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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

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.

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.

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.

Assistant says he’s ready to take over as Hasler misses media call

Des Hasler, for the first time since taking over at Canterbury, took a sick day.
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Which meant he dodged all the inevitable questions in what may have been his final Bulldogs pre-match press conference about whether Sunday would be the last time he coaches the blue and whites.

So it was left to his assistant, Jim Dymock, to front the media.

While the ink is still drying on the two-year contract extension Hasler recently signed, it appears increasingly likely he will be speared in the off-season. Which raised the question: would Dymock be keen to replace Hasler is such a scenario unfolded?

“Definitely,” Dymock said. “I have aspirations of being a head coach. To be head coach of a side that I’ve spilled blood for would be an honour for me. I’d definitely put my hand up.

“If that opportunity comes, I feel I’m ready. I’ve been coaching for 13 years so I think I’ve put the time in.

“I think we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves at the moment. I’m just worrying about the game tomorrow.”

Hasler’s future has been a talking point from the moment Canterbury legend Steve Mortimer told Fairfax Media the club was “losing our DNA” under the former Manly mentor. That happened last October. Since then the Bulldogs have missed the finals and blown the salary cap to such an extent that it’s likely skipper James Graham will have to be one of the players moved on to accommodate new buys Kieran Foran and Aaron Woods.

Adding further intrigue is the fact that Canterbury board elections are being held in February, where it is likely incumbent directors will be thrown out of Belmore if Hasler isn’t. If officials are looking for a coach that understands the intangible that is the culture of the “Family Club”, then Dymock fits the bill. The former NSW and n international made 71 appearances for the Bulldogs, including a grand final-winning one in which he earned Clive Churchill medal honours. His own future is yet to be decided given he is off contract and yet to be offered a new one.

Dymock had to answer the tough questions in Hasler’s absence. Perhaps not for the last time.

“Six years I’ve been working with Des and I can honestly say he’s had the sniffles every now and then but it’s the first time he hasn’t turned up for a training session,” Dymock said.

“I don’t think it’s strange, he’s had a few family commitments as well, someone has been sick in the family as well. I don’t think it’s strange, it is what it is.

“Definitely [he will be present to coach against the Dragons on Sunday], even if he has no voice he will be miming away, we’ll understand what he’s saying. All the work has been done and the boys know what we need to do tomorrow.”

The Canterbury board is scheduled to convene for a board meeting which could decide Hasler’s fate.

“That’s a tough thing for a lot of the staff and a few of the players, the uncertainty of next year, what’s going on,” Dymock said.

“I think the board has got a meeting next Tuesday or something like that. Hopefully they can sort something out and we can just get on with it.”

Hasler’s coaching record remains one of the best in the game. He has won two premierships with Manly, guided the Bulldogs to two grand finals and boasts a win rate of 58 per cent. However, the Bulldogs only just scraped into the finals last year and missed out altogether in 2017, with his side seemingly in decline. It is a transitional time for the club, which could soon have a new coach, CEO, skipper and board.

Asked if Hasler should be nervous about getting sacked, Dymock replied: “Mate, Des is never nervous about stuff like that. He’s very confident in what he does. The last six years he’s been here, he has a great win rate so he’s probably one of the best in the competition. If you take that into consideration and also the two grand finals we made, it makes for a pretty good six years.”

Serena Williams gives birth to a baby girl

Serena Williams has given birth to a baby girl. Photo: APTennis championSerena Williamsand fiancéAlexis Ohanianhave welcomed their first child into the world.
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The six-time US Open championgave birth to a baby girl at a hospital near her home in Palm Beach, prompting congratulatory messages to begin circulating on social media.

Williams announced her pregnancy with Reddit co-founder Alexis Olhanian in April by posting a selfie on Snapchat with the caption “20 weeks”.

The US Openwas among the first to tweet the news.

Reports claimed that an entire floor of the St Mary’s Medical Centre had been cleared to offer Williams maximum privacy.

“Obviously I’m super excited,” said the baby’s aunt, Venus Williams, as she took the court at the US Open. “Words can’t describe.”

Citing a source from StMary’s Medical Centrein West Palm Beach, where Williams reportedly checked in on Wednesday to be induced, WPBF editor Patricia Storm said the new addition weighed in at 3.09 kilograms and was delivered via Caesarean section. Both mother and baby are said to be healthy.

In the Septemberediton ofVogue, Williams revealed her “strong suspicion” she was having a girl.

“Alexis thinks we’re having a boy, but I have a strong suspicion that it’s a girl,” she said. “Two weeks after we found out, I played the n Open. I told Alexis it has to be a girl because there I was playing in 100-degree weather, and that baby never gave me any trouble. Ride or die. Women are tough that way.”

Beyonce congratulated the new mother on Instagram.

Williams has won a total of 23 Grand Slam singles titles during her career, placing hersecond on the all-timerecord list behindMargaret Court.

Williams has a slew of records to her name, including as the onlytennis player to have won 10 Grand Slam singles titles in two separate decades. She is also the only player to have wontwo of the four Grand Slams – Wimbeldon and the n Open -seven times each.

In the Vogue interview, the 35-year-old also revealed that she “definitely”plans to return to the court.

“It’s hard to figure out what the end of your tennis career should look like,” she says. “I used to think I’d want to retire when I have kids, but no. I’m definitely coming back. Walking out there and hearing the crowd, it may seem like nothing. But there’s no better feeling in the world.”

North Korea and United States on brink of war, warns Vladimir Putin

South Korean F-15 fighter jets. US stealth fighter jets on Thursday joined jets from South Korea and Japan in a live-fire drill over the Korean Peninsula. Photo: APRussianPresident Vladimir Putin has warned that the standoff between North Korea and the United States is close to spilling into a large-scale conflict, and said it was a mistake to try to pressure Pyongyang into halting its nuclear missile programme.
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Mr Putin, due to attend a summit of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)in China next week, said the only way to de-escalate tensions was via talks, and Sergei Lavrov, his foreign minister, said Washington –not Pyongyang –should take the initiative.

“It is essential to resolve the region’s problems through direct dialogue involving all sides without advancing any preconditions (for such talks),” Mr Putin, whose country shares a border with North Korea, wrote on the Kremlin’s website.

“Provocations, pressure, and bellicose and offensive rhetoric is the road to nowhere.”

The Russian leader, whose nuclear-capable bombers recently flew over the Korean Peninsula in a show of force, said the situation had deteriorated so badly that it was now “balanced on the verge of a large-scale conflict.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a veiled critique of the United States and President Donald Trump’s rhetoric over North Korea. Photo: AP

Pyongyang has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States and recently threatened to land missiles near the USPacific territory of Guam.

US President Donald Trump issued a tweet on Thursday saying that “talking is not the answer” to the situation with North Korea.

The message was almost immediately contradicted by Mr Trump’s DefenceSecretary, Jim Mattis, who said diplomacy was never off the table.

“We are never out of diplomatic solutions,” he said before a meeting with his South Korean counterpart at the Pentagon.

“We continue to work together, and the minister and I share a responsibility to provide for the protection of our nations, our populations and our interests.”

A video broadcast by North Korean television last month shows Kim Jong-un receiving a military briefing in Pyongyang. Photo: AP

On Monday, North Korea, which sees joint war games between the United States and South Korea as preparations for invasion, raised the stakes by firing an intermediate-range missile over Japan.

“In Russia’s opinion the calculation that it is possible to halt North Korea’s nuclear missile programmes exclusively by putting pressure on Pyongyang is erroneous and futile,” Mr Putin wrote.

A road map formulated by Moscow and Beijing, which would involve North Korea halting its missile programme in exchange for the United States and South Korea stopping large-scale war games, was a way to reduce tensions, wrote Mr Putin.

Mr Lavrov, addressing students in Moscow, said he felt events were building towards a war which he said would cause large numbers of casualties in Japan and South Korea if it happened.

“If we want to avoid a war the first step must be taken by the side that is the more intelligent and stronger,” said MrLavrov, making clear he was referring to the United States.

He said Russia was working behind the scenes and that Moscow knew that Washington had a back channel to Pyongyang which he said he hoped would allow the two sides to de-escalate.

The week in pictures: September 18 to September 23

The week in pictures: September 18 to September 23 NEWCASTLE: Protection athlete Mitch Russell distracts a bull after a rider falls. Picture Supplied.
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NEWCASTLE: Hebrew Congregation vice president David Gubbay Photo Simone de Peak

BALLARAT: Police line the streets in honour of Sergeant Barry Hills who was killed in a motorbike crash. Photo Kate Healy.

BALLARAT: Assistant Commissioner Doug Fryer walks to a press conference to confirm a 16-year-old girls has been killed in a police chase. Photo: Kate Healy

DEVONPORT: Students from Don College showcasing a guest performance of Shrek at the Devonport Eisteddfod Showcase of Talent Concert. Picture Brodie Weeding

PINERY SA: Kelvin Tiller in his canola crop. Photo: Ali Kuchel

HENTY: Henty Machine of the Year runner-up with Coolamon Chaser Bins general manager Heath Hutcheon Coolamon at the Henty Machinery Field Days. Photo: Rachael Webb, The Land

HENTY: Luca Chaplin 5, Lochie Chaplin 6, and Georgia Shedden 6 from Willowvale Kergunyah Victoria at the Henty Machinery Field Days. Photo Rachael Webb The Land

HENTY: Emily White from Canberra, Matthew Roache, Alkira Woolsthorpe and Mikaela Meers, Netherway Coonamble at the Henty Machinery Field Days. Photo: Rachael Webb, The Land.

MOLONG: Ben Watts operating his DJI Inspire drone used for pasture mapping counting and checking stock. Photo Rachael Webb, The Land.

HENTY: Bourgault territory manager NSW and Qld Jonathon McKenzie Ettamogah at the Henty Machinery Field Days. Photo: Rachael Webb, The Land.

BALLARAT: Nithesh Babu 12, Vishnu Nerella 10, and Karthik Venkatesh 11 at the 2017 Ganesh Chaturthi festival. Photo Luka Kauzlaric.

HENTY: Bruce Tutty, checking out an Excel Stubble warrior air seeder at Henty Machinery Field Days. Photo: Rachael Webb, The Land.

HENTY: Ryan Taylor (right) trying on an Akubra with the assistance of Jarryd Gould sales assistant with Ozhatz Qld at Henty Machinery Field Days. Photo: Rachael Webb, The Land.

DEVONPORT: New Western District Police Commander Jonathan Higgins. Picture Cordell Richardson.

TASMANIA: Burnie High School_s musical of The Snow Queen. Picture Cordell Richardson.

BALLARAT: North Ballarat Roosters chairman John Nevett addresses the media after the Roosters had their VFL licence revoked. Photo: Luka Kauzlaric.

LAUNCESTON: Cataract Gorge’s First Basin. Picture Phillip Biggs.

STRATHALBYN: Willunga league players run through the banner onto the ground for the Great Southern Football League grand final. Photo, Ryan Finlay.

LAUNCESTON: The post office clock tower on the corner of Cameron and St John streets. Picture Phillip Biggs.

LAUNCESTON: Former prime minister Tony Abbott popped into Launceston during the week. We are yet to confirm whether he ate the onion. Picture Scott Gelston.

LAUCNESTON: North Launceston captain Taylor Whitford stands with his leadership group Brad Cox-Goodyer Zach Burt and Jack Avent. Picture Scott Gelston.

LAUNCESTON: Country Gold Netball competition at the Silverdome. Picture Neil Richardson.

STRATHALBYN: Tom Pinyon has a celebratory drink from the premiership cup after his side won the Great Southern Football League grand final. Photo_ Ryan Finlay

BALLARAT: Ballarat Wildlife Park’s Charlie Parker. Photo: Lachlan Bence.

TAREE: Mick Moylan, Holli Wheeler, Yvette Gillett, Emma Newell, Jayne Black and Hooker Bear ready for the Fit and Lean challenge Photo Scott Calvin.

PORT MACQUARIE: The 2017 Dance Eisteddfod Photo by Tracey Fairhurst.

NEWCASTLE: Sarah Skillen and Daniel Burgess outside the Icon Central apartment block site. They each bought a property in the development, which was cancelled in July. Picture Marina Neil.

NEWCASTLE : Rescue reported 12 homes sustained severe structural damage as a result of water rushing in. Photo Brodie Owen.

NEWCASTLE: Lynn Benn of Mulbring being led off by police after her arrest at Abbot Point coal port.

KEMPSEY: Crescent Head Public School students celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day Photo by Callum McGregor.

NEWCASTLE: Hunter’s Nick Stoddart at the 2016 NSW Interbranch Surf Life Saving Championships at The Lakes, Budgewoi. Picture Daniel Danuser

NEWCASTLE: George the orphan baby wombat who stole hearts across the country has been named ‘s most adorable animal.

NEWCASTLE: Sam Kerr’s flip an iconic moment for n women’s team sports Photo AAP.

NEWCASTLE: A turbine on the left in part of the ageing Liddell power station at Muswellbrook. Picture Janie Barrett.


NSW government accused of shedding park rangers, slashing budget

The Royal National Park, reserved in April 1879, was the world’s second national park. Photo: Peter RaeThe NSW government has been accused by the state opposition of launching “the single biggest attack” on the National Parks and Wildlife service since it was set up half a century ago.
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Penny Sharpe, Labor’s environment spokeswoman, used a NSW estimates hearing to press the government to confirm the loss of 49 park rangers – or 20 per cent of the total – since the coalition came to office in 2011.

The upper house member also asked the government to explain how the NPWS had seen its budget outlay slide from a projected $503.1 million in 2016-17 to a revised $448.1 million actually spent. That tally edged lower to $445 million in the current budget.

Anthony Lean, the chief executive of the Office of Environment and Heritage, told estimates the “bulk” of the reduction in spending was the result of a transfer of corporate services to other units.

“There’s been a significant change in the way the numbers have been represented,” Mr Lean said, adding he would take on notice a request to provide the proportion of the cuts.

A spokesman for OEH later told Fairfax Media that the removal of corporate costs accounted for the lower budget figures. Average staff numbers during 2011-17 were stable at about 1610 full-time staff equivalents, and these would rise to 1770 once the current restructure is complete.

Ms Sharpe, though, said the government continued to push through cuts, including so-called efficiency dividends of $5.6 million in the the 2016-17 and 2017-18 years.

“In its 50th year, the NPWS has never been so under attack because of cuts to staff, cuts to budget, and the sheer neglect of this government,” Ms Sharpe said.

One example was the NSW National Parks Establishment Plan, originally earmarked for a review and update by mid-2014 to cover the 2015-2020 period, had now been pushed at least into next year, she said.

The government is planning to reopen the strategy for consultation to take into account the plan to provide more money to conservation efforts on private land as part of its biodiversity conservation overhaul, Mr Lean said.

The focus on private conservation meant “national Parks have gone to the back of the line,” Ms Sharpe said.

The OEH spokesman, though, said the government remained committed to expanding the protected areas in NSW that now cover 7 million hectares.

Since 2011, the public reserve system had been expanded by than 70,000 hectares through the establishment of nine new reserves and 122 additions to existing reserves.

“It has also set aside $240 million [over five years] for the establishment of protected areas over private land as part of its biodiversity conservation reforms,” he said.

Those reforms, though, were also a subject of Friday’s estimates hearings, with opposition members questioning the reason for releasing new land-clearing codes for native vegetation before most of the maps had been finalised.

Those maps are intended to show which lands are considered to have high conservation value vegetation that will need approval from Local Land Services before it can be cleared.

Gabrielle Upton reiterated comments made last month to Fairfax Media that the maps were in addition to other codes and regulations already in place.

“There are strong penalties [for wrongful clearing] and a high level of monitoring of the reforms,” Ms Upton told estimates.

Ms Upton also said she had “considered the advocacy” of the family of Glen Turner, the OEH compliance officer murdered three years ago while investigating land clearing by the Turnbull family at Croppa Creek, north of Moree. The new laws “will not diminish [Mr Turner’s] work or his life”, she said.

Ms Upton took on notice a question as to whether the land being cleared by the Turnbull family would have been approved under the new codes released on August 25.

Social Seen: Housewives, drag queens and chic activewear

You’d be forgiven for mistaking the opening of Napoleon Perdis’ new boutique for a rave when walking past it on Crown Street, Surry Hills, at 10am on Wednesday.
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Despite two floors, the four walls could barely contain dancing guests – including The Real Housewives of Sydney’s Nicole O’Neil and Krissy Marsh, LGBTIQ advocate the Honourable Michael Kirby, and a number of drag queens – who ended up spilling onto the street.

Forget coffee or even mimosas at that time of day, Perdis served champagne to wash down porridge as he celebrated 25 years in the makeup industry and the opening of his 86th store, alongside his bedazzled and bejeweled family, including wife Soula-Marie, daughter and the new face of the business Lianna, 17, and triplets Angelene, Athina, and Alexia, 15.

The family, who live between Athens and Double Bay, had all flown in for the event before jetting back to Europe that evening to get ready for the start of high school after the northern summer break.

Lianna told Fairfax Media that she also used the trip Down Under to partake in a number of photo shoots – the first as a model in her own right outside of the family’s makeup business.

Across town Stylerunner CEO, Julie Stevanja, launched her new range of on-trend activewear New Guard on a rooftop basketball court in Ultimo.

There were no drag queens in sight as guests sipped on flat whites and dined on Mary’s while the retail queen of ‘s activewear scene presented her chic 17-piece collection accompanied by hip-hop dancers.

The range will be sold on the e-commerce site that focuses on fashion-forward sportswear, alongside the 70 other brands Stevanja stocks.

The self-made millionaire, whose business is estimated to be worth $50 million, described the morning as “epic” and thanked “the weather god” for the glorious winter sunshine.

On Tuesday, Firedoor restaurant in Surry Hills was transformed into a cosy English setting, smelling of Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest in Nottingham, for the launch of Jo Malone London’s the English Oak Collection.

Its lifestyle director Debbie Wild introduced guests, including Kate Waterhouse and Liberty Watson of Sydney-based label Watson X Watson, to two new fragrances that can be worn alone or mixed together.

All that was missing from the “quintessentially British” afternoon were the Merry Men.

Following its successful run at the Sydney Opera House, Julie Andrew’s production of My Fair Lady has returned to Sydney, this time at the Capitol Theatre.

Amid a rainstorm on Sunday evening, former MP Bronwyn Bishop walked the opening night’s red carpet, along with Nine’s Sylvia Jeffreys, who took her father as her date, and Seven’s Kylie Gillies, who brought her mother.

Downton Abbey star Charles Edwards plays Professor Higgins and the Helpmann Award-winning Anna O’Byrne stars as Eliza Doolittle.

Tech-ready, the Yanomami take charge of their message

Romeu Iximaw????teri Yanomami (behind the camera) and?? Silvano Ironasiteri Yanomami to his right, organise Yanomami children for a video shoot. Romeu Iximaw????teri Yanomami (behind the camera) and Silvano Ironasiteri Yanomami to his right, organise Yanomami children for a video shoot.
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From left,?? Ricardo Pukimapiweiteri Yanomami, Silvano Ironasiteri Yanomami and?? F????bio Iximaw????teri Yanomami work on their audio visual skills.??

“The white people come here to take images and do not show them back to us,” says Octavio Yanomami from the Marauia River, where the Brazilian Amazon forest licks the Venezuelan border, as he holds a camera for the first time.

A simple Google search with the keyword “Yanomami” shows more than 50,000 results for videos alone, many of them produced, distributed and commercialised without proper consent or benefit to this indigenous group, often erroneously romanticised around the world as the “last primitive” people of the Amazon.

The Yanomami are native to the northern parts of the Brazilian Amazon forest and the southern parts of the Venezuelan Amazon and are threatened by white people’s diseases and invasion of their traditional and legally protected territories by gold miners, loggers, hunters and cattle farmers.

“Along with white people, the problems arrived. Many negative impacts. With this equipment, we have autonomy,” says Octavio, who is the coordinator of the Xapono Media Centre created to convey the impact of development on the richest ecosystem on the planet.

“It will help us become more proficient, but also as a weapon to denounce, to have proof against invaders and to register our history and our fight.” /**/

Last month, the Brazilian army dismantled a massive clandestine gold prospecting operation on Yanomami land housing around 1000 people. The illegal venture, one of many, generated revenues of around 35 million reais ($12.8 million) a month, the army said.

Illegal gold mining has been taking place on Yanomami land for decades, despite numerous campaigns and laws protecting their territory. Not much has changed since 1990, when Prince Charles described their suffering as collective genocide.

“We have no illusion. We know these [gold diggers] will establish themselves in another place,” General Gustavo Dutra said, referring to Brazilian authorities’ inability to monitor the country’s vast and open borders.

Gold mining heavily pollutes the pristine Amazonian rivers and contaminates their fish with mercury. A 2014-2016 study by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, which works with the Health Ministry and not-for-profits in Brazil, found mercury contamination in 92 per cent of Yanomami people sampled in 19 villages. Mercury is a highly toxic metal used in gold mining that leads to loss of vision, heart disease and other cognitive and motor impairments. It can cause birth defects.

The Yanomami people came to the attention of the English-speaking world in the late 1960s, when Western anthropologists such as the controversial Napoleon Chagnon depicted them as “the last major primitive tribe left in the Amazon basin, and the last such people anywhere on Earth” living “in a state of chronic warfare”. Such accounts were contested by other anthropologists and the indigenous peoples themselves.

Along with Trobriand Islanders, the Nuer and the Navajo – who became shared points of reference in anthropological textbooks – the Yanomami needed to learn and tolerate the presence of foreigners, with their cameras, recorders and interpretation of culture. But now they are trying to take back control over their own stories.

The Xapono Media Centre seeks to counter misrepresentations and misappropriation of Yanomami image rights and give a voice to the people.

“The Yanomami have a peculiar way of representing us white people, but they also need the means to tell their own struggles,” says Frenchwoman Anne Ballester Soares, who organised the workshops.

Soares has lived among the Yanomami since 1994, organising publications in their language. She believes the Yanomami will be better off communicating autonomously.

“They are not free to express themselves and yet they have so much to tell. Indigenous health is worsening due to misuse of funding. Their own healing methods are not respected and there are new threats from mining prospects … they want to be able to resist,” she says.

Using crowdfunding, the media centre is running two workshops to teach the indigenous community how to use audio and video capture and editing, how to best use language, presentation and analysis as well as scriptwriting, post-production, compression formats and broadcast media.

“We are developing ethnic media to speak from an indigenous aesthetic. The Yanomami have a distinctive way of seeing the world, their vision is educated in different ways,” says Daiara Tukano, radio reporter of the indigenous online station, Radio Yande.

She tells Fairfax Media that apart from independent initiatives, different indigenous peoples are getting together to reflect on their place in the world and develop strategies for survival.

“We are trying to break with the Eurocentric ways of seeing native peoples by showing how dynamic our civilisations are,” she explains.

Shaman and activist Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, co-author of the acclaimed 2013 book The Falling Sky – Words of a Yanomami Shaman, spoke to Fairfax Media over a mobile phone on his way back from visiting neighbouring Roraima to his isolated community further down the Demini River, in the western part of Yanomami territory.

“The Yanomami need to tell their own story to keep Yanomami [culture]. Today is much different from 50 years ago. Today the Yanomami thinking is way too confused. The white men brought diseases, invasion of our land, cutting the forests. They only think of money.”

As a child in the early ’60s, David Kopenawa saw his community wiped out by two successive epidemics of infectious diseases brought by missionaries and government employees. He grew up to condemn the white man’s way.

“They only talk about work or things they want to possess. They live with no joy and get old earlier, always busy and always yearning for new products. Then their hair gets white, they die and the work, that never dies, survives all of them. Then, their children and grandchildren keep doing the same,” he wrote in the book.

Despite adopting the Christian faith, Kopenawa gave it up for what he perceived to be its fanaticism and obsession with sin.

“We will never be white. We refuse to be assimilated. We have our lands and culture. Before we were free to hunt, work, raise children, shamanism,” he tells Fairfax Media.

“The government now wants to oblige us to speak Portuguese, go to school, live in cities. Very complicated. There’s no housing, there’s no one to trust. The government needs to accept our sovereignty, keep loggers, miners and squatters out of our land.”

The interview finishes with a plea: “Please tell the people who the Yanomami are. We are the ones who keep the lungs of the world alive.”

We all belong in the book of names

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – August 29 . Kon Karapanagiotidis with blue book of all the people he has helped over the years seek asylum. Asylum Seeker Resource Centre .August 29, 2017 in Melbourne, . (Photo by Darrian Traynor) Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton addresses the media during a doorstop interview at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 16 August 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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There are two notebooks. The covers are blue, and worn at the edges. One book is falling apart, the spine held together by tape. Both are 168 pages long, and each contains lists of names, one to a line, numbered and dated.

The first entry, back in 2001, records the name of the first person who sought help from the newly-founded Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. The final entry is numbered 7579. The second book, which starts where the first ended in 2012, is filling up fast.

The number of people who have received assistance from the ASRC is now approaching 15,000. Many have also been assisted by a range of other community and church groups.

Each name represents a story, each name a life, a journey.

Kon Karapanagiotidis, founder and chief executive of the ASRC, flips through the pages of the first book. He lights up at individual names.

“Most of the people named in the first book have received their permanent visas, but this one was forced to leave,” he says sadly. “This one has been reunited with family and is thriving. That one has started a business that employs many workers.”

The people named in the second book tell a different story.

Most remain on various forms of temporary visa. To understand their predicament requires a shift from names to statistics. Many are among a group of about 24,500 asylum seekers, who arrived by boat in between August 13, 2012, and July 18, 2013.

“Their lives are on hold, subject to arbitrary policy changes,” says Karapanagiotidis. “They are caught up in a nightmare. Some may be deported in the short term, and others may have to wait for years, if ever, before receiving permanent protection.”

Early this week, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, as directed by its minister, Peter Dutton, signalled yet another shift in policy. The new visa affects up to 410 asylum seekers who have been transferred to from Nauru and Manus Island at various times since 2013 – for medical treatment, mental health issues, to give birth or accompany sick loved ones. Some of the transferred women had been raped on Nauru. The group includes 50 babies, 66 children, single men and women, and families.

Known as the “Final Departure Bridging E Visa”, the first 65 recipients were summoned to the offices of the department and told they will lose their accommodation within three weeks and be immediately cut off from basic services.

“The aim is to make them destitute,” says Karapanagiotidis, “and make conditions so difficult that they will be forced back to Manus Island and Nauru, and returned to danger, the scene of their trauma.”

On Monday morning, he called a meeting of staff to discuss this latest crisis. Even though the centre’s resources are stretched well beyond its limits, the staff immediately agreed to take on the cases of asylum seekers affected by the new visa.

“We have accompanied some of them to the department’s offices. We’ve also tried to find at least one person willing to tell their story,” says Kon. “They are confused, and too terrified. They fear they will be punished if they go public. They finally felt at home here, and had a chance to breath freely, make new friends, and regain trust. They had found a safe space to tell their story, face to face, with empathetic listeners. Now this. They are shattered.

“The big story is that we cannot hear their story now. Worse still, they have been robbed of their stories and had them distorted. The minister has smeared them as con artists and fabricators, and accused them of robbing pensioners.

“They have been turned into ghosts. It is terrifying.”

There has been one saving grace. Since the ASRC, and other community groups, posted details of the new visa on social media, the public response has been overwhelming. Many have expressed outrage and offered rooms for individuals, accommodation for entire families. Sanctuary. Others have offered employment, material aid, or contributed to the emergency appeal set up to help those affected. Donated 2 weeks housing to @ASRC1 bc despite what Dutton says, my ‘social justice agenda’ as a lawyer is right & moral #[email protected]__K??? Emma (@emmerina) August 30, 2017I just donated @Kon__K because compassion matters and is better than this https://t苏州夜场招聘/a4aoxoyzYX??? tarnya widdicombe (@tarnya_widdi) August 30, 2017

Drummoyne’s $12 million mansion sets Inner West record

Hotelier and race car driver Rod Salmon has sold his waterfront mansion in Drummoyne for more than $12 million, setting an all-time new high for the inner west.
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The three-level residence set at the end of Wrights Point was expected to hit the market in time for the start of the spring this weekend, but after being quietly shopped around in recent weeks by at least three agencies it was sold to a local buyer in an off-market deal.

Salmon, a long-time property developer and hotelier who founded the Skwirk online education company in 2005, bought the waterfront mansion in 2014 from fellow hotelier Sam Arnaout.

Arnaout commissioned the palatial residence following his purchase of the 700-square-metre property in 2007 for $6 million.

Salmon’s purchase in 2014 coincided with his sale of the Wentworth Hotel in Homebush and the One World Bar in Parramatta to Arnaout’s Iris Capital hospitality group.

???The three-level house includes five bedrooms, six bathrooms, a four-car garage, a rooftop terrace, gym, home theatre, swimming pool, separate living area with a wet bar, separate guest apartment and a waterfront lawn that extends to Crown Land and the historic Drummoyne Steps.

Related: Annandale’s freestanding homes demanding a premium Related: Ryan Stokes sells Walsh Bay pad for $7.8 million Related: Cricketer Steve Smith spends $1.95 million in Birchgrove

The Drummoyne record ends the Balmain peninsula’s decades long dominance of the inner west’s top sales records, most recently set at $11.8 million in 2014 by the waterfront house purchase in Balmain East by art collector and heiress Paris Neilson.

The previous inner west high was set at $11.5 million in 2008 when Mark Ainsworth, son of billionaire poker machine maker Len Ainsworth, bought a Gothic-style villa on the waterfront in Birchgrove.

While Sydney’s prestige market hot spots are predominantly in the eastern suburbs and lower north shore, the inner west’s top-end market has proved increasingly bullish in recent years as values and wealth across Sydney have risen in recent years.

Danny Cobden, of Cobden & Hayson in Balmain, said the Balmain peninsula’s high-end shoppers tended to be local buyers, not imports from more affluent areas of Sydney.

“Most of these major prestige sales are to buyers who are already established in this area and the purchase is about trading up in their area of choice,” Cobden said.

“But for your Drummoyne buyers they are often drawing from a broader area, so there are Hunters Hill buyers who will look at Drummoyne who won’t go near Balmain, and visa versa.” The Inner West record setters

1. Wrights Point, Drummoyne

Sold $12 million-plus August 2017

2. Gallimore Avenue, Balmain East

Sold for $11.8 million in 2014.

3. Wharf Road, Birchgrove

Sold for $11.5 million in 2008.

4. Wharf Road, Birchgrove

Sold for $11.1 million in 2009.

This house on Wharf Road comes with a view of the Harbour Bridge. Photo: Supplied5. Chalmers Road, Strathfield

Sold for $8.8 million in May 2017.

Chalmers Road, Strathfield. Photo: SuppliedWoollahra $10.1 million jewel

A handful of high-end home shoppers registered to buy a1930s-era Woollahra mansion on Tuesday night, forcing the sale result well above the initial $8.8 million guide to sell for $10.1 million under the hammer.

But after an opening bid of $8 million it was neuroradiologist Jason Wenderoth who 22 bids later claimed the purchase, ending 45 years of ownership by Margaret Allsopp, of the Angus and Coote jewellery family.

The home on Edgecliff Road in Woollahra. Photo: Supplied The auction was a competitive one among some of the east’s bullish buyers in large part driven by the continued lack of high-end stock on the market. There was no reserve revealed by Gavin Rubinstein, of Ray White Double Bay, but the property was already on the market at $9.9 million.

The five-bedroom, five-bathroom residence with a swimming pool and north-facing views of the harbour is set on a battle-axe block of 825 square metres and was sold with DA-approval to build a second residence.

Allsopp, who bought it in 1972 for $126,000, has meanwhile downsized to a $6 million apartment she bought in Double Bay in May.

New hope for Melbourne first-home buyers as spring selling begins

Generic auction signThe Sunday Age Domain Photo CATHRYN TREMAIN23 June 2005/cjt050623.001.004 RICHMOND,AUSTRALIA 29 JULY 2017; Auctioneer Richard Impiombato from Delmege O’Shea in action at 42 Stawell St Richmond on Saturday 29 July 2017. Photo Luis Enrique Ascui
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‘Tis the season for first-home buyers. At least, that’s what economists are predicting ahead of the first weekend of the spring auction market.

Along with other owner-occupiers, young buyers in the market for their first home are tipped to dominate auctions across the state over the coming months.

Emboldened by stamp duty cuts introduced in winter, they are also expected to face less competition from investors, according to ME Bank’s Patrick Nolan.

“This season will be different from previous years in that we won’t see as much investor activity due to n Prudential Regulation Authority regulations curbing the amount of investor and interest-only loans banks can lend,” Mr Nolan said.

“We think there’s going to be much more opportunity for owner-occupiers to really get in there and compete.”

Domain Group chief economist Andrew Wilson said the strongest part of Melbourne’s auction market was in the budget price range.

“Spring will reveal whether that cut to first-home buyer’s stamp duty has really worked,” he said.

Spring is widely regarded as the best time of year to sell property and, as a result, more properties come onto the market. There are 894 auctions scheduled this weekend, forecast to rise to 1100 by mid-September. Related: Winter auctions up on last yearRelated: Families struggle to climb property ladderRelated: Melbourne’s new bridesmaid suburbs

Traditionally, the biggest auction days over the spring period are the weekends before the AFL grand final and the Melbourne Cup. More than 1400 properties can go under the hammer on these so-called “super Saturdays”.

Middle- and outer ring suburbs have recorded heightened auction activity this year, which is tipped to continue into spring, according to the Real Estate Institute of Victoria.

President Joseph Walton named Craigieburn, Reservoir, Dingley Village and Scoresby among suburbs recording above-average clearance rates.

In the past, auctions were typically only popular in the inner-city but Mr Walton said an increase in buyer appetite meant it was now the norm for properties further afield to sell under the hammer.

“Over the course of the past couple of years, there’s been a real spike in auction activity in the outer suburbs,” he said.

Samantha McCarthy, from Hocking Stuart Werribee, said auctions were not a deterrent in the outer west, where it was still possible to buy a freestanding house for less than $500,000.

“There’s on average five bidders per property in the outer west,” she said.

Ms McCarthy said first-home buyers were often bidding against each other, as well as competing with interstate investors.

“The investors are coming from Sydney; Melbourne is so much more affordable than where they are coming from.”

Dr Wilson said Melbourne had emerged as the strongest auction market in the country, tracking higher clearance rates than Sydney. There were 9868 auctions over winter, with an overall auction clearance rate of 71 per cent.

He expected clearance rates in Melbourne to remain above 70 per cent but said, overall, the market may not perform as well as last spring, when buyers were motivated by recent interest rate cuts.

He said the top end of the market had been an underperformer over winter.

“It’s certainly not as strong as the budget market, particularly the inner east,” he said. “There’s a real sense the [inner-east] market has topped out.”