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.

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

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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Vanuatu volcano stabilises but still not safe for residents to return

The entire 11,000 population of Ambae, in the north of the Pacific archipelago, was ordered to leave last week after the Manaro Voui volcano rumbled to life and rained rock and ash on villages.

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New Zealand volcanologist Brad Scott is in Vanuatu and flew over the Ambae volcano on Monday  – one of three active in the area.  

He observed a small lava flow, up to 80 metres long, pouring into the lake surrounding the summit. 

While the level of activity has stabilised, it has not decreased either. 

“The eruption is not escalating and growing any more. The local government has taken a precautionary measure for public safety. How long the evacuation will last, unfortunately there is no way to tell,” Mr Scott said. 

RELATED STORY:Evacuation ahead of schedule

The evacuation to nearby islands was scheduled for completion by this Friday but the Red Cross said it was likely to wrap up on Wednesday.

It said villagers were exiting the island on a range of locally-commissioned boats – from barges carrying hundreds of people to smaller ferries shipping dozens at a time.

“You have got a huge range of boats that are transferring 11,000 people from Ambae to the three surrounding islands. For a country this size it is a very big operation,” Red Cross spokesman Joe Cropp said.

“It was orderly. People realised that they need to leave, there is a lot of patience among the community.”

Children walk onto a boat as they are evacuated from the Pacific island of Ambae, which is part of Vanuatu.AAP

Most of the island’s residents have been sheltering in evacuation centres since the volcano first sent up a plume of steam and ash about a week ago.

They are leaving from three coastal locations and the point on Ambae’s western edge had already completed its evacuation on Monday.

The Red Cross is delivering water to the island after ash from the volcano contaminated fresh supplies.

While an orderly evacuation was still a priority for those remaining, attention was now turning to the strained resources at the islands to which people were being relocated, Cropp said.

The relocation facilities on surrounding islands are “starting to handle” the situation, “but we need to step up quickly, we need to get the resources in to provide the shelter, water, food and sanitation that people need,” he added.

An Australian naval ship is expected to arrive on Wednesday, while New Zealand has sent a Hercules C-130 to airlift supplies into the area.

Vanuatu lies on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

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Watts hopeful of staying with Demons

A frustrated and disappointed Jack Watts remains hopeful he can continue with Melbourne next season.

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Demons coach Simon Goodwin has publicly and privately urged Watts to explore his options elsewhere after 153 games in nine seasons with the club.

Watts has struggled to live up to the expectations that came with being the No.1 pick at the 2008 draft, but produced his best season last year.

He signed a new three-year deal heading into the 2017 season but found himself on the outer with the new coach.

Citing inconsistencies in his application to training, Goodwin overlooked Watts for pre-season matches and dropped him late in the home-and-away season.

But the 26-year-old told reporters on Tuesday he is confident his best football is ahead of him and he hopes that will be with Melbourne.

“I see a really strong future for the Demons so it would be pretty disappointing if I have to miss out on that after everything we’ve gone through,” Watts said.

“Of course, I want to stay. We’ve had (trade) options over the past four or five years (but) that love for the club and love for the boys has kept me there.

“That hasn’t changed.

“Obviously I’m still contracted at Melbourne for the next two years … I love the club and I love the boys, so we’ll wait and see.

“I might still be there next year.”

Watts was tight-lipped on reports he has met with Port Adelaide and Sydney to discuss a potential move.

Goodwin has expressed frustration about the unchanged cycle of expectation and pressure on Watts and the club over the years as he’s struggled to get the best out of himself.

“That’s Goody’s opinion,” Watts said.

“I guess I found it hard to get that consistent sort of form (this year), especially when some key people at the club were thinking that, that’s their views and their attitude.

“I’m really confident with the footy I can play – that I was playing in the middle of this year.

“Seeing where the club is at the moment and where they can go … playing finals next year will be a real goal.

“It will be a shock to the system if I’m going to miss that.”

‘Enough is enough’: Guitarist at Las Vegas country festival backflips on gun control after mass shooting

Caleb Keeter, a lead guitarist in the Josh Abbott Band, said he was a proponent of the second amendment before the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas on October 1 that killed at least 59 people.

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Mr Keeter said he feared for his life all night and has changed his mind on gun control in the United States, claiming it was “out of hand”.

“I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was. We actually have members of our crew with [Concealed Handgun Licenses], and legal firearms on the bus,” Keeter tweeted.

“They were useless.”

pic南京夜生活,/0NFjHf3PW2

— Caleb Keeter (@Calebkeeter) October 2, 2017

Mr Keeter said his crew members were too scared to grab their guns for protection, out of fear the police might think they were the shooter.

The country star said he regrets his stubborness when it came to relaxed gun laws, finishing off his Tweet with a fervent call for strict gun control.

“Enough is enough,” he added.

0:00 Vegas Shooting: People flee as gunman opens fire Share Vegas Shooting: People flee as gunman opens fire

“Writing my parents and the love of my life a goodbye last night and a living will because I felt like I wasn’t going to live through the night was enough for me to realize that this is completely and totally out of hand.

“These rounds were just powerful enough that my crew guys just standing in close proximity of a victim shot by this f***ing coward received shrapnel wounds.

You are all absolutely correct. I saw this happening for years and did nothing. But I’d like to do what I can now. 南京桑拿,南京SPA,/5mYA7D90X3

— Caleb Keeter (@Calebkeeter) October 2, 2017

“We need gun control RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it. We are unbelievably fortunate to not be among the number of victims killed or seriously wounded by this maniac.”

The band released a statement on its Facebook page claiming everyone in the band and crew were safe following the mass shooting.

MORE NEWS:

‘We were very scared’: Australian Miss Universe finalist caught up in Las Vegas massacre

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Australia mourns with US over ‘shocking’ Las Vegas attack: Turnbull’Bullets flying everywhere’: Eyewitnesses describe Las Vegas carnageGiffords calls for stricter gun laws in wake of Las Vegas mass shootingWho is the Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock? Las Vegas gunman’s brother ‘dumbfounded”Vegas is strong’: Hundreds line up to donate blood after Las Vegas massacre 

Two young women from Darwin have been caught up in the deadliest mass shooting in US history.

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Sharon Kamber and her friend, Miss Universe NT finalist Artia Ratahi, were dining on the Las Vegas Strip close to the country music festival where a gunman shot dead at least 59 people on Sunday night.

The pair, both 21, had just ordered at the Outback Steakhouse, a five-minute drive from the Mandalay Bay hotel, when the restaurant went into lockdown.

“We were stuck in the restaurant for a good three hours, until about 2am,” Ms Kamber said.

“My friend was able to be a lot more calm than I was. I called my parents… half in tears, telling them I loved them.”

Darwin woman Sharon Kamber (R) and her friend, Miss Universe Australia 2017 Northern Territory finalist Artia Ratahi (AAP)Sharon Kamber

More than 527 people were injured in the shooting and Ms Kamber said at the time there were rumours of two more shooters in the area.

“They told us that nothing’s clear but we could leave at our own risk,” she said.

“We were very scared. It was hard not to break down.”

The two-minute walk back to her hotel was “horrifying”, with police lining the deserted strip every few metres.

“It was an eerie feeling – such a lively place was so dead.”

Miss Universe Australia 2017 Northern Territory finalist Artia Ratahi who has been caught up in the deadliest mass shooting in US historyAAP

The Northern Territory promotions worker said it was a “very American” way to end a six-month trip to the US, and she was happy to be flying home.

“You always see on the news that America has issues with their guns laws, it’s just crazy they’re not doing much about it,” Ms Kamber said.

“I wasn’t too surprised that something like this was happening, which is saddening to say.”

50 dead, hundreds injured

US officials reacted cautiously meanwhile to an IS claim that Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, had carried out Sunday night’s massacre on the Las Vegas Strip on behalf of the jihadist group.

Police said Paddock, a retired accountant with no criminal record, smashed windows in his 32nd floor hotel room shortly after 10:00 pm and trained bursts of automatic weapons fire on thousands of people attending a country music concert below.

Investigators recovered 23 guns, including assault rifles, from Paddock’s room at the Mandalay Bay hotel, and another 18 firearms along with bomb-making materials at one of his two homes.

Consular staff from across the US are helping in the search for any Australians caught up in the deadly Las Vegas mass shooting.

No Australians have so far been identified as dead or injured but Australian authorities are working with their Canadian and British counterparts and contacting hospitals.

“We’ve increased our consular staff in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas. We are sending staff from our Washington embassy, experienced consular staff,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told ABC radio on Tuesday.

This undated photo provided by Eric Paddock shows him (left) with his brother, Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock (right) (AAP)AAP

0:00 Police scanner of the moment officers raid shooters room in Mandalay Bay Share Police scanner of the moment officers raid shooters room in Mandalay Bay

President Donald Trump denounced what he called “an act of pure evil” and said he would visit Las Vegas on Wednesday.

But the White House said it would be “premature” to reopen the US debate on tighter gun controls in the wake of the shooting.

“A motive is yet to be determined and it would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don’t fully know all of the facts or what took place last night,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

0:00 ‘Act of pure evil’: Trump decries Vegas mass shooting Share ‘Act of pure evil’: Trump decries Vegas mass shooting

Broken windows are seen on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino after a lone gunman opened fired (Getty)Getty

Victorian mechanic admits stealing Ferrari

A luxury Melbourne car restorer has admitted stealing his long-time friend’s vintage Ferrari.

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Sandro Terzini, 48, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to theft of the 1970 Ferrari Daytona Coupe in 2013 from his friend of 20 years.

The County Court was told Terzini’s mate asked the motor mechanic to securely store the luxury car at his business, Terzini Motore, which restored and traded exotic cars.

But while the owner was overseas, Terzini went behind his back and sold it for $450,000, without telling him.

It was only 16 months later that the owner – who had still been paying insurance premiums for the vehicle – learned it had been sold.

Crown prosecutor Jonathan Manning said the owner initially asked Terzini to store the car at his Brighton business – after buying it from the UK for 150,000 British Pounds – as he had done with previous vehicles.

Four years later, he asked Terzini to find potential buyers for it.

But the owner had a change of heart and told Terzini he no longer wanted to sell the Italian marque, days before Terzini sold the vehicle for $450,000 without his consent, transferring $400,000 from his business to personal bank account.

The car has changed hands a further four times and is now in the UK, the court was told.

Mr Manning said the value of the theft and the deceit was significant.

“He obviously didn’t tell the victim what had happened,” the prosecutor said.

Defence barrister Samuel Tovey said at the time of the theft, his client’s life was spiralling downwards, with large debts, a marriage break up and heavy cocaine use.

He argued it wasn’t a crime motivated purely by greed and said it stood no chance of remaining undiscovered.

But Judge Rachelle Lewitan countered: “It’s a gross breach of trust, isn’t it?”

Terzini will be sentenced at a date to be fixed.

US body clock geneticists take 2017 Nobel Medicine Prize

The team’s work revealed the role of genes in setting the “circadian clock” which regulates sleep and eating patterns, hormones and body temperature, the Nobel committee said.

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“Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronised with the Earth’s revolutions.”

All life on Earth is tuned to the rotation of our planet. Scientists have long known that living organisms, including humans, have an internal timekeeper that helps them anticipate and adapt to the rhythm of the day.

Hall, 72, Rosbash, 73, and Young, 68, “were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings,” the jury said.

They identified genes that regulate the clock, and the mechanism by which light can synchronise it.

Rosbash told Swedish Radio he was rattled when the committee’s call woke him from his sleep at 5:10 am.

“I was called on the landline next to my bed which never rings unless someone has died or something of this magnitude happens,” he recounted. “I was breathless, both literally and figuratively. My wife said: ‘Please start to breathe’.”

Young told reporters in New York the prize “really did take me by surprise.”

“I really had trouble even getting my shoes on this morning. You know, I’d go and pick up the shoes and then I’d realise I needed socks and then I’d realise I needed to put my pants on first.”

Recommended reading’Every dimension of health’ 

A disrupted circadian clock is what causes jetlag — which happens when the internal clock and external environment move out of sync as people rapidly change time zones.

The clock also regulates sleep, which is critical for normal brain function. Circadian dysfunction has been linked to depression, bipolar disorder, cognitive function, poor memory formation and some neurological diseases.

Studies have indicated that a chronic misalignment between a person’s lifestyle and the circadian clock — when doing irregular shift work, for example — might be associated with an increased risk for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, metabolic disorders and inflammation.

Scientists are working hard on methods to alter the rhythm of errant clocks as a means to “improve human health,” the Nobel jury said.

Using the fruit fly as a model organism, this year’s laureates isolated a gene that controls the daily biological rhythm, called the period gene.

“They showed that this gene encodes a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night and is then degraded during the day,” the Nobel statement said.

“Subsequently they identified additional protein components of this machinery, exposing the mechanism governing the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell.”

The three scientists will share the prize of nine million Swedish kronor (about $1.1 million or 937,000 euros).

“Just about every facet of our body changes predictably over the course of the day and night and these changes are driven by this internal timing mechanism,” Michael Hastings of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge told AFP.

“Every dimension of our health, every dimension of our personality or reactions to medicines, our reactions to disease are variable and are on the very precise programme set by this internal body clock,” he said.

Next up: Waves or exoplanets? 

Rosbash, born in 1944 in Kansas City, Missouri, to parents who had fled Nazi Germany, received his doctoral degree in 1970 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has since 1974 been on faculty at Brandeis University, where he worked closely with Hall on his prize-winning research. 

Hall had originally planned to attend medical school when he entered Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1963, but halfway through his bachelor’s degree his curiosity for medicine was replaced by one for basic science. 

He went on to earn his doctoral degree in 1971 at the University of Washington, before joining Brandeis University in 1974. He is now retired.

Young received his doctoral degree at the University of Texas in Austin in 1975, and has been on faculty at Rockefeller University in New York since 1978.

On Tuesday, the physics prize laureates will be revealed, with the discoveries of gravitational waves and exoplanets both regularly mentioned as possible winners. 

The chemistry prize will be announced on Wednesday, the literature prize on Thursday and the peace prize on Friday. The economics prize will wrap things up on Monday, October 9.

Palaszczuk ‘chill’ on election speculation

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has poured cold water on election speculation, telling journalists to “chill out” about when the election will be held.

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Late last week many observers were tipping the election would be called on Tuesday, but polls showing the government losing ground slightly to the opposition put the brakes on the momentum.

The premier on Tuesday seemed to rule out calling the election in the next fortnight, indicating the government would sit through the entirety of next week’s sitting of state parliament.

“The only people asking about the election, can I say, are journalists,” Ms Palaszczuk told reporters.

“Not one member of the public has come up to me and asked me about the election, so let’s stop the speculation, let’s everybody chill out and relax, because we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The government still has to pass a number of pieces of legislation, including introducing industrial manslaughter laws and expunging past homosexual convictions.

Deputy Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington hit out at the premier’s comments, labelling them “out of touch”.

“The Premier’s excuse today that she ‘has a lot of work to do’ is almost laughable given she has done nothing for nearly three years,” Ms Frecklington said.

The deputy opposition leader ironically hopes to win her regional seat of Nanango with the help of Labor preferences, with Labor’s decision to put One Nation last likely to send a number of votes her way and fend off a potential challenge by the minor party.

The data was in polling conducted by ReachTel, commissioned by unions and obtained by the Courier Mail, which Ms Frecklington said was “telling”.

“This shows how desperate the Labor government are to be releasing their own polling,” Ms Frecklington told reporters in Mackay.

While in addition to surging support in individual seats like Nanango, One Nation’s primary vote has again lifted to sit around 18 per cent statewide.

A second ReachTel poll also shows the government trailing the LNP 52-48 per cent on a two-party preferred basis.

The election is due by May at the latest, but has been widely tipped to be held before the end of the year.

However, with the government unlikely to hold a December election, the window available for the premier to call it this year and still hold a poll in November after a minimum 26-day campaign is starting to close.

Turnbull and gas giants seal supply deal

Big gas companies have cemented a promise Australia will not run short in the coming year after meeting with Malcolm Turnbull for the second time in a week.

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Santos, Origin Energy and Shell on Tuesday signed an initial agreement, arrived at last week, to offer enough gas to the local market to cover an expected shortfall in 2018.

“I want to thank you very much for those commitments and by ensuring that there will not be a shortfall of gas next year, that means we will not be required to place restrictions on exports,” the prime minister said in Canberra.

Zoe Yujnovich, from Shell Australia, is hopeful gas giants and the federal government can forge a path forward on gas supply after a heated few months of debate.

“There have been some difficult and tense moments and we appreciate the challenge that you’ve given to us,” Ms Yujnovich said during the meeting at Parliament House.

“We hope that through the heads of agreement, we can find a path forward to make sure that the domestic market is serviced and that indeed, there is enough available gas for the market, which we stand behind and are committed to deliver.”

The government has received two expert reports warning the eastern states faces a shortfall of between 54 and 108 petajoules of gas in 2018.

One petajoule is enough to meet the needs of all the households in Warrnambool in Victoria, Wollongong or Penrith in NSW, or a large industrial user for a full year.

While more than enough gas is being extracted across the country to meet domestic needs, most of it is tied up in export contracts and some companies had planned to sell another portion on international markets.

Tuesday’s talks were expected to focus on how to cover the shortfall if it reaches more than 100PJ, which could happen if there’s a run of bad weather preventing renewables from generating as much power as projected, or if a coal-fired generator unexpectedly breaks down.

Ministers see the deal over exports as a short-term fix for rising gas prices and have also been pressuring the states – especially NSW and Victoria – to ease restrictions on gas development and exploration.

They have raised the prospect that states which have gas reserves but don’t exploit them could lose some of their share of the GST under a review of the tax’s distribution.

Home approvals on track for gradual easing

Building approvals have risen slightly lower than expected in August despite a rebound in apartment permits, underlining the gradual easing in the housing construction sector.

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Approvals for new homes rose 0.4 per cent during the month, missing market expectations of a 1.2 per cent increase.

Approvals for private sector houses slipped 0.6 per cent in August, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed on Tuesday.

However, permits in the volatile ‘other dwellings’ category, which includes apartment blocks and townhouses, were 4.8 per cent higher in August at 8,496.

Although total dwelling approvals are down 15.5 per cent over the 12 months to August, economists said these are still at a relatively high level compared with past cycles.

“This high level of activity supports our view that the decline in residential construction cycle should be gradual and reasonably shallow,” CBA economist Kristian Clifton said.

“Strong and rising population growth means the demand for new housing remains firm and, despite the record number of new homes built in recent years, there is no sign of oversupply overall.”

Housing construction in Australia has also continued to be supported by record low interest rates, but rising household debt levels have increasingly worried regulators.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority tightened investor lending rules in March, forcing major lenders to increase rates and make investor loans more expensive.

As a result, approvals have trended lower across the four largest states of NSW, Victoria, Queensland and WA, but strong population growth has helped absorb new supply.

Tuesday’s figures showed approvals for the three largest capitals of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane at negative annual rates, with the monthly decline steepest in Sydney, with dwelling approvals down 9.5 per cent in August.

ANZ economist Daniel Gradwell said recent data has indicated that the downturn in approvals is likely to be capped.

“This result provides further support to our view that the downturn in new approvals has largely run its course,” Mr Gradwell said.

“We continue to expect approvals to remain around these still-elevated levels, while a significant backlog of work will ensure construction activity remains solid for some time yet.”

The data helped push the Australian dollar down to 78.15 US cents at 1410 AEDT, from 78.29 US cents just before it was released.

It then dipped below 78 cents after the Reserve Bank held the central cash rate at 1.5 per cent.

An hour a week can keep depression at bay

Just an hour of exercise a week can help ward off depression, a landmark study led by Australia’s Black Dog Institute has found.

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The international study has shown for the first time that even minor lifestyle changes can result in significant mental health benefits.

Researchers monitored the exercise habits and symptoms of both depression and anxiety among 33,908 Norwegian adults over 11 years.

People who did no exercise at all had a 44 per cent increased chance of developing depression, compared with those who were active for just one to two hours a week.

They also found 12 per cent of cases of depression could have been prevented if participants undertook just a single hour of exercise.

But the news wasn’t so good for anxiety, with no association found between the level and intensity of exercise and the chances of developing that disorder.

The study’s lead author says the findings are important given the rise of sedentary lifestyles and growing rates of depression worldwide.

In Australia, one million people suffer from depression but 20 per cent of the adult population does no regular exercise, and more than a third are active for less than 1.5 hours a week.

“We’ve known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression,” says Associate Professor Samuel Harvey from Black Dog Institute and the University of NSW.

“But this is the first time we have been able to quantify the preventative potential of physical activity in terms of reducing future levels of depression.”

Researchers are still trying to determine why exercise has a protective effect.

“But we believe it is from the combined impact of the various physical and social benefits of physical activity,” Dr Harvey says.

The study involved researchers from Black Dog Institute, Kings College London, UNSW Sydney, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, University of Bergen (Norway), Nordland Hospital Trust (Norway) and the Arctic University of Norway.

It has just been published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.