is in deep trouble,” Professor Garnaut told the Melbourne Economic Forum on Tuesday.

“It’s subject to egregious avoidance or evasions, with two of the main instruments of avoidance being arbitrary use of interest on debt to reduce taxable income and, more importantly, arbitrary use of payment for import of services as deductions.

“You have a lot of what must be fundamentally some of the most profitable enterprises in Australia paying no corporate income tax.

“Google and Microsoft and Uber, they manage to generate very large sales in Australia … but somehow make no profit from it because of payment for intellectual property, payments for services.”

Professor Garnaut said opportunities for international tax avoidance had prompted a “race to the bottom” on tax rates between nations, which had compounded the issue and led to greater erosion of tax bases in all jurisdictions.

“So I wouldn’t be frightened by the possibility that Trump will take up the Republican proposals,” he said. “In fact I think we should look very carefully at whether we should be looking at it for ourselves.”

Miranda Stewart, director of the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute at Australian National University, said the extent to which the corporate tax base had been eroded had been understated.

She said Australia was not competing with havens like the Bahamas, and it had to be assumed multinationals were already structuring their businesses so as much as possible was in low-tax jurisdictions.

“Us reducing the rate will have an effect on base erosion because it reduces the value of the expenditure deductions,” Professor Stewart said.

She said there was a “win-win” scenario where the base was broadened while rates were cut by reducing deductions.

“We estimate you could fund a cut to 25 per cent by denying interest deductibility. Potentially if you go a bit further you could fund an investment allowance.”

The Turnbull government last month secured a cut to the corporate tax rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent for businesses with turnover under $50 million a year, at a cost of $24 billion over the medium term. The government has not been able to pass similar cuts for businesses of all sizes.

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Revealed: Australia’s most and least satisfied university students

Students at Australia’s top universities are among the least satisfied with their educational experience, according to government data that also paints the most detailed picture yet of how employers rate the skills of recent graduates.

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The data, to be released by the federal Department of Education on Wednesday, shows that six of the elite Group of Eight (Go8) universities performed below the national average when students were asked to rate the quality of their experience.

The University of NSW, University of Sydney, University of Western Australia, University of Adelaide, Australian National University and the University of Melbourne all scored below the national average of 80 per cent student satisfaction.

Private institutions the University of Notre Dame and Bond University had the most satisfied students, with more than 90 per cent rating their experience positively.

Edith Cowan University in Perth received the top satisfaction rating of the nation’s public universities, with 86 per cent approval. The University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) scored the lowest, with 72 per cent.

The drop in student satisfaction at UTS reflects a shift last year from semester to trimester teaching periods and from traditional lectures to interactive tutorials.

Senior deputy vice-chancellor Andrew Parfitt said it had been a challenging year for the university’s students and staff.

“UTS is disappointed in the results, but is currently in the middle of a significant transformation to its teaching and learning approach, with a focus on a new model of student learning and outcomes,” he said.

“The university has invested significantly in facilities and learning and teaching support and, with the ongoing commitment of our staff, we are confident future student satisfaction will reflect the positive outcomes we are aiming to achieve.”

Go8 chair Peter Hoj said: “This is a good set of results – in university terms it’s a distinction. We are happy to see that student satisfaction is high at all Australian universities.”

Professor Hoj said the data was an important tool for students but should only be a part of their decision-making.

The Turnbull government will use the May budget to announce a new package of university reforms, aimed at saving the budget money.

Plans to introduce deregulated fees for flagship courses have been dropped but increases in student fees and a tightening of the HECS loan program remain on the cards.

The information, based on responses from more than 178,000 students, will be uploaded on Wednesday to the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) website, which allows prospective students to compare detailed data on the nation’s universities.???

Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham said the results would allow students to enter the higher education system with “clear eyes” about the courses in which they were enrolling.

“The Turnbull government is determined to drive increased accountability in our higher education system and is committed to delivering greater transparency around how higher education institutions perform and engage and support their students,” Senator Birmingham said.

“The more information that students can have at their fingertips, the better decisions they can make when considering the courses and careers they choose to embark on.”

The website will include the first national survey examining how satisfied supervisors are with recent graduates who have joined their workplace.

The survey, based on responses from more than 3000 employers, shows 84 per cent of supervisors are satisfied with their recent graduates.

Engineering graduates received the highest satisfaction ratings from their supervisors at 89 per cent, while creative arts graduates scored the lowest, at 78 per cent.

The employer satisfaction report finds “employers seem to prefer graduates with vocationally oriented degrees over those with generalist degrees”, especially immediately after graduation.

Fifty-eight per cent of graduates rated their qualification important or very important to their current job, compared with 66 per cent of supervisors.

Supervisors of creative arts, agriculture, management and commerce graduates were the least likely to think the qualification was important for their current employment.

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Activism may explain the ASX’s recent run

The prospect of increased shareholder activism has shone a bright light on the Australian market, says Credit Suisse, and could be behind the local bourse’s recent run.

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With little to no positive macroeconomic news and no obvious local drivers, investors still poured into Australian equities on Tuesday, nudging the index closer to the 6000-point mark.

News of American hedge fund Elliott Associate’s calls on BHP Billiton to hive off its petroleum assets, downgrade its ASX listing and collapse its dual-listed company structure prompted a sharp spike in Australia’s largest miner on Monday, followed by a mild correction on Tuesday.

“This BHP story has turned the spotlight back on Australia,” says Hasan Tevfik, head of Australian equity research at Credit Suisse. “Corporate law is much more accommodating here for this type of shareholder activism. That could be the reason behind the current market attention.”

There are a series of encouraging aspects that might be drawing the attention of international shareholder advocates. The lack of corporate cross holding – where a publicly-traded corporation owns stock in another publicly-traded company – and a robust legislature that supports shareholder rights are just some of the reasons why Mr Tevfik believes Australia is ripe for an influx of shareholder activists agitating for an increase in shareholder value.

“I was always surprised the biggest international activists weren’t really considering Australia, but now that seems to be changing,” he said. Shareholder jostling

Elliott’s move is the latest in a spate of shareholder jostling around the world. Shares in American Whole Foods surged more than 10 per cent in the United States this week following the news that activist firm Jana Partners had taken nearly a 9 per cent stake in the struggling natural foods seller and called for a serious reconsideration of the struggling whole foods strategy.

“Broadly you’ve seen a rise in corporate activism around the world and it seems to be appearing in Australia more often,” said Kerry Craig, global markets strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

“Business models have been challenged in the last couple of years and it’s working elsewhere in the world. It would certainly be able to work here.”

However, more broadly, experts were scratching their heads on Tuesday given Australian shares have found considerable buying support, despite a mixed commodities picture and weak direction from the United States, where shares have been drifting listlessly sideways.

“The Australian market is almost running out of excuses to keep pushing higher,” said Matt Sherwood, head of investment strategy at Perpetual Investments. He pointed to a tightening US Federal Reserve policy and a heightened sense of political risk weighing on US equities, two elements that don’t seem to be influencing Australian investors at present.

“The dividend yield is still fairly attractive and earnings in Australian companies are still robust enough so that’s perhaps why there is some broadbased buying,” Mr Sherwood said.

“But considering we haven’t been in 6000 territory since 2007, I’m pretty sure we’ll get some selling once we hit that level. We certainly aren’t that far away.”

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Labor electorates line up for Canberra public servants

Communities in regional Labor-held seats are among those lining up to attract public servants relocated from Canberra.

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Most of the 199 submissions to a Labor-controlled Senate inquiry endorse decentralisation.

What began as a political exercise to scrutinise the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority move to Armidale has opened the door for towns and cities across the country to seek an injection of federal stimulus.

Wishful submissions were made from local governments in key Labor seats including Ballarat, Bendigo, Corio, Cunningham, Eden Monaro, Lingiari and Paterson.

Maitland City Council, adjoining the Hunter electorate of Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon, says decentralisation will help address skill shortages in regional Australia and ease cost-of-living pressure in capital cities.

Mr Fitzgibbon said Labor supports creating government jobs in regions where it can be done without adversely impacting on an agency’s ability to do its work.

He said that’s not the case with APVMA.

???”The Turnbull Government has cut many more jobs in the regions than one government authority would replace,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“But the whole exercise has been a cruel hoax on regional councils. Barnaby Joyce’s own policy restricts the locations to just four regional cities.”

Alice Springs in the Labor seat of Lingiari proudly touted its credentials to the committee as “an ideal regional centre”.

“Alice Springs is perfectly positioned and equipped to house decentralised Commonwealth Government departments, particularly the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Indigenous Affairs,” the town’s submission says.

Ballarat council “strongly advocates for government services relocation as an important opportunity to stimulate growth in regional economies”.

“An injection of skilled, knowledge-sector government jobs into a region can accelerate economic growth and have a profoundly positive impact on the wider local economy,” the city says.

Bendigo council agrees.

“We argue that the success of locally based Bendigo and Adelaide Bank is an example to both public and private sectors that being headquartered regionally should be no impediment to providing competitive, quality, cost-effective service on a national or state level,” the submission says.

The City of Greater Geelong points out it has successfully hosted staff from the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink’s national call centre, NDIS and Australian Bureau of Statistics as part of its shift from car manufacturing.

“The relocation or establishment of government-based entities to Geelong has been instrumental in assisting the economy to transition its workforce to new sectors,” the city says.

Wollongong Council also supports relocating federal agencies.

“Decentralising the public service out of Canberra and into regional cities will allow regional cities the opportunity to share in the many benefits that come from having the Commonwealth Government as a major employer,” the city says.

Even Canberra’s neighbours want a slice of the pie.

The Canberra Region Joint Organisation says towns such as Goulburn, Yass and Cooma should be top of the list.

The ACT Government and Regional Development Australia ACT were lonely flag bearers for Canberra.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said 88 per cent of submissions supported decentralisation.

“The sharing of public sector jobs will deliver long-term dividends to regional towns,” Mr Joyce said.

“Every dollar spent in country small businesses helps to create more jobs, higher wages and better confidence in regional Australia.”

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Coles plays catch-up with Easter checkout promise

Coles is playing catch-up to an overstaffed Woolworths with its promise to boost checkout operators for the busy Easter weekend, according to broker UBS.

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On the eve of the second busiest shopping week of the year, analyst Ben Gilbert said industry insiders suggested Coles started to “ramp up” staffing as early as March this year following a “relatively weak” January and February for the supermarket chain.

“While this is partly due to Coles cycling stronger numbers in the previous corresponding period, the relative degree of investment at Woolworths has made it harder for Coles to take market share, requiring it to take action,” Mr Gilbert said.

“Coles’ ‘I’m Free’ campaign focused on opening about 10,000 extra checkouts across the country over the weekend of 8-9 April, which we believe was in part in response to the visible benefits of increased investment at Woolworths.”

The Wesfarmers-owned Coles announced it would open an additional 13,570 checkouts on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday this week to cut down on waiting times at its chain over Easter but it denied this was in response to Woolworths.

Coles dismissed the UBS analysis, claiming the broker didn’t visit enough Coles stores to draw any meaningful conclusions, however, its investment in bumping up staffing for Easter and before Christmas suggests the chain has identified staff increases as an “opportunity,” according to one market watcher.

“Coles clearly thinks there is an opportunity associated with increasing staffing levels,” he said.

By comparison UBS said Woolworths had “over-invested” in labour but its staffing decisions hadn’t been as “thoughtful or forensic”.

“It begs the question as to whether Woolworths has over-invested or Coles has cut too hard and is now responding via investing more,” Mr Gilbert said.

“We believe it is likely to be a bit of both … over time a more sustainable level of staff investment should incorporate a gradual wind-down of Woolworths’ labour investment, while Coles gradually invests more as it experiences mean reversion.”

Woolworths claims its adjusted its staffing levels to reflect changing shopper patterns.

Woolworths supermarkets director of stores, Michael James said it was all about ensuring the chain had team members in store, at the right time, in the right departments and on the right days.

“We have also increased team members in the fruit and vegetable section to meet the growing customer trend for fresh food,” Mr James said. ??? ??? “This commitment to team members in this department has been recognised by our customers, with ongoing item growth in fresh produce.”

Coles’ lower labour costs make it more profitable, according to UBS but the broker has forecast Woolworths’ food margins will overtake Coles in fiscal 2019 as a result of better execution across “key aspects” of its business.

“The most material opportunity will in our view be labour based on the analysis of store staffing, while we acknowledge our sample size is small, it is consistent with commentary from Woolworths management and recent (staffing) initiatives at Coles,” Mr Gilbert said.

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