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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2017 set to be costliest year: insurer QBE

Insurance giant QBE is increasing the amount of money it puts aside for natural disasters as 2017 shapes as the most costly year for the global insurance sector.

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QBE says it is increasing its 2017 large individual risk and catastrophe claims allowance to $US1.75 billion following hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and parts of the US, and Mexico’s earthquakes.

“Given catastrophe losses to date, 2017 will likely prove to be the costliest year in the history of the global insurance industry,” the company said in a statement.

Damage costs from cyclone Debbie in Australia, combined with the latest natural disasters overseasm have all impacted on QBE’s businesses, the company said.

Despite the uncertainty around the cost of the hurricanes and earthquakes, QBE said it had increased its claims allowance which would mean a pre-tax hit to earnings of about $US600 million.

Chief executive John Neal said the catastrophic events over the past month alone had caused substantial and widespread property and infrastructure damage.

“While it is too early to speculate how much reinsurance and primary insurance pricing will rise as a result of the recent catastrophe experience, QBE is well placed to benefit from price rises with much of our reinsurance programs already purchased for 2018,” he said.

The total net cost of large individual risk and catastrophe claims was $US1.056 billion in 2015/16, and $US1.067 billion in the year before that.

Shares in QBE dropped 36 cents, or 3.5 per cent, to a 10 month low of $9.82.

Las Vegas mass shooting: Donald Trump silent on gun control

Delivering televised remarks, Trump tried to offer consolation and called for unity – an act that has become a grim rite of passage for modern US presidents.

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Barack Obama wept as he tried to soothe the nation after the 2012 Sandy Hook primary school shooting, George W. Bush told Americans that the “nation grieves” after a similar outrage at Virginia Tech university.

Trump ordered that flags be flown at half-staff until sunset Friday, offered prayers for the victims and announced he would visit Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Later, he led White House staff on the South Lawn for a moment of silence.

“In moments of tragedy and horror, America comes together as one –  and it always has,” Trump said.

Police have identified the gunman behind the Sunday night massacre – which injured more than 500 people – as a 64-year-old former accountant named Stephen Craig Paddock, who killed himself before a SWAT team breached his 32nd floor hotel room.

Investigators recovered at least 16 guns, including assault rifles, from Paddock’s room at the Mandalay Bay, and another 18 firearms along with bomb-making materials at one of his two homes.

Officials have reacted cautiously to an Islamic State group claim that Paddock was a “soldier of the caliphate” but while his motive remained unclear, the shooting instantly rekindled the divisive national debate on gun control.

0:00 Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly push congress on gun violence Share Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly push congress on gun violence

‘Right to bear arms’

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that now was not the time for politics, a tactic frequently used by gun advocates to diffuse public outrage.

“There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country,” said Sanders.

Trump insisted, “our unity cannot be shattered by evil. Our bonds cannot be broken by violence.”

But in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, that unity was difficult to find.

Trump’s vanquished election rival Hillary Clinton hit out at the gun manufacturers lobby – the National Rifle Association –  which has backed a congressional push to make it easier to obtain a gun silencer.

0:00 Dramatic footage of Las Vegas shooting Share Dramatic footage of Las Vegas shooting

“The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots. Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer,” tweeted Clinton, whose Democratic Party has tried in vain to introduce lasting gun control measures.

“Our grief isn’t enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again.”

There have already been over 270 mass shootings in the United States this year alone, according to 南京桑拿,massshootingtracker南京楼凤,, although the exact definition is contested.

Gun violence accounts for more than 33,000 deaths each year in the United States, and according to the latest Gallup poll, 55 percent of American voters would like to see stricter rules for buying guns.

But the issue is highly sensitive and Trump’s own views have changed markedly over his years in public life.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, where 20 six and seven-year old children and six adults were mowed down by a disturbed 20-year-old, Trump appeared to favor stricter rules.

Back then, his predecessor Obama – who often called Sandy Hook the worst moment of his eight year presidency – called for the deadlock to be broken and for Congress to act.

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At that time Trump tweeted: “President Obama spoke for me and every American in his remarks in #Newtown Connecticut.”  

But since then Trump – whose White House bid was endorsed by the NRA – has positioned himself as a defender of the constitutional “right to keep and bear arms.”

The NRA donated an estimated $30 million to Trump’s campaign in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

US Senator Chris Murphy, who was the congressman for Sandy Hook, renewed a call for action in the wake of the Las Vegas attack.

“This must stop. It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic,” he said.

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RBA cautiously upbeat, holds rates steady

An upswing in non-mining investment and a healthy infrastructure pipeline has cheered the central bank, but it is still worried that housing debt is growing faster than wages.

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Announcing the official interest rate will remain on hold at 1.5 per cent, Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe said the economy will gradually grow over the coming year, and noted an improvement in non-mining investment.

“Over recent months there have been more consistent signs that non-mining business investment is picking up,” he said on Tuesday.

“A consolidation of this trend would be a welcome development.”

Dr Lowe said business conditions were good, and noted a large pipeline of infrastructure investment.

“Against this, slow growth in real wages and high levels of household debt are likely to constrain growth in household spending,” he said.

“Growth in housing debt has been outpacing the slow growth in household incomes for some time.”

Dr Lowe said growth in investor borrowing has slowed following the introduction of supervisory measures by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

He also noted there have been further signs of cooling property prices in Sydney.

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said the RBA appeared more confident about the investment outlook, and had noted that stronger employment should eventually drive wages growth.

But he said the bank also had to contend with the impact of a strong Australian dollar, an impending slowdown in housing construction, and low underlying inflation.

“The RBA and official interest rates remain stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Dr Oliver said.

“The next move in rates is likely to be up, but for now the downside risks are still significant and as such we remain of the view that it’s way too early to start raising rates just yet.”

Dr Lowe told federal parliament in August the next move in rates was likely to be up, but it would not come any time soon.

NAB chief markets economist Ivan Colhoun said there was nothing in Dr Lowe’s statement on Tuesday to suggest an early rate increase.

The Australian dollar dipped as low as 77.93 US cents following the rates announcement, the first time the local currency has dropped below 78 US cents since mid-July.

Vegas killer’s girlfriend sought: sheriff

A former Queensland resident who was reportedly the girlfriend of mass-murderer Stephen Paddock is the potential key to unlocking why he staged an horrific long-ranged sniper attack on a concert crowd from a high-rise Las Vegas casino.

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Marilou Danley was in Japan when Paddock filled his 32nd floor suite of the Mandalay Bay casino with 19 high-powered guns, including assault rifles with scopes, and fired on the crowd below, killing at least 59 concertgoers and injuring more than 500.

Paddock’s motive for the worst shooting spree in modern American history remains unclear, but authorities hope Ms Danley could have some answers.

Although Las Vegas police had said early on Monday Ms Danley was “no longer being sought out as a person of interest,” Sheriff Joseph Lombardo later said “We are continuing the investigation into that female.”

Authorities initially thought Ms Danley, 62, was in Las Vegas and released her driver’s license photo in the hope the public could help find her.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said US authorities contacted Australian officials to help locate her.

They eventually determined she was in Tokyo.

Born in the Phillippines, Ms Danley moved to Queensland where she married a local man and became an Australian citizen, living on the Gold Coast for around 10 years until the late 1980s. She is believed to have one sister still living in Australia.

Reports say she moved to the US 20 years ago, marrying Geary Danley from Arkansas.

She and Mr Danley reportedly divorced in 2015 and she was living with Paddock in Mesquite, Nevada, 130km from Las Vegas.

A raid on the home they shared discovered 23 additional firearms, explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

A stash of explosive ammonium nitrate was also found in Paddock’s car.

Sheriff Lombardo said authorities need to ask Ms Danley about the weapons.

“We are making arrangements to contact her upon her return,” he said.

The Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, a hotel and casino in Reno, said Ms Danley was a former employee.

“Ms Danley left employment with Atlantis several years ago,” Atlantis told AAP in a statement.

“We are cooperating with law enforcement and support their efforts to investigate and address this tragedy.”

On her Linkedin profile Ms Danley was listed as a high-limit hostess at the Atlantis.

Ms Danley’s social media sites showed she was a regular world traveller.

On Facebook she also described herself as a “proud mom and grandma who lives life to the fullest”.

Authorities said Paddock, a 64-year-old gambler and real estate investor, had been in the high-floor two room suite in the Mandalay Bay since Thursday.

Authorities believe Paddock killed himself when a SWAT team blasted their way into the suite.

‘Hoping for the best’: Leveson inquest

Faye Leveson says she knows in her heart who is responsible for the death of her son Matthew, regardless of the outcome of a long-running inquest.

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A coroner on Tuesday heard final submissions at the Sydney inquest, which began in December 2015 and this year led to their discovery of Matthew Leveson’s remains.

Deputy State Coroner Elaine Truscott has now reserved her findings into the death, and the Levesons say they’re hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

“It’s upsetting, I know we’ll probably get an open finding, but … we’ve been knocked down that many times I’m not expecting things to go our way,” Ms Leveson told reporters outside Glebe Coroner’s Court.

“The main thing was that we did find Matt, we got him back.

“If we get an open finding, we’ll have to just live with that, but we know in our hearts who was responsible for it.”

Mr Leveson, 20, was last seen leaving Darlinghurst’s ARQ nightclub with his boyfriend, Michael Atkins, in September 2007.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Tim Game SC, on Tuesday told the inquest there was no compelling evidence that Mr Leveson was killed by Atkins before the older man buried his body in the Royal National Park.

The 54-year-old long denied any knowledge of Mr Leveson’s whereabouts, but this year he led police to his boyfriend’s remains after striking a deal to avoid contempt of court and perjury charges.

Police offered him protection from the charges, in exchange for leading them to the body, after he admitted to lying during the police investigation and while giving evidence to the inquest.

Mr Leveson’s parents believe Atkins killed their son, possibly by strangulation or smothering.

But Mr Game told the inquest on Tuesday there was “ultimately no reliable objective evidence” as to the manner and cause of Mr Leveson’s death, and submitted that the coroner should make an open finding.

He also said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to point to a second person being involved in the disposal of Mr Leveson’s body, despite evidence about how difficult it would have been for one person to carry him.

Atkins last year said he decided to bury Mr Leveson in bushland south of Sydney after finding him dead from a drug overdose the morning after they went to ARQ nightclub.

In a police statement, he claimed he was worried about his reputation and thought “the problem would all go away” if he buried the body.

“I thought I could bury the body and nobody would know. I thought it would make it all better,” he said last year.

Toyota rolls car manufacturing out of Vic

The pain from Toyota’s long-awaited Australian exit is forecast to stretch far beyond the car manufacturer’s 2600 out-of-work employees.

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After the last Camry rolled off the Altona North production line on Tuesday, a sprawling network of supply chain workers also prepared to embrace joblessness.

“All up today, there is about 6000 Victorians going to lose their jobs because Toyota is shutting down,” the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union’s Dave Smith told reporters.

Ballarat-based OzPress, for example, was “95 per cent Toyota”, owner Mark Dwyer said.

“We’ve gone from 30 people to five,” he told AAP.

“We’ll keep going in a small way and, hopefully, rebuild over time.”

Toyota’s departure marks the end of more than 90 years of Victorian car manufacturing, which began with Ford at Geelong in 1925.

The nation’s car manufacturing industry will reach the end of the road when Holden rolls out of Adelaide on October 20.

Newly unemployed Toyota workers are optimistic, but concerned about the future.

“A lot of us haven’t had a job interview here for 20-odd years. It’s changed since we came here, filled out a bit of paper and walked in the door and started the next day,” Matthew Kinson told reporters.

“My concern now is that the job market is casual. We’ve got it good here, we’ve got good terms and conditions and very good wages.”

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the car industry was a crucial part of the Australia’s advanced manufacturing industry and Toyota workers were “betrayed” by the federal government’s failure to value the sector.

“You can import a car, but you can’t import a generation of people of who have built up critical skills over a lifetime in manufacturing,” she said.

The AMWU said only about half of Ford’s workers – who lost their jobs when the manufacturer left Victoria a year ago – had moved into permanent, full-time work.

Toyota announced its departure from Australian car manufacturing in 2014, and says it has since put more than 2200 workers through a job skills program, which will continue for another six months.

About 260 workers previously indicated they would retire after Tuesday, while 130 were being deployed into other areas of the company.

“The company will continue to provide the Australian market with a diverse range of high-quality vehicles,” Toyota Australia president Dave Buttner said in a statement.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says the loss of the car industry “did not have to happen”, but the move was forced when the government stopped financially supporting car markers.

But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says car manufacturers were leaving in response to changing markets, not a lack of subsidies, valued at about $7 billion since 2001.

Victorian Industry Minister Wade Noonan says the state government has spent more than $100 million on targeted assistance programs for automotive workers.

Record rain heralds Qld storm season

Queenslanders are being urged to prepare for storm season after an intense cell brought record-breaking rain and a swathe of destruction to the city of Bundaberg.

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More than 340mm fell on the Wide Bay region on Monday, causing flash flooding and breaking a 64-year record by more than 60mm.

Residents described cyclone-like winds that downed trees and power lines, smashed windows and wrapped trampolines around power poles.

Acting Police, Fire and Emergency Services Minister Anthony Lynham said the devastating event had resembled a “mini-tornado” in some parts.

“Some of the damage is quite significant,” he said in Bundaberg on Tuesday, as the community rallied to clean up the area.

“I’m pleased to say there have been no injuries, but there has been three houses inundated and over 20 houses with minor damage.”

SES volunteers spent Monday night responding to almost 200 calls for help, while Queensland Fire and Emergency Services crews helped people who had lost their roofs.

Ergon worked to restore power to more than 4000 homes.

State disaster co-ordinator Peter Martin said Bundaberg residents also deserved “very special praise” for heeding the weather warnings.

Mr Martin said that was the reason there weren’t any deaths or more significant damage.

“No community can withstand over 300mm of rain in a very short period of time without suffering some impaction,” he said.

“We really need to be vigilant, we really need to be prepared and we really need to heed the warnings and the lessons.”

Mr Lynham urged people across Queensland to prepare themselves for the upcoming storm and cyclone season.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services chief superintendent Michelle Young also asked people in the Bundaberg area to stay off the roads while the clean-up continued.

“It’s just causing more problems,” she said.

Conditions eased across Wide Bay on Tuesday as the weather system moved off the coast, with less than 1mm of rain recorded at Bundaberg Airport by late afternoon.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Julian De Morton told AAP isolated showers and thunderstorms were expected to continue on Wednesday, but should ease from Thursday.

Falls of more than 250mm were recorded in communities between Bundaberg and Maryborough, while the system brought welcome falls to parts of the southeast.

The inland town of Roma also experienced minor flooding.

SA motor racing future around the bend

A new $110 million race track at Tailem Bend, east of Adelaide, will provide the perfect launching pad for local racing prospects, South Australian Supercars driver Nick Percat says.

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The Bend Motorsport Park will host its first Supercars event next August, doubling South Australia’s presence on the championship calendar.

Percat, forced to move to Melbourne to follow his racing dreams, says the state-of-the-art track will allow the next generation to cut their teeth just a short drive up the freeway.

“Now we have a facility where Supercars teams will be here and at the Adelaide 500, and you’ll be able to put yourself in front of them,” the Brad Jones racing driver said.

“There’s plenty of people who want to do it but we haven’t got the track, so this is amazing.”

Organisers have signed a three-year contract for the Super Sprint event to be run on the 4.9km circuit.

The race will feature two legs, one of 120km and one of 200km, and will be run in addition to the Adelaide 500 street race which traditionally opens the Supercars series.

“This will be a spectacular event that will showcase the Bend Motorsport Park to a huge national and international audience,” Jones said on Tuesday during a tour of the precinct.

“This track is completely different to the street circuit used in the Adelaide 500 and we’re confident that with its world-class design, the racing will be just as exciting and memorable for fans.”

As well as the Super Sprint circuit, the complex can also be configured for a longer 7.7km track and features a drag racing strip, a drift circuit and an off-road track.

A 110-room hotel will be built on pit lane, while caravan and camping facilities will be provided to cater for 10,000 people.

The park will begin hosting international events from January.

Sydney congestion tax won’t work: expert

Sydney’s traffic problems won’t be solved by an area-based congestion charge as traffic jams spread far beyond the CBD, a transport expert says.

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The cordon-based congestion tax proposed in Monday’s Grattan Institute report would charge drivers for entering the CBD and would only solve traffic jams within a small area, University of Sydney’s Professor Michiel Bliemer told AAP on Tuesday.

“It is clear that we need to change the way we pay for road use, but I do not think that a cordon-based charging scheme is the right solution for Sydney,” the transport planning and modelling professor said.

“It is only a local measure while congestion spreads far beyond the CBD.”

The report found that in Sydney, CBD commuters from Balgowlah in the north and Hurstville in the south could expect delays of about 15 minutes on an average morning, far longer than commuters from other parts of the city.

A congestion tax has been implemented in London, Stockholm and Singapore and has been suggested for Melbourne as well.

The fee would work like an e-tag with drivers charged as they pass into the congestion area during peak times.

But Prof Bliemer believes the city should consider a kilometre-based charging system which would replace existing registration fees and possibly road tolls.

Payments under such a system could be based on odometer readings similar to those in electricity and water bills, Prof Bliemer says.

“This would be a fair system that provides an incentive to drive less across the entire state,” he said.

Similar to the findings in the Grattan Institute report, Prof Bliemer insists something needs to be done soon to ease congestion in the city.

“A time and location-based congestion tax would make car drivers reconsider their options and provides an incentive to drive less, switch to public transport, switch to off-peak hours, or work from home,” he said.

The NSW government isn’t sold on the idea.

“This government will not be introducing a ‘congestion tax’,” acting roads minister Andrew Constance told AAP on Tuesday.

“Our targeted approach to encouraging people onto public transport has reduced the number of vehicles coming into the city by 11 per cent in the peak.”

Lever’s AFL trade preference ‘irrelevant’

Adelaide are set to play hardball with young gun Jake Lever after he nominated Melbourne as his preferred AFL trade destination.

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The 21-year-old has declared he wants to play for the Demons, who have reportedly offered him a five-year, multi-million dollar deal.

“I’ll be going back to Melbourne to be with my family and friends,” Lever told the Seven Network on Tuesday.

The key defender had been widely-expected to seek a return to Victoria after putting off contract talks earlier this year.

But his decision to nominate Melbourne has angered the Crows, who bluntly described his preference as “irrelevant” and would not rule out forcing him to take his chances in the pre-season draft.

“There’s 10 clubs in Victoria, so we’ll just negotiate with whoever’s going to give us the best value,” Adelaide football boss Brett Burton told reporters.

“As a footy club, we’re in a good position at the moment … we’ll take whatever measures are deemed necessary to do what’s best for the club.”

Burton said the Crows became aware Lever intended to leave in the weeks leading up to their shattering grand-final loss to Richmond.

He claimed Lever and his partner were happy with life in Adelaide and said the decision to reject a lucrative offer that would have placed him among the Crows’ top-earners was clearly “financially motivated”.

“We don’t think it’s fair on the rest of the playing group that we make him our highest-paid player,” Burton said.

“Right now, we’ve got a list that is evolving and we need to make decisions that are fair to the rest of the playing group so we can continue to improve.”

The Crows were expected to demand two first-round draft picks for Lever, who led the AFL for intercepts per game in 2017.

Such a trade would leave Adelaide in a strong position to make a fresh play for Carlton midfielder Bryce Gibbs.

Melbourne have pick No.10 at their disposal in this year’s draft but could be forced to also offer up a future first-round selection.

Burton confirmed that Collingwood had also spoken to Adelaide’s list management team about a potential deal for Lever.

Lever could nominate for the pre-season draft in the absence of a trade to Melbourne but would risk being snapped up by a team with a higher pick.