Friday, March 17, 2017

Amber Harrison hired big gun Julian Burnside QC as battle with Seven escalates

Amber Harrison has hired prominent barrister Julian Burnside QC as her high profile  battle with Seven West Media moves to a new level.

Mr Burnside has confirmed that Ms Harrison will now counter sue her former employer after Seven escalated legal action over the release of confidential documents relaying to her ill- fated affair with Seven West chief executive Tim Worner.

Mr Burnside told the NSW Supreme Court that the matter needed to be switched to the Federal Court because Ms Harrison's cross claim relates to "substantial issues" under the Fair Work Act.

Justice John Sackur said he was inclined to agree with the switch to the Federal Court because the NSW Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction for Fair Work matters.

"It seems sensible that this should go to the Federal Court," Justice Sackur said.

Counsel for Seven David Thomas said the proposed move to have the case heard in the Federal Court came as a surprise.

However, Mr Thomas told Justice Sackur that his client wanted the Fair Work matter struck out of the cross claim.

Justice Sackur is yet to decide whether to release Ms Harrison's cross claim to journalists covering the case.

"I would normally accommodate the media under relevant legislation," Justice Sackar said.

However, he has asked representatives for Ms Harrison and Seven to reach an agreement on whether the documents should be released.

Amber Harrison - a former executive association at Seven - is under a temporary gag order preventing her from releasing more confidential documents allegedly gathered before leaving the media company.

Ms Harrison left Seven in 2014 after signing a confidentiality agreement that prevented her from speaking publically about Seven or her affair with Mr Worner.

The case is scheduled for a hearing in July but this could change if the matter switches to the Federal Court.

A hearing on Seven's request to strike out Ms Harrison's claim under the Fair Work Act has been set down for April 6.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Mums at home "the greatest untapped potential" says OECD study on Australian labour force

Young women at home looking after children represent "the greatest untapped potential" in Australia's workforce, according to an OECD report out today.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development also warns the Australian economy will continue to suffer unless mothers are encouraged back to work.

"There are potentially large losses to the economy when women stay at home or work short part-time hours, " the OECD says in its study of employment participation in Australia.

"One of the areas of greatest untapped potential in the Australian labour force is inactive and/or part time working women, especially those with children."

The OECD says tapping the potential of women, especially highly educated stay at home mums, would be a boost to the Australian economy.

The study says economic growth in OECD countries would increase by 20 percent over the next twenty years if female labour participation matched the level of men.

The reality check on the potential of women who chose to stay at home with their children coincides with the decision by Laborfrontbencher Kate Ellis to quit politics to spend more time with her young son.

However, the OECD maintains that paid employment is "important for women's personal well-being and perceptions of their overall quality of life."

According to the study, the employment rate of Australian women aged between 25 and 54 is at 72.5 percent but ranks in the lower third of OECD countries.

The employment rate of single mothers is 50.8 percent, the third lowest in the OECD ranking after Ireland and Turkey.

It also found that 54 women aged between 25 and 34 have university qualifications compared to 43 percent of men.

The OECD found that people with a disability, a mental health condition and disadvantaged youth are badly represented in Australia's labour force.

"These groups face considerable and other multiple barriers to employment," the OECD says.

"Lacking work experience, low education and poor health are the single most important employment barriers."

The OECD has urged a better combination of various government policies to assist overrepresented groups in particular indigenous Australians.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Insurance in super accounts eroding nest eggs, working group warns

A report out today says some Australians may have too much insurance cover unnecessarily tied up in multiple superannuation accounts.

The Insurance in Superannuation Working Group, which is backed by both industry and retail funds, says an overload of insurance within super risks a "rapid erosion" of some retirement nest eggs.

The working group's chairman Jim Minto told The World Today that while insurance within in super is valuable for some, younger Australians in particular are paying for insurance they don't need or can’t afford.

"It's great that it's there but younger people in society have more than one superannuation account and so you can have life insurance in each account when you don't need that much life insurance," Mr Minto said.

"If you've got too many policies, it will erode the balance too much. It's got to be enough (insurance) but not too much."

Mr Minto, a veteran of the life insurance industry, urges people with multiple superannuation accounts to consolidate polices to avoid over insurance.

But he concedes some Australians might not be aware the insurance cover even exists.

"A lot of people aren't aware but the awareness is increasing and we're seeing more people acting on the insurance and claiming on it," Mr Minto said.

"In some cases if you've got a large mortgage for example it may be good to have more insurance but we want that to be a conscious decision."

The working group today released the first in a series of discussion papers aimed to extending the Life Insurance Code of Practice to superannuation trustees.

As part of the review, the ISWG is seeking submissions on how to balance the need for retirement savings with default benefits such as life insurance and income protection insurance.

"People can have multiple income protections in different super accounts but you can only really claim on one so you're wasting money. We need to fix it," Mr Minto said.

The study comes as young Australians rein in household budgets to save a deposit to enter hot housing markets in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

The review also comes amid a regulatory crackdown on superannuation and insurance products with evidence of claims being delayed or denied by major banks and insurers.

The working group is backed by prominent lobby groups across the superannuation section including the Financial Services Council, the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia and Industry Super Australia.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Master Builders appoints Denita Wawn as first female chief executive in 127 years

The blokey glass ceiling at one of Australia's male dominated business lobby groups has been smashed with the appointment of a female chief executive.

Denita Wawn's appointment at Master Builders Australia marks the first national female chief executive in the association's 127 year history.

Mrs Wawn, a former chief executive of the Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand, replaces Wilhelm Harnisch who was at the helm for fifteen years.

Master Builders chose International Womens Day to announce Mrs Wawn's appointment citing her leadership qualities and success in driving industry campaigns at the National Farmers Federal and the Australian Hotels Association.

"We need to ensure that women in the industry are recognised for their efforts just as much as men particularly in large, medium and small sized businesses," Mrs Wawm said.

But Mrs Wawn rejected a suggestion that the timing of today's announcement could be perceived as tokenistic.

"Not at all. My appointment was certainly a rigorous and merit based selection process that just happened to find a female in the role," Mrs Wawn said.

"It was a great opportunity to highlight on International Womens Day that women can strive for excellence and they can be leaders in their field including in male dominated area in building and construction but also in the political world."

Building and construction remains the domain of men with less than one percent of women in building trades and slightly more in professional roles like site and project management.

But on the gender pay gap, Mrs Wawn said she was "absolutely" happy with her negotiated pay deal compared to her predecessor.

"Women can undertake these roles. It doesn't matter if you have kids or not we do have the confidence and we do have the capacity to take leadership roles in Australia," Mrs Wawn said.

On broader policy challenges, Mrs Wawn said she would would be tacking housing affordability and developing the right messages to ensure the campaign for a corporate tax cut over ten years succeeds.

Mrs Wawm is an internal appointment having been general manager of operations at Master Builders Australia for the past year.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Seven worries Amber Harrison cross claim could be "scurrilous and scandalous"

Senior Business Correspondent Peter Ryan

Amber Harrison's planned counter claim against the Seven West Media could contain "scurrilous and scandalous material", the NSW Supreme Court has been told.

Counsel for Seven Sandy Dawson SC told Justice John Sackar that a court filing from Ms Harrison the night before the next hearing in two weeks time was a risk to his client.

"We have had some bitter experience," Mr Dawson told Justice Sackar.

Amber Harrison - one time mistress of Seven West chief executive Tim Worner - has been silenced with an interim injunction won by Seven which prevents her from leaking more confidential documents.

While agreeing to expedite the case to a hearing, Justice Sackar said he was reluctant to suppress the details of Ms Harrison's counter claim against Seven.

"This is not a censorship issue. I am not going to sit here as a censor," Justice Sackar told Mr Dawson.

However, Justice Sackar reminded counsel for both Seven and Ms Harrison not to breach privilege or the terms of the interim injunction in place against Ms Harrison.

Amber Harrison's cross claim will be heard on March 17 with a four day hearing set down from July 10.

Justice Sackar said he hoped Seven and Ms Harrison would use the time to explore mediation while saying he would not impose it until all efforts had been exhausted.