IT price wars: government no white knight

The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity – $999 in Australia, $600 in the US. Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon – starts at $1999 in Australia, $1299 in the US.
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A diagram explaining price discrimination.

Tech companies have given the proverbial middle finger to those complaining about high prices in Australia, leading the consumer group Choice to demand strong government action.

But despite firms showing little interest in reducing their prices based on political pressure from the likes of the Labor MP Ed Husic, a new submission to the parliamentary IT pricing inquiry by the federal Treasury warns any direct regulation of prices by government could do more harm than good.

Last week Lenovo launched its ThinkPad X1 Carbon in Australia, which it says is the world’s lightest 14-inch Ultrabook. It will start at $1999 here, compared with $US1299 in the United States.

Earlier this month ASUS released its Transformer Pad Infinity tablet in Australia at a recommended retail price of $999 – much higher than the US price of about $US600.

Lenovo said it priced its products to ensure they were “competitive with local market offerings” and that by buying Lenovo products in Australia consumers were “supporting local Australian jobs” as well as securing local support and warranty.

Asus trotted out the same line frequently used by vendors to justify gouging Australian consumers: smaller market, logistic and shipping costs, exchange rates, promotional costs and training. All of these excuses have been unpersuasive to consumer groups and the Productivity Commission.

Choice’s head of campaigns, Matt Levey, said the IT pricing parliamentary inquiry was a “great start” but wouldn’t amount to much if it did not produce “strong recommendations which prompt equally strong action”.

“Unfortunately aph.gov.au is littered with examples of detailed reports into significant issues which sit around collecting dust,” he said. “It’s not so much the inquiry which is the problem, but how the government responds.”

Huge mark-ups for Australians

Choice studied more than 200 prices for IT products and identified an approximate 50 per cent price differencebetween what Australians and US consumers pay for more or less identical products including music downloads, games and computer hardware. Dell computers were 41 per cent more expensive while Nintendo Wii games were up to 88 per cent more.

Since it conducted its analysis in July consumers have written to Choice with further examples; in some cases they could see the lower price on the US site but the sites blocked them from bypassing the Australian price when ordering:Norton Internet Security two-year subscription: $149 v $US79Roxio Easy VHS to DVD for Mac: $139 v $US79.99Asus laptop (same specs): $1400 v $US680Garmin GPS: $189 v $149

Choice wants the government to investigate whether tools to stop consumers accessing lower prices in overseas markets – such as “geo-blocking” on websites or region-coding – are anti-competitive.

In many cases, the wholesale prices charged to Australian retailers by multinational vendors are significantly higher than those offered to overseas retailers, meaning there is no way they can offer a competitive price. In the case of prices for music downloads, Apple blames the record labels while music industry sources say Apple’s market power gives it the ability to set the price.

The Labor MP Andrew Leigh wrote a submission complaining that Amazon’s range of books for the Kindle in Australia is hundreds of thousands of titles smaller than in the US, and the books that are sold in this market are significantly more expensive than everywhere else.

Monash University’s chief information officer, Dr Ian Tebbett, said high IT prices in Australia diverted resources from research and education, and particularly for students of low socio-economic backgrounds, “the costs of IT in Australia will add to their decision not to take up higher education”.

Price discrimination maximises profits: Treasury

Treasury wrote in its submission dated August 9 that price differentials that aren’t based on differential costs of supply will “generally decline over time, providing there is sufficient competitive pressure or low barriers to entry”.

But while the internet allows consumers to detect when firms are charging higher prices in one country – and buy from cheaper overseas markets – in general there were “incentives for suppliers, in the form of profits, to engage in price discrimination”.

Treasury said the evidence suggested Australian consumers pay higher prices for IT products than consumers in some other markets, but not necessarily the highest globally.

“To that end, improving local competition and increasing access to international markets are ‘no regrets’ measures that can assist in ensuring Australian consumers and business have access to goods and services at internationally competitive prices,” Treasury said.

But it warned against “more interventionist measures” that seek to dictate terms on which consumers and business transactions take place, saying this may stifle innovation and reduce competition further. It said firms should generally be free to set the prices they want

The Competition and Consumer Act (previously the Trade Practices Act) used to prohibit some forms of price discrimination by firms but the prohibition was repealed in 1995 because it reduced price flexibility and was detrimental to competition.

“Treasury considers that the current competition laws are capable of addressing anti-competitive conduct without the need for a specific price discrimination prohibition,” Treasury said.

Vendor excuses don’t hold water: Productivity Commission

The big tech companies, largely through the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), blamed retailers, market size, freight costs, warranty differences, rents, taxes, wages, penalty rates and importation and transport costs as some of the reasons why Australian prices are higher.

But the Productivity Commission, politicians and consumer groups have all said these cannot possibly explain the huge 50 per cent and higher mark-ups faced by Australians on some products.

The commission found that arguments made by international suppliers to defend regional price discrimination are “not persuasive, especially in the case, for example, of downloaded music, software and video where the costs of delivery to the customer are practically zero and uniform around the world”.

Adobe, one of the worst offenders when it comes to price discrimination on software products, has yet to contribute a proper justification for its pricing to the IT pricing inquiry, instead using its submission to state it had already provided feedback to the AIIA.

Other big tech firms like Apple and Microsoft refused to appear at the first public hearings for the inquiry late last month. Apple’s written submission to the inquiry was confidential and therefore cannot be published.

The Productivity Commission acknowledged that there were extra costs of doing business in Australia and the size of the market meant retailers in countries like the US – which buy larger volumes – were able to obtain goods for less.

“While Australia may be relatively close to manufacturing centres in Asia, costs can depend on trade volumes rather than distances travelled, meaning that Australia’s trade routes can be more expensive than those for other countries,” Treasury said in its submission.

Treasury also noted that the recent strength of the Australian dollar has meant the prices of goods in overseas markets are now cheaper in Australian dollar terms. And while exchange rate fluctuations occur instantly, prices of goods aren’t as easily or as quickly changed to reflect this.

This can cut both ways. In 2008, following the depreciation of the Australian dollar, Australia was the cheapest place in the world to purchase an iPod, the Commonwealth Bank has said.

Mr Husic said there would be another public hearing for the inquiry in the coming weeks.

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US masterclass: how to grow as a retailer

High-end homewares store Williams-Sonoma is a remarkable story of growth.ANALYSIS
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The launch or rumoured launch in Australia by an international fashion apparel retailer has become a numbingly regular event. Speculation about how badly the bully boys of global retail, like Zara and Topshop, will beat up the local retailers has become a favourite sport of the retail experts.

Now, Williams-Sonoma’s impending arrival switches the focus to a different kind of fashion – upscale home furnishings.

Williams-Sonoma, a retailer that has become ubiquitous in American shopping centres since its founding by Chuck Williams in Sonoma, California in 1956, is to move into a 2000 square metre space on a pedestrian mall adjacent to Sydney’s Bondi Junction early next year.

But rest assured that it has not come to Australia to set up just one store.

Anyone associated with the retail industry – especially a small retailer with growth aspirations – should make Williams-Sonoma one of their first case studies. It is a remarkable example of how a specialty retailer can grow from one humble store into a multi-concept, multi-channel international powerhouse.

It has accomplished this using a step-by-step process of market segmentation, concept incubation, brand launch via catalogue/e-commerce and then finally, a measured store rollout. By opening stores at a slow tempo rather than helter-skelter, it has ensured limited damage in a couple of instances where a concept has underperformed and needed to be shuttered.

Laura Alber, the CEO, reportedly gushed about the company’s prospects in Australia, observing, among other things, that there was only limited competition in the Australian market. This is a truly remarkable finding considering Australia’s affluence and high rate of home ownership.

It’s also an astute and correct one.

Alber doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of home furnishings stores in Australia. She means that none are anywhere near as targeted to specific population segments and lifestyles as Williams-Sonoma is.

Williams-Sonoma has shown expertly over the years how to use catalogues and e-commerce for market research, and how this information can in turn be used to reduce real estate risk for retailers across the world. E-commerce is not just a sales channel but a way of understanding where the response to your product is strong enough to lob a chain of physical stores.

In this instance, Australia is Williams-Sonoma’s strongest e-commerce market outside North America. (The company has e-commerce in approximately 75 countries and 44 per cent of its $US3.7 billion revenues in 2011 were derived from e-commerce and catalogues.)

This knowledge doesn’t guarantee success for the company’s Australian stores but it does lower the probability of it having to exit with its tail between its legs.

But what makes Williams-Sonoma such a masterclass in growth for ambitious retailers is its ability to segment consumer markets and develop individual retail concepts and products for each.

Williams-Sonoma currently operates 579 stores under five different banners and a further in North America. Four of these concepts – the namesake Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids and West Elm – are to open cheek-by-jowl in the forthcoming Bondi Junction space.

While Williams-Sonoma itself sells upscale kitchenware, the other three sell furnishings to customers in different life phases. West Elm is the smallest of the four with only 40 stores, but possibly the most interesting and instructive from the standpoint of a retailer case study.

Initially launched as a catalogue in 2002, the first West Elm store opened two years later in the d.u.m.b.o (‘down under the Manhattan Bridge’) neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York, where the local population included many aspirational, design-conscious, but not-quite-yet-affluent young professionals living in small walk-up apartments. The furniture was perfectly adapted to this lifestyle group – well designed, edgy, urban, compactly sized for small living spaces and priced accessibly for a professional household on the cusp of “making it” in New York without actually being there yet.

There’s a market for that in Australia’s biggest cities.

Williams-Sonoma will not open stores willy-nilly in Australia and it should not cause tremors among the existing home goods retailers in the market. But it will add design flair and choice for some underserved segments of Australian consumers.

And for entrepreneurs who want to understand how to grow a world-class specialty retail business – this is a great case study.

Michael Baker is principal of Baker Consulting and can be reached at [email protected]南京夜网 and www.mbaker-retail南京夜网.

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Gillard’s $4 billion dental fix

The $4 billion dental health package will begin in 2014.The federal government will pour $4 billion into a dental package to provide millions of children and millions of adults on low incomes or in rural areas access to government-subsidised dental care.
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Health Minister Tanya Plibersek this morning announced that more than three million children would be eligible for the scheme, which will begin in 2014.

For adults on low incomes, $1.3 billion to fund an additional 1.4 million services will be available in the six-year package.

The changes have been made possible with the support of the Greens, who have insisted on big expansion as grounds for axing the current Medicare chronic disease dental scheme costing about $1 billion a year.

The funding comes on top of the $515 million announced in the 2012-13 budget.

”Labor believes we have a responsibility to ensure Australians who are least able to afford to go the dentist, and particularly children, should be given access to government-subsidised oral health care,” Ms Plibersek said.

Greens health spokesman Richard Di Natale flanked Ms Plibersek when she made the announcement in Sydney.

Ms Plibersek said the ‘‘unprecedented’’ package would tackle increasingly poor dental health among low-income people.

Eligible children would be able to get basic dental treatment capped at $1000 a child over two years to address dental decay, which, she said, had been increasing since the 1990s in Australia.

The package includes $2.7 billion for the treatment of children.

“While Medicare and free hospital care have been a basic right for Australians for decades, millions of people in this country still go without adequate dental care,” Ms Plibersek said.

“Labor believes we have a responsibility to ensure Australians who are least able to afford to go the dentist, and particularly children, should be given access to government-subsidised oral health care.”

The government would also provide $1.3 billion to states and territories for expanded dental services for low-income adults but the funding would depend on them at least maintaining current levels of dental services.

There would also be $225 million for dental infrastructure and workforce expansion in outer metropolitan and regional and rural areas.

Ms Plibersek said the public dental scheme would now be able to focus on prevention measures.

‘‘Many more low-income Australians will be able to get not just crisis treatment, when their teeth are falling out or gums abscessing, but actually moving back to a period … of prevention and early intervention,’’ she said.

‘‘The investment today will bear rewards in 10, 20, 30 years’ time.’’

Senator Di Natale said for a wealthy country, Australians had poor oral health. ‘‘Poor oral health leads to a range of complications … one in 10 visits to the GP are because people can’t afford to see a dentist,’’ he said.

Ms Plibersek confirmed the government would close the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, set up by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott when he was health minister under the Howard government.

‘‘It’s been one of the most widely misused schemes ever designed in our public health system,’’ she said. ‘‘I’m very pleased to see the back of it.’’

The scheme was initially estimated by the Howard government to cost $90 million a year, but massive over-servicing and rorting had led to it costing $80 million a month, Ms Plibersek said.

The Medicare teen dental scheme would also be closed and replaced by the broader scheme for children aged up to 18.

Ms Plibersek said the 2012/13 budget allocation of just more than $500 million would be spent first, before the children’s scheme started from January 1, 2014 and the adult scheme from July 2014.

Ms Plibersek said the changes would need new legislation but would be brought to parliament as a change of regulation, which had the backing of the Australian Greens.

Asked where the funding would come from, she said the government would find savings in the budget which would be outlined in the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook later this year.

‘‘We have a very good record of finding savings in the budget,’’ she said. ‘‘We found $30 billion of savings in the last one.’’

The government remained committed to delivering a surplus budget in 2012/13, she said.

Ms Plibersek predicted Mr Abbott would say no to Labor’s dental reform ‘‘like he says no to everything’’.

She said there were capacity restraints in the current system and that was why the reforms would come into effect in 2014.

‘‘There’s some parts of the country where you can’t find a chair and there’s some parts of the country where you can find a chair but not a dentist,’’ she said, adding it would take time to improve access to services.

‘‘This is a bedrock scheme. It can be built up over time.’’

with AAP

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Saving my Mac from Flash

It’s time to wrestle back control of my Mac.Adobe’s Flash is one of those technologies you either love or hate. Personally I think Flash still has its place for internet video and other rich content, even though HTML5 is slowly killing it. My main gripe with Flash is that it’s such a resource pig running on a Mac, especially an older Mac relying on Intel graphics rather than the new NVIDIA graphics.Chrome is my browser of choice on Mac and Windows, in part because it features its own task manager and runs each tab and plugin as a separate process. If you’re running Chrome, it’s worth checking your plugin list to see how many versions of Flash are listed (type chrome://plugins into the URL bar). Click “Details” on the right and your full list of plugins will expand. Scroll down to Flash. If you find more than one version installed, try disabling all but the most recent version. The 11.4 update has just been released. If you find more than one copy of the latest version, such as one stored in /Library and another in /Applications, try disabling one or the other to see if the situation improves.One of the problems with the Flash plugin is that it doesn’t always give resources back after it’s finished with them. So if you’ve been playing a Flash-intensive game like Farmville, even when you close Farmville your Mac can still be incredibly sluggish. The trick is to open up the Chrome task manager and manually kill the Shockwave Flash plugin. It’s an effective solution but not very elegant.Thankfully you’ll find an elegant option for killing the Shockwave Flash plugin in FlashFrozen, which is available from the Mac App store for 99 cents. It runs in the menu bar at the top of your screen, monitoring the resources used by Shockwave Flash. You can set it to turn red when the Flash plugin hits a certain CPU usage. The simply click on the icon to kill the plugin.FlashFrozen has an auto-kill function which automatically kills the Flash plugin whenever it launches, although that’s probably not very practical. If you really want to kill off Flash but need more granular control, take a look at FlashBlock in the Chrome store. It blocks Flash content in web pages by default, but you can still click on the ones you want to watch. You can also whitelist the sites on which you always want Flash to run, for example youtube南京夜网 is whitelisted by default.It’s still hard to get by without Flash on your Mac, but thankfully you can take back control and stop it crippling your computer. Do you have trouble with Flash or other plugins crippling your computer?
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Steak and peanut butter: the Liz Taylor diet

High fat diet … famously curvaceous Elizabeth Taylor stars in 1959 film Suddenly Last Summer.An effective diet entails a balanced intake and plenty of exercise, right?
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Not exactly, if you follow the dietary advice of Elizabeth Taylor.

We’ve heard our fair share of questionable dietary tips – not from least Karl Lagerfeld, who champions the highly dubious nutritional content of Diet Coke as key to slimming down from fashion heavyweight to fashion’s dahling.

He’s not alone. Who can forget the baby food diet (possibly not you, Jennifer Aniston), or those who are said to order water and Red Bull in place of a meal (we’re looking at you, Paris Hilton), or those who favour ADD drug Adderall (Britney Spears, that was once you, we hear)? There are those who have experimented with laxatives and, of course, those who resort to a surgeon’s scalpel to shift a few pounds.

Grapefruit diets – à la Kylie Minogue – may be less terrifying, but watching calories is nothing new. Nietzsche and Henry James were strict weightwatchers, while the Huffington Post reports that Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson were ahead of their time in another way, choosing a vegetarian diet in days when meat was all but obligatory.

Reportedly a proponent if the distinctly unappealing steak-and-peanut butter sandwich, Taylor doled out some eyebrow-raising weight-loss tips, pushing a high saturated fat diet that has well and truly fallen by the wayside with current nutritionists (and anathema, surely, to those who criticise the Atkins diet).

What a difference 23 years makes – along with her take on steak, the Cleopatra actress mixed cottage cheese with sour cream and advised nothing but plain toast for breakfast in her 1987 diet book, Elizabeth Takes Off.

Not that the actress didn’t have a good innings – she died in 2011 at the age of 79.

We may be better off taking a leaf from Audrey Hepburn’s lifestyle. According to Pamela Keogh’s What Would Audrey Do?, she preferred organic produce and the odd plate of pasta, treating herself to a square of dark cooking chocolate in the afternoons. She drank wine, but was partial to the “occasional Scotch”, said the Daily Mail.

There seems however, a notable lack of protein on the Hepburn table – and the fashion icon never took exercise, instead staying active by way of her daily routines, walking wherever she could.

Lagerfeld may agree with her mores – he dodges exercise, fearing that it stimulates appetite and weight gain.

Protein was high in Marilyn Monroe’s diet. In 1952, she told Pageant magazine that she drinks a glass of warm milk with two raw eggs stirred into it for breakfast. As rich in some nutrients as it may be, the Huffington Post points out the meal has high cholesterol and at risk of contamination – but then, the star herself admitted that she had been told her eating habits were “absolutely bizarre”.

Less unorthodox, though certainly ahead of her time was the admission that the blonde bombshell exercised with weights, taking care of her very best assets.

Like Garbo, the star would undoubtedly have been influenced in some way by Hollywood diet maven Gayelord Hauser, who shared his dietary tips with stars of the silver screen after moving to Hollywood in 1927. Sanguine and down-to-earth, Hauser’s fruit, vegetable, broth and herb-heavy food tips make many a contemporary diet seem more faddish than ever.

For some stars of the 1950s, enviable figures went beyond food. According to the LA Times, Maria Callas, the troubled soprano, took an alarming route, injecting iodine into her lymph system to help her lose weight.

Spin the years back further and Lord Byron, as dashing and devilish as he may have been, had a “morbid propensity to fatten”. According to the BBC, the Don Juan writer subsisted on “biscuits and soda water or potatoes drenched in vinegar” while at Cambridge University, where he wore woollen layers to help shed pounds. He smoked cigars to supress appetite and was seen as a bad influence on the impressionable youths of circa 1818.

The poet, who died aged 36 in 1824, was in good company. One of the very first diet books was Brillat-Savarin’s Physiology of Taste, written in 1825 – making the odd jar of baby food ingested by a 2012 A-lister seem as old hat as it is plain unappetising.

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Lend Lease unit wins rail link contract

Infrastructure and construction group Lend Lease’s subsidiary Baulderstone has won the contract to manage the early works component of the North West Rail Link. The contract is estimated to be worth $70 million.
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The long-anticipated project is scheduled to deliver a new 36 kilometre long rapid transit rail link between Chatswood on Sydney’s north shore and the growing Hill’s district in the North West of Sydney.

Under the contract, Baulderstone will work on the relocation of services and utilities; site readiness and demolition works; and the provision of HV electrical supply for the main works.

In a statement today Baulderstone’s NSW general manager, Frank Lorenzetto, said completion of early works is due in mid-2014.

The win comes a day before Lend Lease reports its 2012 full year profit, which will be a welcome distraction from the recent asbestos concerns at its $6 billion Barangaroo South project.

Last week Lend Lease revealed that small pieces of fibro cement material containing bonded asbestos have been found at Port Kembla.

Andrew Wilson, the managing director of Barangaroo South said the group had correctly followed all agreed procedures to spot and remove fibro from the Barangaroo South excavated material, including the additional testing and air monitoring measures.

“There has been no air borne asbestos identified,” Mr Wilson said.

In the results tomorrow, analyts at JP Morgan are forecasting Lend Lease to report a net profit after tax of $487 million, up 27 per cent on the $383.6 million in the previous corresponding period.

“Lend Lease continues to offers good risk adjusted value and leverage into a robust medium term earnings outlook with a number of near term positive catalysts, such as the Valemus business and the mixed use development pipeline),” the brokers say.

The chief executive of Lend Lease, Steve McCann has consistently said that the group will focus on expanding its global infrastructure and development business in the future. That will see it in partnerships with public and private groups.

The results will also include an update on the future of the athlete’s village that was the focus of the recent London 2012 Olympic Games, which will be converted into one of the largest mixed use residential and retail areas in Britain.

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Ben, don’t do it, step away from QE3

As regularly as swallows return to Capistrano and hurricanes hit the Gulf coast, post-GFC markets get all a-flutter or at least windy about any suggestion of the US Federal Reserve chairman cranking up the printing presses again.
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And that’s allegedly an excuse for markets nervously doing little ahead of a central bankers’ gabfest in Wyoming on Friday night.

Despite all the wind and flutters, here’s trusting that Ben Bernanke doesn’t feed the habit: Ben, step away from QE3, you know it wouldn’t help.

Odds are that Bernanke’s increasingly-awaited speech at Jackson Hole will be more of the recent same: a promise of being ready to act if action is required, but nothing concrete, leaving the possibility of another round of quantitative easing blowing in the breeze.

The short-term danger of that is a knee-jerk reaction of disappointment that will irrationally ripple through the world’s markets. (“The Fed failed to trash the greenback – quick, sell Telstra and Woolworths.”)

In the medium term, failing to be blunt with the American public about the diminishing returns from QE leaves markets with their sugar addiction intact and American politicians continuing to hide from their looming crisis in the belief that the Fed will somehow muddle through and make it all right. The great force of American democracy can get back to focussing on the big issues: the Romneys buying 100-roll packs of Costco toilet paper and Obama hiding his past as a member of the Mujahedeen.

Gold speculators

Some stronger language from the Bernanke, pointing out that (a) QE3 wouldn’t do much to help anyone right now except gold speculators and (b) the US doesn’t really need QE3 anyway, might just help turn attention back to the political paralysis that continues to loom as the biggest problem for the world’s biggest economy.

Sure, the central bank can always apply more stimulation, but at present US levels, it’s just pushing harder on the piece of string. To the extent that the Fed has some ammunition left, best to wait in case it’s really needed, when it’s not just the whites of the enemy’s eyes but the pulsing blood vessels therein that can be distinguished.

With distractions ranging from encircling China to hurricanes to loopy Senators imagining “genuine” rape, the one that Washington doesn’t seem to be concentrating on is how to avoid crashing over the planned fiscal cliff that will send the country into recession next year.

It is such an extraordinary situation that it engenders disbelief. Surely it’s more likely that Romney is African American and Obama a Mormon than the Republicans and Democrats have combined to program another recession. ‘Fraid not.

They need to be told, Ben. When you deliver your much anticipated speech this Friday in an out-of-season ski resort in the middle of American nowhere, please set them straight. Put the responsibility for America’s recovery back where it belongs: in the hands of the (unfortunately motley) crew that must intelligently ditch tax lurks and surgically cut structurally unsustainable spending. Continuing to debase the American dollar won’t really help.

Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Abbott brushes off Rudd’s ‘entirely beatable’ gibe

Kevin Rudd said Tony Abbott had neither the temperament nor the policies to be PM.Kevin Rudd says Tony Abbott is “entirely beatable” at the next federal election, but the Opposition Leader has dismissed the former prime minister’s assessment, saying Mr Rudd is only having a “look-at-me moment”.
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Yesterday, Mr Rudd took the opportunity to attack Mr Abbott’s credentials while launching a biography of Gough Whitlam.

Mr Rudd said Mr Abbott was “entirely beatable at the next election because, increasingly, the Australian people see what it may mean to take a conservative leader such as him on trust”.

The member for Griffith also said Mr Abbott was “the most extreme right-wing leader in his party’s history”, with neither the temperament nor the policies to be prime minister.

According to the latest Fairfax/Nielsen poll, the Coalition stands to win the next election in a landslide, with a two-party-preferred lead of 54 per cent to 46 per cent.

Today in Toowoomba, Mr Abbott brushed away Mr Rudd’s barbs.

“Look, Kevin Rudd’s just having a ‘look at me’ moment,” Mr Abbott said.

He said Mr Rudd was worried Prime Minister Julia Gillard might try to go to the polls early (thereby denying Mr Rudd another chance to challenge for the Labor leadership).

“I think Kevin Rudd appreciates that Julia Gillard is trying to clear the decks,” Mr Abbott said. “She’s trying to clear up all the messes that she’s got on her plate – not succeeding, I hasten to add.”

As Health Minister Tanya Plibersek announced a $4 billion dental scheme this morning, Mr Abbott also said the government had given up on delivering a surplus.

Listing immigration cost blowouts and the Gonski recommendations on school funding as well as the dental reforms, he said Labor was spending like a “proverbial drunken sailor.”

With Phillip Coorey

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Tinkler spends big on Maui pad

Land title records show the assessed value of the property is $US8.6 million.If all else fails for coal baron Nathan Tinkler, at least there will be the pad in Maui.
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As revealed by BusinessDay, one of Mr Tinkler’s private companies has bought a $US15 million mansion in the exclusive Makena district on the Hawaiian island.

The purchase was made by Queen St Property Holdings last November, just weeks after a major refinancing by Mr Tinkler consolidated most of his personal debts with Singapore-based Noonday, an arm of long-term backers Farallon Capital.

On a hill looking out over the Pacific ocean, the 641 square metre stucco home on 12,500 square metres of land has six bedrooms, six bathrooms and a pool and is in the gated “Keauhou” subdivision of Makena, which local real estate agent Peter Gelsey described as the most expensive area on Maui.

While there there are approximately 50 homes right on the ocean at Makena, sometimes with sandy beachfront, that can sell as high as $US27 million, Mr Gelsey said the Keauhou subdivision was “across street from ocean”.

But Mr Gelsey, who specialises in the Wailea-Makena district, said that historical sales in the Keauhou subdivision have been typically in the $US6-8 million range.

“It appears Mr Tinkler paid more than double the typical rate for comparable properties in this luxury neighbourhood.”

Mr Gelsey said it was odd that such a huge premium was paid in what is still a tenuous recovery from the 2007-2009 downturn, which “decimated property values throughout the Hawaii region”.

Land title records show the assessed value of the property is $US8.6 million and loan documents show Queen St borrowed against the property in March, taking out a $US7 million mortgage from New York-based Wolters Kluwer Financial Services.

Built in 2004, Mr Gelsey said the home was “basically in brand-new condition with beautiful finishes and stonework throughout the house”.

Last week Mr Tinkler failed in an audacious $5.3 billion bid to privatise Whitehaven Coal, which merged with his unlisted Boardwalk Resources and listed Aston Resources only three months ago. There has been speculation Mr Tinkler, who is believed to have maximum liabilities of up to $638 million, is under financial pressure over the falling value of his 21 per cent stake in Whitehaven, whose shares have fallen about 40 per cent since the merger.

Earlier this month, BusinessDay reported Mr Tinkler had tried and failed to sell his Patinack Farm horseracing stud and faced allegations of unpaid super from employees.

A spokesman, who said Mr Tinkler did not face a margin call, has confirmed the Maui purchase but did not comment on Mr Tinkler’s plans for the property this morning.

In June, BusinessDay revealed Mr Tinkler and his family were relocating to Singapore, and there has since been speculation he may have bought into the exclusive Sentosa Cove condominium project.

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Sweetened Clearview bid a winner for Weiss

It’s been a long time between drinks for veteran corporate raider Gary Weiss but the champagne corks no doubt will be popping tonight.
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Later today Weiss is expected to be crowned chairman of financial services and wealth management group Clearview after a revised offer from the private equity-led consortium Crescent.

The new offer is expected to deliver 20 per cent more than the initial 50 cents a share offer last July, with an increased cash component and extra dividends that will lift the bid to around 59 cents.

Weiss is understood to have been shopping the deal around for about a year, ever since he parted ways with GPG, the Ron Brierley-led corporate investment firm he ran for two decades.

GPG has been in wind-down mode ever since, with a program to sell all its assets including its stake in Clearview.Weiss’s other interest, property group Ariadne, also has an interest in Clearview.

Crescent is an Australian-based private equity firm run by Michael Alscher and the consortium includes Investec, which is providing debt and equity, along with some Macquarie Group funds.

Last year, Weiss unsuccessfully attempted to put together a similar consortium to take out Perpetual as investor unease over the funds management group saw its share price slide following the departure of long standing stock picker John Sevior.

GPG meanwhile has hit further turbulence. Its biggest investment, thread maker Coats, has suffered from the global economic slowdown  and was hit with a substantial fine that pushed GPG into the red for the six months to June 30.

This morning it reported a net loss of $NZ70 million ($54.3 million), compared with a previous corresponding net profit of $NZ25 million.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Spring’s almost sprung but a cold blast awaits

Don’t be fooled … It might be nice now, but there is a blast from the past coming.Flowers are blossoming, birds are chirping, spring is in the air. Or is it?
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Just about, says Phil King, senior meteorologist at the Bureau of Meteorology. “The last couple of weeks we’ve really been seeing spring-type weather with temperatures getting up towards 20 degrees,” he said.

Today is a case in point, exceeding the expected top of 18 and peaking at 20.9 degrees, nearly five degrees above the August average.

It won’t stick around for long, though, with a front expected to move across the state overnight and tomorrow morning, bringing scattered showers, hail and thunder. Snow is a possibility in the Dandenongs and the Grampians.

The temperature is expected to plunge to just 13 degrees tomorrow, with more wild weather predicted for Friday, with a top of 15 degrees. Showers will ease on Saturday, with the temperature expected to peak at about 16 degrees.

A similar pattern is predicted for next week. By Sunday, the skies will clear, with an expected top of 19, and a sunny top of 21 is predicted for Monday. Showers will signal a return to cooler weather on Tuesday. “By next Wednesday or Thursday we’re expecting another series of cold fronts to move across the state and move back into wintry conditions,” says King.

This kind of to-ing and fro-ing is typical for this time of year, Mr King said. “We’re really settling back into a springtime pattern now, with two or three nice days with mild temperatures and one or two wintry days and a quick transition back to those better days,” he says.

The outlook is good on the snowfields this weekend too. “Buller has fantastic cover and they’re going to get fresh snow for Thursday and Friday,” Mr King said. Falls Creek, in the state’s north-east, has over two metres of snow on some of its slopes. A rapid clearance and sunshine on Saturday and Sunday spells near perfect conditions in alpine areas this weekend, a pattern that will likely be repeated in time for next weekend. “In spring it’s usually a significant rain event that spells the end of the Alps for the season and at this stage we’re not forecasting that,” Mr King said.

For many of us, spring can’t come soon enough, after enduring what has seemed like a bitterly cold winter. It actually wasn’t too bad, Mr King said. “The temperatures were close to average … But when we get an average winter temperature, it feels pretty cold.” Rainfall, which has been above average, probably hasn’t helped.

The good news is that spring is well and truly here. “The flowers are coming out and you can hear the birds,” he said. “Nature tells you when spring arrives, and it’s arrived.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Skinned labrador’s death baffles investigators

The owner of a labrador that was skinned and mutilated in a Mornington Peninsula backyard this week says he is considering moving home after his pet’s horrific death.
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Mystery still surrounds the exact circumstances of the animal’s death in the backyard of a home in Salmon Street, Hastings on Sunday night.

Michael said his pet labrador Pepper, who was 17 years old, was still wearing a winter dog coat it had earlier been dressed in when his wife discovered its lifeless body in the backyard about 7.30pm on Sunday.

However on closer inspection they discovered a large rectangular section of skin was missing from the dog’s back, and the dog’s ears had been cut off.

The missing skin was located beneath the velcro-fastened coat, and Michael said a veterinarian who conducted an autopsy on the dog said a sharp object had been used to cut off the skin.

“There were not puncture marks or tearing that you’d expect with an animal and she had a winter coat because she’s very old, and it was under the coat and the coat was in perfect condition,” Michael told radio station 3AW, saying he believed someone had removed the coat and skinned the animal before putting the coat back on again.

However police are not convinced that a crime was committed.

Leading Senior Constable Nick Sweetman said another vet who examined the dog said it was possible another animal had ripped off the skin.

“We’ve thrown lots of theories around the office and we’re unable to establish at this stage that a crime has actually been committed,” he told the radio station.

“It’s certainly bizarre circumstances, but we have differing opinions by two vets as to how the skin may have been removed.

“They certainly concur that the skin was removed post-mortem, so the dog was already dead, as was one of the ears and damage to another ear. We’re at a quandary as to why or how that skin has been removed.”

Michael said his wife had let their three dogs into the backyard about 6pm on Sunday, before setting out the animals’ food at 7.30pm. When Pepper, a rescue dog, did not turn up for her food she went to investigate and discovered the body near the fence. One of the other dogs also suffered a small cut, but it was unclear if this was connected.

Michael believed Pepper’s skin was too perfectly cut to have been removed by another animal.

“It’s two straight lines, a rectangle. Both ears are cut at about the same height. Dogs don’t do that,” he said.

Michael said his family had never received threats before, however his neighbours in Hastings had, and their adjoining fence had been burnt about a week ago.

He said he was now considering moving from the area.

“For such an old dog you expect it to die, but you don’t expect it to die like that,” Michael said.

Police have urged anyone with information about the dog’s death, or anyone with reports of similar animal cruelty in the area, to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or visit www.crimestoppers南京夜网.au.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Bad sports: Corporate Australia snubs our Paralympians 

BIG business continues to shunAustralia’s Paralympians, donating just a fraction of what they giveable-bodied athletes.
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The nation’s Paralympicmovement has attracted just $6 million in sponsorship over the past four years,forcing athletes to train and compete on a shoestring budget. Some have evenhad requests for a free pair of running shoes rejected.

In contrast, corporateAustralia backed the Olympic campaign to the tune of $36 million and showered dozensof prominent Olympians with lucrative endorsement deals.

In a frank concession, AustralianParalympic Committee (APC) commercial general manager Ian Laing said the organisationshared some blame because it had traditionally been too slow chasing thecorporate dollar.

“Australia is a tough market…it’s a sports-mad country, which is fantastic, but the downside is there is aninsane amount of competition for sponsorship and it’s up to us to really findour place in that landscape,” said Mr Laing, who joined the APC late last year.

“The fact is we just didn’tstart discussions early enough and it’s clear we really need to be engagedearly. We can’t just pop up a year or two before the next Games and say ‘Hi, rememberus? Please jump on board’.

“Our message to the corporateworld of Australia is ‘we can work with you’ but we’ve historically not beengreat at approaching them and that’s something we’re working really hard to do.”

Of the 41 companies thatdonated money or products to the 2012 Australian Olympic Committee, just fourhave gone on to support the Paralympic team.

Those that did not includegiants of Australia’s corporate sector such as McDonalds, Coca Cola, Coles andthe Commonwealth Bank.

The 161 members of thenation’s Paralympic team will compete in London with the formal backing of just14 companies.

The disparity has so riledthree members of the Australian Paralympic running team – Evan O’Hanlon, ScottReardon and Brad Scott – that they have pledged to cover up the logos ofnon-supportive sporting apparel firms on their running gear.

Mr Laing would not say whetherthe APC supported the protest.

“But having tried to help someof the athletes even get a free pair of running shoes, I do find itdisappointing that defending champions couldn’t get some support from majorbrands,” he said.

Professor Pascale Quester, amarketing and sponsorship expert at the University of Adelaide, said businessdid not appreciate the commercial benefits that flow from an association withParalympians.

“It is a very good opportunityfor these multinational companies to demonstrate they care, they are not bigbastard corporates and that they are there to help the more disadvantaged,” shesaid.

“Paralympians have struggled;their sense of victory is greater than Olympians and there is a real poignancyto that that could be leveraged beautifully by sponsors.”

Mr Laing said the APC wouldcontinue discussions with potential partners once the London Games we complete,with the intention of signing them up for the next four years.

To complicate matters, the APCis prohibited from signing sponsorship agreements with competitors of exclusiveInternational Olympic Committee (IOC) partners.

Officials estimate the London ParalympicGames will reach a global audience of about 3.8 billion people and be broadcastlive in 80 countries.

Commercialsponsors and suppliers of the Australian Paralympic Committee:

Telstra, Toyota,Qantas, Media Monitors, Calyton Utz, 2XU, Swisse, Allianz, Ernst and Young,Solitaire, Speedo, R.M. Williams, Scody, Goodman.

Commercialsponsors and suppliers of the Australian Olympic Committee:

Coca Cola, Acer,Atos, Dow, GE, McDonalds, Omega, Panasonic, P&G, Samsung, Visa, Adidas,AMP, Australia Post, Cadbury, Coles, Commonwealth Bank, CoSport, Fitness First,Kraft Foods, Mitsubishi Motors, Qantas, Rio Tinto, Speedo ,Swisse, Telstra,Accor, Adecco Group, ANL, Athlegen, Beiersdorf, Getty Images, HamiltonLaboratories, Karbon Sports, Media Monitors, RogenSi, Shop Supplies,Sportscraft, Valley, Westfield, XTM.

Slow off the mark: Corporate Australia offers little financial support to our Paralympians