OPINION: Researching 30 years of change in Hunter

FAREWELL: Dr Wej Paradice outside the Hunter Valley Research Foundation. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers FAREWELL: Dr Wej Paradice outside the Hunter Valley Research Foundation. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
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WHEN I joined the Hunter Valley Research Foundation in 1982, the Hunter Region had a population of 473,000 people. Newcastle’s population had declined from 145,000 in 1976 to 140,000 in 1981.

The Hunter’s population now stands at 630,000 people. The Central Coast population was only 94,000 people in 1981 and this has now grown to over 320,000 people.

Between the Hunter and Central Coast we now have a combined population of almost one million people, a sizeable market in Australian terms. Tasmania has only 511,000 people while the Northern Territory has 231,000.

Up to the 1980s, Newcastle and the Hunter Region were synonymous with the image of iron and steel making and the dominance of basic heavy industries. Yet the seeds of change had well and truly been planted.

While BHP was then employing over 11,000 people, the writing was on the wall that this would not continue forever. The State Dockyard was beginning to wind down operations, with its last two ferry construction contracts for Manly ferries almost complete.

However, alternative industries were already developing, with aluminium production having begun at Kurri Kurri in 1969 and construction of the Tomago smelter under way with completion in 1984.

Saleable coal production from the region was about 28 million tonnes and the Port exported only about 13 million tonnes (133 million tonnes in 2012).

Most of the coal came from underground mines. Also at this time the Electricity Commission of NSW was still building Eraring and Bayswater Power Stations.

We found unemployment in the 1980s region was in the order of 16 per cent or more. Getting to year 10 was aspirational for students in the region.

As you can tell, the Hunter Region was a very different place. Even though I had grown up in the Upper Hunter, I was fortunate to be able to gain an even better appreciation of the Hunter by having spent time away, both outside the region and outside the country.

I lived in Sydney when you could pick up a townhouse in Paddington for $15,000, as well as a number of years in the US, all of which was great preparation for working for the Hunter Valley Research Foundation.

One of my early tasks on joining the foundation was to assist in recording data from the foundation’s weather station. The task was to take weather readings at 9am and 3pm every day, 365 days of the year. The data was recorded in a weather book and then a phone call to the post office was made in the morning and afternoon to send a telegram to the Bureau of Meteorology with the recorded readings.

Reflecting upon these types of memories gives one pause to consider the significance of the changes we have experienced as a community and as an organisation over these last three decades.

The Hunter has changed dramatically, moving from a heavy industry base to an economy in which services, innovation and creativity are the key generators of jobs and wealth.

BHP was the previous paternalistic presence within the region, but now the university, alongside major health institutions, are the employers of note, while trade and capital investment have been the characteristics of the resources sector that have been contributing to the local economy in recent years.

Technology, and the digital revolution, has played a critical role in how we relate to each other and how we do business. When I was undertaking my PhD we stored data and ran statistical programs through main-frame computers using punched data cards.

These major changes in the structure of the regional economy and how we all do business have meant redefining what information the foundation collects and how we collect it.

In those early years the foundation had a focus on collecting physical resource information. As the needs of the community changed so did the demands on the foundation. The community wanted current information that was relevant to their needs.

As a result, the foundation developed its regional economic monitoring program, which collected information directly from households and businesses and which could be benchmarked to similar information collected at a national level.

Over the last decade the foundation began its work to track the overall well-being of our community. Our research demonstrates that personal relationships, individual health and perceived relative wealth are the main contributors to a person’s feeling of life satisfaction.

In closing, I would like to remind those in decision-making roles that investing in regional research is an investment in the future of NSW. The foundation has been an integral part of the evolution on one of Australia’s pre-eminent regional economies and should serve as an excellent example of how governments can help regions to help themselves.

Let’s hope we can re-establish that partnership in the near future.

Low-cost TV rules as networks chase cheap news

New data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows why commerical free-to-air broadcasters love news and current affairs: it’s dirt cheap.The reason free-to-air commercial broadcasters are so fond of news, current affairs and sports programming was made abundantly clear in new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday – it is dirt cheap.
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According to the data, the FTA commercial networks produced 57 times as much news and current affairs programming in 2011-12 as they did drama – more than 36,000 hours versus 632 hours. TV news and current affairs costs just $14,000 per hour to produce, one-fortieth the cost of an hour of drama at an average of $560,000.

The figures will add fuel to the production sector’s concerns that recent changes to the commercial licence arrangements – in which the FTA commercial broadcasters were given a permanent 50 per cent discount in return for showing more Australian content, but of any sort at all – is likely to produce an increase only in low-cost programming rather than the more expensive drama, documentary and children’s content.

The ABS analysis showed that news and current affairs is by far the largest contributor to the commercial networks’ programming slate, comprising almost half of all programming. Sport is a close second, with “sport and other” content accounting for just over 40 per cent of all broadcast hours. Although the number of hours for this category was not given – on the grounds of “commercial confidentiality” – the maths suggest it was 31,513 hours – about 40 per cent of the total broadcast hours – at a total cost of $450.3 million. That equates to just $14,289 per hour.

The licence fee discount granted by Senator Stephen Conroy in March has been estimated to be worth about $130 million a year collectively to the networks. In return, each is required to broadcast an additional 730 hours of Australian content across its digital channels next year, rising to 1460 hours in 2015.

At an average cost of $14,000 an hour, that suggests they will be between $68 million and $99 million a year better off. If they fill their quotas with repeats – which they legally could do – the bottom line could be even better.

The survey of the film, television and computer games industries, which was last conducted five years ago, produced some other surprises.

The subscription television sector is now worth almost as much as the free-to-air commercial sector, both having estimated income of just over $4.65 million in 2011-12.

Total income in the film and video production sector – those companies and individuals actually making content – was $2.19 billion, an increase of 38 per cent since the last survey in 2006-07. The sector employed 13,414 people, an increase of 23 per cent.

But the value of the post-production sector has declined by 25 per cent over the same period, to $329.6 million, despite a 30 per cent rebate that has helped attract foreign film productions, such as the current Will Smith sci-fi adventure After Earth, to the country. Employment in the sector dropped by 21 per cent over the same period, to 2346.

But the hardest-hit sector was game development, which has shed almost 60 per cent of its workforce – down from 1431 in 2006-07 to 581 in 2011-12 – as large foreign computer games developers have shifted work back home or to other cheaper markets in response to the high dollar. Total income for the sector was down from $136.9 million to $89.4 million.

The sector was offered some small solace, however, as the first recipients of the federal government’s new interactive games fund were announced at a Screen Australia conference in Canberra.

Ten companies received a total of $6 million in enterprise funding, designed to help them develop as viable businesses over the medium term. Six of the companies were from Melbourne, further cementing the city’s reputation as a hotspot for app and game development.

[email protected]上海夜生活m.au

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Officers break down in court over shot colleague

Shot dead while on duty: Senior Constable David Rixon. Photo: Barry SmithA police officer lying bloodied on the ground, colleagues frantically trying to help him, and an alleged gunman groaning while curled up in the foetal position.
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Two Tamworth police officers became emotional in court on Thursday as they recalled that scene, which confronted them the morning Senior Constable David Rixon was shot near a block of units on Lorraine Street.

Inspector Kylie Endemi, who was rostered on as duty officer on the morning of March 2, 2012, recalled Senior Constable Rixon lying on his back, with two colleagues kneeling by his side trying to resuscitate him.

At times, her voice cracked as she gave evidence.

That morning, 49-year-old Michael Allan Jacobs, the man accused of shooting Senior Constable Rixon, was also lying on the ground injured, having been shot by the officer, the court heard.

Jacobs has pleaded not guilty to murdering Senior Constable Rixon.

The jury has been told Jacobs blamed another man, Terrance “Terry” Price, for the shooting when police arrived at the units.

Inspector Endemi said she instructed other officers to locate Mr Price, and they later took him into custody.

Crown prosecutor Pat Barrett has previously told the court Mr Price denied having anything to do with the shooting, and police did not find any gunshot residue on his hands.

The court heard Mr Price told police who arrived at his home: “I’ve been here with my missus all night. I didn’t shoot anyone.”

Under cross-examination from Jacobs’ defence barrister, Tim Hoyle, SC, Inspector Endemi remembered seeing Jacobs lying on the concrete outside the units.

“He was lying in the foetal position on his right hand aside,” she told the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney. “He was groaning.”

Constable Hayley Simshauser said she saw Senior Constable Rixon lying on the ground with blood on the front of his body.

“When you got there the picture confronting you was obviously a very distressing one. There were a lot of police there and Senior Constable Rixon was clearly very badly injured and people were doing what they could to help him?” Mr Hoyle asked.

“Yes,” Constable Simshauser replied, before briefly breaking down.

“Your attention was focused on this rather than making precise notes on what happened?” “Yes,” she said.

She said she was instructed to tape off Lorraine Street, before later going with other officers to take Terry Price into custody.

Jacobs’ trial continues before Justice Richard Button.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

‘I would have thrown away the key’: father’s feelings of deja vu as man who killed his daughter allegedly attacks woman at bus stop

Killed: Vanessa Hoson. The bus stop where the alleged attack took place. Photo: Ben Rushton
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Murderer on parole ‘trying to kill again’

If it was up to Keith Hoson, the man who raped and murdered his daughter Vanessa in 1990 would have been locked away forever.

“I would have thrown away the key, for sure,” said the heartbroken father who has spent the past 24 years coming to terms with an event that tore his family apart.

Instead, the 46-year-old convicted rapist and murderer was released on parole last August and on Wednesday night was arrested for allegedly bashing, stabbing and attempting to rape a woman at a Hunters Hill bus stop in an attack that was interrupted by a passing motorist.

Terrence Leary has been charged with eight offences and is accused of wounding the woman with intent to murder.

A horrible sense of deja vu came over Mr Hoson when he received a call from the NSW State Parole Authority on Thursday morning to tell him that Terrence Leary, the man who raped Vanessa in their Kenthurst home, bashed her with a hammer and dumped her body in a Dural car park, was once again behind bars.

“When he had his trial originally, the psychiatrist said he didn’t think he could ever be rehabilitated,” said Mr Hoson, 68, who moved to the mid north coast when he retired 14 years ago.

“Each time he came up for parole, I would go down to Sydney for the parole meetings and they rejected him for about eight or nine years. From what I understand he wouldn’t admit to what he did and he wouldn’t take on any courses or anything like that.”

But Mr Hoson is not angry that Leary was eventually released on parole after serving 22-and-a-half years of his sentence.

He would rather that than he be kept in prison until January 2014 when his sentence would have been completed and he would have been released into the community without any monitoring.

Instead, he despairs that Leary would ever be allowed out of jail at all.

When the sentence of 24 years with a non-parole period of 15 years was handed down, Mr Hoson said he had “lost respect for society”.

“We don’t know why it happened. There’s nothing I can say to explain it – we’ve just lost all respect for society,” he said in 1990.

Vanessa’s mother Helen, who lives in Sydney, said at the time that she prayed the killer would get a life sentence.

“You are supposed to die before your children,” she told a newspaper.

The judge said Leary suffered an abnormal personality and had consumed alcohol and probably smoked marijuana before he left a Kellyville party, drove to the Hosons’ home and climbed in Vanessa’s bedroom window.

The judge said Leary was a “danger to the community” and would not be released during the maximum term of 24 years unless assessments showed he was no longer dangerous.

These days, Mr Hoson has accepted the fact that the punishment was the maximum penalty available to the judge at the time but it is still cold comfort for him.

“I didn’t get vicious until about 12 months after Vanessa’s death,” he said. “It’s the sort of thing that affects people in different ways. At first it just stunned me but then I got really angry and if I had’ve got hold of him then I’d have probably ended up in jail too.

“There was a time when I could be driving down Parramatta Road and all of a sudden I’d burst out in tears. It’s something you handle in different ways.

“I think after a while, you come to realise that all you can do is adjust for the fact that he’s been given what he’s been given and there’s not much you can do about it unless you know somebody very important.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Yield spread narrowing rapidly

The yield advantage on Australian sovereign bonds may crash to the least since 2001 as the Reserve Bank bank shows it’s willing to cut record-low interest rates even further, CBA says.
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The extra yield benchmark Australian notes offer over US counterparts will shrink to 80 basis points by 2015 and may drop to as little as 50, Commonwealth Bank forecasts.

Economists expect the to narrow to 87 basis points by September 2014, according to a Bloomberg survey, after touching 107 yesterday, the least since November 2008.

The Reserve Bank said this week it retains scope to cut rates as the economy is dragged down by the end of a record mining investment boom and manufacturing struggles to fill the gap. Lower borrowing costs would further reduce sovereign yields and weaken the Aussie dollar just as the US Federal Reserve signals it may reduce monetary stimulus this year.

“We are going to have a slowdown in Australia, and if things go badly, it could turn into a recession,” said Philip Brown, a fixed-income strategist at CBA. If the run of poor data continues in Australia against the backdrop of a resurgent US, a spread of 50 basis points is plausible, according to CBA.

The 10-year rate was 3.63 per cent this afternoon, compared with 2.35 per cent for similar-dated US Treasuries. Australian sovereign debt returned 1.2 per cent from the end of March to June 18, while US bonds handed investors a 1 per cent loss, Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes show.

The gap to Treasuries reached 51 basis points on March 28, 2006, the least since May 2001, before soaring to a decade-high of 277 in February 2008.

“The inflation outlook as currently assessed might provide some scope for further easing, should that be required to support demand,” the RBA said this week in minutes from its June 4 meeting, when it left its benchmark at 2.75 per cent.

The central bank repeated that resource investment was near its peak and would remain high for the next year or so. There was “considerable uncertainty” beyond that, it said.

Manufacturing has failed to signal it can pick up the slack. It contracted for a 15th month in May, after dropping to a four-year low the month before, according to purchasing managers surveys by Australian Industry Group.

“It’s the transition phase in the Australian economy that’s concerning the market,” said Steven Mansell, the Sydney-based head of Group of 10 rates strategy for the Asia-Pacific region at Citigroup. “The market will hold on to expectations of lower policy rates, whereas the only way is up in the US.”

Swaps markets are pricing in 28 basis points, or 0.28 percentage point, of RBA cuts over the coming year, while they see the equivalent of 16 basis points of tightening at the Fed, according to Credit Suisse indexes.

US economic growth has trailed Australia’s since 2006. It will recover to match the South Pacific nation by 2015, with both nations’ output increasing 3 per cent that year, according to the median forecast of economists polled by Bloomberg. Strategists raised their forecasts for the possibility of an Australian recession in the next 12 months to 10 per cent this month, from 5 per cent in May.

“With all the liquidity awash in the world, and an uncertain world with no growth, what you do is search for yield, and Australia’s triple-A bond market was one of the primary beneficiaries,” said Sam Tuck, a senior foreign-exchange manager at ANZ. “Now that can start to unwind.”


The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

ASIC probe too late for too many

The watchdog is under investigation. Photo: Arsineh HouspianThe Senate inquiry into the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is long overdue but welcome.Senate launches inquiry onto ASICBusinessday Investigation: Planners go rogue
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For the past 13 years covering personal finance for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age I have interviewed or received emails from dozens of victims of shockingly bad financial advice and of investments that failed. Billions of dollars have been lost, often the entire life savings of retirees.

There was the 61-year-old cancer patient who had inherited her parent’s house. Although she was assessed as a “defensive investor type by the financial adviser she was given a “diversified portfolio” which consisted mostly of Westpoint’s York Street Mezzanine investment in Sydney (which failed in 2005) and debenture-issuer Bridgecorp (which loaned money to property developers, including Westpoint and failed in 2007).

There was the age pensioner who put almost all of her life savings of $50,000 into an investment run by Australian Capital Reserve. She first heard of the investment through its advertising on TV. She emailed me after Australian Capital Reserve (ACR) collapsed: “My husband died last year and I will probably end up having to sell my home and try to get into a retirement village.” Then there was the 74-year-old widowed mother who has lost $23,000.

“She was attracted to the TV and newspaper ads, and started out investing $8000 [without telling us or asking our advice],” wrote a relative of the 74-year-old.

“She went on to add her matured fixed deposits from her bank over the past two years and built up her investment in Australian Capital Reserve to $23,000. Each time her notes were about to mature, she would receive a phone call from Australian Capital Reserve persuading her to add more to her investment.”

Sadness and frustration

Another wrote of her “sadness and frustration” at her mother’s misfortune.

“I spent the whole day with her at Perth Royal Hospital Breast Clinic, where she is undergoing further testing for breast cancer … and then came the ACR collapse. She lost $250,000. It was everything she had. She lives off a pension and used the interest to get herself something from time to time or to spend on the grandkids.

“She worked like a Trojan, as most in that generation did, and earned every cent herself, as a single mum. We could never get her to spend her money because something had to be left for her kids. She is totally spent, the life sucked from her. Her devastation is frightening.” One woman wrote to me about her sister who, at the age of 21, had had a horrific work accident. After several years, she won compensation.

“[She] is now 36, with three kids under the age of eight. In 1998, she was advised to invest all the money she had left – $180,000 – with ACR.

“You cannot even imagine how hard it was for me to be the one who informed her of her loss … Who will help my sister? Who will look after those three little kids?” And then there are those must try to find work when they were planning to put their feet up.

“My husband and I have just lost $250,000 due to the collapse of ACR. This was my husband’s retirement fund and, as he is 62, his chances of now getting a job are slim to none,” says another.

These are just some of the stories; there are many, many more over the past more than a dozen years. These disasters were not self-inflicted. They did not not come about because investors were greedy. They were told to go and see a property-qualified financial adviser or they invested in a seemingly low-risk investment “just like a bank account”.

Investors cannot be totally protected. But these people should have expected a better level of protection. Sometimes the victims are partially compensated, sometimes planners are banned and sometimes the perpetrators of dodgy investments are brought to justice.

But it has been too late too little. Usually, after the the money is lost. The Senate inquiry into the Australian Securities and Investments Commission comes after an investigation by Fairfax Media showing the regulator took 16 months to act on information from whistleblowers about serious misconduct inside the Commonwealth Bank’s financial planning unit. Hopefully, the inquiry will be wide-ranging and if lessons can be learned and acted upon, future generations of investors will be better protected.

John Collett is Personal Finance Editor

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

NIB plays down takeover

Australia’s only listed health insurer, NIB, has played down the prospect of an imminent takeover offer for the online-only health insurer health上海夜生活m.au, but says it always keeps an eye out for acquisition opportunities.
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Fresh from informing the market that its pre-tax profit would likely come in at the low end of guidance, NIB management was quoted saying that it might buy health上海夜生活m.au, a one-year-old insurer with a financial relationship with the health comparison site iSelect.

“We have looked at a Jetstar-type brand [discount brand] for the broker market… there are a number of points of merit in it, but at this stage we have rejected this strategy… but you never know, we might simply buy health上海夜生活m.au,” an analyst note quoting management said.

The broker behind the note, Baillieu Holst, is involved with iSelect’s sharemarket listing this month.

The health comparison site iSelect has a $75 million facility with health上海夜生活m.au, allowing the fledgling insurer to defer payments for several years. Just over $9 million had been utilised at 31 December, a note by broker Credit Suisse said in May.

NIB spokesman Matthew Neat said the insurer “would be interested in buying any health fund, it doesn’t matter how big or small”.

“We’re more than happy to have discussions,” he said this week. Mr Neat added that of the 34 other health funds, health上海夜生活m.au was likely to be more open to an offer because it was “more commercial”.

NIB has failed to merge with a number of funds since it listed on the sharemarket in 2007.

It said last week that its pre-tax profit would likely come in at the low end of its guidance of between $75 million and $78 million.

It added that the retail broker channel, including iSelect, “continues to grow and will account for around 30 per cent of sales in financial year 13”.

“We expect this trend to continue and retail brokers remain a key part of our distribution strategy,” NIB said.

It is the Coalition’s policy to privatise Medibank Private, Australia’s largest health insurer with 3.7 million members.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

‘Whipping boy’ – why the dollar is diving

The dollar against the greenback over the past 12 months.Prices to soar as dollar falls: economistsDollar needs sharper drop to help industryCurrency plunges after Fed flags end to QE
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Thursday’s hefty sell-off has starkly underlined the reversal in the Australian dollar’s fortunes, with the currency moving from being the darling of global investors to their “whipping boy”.

Investors are rushing out of risky assets like the Australian dollar amid growing signals the US Federal Reserve is set to slow down its $US85 billion a month stimulus program as the US economy improves.

The currency plunged to an almost three-year low of 92.62 US cents, a fall of nearly 3 US cents, overnight as Fed chairman Ben Bernanke revealed a possible roadmap towards the end of the bond-buying scheme.

It extended its fall to a new 33-month low of 92.42 US cents shortly before midday as new data out of China, Australia’s largest trading partner, showed that its manufacturing sector weakened in June to a nine-month low.

Australian dollar ‘singled out’

While other commodity currencies such as the Mexican peso, Brazilian real and South African rand have also declined against the US dollar, the Australian currency has been singled out for harsher treatment, currency strategists said.

‘‘[It’s become] a whipping boy for the broader market turmoil that we are seeing,’’ NAB’s head of currency strategy, Ray Attrill, said.

‘‘It’s increasingly clear investors – and not necessarily just investors in the currency markets – have been using the Australian dollar and the liquidity that is available, as it is one of the most largely traded currencies in the world, as a hedge,’’ Mr Attrill said.

‘‘That’s probably why it has fallen almost more than any other emerging market currency. I don’t think it is specifically saying that we are more negative about Australia than we are about Europe. It’s that people have learnt to use it almost as a proxy for broader risk aversion and as the hedge against, for example, long equity portfolios.’’

The recent volatility in the value of the Australian dollar and expectations of a lower interest rate meant the currency was becoming less attractive in the ‘‘carry trade’’,  Rochford Capital Derek Mumford said.

The ‘‘carry trade’’ is where investors borrowed currencies with low interest rates and invested in currencies with higher interest rates. An increase in the volatility of a currency would expose investors to the potential for losses.

The Reserve Bank’s current easing cycle, which has seen it reduce the cash rate by 200 basis points since November 2011, and its continued easing bias also meant the difference in yields between Australia and lower interest rate countries was narrowing.

Westpac chief currency strategist Robert Rennie said the Australian dollar would continue its slide if the US dollar strengthens over the next few days.

‘‘The US dollar has found a strong base here and we should see multi-day gains going forward. The Australian dollar has been singled out in recent sessions for some pretty aggressive treatment,” Mr Rennie said.

‘‘Being liquid and having fallen as much as we have, I think that probably means that this story has further to go … 91.88 US cents is the next big objective that financial markets will be focusing on.’’

Economic fears

The recent slide in the dollar has also re-focused attention on the impact of China’s slowing economy on Australia, weak commodity prices and fears about the transition towards non-mining led growth in the country.

China’s latest manufacturing figures today re-emphasised fears about its slowing economy. The slowdown has also placed greater pressure on commodity countries and their currencies, as it meant there would be lower demand for raw materials, Mr Mumford said.

“All these currencies rely on strong growth from the big economic blocs – China, Europe and the US – that’s part of their attraction. While the global economy is growing strongly, then it sucks in raw materials.

“There’s potential that China – one of the world’s big growth engines because of their huge investment over the last few years and which doesn’t look like it will be repeated – is slowing down.”

The Australian dollar has lost more than 10 per cent of its value against the US dollar since early May, when it was trading at 103 US cents.

On the Reserve Bank’s trade-weighted index, which measures the Australian dollar against a basket of currencies, it has weakened from 80.2 in mid-April to 72.1 today.

Since early May, the dollar has fallen by 12.3 per cent against the Japanese yen from about 102 yen to 89.6 yen. It has slipped 9.6 per cent against the British pound, from 66 pence to 59.8 pence.

It has also dropped by 11.3 per cent against the euro, sliding from 78.6 euro cents to 69.7 euro cents.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Road testing the new Holden Calais around nation

Sam Hall, left, and Stephen Ottley, right, are road testing the new Holden Commodore. Newcastle is their last stop on an Australia wide road trip. Picture: Jonathan Carroll IT was the final leg in a marathon journey around Australia, but motoring writers Stephen Ottley and Sam Hall said they were still feeling the pressure to get a new Calais V V6 to Sydney in one piece.
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The pair, motoring writers with drive上海夜生活m.au, were in Newcastle on Thursday for the final stop in the ultimate road test – a 23-day tour around Australia totalling more than 17,000 kilometres and visiting every capital city and most major regional centres.

‘‘This is the last stop before Sydney,’’ Mr Ottley said.

‘‘We’re feeling a bit of pressure to bring it home in one piece.

‘‘Touch wood we haven’t had a flat tyre or had anything go wrong during the trip, the car’s got a chip on the windscreen but that’s about it.

‘‘We’ll definitely be relieved to bring the car back in one piece because its been a pretty eventful trip at times particularly up in the Northern Territory.’’

Priced at $46,990 plus on-roads, the Calais V is $9800 cheaper than the equivalent outgoing VE model.

Add to that additional equipment including head-up display, electric park brake, standard sat-nav and internet radio, and VF buyers are some $15,300 better off in the hip pocket than VE counterparts.

Mr Hall and Mr Ottley were tasked with the final leg of the tour – from Darwin to Cairns and down the east coast to Sydney.

Before them other members of Fairfax’s Drive team took the car from Sydney to Melbourne down to Hobart and across to Adelaide and Perth.

The second leg took the car from Perth up the west coast of Australia to Darwin.

Mr Hall said the intense schedule hadn’t given them much time to reflect on their journey.

‘‘It’s all been a bit rushed, we’ve seen some amazing things but a lot of the time it’s been a case of having to rush onto the next town and get to each destination,’’ he said.

‘‘But we’ve sort of billed this as the ultimate road test and the car has definitely passed it.’’

Mr Ottley said the car’s performance during the journey had been impressive.

‘‘It’s riding on nineteen inch wheels, which are big wheels, and we drove across some pretty average roads and its been comfortable the whole time,’’ Mr Ottley said.

‘‘We did 988 kilometres in the first day and got back in the next day and it was fine.

‘‘It’s a really, really comfortable car.

‘‘It’s built for Australia that’s why it’s done so well.

‘‘Very few cars would have been able to tackle the variety of conditions we’ve tackled over 17,000 kilometres and do it so comfortably and easily.

‘‘We’ve been doing this eight days straight now and we’re still pretty fresh because its an easy car to drive its a really comfortable car.’’

Senate launches inquiry into ASIC

ASIC inquiry: The investigations will be wide ranging given the scale of the issues. Photo: Jim RiceWhistleblower: ASIC has let down CBA’s victimsASIC deputy chief: We took the right actionFairfax Special: Exposed – Planners go rogue
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The Senate has voted unanimously to hold an inquiry into the corporate watchdog following revelations in Fairfax Media that the regulator took 16 months to act on information from whistleblowers about serious misconduct inside the Commonwealth Bank’s financial planning unit.

A notice of motion was put in the Senate on Wednesday by Nationals MP John Williams and supported by the ALP’s Doug Cameron and Greens leader Christine Milne. The Senate voted on the motion today.

Senator Cameron said the inquiry into the Australian Securities and Investments Commission will be wide ranging, and given the scale of the problem, it is ”appropriate for the Senate to investigate a range of issues including financial planners, the Commonwealth Bank and ASIC”.

Senator Williams said he looked forward to the inquiry.

“Peter Kell [deputy chairman of ASIC] would not give any answers at a Senate estimates hearing in relation to the whistleblowers and what went on and so I hope to get them during the inquiry,” he said.

ASIC failed to act for 3½ years on information provided by CBA in June 2009 about serious allegations of forgery and fraud by a planner, who was allowed to continue to work in the industry during the regulator’s inaction.

“I will suggest to the committee that submissions open next month and we can expect to have public hearings later this year,” Senator Williams said yesterday. The committee is expected to report to the Senate in March next year.

The inquiry’s terms of reference include an examination of corporations legislation and whether it needs to be changed; a review of the accountability of the regulator; the effectiveness of its complaints management policies and practices and its approach to whistleblowers.

Jeff Morris, a CBA insider who revealed his identity to Fairfax Media, said protection in his case consisted of ”advising me to get out with what I had left”.

”When you choose to tread the path of the whistleblower you knowingly ‘take arms against a sea of troubles’,” he said. ”What you don’t expect though is for the odds against you to be lengthened by a Monty Pythonesque regulator.”

The CBA whistleblowers repeatedly contacted ASIC starting in late 2008 but were never asked to participate in an investigation or reveal their identity.

According to Mr Morris, the whistleblowers visited the regulator 16 months later after becoming ”sick of waiting”. Within a month, ASIC had moved to seize CBA files. An investigator later told Mr Morris that if they hadn’t forced the issue their report might still be ”bouncing around”.

An ASIC spokesman said: ”ASIC welcomes any inquiry that might unfold and looks forward to the opportunity of providing the inquiry with information on what we do and what we seek to achieve.”

CBA is declining to comment as the motion had not yet been passed, a bank spokeswoman said.

Despite support for the inquiry, some senators are demanding to know what role the Labor government has played in allowing ASIC to become a ”kangaroo court”.

Liberal senator David Johnston questioned Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s decision to give Greg Medcraft, ”a mate”, the job of ASIC chairman in violation of the government’s merit-based public sector appointment process.

”What on earth is going on here? The corporate regulator is run by someone who has a cloud over them. This kangaroo court of ASIC needs to confront a parliamentary inquiry,” he said in the Senate on Wednesday.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.