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Ex-Slater and Gordon boss earns 5% of firm’s value in pay

Slater & Gordon Chairman John Skippen leaves the company’s AGM in Melbourne. Photo by Jesse Marlow. . GRECH BRW 080515 MELB PIC BY JESSICA SHAPIRO… Andrew Grech, manageing Director of Slater & Gordon in his Melbourne office this morning. FBM FIRST USE ONLY PLEASE!!! SPECIALX 84853
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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA 14 NOVEMBER 2013: Photo of James MacKenzie who is retiring as Chairman of Mirvac, during the company’s AGM meeting in Melbourne on Thursday 14 November 2013. AFR / LUIS ASCUI

Paying Slater and Gordon’s former chief executive Andrew Grech a remuneration package of $1.5 million in a year when the company almost collapsed isn’t a good look.

That the company is valued on the market at $28 million, after overseeing a strategy that resulted in the decimation of billions of dollars of shareholder funds, doesn’t help the optics.

Nor does a board decision to shell out a $1.6 million package to the chief financial officer, Bryce Houghton, whose resignation coincided with the company’s announced full-year loss of $547 million, including an impairment charge of $350 million on its disastrous UK acquisition in 2015.

The way executives are paid, in good times and bad, speaks volumes about a company’s culture. It also says a lot about the board.

Slater and Gordon went on a debt-fuelled acquisition binge that almost destroyed it. But along the way it forgot its core values, which include deep ties with the labour movement and representing the underdog, the victim.

This was epitomised by a decision in 2015 to spend millions of dollars on a high-profile, five-year sponsorship of the Olympics, at a time when money was precious.

Besides being a poor use of shareholders’ money, during the period of Slater and Gordon’s sponsorship, the AOC has been at the centre of a series of scandals in recent years.

Not the least being controversies around AOC president John Coates, including when Coates wrote to senior AOC staff that a young, female employee, who was being treated for cancer, should “get out in the real world” because the AOC was not a “sheltered workshop”.

How the Slater and Gordon board and senior management could have thought such an expensive Olympics sponsorship was a good fit with a law firm that represents blue-collar workers is hard to fathom. That it didn’t pull the plug after the scandals erupted is equally curious.

Grech resigned as managing director on June 29 as part of a recapitalisation agreement with hedge funds. That agreement included Grech remaining on the board as non-executive director until the completion of the recapitalisation agreement.

But a remuneration report released on Thursday night reveals Grech will continue to receive fees equivalent to his base salary as managing director at $560,384 until he leaves.

It says the board’s approach to remuneration is “balanced, fair and equitable”.

The question is fair to who? Shareholders who will be diluted to 5 per cent after the rescue plan is completed in mid-November?

Interestingly, directors, including chairman John Skippen, took home a similar level of director fees in 2017 as those approved by shareholders in 2015, back when the company was valued on the sharemarket at $2.8 billion.

It meant Skippen pocketed $240,000 during a year when the company had a negative cash flow, massive losses, was under investigation from ASIC and shareholders had launched a class action.

Skippen was chairman when the company received a “first strike” on its remuneration report in 2016 after thinking it was a good idea to pay bonuses to executives as well as issue performance rights to Grech when the company was essentially in a death spiral.

Part of Grech’s $1.5 million includes an expatriate allowance paid while he was in the UK trying to fix the mess and an “end of service benefit”, which he will receive when he ceases being a non-executive director.

In anyone’s books, this is a lot of money for running a company that almost went belly up from poor strategy and execution.

The board, particularly those members who signed off on a series of debt-funded acquisitions over the years, can’t escape blame. The role of the board is ultimately to take responsibility for strategy, culture and reputation.

In the case of Slater and Gordon, the $1.2 billion acquisition of a British personal injury law firm just shy of its own market capitalisation was a big risk. At the time of the announcement, I wrote that it would give it a “massive short-term sugar hit, but the long-term aftertaste could be a concern”.

Britain is a tough market, with a number of n companies losing a fortune. Hubris and greed would add Slater and Gordon to the list.

The consortium of international hedge funds that will take ownership of Slater and Gordon, in a plan announced on Thursday night, will appoint company director James MacKenzie chairman and clean out the other directors.

It will also roll out a new business strategy, which will make the company leaner and take it back to its roots. The strategy will involve growing its personal injury practices in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, improving and restoring its relationships with the union movement and leveraging third-party relationships to build referral networks.

It sounds simple enough but will take deft work and an ability to stop the exodus of good, high-profile lawyers.

Some of the decision makers have already jumped ship, getting off scot-free. Some have stuck around, for now.

But the rise and fall of Slater and Gordon, and the hopeful rise again, will be one for the corporate history books.

The rescue package means Slater and Gordon will remain a listed entity, with lead hedge fund Anchorage Capital committing to remain a shareholder for at least three years. The UK business has been hived off, the class action settled. Now it is a matter of wait and see.

The angst about our productivity? Totally unproductive

What a joke. A scholarly article in Treasury’s latest Economic Roundup has admitted that all the years of handwringing over our poor productivity performance was just jumping at shadows.
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Turns out all the angst was caused by not much more than the figures being distorted by the mining industry’s construction boom.

This after our top econocrats gave speech after speech urging “more micro reform” to improve productivity and keep living standards rising. (They’d have advocated more reform even if productivity was improving at record rates; its supposed weakness was just a convenient selling proposition.)

Meanwhile, the business lobby groups, led by the Business Council of , claimed – without any evidence – the supposed weakness had been caused by the “reregulation” of wage fixing under Labor’s evil Fair Work changes, and demanded the balance of bargaining power be shifted yet further in favour of employers. (A claim even the Productivity Commission wasn’t convinced by.)

Even at the time, it seemed the contortions of the mining industry during the decade-long resources boom were a big part of the story, but that didn’t stop people who should have known better going into panic mode.

“Despite concerns”, the paper by Simon Campbell and Harry Withers, says with masterful understatement that “‘s labour productivity growth over recent years is in line with its longer-term performance.

“In the five years to 2015-16, labour productivity in the whole economy has grown at an average annual rate of 1.8 per cent.

“This compares to an average annual rate of 1.4 per cent over the past 15 years, and 1.6 per cent over the past 30 years,” says. A productivity primer

Let’s take a step back. Productivity compares the quantity of the economy’s output of goods and services with the quantity of inputs of resources used to produce the output.

When output grows faster than inputs – as it does most years – we’re left better off. This improvement in our productivity is the overwhelming reason for the increase in our material standard of living over the years and centuries.

Productivity can be measured different ways. The simplest (and least likely to be inaccurate) way is to measure the productivity of labour: growth in output per worker or, better, per hour worked.

Labour productivity improvement is caused by two factors. The first is by increases in the ratio of labour to (physical) capital used in the economy.

This known as “capital deepening” – translation: giving workers more tools and machines to work with, which makes them more productive.

The second driver of labour productivity is improvements in the efficiency with which labour inputs and capital inputs are used, arising from such things as improved management practices. This known as MFP – multi-factor productivity.

In recent years the figures have shown multi-factor productivity growth to be zero or even negative, causing great concern among some economists, including the Productivity Commission.

But Campbell and Withers argue this focus on MFP is misplaced. They remind us that MFP is calculated as a residual (the product of a sum), meaning its likelihood of mismeasurement is high.

And they criticise the conventional view that physical capital should grow no faster than output – known as “balanced growth” – because capital deepening is an inferior source of productivity improvement to MFP. Forget ‘balanced growth’

People take this view because (making the unrealistic assumption that the economy is closed to transactions with foreigners) increased investment in physical capital must come at the expense spending on consumption.

The authors point out that achieving improved MFP isn’t costless, while the price of capital goods (most of which are imported) has fallen persistently relative to the price of consumption goods.

“This has allowed to sustain its high rate of capital deepening without forgoing ever higher levels of consumption,” they say.

Actually, they say, our economy has never fitted the “balanced growth” story. Of the 30-year average of 1.6 per cent annual growth in labour productivity, MFP contributed only 0.7 percentage points, while capital deepening contributed 0.9 points.

Next the authors examine the causes of the ups and downs in labour productivity improvement overall by breaking the economy into six sectors: agriculture, mining, manufacturing, utilities, construction and services (everything else).

They find that labour productivity in agriculture is now 2 1/2 times its level in 1989, but it’s too small a part of the economy – 2.5 per cent – for this to make much difference to the economy-wide story.

The utilities sector showed strong productivity growth until the turn of the century, before steadily declining through to 2011-12, mainly because of one-off developments such as the building, then mothballing of many desal plants. The key factor

The story of mining is well-known: its productivity fell because of the delay between companies hiring more workers to build new mines and gas facilities and that extra production coming on line. Since 2012-13, however, mining productivity has shot up. What a surprise.

Productivity in manufacturing and construction has grown at similar rates to the economy overall, as has productivity in the services sector (hardly a surprise since services now account for 70 per cent of gross domestic product).

Over the past five years, more than half of our total labour productivity improvement was attributable to the services sector, compared with about a quarter attributable to mining.

Apart from productivity improvement in the various sectors, overall productivity can be affected when changes in the industry structure of the economy cause workers to shift from lower-productivity sectors to higher-productivity sectors, or vice versa.

Because mining, being highly capital-intensive, has by far the highest level of labour productivity, the authors say it’s really only when workers move in or out of mining that structural change has much effect on economy-wide productivity.

“These movements of labour into and out of mining have been the key driver behind the fluctuations in … aggregate labour productivity growth,” the report concludes.

Now they tell us.

Ross Gittins is the Herald’s economics editor.

Parramatta turns up heat on its city rivals

There has been a lot of talk about Parramatta in the press of late, and for a good reason.
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The level of construction activity is in the billions, the offices are full, shop tills are ringing and industrial landlords are snapping up any land they can find.

It’s not having a day in the sun, more like the rest decade, if all the projections come true.

One of the latest projects is the $876 million South Quarter development by Dyldam, which includes a $225 million commercial hub, covering offices, retail and hospitality outlets over 39,000 square metres.

GPT Group is building a $230 million office tower, while Walker Corporation and Charter Hall are part of the revamp of the $6 billion Parramatta square development.

According to Savills’ research, getting a foothold in the office sector will be no mean feat with the private sector competing head-on with an expanding array of government offices all wanting space.

In the latest data from the Property Council of , vacancy for premium-grade office space is zero, while B-grade is filling up fast.

JLL’s director of leasing, Scott Butler, said Parramatta was undergoing “phenomenal regeneration”.

All this activity is leading to solid rental growth.

JLL Research is forecasting above-average prime gross effective rental growth over the next year, with prime grade vacancy zero, no prime-grade assets and only 10 secondary grade assets with more than 1000 sq m of space availability.

“Not only have we seen commercial values appreciate very strongly over the past three years in Parramatta, but the net increase in stock over the next three years will likely be the largest of any of Sydney’s commercial markets.”

Mr Butler said Parramatta is the geographic centre of metropolitan Sydney, and a key piece in the formulation of government infrastructure policy. This will include development of the Parramatta Light Rail, as well as early feasibility works under way for the Sydney Metro West.

However, Parramatta’s occupier profile is diverse. JLL’s head of research, , Andrew Ballantyne said Parramatta already had a strong representation of corporate , with seven of the top-20 ASX-listed companies in its CBD.

“Western Sydney is a population growth corridor of NSW and will record strong growth in the working age population. We believe that organisations are increasingly undertaking more sophisticated workforce population mapping exercises and will consider Parramatta as a strategic location to assist with the work-life balance of employees,” he said. Retail booming

Knight Frank’s senior research manager, NSW, Alex Pham said the Parramatta CBD was experiencing a massive development boom, with more than 21 DA-endorsed mixed-use developments in the pipeline. According to the City of Parramatta, projects could yield nearly 9200 extra dwellings and about 170,000 sq m more commercial floor space.

The retail vacancy rate in the Parramatta CBD retail core measured 2.8 per cent as at July 2017, marginally higher than that in the Sydney CBD at 2.6 per cent.

“Currently dominated by food outlets, we expect the tenant profile in Parramatta to change over the coming years as a larger variety of fashion, footwear and technology retailers take up space in the Parramatta Square development. With the Parramatta light rail linking surrounding suburbs, Parramatta will become a more attractive retail destination for western Sydney residents,” Mr Pham said.

“Food retailing was the most dominant retail category in Parramatta as at July 2017, accounting for 27 per cent of the total tenancy mix.”

Knight Frank research shows most food retailers were street-front takeaway shops, restaurants and cafes, which accounted for 82 per cent of the total number of food retailers in Parramatta. Clothing and footwear retailers had the second-largest presence in the city, representing 19 per cent of the total retail units. This is in contrast to the Sydney CBD’s retail tenancy mix, which has clothing and footwear as the most dominant retail category, 39 per cent, followed by food retailing at 18 per cent.

Hodgson urges fans to be force for good during Perth Test

Israel Folau of runs in the opening try against New Zealand in the Investic Rugby Championship test match between the New Zealand and at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, New Zealand, August 26, 2017. (AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLYWestern Force fans will not achieve anything by boycotting the Wallabies Test in Perth next weekend.
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That is the overwhelming feeling from those in the rugby community as it emerged the Western Force’s future will become clearer while the Wallabies are in Western .

The Supreme Court of NSW is expected to hand down its verdict next week on the Force’s appeal against the n Rugby Union’s decision to cut them from Super Rugby.

Force fans are angry and there is talk they will vote with their feet by not turning up to watch Michael Cheika’s men take on the Springboks at nib Stadium.

It is understood RugbyWA is telling fans to go to the match, but advising people to wear their Force jerseys as well as Wallabies scarves in a show of solidarity.

Former Force captain Matt Hodgson, who has been a vocal critic of the ARU and its treatment of the club that means so much to him, has urged fans to front up, regardless of their frustrations.

“I’m telling everyone definitely go to the game,” Hodgson said. “My message is it’s not the Western Force that’s only suffering, it’s rugby in general. I’m hopeful everyone will come. Some of those players are Western Force guys and we should go and support them.”

There is some talk Force supporter groups will try and stage events at nearby venues rather than make their way to the match itself.

Former Wallaby and Western Force player Cameron Shepherd agreed with Hodgson and encouraged rugby fans in the west to think about what a boycott would actually achieve in the grand scheme of things.

“One hundred per cent, I don’t think people should boycott the game,” Shepherd said. “I understand why people would want to, but that’s showing the wrong message. That’s lowering ourselves to the same level that the ARU have handled the situation. I don’t think boycotting and punishing the players would be the right thing to do at all.

“I would love to see them pack the place and fill it with blue jerseys. If you want to protest, go and support the team, but wear your blue jersey to show how proud you are of the Western Force.

“They have the right to be angry, but they’ve got to understand it’s well past the point of where being angry is going to solve anything.

“The ARU has got more pressure on it then it ever has before. The board is under pressure, [chairman] Cameron Clyne is under pressure, [chief executive] Bill Pulver has already resigned, so I don’t see how boycotting a game is going to send any stronger message than has already been sent.”

Given what the Wallabies achieved in Dunedin, a small crowd in Perth would be a shame.

After the Bledisloe Cup opener in Sydney, n rugby was well and truly in the doldrums, with lifelong rugby lovers feeling disillusioned after a poor Wallabies performance.

The marked turnaround in Dunedin, where the Wallabies came within a whisker of beating a red-hot All Blacks team on their own turf, has reignited hope in the national team.

Wallabies halfback Nick Phipps has thrown his support behind people wearing Force clothing.

He also reminded people that every n player that takes the field in Perth wanted the ARU to stick with five teams.

“It’s an interesting situation,” Phipps said. “As a playing group, we were very staunch in the fact that we thought we were stronger as five teams. They’re fighting back now and that’s fantastic, good on them. They’re having a crack and standing up for what they believe in.

“If they’re going to wear their blue jerseys, that’s great and a show of solidarity. I don’t think there’s any threat of getting booed though.”

Shepherd said he could not understand criticism directed at players.

“These people who come out and say, ‘Oh, the players aren’t trying hard enough, they’re coming in with the wrong attitude’, it’s bullshit,” Shepherd said. “They’re representing their country and playing their hearts out every day. I get frustrated when people say they’re not trying hard enough.

“Let’s be honest, it’s not the players’ fault what’s happening in n rugby at the moment.

“People use energy talking about how bad the state of the game is rather than talking positive and promoting the game and supporting it.”

How Arthur has made the Parramatta Eels finals ready

Brad Arthur has left no stone unturned in the quest to snap rugby league’s longest premiership drought, demanding the Eels replicate finals-like conditions by warming up inside rather than on the field and scheduling night training sessions in recent weeks.
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The meticulous Arthur has already had an eye on Parramatta’s first finals appearance in eight years – perhaps mirrored in an ugly win over a depleted Rabbitohs – scrapping some of their traditional regular season methods to prepare for September.

The Eels, which booked a top four showdown with minor premiers Melbourne at AAMI Park next weekend, retreated to their sheds for the pre-game limber at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.

Grand finalists and State of Origin sides ordinarily prepare for games inside their own sheds given the on-field pre game entertainment and pomp.

“We don’t want to get to the second or third weekend of the finals and get spooked and not know what’s coming,” Eels enforcer Kenny Edwards said. “The coaching staff decided to have it inside, which was alright. A bit different – not as much space – but it was alright.”

Added speedster Michael Jennings: “Come finals time I think we’ve got to warm up in the sheds – in the grand final we have to – if it does happen we’re prepped and ready and we’ve already done it.”

It is just one of a number of tactics employed by Arthur to help his squad lacking finals experience prepare for the big stage which awaits, best demonstrated by their clash with perennial title contenders Melbourne.

Regardless of how deep the Eels go into the finals, they will be forced to play the rest of their games at night and their training schedule has been altered to reflect that.

“We’ve been doing a bit of training at nights for when we have night games,” Edwards said. “We do opposed [sessions] against the 20s at night so we can acclimatise.

“This week our warm-up was a bit different and that’s just Brad preparing us for what’s coming up in the next couple of weeks.”

Premiership winner Jennings, who described the feeling as “weird” playing against his brother Robert as the pair traded the first two tries of the Eels-Rabbitohs clash, boasts the most finals experience in Parramatta’s squad bar Beau Scott.

And he said Arthur has constantly reminded the jet-heeled 29-year-old he was brought to the club for situations like this as the Eels bid to win their first title since 1986.

“Brad reminds me almost every week [and says], ‘[this is] why we brought you here’ and what my responsibilities are,” Jennings said. “I understand and I’ve been in these situations before and he’s confident in my ability.

“That’s the reason why he brought me over in the first place and we’re in this position now so I need to step up as a leader as I’ve got that experience.

“It’s finals footy, but I think the good thing about going [to Melbourne] is they’re favourites and they’ll have the pressure. There’s still pressure on us because we want to play the best footy we can. We still haven’t played our best footy. It will be a good test for us against all odds.”

with Adrian Proszenko

Gabrielle Keaton named Miss Multiverse China

Newcastle girl wins Miss Multiverse The winner: Gabrielle Keaton, middle, with her new crown.
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Winner: Gabrielle Keaton in the swimsuit competition at Miss Multiverse .

Natural girl: Gabrielle Keaton at Blackbutt Reserve, Newcastle. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

TweetFacebook Gabrielle Keaton wins Miss Multiverse Young Newcastle woman Gabrielle Keaton, of New Lambton has won the Miss Multiverse contest.

She was announced as the winner on Thursdaynight in Sydney.

Contest director Yolandi Franken said, “Gabrielle displayed qualities of great business skills, fitness and beauty. She stood out from other contestants throughout the competition and was a hands down winner.”

Keaton will compete in the Miss Multiverse World contest in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic,in November.

As a country girl from a property near Bulahdelah, Gabrielle Keaton has a good sense of direction. In her first year after graduating from theUniversityof New England with a degree in zoology, she’s realised the possible rewards from exploring an opportunity to enter a new model contest based on an array of skills and talents beyond the catwalk.

Keaton was one of 10 finalists in the Miss Multiverse contest, whichis being filmed for broadcast as a reality TV show.It’s considereda blend of’sNext Top Model,SurvivorandThe Apprentice.

After graduating from Bulahdelah Central, Keaton enrolled at the University of New England. She has plans forpost-graduate study in zoology.

“I took this year off,” she says. “I went straight into study from school. I decided to take this year off and see what direction I want to go.”

She was encouraged to enter the Miss Multiverse state final, which included an IQ test and a team 10-pin bowling event with other competitors, and was surprised to reach the national finals.

The n winner gains entry to international finals, held over two weeks in Punta Cana.There isno cashprize, but for Keaton, the experience at this level is already worth it.

Keaton surmises the on-the-job learning could providean opportunity in media.

“I actually never really thought about it until recently,” she says. “I wanted to research. I began thinking it would be cool to get into documentaries. This would be nice for a foundation. Hopefully, once I do post grad, Iwould enjoy getting into media.”

Keaton has had a life-long appreciation of animals, particularly reptiles, with fond memories of picking up snakes along the country roads near her home with her brother Bradley and letting them loose safely in the bush.

She’s considering research on reptile embryos and climate change. “Itinterests me because somereptiles are temperature dependent,” she says. “When they are developing, temperature can affect egg development, the sex or how the fetus develops.”

If she could combine research with documentary-making skills, it would expand the reach of environmentalmessages, she says.

“I would love to get the word out about conservation,” she says. “I would love to get this experience, to build a profile for me. So that what Isay gets heard. So people can say, ‘we know her, we can relate to her’. It’s more than just a name at thebottom of a paper.”

She recently ventured into modelling for the first time, including swimwear, and also works at CarlaSwimwear’s Sea Folly store.

She has always been involved in sport, playing soccer since the age of five and competing incross country for several years.

Keaton’s sponsors are University of New England, CarlaSwimwear, Vida Cruz, Planet Fitness Lambton, Lairne’s Hair &Beauty, Diamond Smile International, AustinCollegeandGenesis Skin Health.

Mass killings, beheadings as Myanmar ‘cleansing operation’ underway

Bangkok: Survivors have described mass killings, including beheadings of children, and arson attacks in a dramatic escalation of the Rohingya crisis that the United Nations warns could be a humanitarian catastrophe.
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A 41-year-old witness told the rights monitoring group Fortify Rights he found his brother and other family members in a field after attacks by Myanmar security forces on the Rakhine state village of Chut Pyin in Ratheduang township.

“They had marks on their bodies from the bullets and some had cuts,” he said.

“My two nephews, their heads were cut off. One was six years old and the other was nine years old. My sister-in-law was also shot with a gun.”

A27-year-old survivor from the village told Fortify Rights “some people were beheaded and many were cut???when we saw that, we just ran out of the house”.

“The situation is dire,” said Matthew Smith, Fortify Rights’ chief executive officer.

The Myanmar government says almost 400 people have been killed in clashes since Islamic militants from a group called the Arakan Salvation Army attacked 30 police posts on August 25, killing 12 officials.

But rights monitors put the death toll in the thousands.

Myanmar security forces responded to the August attacks with a brutal counter-offensive they called “cleansing operations” that forced almost 40,000 Rohingya to flee to the border with Bangladesh in the past week.

Thousands more arriving at the border each day.

Human Rights Watch said on Saturday that new satellite imagery shows hundreds of buildings have been destroyed during the past week, including the “total destruction” of villages.

The New York-based group said numerous refugees who have fled villages in Rakhine, home to 1.1 million stateless and long persecuted Rohingya Muslims, have told how Myanmar soldiers and police had burnt down their homes and attacked villagers.

Many of those arriving at the border were suffering bullet and other wounds.

Bangladesh has refused to open its border posts, leaving about 20,000 Rohingya stranded.

The crisis has widened to the Rakhine capital, south of the conflict areas, where 120,000 already displaced Rohingya are not receiving food supplies or healthcare. UN and aid groups have suspended operations after the government accused them of supporting insurgents.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged restraint and calm in the state, cautioning that the situation may otherwise lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.

Other countries, including , have told Myanmar’s government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to ensure the protection of all its citizens.

Chris Lewa from the Rohingya monitoring group The Arakan Project, says it appears Myanmar security forces are trying to drive out a large proportion of the Rohingya population.

The latest bloodshed comes just days after an international commission led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned of more radicalisation if ethnic tensions in Rakine were not addressed.

Late last year, UN investigators detailed mass rapes, killings, brutal beatings, the torching of homes and forced disappearances by Myanmar security forces.

The UN said the “devastating cruelty” could amount to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

Ms Suu Kyi’s government has repeatedly denied its security forces have been responsible for any serious rights violations and blocked three UN investigators travelling to the country to further investigate.

Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong on Saturday said Labor is “deeply concerned” at the reports of abuses in Myanmar urged the Turnbull government to continue to speak out on human rights in the country.

with agencies

‘Hazardous’ air quality in parts of Sydney

News SHD Sydney Harbour covered in a smoke haze from hazard reduction burns on Saturday the 2nd of September, 2017 News SHD Picture by FIONA MORRIS Hazard Reduction along Wakehurst Parkway in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Baseball practice at Aquatic Reserve Baseball Park. Saturday 2nd September 2017. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH NEWS 170902
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As a haze hung over Sydney on Saturday, residents in parts of the city were warned to avoid outdoor activities as the air quality reached “hazardous” levels.

High pollution levels were recorded across the Sydney basin on Saturday, as hazard-reduction burning efforts are stepped up ahead of an expected active fire season.

Sunday will see a spike in temperatures and a pickup in winds, with little sign of rain for at least a week.

Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said he hadn’t seen conditions this dry so early in the season for 10-15 years.

NSW had its driest winter since 2002, with maximum temperatures the third-warmest on record, the Bureau of Meteorology said on Friday.

Among the areas with controlled burns this weekend are bushland near Fishermans Point on the Hawkesbury River, and an area near Katoomba in the Blue Mountains.

Gusty conditions were expected to strengthen overnight, which would clear the air pollution but exacerbate fire risks.

“Tomorrow we are looking at very gusty, north-northwesterly winds,” Weatherzone meteorologist Jessica Miskelly said.

“We are looking at quite a few ‘very high’ [fire danger warnings] across the state tomorrow and the possibility it could push to ‘extreme’ around the north coast and the western Blue Mountains,” she said.

“It depends on how hot it gets and the wind speed at the time, and how dry it is.”

Temperatures were expected to deliver an unusually hot first weekend of spring, with the mercury peaking at 28 degrees for Sydney on Sunday. That’s about 8 degrees above the average for this time of year.

Ms Miskelly said the gusty conditions would “slowly pick up” overnight, and then intensify throughout Sunday ahead of a cold front moving through. ‘Hazardous’

As the air quality deteriorated across the city on Saturday, NSW Health warned people with respiratory conditions to take extra caution.

As shown below in the government’s air quality index, the worst of the pollution came during Saturday morning in Chullora and Earlwood.

“If you have asthma you should follow your Asthma Action Plan and take your relieving medication where necessary and if symptoms get worse, seek medical advice,” NSW Health Director of Environmental Health Branch, Dr Ben Scalley said.

At-risk groups, such as people with lung disease, older residents and young children were advised to avoid all outdoor physical activities.

Hazard-reduction burning was expected to continue throughout Saturday.

Weatherzone is owned by Fairfax Media, publisher of this website.

Giant Hopper shirks suitors to sign two-year contract extension

Greater Western Sydney midfielder Jacob Hopper has signed a two-year contract extension, spurning the advances of rival clubs.
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Hopper will remain with the Giants at least until the end of 2019. He had attracted strong interest from several clubs, including Carlton and St Kilda.

The Giants continue to sweat over the signature of prime onballer Josh Kelly, who is weighing up massive offers from several clubs. This includes a nine-year, $10 million offer from North Melbourne.

Hopper, a product of the Giants academy who had played with North Ballarat in the TAC Cup, has played 20 matches in his first two years.

“I love the club and how they’ve embraced me and my family so it was an easy decision to recommit,” he said.

“This is my home and where I want to play football. I’m so excited for what’s to come with this group and I absolutely want to be a part of it.

“Heading into finals, there is a really good buzz around the place and we’re all excited for the challenge ahead.”

Hopper’s signature is a boost for the Giants ahead of their qualifying final against Adelaide on Thursday night.

Giants football-department chief Wayne Campbell said Hopper, pick No.7 in the 2015 national draft, was an important cog.

“Having Jacob extend his contract on the eve of the finals is a real boost for the club,” he said.

“He’s a great kid who has shown real leadership. He’s had some setbacks this season but we know it’s made him stronger and more resilient.

“We know what he’s capable of on the field and we are looking forward to seeing him go from strength to strength in the coming years.”

The Giants have a crucial selection to make this week, with struggling veteran Steve Johnson fighting to retain his spot in the side. Former Docker Matt de Boer, who has a modest finals record, could replace the three-time premiership Cat.

Derryn Hinch cleared of constitutional breach

Senator Derryn Hinch will not refer himself to the High Court over a citizenship question. Photo: Andrew MearesCrossbench senator Derryn Hinch will not be referred to the High Court after advice from constitutional lawyers confirmed he was validly elected.
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Senator Hinch attempted to refer himself to the court this week after concerns were raised he might be in breach of section 44 of the constitution, which would have rendered him the latest casualty of the citizenship fiasco engulfing Parliament.

According to the Victorian senator, Attorney-General George Brandis informed him he had been cleared of any breach by the government’s legal experts.

It was revealed this week that Senator Hinch held a social security card number in the United States from his time living in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. He is also eligible for a pension there.

On Saturday, he expressed relief and labelled the original revelations a “vindictive slur” from a “malevolent” person.

“I’m glad the government has accepted the same advice given to me this week by two august constitutional lawyers. I have never been entitled to the ‘rights and privileges’ of a foreign power,” Senator Hinch said in a statement.

“I offered to go to the High Court because, if I didn’t, critics would say ‘what are you hiding?’ It would have been a disgraceful waste of the High Court’s time and money – taxpayers’ and mine.”

The concern centred around whether the senator had fallen foul of the “entitlement” clause in section 44 of the constitution.

But his move to test his case before the High Court was dismissed by the government and opposition, who shared a view “that it was a waste of time”.

Senator Hinch has never held US citizenship and social security cards are issued as a matter of course without any citizenship benefits.

Seven MPs, including three Turnbull government ministers, have been found to be dual citizens. Five of the cases will face the High Court in October and the final two will be referred by the Parliament next week.

Lively Watson auction among first springtime sales

A competitive auction in Watson was among Canberra’s first springtime sales on Saturday.
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The season is traditionally real estate’s busiest and comes off the back of an extraordinary winter market marked by strong sales and high clearance rates.

A three-bedroom house at 67 Piddington Street in Watson drew a large crowd, including eight registered bidders, on the sunny Saturday morning.

The house was on the market for the first time in more than 50 years and sits on more than 1000 square metres of land backing nature reserve.

An opening bid of $820,000 blossomed as lively bidding pushed the price past $900,000.

An investor snapped up the property for $921,000.

The sale contributed to a Canberra-wide clearance rate of 66 per cent off 41 reported auctions, according to Domain Group data.

Selling agent Andrew Grenfell of LJ Hooker Dickson said prospective buyers were drawn to the block’s location. Related: Canberra’s spring property boom beginsRelated: Willemsen Kambah home sells at auctionRelated: Bruce townhouse lures buyers to auction

“It’s just a good, flat, big block for people who want to renovate or rebuild – there are a lot of opportunities there for people,” he said.

“Not a lot of houses backing the reserve come up for sale. This [belonged to] the original owners from the 1960s.”

Mr Grenfell said he’d noticed more inquiries coming through and more people inspecting homes as the weather warmed up.

“The market is definitely picking up,” he said.

“The sun has come out, the flowers are blooming. It’s definitely a good time for people to revamp their interest in property.”

Inside the Watson house. Photo: Supplied

Mr Grenfell said there were limited houses in Watson and the surrounding area for sale.

“There are a lot of people looking for renovators, things they can do up themselves and put their stamp on,” he said.

“There are more young families who are upsizing and are coming up to that time in their life where they’re looking for somewhere to stay long term.”

For a full list of Canberra’s Saturday auction results, click here.

Racing NSW bans the practice of leading horses from cars

Wizard of Odds: Live Odds, Form and Alerts for all Racing
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Racing NSW has banned the use of vehicles to lead horses in training at racetracks throughout the state, leaving smaller country trainers looking for different ways to get their horses fit.

It has long been an option for trainers, in some cases holding the reins out the window while driving, to get their horses fit, particularly when no rider was available.

James Hatch famously prepared Stoneyrise to win a Country Championships heat leading him off his car on his property at the back of Bourke.

He will be able to continue the practice on private property for now as Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys said the ban was only on racecourses.

“We will not allow a practice that is so dangerous to participants, and the horse, to occur on racecourses in NSW. It is a welfare issue,” V’landys said. “It is just an accident that is waiting to happen and shouldn’t be a part of the industry in the 21st century.”

It is understood the NSW Trainers Association is compiling a list of more than 100 horses affected by the rule change as the outcry from bush trainers grows on social media. Upgrade finish at Albury

Albury Racing Club chief executive Mike Wighton is looking forward to finally getting back to consistent racing after more than year of track renovations at the border club.

The track has only held a handful of meetings in the past year as a $1.6 million upgrade took place and will hold its first meeting since Albury Cup day to coincide with the Everest and Caulfield Guineas meeting on October 14.

“We probably could have raced in September, but we just wanted to give the track time to consolidate in the growing period,” Wighton said. “We got the final section of the track finished after the cup meeting and we are using it for trackwork and jumpouts now.

“It has been a long period of work with the help of Racing NSW and the track is looking fantastic. It will be good to get back to racing regularly again.” Charman takes up as CEO

Tweed River Jockey Club secretary-manager Brian Charman will take over the chief executive of Country Racing in NSW.

Charman is set to take up his new role in October, but will be part of the annual country racing conference on September 29 before the country and provincial awards that night. Racing diary

Monday: Kempsey. Thursday: Ballina. Friday: Canberra, Tuncurry. Saturday: Armidale, Collarenebri, Griffith.

The ultimate racing form guide with free tips, live odds and alerts for all racing.

‘My mum’s in danger’: Little girl’s brave run to save her mother’s life

Four-year-old Georgia Ritter is the youngest person in NSW Ambulance’s 122 year history to receive the Commendation for Courage Community Award for her quick thinking to save her mum. Photo: Supplied”My mum’s in danger,” four-year-old Georgia Ritter told the triple-zero operator.
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She had just witnessed her mum’s quad bike flip over, leaving her seriously injured and trapped beneath the vehicle on the family’s 200-hectare cattle farm at Bundook, near Taree, in May this year.

So Georgia scaled a 75-degree slope to check on her mum and her injuries, and then ran for nearly a kilometre to reach their home.

This week, she became the youngest person in NSW Ambulance’s 122-year history to receive the Commendation for Courage Community Award and Drop Ribbon Medal.

“Acts of bravery come in all shapes and sizes and so to do the very people who perform them,” NSW Ambulance Commissioner Dominic Morgan said, as he presented the four-year-old with the award.

“Despite her distress, Georgia managed to remain calm enough to tell our Triple Zero call taker what had happened, where she was and her name, effectively ensuring an emergency response to the property.”

Taking the young girl’s call that day was Triple Zero operator “Matt”. After discovering Georgia’s age, Matt softened his approach and promised to remain on the line until the paramedics arrived.

In the call, which has been publicly released, Georgia tells him she is alone and it is “a long way” to get back to her mum.

In a bid to calm her nerves, Matts gets her to talk about her cat, named Tiger, and the cows on the farm, before asking her for details of the accident.

Westpac Rescue Helicopter member Graham Nickisson said Georgia continued to help the first responders with information as they arrived at the farm.

“Georgia’s ability to provide critical information to our helicopter crew, ground paramedics and the clinicians on board when we arrived was nothing short of amazing,” he said.

“Her clear instructions, information and maturity in handling what was a very difficult and challenging incident, all contributed to ensuring her mum received the urgent care she needed.”

Mum, Natalie Ritter, was “very proud” of her daughter as she received her award on Friday.

“We’re incredibly thankful for how things turned out that day and it’s wonderful to see her actions acknowledged in this way,” she said.