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Indian citizens head immigration queue for Australia

Almost twice as many Indians applied to migrate to Australia compared to British applicants. Photo: Erin Jonasson Man in charge: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Indian citizens are flocking to Australia to work, beating the once-dominant British expats, while the granting of Australian citizenship is at a six-year high, according to migration figures released this week.

The statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show there has been 46.6 per cent increase in the number of people becoming Australian citizens. During 2012-13,123,400 pledged to become citizens of Australia, the highest number since 2011-12, the International Migration Outlook report said.

Australia’s Migration Program has also seen a significant increase, with 40,100 India citizens applying to migrate during 2012-13, while China had 27,300 applications and the United Kingdom 21,700.

According to Migration Law expert Sharon Harris, there is a growing trend of Indian and Chinese citizens seeking citizenship in Australia for greater global movement.

“India and China is without any doubt the most prolific source countries for pursuing visas and ultimately citizenship,” she said “With an Australia passport, this opens up greater travel access globally.”

Ms Harris, who has been a migration lawyer for 20 years, said the change in governments was particularly popular with Chinese citizens, who were attracted to the Abbott government.

“With the change of government they have more confidence in a stable political environment,” Ms Harris said.

But the report also showed that 62,700 people whose temporary visas had expired or had been cancelled were living illegally in Australia.

Jobs which only offer cash in hand such as in the hospitality industry or agriculture contributed significantly to the number of workers who went “missing”.

‘”This is a huge issue but the Department of Immigration did not have the resources to find these people.

“They do checks in area of high concern such as farming and hospitality, where those employers are happy to pay cash in hand.”

In October, it was revealed by a Fair Work Ombudsman that more than an estimated 20,000 workers on the skilled 457 visa had gone missing.

The audit assessed 1807 skilled workers on 457 visas and found 338 – or about 20 per cent – were no longer employed by their sponsor.

India has now replaced the United Kingdom as the top origin country applying for 457 visas, the OECD report said.

According to the latest 457 visa figures, Indian citizens comprise almost a quarter of the skilled visas, at 23.3 per cent. This was followed by the United Kingdom at 18.3 per cent; the People’s Republic of China at 6.5 per cent and the Republic of Ireland, 7.2 per cent. The number of American citizens applying for the skilled visa was at 6.2 per cent.

Banks offer a glimmer of hope in ‘terrible’ week for Australian shares

These are the percentage move of the ten sectors that make up the ASX\200.The market finished 0.42 per cent higher for the week, staging a spirited mid-week comeback after a disastrous 2 per cent drop on Monday and a further 0.60 per cent fall on Friday.
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Once again, energy stocks were the worst performers, with the sector dropping 5.36 per cent for the week as investors absorbed the reality of oil at $US65 ($77.35) and further falls probably to come.

The broader All Ordinaries Index closed 0.60 per cent lower on Friday but closed up 0.29 per cent for the week to 5313.60. The ASX200 closed 0.62 per cent lower on Friday, finishing the week 0.45 per cent higher at 5336.70.

“The main story is the terrible week for energy stocks and mining stocks in general,” said BBY senior private client adviser Henry Jennings. After the “horror” day of Monday, the market came back “quite dramatically”, he said. “It’s mainly on the back of the resurgence in the banks and a hope that the Murray report on Sunday is somewhat more benign that what people were expecting a month or so ago.”

Wednesday’s dreadful GDP figure – which showed the economy expanded only 0.3 per cent in the September quarter – might have helped financial stocks, said Mr Jennings.

“There’s the assumption that because the economy’s so bad we’re going to get some sort of rate cut next year,” he said. As well, “the market is quite skittish, it’s a little bit nervous. When you get nerves people go to quality, which is the banking sector. It continues to really hold the market up.”

Among the banks, National Australia Bank closed 0.61 per cent lower for the week to $32.40, Westpac rose 1.41 per cent to $33.01, Commonwealth Bank lifted 1.14 per cent to $81.64 and ANZ increased 0.56 per cent to $32.10

Among energy stocks, Origin fell 8.16 per cent for the week to $11.25 and Santos crashed 16.83 per cent to $8.40.

Origin Energy’s BBB credit rating from Standard & Poor’s has escaped unscathed by the cut in oil price forecasts, though the position of some other oil and gas players such as Santos is understood to be under review.

Among other energy stocks, Sundance collapsed 21.43 per cent to 55¢, Senex dived 14.93 per cent to 28¢, Horizon Oil fell 7.50 per cent to 19¢, and Beach Energy dropped 9.76 per cent to 93¢. Woodside dipped 0.11 per cent for the week to $35.71.

Mining stocks also had a poor week. BHP fell 1.62 per cent to $30.42 while Rio Tinto did worse, slipping 3.32 per cent to $57.14.

It was announced on Friday the two mining giants are on the verge of securing a long-awaited land-swap deal allowing them to build a huge $US6 billion copper mine in the United States. The US House of Representatives voted overnight to approve a transfer of federal government land to the Rio-BHP joint venture in the state of Arizona. Both companies, however, fell on Friday despite the news.

Mount Gibson shares were smashed on Friday morning after it cuts its sales target and suspended operations on Koolan Island, flagging job cuts. The mine was shut after extensive flooding in October. The miner was the week’s worst ASX200 performer, its share price collapsing 50 per cent to just 21 cents.

Gold stocks finished the week higher even after the failure of the Swiss referendum that would have led the Swiss National Bank to massively boost its holdings of bullion. Newcrest closed 0.87 per cent higher for the week at $10.43 and Regis Resources finished 2.43 per cent higher at $1.48.

Elsewhere in the market, shares in aged-care operator Estia plunged after listing on the ASX, finishing the session at $4.74 from their $5.75 issue price in a horror market debut.

The company raised $725 million in the fourth-biggest IPO of the year. The float was priced on a multiple of 21 times forecast earnings and gave Estia a market capitalisation of $1.035 billion.

Engineering and construction company Bradken was a star performer on Friday, rocketing 36.45 per cent on the day to $4.53 on the back of a takeover offer by private equity firms PEP and Bain Capital. It finished the week 24.79 per cent higher.

Australia’s largest fertility clinic operator, Virtus Health, finished 4.73 per cent higher for the week at $7.31 on the back of news it acquired a controlling 70 per cent stake in Tasmania’s only IVF provider, TasIVF.

Pitcher buzzer beater hands St Augustine’s thrilling win in boys basketball final

What are the odds of the same two teams, playing two double overtime games, in the space of five days?
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St Augustine’s College couldn’t care less after a buzzer beater from Daniel Pitcher sealed an Australian Schoolboys Championships final win over Sacred Heart College at Tuggeranong on Friday.

Incredibly, the sides featured in another double overtime epic in a preliminary match on Monday, with the Sydneysider again prevailing over the South Australians.

With just two seconds left point guard Pitcher scored the decisive lay-up, a fitting finale after a fine 33 point (11-19 FG, 6-11 three pointers), six rebound, four assists and ten steal display.

St Augustine’s looked set to cruise to victory after big matches from Jonathon Marsh (25 points, 10 rebounds), Denis Radosevic (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Tom Savage (18 points, five assists) guided them to a 12-point lead after three quarters.

Sacred Heart stormed back late to force extra time, only for Pitcher to break their hearts and clinch a maiden title for St Augustine’s.

“I was pretty nervous but ended up getting the ball and finishing it off. It’s probably one of the top moments of my life,” Pitcher said.

“We played them in the round games ,which was also double overtime. Once we got them in the final we knew they were going to be tough and would have to work hard every possession.”

Pitcher’s opposing point guard Isaac White scored 34 points for Sacred Heart, while his brother contributed 26.

But 31 turnovers by Sacred Heart eventually proved their undoing.

St Augustine’s will not have much time to celebrate their win. They fly out on Saturday for a tour against US schools.

The girls’ main final was less dramatic, with Victoria’s Rowville Secondary College accounting for Queensland’s John Paul College.

Rowville’s wider range of options and selflessness eventually proved the difference, with four players scoring in double figures.

John Paul College relied too heavily on their go-to players, Jayden Fuiava (23 points) and Carleigh Patrick (17).

FINALS

Boys championship: St Augustine’s 102 (D Pitcher 33, J Marsh 25, D Radosevic 18, T Savage 18) bt Sacred Heart 101 (I White 34, S White 26, A Deng 23)

Girls championship: Rowville 73 (T Lee 14, S Dirito 14, R Noller 13) bt John Paul College 62 (J Fuiava 23, C Patrick 17)

Sunday, December 14

Actual teenagers: Nowhere Boys. Photo: SuppliedFREE TO AIR
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Nowhere Boys, ABC, 6pm

What a relief it is to watch a TV show made for teenagers that is not populated by 30-year-olds creepily passing for 16 or scrubbed-clean Disney princesses who are 10 years into their career and two years off a Britney Spears-style breakdown. Even better, Nowhere Boys is an Australian production filled with actual teenagers in a familiar bushy suburban setting that doesn’t look like the mono-culture that is Ramsay Street. Tonight, as the police search for missing Andy intensifies, Felix (Dougie Baldwin from Upper Middle Bogan), decides they need to find someone with another water element and “magical potential” to bring him back. Enter new girl Saskia.

Shaun Micallef’s Stairway To Heaven, SBS One, 7.30pm

As a young man, Mad As Hell’s Shaun Micallef considered joining the priesthood. And while the Catholic church’s loss (can you imagine the sermons!), has been TV’s gain, Micallef has since wondered if he missed out on an opportunity to find the answers to the big questions in life. What to do? Travel to India, of course, where 900 million Hindus can’t be wrong. He wants to meet people who are very certain about their faith and in doing so dips a toe into the Ganges, meets the King of Puri and looks to “find a guru to find me”. In lesser hands, this type of spritual quest could easily turn into self-indulgent fluff. Heck, even the Beatles succumbed to a little too much introspection when they hit Rishikesh in 1968. Micallef, however, is a deft hand at self-deprecation and his quest to discover if there is “greater purpose than being a semi-professional Australian TV personality” makes for a funny and watchable journey. A thoroughly thoughtful antidote to Christmas craziness and consumption.

Louise Rugendyke

After the Wave, SBS One, 8.30pm

Given the unimaginable tragedy of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, it may seem cruel or perverse to describe a documentary on it as haunting and beautiful. London-based Australian filmmaker Amanda Blue rounds up a handful of survivors who lost loved ones when the wave hit the resorts of Thailand, as well as the forensic scientists given the grisly task of identifying the remains of victims. What emerges is an emotionally charged account of people who have overcome loss and grief and created legacies for the departed.

Paul Kalina

MOVIES

The Fog of War (2003), ABC2, 10.45pm

Somewhat wary and definitely unwilling to give an inch of ground in his battle with the past, Robert S. McNamara, the former US defence secretary who was often described as the architect of the Vietnam War, is one sure-footed 85-year-old in Errol Morris’s Academy Award-winning documentary. The determined McNamara, who died in 2009, is the perfect subject for Morris, the pre-eminent documentary maker of the last 30 years. A director whose often-pointed sense of tone and eye for detail is allied with an investigative thrust, he captures McNamara in all his peculiar glory, both as an individual and a product of the age he lived through. Morris doesn’t pursue McNamara, he draws him out, knowing that the technocrat will attempt to instil his own view, his own governing logic, on each flashpoint in history he was witness to. Ultimately the film doesn’t indict McNamara; it proves to be so fascinating because of the depth of understanding it provides.

The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest (2002), Comedy Movies (pay TV), 8.30pm

A satire of Silicon Valley at the end of the hardware era – when chip design was crucial, Microsoft was an unparalleled giant and the internet was only just starting to find mainstream traction, Po Bronson’s 1997 book is a period piece, but it’s aged far better than Mick Jackson’s ungainly movie adaptation.

The First $20 Million takes the technological twists and black humour and turns it into the cliched archetype of a group of unkempt young men who triumph against an overbearing oppressor. It’s Revenge of the Nerdswith a PC.

Assigned to the scrapheap at a cutting-edge research facility, Andy Caspar (recent co-star of The Code Adam Garcia) and his oddball buddies stumble onto a paradigm-shifting solution to their unwanted assignment, which naturally creates a whole new set of problems. The book was about very smart people whose path to visionary status was tangled up in commerce and greed, but the film is about geeks we are supposed to find amusing.

Craig Mathieson

Economy: Not good but not disastrous

currencyDon’t drop your bundle. It’s not clear the economy has slowed to the snail’s pace a literal reading of the latest national accounts suggests. As for the talk of a “technical income recession”, it’s just silly.
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What is clear is that, at best, the economy continues to grow at the sub-par rate of about 2.5 per cent a year, a rate insufficient to stop unemployment continuing to edge up. This has been true for more than two years.

A literal reading of last week’s national accounts from the Bureau of Statistics says the economy – real gross domestic product – grew by a mere 0.3 per cent in the September quarter, down from growth of 0.5 per cent in the previous quarter and 1 per cent in the quarter before that.

But if we’ve learnt anything by now, it’s that it’s folly to take the quarterly national accounts too literally. They’re just a first stab at the truth, based on incomplete and often inaccurate data.

The initial estimate for growth in any quarter will be revised – up and down – up to a dozen times before the bureau is satisfied it has got it pretty right.

Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens referred recently to “the vagaries of quarterly national accounting”.

Frankly, I don’t believe the economy  slowed markedly in the three months to September, or the six months, for that matter. If it were true, surely we wouldn’t need to be told about it by the national accounts two months after the fact.

Since all individual economic indicators have their weaknesses and inaccuracies, meaning none should be taken too literally, the only adult way to proceed is to see if the signal coming from one key indicator fits with the overall message coming from the other indicators.

On the basis of what all the other indicators are saying, the forecasters – official and unofficial – expected growth in the September quarter of 0.6 per cent or 0.7 per cent, which would be consistent with the view we’re still travelling at about 2.5 per cent a year.

When the published figures turn out to be half that, this suggests either that all the forecasters got something badly wrong, or that it’s the published initial estimate that’s wrong and likely to be revised up to something closer to what we expected.

The way we’ll be able to tell whether the economy really has slowed to a crawl is by watching the rate at which unemployment rises in coming months. At the 2.5 per cent a year speed, it’s worsening at a rate averaging 0.1 percentage points a quarter. If that average rises, we’ll know things are much worse than they were.

As for the “technical income recession”, it proves little. Make a note that, in this context, the word “technical” is warning that what follows is based on an arbitrary rule with little sense to it.

“Technical” means two quarters of contraction in a row equal a recession. So one quarter of huge contraction isn’t a recession, and two negative quarters separated by a zero quarter aren’t a recession, but two consecutive negative quarters are a recession no matter how tiny the falls (or whether one is subsequently revised away).

“Real gross domestic income” is real gross domestic product adjusted for the change in our terms of trade during the quarter. Since, as we’ve seen, real GDP growth was weak in the past two quarters, the deterioration in our terms of trade in both quarters caused real income to decline by 0.3 per cent in the June quarter and by 0.4 per cent in the September quarter.

What happens to our terms of trade – and, hence, our aggregate income – is important. But, in this particular case, it’s hard to get too excited.

As Dr Shane Oliver, of AMP Capital, has explained: “There is a danger in dwelling too much on the slump in real gross domestic income flowing from the falling terms of trade . . . while swings in the mining and energy export prices are very important for resource companies, and hence for government revenues, their impact on the rest of the economy is far more modest.”

In other words, the main impact is on mining company profits, and mining is about 80 per cent foreign owned. More their problem than ours.

If I thought the economy was sliding into genuine recession I’d say so. But I don’t believe in exaggerating the bad news because it makes for more exciting betting on financial markets, makes a better story or because you’ve always hated whichever party happens to be in power at the time.

Ross Gittins is the economics editor.

Standards and commissions for financial advice ripe for change

The wealth industry needs to overhaul commission structures for financial planners and redefine misleading advice terms to protect consumers.
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Those were two of several ­recommendations outlined in David Murray’s inquiry, which argues the advice industry needs to take major steps to create a culture that focuses on consumer interests.

Mr Murray’s inquiry also pushes for higher education standards for planners, and stronger powers for the corporate regulator to crack down on wayward financial professionals, among others.

The federal government needed to mandate that planners hold relevant tertiary degrees and prove their competence in specialist areas such as superannuation, it found.

Mr Murray, the former chief executive of Commonwealth Bank of Australia and chairman of the inquiry, called for the term “general advice” be renamed and planners disclose their ownership structures to make it clear to consumers whether they are receiving advertising or financial advice.

Mr Murray urged the federal government to change laws to make the cost of upfront commissions for insurance no more expensive than ongoing commissions.

“This would reduce incentives for churning [swapping customers from one insurer to another to get more expensive commissions] and improve the quality of advice on life insurance,” the final report, released on Sunday, said.

The recommendation comes after a damning report from the corporate regulator, which found one in three ­advisers focused more on winning commissions than serving their clients.

About nine in 10 advisers ­recommending life insurance are paid an ­upfront commission of between 100 and 130 per cent of the first year’s premium, plus between 10 and 13 per cent of the annual premium in ­following years.

Nearly six out of 10 life policies are sold through financial advisers, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission says. The Murray inquiry recommended a “level” commission structure, ­requiring that the cost of an upfront ­commission is not greater than the ongoing commission.

ANZ Bank’s chief executive of global wealth, Joyce Phillips, said: “We are supportive of an industry review into remuneration structures of life ­insurance that would look at addressing upfront commissions and the potential for conflicted remuneration.”

The Murray inquiry also called for the term “general advice”, which ­covers advertising and sales material highlighting the pros of financial products, to be scrapped. “Consumers may ­misinterpret or excessively rely on guidance  . . . when it is described as ‘general advice’,” it said.

Will Hamilton, a financial adviser with Hamilton Wealth Management, supported the change.

“General advice can be seen as product sales – it’s as simple as that. This is important for the consumer,” Hamilton said.

In its ­submission to the inquiry, the ­Commonwealth Bank of Australia said the term should be re-labelled “sales” or “product information” to improve consumers’ understanding of what they were receiving.

The Financial Services Council, which represents the wealth management arm of the big banks, said general advice should be changed to “general information”.

“We believe that general advice should be renamed to ensure that consumers have more clarity about what they’re receiving, as in some cases it is just factual information being provided from a research report or product seminar,” Ms Phillips said.

CLSA diversified financials analyst Jan van der Schalk broadly supported Murray’s recommendations for the wealth sector.

Potential saviour lines up for Pie Face

About 17 company-owned stores and two franchised stores have closed, reducing the chain to about 50 outlets.When reports emerged six months ago that the Pie Face franchise was in trouble, Stan Gordon reached out to founder Wayne Homschek.
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Mr Gordon, the chief executive of the Franchised Food Company – which has 180 franchised stores under brands such as Cold Rock Ice Creamery, Pretzel World and Nutshack – thought he could offer Mr Homschek some ­useful advice. He ran a hot pie business in South Africa almost 20 years ago and brought the concept to Australia when he emigrated in 1996. “I wanted to teach Australians about pies – I thought if it worked [in South Africa] it would work here,” Mr Gordon recalled.

“Australians knew more about pies than I did, [so] it failed miserably. I laugh about it today but at the time it wasn’t funny,” he said.

Mr Gordon reckons he knows what not to do now and is keen to give the hot pie business another red-hot go by taking over the collapsed Pie Face.

“We are a multi-brand operator. There are not many others who would be in a position to take it over,” he said.

“We have 180 stores and we understand the smaller types of franchises – the mom and pop operators who have put their life savings and homes on the line. And we understand the snack treat market.”

However, after making several approaches to Pie Face’s administrator, Jirsch Sutherland, Mr Gordon has yet to receive a response. He believes the administrator and Pie Face directors and investors are more interested in pursuing a deed of company arrangement and refinancing major creditor Macquarie Capital than finding buyers for the business.

About 17 company-owned stores and two franchised stores have closed, reducing the chain to about 50 outlets, and Pie Face’s administrators and ­management are in talks with landlords to reduce lease costs on remaining stores.

It is also looking at ways to cut costs and boost production in its Rosehill factory, including selling frozen, take-home packs through Woolworths.

Franchisees, creditors and investors at Pie Face’s first creditors’ meeting last week were told weekly ­outgoings across the group were still exceeding sales by about $150,000.

Directors are expected to submit a deed of arrangement before the second creditors’ meeting on December 30.

Creditors would need to be convinced the deed delivered a better return than liquidating the assets.

Mr Gordon believes Pie Face’s current model is unworkable but could be fixed by tweaking the product offer and repositioning the brand.

The current model pitted Pie Face franchises against independent bakeries, many of which baked hot pies, he said.

“They have the right ingredients, but they’re putting them in all the wrong places,” he said.

Pie Face was founded in Sydney in 2003 by Mr Homschek and his wife Betty Fong and it expanded rapidly, raising more than $35 million over the past five years from a string of ­high-profile investors, including retail entrepreneur Brett Blundy, ­Rothschild Australia chairman Trevor Rowe and former Austereo executive Brian Bickmore.

Angus Geddes, the founder of in­vestment newsletter and fund manager Fat Prophets, is estimated to have invested about $5 million into Pie Face for a 6 per cent stake. He said after the company’s collapse he was con­fident it could get out of voluntary administration quickly.

Banking sector reform will affect every Australian

A banker no more: Former Commonwealth Bank head David Murray conducted the government-commissioned Financial Services Inquiry. Photo: Christopher Pearce
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Treasurer Joe Hockey urges banks to co-operate with regulators

The Financial Services Inquiry is truly far reaching.

The new model former banker David Murray puts forward will affect every Australian. If you own a credit card, have a loan, a bank deposit, superannuation, an insurance policy or own shares in a bank, the tentacles will touch your financial position.

The massive overhaul of the Australian financial system is aimed to act as a bulwark to secure the system in the event of a future shock such as the global financial crisis.

It seeks to iron out many of the competitive inequities in the system that disadvantage smaller regional banks and acknowledge that the digital revolution is changing the financial landscape, ushering in new entrants that need to be accommodated within the regulatory framework

The inquiry has also exposed a structurally deficient superannuation system that is expensive for the consumer and lacks competition.

The new super system package recommended by the Murray inquiry has the potential to increase an average weekly earning-male by 25-40 per cent in retirement, according to the report’s authors. And changes recommended to credit card surcharges will see consumers pay lighter fees.

The price of bolstering the safety of the banking industry will come at a cost – particularly to the big four banks, Westpac, Commonwealth Bank National Australia Bank and ANZ – because they will need to carry a greater capital reserve buffer, one that will place it in the top ranks of their international peers.

It is a prospect the major banks have been aware of and on which they have already been mounting  a rearguard action.

It has set Murray and the major banks on a clear collision course. If implemented by the government, there is a clear suggestion that banks will pass on higher costs either by increasing interest rates to borrowers, decreasing deposit rates, or reducing dividend payments to shareholders.

Murray recommends our banks should be in the top quartile when measured by international standards but makes no explicit target. However, he suggests the major banks are in a range of 10-11.6 per cent  on a globally harmonised basis but this needs to go above at least 12.2 per cent to be in the top quartile.

The report says that if Australia experienced a shock that was in the range experienced overseas during the global financial crisis, it would be “sufficient to render Australia’s major banks insolvent in the absence of further capital raising”.

It could destroy 900,000 jobs and create large falls in the nation’s gross domestic product.

Based on international estimates, the cost to GDP of a crisis would equate to $300 billion to $2.4 trillion in Australia and further increase government debt..

The report said that while Australia’s resilience to the GFC reflected the strength of the financial service sector, many factors came into play including the government’s balance sheet and Chinese resource demand, that may not be present in the next crisis.

Murray’s view is that any banking system shortfall should not be funded by taxpayers

The risks associated with a crisis are further exacerbated by Australia’s highly concentrated banking system. “Disruption to the functioning of one major bank could be expected to impose significant costs to the economy particularly if it resulted in contagion to other Australian financial institutions.”

He said bank returns could be lower and still attractive to investors and generate sufficient return to promote economic growth. Thus Murray clearly thinks the cost on banks associated with ensuring systemic safety will be borne by their shareholders rather than their customers.

Fairfax and Nine do Stan deal with CBS

The Good Wife is one of the series covered in the new deal. Photo: CBSStan, the joint venture paid streaming service owned by the Nine Network and Fairfax, has signed an output deal with Hollywood’s CBS Studios.
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The deal delivers the service, which is slated to launch early next year, streaming rights to the critically acclaimed United States dramas Ray Donovan, Dexter, Californication, Nurse Jackie and The Good Wife.

It will also add a number of key library series to the service, including the Star Trek original series, Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, the CSI franchise, including CSI, CSI: Miami and CSI:NY, the original Twin Peaks, Oz, Deadwood and the iconic 1980s soap Dynasty.

The CBS Studios deal covers more than 1200 hours of CBS and Showtime programming.

It follows a number of similar deals for Stan signed with key US studios, including a deal with Sony Pictures that included Breaking Bad, the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul and new series Mozart in the Jungle and Transparent.

The Sony deal also included a library of films such as The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, 21 Jump Street and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Another deal, signed with the iconic studio MGM, included rights to the critically acclaimed Fargo, the comedy series Will & Grace,The L Word and a raft of film titles such as When Harry Met Sally, Silence of the Lambs and the Rocky franchise.

It also has a deal with BBC Worldwide, which includes some of the BBC library’s best titles, including the iconic comedies Absolutely Fabulous and Fawlty Towers, Sherlock, Ripper Street, Luther, Wallander, Top Gear and Doctor Who.

Stan’s chief executive Mike Sneesby said the service would be a value-for-money entertainment service that made premium content accessible to everyone.

Though Stan’s parent company StreamCo has not announced pricing yet, it is expected the service will fall in the range of similar US services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, which charge about US$10 a month.

It will offer on-demand content in high-definition on multiple platforms, including television, tablets, computers and mobile phones.

Mr Sneesby said CBS had a proven track record of creating the most-watched TV shows, loved by audiences around the world. “This is why we’ve committed to bringing their flagship dramas and the best of their catalogue to Stan.”

CBS’s president of global distribution Armando Nunez said his company was pleased to sign a deal, which would further showcase CBS programming in this important region.

The agreement created a new revenue stream for CBS, while expanding the fan base for its popular current and classic series, Mr Nunez said.

The two deals will increase growing pressure in the television rights sector, as potential players seek to tie up streaming rights to key programming libraries.

The main US streaming player, Netflix, is also planning a launch in the Australian market next year.

Netflix’s launch announcement focused on original commissioned US series, including Marco Polo, BoJack Horseman, Marvel’s Daredevil and the Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda comedy Grace and Frankie.

Netflix has not confirmed it will air the third season of House of Cards when it launches, but that series is slated to launch late February in the US and Netflix is unlikely to risk consumer anger by delaying it.

The Nine Network and Fairfax announced earlier this year they would be joint venture partners in Stan, each contributing $50 million to the start-up service.

A launch date has not been announced.

Banks brace for $28 billion hit

Banking shares have recouped some of their losses over recent trading sessions, but some analysts believe they are still too expensive. Photo: Jesse MarlowThe banking industry and the federal government will be set for a showdown if the Financial System Inquiry recommendations that call on banks to bolster  expensive capital, in an exercise that could cost the industry several billion dollars, are adopted.
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The release of the Murray report on Sunday will cement fears among investors that this takes the gloss off bank earnings and puts at risk the generosity of future dividends.

Treasurer Joe Hockey says he is prepared to take on the banks, suggesting he is open to the most controversial element among the Murray recommendations – that  Australian banks could be insufficiently capitalised to weather another  global financial crisis.

The inquiry said that safety of the banking system was of paramount importance and he did not believe it should be left to taxpayers to bail out the financial system in the event of a financial shock.

“Evidence available to the inquiry suggests that the largest Australian banks are not currently in the top quartile of internationally active banks. Australian [banks] should therefore be required to have higher capital levels,”  the report says.

Analysts have suggested that the Murray reforms combined with other already-announced capital measures would require the big four players, Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, National Australia Bank and Westpac, to set aside another $28 billion in capital .

Among a myriad of changes discussed by the Financial Services Inquiry that included examining the distorting tax influence of  negative gearing and dividend imputation, Hockey pinpointed the need to withstand global financing shocks as the centrepiece of the report.

Hockey warned the banks not to engage in advertising-based warfare – as the mining industry did successfully to  kill the super mining tax in 2010.

The banks have argued that they are already well capitalised and weathered the 2008 financial crisis well, and commissioned research a few months ago showing they ranked high among international peers. The FSI disagreed, saying Australian banks were in the middle of the pack and and needed to be in the top quartile.

Australian Bankers’ Association chief executive Steven Munchenberg said: “The question we, and the government, must ask on each of these recommendations is simply, does it help or hinder our future economic growth? A careful analysis of each recommendation on this basis is now needed.”

In recent months, individual banks have warned that boosting capital would result in higher interest rates for borrowers or lower dividends for bank shareholders.

The Property Council was more explicit.

“Capital holding recommendations have the effect of adding weight to loans and costs to borrowers, which could hurt already low first-home buyer rates, affect new housing starts and challenge seniors who are looking to downsize.”

But Murray accused the banks of overstating  the impacts of holding additional capital. The FSI said it would add 0.01 to 0.1 per cent to the cost of a loan.

“The public statements by the banks are wildly above those numbers. They are exaggerated. Hopefully, other experts will look at those numbers and conclude similar to ours,” said Murray.

But it’s a shot in the arm for smaller regional banks, which will have their risk capital requirements brought more into line with that of their big four rivals.

Four of Australia’s leading regional banks were overjoyed with the final report, which they said “acknowledges the need to level the playing field in banking”.

The inquiry also took aim at the superannuation system, which it found has insufficient focus on retirement income.

Murray suggested the recent super reforms had not introduced the intended competitive improvements and that the price of superannuation was still very high.

The new super system package recommended by the Murray inquiry has the potential to increase an average weekly earning-male by 25-40 per cent in retirement.

The FSI said that subject to a scheduled review of super by 2020, there would be a formal competitive process to allocate new default fund members (those who don’t nominate a super fund) to MySuper products, based on performance.

“This option should stimulate competition in the default market,” the inquiry said.

Solar energy world first in Australia

Pioneer: Professor Martin Green, director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at the University of NSW.Australian solar power researchers have achieved world-beating levels of efficiency, potentially making large solar plants more competitive with other energy sources such as coal.
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A team from the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (PV) at the University of NSW has achieved 40.4 per cent “conversion efficiency” by using commercially available solar cells combined with a mirror and filters that reduce wasted energy.

Martin Green, the centre’s director, said the independently verified breakthrough eclipsed previous records without resorting to special laboratory PV cells that “you’ve got no chance of buying commercially”. Other top-performing solar panels convert about 36 per cent of the sunlight that falls on them into electricity.

The advance involved two steps. Three solar panels were stacked to capture energy from different wave lengths of sunlight, and then excess light from the stacked panels was directed by a mirror and filters to a fourth PV cell, making use of energy previously discarded.

“This is our first re-emergence into the focused-sunlight area,” said Professor Green, who pioneered 20 per cent-efficiency levels in similar technology in 1989.

The institute was prompted to revisit the technology in part because of Australian companies’ efforts to develop large-scale solar towers using arrays of mirrors to focus sunlight on PV cells.

One of those firms, Melbourne-based RayGen, collaborated with UNSW on the project. It is building a plant in China with an solar conversion rate of about 28 per cent across the year.. “We’d take them to the mid-30s” for future projects with the technology jump, Professor Green said.

Professor Green was critical of the federal government’s efforts to scrap the Australian Renewable Energy Agency – which chipped in $550,000 to the $1.3 million Power Cube project – and for its ongoing attempts to reduce the Renewable Energy Target set for 2020.

“A positive attitude to renewables would boost all these initiatives, a negative attitude will suppress them,” he said. “Clamping down on deployment of renewables will make it more difficult for developments like this to see the light of day.”

The next goal is to raise efficiency levels of concentrating solar to 42 per cent next year, about half way to the theoretical maximum level of 86 per cent. It’s an issue likely to be discussed as Sydney plays host to the Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference this week.

“It’s horse and buggy days as far as solar is concerned at the moment. There’s just this enormous potential for improvement in efficiency,” Professor Green said.

“To turn your back on those types of developments doesn’t seem to me to be a very sensible strategy.”

The university’s Mark Keevers led the engineering work on the so-called high efficiency spectrum splitting prototype, and its results were confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at its outdoor test facility in the US.

SMSF leverage too much risk for some, in these uncertain times

The inquiry’s interim report surprised industry observers. Photo: Christopher PearceGreg Angelo is not a man who is big on risk.
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Angelo is 67, a former accountant now studying to be an auditor. His wife is also 67, and still works a couple of days at a nearby school. They manage a small publishing business. Angelo is the new breed of retiree – one who retires but continues to work. He took a keen interest in the Murray inquiry.

The inquiry’s interim report surprised industry observers by focusing heavily on SMSF regulation, the final report has done the opposite and surprised observers by barely touching on the sector at all.

The remaining headline recommendation is for a blanket ban on leveraging within super, which Murray found to be unjustifiably risky.

Angelo, as you’d expect, agrees.

He shifted to an SMSF largely to avoid having to deal with financial advisers. He manages his fund using cheap online software, and does not have to deal with the “sharks” trying to hustle him into bad investments.

But there are plenty of SMSF holders less sophisticated than him, he worries.

“There’s a prudential issue with people who don’t necessary fully understand risk being dragged into property investment schemes through the back door.”

He is not a man who takes risks, least of all in these uncertain modern times. His self-managed super fund is narrowly invested – almost all in cash, with a small holding in gold as a hedge. Because these days you never know what could happen.

“We’re buying flexibility and sacrificing yield, because I don’t trust politicians, I don’t trust international money markets, and I want, in fairly uncertain times, to maintain flexibility,” he says.

Over in Kew, Andrew Cullinan somehow finds himself in the office on a Sunday, tidying papers. He’s had time to glance at Murray’s recommendations too, and is not so impressed.

Cullinan is a director at accountants Leebridge Group, and advises about 180 clients with SMSFs – as well as finding time to sit on the board of the Self-managed Independent Superannuation Funds Association.

Leverage and its inherent risk is a normal, effective part of the wider economy, he says. Its not reasonable to exclude SMSFs from exploring the option as part of a sensible investment strategy.

“The inquiry almost comes from a position of worst-case scenario. It’s probably not a practical, realistic position.”

Cullinan’s own SMSF is significantly leveraged, allowing him to spread more heavily into equities than he otherwise could have. He’s comfortable with the risk he has taken weighted against the potential rewards.

“I’ve got a higher investment pool for growth than what I otherwise would have.”

Movie Nightcrawler offensive, says real overnight TV newsman

Overnight TV newsman Chris Keane hopes the public is not misled by the movie Nightcrawler.. Photo: Jesse MarlowA Melbourne overnight TV news cameraman has criticised the antics of his fictional, sleazy Los Angeles counterpart in the new movie Nightcrawler as offensive and unrealistic.
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Chris Keane says the on-screen actions of creepy lensman Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, are repugnant and a sensational Hollywood fantasy.

“I found the film offensive professionally, and I hope the public can differentiate between a Hollywood sensational thriller and what we do out there in the real world,” said Keane.

“He has no morals and he does everything to an extreme.”

Among the Bloom character’s actions are: Arriving at a car crash before emergency services, he moves a bloodied body so he can get a better shot.

He sabotages a rival cameraman’s van, causing him to crash, then films a close-up of the rival’s bloodied face on the stretcher.

Bloom arrives before police to a home invasion, enters the house to film two bodies, and he keeps filming rather than giving first aid when he finds a third victim still breathing.

In reality, Keane, 60, is a proud professional who has covered overnight crime, accidents and fires for over 15 years.

He says after Princess Diana died in a 1997 car crash,chased by paparazzi in Paris, Keane would be regularly abused by the public as “scum”.

Three years ago, while filming an assault victim at Caulfield train station, a teenage thug who thought he shouldn’t be there threw a full, energy drink can at Keane, breaking his jaw.

Keane says the public needs to know that Nightcrawler is “extraordinarily unrealistic”.

“It’s repugnant. It’s so over the top and so ‘Hollywood treatment’, but there’s going to be people out there that view it and go [to real cameramen], ‘those scumbags’.”

Keane says any cameraman who crossed police tape or shoved a camera between a paramedic and the wounded “wouldn’t last five minutes”. Police would arrest them, or send them to film from a mile away.

He says good operators work with emergency services. If they’re patient and respectful, authorities will let them film closer and give interviews when they’re ready.

His footage is shared between the ABC and channels 7, 9 and 10, but Keane is employed by the ABC, so unlike Bloom, he doesn’t hawk his footage to the highest bidder.

It can be adrenaline-fuelled. On one recent night, , Keane drove to Tallarook, north of Melbourne, to film a woman being rescued after falling down a cliff, then rushed back to Docklands to film evacuations from an apartment building fire.

Unlike Bloom, Keane doesn’t speed and has never arrived at a scene before police, but if he did and there was a wounded person, he would put aside his camera to help them.

A colleague did, in fact, once come across a man critically injured in a hit-run in South Yarra, and resuscitated him.

Keane works five days every second week, from 8pm to 6am. He has been to “some pretty bad scenes” but has learned to switch off, is married with two sons and maintains hobbies outside of work such as photography and leadlighting.

It is not pleasant filming firefighters pulling teenage bodies from car crashes. But it can show the consequences of speeding, drinking, or fooling around on the roads.

Recently he filmed a motorcyclist who covered his own number plate so he could “go at stupid speeds” down the Princes Highway. The rider crashed into a car and was badly injured.

Keane says one positive of his job is “showing the skills and abilities of all the emergency services working together to save someone”.

Keane urges young people to “please take on board what we’re showing you, and what the police are telling you, and be there at Christmas for the family”.