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How does domestic violence impact parenting arrangements?

October 15th, 2020

Domestic violence and parenting

It is important that children grow up in a safe environment where they feel secure, loved and protected.  Children who are exposed to domestic violence are far more likely to develop physical and/or mental health problems and, as adults, to become victims or perpetrators of domestic violence themselves.

If you are a parent who is a victim of domestic violence and you have a child who has been exposed to domestic violence, you can make an application for a protection order that not only protects yourself from domestic violence, but also protects your child.  Whilst the terms of domestic violence orders do vary, at a minimum, all protection orders ensure that the parent against whom the order is made, must be of good behaviour towards you and any children named in the order.

When applying for a protection order it is possible to seek additional protections which, for example, restrain the other parent from approaching your residence or place of employment, approaching you in a public place, or at a place associated with your child, such as a day care or school.  What orders will provide the necessary level of protection will depend on your individual situation.  We recommend that advice is sought prior to making an application for a protection order.

Protection orders

Whilst a protection order is made to protect those named in the order from domestic violence, it does not deal with the living arrangements or the authority to make decisions for your child.  Parents must carefully consider the following:

  1. if there is no existing agreement in relation to the living arrangements for a child named in an order, whether or not a meaningful relationship between the child and parent (against whom the order is made) can still be maintained, taking into consideration the need to reduce any risk of harm to the child; and
  2. if there is an existing agreement in place in relation to the living arrangements for a child named in an order, whether these arrangements need to be modified in light of the protection order, for the safety of the parent and child, and to ensure that a continuation of the existing arrangement does not lead to a breach of the protection order.

We recommend that parents obtain expert legal advice on their situation, as allegations of domestic violence, and the making of a protection order, adds an additional layer of complexity to parenting matters and need to be carefully navigated.  Parents should not assume that the making of a protection order enables them to withhold the child from the other parent.  Likewise, parents need to be careful that they do not facilitate any care arrangements that may place their child at risk. Parents who have had an order made against them should seek advice on options available to them to spend time with their child.

Domestic violence – next steps

Our experienced Cairns and Mareeba family lawyers are here to help, you can contact us on (07) 4036 9700 for expert advice on parenting and domestic violence matters.

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A fair go for subcontractors – BIF Act amendments 2020

September 29th, 2020

Subcontractor late payments Queensland

Working in the building industry with or as a subcontractor?  This year has seen significant changes made to building industry payment laws that may affect you.

In July the Building Industry Fairness (Security of Payment) Act (“BIF Act”) was amended in the hope of improving the process for dealing with late and non-payment of subcontractors in Queensland.  The changes aim to:

  1. introduce new protections for monies in dispute;
  2. simplify trust account frameworks; and
  3. strengthen the regulatory oversight of trust accounts.

So, how is the new BIF Act achieving those goals?

  1. New protections for monies in dispute in business

The new legislation introduces security of payment reforms to better protect monies in dispute.  Now where an adjudicated amount is not paid within the timeframes required by the BIF Act, subcontractors may have recourse to a “payment withholding request”, issued to a party above the respondent in the contractual chain, in order to protect money that may be payable.  If that party does not withhold the adjudicated amount they could be liable for the amount owed to the subcontractor.

The updated BIF Act also enables a head contractor to lodge a statutory charge over the property where construction work occurred, if owned by a BIF respondent who does not pay an adjudicated amount in the required timeframe.

  1. Simplified trust account frameworks

Changes to the BIF Act promise to simplify trust account frameworks in a number of ways.  Prior to the amendments, head contractors were required to open three bank accounts for each eligible contract, including a retention account.  The changes reduce the number of accounts required to one single “project trust account”.  If a retention trust is required, a contractor is now able to hold all retentions across a number of projects in a single account.  The former “disputed funds account” has been abolished in favour of added protections for subcontractors.

The new project trust regime will be rolled out in stages to allow time to adjust to the changes, a plan that has been temporarily affected by COVID-19.  Provisions dealing with project trusts and retention trusts will not commence until “a day to be fixed by proclamation”, wording that provides the government with flexibility to work around the changing pandemic situation.  We do not expect to see full implementation of the project trust regime until at least 2023.

  1. Strengthened oversight of trust accounts

Though responsibility for oversight of project bank accounts previously lay with the principal, they have no oversight role in the new project trust regime.  Instead, the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (“QBCC“) will monitor the trust regime.  To this end, changes to the BIF Act increase the QBCC’s regulatory functions, including audit powers over trust accounts.  QBCC will, among other things, be empowered to “freeze” trust accounts, and request the provision of information about trust accounts in cases of noncompliance.  Retention trust accounts will be subject to regular independent audits.

To further assist QBCC in its monitoring and oversight role, legislative amendments to the QBCC Act have also been proposed to take effect on 1 October 2020.  These changes will introduce new penalties, including for provision to the QBCC of false and misleading information about a licensee’s financial situation, and for failure to provide a supporting statement that states all subcontractors have been paid when requested.

The changes to building industry payment laws, as they are implemented over the next few years, will significantly impact the conduct of disputes involving subcontractors.  If this is you, our experienced legal team is here to help, contact us on 4036 9700.

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Corporate Law Update

September 9th, 2020

Director Identification Numbers – more Than Just A Vehicle For Regulation

Miller Harris Business Legal Services: On 22 June 2020 the Commonwealth Government passed into law new legislation requiring company directors and executive officers of companies to obtain and hold a director identification number (“DIN”).

The DIN scheme is a further step in the Government’s ongoing campaign to reduce illegal phoenix activity, which you can read about further here.

When Will The DIN Scheme Commence?

Although the Act has been passed and assented to, the specific timeframes around commencement are unclear. In an earlier press release, the Government stated that it expected that the scheme would commence in early to mid-2021, however the global pandemic is expected to delay the commencement.

The introduction of the DIN scheme comes alongside the decision to amalgamate a number of business and company registers maintained by the government to reduce the complexity and administrative burden involved in the registers.

The DIN scheme means that all directors and executive officers of companies, both current and aspirational, will need to register for a DIN.

There will be a transition period of 12 months during which existing directors must register for a DIN, although the commencement of that period has yet to be fixed.

DIN Scheme For New Company Directors

For new directors, they will need to register within 28 days of being appointed.

Once the transition period ends, all existing directors will need to hold a DIN, and all new directors will need to acquire one before their appointment.

The largest hurdle to registration will be verification of identity, which again remains ambiguous, although it is suspected that the provision of a tax file number will go a long way towards verifying the officer’s identity.

A person’s DIN will remain with them for their lifetime.

Why You Should Not Ignore This

A person who fails to register in the required time, or attempts to register for multiple DINs, is liable to substantial penalties, including periods of imprisonment.

There are still some concerns with the new scheme, including the availability of information on directors, the security of the register, and the requirements for verification of identity, particularly for those directors residing overseas.

Given the importance the Government has placed on combatting phoenixing activity, it is unlikely that these issues will substantially impede the roll-out of the new scheme, and it may be considerable time before the issues are resolved or addressed, if at all.

These changes represent an ongoing measure in the war against phoenixing activity. With the recent changes to insolvency legislation, particularly surrounding phoenixing activity, it is more important than ever to ensure that you are complying with the legislation and your obligations as a director.

Should your require advice about your obligations as a director, or if you have concerns regarding insolvency and winding up, our professional team at Miller Harris Lawyers can assist you to work through what are inevitably tough times.

If you require any assistance at all, or further information, please contact us on 07 4036 9700

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Commercial Landlords and Tenants: Renegotiating your lease in a pandemic

August 6th, 2020

At Miller Harris, we know that local businesses are feeling the impact of COVID-19.  The Commonwealth government previously announced a “code of conduct” to allow business tenants to negotiate rent relief with their landlords during the pandemic.   That code of conduct did not have any legal force, but after a considerable delay, the Queensland government passed regulations to put it into effect.

There are some myths going around about what rights tenants and landlords have in the pandemic.  In particular, there is no automatic right to a 50% rent discount.  Read on to find out how the system works.

If a tenant requests renegotiation of the rent or conditions under the lease, parties must enter into negotiations provided that:

  1. the tenant has an annual turnover of less than $50 million, or is not-for-profit; and
  2. the tenant is eligible for the JobKeeper scheme.

The landlord and tenant must share enough information with each other to enable them to negotiate in a fair and transparent way.  During the negotiations, both the landlord and tenant must cooperate and act reasonably and in good faith. At the end of the negotiations, the landlord is obliged to make an offer to the tenant.  If agreement cannot be reached, or a party does not negotiate, the matter can be referred to the Small Business Ombudsman.

For affected tenants:

  • Start the renegotiation process.
  • Do not simply stop paying your rent or expect your landlord to stop charging rent.
  • Get your business records in order so that you can demonstrate the impact of the COVID-19 measures on your business.

For affected landlords:

  • Do not increase the rent payable before 1 October 2020.
  • Be cautious about taking action against a tenant for failure to pay rent during this period.
  • Speak with your bank about what options are available if your tenants are unable to pay the full rent.

Finally, make sure that any agreement you reach is recording in writing and that changes to the lease are reflected in formal, enforceable documentation.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your rights and obligations you should contact our experienced commercial and property law team as soon as possible on 4092 3555, or feel free to see us in our Mareeba office at 222 Byrnes Street, Mareeba.

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Important legal information about redundancy

July 14th, 2020

Redundancy – Is it genuine?

During these times of economic uncertainty, redundancy could, understandably, be on your mind.  As a business owner, you might be faced with the difficult decision to reduce employee numbers.  If you are an employee at risk of redundancy you may be wondering what your options are.

In either case, it is important to understand whether any redundancy is a “genuine redundancy”, or a termination on other grounds.  If a termination is a case of genuine redundancy, and the proper steps are followed, then the ensuing dismissal will not be unfair.

A genuine redundancy occurs where:

  • the employer no longer needs the employee’s job to be performed by anyone because of changes in the operational requirements of the employer’s enterprise;
  • the employer has complied with any obligation to consult with the employee about redundancy (if an award or enterprise agreement requires consultation about major workplace change); and
  • the employee could not be reasonably redeployed in the employer’s enterprise or that of an associated entity.

Changes in redundancy requirements

There are many things that might happen in a business which could be described as a “change in operational requirements”.  It is a very broad concept.  Some examples include:

  • a downturn in trade that reduces the number of employees required;
  • technological development;
  • restructuring a business for the sake of efficiency, which reduces the number of positions available;
  • closure of the business; or
  • outsourcing of the employee’s role.

The key question is whether anyone needs to do the employee’s job in the face of the organisational change.  It may be that a particular job is no longer required to be performed even if some of the duties associated with that job are still being performed by other employees or have been outsourced to contractors.

Redundancy consultation

There is usually a requirement in modern Australian awards and enterprise agreements for an employer to consult with affected employees about impending redundancy.

Where an employer has  an obligation to consult, it is very important that the obligation is fulfilled.  Even if all other requirements have been met, a redundancy can still be an unfair dismissal if the proper consultation process is not followed.

Redeployment or redundancy

The final question is, whether it would be reasonable to redeploy a redundant employee into another role, instead of making the employee redundant.  Relevant factors include:

  • if any other job is available and, if so, the nature of that position;
  • the qualifications and experience required to perform the job;
  • the location of the job in relation to the employee’s residence; and
  • the remuneration which is offered.

If thinking about, or faced with redundancy, make sure that it is a genuine redundancy.  A failure to implement and follow a proper process of evaluation and consultation may raise the prospect of unfair dismissal, and the legal remedies and ramifications that go along with it.  If you have any queries, talk to our experienced team today on 4036 9700.

Please note these comments apply to employees covered by the Fair Work Act redundancy provisions.

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What you need to know about the new Federal HomeBuilder grant

June 16th, 2020

Federal HomeBuilder grant 2020

The Australian Government has recently announced a new “HomeBuilder grant” to boost the Australian economy, particularly the construction industry, in light of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The new HomeBuilder grant provides eligible homeowners and first home buyers with a grant of $25,000.00 to build a new home or significantly renovate an existing home.

HomeBuilder requirements

The following eligibility requirements apply:

  1. you must be an Australian citizen (not resident);
  2. you must have an annual income of $125,000.00 or less or, for couples, your combined income in the last financial year must be $200,000.00 or less;
  3. the building or renovation contract must be entered into and signed between 4 June 2020 and 31 December 2020 and work must commence within three months from the contract date (current projects do not qualify);
  4. for new buildings, the value of the home (including land) must not exceed $750,000.00; and
  5. for renovations:
    • the renovation must be valued between $150,000.00 to $750,00.00;
    • the pre-renovation value of the home must not exceed $1.5 million dollars excluding fixtures such as sheds and granny flats; and
    • some renovations are not covered such as adding a pool or detached garage.

HomeBuilder eligibility

Eligible homeowners will be able to apply for the HomeBuilder grant when their relevant State or Territory Government implements the grant.

The HomeBuilder grant is a temporary scheme which applies alongside existing first-home and home‑owner grants.  You can register your interest to receive updates when more information is available on the Australian Government Treasury website.

The existing Queensland First Home Owners’ Grant provides $15,000.00 towards purchasing or building a new house or apartment where the value of the home (including the land) is less than $750,000.00.  These grants have their own eligibility criteria.

First homeowners

First homeowners may also qualify for stamp duty concessions, and the federal government’s first-home loan deposit scheme and first-home super saver scheme.

If you are considering purchasing, building or renovating property and have any questions concerning the grants that may be available to you, please do not hesitate to contact our team of experienced property lawyers on (07) 4036 9700 or enquiries@millerharris.com.au.

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Separated but living under one roof? Here is what you need to know

May 26th, 2020

One impact of Coronavirus may be that more people find themselves separated from their spouse, but continuing to live together for a period of time.  In family law this is coined “separation under one roof” and there are important consequences to be aware of.

The most important thing about separating under one roof, is determining the actual date of separation.  This is typically the date where one spouse has the intention to separate, and that intention is clearly communicated to the other spouse.  There are many ways in which an intention to separate may be communicated and relevant factors include:

  • details of any conversation about separating between the spouses;
  • separating finances, including opening personal accounts and ceasing use of joint accounts;
  • a change in sleeping arrangements and living arrangements;
  • communication of separation to friends and family;
  • living separate social and public lives;
  • cessation of performing household duties for each other;
  • cessation of a sexual relationship; and
  • notifying government departments that you are separated, such as Centrelink.

It is also important to consider whether there has been any reconciliation of the relationship after the date that separation has initially been communicated.  Whether or not reconciliation has occurred can be a grey area requiring specific advice based on your circumstances.

The date of separation is very important as it triggers the following time limits for family law matters:

  • For married couples: You are only eligible to apply for a divorce 12 months after the date you separated. Once a divorce order is obtained, a further 12 month time limit is triggered for resolving all property division and spousal maintenance matters.
  • For de facto couples: You have two years after the date of separation to finalise both the division of your property and any spousal maintenance matters.

If property and spousal maintenance issues cannot be agreed to and formalised according to the requirements of the family law legislation, within the above time limits, then it may be necessary to commence court proceedings prior to the time limit expiring to protect your interests.

We recommend that you diarise the date that you have separated, including details of the separation and obtain independent legal advice as soon as possible after separation.

Our experienced family law team is here to help and can be contacted on 07 4036 9700 or enquiries@millerharris.com.au.

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Businesses beware! Business name renewal invoice scams

May 21st, 2020

Many business owners carry on business using a registered business name.  Registered names need to be renewed from time to time.  Private company service providers now have access to the business names register information, and some offer “renewal services”.  Unfortunately, some of these service providers are sending business owners “renewal notices” which look very much like official renewal notices or invoices from the registry, and call for payment more than double the fee to renew directly with ASIC.  No doubt they hope that businesses will simply put the “renewal notice” into their payment systems without question.

You do not have to pay for renewal through these service providers.

It is cheaper and just as easy to renew through ASIC.

Renewing your business name through ASIC is cheap, easy and quick.  You can visit their website at asic.gov.au.

ASIC sends a business name renewal notice at least 30 days before your renewal is due.  We recommend that you bin all other renewal notices received from anyone other than the ASIC.

ASIC provides the option of renewing your business name for either:

  1. one year, which costs $36.00; or
  2. three years, which costs $85.00.

Other service providers charge more than double the amount required by ASIC.  Please contact us if you are uncertain whether an invoice from a service provider is legitimate or not.

Do you need a business name?

You are required to register a business name if you are trading under a name that is different from your own name or your company’s name.

It is important to have a business name which is currently registered.  Carrying on business under a name which is not your own name, and not registered as a business name, is an offence.  It is also possible that someone else might register the name which you are using, leading to confusion and disputes.

If you have any questions concerning the operation of your business, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced team on 07 4036 9700.

Wishing you all the success for your business!

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Are your super and life insurance beneficiary nominations up to date?

May 5th, 2020

If you have finished (or are well and truly over) ‘Marie Kondo-ing’ your home, now is a good time to ensure that your superannuation and life insurance beneficiary nominations are in place and up to date.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that your superannuation and life insurance do not typically form part of your estate in the first instance to flow through your will.

In order to direct who your superannuation and life insurance is to go to, you should have beneficiary nominations in place with your superannuation funds and life insurance companies.

If you do not have a binding death benefit nomination in place (or your nomination has expired), the trustees of your superannuation fund have discretion to determine who they pay your superannuation death benefit to and in what amount, which may or may not be in accordance with your wishes.  Also, these nominations usually lapse every 3 years.

It is important that you read the beneficiary nominations carefully when completing as, while they may appear to be simple forms, they are still legal documents that require certain elements to be met in order to be binding and effective.

If you have any questions or would like assistance preparing your superannuation and life insurance beneficiary nominations, please do not hesitate to call our office on 4036 9700.

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COVID-19: The impacts of Coronavirus on family law and parenting

April 28th, 2020

Co-parenting can be difficult at the best of times.  The additional uncertainty and significant changes in response to the global pandemic will see parents face new challenges.

The message from the courts is that where possible parents should continue to comply with existing court orders.  It is not clear at this stage, what the courts will consider a reasonable excuse for not complying with a parenting order in the context of the pandemic.  Parents are being encouraged by the courts to use their common sense and to act reasonably as new challenges present as a result of the pandemic.  Communication will be crucial as parents navigate through the temporary restrictions in place, particularly in relation to travel and quarantine.

If orders cannot be complied with, or parents seek to change arrangements during the pandemic, parents should, in the first instance, try to reach an agreement in writing with the other parent about what is to occur, including consideration of makeup time if time is not proceeding in accordance with orders.  Parents are being reminded by the courts that they should always prioritise the best interests of the children, their health, safety and wellbeing.

If you are in a situation where you believe that you are unable to comply with court orders and the other parent does not agree, and the issue cannot be resolved between you, you should seek legal advice.

Parents should attempt to work through issues reasonably and sensibly to prevent any more distress during this time.  They should keep each other informed about any health issues or concerns as they arise.  If issues arise that cannot be resolved, they may be able to be negotiated through lawyers or through alternative dispute resolution services, such as mediation which continue to be offered remotely.

Travel restrictions

The latest direction from the Queensland Chief Health Officer permits persons to cross the border for the following purposes:

  • to continue existing arrangements (such as parenting plan arrangements) for children under 18 years to have contract with their parents and siblings who they do not live in the same household with (but contact with vulnerable groups, such as persons over 70 years, is not permitted);
  • to provide care or support to an immediate family member; and
  • to attend any court of Australia or to comply with court orders (including parenting orders).

The courts and the government are continually reviewing and updating travel restrictions, so it is always best to obtain advice on the current arrangements that apply to your situation.

Our lawyers are continuing to advise clients on all family law matters.  Please do not hesitate to contact us on 07 4036 9700 if you have any questions or concerns regarding your family law matter during this difficult time.

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