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Archive for September, 2019

20 September
Comments Off on PaperlinX seeks fresh start

PaperlinX seeks fresh start

Struggling paper supplier PaperlinX, which will change its name to Spicers, says it is putting its troubles behind it.

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PaperlinX is looking to accelerate its diversification into signage, display materials and packaging so that it is less reliant upon the paper industry, which continues to decline because people are using less paper.

In recent years, PaperlinX has reported big losses, changed its board and senior management, unloaded assets and watched its shares decline.

PaperlinX chairman Robert Kaye says that following the group’s exit from loss-making businesses in Europe and the sale of its profitable Canadian business, PaperlinX is now focused exclusively on viable, well-managed businesses in Australia, New Zealand and Asia (ANZA).

“I want to assure shareholders that the ANZA businesses are profitable and viable and represent a solid platform for further growth,” Mr Kaye told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting on Friday.

“Continued diversification is essential for future sustainability.”

Mr Kaye said PaperlinX was looking for acquisitions to help it grow its ANZA business.

Also, PaperlinX had cut directors’ fees and executive pay to reflect the group’s smaller size.

“Now, with a loyal and capable team, we will take this opportunity of a fresh start and begin to transform this company into a broader wholesale and distribution business,” Mr Kaye said.

One shareholder praised the board for its hard work – it met 31 times during fiscal 2015 – and thanked directors and management for extricating PaperlinX from the “fiasco” in Europe.

Chief executive Andy Preece, who was appointed in February 2015, said fine paper for the commercial print market was still an important part of the PaperlinX business, but the company was equally focused on diversification.

“Our mission is to drive overall profitability by managing paper business returns and re-investing to diversify into growth sectors,” he said.

Mr Preece said that in the first three months of fiscal 2016, the company’s New Zealand business was performing well and Asia was stable.

But business in Australia had had a difficult start to the year because of the continued decline of the Australian dollar against the US dollar. That was counter-balanced to some extent by price rises in October.

Shareholders at the PaperlinX AGM voted in favour of the company’s name change to Spicers.

PaperlinX booked a loss of $392 million in fiscal 2015, following a loss of $63.6 million a year earlier.

Shares in PaperlinX were 0.1 cents lower at 3.7 cents at 1406 AEDT.

20 September
Comments Off on Abuse survivor makes sensational claims

Abuse survivor makes sensational claims

The victim of an alleged child sex trafficking network claims she was prostituted at dozens of pedophile parties, which were attended by at least three former prime ministers at Canberra’s Parliament House.

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Fiona Barnett also claims she witnessed “hundreds of crimes” – including murder, rape, abduction and torture – at the hands of the so-called elite pedophile ring 40 years ago.

The network, which Ms Barnett maintains still operates today, included high-ranking politicians, and police and judiciary members.

Ms Barnett, 45, said she had reported the allegations to multiple health professionals, NSW Police in 2008 and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2013.

“My experiences were horrific beyond words… but the way I’ve been treated for reporting the crimes I witnessed and experienced has been far worse than my original abuse experiences,” she said.

Child sex abuse advocacy group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests Australia (SNAP), says it has heard from several other alleged victims who say they have witnessed similar offences of rape, torture and murder perpetrated by the most senior people in Australia.

“We’re not talking about an isolated incident and an isolated survivor. It’s a pattern, it’s widespread and it’s continuing today,” SNAP leader Nicky Davis said.

She claimed many survivors had spoken and given evidence to police and the abuse royal commission but were mostly ignored.

The group has urged the federal government to launch an investigation into the elite pedophile network.

Ms Barnett said she was “five turning six” at the time of the alleged incidents at Parliament House.

The allegations come after Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan told a parliamentary inquiry he had a list of 28 prominent pedophiles, which allegedly included a former prime minister and members of the judiciary.

Speaking under the protection of parliamentary privilege in a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday, Senator Heffernan claimed the list was uncovered during the Wood Royal Commission into the NSW Police Force.

Senator Heffernan didn’t name any names but called on Attorney-General George Brandis to expand the child abuse royal commission so that it includes the legal fraternity.

However, Attorney-General George Brandis said just because someone’s name appeared on a list didn’t make them guilty.

He advised Senator Heffernan to go to the current abuse royal commission, which would decide if the information was something it could inquire into.

“We should respect any decision of the royal commission about the ambit and scope of its terms of reference,” he said.

20 September
Comments Off on Man not guilty of real estate agent death

Man not guilty of real estate agent death

On March 3 last year, Sydney man Adam Brewer said he wanted to lay down on train tracks and die and he would “stab, fight and kill” anyone who came near him.

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On March 11 he was discharged from a Sydney mental health hospital.

Two days later he fatally stabbed real estate agent Vissa Esan.

Brewer, 33, was found not guilty of murder on the basis of mental illness on Friday, after he stabbed Mr Esan outside the Pendle Hill real estate agency where the 47-year-old worked in Sydney’s west on March 13, 2014.

Brewer had not raised mental illness at his judge-alone trial, arguing instead that he acted in self-defence.

His barrister Peter Skinner had told the NSW Supreme Court he was bound in that regard but if mental illness was to be raised as a result of the evidence, he would not attack it.

Brewer, the trial had heard, had a long history of mental illness and poly-substance abuse.

In January 2012, while in custody for a break and enter, Brewer fashioned a noose out of his underwear.

Two years later in January 2014, he told police he was going to “end it”.

Then on March 3, just 10 days before Mr Esan’s death, Brewer was spotted going into a TAFE with bolt cutters. He was then seen standing at a white board, talking to himself and pretending to be a teacher.

Later that afternoon he went into Blacktown Centrelink office and told staff he wanted to “lay on train tracks and die” and he would “stab, fight and kill anyone who came near him”, Justice Geoffrey Bellew noted.

He was discharged from Cumberland psychiatric hospital at Westmead in Sydney’s west on March 11.

Justice Bellew found Brewer was suffering from a psychotic disorder when he stabbed Mr Esan following a fight between the pair at his agency and a neighbouring arcade.

“(This) resulted in him now knowing what he was doing was wrong.”

In handing down his decision, Justice Bellew said he was conscious of the fact Mr Esan’s family “suffered a sudden and indescribably loss” on March 13 and hoped the proceedings brought some closure for them.

Outside court Ms Esan’s widow, Shanika Dona, said “What can I do, I lost my husband?”

Speaking of their one-year-old son, she told reporters: “I got a beautiful boy from him to remember his face so I see him through my son.”

Brewer will be detained under the Mental Health Act.

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

20 September
Comments Off on Vocation on track with turnaround plan

Vocation on track with turnaround plan

Troubled education provider Vocation says it is on track with its turnaround plan and will reduce its courses and trading brands in an effort to conserve resources.

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Chief executive Stewart Cummins told shareholders at its annual general meeting on Friday the company will cut back the number of courses it offers to 60, from the current 106, by March 2016.

Vocation will also reduce the number of its trading brands from the current eight, and will consider changing the company name in future, he said.

“We are really doing it in order to have focus. It costs money to retain less economical courses, they continue to be monitored by the regulator, and they won’t generate much return,” he said.

“Our aim is to be recognised for the best courses in a limited number of areas, enabling us to increase investment in quality while benefiting from economies of scale.”

Vocation, once a market favourite, has lost more than 95 per cent of its market value since October 2014, when it announced the loss of Victorian government funding for substandard practices in some of its training businesses.

The decision severely dented investor sentiment in the private education and training sector, with the regulators stripping funding from several other businesses after finding irregularities.

Vocation posted a $300 million loss in 2014/15, and has since had a change of management and massive restructuring of its business.

In June, it announced a turnaround plan with a target of a return to profitability within three years.

While the business is seeing an uptick in student enrolments, Vocation’s financial performance will continue to lag because of the impact of earlier problems, Mr Cummins said.

His priorities in the coming year would be to restore the relationship with regulators and government funders, and to counter the legal claims against the company, he said.

The firm has said it will vigorously defend the three class action suits it is currently facing.

Vocation shares closed steady at 14 cents.

20 September
Comments Off on Gun accused in bid to stay silent

Gun accused in bid to stay silent

A man accused of handing over the gun used in the fatal shooting of Sydney police accountant Curtis Cheng is trying to stop the NSW Crime Commission from forcing him to answer questions.

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Talal Alameddine has launched legal action in the Supreme Court after he was brought before the commission on October 7 to answer questions about Mr Cheng’s shooting outside police headquarters at Parramatta just five days earlier.

Alameddine, who has been charged with breaching a firearms prohibition order and hindering police, is now seeking an order to prevent the crime commission from forcing him to answer certain questions that were put to him.

In documents released to the media on Friday, Alameddine states the crime commission had told him during questioning on October 7 that he was a suspect in the homicide investigation into Mr Cheng’s death.

He took the witness box at the commission on October 7 and answered several questions put to him but refused to answer others.

Alameddine is now seeking a Supreme Court review of the commission’s decision on October 7 that requires him to answer certain questions.

He is also attempting to get an injunction issued preventing the commission or any of its officers from taking any further steps in respect to the summons they served on him earlier this month.

The development comes a week after Alameddine first fronted Parramatta Local Court in relation to Mr Cheng’s death.

According to documents tendered on that occasion, Alameddine met Raban Alou between 1.40 and 2.55pm at Merrylands on October 2 and gave him a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver.

About two hours later, 15-year-old Farhad Jabar allegedly used the gun to shoot Mr Cheng outside police headquarters in Parramatta before he was shot by police.

Both Jabar and Mr Cheng died at the scene.

After the killing, court documents allege Alameddine, 22, damaged and hid a mobile phone and SIM card on October 7 with the intention of hindering police.

Neither Alameddine nor Alou appeared or applied for bail when their matters came before separate Sydney courts.

Alameddine’s Supreme Court matter will return next month, before his mention at the local court on December 10.

02 September
Comments Off on As rates rise, APRA says it had to act

As rates rise, APRA says it had to act

The banking regulator accepts it will get blamed for mortgage rate hikes by the big banks but says fierce competition between the major lenders was one of the factors that made intervention necessary.

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NAB and ANZ on Friday joined Westpac and Commonwealth Bank in raising standard variable rates in response to the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority’s imposition of stronger capital rules.

NAB’s announcement came while APRA chairman Wayne Byres was being quizzed by federal parliament’s house economics committee.

“The finger is being pointed at us as a cause,” Mr Byres told the committee in Canberra.

There were a range of factors that have made it necessary to force banks to reduce leverage, he said.

Many were beyond the banks’ control, but some were a result of competition driving banks to lend too much.

“It’s house prices, it’s household debt, historically low interest rates, subdued income growth and strong competition; and it’s that mix that’s creating an environment of heightened risk,” Mr Byres said.

APRA was urging lenders and borrowers to act responsibly while negotiating loans, and work out whether they could afford the RBA cash rate returning to a normal 6-7 per cent from its current all-time low of 2.0 per cent.

“We were saying (to banks) `we’d like you to say yes less frequently to new customers’. We were focused on the volume of new lending,” Mr Byres said.

“Some banks have applied interest rate increases to new and existing customers, some banks have just applied it to new customers, some banks have actually done the opposite and applied it to existing customers and not to new ones, which is not what we were advocating.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison was among those to criticise Westpac when it hiked its variable rates by 0.2 percentage points last week, contending that the rise was in excess of what he had been told was necessary.

Commonwealth Bank will raise its rates by 0.15 percentage points, while NAB has opted for 0.17 and ANZ 0.18.

Mr Byres said APRA’s estimate that the capital rules could add about 10-15 basis points to lending rates had been based on banks raising rates across all their home loans. They have so far chosen to leave fixed rates unchanged.

He also pointed out that big lenders typically discount rates for borrowers with a good credit risk.

“I don’t want to be an apologist for them, don’t get me wrong, but they are all making commercial decisions,” Mr Byres said.

APRA remains on alert over deteriorating credit standards amongst the nation’s mortgage lenders, as growth in investor lending moderates in the face of stronger growth in lending to owner-occupiers.

02 September
Comments Off on Drillsearch, Beach strike $1.2b merger

Drillsearch, Beach strike $1.2b merger

Drillsearch and Beach Energy want to create a $1.

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2 billion energy company with the backing of billionaire shareholder Kerry Stokes.

The Cooper Basin-focused companies say the deal will save them $20 million a year and result in a new company positioned for growth when oil prices rise.

It’s the latest merger and acquisition deal in an energy sector dented by falling commodity prices.

Santos has rejected a $7.1 billion bid from a major fund manager, and Oil Search rejected Woodside Petroleum’s $11.6 billion takeover offer.

The Drillsearch and Beach merger will deliver investors 1.25 Beach shares for every Drillsearch share, valuing Drillsearch at 83 cents a share, a 27 per cent premium on its previous closing price.

Drillsearch shares soared 26 per cent to 82.5 cents on the news.

Mr Stokes’ Seven Group is a major shareholder in each company, and will hold a stake of around 20 per cent in the new company.

Drillsearch and Beach denied Mr Stokes had driven the deal.

“Seven Group Holdings, obviously, had an interest in it as the major shareholder in both entities but that’s it,” Beach chairman Glenn Davis said.

“What helped drive this was the fact that Jim (Drillsearch chairman Jim McKerlie) and I and the boards have been talking about this for a very long time and, like all deals, timing is everything and now is the right time.”

Mr McKerlie said the deal would boost Drillsearch’s size, allow it to take advantage of growth, unlock synergies and deliver benefits for all shareholders.

“Our decision making is not driven by public pressure or by what’s written in the newspapers. It’s driven by underlying industrial logic,” he said.

He predicted the price of oil would remain around $US50 for some time.

The merger will create a company that produces more than 12 million barrels of oil or equivalent.

“Size does matter,” Mr McKerlie said.

“Should oil move, then our value will rise according to that.”

Drillsearch and Beach shareholders are expected to vote on the proposal early next year.

The two companies are the biggest producers in the Cooper Basin, which delivers gas to the east coast.

IG market analyst Angus Nicholson said Drillsearch shareholders would probably regard the 27 per cent premium as a bit low following a recent hit to the company’s share price.

“Drillsearch will be looking for somewhere closer to the 40 to 50 per cent premium,” he said.

02 September
Comments Off on Qantas fuel costs fall again ‘not by luck’

Qantas fuel costs fall again ‘not by luck’

Qantas expects fuel costs to drop by as much as $290 million this financial year, but chief executive Alan Joyce insists any increase in profit will be down to good management rather than good luck from lower oil prices.

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Declining fuel costs already helped Qantas turn a record $2.8 billion 2013-14 loss into a $557 million profit for 2014-15, and Mr Joyce told Friday’s annual general meeting the picture will be even more positive this year.

The airline expects to spend between $3.61 billion and $3.85 billion on fuel in 2015-16, down from $3.9 billion in 2014-15.

Mr Joyce was unequivocal when Senator Nick Xenophon, a Qantas shareholder, queried whether management could take credit for Qantas’ return to profit given the airline benefited from falling fuel costs and the abolition of the carbon tax.

“The one thing that has made us profitable is the transformation project,” Mr Joyce said.

“With fuel, with depreciation and with the carbon tax, you can add them up and come to a big number. But not every airline around the world got the benefit of fuel. It was good management, not good luck.”

Mr Joyce hailed Qantas’ decision to use fuel options rather than cheaper swaps or caps and collars, which helped its hedging program outperform that of rival airlines, and said a three-year transformation project was on track for completion by June 30, 2017.

“Without the $1.1 billion in benefits it has generated so far, we would not have announced a profit in August this year,” he said.

“We are committed to delivering the full $2 billion of benefits targeted … with $450 million targeted in this current financial year.”

That transformation project has so far resulted in about 4,000 job cuts, while more than 10,000 employees – about a third of its workforce – have accepted the offer of a five per cent bonus to compensate for an 18-month pay freeze.

A lower dollar is making Australia more affordable for overseas visitors, leading to increase in inbound passengers and a positive outlook for the first-half results announced in February.

“While the impact of a cheaper currency varies across each segment, the Aussie dollar around current levels is a distinct benefit for the group as a whole,” Mr Joyce said.

“The outlook is positive and we expect a significant improvement in first half performance.”

Shareholders voted in favour of Qantas’ plan to return $505 million of cash through a 23 cent per share payment and approved Mr Joyce’s $11.9 million pay packet.

02 September
Comments Off on Gay dads fight Thai surrogate for baby

Gay dads fight Thai surrogate for baby

Almost since the day she was born, baby Carmen has been on the run.

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The nine-month-old and her fathers, Gordon Lake and Manuel Santos, are in hiding in the Thai capital, changing their address constantly for fear of being found.

Carmen happily crawls around the apartment, but is rarely taken outside.

“She should be playing with other children and discovering the world,” Lake says.

The married couple, who are both 41 and have an older son back home in Spain, worry that Carmen will be spotted by the authorities and taken away.

A week after she was born, her Thai surrogate Patidta Kusolsang stopped co-operating with the normal – although unregulated – surrogacy process, and started a battle to keep the baby.

Carmen’s rival parents are now fighting it out in the courts, with a ruling due at the end of this month.

“This all just doesn’t make any sense to us,” said Lake, who said the surrogate had been paid in full through an agency. “But we won’t leave the country without our daughter.”

Surrogacy was always going to be the best option for Lake and Santos, who set their hearts on starting a family soon after first meeting in Spain.

With surrogacy banned in Spain and many Western European countries, they narrowed their choices down to India and Thailand.

The average cost of surrogacy in India is about $US47,000 ($A65,000) and $US52,000 in Thailand, while it costs about $US100,000 in the US, according to the non-profit Families Through Surrogacy.

Lake and Santos had their first child Alvaro through a surrogate mother in India in 2012. However, India amended its law in 2013, prohibiting homosexual couples from getting a medical visa for surrogacy.

So they turned to Thailand, where commercial surrogacy was unregulated at the time and relatively common.

Through an agency, they paid Patidta to carry the child using an egg from an anonymous donor, and Carmen was born in January 2014.

Patidta, 34, brought them their “most beautiful girl”, but then “turned [their] lives upside down”, Lake said.

She refused to sign a document that would allow the baby to get a US passport, and failed to provide a letter that would allow the child to leave the country.

In July, she filed a charge of child abduction against Lake, accusing him of illegally taking Carmen away from her mother.

“I want to keep the baby,” Patidta said in a television interview in July after she filed the charge. “I am willing to return all the money.”

She has received $US13,000 for the whole process.

“I am suspicious that they are commissioning babies for sale,” she said, accusations that Lake and Santos deny. “I want to protect her,” she said.

Her legal adviser, Verutai Maneenuchanert, denies her decision had anything to do with the couple’s sexual orientation, although Patidta had told US broadcaster NPR in July that Lake and Santos were not “natural parents … not like male and female that can take care of babies”.

“The case has been forwarded to the court and we are objecting to their case,” said Verutai. “Now everything is up to the judges to decide.”

Thailand’s surrogacy sector came under international scrutiny in mid-2014 because of the case of baby Gammy, a Down syndrome surrogate baby left by an Australian couple.

A further revelation concerning dozens of surrogate babies fathered by a Japanese man prompted the government to draft its first surrogacy bill.

The new laws banning all commercial, foreign and same-sex surrogacy came into force in July. This is months after Carmen was born, but the laws apply retroactively.

It is unclear whether the new regulations will help or hinder Lake and Santos.

The family court in Bangkok is due to decide on October 30 whether Lake and Santos have sole custody of Carmen. This would allow them to get necessary documents to get the baby out of the country without Patidta’s consent.

“If the court doesn’t recognise us as parents, we will file for an appeal,” said Lake, who vowed never to give up.

“We all just want to go home and be with our family.”

02 September
Comments Off on Ex-treasurer leads Shorten as preferred Labor leader: poll

Ex-treasurer leads Shorten as preferred Labor leader: poll

Bill Shorten is not Australia’s first choice for Labor leader, or even the second, a new Roy Morgan poll shows.

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The poll shows Mr Shorten is not even the third choice for leader.

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He is sitting in fourth place behind deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek, opposition Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism spokesman Anthony Albanese and former Treasurer Wayne Swan.

preferred labor leader: plibersek 24% albo 21% swan 8% an actual tornado 4% a bit of gum under a movie seat 3% bill shorten 2% rudd 1%

— colleyween (@JamColley) October 23, 2015

Ms Plibersek rose one per cent, to 27 per cent, as preferred leader in the telephone poll conducted over the last three days, while Mr Shorten fell three per cent to just nine per cent.

Mr Shorten has been the Labor and Opposition Leader since 2013.

Bills more popular than @billshortenmp: – Platypus – Clinton – Duck – The Conqueror – Kill – Heffernan – Telstra – Bubble O’ – Cosby

— ABC News Intern (@ABCnewsIntern) October 23, 2015

Roy Morgan chief executive Gary Morgan said the poll showed Mr Shorten was also unpopular among ALP supporters.

“However, the news is not so good for Shorten who is also the fourth choice of ALP supporters,” he said.

Bill Shorten less popular than Wayne Swan? Really?? 苏州半永久眼线,苏州半永久眼线,/pWCq8e4dVP

— Rick Eyre (@rickeyre) October 23, 2015

“Once again Plibersek, 34 per cent (up two per cent) leads clearly ahead of Albanese, 21 per cent (up five per cent), Swan 12 per cent (up three per cent) and Shorten 10 per cent (down seven per cent).

preferred labor leader: a cardboard cut out of Bill Shorten 98% Bill Shorten 2%

— colleyween (@JamColley) October 23, 2015

“Nevertheless, despite his falling levels of support, Shorten’s position as Labor Leader is guaranteed until the next federal election under new rules adopted by the federal ALP after the fiascos of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. Shorten can’t be removed from the leadership unless he agrees to resign his post.”

Ahead of Bill Shorten as preferred leader: -Plibersek -Albo -Swan -Beasley -Piece of lettuce from a picnic that you forgot to take inside

— Sam Regester (@samregester) October 23, 2015

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull came out well ahead as preferred Liberal leader with 64 per cent support from the general public, leading deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop, with 12 per cent and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott with eight per cent.