OPINION: When will we stop violence against women

Written by admin on 27/07/2018 Categories: 苏州美甲美睫培训

A WOMAN is killed almost every week in Australia by a male partner or ex-partner.
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Violence against women isn’t something that happens in isolation in developing countries, and more work needs to be done to protect females locally and internationally from sexual harassment and domestic violence.

In neighbouring countries such as Kiribati, Samoa and Papua New Guinea the instance of violence against women is at near-pandemic levels, yet the statistics are also frightening in Australia.

Nearly 20per cent of women have experienced sexual violence after the age of 15.

Aboriginal women in remote and rural communities are 45 times more likely to experience rates of family violence than non-Aboriginal women.

In NSW, 19 out of the top 20 local government areas for domestic assault are rural or regional.

That’s our backyard.

For those of us who have wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, nieces and female friends, this is a dismal reality.

Last week, the Newcastle Herald reported an aggravated sexual assault on a young unsuspecting woman out jogging in Warabrook in the early evening. This is simply too close to home to ignore.

The police caution women against walking alone in the early evening as a strategy to protect them from similar attacks.

We must be careful not to shift the blame for any assault from the perpetrator to the victim.

Hopefully, the police will identify and charge the offender, however it is abhorrent to suggest this young woman put herself at risk.

Recently we have seen the widespread reporting of violence against women, prompting open conversations about how it occurs and what can be done to end it.

The outpouring of emotion for Jill Meagher, raped and murdered in Melbourne last year, is an example of a necessary shift in attitude.

This is also evident globally, in the fallout from the gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old Indian woman in December last year.

There have been strong and sustained calls in India – where roughly half the female population think it’s justified for a man to beat his wife – for societal change so more women are not assaulted, harassed and mistreated based on their gender.

In order to break the cycle of domestic violence against women in our community, there needs to be a commitment to providing sustainable, effective assistance and support services to victims.

Assistance includes immediate and ongoing support for women who experience domestic violence, education programs for school children as well as adults and specialised training for police officers on how to respond to incidents of domestic violence.

Assistance costs money, and our government has supported many initiatives to help end violence against women. But the community must play a role as well.

March 8 is International Women’s Day and the global theme for 2013 is Ending Violence Against Women.

Money raised from official events will go directly to the Critical Services Initiative that funds projects in countries, including Australia, that need assistance in providing these important support services.

Attending these events is also an opportunity to learn more about the work being done all over the globe by organisations such as UN Women to bring about legislative and attitudinal change to gender equity, pay equity and domestic violence.

The Hunter’s official event is being held on March 8 at Wests Leagues Club New Lambton, and will feature guest speakers Terry Lawler and Helen Cummings.

Ms Cummings, herself a survivor of domestic violence and author of the bestselling e-book Blood Vows will share her story in a bid to make a difference.

For more information, go to www.unwomen.org.au

Belinda Smith is the chair of the Hunter Chapter of UN Women Australia

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OPINION: Reckless gambles threaten our future

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MINING has been part of this country from the ochre pits of the Aboriginals, the first coalmine at the mouth of the Hunter, the gold shafts at Hill End and on to the wealth coming from Cadia gold and copper mine, near Orange.
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It has made an enormous economic contribution to this nation.

As a specialist engineer I have spent most of my 40-year career working for major construction and mining companies on underground and open-cut mines, and in the disposal of the waste products of those mines.

I have worked, and continue to work, for most of the major mining companies and for the big construction companies in Australia and south-east Asia.

Until a few decades ago, mining in this country tended to be confined to relatively small areas.

So even if some mines had adverse impacts on land, water systems, and important environments – take the massive landslides in the Burragorang Valley and at Katoomba, the cracking of the Cataract River, and the draining of swamps on the Newnes Plateau – most impacts from these mines covered limited areas.

But with coal seam gas (CSG) extraction we are dealing with a new animal.

CSG extraction is a relatively new industry and a form of mining that covers very large areas very quickly. It has the potential to adversely affect groundwater systems over large parts of this state.

In order to extract coal seam gas, one first has to depressurise the groundwater in the coal seams and move it to the surface.

So the coal seams are, in effect, groundwater voids – the same as coalmines. But we are no longer talking about relatively localised effects. We are talking huge areas.

The enormous expansion of CSG mining has occurred in a poorly controlled manner over a very short period.

Large areas of our state will be affected by a relatively new industry where the science behind these impacts and the key hydrogeological parameters are poorly understood.

We have very little empirical information about long-term impacts from CSG operations because the industry is so young.

What we do know is that the impacts will develop over many years – and that, if the impacts are substantial, they will be almost impossible to reverse.

The current NSW government listing of exploration licences for CSG totals 189,567 square kilometres, almost 19million hectares.

To this we must add 24,000 hectares in production leases for CSG and all the coalmining areas.

Together this comprises much of our populated area, our forested wilderness, our wetlands and rivers, and our productive agricultural land.

What we do with our water matters.

Rainfall is our primary water source and is subject to huge swings.

In times of plenty, our rivers flow, our dams fill, but most importantly our groundwater systems replenish.

Huge quantities seep into the Great Artesian Basin from the recharge zone along the east coast, into the porous and fractured rocks in the Sydney-Gunnedah geological basin that extends from Sutton Forest to Narrabri, and also into the older rocks west of the divide.

Apart from feeding bores, groundwater sustains the baseflows of our creeks and rivers, and our wetland systems.

Diminish those groundwater systems and you create a tendril effect of damage that extends from an individual vegetable farmer at Picton to a complete river system in the Yarramalong Valley, or at Gloucester.

CSG mining puts our groundwater under enormous pressure.

It is simply a matter of physics, not of opinion, that this depressurisation from CSG mining will adversely affect the whole groundwater system, because like the apple that fell on Isaac Newton’s head, groundwater is controlled by gravity and flows from zones of high elevation to zones of lower potential energy.

How long will it take for the changes to our groundwater to be substantial?

We don’t know.

How extensive will they be?

We don’t know.

One thing we do know is encapsulated by Dr Richard Evans, principal hydrogeologist of Sinclair Knight Merz

‘‘There is no free lunch here – every litre of water you pump out of the ground reduces river flow by the same amount.’’

I don’t believe as a society we should just let this process run helter skelter – a process whose consequences on our environment are not yet fully understood by scientists and engineers.

And we cannot rely on what is called “adaptive management”, because if monitoring of CSG does show significant impacts on water systems, there is very little that can be done to reverse the process once the damage is done.

Wisdom demands that the whole process of CSG extraction in this state be urgently wound back.

That may allow the science to catch up with the present rapacious desire to exploit a resource.

To allow CSG mining to proceed before more is done to understand its impact is a reckless gamble with our future.

Perhaps we can learn from past lessons involving asbestos, tobacco, thalidomide and Agent Orange.

Damage may be done that cannot be repaired.

Dr Philip Pells is a civil engineer who has spent four decades in geotechnical and groundwater engineering.

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Travel flies in the face of retail gloom

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We are all familiar with the depressed level of retail spending in Australia. From fridges to fashion, and televisions to toys, the picture of the typical consumer is one of short arms and long pockets.
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But even this sobering data has been distorted. Because these broad spending trends ignore the fact that Australians have been spending on travel – in particular overseas air travel.

The bad news is that once that is accounted for, it makes the other areas that make up retail sales look even worse.

When it comes to discretionary spending we are more inclined to take a holiday overseas than buy a flat screen TV – and here is another misconception – it is not all about the strength of the Australian dollar.

That’s part of it, but not the whole story. If it was all about the currency, the outbound travel market would be strong and the inbound markets weak. Both these segments are experiencing solid growth.

So why is this demand for travel not strongly reflected in the earnings from our major airlines, Qantas and Virgin?

In the first instance we are not only using these carriers. The liberalisation of bilateral agreements between governments has allowed more international carriers into Australia.

And secondly, while our local airlines are carrying more people, they are offering discounted fares, and thus are not getting the boost in their bottom line profits. Their market share of overseas travel (and this particularly applies to Qantas) is being eroded and so are the margins.

And it’s even a bit more complicated than this. There is the domestic travel side, which includes business and leisure (or holiday) markets, and then there is the international side.

There has been massive increase in capacity in domestic travel, which is the main reason both Qantas and Virgin reported weaker earnings over the past week.

Then there is international travel, which is particularly interesting. Over the long-term the cost of overseas travel has been coming down and becoming more affordable. This is part of a structural shift in the market. Overseas travel long ago moved to the middle-class market and away from the domain of the wealthy.

If you ignore the business market (which travels because it needs to and is less sensitive to price) the factors that influence overseas travel are just the same as any other purchase decision – price and therefore value.

In the immediate aftermath of the global financial crisis the Australian dollar rapidly appreciated, making offshore travel a far better value proposition.

We are now pretty accustomed to this and despite a number of fundamental reasons, economists said it would fall, but our currency has remained stubbornly high. This might explain some of our reasons for offshore travel. But it doesn’t account for why incoming travel to Australia is also pretty strong.

A Deloitte Access Economics report shows international visitor arrivals during the second half of 2012 accelerated strongly. International arrivals were up 5.8 per cent in December and 4.6 per up on the year. And it is expecting growth to continue at this annual rate over the next three years.

What is particularly interesting about these numbers is that the geographic source of visitors is also changing. It’s no longer about Europe and the UK – growth in international passengers is coming out of Asia. The trend is backed up by financial statements from Sydney Airport, which showed strong growth in passenger numbers.

Again it’s about supply and demand combined with geopolitical change and technology.

Put simply, there are more flights coming into Australia particularly from the emerging middle class areas of Asia. So on the supply side there has been some substantial expansion, which in the past year alone has included two budget airlines entering the Australian market, Scoot out of Singapore and AsiaAir X out of Malaysia.

The existing airlines are also adding capacity (rather than flights) by using larger planes, which are also more fuel and environmentally efficient.

On top of that the Chinese and the Indians are boosting the numbers of inbound passengers. There has also been some revival in traditional markets – including the US and Japan. Outbound travel that experienced a boost when the Australian dollar started its post-GFC rise is only now showing some signs of tapering off in terms of growth rates.

We are still growing outbound travel but the double-digit growth rates have eased, according to Deloitte. Air fares are still coming down but the adrenalin hit from the exchange rate is not as potent, as we have become more accustomed to a high dollar.

Deloitte suggests that this will continue to lose momentum as they expect the currency will depreciate over time. That remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the domestic leisure market remains subdued despite the fact that increased capacity has pushed down airfares. The area of increased activity on this front is derived from visits to family and friends rather than holiday travel.

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Policeman stands by assault claim despite CCTV and colleagues

Written by admin on 29/09/2019 Categories: 苏州美甲美睫培训

A NORTHERN NSW policeman has told the Police Integrity Commission that he was punched in the face by a young Aboriginal man, despite four other officers saying it never happened and CCTV footage contradicting his claim.
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Senior Constable David Hill is among a group of police being investigated over an incident at Ballina police station in January 2011, in which Corey Barker, 24, was allegedly bashed by police and then falsely accused of assaulting them.

During the course of the inquiry, four of the police involved have gone back on the sworn statements they wrote claiming that Mr Barker punched Senior Constable Hill in the face and had to be forcibly restrained and dragged into a cell.

CCTV footage of the incident does not show any assault by Mr Barker. Rather, it shows police shoving him headfirst into a wall, and then kicking toward the 24-year-old’s head as he lies on the ground.

But on Wednesday Senior Constable Hill maintained that he was punched in the face, conceding only that he had been wrong about whether the blow came from the young man’s left hand or his right.

”I definitely remember it happening,” said Senior Constable Hill, who now works at Kyogle police station.

”I looked to the right, saw his hand coming, moved my head and it scraped my nose .. . I remember my nose was sore. I remember checking whether it was bleeding.”

The commission heard that an inspection soon after the incident showed no visible injury to the policeman’s nose.

When asked by counsel assisting the commission, Stephen Rushton, SC, why the alleged punch by Mr Barker did not appear in the CCTV footage, he said: ”I can only say that it might have been the angle of the camera in the footage …”

”I put it to you that it was impossible for him to have punched you, either with his left hand or his right hand,” Mr Rushton said.

”I wouldn’t say impossible, I’d say improbable,” the police officer responded.

When asked to explain how it was that his version of events contradicted those of all the other police present at the time of the incident, the officer said he had ”no idea”.

The officer maintained that Mr Barker was dragged into the cell by his handcuffed arms only because he ”resisted” when officers tried to pull him up, by being ”a dead weight”.

”I was telling him that we were going to lift him up … [but] he was a dead weight,” he said.

”I probably should have given him more time.”

Senior Constable Hill repeatedly denied that he had knowingly given false evidence to the Ballina Local Court about the incident during two hearings in which he claimed that he had been assaulted.

He said he had ordered Mr Barker to remain handcuffed after he had been placed in the cell so that ”he couldn’t assault anyone else”.

He conceded that Mr Barker posed little threat to anyone once he was locked in the cell, but later claimed that any officer who tried to remove the handcuffs could have been at risk.

He also said Mr Barker’s cuffs were removed not long after.

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Travel flies in the face of retail gloom

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‘The geographic source of visitors is also changing. It’s no longer about Europe and the UK – growth in international passengers is coming out of Asia.WE ARE all familiar with the depressed level of retail spending in Australia. From fridges to fashion, and televisions to toys, the picture of the typical consumer is one of short arms and long pockets.
苏州美甲美睫培训

But even this sobering data has been distorted. Because these broad spending trends ignore the fact that Australians have been spending on travel – in particular overseas air travel.

The bad news is that once that is accounted for, it makes the other areas that make up retail sales look even worse.

When it comes to discretionary spending we are more inclined to take a holiday overseas than buy a flat screen TV – and here is another misconception – it is not all about the strength of the Australian dollar.

That’s part of it, but not the whole story. If it was all about the currency, the outbound travel market would be strong and the inbound markets weak. Both these segments are experiencing solid growth.

So why is this demand for travel not strongly reflected in the earnings from our major airlines, Qantas and Virgin?

In the first instance we are not only using these carriers. The liberalisation of bilateral agreements between governments has allowed more international carriers into Australia.

And secondly, while our local airlines are carrying more people, they are offering discounted fares, and thus are not getting the boost in their bottom line profits. Their market share of overseas travel (and this particularly applies to Qantas) is being eroded and so are the margins.

And it’s even a bit more complicated than this. There is the domestic travel side, which includes business and leisure (or holiday) markets, and then there is the international side.

There has been massive increase in capacity in domestic travel, which is the main reason both Qantas and Virgin reported weaker earnings over the past week.

Then there is international travel, which is particularly interesting. Over the long-term the cost of overseas travel has been coming down and becoming more affordable. This is part of a structural shift in the market. Overseas travel long ago moved to the middle-class market and away from the domain of the wealthy.

If you ignore the business market (which travels because it needs to and is less sensitive to price) the factors that influence overseas travel are just the same as any other purchase decision – price and therefore value.

In the immediate aftermath of the global financial crisis the Australian dollar rapidly appreciated, making offshore travel a far better value proposition.

We are now pretty accustomed to this and despite a number of fundamental reasons, economists said it would fall, but our currency has remained stubbornly high. This might explain some of our reasons for offshore travel. But it doesn’t account for why incoming travel to Australia is also pretty strong.

A Deloitte Access Economics report shows international visitor arrivals during the second half of 2012 accelerated strongly. International arrivals were up 5.8 per cent in December and 4.6 per up on the year. And it is expecting growth to continue at this annual rate over the next three years.

What is particularly interesting about these numbers is that the geographic source of visitors is also changing. It’s no longer about Europe and the UK – growth in international passengers is coming out of Asia. The trend is backed up by financial statements from Sydney Airport, which showed strong growth in passenger numbers.

Again it’s about supply and demand combined with geopolitical change and technology.

Put simply, there are more flights coming into Australia particularly from the emerging middle class areas of Asia. So on the supply side there has been some substantial expansion, which in the past year alone has included two budget airlines entering the Australian market, Scoot out of Singapore and AsiaAir X out of Malaysia.

The existing airlines are also adding capacity (rather than flights) by using larger planes, which are also more fuel and environmentally efficient.

On top of that the Chinese and the Indians are boosting the numbers of inbound passengers. There has also been some revival in traditional markets – including the US and Japan. Outbound travel that experienced a boost when the Australian dollar started its post-GFC rise is only now showing some signs of tapering off in terms of growth rates.

We are still growing outbound travel but the double-digit growth rates have eased, according to Deloitte. Air fares are still coming down but the adrenalin hit from the exchange rate is not as potent, as we have become more accustomed to a high dollar.

Deloitte suggests that this will continue to lose momentum as they expect the currency will depreciate over time. That remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the domestic leisure market remains subdued despite the fact that increased capacity has pushed down airfares. The area of increased activity on this front is derived from visits to family and friends rather than holiday travel.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲美睫培训.

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More work to be done on risk management, bank watchdog warns

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SEVERAL banks have already satisfied coming rules that will force lenders to hold more easy-to-sell assets, the regulator says, despite industry concerns the requirements are being implemented too quickly.
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The comments came as the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority told the industry there was ”more work to be done” in how it dealt with risk management.

Banks in Europe were granted a major reprieve last month, when global regulators delayed the starting date for new liquidity rules by four years, so that they did not start until 2019.

Local banks are keenly awaiting APRA’s decision on whether it will follow the lead of its peers overseas and soften the rules for local banks. A decision is expected in the coming months.

APRA’s chairman, John Laker, said on Wednesday that the regulator had not yet put its proposal to industry on the liquidity coverage ratio (LCR), which will require banks to hold enough liquid assets to cover their lending outflows for a month.

However, he also said there were ”a number of institutions and banks” that had already satisfied the rules, part of a set of regulations known as Basel III.

Dr Laker added that the rationale of phasing in Basel III ”was to ensure the LCR can be introduced without material disruption to the orderly strengthening of banking systems or the ongoing financing of economic activity”.

The remarks come after the Australian Bankers Association last month warned there was a danger that domestic regulations would be out of sync with the rest of the world if it proceeded with liquidity rules too quickly. Dr Laker made the comments after saying a recent review had found many boards in the industry needed to lift their game in how they managed risks.

Its December review of risk governance had found the typical board in the industry had received a score that was at the ”risky” end of ”adequate”. Some boards received a ”high risk” score.

”This is confirmation that APRA has indeed raised its expectations for risk governance and there is more work to be done,” he said.

Despite the need for improvement, Dr Laker said APRA would not adopt certain measures favoured by its UK counterparts, including sitting in on board meetings.

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Metcash takes on Woolies, Coles

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INCOMING Metcash boss Ian Morrice will review all aspects of the grocery and liquor wholesaler, including its private-label strategy and marketing budget, as the 30-year retail veteran takes on one of the toughest roles in corporate Australia – battling Woolworths and Coles.
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Replacing CEO Andrew Reitzer, who will leave on June 30 after leading the company for 15 years, Mr Morrice said Metcash’s independent supermarket customers could beat the supermarket duopoly but it wasn’t necessarily a battle over who had the cheapest prices.

”Our job as a wholesaler is to ensure our customers can compete as best they can with the chains who have got much more scale.

”But [we also want to] help them to understand where they can differentiate, because one could argue … the two chains [Woolworths and Coles] are quite similar to each other in many ways, whereas the benefit of the IGA network is these are local people who have got local businesses who understand the local customers.”

For the next three months the Scottish-born Mr Morrice will work closely with Mr Reitzer before entering the trenches of the supermarket wars.

Mr Morrice, 52, said Metcash had a battle on its hands as Woolworths and Coles fought an intense price war. ”The challenge facing Metcash in food and grocery, in part, in the last couple of years, has been food deflation and obviously that has direct impact on the wholesale part of the model.”

But Mr Morrice said Metcash’s customer base of independent supermarket chains, trading under the IGA banner, could offer a lot more than just cheap prices.

”I think IGA supermarkets have got a lot of benefits the chains can’t ever have, the benefits of local ownership and the passion to deliver in many instances outstanding customer service. Big chains can become more effective at those things but I don’t think big chains can match the very best of the independents.”

Mr Morrice said there was a place for a strong private label offering but it would be reviewed along with all other aspects of the business including marketing.

Metcash was forced to lift its marketing spend last year.

”We can be as competitive as we want to,” Mr Reitzer told Business Day. ”Remember what’s happening today is not a price war, this is where the media has it totally wrong, it’s a marketing war.”

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WA cyclone halts iron ore exports

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Western Australian Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Reg Howard-Smith said worker safety was of primary concern.CYCLONE Rusty, which is already causing destructive winds and dangerous flooding in the Pilbara, is expected to have a big impact on mining companies operating in the area, with some $500 million of iron ore exports already halted.
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The category three cyclone, which was expected to cross the coast late on Wednesday, is large and slow-moving, meaning the bad weather would hang around for longer than usual and bring a lot of rain, which would cause further flooding.

Any interruption in the activity reduces production and, therefore, profit margins.

The iron ore industry in the region is worth $50 billion in exports per year.

Mining giant Rio Tinto said it had prepared for the storm by closing the Port Walcott port at Cape Lambert and had finished loading ships at its Dampier ports.

Port Hedland, used by BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group, officially closed early on Monday as the last vessel cleared the shipping channel. Rio Tinto’s Dampier and Cape Lambert ports, about 200 kilometres south of Port Hedland, have also begun to close operations.

The professor of mining geology at the University of Adelaide, Ian Plimer, said mining and resources companies planned for such incidents and interruptions in output were taken into account on an annual basis.

”All the iron ore companies cater for a cyclone season in terms of production and what it does to their production,” he said.

”They have cyclone-proofing mechanisms at each of the mines.”

Western Australian Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Reg Howard-Smith said worker safety was of primary concern.

”The Pilbara region is of great economic importance to the WA and national economies. Unfortunately, the region also has plenty of cyclone activity,” Mr Howard-Smith said.

”Residents and particularly resource sector companies operating in the region are well drilled in how to prepare for these events.”

The Dampier port deals with a variety of cargo including supplies for offshore oil and gas facilities.

According to the port’s website, it experiences an average of three cyclones a year.

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Qantas alliance may expand to support services

Written by admin on 29/08/2019 Categories: 苏州美甲美睫培训

Qantas noted that the two airlines’ flying operations might jointly look to buy services from other companies that offer ground handling, engineering and catering operations.QANTAS has left the door open to broadening its alliance with Emirates to include ground handling and support services, but is willing to exclude them from the present deal to allay concerns from unions.
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With just four weeks to go before the alliance is due to be launched, Qantas has sought to make clear that the focus of the alliance is on flying operations, and that the two airlines have not begun any talks or planning about operations such as ground handling, catering or aircraft engineering.

”There are no current plans for co-ordination [of non-flying operations] in Australia at this time,” it said in a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

However, Qantas noted that the two airlines’ flying operations might jointly look to buy services from other companies that offer ground handling, engineering and catering operations.

Qantas’ catering operations include Q Catering and Snap Fresh, while Emirates’ associate Dnata owns Alpha Flight Services. The latter has about 1200 employees in Australia. As well as supplying their respective fleets, the catering businesses provide meals for other airlines that fly to and from Australia.

Qantas and Emirates said they were willing ”to exclude co-ordination between catering and aircraft cleaning operations” from their alliance ”in order to seek to allay issues” raised by trade unions such as the Transport Workers Union.

But it said that ”any potential co-ordination between the catering and aircraft cleaning operations would, if considered necessary at the time, be subject to a separate application”.

The long-haul pilots’ union and the TWU, which represents baggage handlers, have also raised concerns that jobs could be threatened by a ”narrowing of competition and a transfer of flying to Emirates” on services from Perth and Adelaide to Europe and Asia.

But Qantas said jobs would be ”more secure” with the deal, emphasising that it would be forced to cut more services to Europe if it did not go ahead.

The competition regulator has given a tentative nod of approval to the Qantas-Emirates alliance but will not make a final decision until next month. The airlines plan to launch their alliance on March 31.

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Australian economy on sound path: S&P

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Area of concern: Building activity slowed in the December quarter.AUSTRALIA’S housing market appears vulnerable to a downturn and its economy is becoming increasingly exposed to China’s business cycle.
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But the country’s strong fundamentals support its AAA sovereign rating and mean steep falls are “highly unlikely”, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s says.

A new report on Australia’s sovereign credit rating says the economy is likely to keep growing steadily, despite a forecast peak this year in mining investment and the related dip in economic activity.

It comes as Bureau of Statistics data shows building activity slowed in the December quarter because of a decline in the big-ticket engineering construction sector.

The S&P report said Australia remained on a ”sound path”, with strong institutions and low public debt and a financial system that “appears sound”.

But it reiterated concerns that the country’s housing market appeared vulnerable to a downturn and that high household debt levels could make people’s finances less resilient to economic shocks.

“The sustainability of high household debt levels has not been tested in an environment of high unemployment for a long time,” the report warned. “[And] Australian house prices, relative to household incomes, are also elevated.

”While there has not been a build-up of aggregate excess supply, the housing market continues to appear somewhat vulnerable to a downturn, in our view.”

The report is more positive than past updates and praises Australia’s relatively high national savings rate – about 25 per cent of GDP, compared with the average for advanced economies of 19 per cent.

It comes a week after Britain became the latest Western economy to lose its triple-A rating, as Moody’s lowered its rating to double-A1, with a stable outlook, citing the country’s commitment to austerity policies and the likely dampening effect they would have on the economy.

Bureau of Statistics data released on Wednesday showed building activity slowed in the December quarter of 2012, declining by 0.1 per cent, a figure slightly worse than market expectations, which were for 1 per cent growth overall.

But economists said the result was better than it looked because the decline came from a 1.3 per cent fall in activity in the big-ticket engineering construction sector.

When isolated from the rest of the data, private building activity rose by 2.5 per cent in the quarter, the fourth straight month of growth.

“Dissecting [the] report reveals signs of life in the domestic private building industry through last year, signs that were a little more noticeable in the second half,” NAB senior economist David de Garis said.

“Private residential activity overall through last year netted 0.8 per cent growth, [which is] not what you’d term ‘rapid’ but something positive anyway.”

Australia is one of just a few countries with a triple-A rating and a stable outlook from all three major ratings agencies.

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AGL works to counteract twin hits

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AGL is facing pressures on two fronts in its core gas business – producers are seeking to raise prices while heavy losses are likely after losing access to prime gas reserves in New South Wales.
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The energy utility disclosed on Wednesday it may write off up to $250 million on its exploration reserves in NSW following a decision by the state government to restrict exploration for coal seam gas, which could ”sterilise” the extensive reserves it holds. The state government has banned coal seam gas drilling within two kilometres of urban areas.

AGL is in arbitration with its gas suppliers, seeking to prevent price rises before the expiry of long-term contracts in 2016 and 2017.

The disclosures came as the group posted a record December half net profit of $364.7 million, well up from $117 million a year earlier, thanks to the inclusion of earnings from the Loy Yang A power station it acquired last year.

Revenue rose to $4.97 billion from $3.6 billion, with earnings per share reaching 66.5¢ from 24.5¢. Underlying earnings rose 20 per cent to $279.4 million, it said, after booking a loss on the change in value of financial instruments.

The interim dividend has been raised to 30¢ a share from 29¢. Investors reacted positively to the profit lift, with its shares rallying 68¢ to $15.87.

AGL said it was spending ”millions on arbitration” in a bid to resolve the gas supply issues. It sources a large part of its supplies from Esso-BHP in Bass Strait, with its initial contracts to expire from 2016 and the balance the following year.

The company sought to deflect the pressures by pointing to the continued growth in retail customer numbers in NSW in particular, which more than offset weakness in other markets. Customer numbers rose by more than 60,000 in NSW.

AGL has spent $325 million on coal seam gas exploration in the Hunter Valley and at Camden, south-west of Sydney, which is at risk with the government’s decision. At the same time, the prospect of higher gas prices that will flow from this decision could lift the worth of the company’s prospects around Gloucester, north of Newcastle.

”There is likely to be a significant charge in the second half,” said AGL chief executive Michael Fraser, of the government’s abrupt policy shift.

”There are a lot of grey areas to the government’s announcement”, which will make it difficult to decide sooner on the extent of the write-downs. Mr Fraser refused to be drawn on talks under way for AGL to buy government-owned power generators in NSW, which are for sale.

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Marketing outfit shows value but triggers are tricky to find

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STW Communications
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THE iconic advertising and marketing group remains part of a shrinking group of value stocks in Australia. Earlier this month the company reported a solid 6.5 per cent increase in earnings a share (EPS) for the year to December 31. Analysts are now forecasting STW (ASX code SGN) can earn 13¢ a share for the 2013 year and pay a fully franked dividend of close to 9¢ a share. This puts the stock on a price-earnings multiple (P/E) of 10.4 times and a fully franked yield of approximately 6.5 per cent.

While the current valuation and circa 10 per cent earnings should give investors comfort it is more difficult to identify a catalyst to buy the stock. The first buy trigger could be a pick-up in marketing spend as 2013 unfolds following lower interest rates. Advertising lags other parts of the economy and can take up to a year to respond.

A second opportunity to buy the stock could be the long-awaited sell-down by the group’s major shareholder, global advertising outfit WPP. The UK-based WPP currently owns about 20 per cent of STW and with the recent uptick in the Australian sharemarket there is an increasing chance the stake could be sold.

AtCor Medical Holdings

AT THE micro end of the market one of the better results this season came from AtCor (ACG), a medical device company that specialises in early detection of cardiovascular disease. The company posted a half-yearly profit of $2.3 million, well ahead of forecasts.

AtCor is highly unusual for an Australian medical development company with no blue sky embedded in the valuation. Refreshingly, the company has recently cut costs and states it will only ramp up expenditure when revenue is secured. This effectively means there will not be a major cash burn that is typically associated with other medical development outfits.

AtCor has a market value of $14 million and net cash on the balance sheet of $2.1 million. The first-half profit was boosted by a $700,000 grant and analysts are expecting a break-even result for the second half. Despite this, it is only trading at about seven times earnings.

The company supplies product for the clinical trials and research markets. Its devices measure central aortic blood pressure non-invasively for blood pressure and arterial stiffness.

There have been a number of recent encouraging signs for AtCor, including the US approval of the new SphygmoCor System Excel device. Not only is the device a quantum improvement in terms of functionality but it has also been granted a reimbursement code for clinicians. The addressable market is estimated at $US100 million a year. On this segment alone the firm could easily be valued 50 per cent higher at 22¢ a share.

Webjet Limited

IT IS dangerous to stand in the way of a runaway bus, or on this occasion a jet plane. However, closely scrutinising the dynamics of a business and questioning the share price should be a daily occurrence when playing the sharemarket.

Online booking group Webjet (WEB) has enjoyed a staggering 33 per cent surge in its share price since raising $25 million to buy rival Zuji last December. The acquisition was highly accretive given Webjet only paid 4.6 times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) for the Asian-based operation.

There are some concerns and a lot of blue sky baked into the share price today. Webjet’s traditional online business has slowed significantly over the course of the past year, and only price rises saved the group from anaemic growth in the December half. The price increases, though, did not disguise poor operating cash flow for the period and no explanation was given in the commentary.

Not only has the company hit a poor cash flow period, it also continues to capitalise software costs and amortise them over 25 years, a strange decision given that software rarely lasts 25 years in any business. If we cost the software development the company is trading on a hefty 33 PE multiple and about 50 times current operating cash flow.

If cash flows and earnings are disappointing at the June 30 results, it could be better to look elsewhere.

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NZ police open fire as shark attacks and kills lone swimmer

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Scene of an ugly death … Muriwai Beach, where the fatal attack took place. Some of the witnesses.
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NEW ZEALAND police opened fire on a shark that killed a man at an Auckland beach on Wednesday afternoon.

Inspector Shawn Rutene said the man, in his 40s, had been swimming alone from Maori Bay to Muriwai Beach, several hundred metres from shore, about 1.30pm local time, when a four-metre shark struck.

It took police and lifeguards – who knew the victim – about 30 minutes to recover the body as two sharks circled.

Inspector Rutene said a police officer fired at the two sharks.

”We don’t know whether he hit it, but it rolled off and disappeared,” he said.

Police were unable to confirm the species of shark, but the Department of Conservation confirmed great whites had been spotted in the area as recently as last weekend.

Beaches north of Manukau Harbour were to be closed for the next two days and helicopters will patrol the area until Thursday.

Fisherman Pio Mose said he had seen a man swimming. ”All of a sudden … we saw the shark fin and, next minute – boom – attack him, then blood everywhere on the water,” he said.

Mr Mose called emergency services while a friend went for help. ”He was still alive, he put his head up, we called him to swim over to the rock to where we were,” he said.

”He raised his hand up, and then while he was raising his hand up we saw another attack pull him in the water.

”He came back up, his head was on the water … then we noticed he was already dead.”

He heard the police then fire shots from their helicopter, and also heard a few shots from a lifeguards’ boat. ”I don’t know if they got the shark, killed the shark or not,” Mr Mose said.

There have been 14 known fatal shark attacks in New Zealand since records began about 1837, said the department’s shark expert, Clinton Duffy.

”In the last 20 years we have been averaging two shark incidents, where the shark actually bites someone, a year,” Mr Duffy said.

”Those are generally on swimmers and generally result in fairly superficial flesh wounds.”

The last death was in 2009, when a kayaker was mauled by a great white in Coromandel waters – although whether he drowned before the shark found him is still disputed. Before that the last death was in 1976.

Shark attacks around the world have increased every decade since 1900. Last year’s tally of 12 fatalities, with three in Australia, was almost three times the average of 4.3 from 2001 to 2010, according to the International Shark Attack File.

Fairfax NZ News

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