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.

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 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

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]苏州美甲美睫培训 and www.mbaker-retail苏州美甲美睫培训.

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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.

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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Questions raised over super trawler’s quota

THE federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, is seeking urgent advice about whether he can try to stop the super trawler MV Margiris fishing off the Australian coast.

His announcement follows concern about the integrity of the process that boosted the allowable catch of the giant trawler, which is expected to operate off south-eastern Australia.

The key backer of the Margiris, the director of Seafish Tasmania, Gerry Geen, outlined plans to an advisory committee to raise the jack mackerel quota, before joining other members of the committee to support the proposal, according to confidential records obtained by the Herald.

Recreational fishing and conservation representatives have strenuously rejected proposals to double the quota, which they say are based on old and unreliable data.

A recreational fishing representative involved in the approval, Graham Pike, told the Herald the decision was a ”perverted process”.

The Dutch-owned Margiris is due in Australian waters in the next few days to fish for 18,000 tonnes of redbait and mackerel – a quota awarded by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to Seafish Tasmania.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman is scrutinising the process the authority used to decide quotas for the Margiris, the biggest vessel yet allowed to fish Australian waters.

The independent MP Andrew Wilkie alleges the authority has failed to comply with legislation. He said Mr Geen was improperly allowed to remain at an authority advisory committee meeting on March 26 without explicit authorisation.

Draft minutes of a meeting on February 28 of a small pelagic fishery resource assessment group, which remain unpublished but which the Herald has obtained, also show Mr Geen was present.

He outlined the freezer trawler venture, and sought backing for a doubling to 10,600 tonnes of the jack mackerel quota.

The minutes said an increase in the allowable catch was supported by all members, except Mr Pike and conservation member Jon Bryan.

An authority spokesman said Mr Geen and other members of the assessment group disclosed his interest at the meeting.

It was up to the assessment group to decide who should be excluded from discussions, and none was.

Mr Geen acknowledged he was present but said the authority rules defined how quotas were set and the group’s meeting was at the lowest level of decision making. He said all the rules had been followed properly to make the final decision.

When the group meets again this week, it is to hear a proposal that a member be excluded from providing advice on any agenda item on the basis that they have a conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, Mr Burke is taking advice on whether the super trawler may breach endangered species legislation.

”The principal thing that I’m looking at is whether at the same time they’re targeting the particular bait fish … what other marine species get taken as bycatch and get swept up in the nets at the same time,” he told the ABC yesterday. He was seeking further information from Seafish Tasmania.

The 9600-tonne Margiris is to be based in Tasmania and 45 jobs are to be created at its processing factory. But last week the state’s three political parties joined in a parliamentary motion against it.

However, six Australian fisheries scientists, led by Colin Buxton of the University of Tasmania, say quotas are more conservative than the best global practice for the species.


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Richardson praises ‘optimistic and positive’ Ratten

CARLTON assistant coach Alan Richardson says Brett Ratten still has the support of his players and has praised his resilience during a bruising week.

Ratten, under pressure to retain his job with the spectre of Mick Malthouse looming large, today bypassed his weekly press conference at Visy Park, agreeing with club management it would be best if Richardson fronted the media.

Ratten and chief executive Greg Swann feared the media conference would have turned into a circus similar to what Ratten experienced at Melbourne Airport on Sunday when he and the team returned from a sobering loss to the Gold Coast Suns.

While it wasn’t quite a circus with Richardson, the media today still had only one thing on its mind – Ratten.

The 11-minute press conference featured questions solely about Ratten, with Richardson maintaining the senior coach still had the support of the players despite an “embarrassing” loss to Gold Coast which terminated the club’s hopes of making the finals.

“If you’re asking me do I think the players are supportive of the coaching group and Brett Ratten, I think they’re absolutely supportive,” he said.

Richardson also praised Ratten’s resilience and selflessness during a rugged week in which club president Stephen Kernahan announced a major review of all operations would intensify after Sunday’s clash against St Kilda.

“He (Ratten) is incredibly optimistic and positive about coaching the team to respond to the weekend,” Richardson said.

“In Brett Ratten’s mind right now, from what we see as coaches, it’s about making up for an incredibly disappointing performance.

“It’s got nothing to do with Brett Ratten in terms of his own future.”

Richardson said if the Blues were to beat the Saints and finish with a 12-10 win-loss record they would have enjoyed a “reasonably successful season”.

Richardson also faces future an uncertain future if Malthouse was to take over.

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Ten big, dumb travel experiences everyone should try

Coach tours have a bad reputation for being a piss-up on wheels … but what’s wrong with that?Some people take their travel very seriously, which is something I’ll never understand. Sure, there are times for extending your cross-cultural understanding through studied interaction, but there are also times for standing on a table and pouring beer over your head.

The following travel experiences aren’t smart. They aren’t going to win you any awards for originality, and they aren’t going to make you any more culturally aware. They are, however, a whole lot of big, dumb fun.

Everyone should try them once.

Do a coach tour of Europe

There’s an unfortunate push at the moment from European tour operators to paint themselves as being more than just a piss-up on wheels. I say, the piss-up on wheels rules. You’ll barely see anything of the countries you visit – and the bits you do see you probably won’t remember – and the only foreigners you’ll meet will be Saffas and Kiwis. But if you’re young and in the right frame of mind, it’ll be the most fun you’ve ever had.

Go to Oktoberfest

You can hang out with the “oi oi oi” crowd at the Hofbrau tent if you want, or you can go rogue and check out one of the 13 other dens of beer-related sin at this infamous Munich festival. Wherever you are though, be sure to attempt to drink your bodyweight in booze, and eat it in bratwurst.

Go overland in Africa

Paul Theroux doesn’t think much of it – but then, he doesn’t think much of anything. Overland trucks are Africa’s slightly more serious answer to the Euro bus tour, with safaris and adventure sports interspersed with boozy nights in the campsite bar. They’re ideal for single or novice travellers with a penchant for fun.

Have dorm-room sex

If you spend enough time backpacking you’re sure to wind up in the same room as some drunken couple attempting to discreetly have sexual relations in the bunk above you. The only way to get even with the world on that point is to ensure that, maybe just once, you’re a member of one of those drunken couples. (It should be pointed out that there’s an age cap on this – do it when you’re over 25 and it’s just creepy.)

Do “the London thing”

It’s a time-honoured tradition, from those pulling pints in the Shepherds Bush Walkabout and pissing away their earnings to those holding down real jobs and enjoying weekends in Brittany. However you choose to do it, there’s a reason living in London has become a “thing” for Australians: it’s one of the world’s great cities.

Have something stolen

This one isn’t fun so much as educational. Because if you have something stolen early on in your travelling career – a camera, a laptop, a wallet – you’re unlikely to make the same mistake twice. And it means you get to join in all the one-up stories at the hostel bar. (“You had a phone stolen? Man, I had my whole backpack stolen!”)

Stay at an all-inclusive resort

Sounds pretty lame, right? I always thought these resorts were the domain of Mick and Shazza who want to go to Cairns and “just relax for a few weeks”. But I was proved wrong a few months ago – with the right set of friends and a little sunshine, it’s… kind of like a coach tour of Europe.

“Do” Vegas

You probably think Las Vegas is a hideous place of greed and gluttony, but you obviously haven’t had your first beer yet. Because after that Vegas undergoes a magical transformation into The Greatest Place On Earth, where you can see and do whatever the hell you want, for the right price.

Party on a Thai island

It’s been done before. By, oh, about a squizillion people. It’s also of questionable cultural sensitivity, and potentially dangerous. We’re talking about establishments that will let you engage in a full-on drunken Muay Thai bout with a proper fighter for the grand prize of a bucket of knock-off whiskey and Coke. If that’s not worth watching I don’t know what is.

What are your favourite big, dumb travel experiences?

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On the fast-track to burnout? 10 tips to get a life

Take time out to appreciate your successes.Why did you go into small business? Chances are it was to create more flexibility in your life, or perhaps spend fewer hours in the office.

Ironically, many business owners wind up working more than they ever did for any employer – and burnout can quickly follow.

Here’s how to take charge of your schedule, and make sure you’ve got time for a life outside of work too.

1. Out of balance

Feeling grumpy, stressed, exhausted? Getting the death stare from your partner when you finally arrive home? Haven’t had time to manage your finances? Then there’s a big chance your work is taking over your life.

Barbara Holmes, director of Managing Work|Life Balance International, says while many people go into small business so they can set their own hours – and hopefully work less – the nature of running your own show means the reverse can happen.

“If you are the owner of a small business and you’re self-employed you aren’t getting sick leave any more, you don’t get annual leave. You get paid when you work,” she says.

“If you have a number of people you are employing, you have a responsibility to those staff members to remain profitable.”

But while you might sometimes have to suck it up and “bust heaven and earth” to get a job done, it pays to realise when you’re overdoing it.

2. Make a date

When we make a work appointment, we usually do our darndest to keep it, says Holmes. But strangely enough when we make a commitment to a partner or friend, it’s all too easy to let it slide – even though it’s probably a more enjoyable prospect.

“If it’s in your diary then you need to make that time,” says Holmes.

“If you are not living a healthy, balanced life you can’t manage your business effectively.”

3. Get a life

And make sure the social engagement above is not a one-off thing.

“The real key is recognising life outside work is really important. Unless you make a commitment to look after yourself and your life outside work then it will just not happen,” says Holmes.

There’s not much point reaching dizzying success if you don’t have any friends and family left to celebrate with.

“A lot of people have those a-ha moments which are too late,” says Holmes.

4. Let go of the reins

If you’ve got your own business, it can be difficult to delegate.

“I think that’s one of the issues for small business – nobody else can do it as well as you can, which is not true,” says Holmes.

“You really need to work with your staff to train them and in terms of multiskilling.”

5. Do a personal audit

Leadership development coach Chris Edwards, of Life7, recommends dividing your life into four areas: personal development, relationships, work and community and working out what is important to you in each of these areas.

“At the end of this exercise you will have a long list of roles, tasks and challenges and you will begin to get an understanding of exactly what you have to deal with,” he says.

6. De-clutter your time

Consider the personal audit above, and prioritise your top five tasks in each category, depending on their importance to you, suggests Edwards.

Then, have another look and find five items in each category that give the biggest impact for the least effort, he says. Delete the rest.

7. Don’t bust a gut if you don’t need to

Yes, some jobs are hugely important, but not all clients will have the same demands.

Do the best job you can, but don’t rush to finish jobs well ahead of time if they’re not urgent, says Barbara Holmes.


8. Escape

Having a decent break – a week at the very minimum – can do wonders for your happiness and future productivity, says Kate James, owner of small business Total Balance.

“It’s really hard for small business owners, but I just think there’s no excuses. Try and make it happen even if it seems really difficult.”

James says being continually stressed over a long period of time can lead to chronic stress.

If a long break is impossible, schedule shorter breaks throughout the year.

9. Clock off at a reasonable hour

“One of the problems with business owners is they tend to work from nine in the morning until nine at night,” says James.

She says it’s important to set expectations early with your clients. Don’t send emails after hours if you can help it, and don’t be superglued to your phone.

10. Make time for exercise

Recent studies have suggested that regular, brisk exercise can be as powerful for your mind as a low dose of antidepressants, says James. “I think exercise is incredibly important.”

James also believes strongly in the benefits of meditation, but notes it doesn’t necessarily have to be strange or spiritual – rather it can be a chance for small business owners to practise mindfulness.

Read our previous motivational stories Stop procrastinating! Avoid isolation in your home office

Follow MySmallBusiness on Twitter @MySmallBusiness

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Two men seen with victim shot in Sydney park: police

Police are seeking information about two men they believe were with a 24-year-old before he was shot in the face in an alleged “targeted attack” in inner-west Sydney.

The body of Nikolas Argiropoulos, 24, of Earlwood, was found with a gunshot wound to his head at Ballast Point Park, Birchgrove, about 7am on March 22.

Investigators believe he may have been shot the night before in a targeted killing. Detective Chief Inspector Pamela Young of the NSW homicide squad added that “inquiries to date suggest it may have been drug-related”.

Police were also releasing CCTV footage of the young man on Meeks Road, Marrickville on March 21 between 9pm and 10.30pm.

“[W]e know he was there in the hours prior to his death, but we are hoping someone can shed light on why he was there,” Detective Chief Inspector Pamela Young of the NSW homicide squad said in a statement.

“We would also like to find out how he travelled to Ballast Point Park, given his vehicle, an early model dark green Hyundai Lantra sedan, was located in Marrickville several days after his death.”

Two men were seen with Mr Argiropoulos – who was wearing a navy and fluorescent-yellow collared work shirt and black nylon shorts – at Ballast Point Park later that night, police said. One man was described as a 185-centimetre-tall man of Pacific Islander or Maori appearance with a muscular build, tattoos on one arm and aged between 25 and 30 years old.

Police said the other man was described as a 170- to 175-centimetre-tall stocky man aged between 25 to 30 years old with a dark complexion, short dark hair, a chubby face and tattoos on one arm.

Investigators added that they believed one of the men was smoking in the park. They were examining cigarette butts they had found there.

Detectives believe a man who was killed in a separate alleged attack by his ex-girlfriend on May 13 may have been involved in Mr Argiropoulos’s death, the Herald reported on Monday.

Mr Argiropoulos, who lived with his parents and brother in Earlwood, was buried by his family in Greece. He attended Marist Brothers high school at Kogarah and spent a year living in Greece after graduation. When he returned to Australia he worked as a waiter and also as a concreter, spending his weekends at the beach, in the gym and out in the city, the Heraldreported in May.

A friend in Sydney, Nasim, described him as a “humble, respectful kid” who “wasn’t a troublemaker”.

The Homicide Squad held a press conference at police headquarters in Parramatta at 11am.

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Nauru awaits first Pacific Solution intake

The field in Nauru where tents to house as many as 500 asylum seekers will be built by the end of September.SIXTY male asylum seekers being held in Darwin have been told they will be the first group to be sent to Nauru for processing under Labor’s new Pacific Solution to boat arrivals, as Defence continues to prepare the badly dilapidated site on the Pacific island for habitation.

In the first access to the site since the Australian military arrived six days ago, The Age found most of the scrap removed and the field which is to provide accommodation for asylum seekers — 500 by the end of September according to the immigration minister, Chris Bowen — cleared.

The group of about 80 soldiers from an Australian Army construction squadron continue to work at establishing their own facilities, ahead of a plans to start erecting asylum seeker accommodation from Friday, by which time their number will have swelled to about 150.

The Australian Army Major in charge of the squadron, James Dugdell, showed The Age a neatly stacked pile of wooden boxes which he said contained the tents the first group of asylum seekers would stay in.

They were similar to the large green canvas tents that already provide shelter for his squadron, he said.

When asked if he would be able to provide accommodation for 500 asylum seekers by the end of September, he said: “The Minister said 500 by the end of [September], so that’s what my boss has told me to do.”

He would not be drawn on the problems facing the camp — Nauru has chronic water shortages, regular power shortages and very little fresh food — saying that was a matter for the Immigration Department.

The asylum seekers will have only the most basic facilities when they arrive, including the tents, an army cot made of canvas and steel poles and access to the local power grid, which experiences long outages several times a week.

The site, called Topside and located across the road from a rock quarry and several hundred metres from the country’s only rubbish tip, is also one of the hottest sites on the island and is virtually windless. It is also home to large rats.

When asylum seekers from the Tampa were brought to Nauru in 2001 aboard the HMAS Manoora, many refused to disembark, and a tense stand-off lasted a ortnight.

Pamela Curr, the coordinator of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, has been in contact with the 60 men being held at the Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin headed for Nauru.

She said she is particularly concerned that as yet Mr Bowen has not made clear whether unaccompanied minors and pregnant women — both are among the group currently destined for Nauru and Manus Island — will be exempted.

She also said there was a 20-year-old man who had been tortured in his homeland — she did not want to name him or his country for fear of jeopardising his family’s safety — among the group of 60 men who will be the first sent to Nauru.

The brothers are from a country that has a history of persecuting their minority, and the young man has significant scars on his head and burns to his hand, Ms Curr said.

“If they send him to Nauru that will be a clear indication that no one, whether tortured, whether injured, whether unaccompanied, whether pregnant, will be exempt from being punished by being sent to Nauru.”

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What’s in season – August 28 round-up

Praying … farmers are hoping for a bounce in the tomato harvest next week.Tomatoes In winter, Sydney cooks rely on the great fruit bowl around Bowen in Queensland for their tomato fix. The so-called gourmet variety sold loose in greengrocers and supermarkets, and roma tomatoes are grown in Bowen’s fields. But this year has been a shocker. First, rain knocked off flowers and damaged fruit. Then more rain prevented farmers from planting successive crops. Cold weather slowed growth, winds knocked plants flat and, just as conditions looked like improving, another chill rattled through the fields. At the same time, tomato greenhouses are in their annual lull. When daylight hours reach their low point in June, glasshouse tomato growers rip out most of the plants, clean out the glasshouses and start again. The glasshouse truss tomatoes will arrive on the market in reasonable numbers from about mid-September. Farmers in Bowen, meanwhile, have their fingers crossed for warmer weather before then. This week’s full moon would usually be followed by a bounce in the tomato harvest next week. Much depends on this week’s weather.

Rosemary Friends with herb gardens can be a bit stingy with their thyme by the end of winter, but they’re always generous with rosemary. This hardy herb keeps growing through Sydney’s cold season, even producing the odd flower to decorate a salad of roast vegetables. Rosemary can be quite dominant when used as fresh leaves, though some cooks like it finely chopped in mustardy dressings. When fried, grilled or roasted it takes on a rounder, smoother, quieter flavour.

WAYS WITH ROSEMARY Finely chop the leaves from a few sprigs of rosemary and of thyme. Grind over plenty of black pepper. Rub some oil on a steak, then press into the peppery herbs. Add a sprinkling of salt flakes, then barbecue. Serve with a wedge of lemon.

Jackfruit This tropical fruit is now grown commercially around Darwin. It looks a bit like a durian, but is bigger and the thorns on the skin aren’t so fierce. Its size can be a bit off-putting – it’s at least as big as a football and can weigh up to 30 kilograms. The mass demands a certain amount of commitment for cooks, as it all needs to be prepared at the same time. Also, some varieties exude a sticky substance when cut that is hard to wash off. Wiping your hands and knife with vegetable oil stops it sticking. Once the jackfruit is cut open, the arils should be removed and the seeds taken out. Some cooks like to wash and dry the fruit before eating; most don’t bother. The flesh stores well in the fridge and can also be preserved in a sugar and ginger syrup, or frozen for later use.

WHAT TO BUYArtichokes Make soup, braise or preserve.Broccoli Good quality.Blood oranges Juicy and plentiful.Fennel Great bargains.Lemons At preserving prices.Mandarins Lots of varieties available to choose from.Pears Ripen at room temperature.Radicchio Keep an eye out for the long treviso variety.Radish Small red and large white Japanese types are both good.Rhubarb Lovely rich colour.Spinach Local growers are harvesting.Strawberries Western Australian season is starting.Zucchini Overgrown fruit is a bargain for soup.Follow Cuisine on Twitter

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