Senators urged to vote against payment scheme for workers with disabilities

29/06/2018 // by admin

Disability groups are urging Labor and crossbench senators to vote against proposals that they say seek to extinguish the legal rights of 10,000 workers with intellectual disabilities.
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The Senate is considering Abbott government proposals for a scheme to provide payments to workers whose wages were calculated using a tool that the Federal Court found discriminated against people with intellectual disability.

In return for accepting a payment equivalent to 50 per cent of their owed wages, workers, some of whom were paid less than $1 an hour, would give up their right to sue the government for backpay.

The government announced the payment scheme proposal after law firm Maurice Blackburn lodged a class action to recover lost wages for the 10,000 workers.

People with Disability Australia, the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, the National Council on Intellectual Disability, and Disability Advocacy Network Australia are among the groups that have signed a letter urging senators to reject the bill, and called on the government to negotiate a compensation settlement with the workers.

“We really need the government to man up, own the fact that a wrong has been made and to admit that they’ve played a part in that,” Paul Cain of the National Council on Intellectual Disability said.

Mr Cain said it would be difficult for people with an intellectual disability to comprehend the choices they faced under the scheme and to give valid consent.

The scheme will pay for legal advice and financial counselling for the employees, and accessing this advice would be a prerequisite for accepting a payment.

But Maurice Blackburn’s head of employment law, Josh Bornstein, described a provision in the bill that allows the secretary of the Department of Social Services to appoint a person to accept a payment on behalf of a worker as “machiavellian”.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert said the bill did not properly compensate underpaid workers and her party was unlikely to support it unless it was amended.

But the bill could pass with the support of Labor, or the Palmer United Party and other crossbenchers.

The Assistant Minister for Social Services, Mitch Fifield, said the scheme was designed to provide certainty to people with disability, their families and carers and for disability enterprises, by providing timely closure of the issue.

“There is a very real possibility that job losses may occur should the scheme not progress, as [disability enterprises] continue to raise concerns about the potential financial threat arising from accruing contingent liability,” Senator Fifield said.

A Senate committee report on the bill is due on Tuesday.”The Australian Greens have several key concerns with this Bill, and without amendments we are unlikely to support it,” Senator Siewert said.”I’m concerned with measures such as inadequate payments, being excluded from other legal action and appointments of nominees. “It will mean that people who were inadequately paid under BSWAT will not be properly compensated.”People who were subject to this inappropriate assessment tool deserve a better approach” Senator Siewert said.”The Australian Greens have several key concerns with this Bill, and without amendments we are unlikely to support it,” Senator Siewert said.”I’m concerned with measures such as inadequate payments, being excluded from other legal action and appointments of nominees. “It will mean that people who were inadequately paid under BSWAT will not be properly compensated.”People who were subject to this inappropriate assessment tool deserve a better approach” Senator Siewert said.

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Red Dog producer warns piracy will degrade Australian film

29/06/2018 // by admin

“It’s not a viable business and ultimately quality Australian films won’t get made.”: The producer of iconic Australian film Red Dog has taken aim at piracy. Photo: SuppliedAustralian cinema will plunge to the quality of a “cat video on YouTube” if internet piracy continues unabated, the producer of Red Dog warns.
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Nelson Woss – who is preparing to shoot a sequel to the hit film set in Western Australia’s Pilbara region – says the illegal downloading of movies has made it harder to attract finance to produce feature films in Australia.

“If we get to the pointy end where we as filmmakers get everything right, produce something entertaining, which people love, but the film cannot expect a decent return because pirates steal it – then it’s over,” Mr Woss said.

“It’s not a viable business and ultimately quality Australian films won’t get made.”

Mr Woss’ comments follow the federal government releasing a discussion paper last month aimed at curbing online piracy. The paper highlighted the need for entertainment companies to make their content more affordable and internet service providers (ISPs) “ensure the systems aren’t used to infringe copyright”.

The government estimated Australia’s copyright industries employed about 900,000 people and was worth more than $90 billion.

Mr Woss called for ISPs, copyright holders such as Village Roadshow and online giants including Google and Yahoo to work together to combat a surge in illegal downloading.

“We are never going to completely eradicate piracy,” Mr Woss said. “But what I think is sad is that in 2011, the level of piracy was x, now is x3.

“That’s really distressing because it absolutely has a bottom line effect and it makes future productions difficult to mount and stage.

“If we do nothing now then the only movies that will get made will have the same production quality as a cat video on YouTube. If that’s ultimately what you want to watch and what you want your kids to watch, then keep on pirating.”

But ISPs and rights holders have differing opinions of how to stop online piracy.

Village Roadshow co-chief executive and chairman Graham Burke called for the government to adopt a similar strategy to South Korea, which has been able to significantly limit illegal downloading.

The centrepiece of the Korean strategy is a three-strikes policy. After receiving three warnings, the government can order an ISP to suspend the illegal downloader’s internet service for up to six months.

But Mr Burke said rather than ban the internet, a cyber pirate’s connection speed should be slowed after three strikes.

ISPs, however, maintain that’s not their job. Their role is to simply provide the “carriage way” for people to use the internet and they have high court backing, with a 2012 judgment saying they are not responsible for what their customers do online.

Solicitor Michael Williams – who represented the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft in that high court case against ISP iiNet – said ISPs were therefore not compelled to negotiate a solution to crush the rise of cyber piracy.

Still, iiNet chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby said ISPs have tried to work with rights-holders to quell the problem, but have had little success (Mr Burke said the ISPs have refused to co-operate).

“It would be nice if we could all smile and work together, but the content industry is not interested,” Mr Dalby said.

“They want us to take the role of the policemen and we are saying that’s not our job.”

Mr Dalby said the bigger issue was that the business model of entertainment companies was flawed because the cinema had become too expensive and legal content should be cheaper to lessen the attractiveness of illegally downloading movies.

He is concerned the federal government’s discussion paper could lead to a change in legislation that would force ISPs to start issuing infringements, which he said could set a dangerous precedent.

“That principal of making a third party responsible for your rights would then extend into the rest of the economy.

“That’s a very dangerous direction for the government to go, to start making it an obligation for an unrelated party to look after someone else’s private property.”

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MasterChef judges George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan cook up a show for Shore

29/06/2018 // by admin

MasterChef’s George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan will go back to school this Tuesday – to launch a new cookbook produced entirely by parents of students at Sydney’s Shore School.
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The coffee table book, Shore – A Shared Table, which commemorates the private boys’ school’s 125th anniversary, includes more than 300 recipes from the school community.

The celebrity chefs were recruited for the launch party by a parent who works for MasterChef’s production company.

On Tuesday, Mehigan and Calombaris will cook recipes from the book live on stage with two Shore boys and their parents.

Many of the recipes in the book have been handed down through generations of Shore families and are accompanied by the stories behind the food, which provide a colourful picture of the school’s history.

Former pupils reminisce about tuck shop fare, cricket premierships and cherished traditions such as the annual father-son breakfast and American Tea fund-raiser.

“The book really represents the heart and soul of the school,” said Sue Pullar, who led the production committee. “It was put together by a lovely group of people and tells a story of real community.”

The mothers who led the project said they were so busy during the 18-month production period that their own families often went hungry.

“It was ironic that, while gathering all these delicious recipes, we were often living off baked beans on toast,” Ms Pullar said.

The boys, says Ms Pullar’s colleague Marianne Colbert, were eager samplers of the dishes, which were all tested in the school’s kitchen.

“There would always be plenty of boys lurking at the door, offering to ‘help out’,” she said.

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Rogue drug doctor triggers crackdown on health workers

29/06/2018 // by admin

Hospital missed warning on Nair
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The state government will legislate to improve the transparency of health complaints in response to the case of Suresh Nair – a neurosurgeon who was allowed to continue performing operations even though authorities knew he was a cocaine addict.

The overhaul, ordered by Health Minister Jillian Skinner, follows a joint Fairfax/Four Corners investigation into how health regulators dealt with Nair and the treatment of patients who suffered botched operations at his hand.

In June, Fairfax Media published revelations regarding Nair, a neurosurgeon at Nepean Hospital, who was allowed to perform complex surgery on hundreds of patients over a five-year period despite the Medical Council of NSW and the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) being fully aware of his chronic, ongoing cocaine addiction.

Mrs Skinner said the government would be introducing changes to legislation that will allow employers in the health system “to know about conditions that have been imposed on practitioners as a result of impairment”.

This reform will make it mandatory for any organisation employing health professional to be fully informed of any past impairment – such as drug addiction – which might affect their performance.

In Nair’s case, health authorities were aware of his “severe impairment” as early as 2004 but the HCCC only stripped him of his licence in 2010 – after police arrested him and laid criminal charges following the death of escort Suellen Domingues Zaupa in Nair’s home from a drug overdose. She was the second female escort to fatally overdose in his company.

Mrs Skinner also revealed that the HCCC, the NSW Medical Council and other health professional councils will be required “to inform complainants about the outcome of their complaints”.

This will prevent a repeat of the treatment received by Carla Downes who still suffers from a botched operation by Nair but was refused access to the findings of an HCCC investigation following a complaint about her treatment. This was because Nair chose not to fight the charges of negligence due to be brought against him.

A Fairfax investigation previously revealed that 10 days after Nair performed the surgery on Mrs Downes, he spent $19,640 on an 11-hour cocaine and sex “party pack” inside Sydney brothel Liaisons.

Mrs Downes is one of hundreds of patients in NSW who lodge complaints but are left in limbo because of red tape.

Despite Mrs Skinner’s announcement concerns remain about shortcomings in health regulations exposed by Nair’s case. At present, medical practitioners are only obliged to inform health authorities of personal police related issues if they have been charged or convicted of a crime.

In turn, police are not obliged to notify hospitals of doctors who have fallen under their radar. And on the occasions when police do feel the need to raise the alarm about a particular doctor, hospitals are not required to forward that advice to the Medical Council of NSW.

So when, in February 2009, detectives made an official visit to Nepean public hospital and expressed “concerns” about Nair’s “addiction” to cocaine and involvement in the fatal overdose of sex worker Victoria McIntyre, its management did nothing – even though the Medical Council had previously suspended the neurosurgeon over his “dependency” to the drug.

When asked on tonight’s Four Corner’s program whether that police information was “significant” in the context of Nair’s prior history, Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District chief executive Kay Hyman said: “It certainly is a significant issue and for Victoria McIntyre it was obviously, you know, a fatal issue … but … he wasn’t at work, there was nothing more that the hospital did at that time.”

Chairman of the Medical Council’s NSW Committee, Dr Choong Siew Yong, describes that decision as “very regrettable” and believes Nair would have been the subject of an “immediate action hearing” and likely suspension, had it been forwarded.

The Hand That Holds The Scalpel airs on Monday on ABC1 at 8.30pm.

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ASIC rejects FOI request over Macquarie Private Wealth documents

29/06/2018 // by admin

ASIC deputy chairman Peter Kell has spoken at length of MPW’s failings. Photo: Angus MordantThe corporate regulator has declared that information about the failings of Macquarie Private Wealth (MPW), which has been ordered to write to all 160,000 clients it has ever had because they may have received shoddy advice, is not “directly relevant to a matter of public importance”.
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Australian Securities and Investments Commission lawyer Violet Wong on Friday denied Fairfax Media access to every document produced under an enforceable undertaking Macquarie entered into last year after the regulator discovered serious problems within MPW.

Ms Wong’s decision appears to contradict the public remarks of ASIC deputy chairman Peter Kell, who just one week previously publicly unveiled the letter-writing campaign during an hour-long media call in which he spoke at length of MPW’s failings.

It comes amid a crisis of confidence in the financial advice industry, which Mr Kell said had long been an area of concern for ASIC and should “lift its game”.

In June, a Senate inquiry into the performance of ASIC and the CBA’s scandal-ridden advice divisions, Commonwealth Financial Planning and Financial Wisdom, raised concerns about the “efficacy” of the MPW enforceable undertaking and recommended ASIC put MPW under “intensive surveillance”.

MPW is a trading name of Macquarie Group subsidiary Macquarie Equities Ltd, whose director, Peter Maher, signed the January 29, 2013 enforceable undertaking acknowledging ASIC’s concerns and promising to take remedial action.

The undertaking refers to ASIC’s “summary of its concerns” about MPW and other documents and expert reports to be produced by MPW over the course of two years.

In a July 7 Freedom of Information request, Fairfax Media asked for all the documents mentioned in MPW’s enforceable undertaking.

Ms Wong on Friday said the documents contained information on MPW’s provision of financial advice, its record keeping, breach reporting and “risk governance and compliance culture”.

She said disclosure would unreasonably affect MPW’s business by disclosing its “internal processes and systems” and “areas of weakness within [Macquarie Equities Ltd]’s operation”.

A document setting out the findings of ASIC’s initial investigation was “less likely” to “inform debate on a matter of public importance because the information relates only to the commercial affairs of an entity”.

“I do not consider the information contained in Document 1 to be directly relevant to a matter of public importance.”

She said the same arguments applied to the other documents requested.

ASIC spokesman Matthew Abbott said: “FOI decisions are made by delegates of the commission based on their assessment of the request and how it relates to the internal ASIC information, the legislation and the public interest.”

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Scandinavian pension fund pours cash into dairy farms

29/06/2018 // by admin

Production drive: Australian milk output has fallen about 20 per cent in 10 years. Photo: Craig SillitoeA Scandinavian pension fund has poured $20 million into Australian dairy farms to help lift stagnant local milk production.
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Australia’s biggest milk processor, Murray Goulburn, sourced the cash that has bought nine dairy farms, which have been leased to the farmer-owned co-operative.

Gary Helou, Murray Goulburn’s managing director, said the investment had added about 30 million litres to the co-operative’s milk supply, which is about 39 per cent of the national pool.

He hopes the foreign cash will trigger more deals in Australian agriculture, which domestic funds have traditionally shied away from because of the risks associated with primary production.

Mr Helou said Asia’s fast-growing middle class, which is expected to grow to 3.2 billion by 2030, had made agriculture more appealing. And international pension funds, particularly in the US and Europe, have been more inclined to invest in farm assets.

“The superannuation funds are interested in the sector,” Mr Helou said. “They like the concept of Australian and New Zealand milk going into Asia.”

Fairfax Media reported last year that European superannuation funds were looking for a 5 per cent return from the Murray Goulburn program as well as capital growth. The farms are sublet through the co-operative to “accomplished farmers”.

Marcus Elgin, executive chairman at Australian Agribusiness Group, sourced the overseas cash on behalf of Murray Goulburn, but he declined to comment of the programs details, citing commercial in confidence.

“I won’t take you through the details of the transaction because we will like to do more of these and we think it’s much more to our advantage not to excite the market too much about what we are doing,” Mr Elgin said.

“So I’m not really interested in blowing the horn on that side of that equation.”

Murray Goulburn’s executive general manager of shareholder relations, Robert Poole, said despite the Scandinavian interest, attracting capital from superannuation funds for agriculture projects continued to be difficult.

“I think agriculture will successfully attract more and more non-farm capital but companies like Murray Goulburn are going to have to work hard to facilitate that,” Mr Poole said.

“We didn’t necessarily want to go into this avenue but we could see that if we were going to grow milk supply and attract capital we needed to be a party … and as a co-op we were well placed to link equity to farmers.”

Milk processors are employing a range of strategies to boost milk production, which has fallen about 20 per cent in the past decade from about 11.2 billion to 9 billion litres a year.

Lino Saputo jnr, the chief executive of Canadian dairy giant Saputo, which owns 88 per cent of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter, has called on farmers to increase their herds to ramp up production, saying the WCB will process all their milk.

“‘What we are trying to do in Australia is appeal to the dairy farmers and say, ‘Look, we can be a good home for your milk. If you choose to increase your herd size and you’re producing more milk, we will put on the infrastructure to process that milk’,” Mr Saputo said.

But he did not mention any financial incentives such as farm gate price increases or investment rebates to encourage farmers to lift production.

Fonterra, the world’s biggest dairy exporter, has said it will help farmers develop a business plan and co-fund the expansion of their business to boost production.

The New Zealand co-operative said it would help fund the buying or leasing of neighbouring properties, more cows to increase herds or update farm equipment. In return a farmer has to enter a three to five-year supply with contract, depending on the investment, with Fonterra.

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Campaign for plastic bag free Avalon

29/06/2018 // by admin

“Single-use plastic is just choking the planet,”: Brendan Donohoe.Instead of plastic, the residents of Avalon in Sydney’s north could soon be carrying their goods in bags made of old sheets, doona covers and upholstery offcuts.
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The Surfrider Foundation Australia, a not-for-profit environmental group, wants Avalon to become a plastic bag-free suburb.

“Single-use plastic is just choking the planet; it’s got into every square inch of the world’s oceans,” national chairman Brendan Donohoe said.

To help make the transition, Surfrider is co-operating with Boomerang Bags, a free bag share initiative being trialled on the Gold Coast.

Schools, the Country Women’s Association and other community groups have pitched in to transform materials into bags that shoppers can borrow and return to docks.

“We’ve had a lot of really positive feedback from the businesses,” manager Jordyn de Boer said. “They love it because they can reduce their plastic wastage without any cost.”

Furniture stores have donated their offcuts and a local brewery has donated its wheat and hops wrapping.

Boomerang Bags plans to run trials in Cabarita and Avalon.

“If plastic bags are not being ingested by or entangling wildlife, they are breaking down into tiny pieces,” Ms de Boer said.

“There are gyres out in the middle of the ocean that are just plastic soup.”

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Commuters to face lengthy queues at ticket windows if they don’t have Opal card

29/06/2018 // by admin

More of the same: Commuters struggle through the ticket barriers at Central station. Photo: Tamara Dean Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian is warning train travellers they could face lengthy queues at ticket windows next Monday if they do not have an Opal card.
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Weekly MyTrain tickets, as well as cheaper adult off-peak return tickets, are two of the 14 ticket types that will no longer be sold from Monday, as the government attempts to encourage travellers into using the electronic smart-card.

Ms Berejiklian said there had recently been a sharp increase in the number of people signing up for the Opal card – 55,000 in one week recently taking the total sign-up to more than 580,000 – but commuters could still find themselves stuck in a line on Monday.

“The key thing for me is just to make sure that people are aware they could be facing long queues on 1 September if they don’t have the Opal card,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“There will be a lot of ticket sellers having to explain to people what their options are if they are caught out,” she said.

“If you are used to buying a weekly and you can’t buy one anymore, you will have to say to the person “what do I do now” and so it will take a bit longer to explain all your options.”

The government is already selling vastly fewer paper tickets than it did a few months ago. In 2013, commuters bought about 100,000 weekly MyTrain tickets in a regular week. Last month that number had halved, and in the week ending August 17, 38,000 weekly train tickets were sold.

Some commuters have been concerned they are, or would be, paying more when using the Opal card.

Ferry or bus users comparing fares to individual trips on TravelTen tickets may pay more – particularly if they do not travel more than eight times a week – as well as people who had purchased quarterly or yearly tickets.

But Ms Berejiklian has said the government risked collecting less fare revenue overall under the Opal card, and said that most people who had started to use the card were pleased with what it cost them.

“The concern is among those who have not switched over yet and have made assumptions about what it will cost them,” she said. “So I say to people, give it a go.

“Even if you think you might be paying more you will be pleasantly surprised.”

Commuters may be confused if they have acquired an Opal card but not used it for 60 days. In this case, the money they would have loaded into their card would have been refunded, meaning they would need to load money onto their card again.

Pensioners will continue to be able to buy Pensioner Excursion tickets, while bus tickets such as TravelTens are still likely to be sold for at least another year.

Anyone buying a yearly or quarterly train or MyMulti ticket in the next week will continue to be able to use it until it expires.

Tickets not sold after this week:

My Train: 

Adult Off-Peak Return Adult Weekly (7 day) Adult Fortnightly (14 day) Adult Monthly (28 day) Adult Quarterly (90 day) Adult Yearly (365 day) Concessions Monthly (28 day) Concessions Quarterly (90 day) Concessions Yearly (365 day)

My Multi: 

Adult Monthly (28 day) Adult Quarterly (90 day) Adult Yearly (365 day)

My Ferry: 

Adult TravelTen

Light rail: 

Adult Yearly (365 day)

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Treasury Wine Estates boss wins major shareholder backing for US push

29/06/2018 // by admin

EXCLUSIVE
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Treasury Wine Estates chief Michael Clarke says he has the strong backing of the winemaker’s biggest shareholders, as well as both private equity suitors circling the group, to embark on an acquisition campaign in the US and reverse years of drifting by the business.

Mr Clarke told Fairfax Media in an exclusive interview that he had already compiled a “hit list” of acquisition targets in the US, with the deals making sense whether Treasury Wine remained in the hands of shareholders or was sold to private equity.

He also said that after only four months at the helm of the world’s biggest listed pure-play wine company he had already met his initial target of stripping $35 million of costs out of the business and would capture more savings this year.

The accelerated cost-cutting program, combined with pouring extra funds into marketing Treasury’s most prestigious brands, had already shown some success and with nascent signs of a pick-up at the luxury end of the North American wine segment it was time to go for growth, Mr Clarke said.

Mr Clarke said his decision to try his hand at acquisitions, with Treasury Wine targeting luxury or premium wines, had won the support of shareholders at recent meetings.

“In the discussions we have had with our shareholders, and I’m talking about the top 10 to top 15 shareholders which is in excess of 50 per cent of our register, and we’ve talked to them a number of times now because of all the different takeover bids.

“They have been very supportive of how quickly we have addressed getting costs out, investing in brands and really focusing on how we are going to actually build the quality of this business.

“And there is an opportunity for us to build on top of that, especially luxury and masstige [mass-produced, prestige wine] portfolio where we are doing well and to accelerate that beyond just ‘organic growth’ and the feedback has been positive.”

Shareholder support was however limited to bite-sized deals, with investors naturally gun-shy of acquisitions like the company’s $2.9 billion purchase of Beringer in the US 14 years ago when it was part of Foster’s and never booked a decent return.

“We are not talking major acquisitions, we are talking bolt-ons,” Mr Clarke said.

“Albeit I have only been here for four months, but there was an element of ‘if that’s the road map that you are on, and you believe that’s the right thing to do then we are supportive’ – is the messaging that we have been getting.”

Mr Clarke was aware of the mistakes made by previous managers of the business, which saw brewer Foster’s splurge $6 billion on wine assets, much of it at the top of the market, and then was later forced to spin off Treasury Wine in a demerger to reclaim some lost value.

“So long as we don’t do what previous management did where they overpaid for businesses and then didn’t realise the revenue synergies and cost synergies, then [shareholders] are supportive.

“We have shown the discipline that we can take costs out in a very short period of time, we will over-deliver on that $35 million of costs out of the business, and we can show we can then do the appropriate acquisition to build on the great momentum that we are building up in luxury and masstige.”

Still bearing the weight of past mistakes, Treasury Wine last week posted a net loss of $100.9 million for fiscal 2014 against a profit of $47.2 million in the previous year. The dive into the red was driven by $281 million in write-downs, including the cost of destroying 240,000 cases of unwanted low-end commercial wine in the US.

Mr Clarke said he also had the backing of the board even as private equity player Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, along with an unnamed second bidder presumed to be TPG, had both pitched a takeover set at $5.20 a share to value the winemaker at $3.4 billion and were now conducting due diligence.

“The board felt it was important for shareholders to understand that while we are engaging in these takeover offer discussions, should they not materialise we want people to realise that we are still focused on doing bolt-on acquisitions to deliver on our strategic road map which is to further accelerate our growth in luxury and masstige wines.”

Mr Clarke, who last year worked for New York-based Kohlberg Kravis Roberts to advise on a £1.5 billion ($2.7 billion) bid for drinks brands Lucozade and Ribena, said he had presented his acquisition strategy to both bidders and they had been very receptive.

“Both of the private equity firms that have reviewed the business are very supportive of our strategic road map which includes potential acquisitions … They have said they are backing management to execute those plans.”

Mr Clarke said the value of the potential upside Treasury Wine now had within the business was for shareholders to consider as they faced the likelihood of one or two takeover offers from private equity.

“Shareholders are going to determine how far is up and at the same time they might be prepared to sell and let the private equity firms take the execution risk,” he said.

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Native vegetation bill a seed of contention

29/06/2018 // by admin

Farmers have vowed to be “unyielding” in their lobbying on controversial native vegetation laws, with the Baird cabinet expected to discuss a bill that green groups fear will  gut the  protection for endangered species on private land.
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Sensitivity on the issue has been heightened following last month’s killing of Office of Environment Heritage official Glen Turner near Moree, allegedly by local landowner Ian Turnbull over a land-clearing dispute.

Environment Minister Rob Stokes, a Liberal, has made several trips to the region and is understood to be keen for the independent Biodiversity Review Panel to complete its examination of  the Native Vegetation Act, the Threatened Species Conservation Act, and the flora and fauna protection sections of the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

But the Nationals’ Kevin Humphries, who is Minister for Natural Resources, Lands and Water, said he would back the Shooters and Fishers’ upper house bill even though it contained “a whole lot of perverse outcomes” for landowners.

The NSW Nationals and NSW Farmers have vehemently opposed Labor’s land clearing laws, which ban the removal of some vegetation.

“If the bill passed, and it came to the lower house, where we could amend that … it would give everyone protection,” Mr Humphries said. “It would allow landholders to get on and do some of the work they want to do. The government hasn’t landed on that but it’s the preference from my end, and certainly the rural constituency’s.”

The Nationals are eager to claim shared responsibility for land-clearing policy. The Land reported in April that Mr Humphries would “jointly oversee native vegetation laws, previously the domain solely of the Environment Minister”.

But Mr Stokes told budget estimates last week  “the administration of acts provides that the Minister for Environment is the responsible minister for the Native Vegetation Act”.

Jeff Angel of the Total Environment Centre says the Nationals’ support for some or all of the Shooters’ bill is “disgraceful opportunism of a tragedy”.

“It’s completely unacceptable to send the message that you can murder a government employee who was just doing his job to protect the environment – and then have the law changed,” Mr Angel said. “The Shooters’ bill would unleash massive broadscale land clearing, but that seems to be the Nationals’ agenda.”

Mr Humphries said the killing of Mr Turner was “an outrageous act” but added “that action in no way should be linked to what we are doing”.

“Until you put the environment on a commercial footing, it’s very difficult to make the legislation real for people in rural areas,” Mr Humphries said, adding that if the community wants farmers to set aside productive land, “they should be paying for it”.

Neil Byron, head of the Biodiversity Review, said his panel would provide an interim report by October 16  and a final report by  December 16. Submissions close on September 5. Dr Byron, who came out of retirement after 12 years on the Productivity Commission as an environmental economist, said the panel’s work was already heavy, without changes to the legislation.

“It’s very hard to do it justice,” Dr Byron said.  “We’d probably be able to do a better job if we had more time.”

NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson sent a private letter to members earlier this month vowing to be “unyielding in our lobbying on this issue”. “At every opportunity we make it known to our political leaders that these laws are causing not only hardship for farmers … but also causing perverse environmental outcomes.”

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