Coalition bipartisan on treatment of Assange

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By , 08/08/2018 13:51

Opposition spokeswoman on foreign affairs Julie Bishop has affirmed bipartisan support for the government’s handling of Julian Assange’s circumstances. She said she accepted the assurances of US ambassador Jeffrey Bleich that the US government was not interested in extraditing the WikiLeaks publisher.
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Asked whether the Coalition considered WikiLeaks’ activities in obtaining and publishing secret US government documents amounted to journalism or espionage, Ms Bishop said the publication of information appeared “to fall within the realms of journalistic endeavour”.

But she added that the trial of US Army private Bradley Manning might “cast further light on whether WikiLeaks breached any US laws in obtaining that information”.

Mr Assange has lived at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for a year, having been granted diplomatic asylum on the grounds that he is at risk of extradition to the US on conspiracy or other charges relating to the leaking of classified information by Private Manning.

Swedish prosecutors wish to extradite Mr Assange to face questioning about sexual assault allegations made by two women in August 2010. Mr Assange claims that extradition to Sweden would facilitate his eventual extradition to the US.

Ms Bishop adopted the same lines as Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr, saying the Coalition was not aware of “any formal legal proceedings” involving Mr Assange other than those arising from the Swedish allegations.

“The US has extradition treaty arrangements with Sweden and the United Kingdom and is thus able to commence extradition proceedings in cases that meet appropriate criteria,” Ms Bishop said.

She said the Coalition was not aware of any extradition proceedings under way or any formal prosecutions in the US that could lead to Mr Assange’s extradition.

“The United States ambassador to Australia has stated publicly that the US government has no plans to extradite Mr Assange from Sweden. The Coalition is not aware of any evidence to the contrary.

“Given that ambassador Bleich has stated publicly that extraditing Mr Assange is “not something that the US cares about”, and the Coalition accepts that assurance, it is not appropriate to speculate about alternative scenarios.”

The US Justice Department has confirmed that a federal criminal investigation into WikiLeaks continues.

Ms Bishop disagreed with Mr Carr’s recent observation that there had been an “over-servicing” of Mr Assange’s consular case and said a Coalition government would “continue to ensure Mr Assange was provided with the same level of consular support as would be provided to any other Australian in trouble overseas”.

But the Coalition saw no role for the Australian government beyond routine consular contact because “there is no capacity for the Australian government to intervene or influence the judicial processes of another country”.

Ms Bishop said a Coalition government would make “appropriate representations”.

Ecuadorean foreign affairs minister Ricardo Patino met Ms Assange at the embassy in London on Sunday, and held talks with his British counterpart William Hague on Monday.

After the meetings Mr Patino said Ecuador would “ensure that [Mr Assange] continues with the protection we have given him under asylum in our country, protecting his life, his personal integrity, and particularly his freedom of expression”.

Britain has repeatedly said it has a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden. Police remain outside the embassy, ready to arrest Mr Assange if he leaves.

The British Foreign Office said that while the two foreign ministers had agreed to establish an officials working group to seek a diplomatic resolution of Mr Assange’s circumstances, “no substantive progress was made”.

“The Foreign Secretary William Hague was clear once again that any resolution would need to be within the laws of the United Kingdom,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said.

Mr Assange has indicated he intends to run as a Senate candidate in Victoria for the newly formed WikiLeaks Party.

Party campaign manager Greg Barns said the Coalition and the government were “so entrenched with the United States view of the world that they are wilfully blind to what is clear from the Bradley Manning trial – and that is the United States is bent on extraditing Julian Assange”.

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Roxon’s farewell: Don’t let naysayers define Labor

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By , 08/08/2018 13:51

Nicola Roxon delivers her valedictory speech at Parliament House on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares Treasurer Wayne Swan with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Nicola Roxon after she delivered her valedictory speech on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Outgoing Liberal MP Judi Moylan with Nicola Roxon after she delivered her valedictory on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Former Labor minister Nicola Roxon has given her farewell speech to Parliament, praising Julia Gillard as an “amazing Prime Minister” while cautioning the party not to allow its internal tensions to distract from its core mission.

Australia’s first female attorney-general also railed against continuing sexism in Australia, including the “crass” and “plain rude” behaviour that Ms Gillard has been subjected to for years.

As Labor continues to grapple with leadership tensions, Ms Roxon threw her support behind Ms Gillard, describing her as “an amazing Prime Minister, a great Labor leader and an impressive woman.”

“We should be proud of her and her work.”

But the Member for Gellibrand said she could not give her valedictory speech without acknowledging that it was a “hard time” for Labor.

“Even for true Labor believers there are times when it can feel frustrating.”

Ms Roxon issued a rallying call to Labor members and MPs, saying Labor was by its nature and causes “a party of optimists”.

“We can’t let the critics, the naysayers and the nasties define us,” she said. “The truth is, we might be down, but we’re not out.”

Acknowledging the party’s record on policies from Medicare to DisabilityCare Australia, Ms Roxon had a word of caution for her colleagues: “We’ve allowed internal tensions to overshadow our core mission for too long. We are a proud party with a proud record, now we need to start behaving like one.”

Ms Roxon, who was Australia’s first female Attorney-General, quit the front bench in a surprise move in February to spend more time with her young daughter. She also announced at the time that she would not recontest her Victorian seat of Gellibrand at the upcoming September election.

Ms Roxon, thanked her mother and husband Michael for their support during her ministerial career.

“Together, Michael and mum helped me manage a busy life as senior cabinet minister with a young child, the first woman to combine such roles.”

Despite celebrating some of Labor’s achievements for women – such as introducing paid parental leave – Ms Roxon said she could not help but “despair a bit on this front”.

“We have a capable, tough, smart, determined woman as our PM. Yet she had been subjected to some of the most crass, silly, petty, sexist and just plain rude behaviour for years.”

Talking of recent allegations about a degrading Defence email ring, Ms Roxon said there was a “dangerous underbelly” that still compromised women in Australia.

“The feminist cause in just as urgent as before.”

Ms Roxon, who was elected to Parliament in 1998, was health minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments before she became the first female attorney-general in December 2011.

The member for Gellibrand also said she “weirdly” needed to thank Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for providing the material for some of the most memorable moments of her political career.

This included the time he was late to a health policy debate during the 2007 election campaign and then swore at the then shadow health minister.

Ms Roxon also reminisced that her mother had once marched up to Kevin Rudd when he was prime minister and demanded that her daughter be given time off to get married.

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Ashley-Cooper fears Lions in wide, open spaces

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By , 08/08/2018 13:51

Dull, dreary and obsessed with the set piece … northern hemisphere sides generally come to Australian shores with a reputation for keeping it deathly simple on the rugby field.
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The British and Irish Lions have fit the stereotype in one regard. Their scrum and lineout has been a well-oiled machine since the tour began with a rout over the Barbarians and Western Force, before facing sterner competition against the Queensland Reds and Waratahs.

But it has been their willingness to swing the ball wide that has impressed and in some ways surprised the locals. Depending on how conservative Robbie Deans plays his hand, it could be the tourists that play the more expansive game on Saturday night in Brisbane.

Tour games are not Tests by any stretch but Wallaby centre Adam Ashley-Cooper has seen enough to suggest the Lions will be chancing their arm at Suncorp Stadium.

There will be an inevitable tightening of play as the stakes rise, particularly with the accuracy of their goal kickers, but Ashley-Cooper believes the same blueprint will largely apply to the Tests as it has to the tour matches.

“Their ability to spread the ball has been quite impressive. Obviously they’ve come out with a very physical and confrontational approach to the start of the game and have that ability to throw the ball wide,” Ashley-Cooper said.

“You wouldn’t think too much would change. It seems they’ve had a little bit of consistency in the way they’ve approached each game.

“With the wingers they have, George North, (Sean) Maitland, (Adam) Cuthbert, it would be silly not to get the ball to those guys.”

This would guarantee a busy night for Ashley-Cooper, who should be named at outside centre when the Wallabies reveal their team on Thursday.

“From a backs perspective, it’s going to be tough. You have to consider the physicality and their great ball-running forwards and also have to defend the width they are capable of achieving,” he said.

“But Test match football is all about physicality and intensity. It’s quite simple when it comes to strategy and game plan but when it comes to intensity, it’s some of the toughest football you’ll play. They certainly have the characters and the ability to do that.”

The Waratahs utility, who has finally found a permanent home under Michael Cheika, is hopeful of coming face-to-face with Irish great Brian O’Driscoll.

After initially thinking he’d never been on the same field, a laughing Ashley-Cooper eventually realised he had faced O’Driscoll twice; once at 2009 at Croke Park and again in the Rugby World Cup.

To be fair, on one of those occasions he was on the wing and the other at fullback.

“I’m pretty sure I haven’t played him at 13. I want to though.”

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RBA content to see the dollar fall

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By , 09/05/2019 15:35

The Reserve Bank appears to continue to talk down the Australian dollar to help stoke economic growth, while the latest board minutes released by the central bank suggests it is open to cutting the cash rate again.
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Although the dollar had ”depreciated noticeably” against other currencies since its May cash rate cut, it ”remained at a high level considering the decline in export prices that had taken place over the past year-and-a-half”, the bank said in its June board minutes published on Tuesday.

”It was possible that the exchange rate would depreciate further over time as the terms of trade declined, which would help to foster a rebalancing of growth in the economy.”

The Australian dollar lost a quarter of a cent following the release of the minutes, falling to about US95.17¢ during the morning session. It was trading at US95.09¢ late on Tuesday.

RBS senior currency strategist Greg Gibbs said the RBA’s board members would have ”chosen their wording carefully in the hope that it might cause the currency to weaken”.

”Obviously it’s a very subtle attempt because the market doesn’t like overt pressure from central banks and normally rails against it … This is an example where they spoke in a way where they will welcome the currency’s fall but not rely on it.”

Citi economists Josh Williamson and Paul Brennan said the dollar was now more aligned with the terms of trade – a ratio that measures export prices to import prices.

Changes in the cyclical drivers of the currency, such as Asian currencies and risk sentiment, meant further falls in the terms of trade were more likely to be followed by weakness in the dollar, the economists said.

The Reserve Bank said while the US dollar was an ”important contributor” to the Australian currency’s recent depreciation, it also fell against most of its peers. It said this was a reflection of its May cut, falling commodity prices and concerns about China’s economy.

The board members noted that lower interest rates were having an effect on the economy, but that wage growth and business conditions remained subdued.

They said there was ”considerable uncertainty” about mining investment after it peaks and plateaus at a high level over the next year.

NAB currency strategist Ray Attrill said he expected the dollar to fall to US83¢ by the end of 2015. NAB also forecast the currency to fall to US93¢ by the end of this year and US87¢ by the end of next year.

However, Mr Attrill said, some of the recent falls could be reversed in the short term given the large amount of investors short on the dollar.

Financial markets were pricing in a 23 per cent chance of a July rate cut, according to Credit Suisse data. They were also pricing in at least one more cut by the end of the year.

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Time for plan B at Elders

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By , 09/05/2019 15:35

Elders is a bit like the rural services version of Billabong – an iconic brand with a business that strategically misstepped, bought the wrong assets, paid too much for them and is now lumbered with too much debt.
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Both have spent the past year (or more in Billabong’s case) looking for a buyer. And neither could find one. Elders looks like it will find a home for its automotive division, but the centrepiece, the rural services business, has been left on the shelf.

The most obvious buyer walked away from the auction room on Tuesday. Ruralco had been hanging around for a year. Its first offer lobbed around September and was rejected. The most recent offer was even less generous. Needless to say Ruralco was shown the door.

Ruralco has Australian Competition and Consumer Commission clearance. It also has a 12 per cent stake in Elders and could thus meddle with any other party that was looking to make a bid.

The Ruralco offer was only for the Elders’ rural services business and neither side is prepared to reveal the exact amount. But neither is disputing speculation that $250 million was close enough to the mark. Elders is also in negotiations with a couple of parties to sell the automotive business, which is expected to fetch about $70 million.

To have accepted the Ruralco offer, the banking syndicate would have had to take a haircut on its $340 million of loans. The value of the equity and the $150 million of hybrid securities would be zero.

Brokers have placed values on the Elders rural services business of $320 million to $385 million – which in depressed conditions in the agricultural market look pretty optimistic, and these are certainly not being reflected in the share price, which is perched at 7.1¢.

Having decided to spare Elders an undertaker, the banks will now have to come up with a plan B, the company simply cannot be left in its current overgeared structure. One of the reasons will be that to date Elders has managed to pay its interest bills – even in the lean years.

Given the seasonal nature of the agricultural industry, next year could see a positive turnaround in earnings, but it could also see a deterioration. It has been a tough year for everyone, with hot, dry weather and plummeting livestock prices pushing earnings lower.

Ruralco’s earnings fell in the first half of the financial year by 50 per cent, even before taking into account the loss on its stake in Elders.

The banks would not want to be rolling the dice too often. It is now up to Elders chief Malcolm Jackman to get some cost out of what is a high working capital business. He has been in rescue mode since he first put his feet under the desk four years ago. But this won’t address the more fundamental problem of repairing the balance sheet.

Only two immediate solutions spring to mind. The first is to get a major equity injection from a third party – an avenue being investigated – most likely an offshore party, probably Asian. The second is to undertake some debt for equity swap with lenders. But banks traditionally have been loath to do this other than as a last resort.

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Investors back model to fund roads

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By , 09/05/2019 15:35

Institutional investors have given the thumbs up to the NSW government’s new model to fund large road projects but warned of a ”time bomb” if construction costs and traffic forecasts are not adequately assessed.
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Former superannuation minister Nick Sherry also cautioned that super funds that opted to put money into infrastructure had to deliver returns that justified the investment, and stay divorced from political whims.

”Having been a politician, I know plenty of … colleagues who’ve got their favourite road projects and bridge projects, generally to nowhere, carrying very little traffic, who would love you to invest in their political backyard infrastructure project,” Mr Sherry said at a lunch in Melbourne on Tuesday.

After the failure of toll roads built under a private-public partnership model, the NSW government has been forced to adopt a new funding strategy for the $10 billion to $13 billion WestConnex road project in Sydney.

As outlined in the state budget on Tuesday, the government plans to fund the first stage of the 33-kilometre motorway as an equity investment rather than a capital grant. It then wants to fund the next stage by raising money from the private sector against the tolls on the roadway.

This model is expected to be closely studied by the Victorian government, which is committed to the yet-to-be funded $6 billion to $8 billion east-west link.

The NSW government emphasises that raising private capital once traffic volumes are known can significantly reduce the risk of forecasting usage by motorists. Toll roads such as Brisbane’s Airport Link and Sydney’s Lane Cove Tunnel failed because the traffic forecasts were radically overestimated.

White Funds Management managing director Angus Gluskie said retail and wholesale investors could be willing buyers of toll roads such as the WestConnex once traffic volumes were known, and the project had been ”de-risked” under the NSW government’s plan.

”Right at the moment we have infrastructure projects that have to be done, and we have an unwilling and gun-shy private sector – this gets around that road block,” he said.

”It is exactly the right thing the government should be doing. It really just means the government holds the risk on their books for a couple of years and then just passes it on.”

But he warned that future governments could be saddled with large liabilities if their predecessors underestimated the risk of construction and overstated the likely traffic volumes.

”If it is done irresponsibly, you can be creating a bit of a time bomb for future governments,” he said.

”It will be important for the government to make sure, as they cost it and construct it, that they still believe it makes longer-term financial sense. They have to make sure the forecasts make it stack up.”

Danielle Press, chief executive officer of the $6 billion Equipsuper, said infrastructure investments by super funds required the right return, the right risk structure and the right liquidity structure.

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Lenders slow to pass on rate cuts

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By , 09/05/2019 15:35

Big banks have passed on official interest rate rises to their customers in less than half the time it takes them to deliver rate cuts, new figures show.
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Since the global financial crisis struck in 2008, banks have taken an average of 10 days to pass on cuts in the cash rate to their home loan customers, according to research published by Credit Suisse.

In contrast, lenders took about four days when raising rates.

The figures, obtained from broker 1300HomeLoan, show that all the big four banks – Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ and National Australia Bank – engaged in the practice over the past five years.

Commonwealth Bank was quickest to pass on rate increases, with an average gap of 3.7 days between when the Reserve Bank raised rates and when the change took effect for customers.

Westpac-owned St George was the biggest laggard in lowering rates for customers, taking 15.5 days.

Credit Suisse analyst Jarrod Martin said the practice was of some help to bank profits, but it did not have a substantial impact. ”When there are 365 days in the year it’s not going to be significant in the scheme of things,” Mr Martin said.

The Australian Bankers’ Association chief executive, Steven Munchenberg, said the analysis only looked at one side of the banks’ balance sheets.

”Banks typically announce changes to deposit rates around the same time as changes to lending rates, so any delay in changing lending rates also means savers are not seeing their rates changed immediately,” Mr Munchenberg said.

”This also has a bearing on the implications of timing for banks’ interest margins. While the Reserve Bank’s cash rate is a significant influence on market rates, other influences come into play when banks set market interest rates, for example, banks’ funding costs and competition from other financial service providers in the marketplace – just to name a couple.”

Bank profits in the first half of this year have grown strongly despite weak demand for credit from households and business. Total earnings in the industry are tipped to hit $27 billion this year.

The practice of holding back on rate cuts has been estimated to make an extra $2 million a day for the Commonwealth Bank and Westpac, the nation’s two biggest mortgage lenders.

The finding was contained in a detailed report on mortgage trends.

With Glenda Kwek

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ASIC has far too much on its plate

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By , 09/05/2019 15:35

Since Greg Medcraft took the chair in May, 2011 the Australian Securities & Investments Commission has become more open about how it spends its limited budget on surveillance and enforcement.
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However, what it is telling us may be an argument for change given recent revelations about CBA’s financial planning scandal.

After steadily expanding its areas of responsibility ASIC has arguably become too big to operate as efficiently as it could, and as it also makes clear in information sheets it has issued since Medcraft took over, it cuts its enforcement cloth to fit its budget. Dollars in hand are an important part of the cost-benefit equation that decides whether cases will be pursued, and if evidence exists, prosecuted or settled by way of an enforced undertaking that takes litigation financial risk off the table.

The risk is that money will be saved at the expense of taking the correct action, and on the strength of what my colleagues Adele Ferguson and Chris Vedelago have revealed in recent weeks about the misbehaviour of CBA advisers, ASIC let CBA off far too lightly by extracting only an enforceable undertaking in October 2011. It could have opted for tougher action that sent a message to the advisory industry that improper or illegal behaviour that enriches advisers at the expense of clients will attract significant penalties.

It was also slow to react, or at least from outside appears to have been. Almost a year-and-a-half passed between ASIC’s first contact with a CBA whistleblower and the final elevation of the matter to a serious investigation in March 2010.

There are several contributing factors. First, while ASIC is an earnest and well-intentioned organisation, it has also become a regulatory dumping ground. It began life simply, as the overseer of corporate and securities law. Now, it is also overseeing areas including insurance, superannuation, credit markets, margin lending and business names, and is directly supervising the sharemarkets, having inherited that role from a conflicted ASX.

It’s hard to think of much else that could be thrown at it, although Fairfax’s crack investigators Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker may have found something with their report this week that in 2011 the Australian Federal Police passed on to ASIC a reference it had received from US anti-corruption investigators about allegations that people working for BHP Billiton made improper payments to officials in China, Cambodia and Western Australia.

ASIC has no jurisdiction to investigate bribery, but could look at possible associated corporate offences. If it did, it took no further action. AFP halted its inquiry in September last year, but reopened it in February this year.

Under Medcraft ASIC reports more frequently and fully on its enforcement activities and sets out how it is performing against various benchmarks.

In its most recent report covering the 2011-12 June financial year it says, for example, that it conducted more than 700 high-intensity ”surveillances” during the year, and identified more than 20,000 market trading anomalies. It completed 179 enforcement actions with a success rate of 92 per cent, including 27 convictions and 22 enforceable undertakings, and fielded 12,516 reports of misconduct in the markets and industries it polices, finalising 72 per cent within 28 days, above its 70 per cent target.

It says it aims to satisfactorily answer all telephone queries on the spot, and in 2011-12 did so with 87 per cent of them, down from 91 per cent in 2010-11. It answered 91 per cent of its ”snail mail” inquiries initially within 14 days and in full within 28 days. Responses to email inquiries within two days fell from 96 per cent in 2010-11 to 73 per cent, but that probably reflected the fact that it took over business names registration from the states during 2011-12.

It’s noteworthy, however, that the regulator qualifies its 72 per cent success rate on responding quickly to reports of misconduct with the comment that reports that take longer than 28 days to resolve ”are generally complex ones or ones requiring considerable additional work”. Those are, of course, the ones that matter most.

It is also noteworthy that enforceable undertakings and, for that matter, banning orders for directors, stand with equal weight alongside wins in court in ASIC’s 92 per cent enforcement success rate statistic. Actions of different calibre are lumped together.

That leads to a question, about whether the 92 per cent success rate is actually too high. If ASIC pushed for more litigation and less enforceable undertakings, the success rate would be lower, but ASIC would arguably be signalling its determination to stamp out misbehaviour more clearly.

Underneath it all, of course, Medcraft is running a complicated business, and running it to a budget. His task would be easier if ASIC had less on its plate: a new government might consider that. It would also have easier enforcement choices if there was more money to spend: a new government won’t consider that.

[email protected]南京夜网.au

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Banks on way to record profit

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By , 10/04/2019 12:15

A
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ustralia’s big four banks may be on their way to collectively reporting a record $27 billion in profits this year but one thing is certain – neither side of politics wants to turn it into an election issue.

While in Europe and the Americas banks are still political footballs, the big banks in Australia expect clear air to well beyond the September election.

Gone are the days when interest rate movements dominated the front page. We prefer to whinge about electricity and gas prices. This is despite bank interest margins representing about a third of a borrower’s mortgage rate.

Treasurer Wayne Swan seems to consider his work finished on the banking oligopoly since the 2010 announcement of limited reforms to mortgage exit fees and credit cards.

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank may be moving to snap up a handful of credit unions in New South Wales and Victoria but, other than that, Swan’s talk of a fifth force in Australian banking will remain a pipedream. The big banks should feel well pleased with their handiwork. Swan thought they should be generating returns on equity of about 11 per cent. This year they will produce a world-beating 16 per cent. No wonder their share prices are up 30 per cent in the past year.

Meanwhile, any intelligent question about banking reform to soon-to-be treasurer Joe Hockey is batted away by reference to his planned ”son of Wallis” review of competition in the banking sector.

Hockey has said he wants to enhance competition in Australia’s financial services market while maintaining a ”stable, durable, diverse and well-capitalised industry”.

”The inquiry will set down a new road map for the development and maintenance of a globally competitive financial system,” he has said with some hubris. The requirements of the far more significant Basel III global capital accord don’t rate a mention.

For their part, the big banks are largely ambivalent about Hockey’s review, which federal Treasury has been pushing for since 2010.

If it proves just another bashing exercise, the banks feel that, with the help of the Reserve Bank, they are in a good position to demonstrate there is sufficient competition in the market.

If they get help with addressing their over-reliance on foreign funding, for instance by reducing the tax impost on household deposits, then all the better.

Following a little-publicised review, former RBA governor Bernie Fraser has already ruled out account portability as too expensive.

Hockey has said he plans to issue the terms of reference of his review within 100 days of gaining office, which means he will probably get a big, glossy report towards the end of the Coalition’s first term.

Any legislative outcomes of the review are therefore not expected until well into a second term.

So here’s the rub. Apart from a few changes to the Future of Financial Advice reforms proposed by Senator Mathias Cormann, the Coalition has basically committed to not making any big changes to the financial landscape in it first term.

Soon-to-be prime minister Tony Abbott seems to have no interest. Corporate Australia is just not his thing.

The banks may feel that they have made progress in educating the Coalition.

It seems like a lifetime ago that Hockey was effectively calling for price controls on banks and warning them about expanding offshore.

”I understand banking and I love competition,” he now says.

The reality is that Canberra seems incapable of doing anything other than entrenching the banking oligopoly. Small lenders – perennially constrained by a higher cost of funds – just can’t get a look in.

When the big banks decide loan pricing they think only of the reaction of the other three majors and any possible damaging reaction from the tabloids. Some feel-good credit union in the suburbs or the local branch of a giant foreign bank in the CBD don’t get a mention.

Stewart Oldfield is a research analyst at Wilson HTM. [email protected]南京夜网.au

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OPINION: Opportunity  to revitalise our city

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By , 10/04/2019 12:15

TUESDAY’S state budget was a historic day for the Hunter Region, marking the beginning of a new era that will see the city of Newcastle reborn, poised to take its place among the great cities of the world.
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After years of undelivered promises by the Labor government, the city we love so much has finally been given her chance to shine.

For the first time in decades, our region lies at the heart of the state budget and money is being returned to where it belongs – with the people of the Hunter. Can anyone even remember a budget that wasn’t all about Sydney?

Our decision to undertake a 99-year lease of Newcastle Port unlocks resources that will be used for accelerating and extending the vision for a revitalised Newcastle, including light rail with the potential to link the CBD with surrounding suburbs, our beautiful beaches and the broader Hunter.

This budget puts an additional $340million into the pot with the $120million the government has already committed to the revitalisation project, which will be overseen by Infrastructure NSW. The funds will be coordinated through the Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund (HIIF), taking the HIIF to $690million – money that will go directly towards rolling out the reinvention of Newcastle as a modern city.

The revitalisation of Newcastle is critical to enhancing our entire region and yesterday’s budget gives cause for every citizen of the Hunter – regardless of where we fall between local and state government boundaries – to celebrate.

For too long, Newcastle has been sitting on the edge of its potential, only to be pulled back again and again by a Labor government intent on using the port as a political football to forward its own agenda.

But yesterday the NSW government gave us the green light to leverage the expertise, incentive and financial capacity of private enterprise by undertaking a long-term lease of the port. In addition to bringing a new wave of investment to the region and with it, inherent flow-on effects, the leasing of the port will also create employment.

As evidenced by the successful 99-year lease of Port Botany and Port Kembla, the NSW government is experienced in such transactions, using them to maximise benefits to the community.

The lease of the Port of Newcastle will be no different, fast-tracking urban renewal to create a CBD that is part of the waterfront, opening the city to the foreshore and creating a diverse, vibrant place for everyone.

In turn the East End will be bolstered as a retail, entertainment, leisure and residential precinct, the Civic will be strengthened as an educational and cultural hub, and the West End will emerge as the city’s commercial hub.

It isn’t news the revitalisation plan we announced last year included changes to the rail line – changes that replace a 19th century solution to coal freighting need to a 21st century approach to an efficient transport system and beautification of a city.

While some people hold the rail line dear – and there is no doubt it has important historic and cultural significance – its day has been and gone.

Moving forward without the burden of nostalgia is critical to the revitalisation of Newcastle and yesterday’s announcement that a new light rail option will go ahead is an incredible opportunity for the region. Initially the line will be between Wickham and Newcastle, but $10million will also go towards exploring the potential for linking the CBD with suburbs and town centres.

Light rail will greatly improve amenity in the CBD by removing heavy rail infrastructure from the centre of the city, with passengers transferring to light rail at an interchange offering regular services into Newcastle. It’s a transport system that has worked all over the world and will enable traffic and pedestrians to move freely in a way heavy rail cannot.

There is no doubt the Hunter Region is a unique and beautiful place to be. We are lucky enough to have stewardship of rich natural environments, as well as a backbone of industry, education and innovation. The Hunter Region deserves a CBD that is on par with everything else it has to offer.

Andrew Cornwell is the state Liberal member for Charlestown.

BUDGET: Cash for regional roads 

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By , 10/04/2019 12:15

MIXED: Hunter Transport Improvement Association president Graham Boyd welcomes the government’s light rail investment, but says more is needed on other transport networks. Picture: Simone De PeakWHILE the spotlight will rightly shine on the state government’s plan to proceed with a light rail line into Newcastle’s CBD, other significant road and transport projects were funded in yesterday’s budget.
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Some, such as the Scone rail overpass and Muswellbrook bypass, got off the starting blocks with funding commitments to planning processes.

At the top of the scale, a further $222million was committed to the predominantly federally funded Hunter Expressway project. And, as revealed by the Newcastle Herald yesterday, $30million has been committed to the ongoing construction of the Newcastle bypass between Sandgate and Shortland, with a further $24.7million kickstarting some long-awaited improvements to the roundabouts on the New England Highway at Maitland.

Also getting a funding nod yesterday was the widening of Cormorant Road on Kooragang Island with $3million committed to the planning phase.

The widening of Nelson Bay Road was also boosted by a commitment of $20million to widening the Bobs Farm to Anna Bay stretch.

On the Central Coast, $56million will be injected into that region’s ailing road system.

Back on the rail network, the state government has set aside $314million for improvements to the freight rail corridor between Sydney and Newcastle.

The government is also pushing ahead with rolling out its Opal card – an integrated transport ticketing system which will be extended to Newcastle after it is introduced in Sydney. The Opal card will apply to all trains, ferries and buses operating in the Newcastle area.

Also of interest to the Hunter, the government will deliver 39 new Waratah trains this year, which are produced mainly in the Hunter.

Additionally, Newcastle will probably share in a $92million commitment to providing 201 new and replacement buses.

Light rail a catalyst for other transport

REACTION: A renewed commitment to light rail in Newcastle will be the catalyst for broader transport improvements in the city, one of the region’s peak transport groups said yesterday.

Hunter Transport Improvement Association president and former Newcastle city council Graham Boyd said a $10million commitment to investigating the extension of light rail to the suburbs was ‘‘really positive news’’.

‘‘We’ve always said to the government that $40million has been spent on that line, with new concrete sleepers and the like, so why would they want to cover it all up with dirt,’’ he said.

It is also the association’s desire to see light rail extended to the university and to John Hunter Hospital, he added.

While the association was pleased with the government’s commitment to new buses, Mr Boyd said it fell short of what was really needed.

‘‘We don’t need any more new buses,’’ Mr Boyd said. ‘‘What we need are more regular bus services.

‘‘We also welcome news that money is being invested in the freight rail corridor, but the downside of that is that more freight will continue to pass through the Adamstown gates.

‘‘Likewise, funding for the inner-city bypass is also great news, but we’d still like to see funding for that missing link between Jesmond and Rankin Park.’’

News of the Opal ticketing system moving closer to Newcastle should be treated with some caution, Mr Boyd warned.

‘‘It’s a good concept, but we’ll have timed ticketing on buses in Newcastle under that scheme, meaning that bus fares will rise, and on some routes double,’’ he said.

NRMA director Kyle Loades welcomed money earmarked for major road projects in the budget, especially for winery roads where funding will be almost doubled to $13.8million next financial year.

Hunter motorists would also appreciate allocations to on the New England Highway, F3 and at Warners Bay, he said.

“The NRMA is looking forward to the Hunter Expressway opening in 2014, knowing that the link will provide Hunter motorists with a considerable reduction in both travel times and congestion,” Mr Loades said.

BUDGET: Little new for education in Hunter

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By , 10/04/2019 12:15

THERE was little in the state budget specifically for Hunter schools with most of the government’s attention directed to funding the federal government’s Gonski reforms.
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Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said it was a record $14billion education budget for 2013-14.

In included $153million towards the extra $5billion nationally to deliver the Gonski reforms up to 2019, which will benefit Hunter schools.

That state government has also put aside $320million for school maintenance, a 23per cent increase, and nearly $1billion for private schools.

There were five new schools for Sydney but none for the ever-bulging Hunter.

‘‘The NSW Government is spending $301million on early childhood education and care, continuing the focus on universal access to quality early childhood education in the year before school,’’ Mr Piccoli said.

The state government also noted its plan to give greater control over school budgets to principals would be rolled out in 2014 through a staggered implementation.

‘‘The reforms currently under way in NSW are already consistent with the direction of the Gonski report,’’ Mr Piccoli said.

‘‘These reforms will be see funding targeted to where it is needed most.’’

Capital works in the Hunter long on parents’ agendas and still not funded included a high school at Medowie, replacement building for demountables at The Junction Public, a creative arts centre at Callaghan College Jesmond Campus, new school at Cameron Park and new buildings at Ashtonfield Public.

What was funded was the Rutherford High School upgrade and the Maitland Tutorial Central Relocation.

There was also almost $9million to relocate Gosford Public School.

Statewide there was $2.3billion for TAFE and other vocational training including at Hunter TAFE where there was money for Kurri Kurri Campus Plant and Heavy Vehicle Training Centre and $6.2million for Maitland Campus Centre for Dry Wall Plastering and Associated Trades.

WAITING TOO LONG: From left to right, Hayley, 12, and Rose Jorgensen, 13, Sharon Pascoe, Breanna Almond, 16, and Abbey Marshall, 14, from Lake Macquarie High School. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Spending welcomed

REACTION: IT’S like pulling teeth.

That’s the experience of Hunter parents trying to get school maintenance funding from the NSW Education Department.

Parent groups welcomed news in yesterday’s state budget of a 23 per cent increase to maintenance funding for schools and principals getting increased control over school budgets.

Lake Macquarie High P and C president Sharon Pascoe said their 53-year-old school’s buildings needed regular work such as gutters unclogged, painting and cracked concrete repair.

‘‘We have got to the stage where just pay for it ourselves,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s a huge priority for us.’’

A better share of funding for state schools under the Gonski reforms was also welcomed. The changes should see more funding for students with special needs and Ms Pascoe said the school would like to get more teacher’s aides for them.

‘‘It’s only going to benefit students,’’ she said.

Ms Pascoe was disappointed not to see mention of money for school security fences.

Lake Macquarie High is on a large site at Booragul and has previously lost a building to arson and fallen victim to a serious graffiti attack.

Parents have been lobbying for more than five years for a fence.

‘‘They tell us we’re top of the list then we find out there is no list.’’

Live blog: Brumbies vs British-Irish Lions

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By , 10/04/2019 12:15

Brumbies v Lions Hail comes down over Canberra Stadium at 4:13pm ahead of the Brumbies clash with the British and Irish Lions. Photo: Melissa Adams
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Join us for full, live coverage as the Brumbies take on Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions in Canberra. Kick-off is at 7.40pm.

The curtain-raiser for the ACT Brumbies and British and Irish Lions match has been cancelled because of hail at Canberra Stadium.

The ACT Griffins were due to kick-off against the Australian Barbarians in a pre-match contest before more than 22,000 fans rolled into the venue for the blockbuster mid-week match.

But a downpour and hail in Bruce and Belconnen has forced officials to can the game.

Fans are expected to pack into Canberra Stadium for the once-in-12-year chance to see the Brumbies take on the Lions.

Both sides were training hard on Monday – here are the best shots of the boys in action.

Hello from Canberra Stadium, where the hail is starting to melt (slowly) and of course the stands are half empty as Canberra does its mandatory late arrival. There might be a few tickets left at the gate, so if you’re a brass monkey then get out here coz it’s absolutely perfect weather!

It’s a bit of a throwback to my uni days, they’ve installed lecture theatre seating in the top of the Meninga Stand for the hordes of journos who are following the British and Irish Lions around. If you see a bunch of people balancing laptops on their laps in Bay 13 feel free to say gday.

Special shout out to the four Lions fans who were kind enough to let me in from the cold into their camper van outside Canberra Stadium. If the aroma of their van is anything to go by, our wine industry will be loving every minute they’re staying down under.

The players are out on the ground warming up, trying to find a patch in between the piles of hail to do some hamstring stretches. Geez the Brumbies look fit, while the Lions look a little tired to me…

Brumbies coach Jake White is getting excited…

Piece of rugby history about to unfold in Canberra. Our toughest match this season. Time to put plans into action. #BRUvLIO— Jake White (@JWhiterugby) June 18, 2013

Just to test the waters early on…

Not long now…just four minutes til kick-off. Can the Brumbies go one better than 12 years ago when an after-the-siren was needed to win it for the Lions? That music sounds ominous, something must be about to happen. The drums are a dead give away…

A shout out to Bob Dwyer, who’s just taking a seat nearby, he looked over clearly envious of our spot in Bay 13…

Huge roar for the Brumbies! So much for the much heralded Lions support. Clearly Lions fans are no match for the Barmy Army…

2 minutes: Fast and furious start by the Lions! Looked certain to score in the corner. but for some desperate defence by the Brumbies. “LIONS, LIONS, LIONS” goes up the chant…

The crowd can feel something special happening tonight. The Lions put it out from the restart. A very expansive start from the Brumbies, willoing to throw it wide, with captain Peter Kimlin putting in an audacious grubber kick as well. Has Jake White sold ice to the Eskimos? He said they were going to play their normal conservative game…

13: The Brumbies putting on some big hits there! Leon Power putting on a bone cruncher, could here it up here in bay 13, then Kuridrani followed up with one of his own….crowd booing a rolling maul by the Lions…

Apologies for my spelling of hear there, it’s cold and I’m wearing gloves… #excuses

5: But again the Brumbies fans out cheer the Lions, and Tevita Kuridrani, as if inspired, storms over after a barnestorming run! Everyone in Canberra would’ve heard that roar! Ian Prior hits the post and misses the conversion, but it’s the Brumbies 5-0.

16: These sports ears are fantastic! Can hear the action up close, ARU guru Karl Schubert is handing them out up here in bay 13 so hit him up for some…

19: More boos as the Lions opt for the points from the penalty, but that turns into a HUGE roar as Hogg hits the upright and the danger is cleared. Looks like Halfpenny’s job is safe. Typing of Halfpenny, what’s with his kicking style? No crazy routine, he just lines it up and kicks it. It’ll never catch on…

23: Gotta love Clyde Rathbone, gets the ball and just treats everyone like a speed hump…Brumbies 5-0.

Kuridrani is carving it up right now #BRUvLIO— Aquila Afeaki (@akuilabat7) June 18, 2013

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