GDP should silence farm mockers: Joyce

Barnaby Joyce believes recent economic growth figures should silence the “snobs” who mock farming.

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The December quarter national accounts report released last week showed agriculture, forestry and fishing production rose 8.3 per cent in the December quarter

It was the strongest performance of all industries and more than double that of mining, which was in second place at 3.4 per cent.

Now the federal government’s commodity forecaster is predicting the value of farm production to set a record of $63.8 billion for the 2016/17 financial year.

“This is an important economic reminder to those who seek to disparage and ridicule our agricultural resource sectors,” the agriculture minister and acting prime minister told a conference in Canberra on Tuesday.

“We have got to get off the political glossy pages and on to more substantial debates that will actually determine our nation’s future.”

Mr Joyce was giving the opening address on the first day of the annual Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences outlook conference.

The forecaster expects the value of farm production to be slightly lower in 2017/18, at $61.3 billion.

But ABARES executive director Peter Gooday said this would still be 17.3 per cent higher than the value average for the five years to 2015/16.

“The exceptional value of farm production this year comes off the back of record crop production and strong performance across livestock industries,” he said.

He expects the value of production to remain above $60 billion in the medium term as gains in the production of crops and livestock are offset by lower global prices through increased competition.

Export earnings from farm commodities are forecast to reach a record $48.7 billion next year, topping the $47.7 billion for 2016/17.

Innovation is a key theme of the 2017 conference.

Mr Gooday said with prices not expected to rise in the medium term, increases in profitability will need to come from improved productivity.

“Innovation across the supply chain will be critical for that, including making the most of new technology,” he said.

Vicinity Centres trials robot cleaner

Shopping complex owner Vicinity Centres has been trialling a robot to clean its floors but it says there are no plans to replace, but rather complement, its human contract cleaners.

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An autonomous cleaning machine called the Cleanfix RA 660 Navi has been scrubbing and vacuuming the floors of Vicinity’s DFO Homebush centre in Sydney in the past six weeks.

Simone Carroll, Vicinity’s executive general manager of digital and people, said the robot, which has a 360-degree view thanks to 11 sensors, has been cleaning at the DFO at night when there are no shoppers around.

Ms Carroll said the company was not getting into the cleaning business and the trial was about looking at how robots can complement humans rather than replace them.

“This is about large surface areas which are difficult for humans to cover at night,” Ms Carroll told AAP.

“Robots are focused on large surfaces. We can run it constantly at night time and really improve the overall standard of cleanliness.

“When it comes to the finer details, the tabletops, the corners, crevices and overall management of the centres, that is where we need people.”

Demonstrations of Cleanfix’s automated scrubbers have also been held during the trial for cleaning companies that have contracts with Vicinity.

Ms Carroll would not comment on whether any of the companies support and will start to use robots but she admitted that if they were to adopt the technology, any cost savings would benefit Vicinity.

“Any redeployment that may happen in the cleaning company is potentially a saving that would, yes, be passed on to us which we could put into improved consumer and customer experience,” she said.

“I suspect, as we have seen with technology, that it will create opportunities for cleaning companies to add additional products to their mix.”

Vicinity, which owns and operates about 85 retail assets across Australia, is planning a second trial of another smart cleaning technology.

Vic Everest trekker’s body to be sent home

An Australian trekker who died while descending from Mount Everest Base Camp has been remembered as ‘one of a kind.

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Matthew Jones, 49, experienced high altitude sickness close to Base Camp and died on Friday.

A post-mortem has been conducted and his body will be returned to Australia once the required paperwork is complete with the help of embassy staff and friends who were trekking with him, Pardip Karki, manager of the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal, told Reuters.

The father of two from Melbourne has been fondly remembered by colleagues at tech company Intel.

Managing director Kate Burleigh said in a statement that Mr Jones had worked at Intel for 16 years and tributes from customers and colleagues he knew around the world were flowing in.

“Matt was truly one of a kind who will be greatly missed. The Intel team is mourning the loss of our friend and colleague,” she said.

Mr Jones was travelling in a group of 18 people heading for Khumjung when he became sick on Thursday night and decided to stay behind in a hotel, a spokesman for Eastern Region Police in Nepal said on Monday.

“He was having problems due to the altitude, that’s why he didn’t go on,” the spokesman told AAP.

“Early in the morning he was found dead in his room.”

Ms Burleigh said Mr Jones had a highly successful career at Intel where he was a leader across many sectors of the business, most recently in telecommunications.

“He was a unique character and will be remembered for not only his great work ethic and leadership but also his sharp wit and passion for good wine, fancy dress parties, history, travel and ‘vexillology’ (the study of flags),” she said.

Intel said it was providing support to the wife and children of Mr Jones.

“We ask that you respect the family’s wishes and let them mourn in private at this time.”

The Everest base camp is more than 5km above sea level and climbers rest there for several days to acclimatise before tackling the mountain, but Mr Jones had not been planning to go higher.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was providing consular advice over the Australian man’s death.

A university lecturer from Melbourne died from altitude sickness on Mount Everest last year.

Royal commission could cost jobs: CBA CEO

Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ian Narev says a royal commission into the banking sector could undermine it to such an extent that the industry would no longer be able to support job creation through its lending.

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Mr Narev told a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday that a royal commission would hit confidence among overseas lenders upon whom Australian banks rely for funds.

Those funds, Mr Narev said, are what banks loan out to “create the economic activity that will create jobs”.

“The message that the convening of a royal commission would send about policymakers over the last decade, regulators over the last decade, bank management and governments over the past decade would not be positive for the industry, would not be positive for strength and would not be positive for the perception of our industry as unquestionably strong,” Mr Narev told MPs.

“Those of us who spend a lot if time with funders and with investors will understand the signal that would send about the confidence that we have in policymakers, in regulators and in banks … and we believe that would be very damaging to the industry.”

Labor frontbencher Matt Thistlethwaite told Mr Narev that the banks had already damaged the industry.

“You guys have done a pretty good job of destroying confidence in the banking industry over the past decade, haven’t you?” Mr Thistlethwaite asked.

Mr Narev – making his second appearance in six months before the standing committee on economics’ review of the big four banks – paused before saying only that he had made clear his thoughts on a royal commission.

Mr Thistethwaite said Tuesday’s hearing illustrated the need for the extended powers of a royal commission.

“Nothing has changed in the industry … there are customers that continue to be ripped off, and they won’t co-operate with the House of Representatives economics committee,” Mr Thistlethwaite told reporters after the hearing.

“This is all evidence that they’re hiding something from the Australian public.”

Mr Narev echoed comments by NAB chief executive Andrew Thorburn – who appeared last week – when he rejected suggestions that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission should have some oversight of banking competition.

Mr Narev said the 2014 Financial System Inquiry, which was led by former CBA chief executive David Murray, had already decided that oversight of banking competition should rest with the productivity commission.

“What has happened since all that work was done by the financial systems inquiry which could cause us to reach very different conclusions?” he asked.

Nonetheless, CBA’s head of retail banking, Matt Comyn, said the lender would abide by any recommendations by former Australian Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick in his current review into retail banking remuneration and commissions.

“Both us as the Commonwealth Bank and the broader industry have already said that, if there is evidence of negative customer outcomes, we will make the appropriate changes to any of our incentive schemes,” Mr Comyn said.

Origin Energy boss backs emissions scheme

Origin Energy has called on the federal government to move quickly to ensure energy security and affordability by supporting an emissions trading scheme and tweaking the existing National Electricity Market mechanism.

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Origin chief executive Frank Calabria on Tuesday urged the Turnbull government to adopt a national, integrated approach to the energy sector, and said investment in renewables was increasing despite the absence of bipartisan agreement on national climate policy.

“Today, Origin joins a a growing chorus of companies calling for the government to put an emissions intensity scheme for the electricity sector back on the table,” he said in a speech at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) event in Sydney.

“Now’s the time to put aside ideological differences and make some important decisions.”

The federal government has a target of ensuring 23.5 per cent of the energy mix comes from renewables by 2020, but has resisted putting in place a carbon trading scheme, under pressure from some of its conservative members.

An emissions trading scheme would have low impact on electricity prices, would provide an incentive for investment in low-carbon electricity and promote the winding down of high-emission coal generation, Mr Calabria said.

“Unfortunately this mechanism has been ruled out by the government, despite widespread support from the energy industry and others,” he said.

Mr Calabria said Australia’s energy system was under pressure as a result of poor policy and regulatory decisions over the past decade, which were now hurting households and businesses across the country.

He also advocated changes to the National Electricity Market – which covers eastern Australia – to adapt to rising renewable energy supply, while ensuring sufficient coal and gas power was available.

This could be done by ensuring sufficient coal and gas generation is physically made available at all times to offset the high level of variation in renewable energy generation, he said.

Ancillary service markets to keep voltage and frequency stable also need to be developed quickly, while there also needs to be focus on distributed generation and storage.

Mr Calabria also asked governments to lift barriers on gas exploration and development , saying the country had enough resources available to boost production and put downward pressure on prices.

He also suggested that export-focused liquefied natural gas projects had the capability and infrastructure to provide supply for the domestic market.