Monthly Archives: July 2019

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Ex-AWB boss Trevor Flugge failed to blow whistle on millions sent to Saddam’s regime

A former chairman of the n Wheat Board failed to blow the whistle on the exporter’s contributions of $300 million in cash to the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, a trial has been told.
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Trevor Flugge was obliged to report AWB was making secret payments under the guise of trucking and service fees between 1999 and 2003, when he knew the money was going to the Iraqi regime, but failed to do so, the Supreme Court of Victoria heard on Monday.

Mr Flugge, AWB’s chairman between 1995 and 2002, and Peter Geary, the company’s former general manager for trading, are alleged to have breached their respective duties in allowing the payments to occur at a time when Iraq was one of ‘s biggest export markets for wheat.

The n Securities and Investments Commission has brought the civil case against Mr Flugge, who faces four allegations of breaching his duties, and Mr Geary, who faces 13 allegations. Each breach carries a maximum fine of $200,000.

Norman O’Bryan, SC, for ASIC, said AWB and the Iraqi Grain Board agreed to inflate the price of n wheat by 25 per cent to disguise the secret fees, which were paid to a Jordanian trucking company.

ASIC alleges the transport company sent that money to Iraq’s coffers at a time when Iraq was an international pariah for the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and desperately needed international currency.  was part of a coalition that invaded Iraq in 2003 and toppled the Hussein regime.

The price AWB accepted for its wheat was lower than that of what its international competitors wanted, the court heard, which helped AWB maintain its lucrative contracts. The trucking and service fees paid contravened United Nations sanctions.

“The AWB became an exporter of two commodities from – wheat and cash,” Mr O’Bryan said in his opening.

Lawyers for Mr Flugge and Mr Geary are yet to address the court. Mr Flugge said in a statement on Monday “that I fervently believe now, as I did from day one, that I have done nothing wrong”.

Mr O’Bryan said Mr Flugge was a “hands on” chairman who regularly visited Iraq and who regularly spoke of the importance of the Iraqi market to successive federal trade ministers Tim Fischer and Mark Vaile.

Mr Flugge should have raised the alarm about what was happening, but did nothing, Mr O’Bryan said. At the very least, he failed to seek more answers.

“His obligation was to stand up and say to those in authority in the company, ‘We must not do this, this must stop. It is wrong, it is evil, it is improper and most importantly … there is a serious risk we will get caught’,” Mr O’Bryan said.

The court heard the transport company steadily raised its trucking fees from $US12 per metric tonne of wheat to $US51 a metric tonne, yet AWB sought no explanation.

“It simply closed its eyes and paid,” Mr O’Bryan said.

He said emails showed Mr Geary had knowledge of the secret payments, and did nothing to prevent AWB entering the contracts.

In his statement, Mr Flugge said: “My family and I have had to live with untested allegations, rumours and innuendo levelled over the years. For the sake of my family I trust that these will finally be put to rest.”

The court heard AWB’s shares steadily dropped following the revelations of the Iraq contracts until it was taken over by a Canadian company in 2010. It now trades as Agrium Asia Pacific.

The trial, before Justice Ross Robson, is expected to run for up to 10 weeks.

A ‘pariah’ state: Dr Mahathir intensifies attack on Malaysian PM Najib Razak

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is at the centre of corruption accusations. Photo: Alex EllinghausenBangkok: Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has branded the country he led for 22 years a “pariah” state where people have lost trust in their government.
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“In the eyes of the world Malaysia has become a pariah state, a state where anyone can be hauled up and questioned by the police, detained and charged through abusing laws of the country,” Dr Mahathir wrote in his latest blog.

Intensifying pressure on Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign, Dr Mahathir said the government’s refusal to properly investigate a corruption scandal “has intensified the lack of confidence and distrust of people in government.”

Dr Mahathir, 91, made the comments after the office of Malaysia’s attorney-general last week declined to act on a recommendation by the country’s central bank to begin criminal proceedings against a debt-ridden state investment fund for allegedly breaking foreign exchange rules.

The 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund was founded by Mr Najib, who retains oversight of it through chairmanship of an advisory board.

Dr Mahathir questioned whether Mr Najib was involved in the attorney-general’s decision to rebuff a confidential report by Bank Negara Malaysia central bank saying the fund had breached rules that govern the movement of cash overseas for investment.

“By dismissing this case suspicions will remain in the minds of the people,” said Dr Mahathir, who has waged a relentless campaign for Mr Najib’s resignation.

The stand-off between the government and central bank comes amid the biggest political controversy to engulf Mr Najib, 62, an English-educated son of a former prime minister who has had close ties to successive n governments.

Mr Najib has refused to explain how $US700 million ($956 million) turned up in his personal bank accounts before national elections in 2013 or what happened to the money.

He denies any wrongdoing, or taking money for personal gain.

Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency has said the money was a donation but did not specify the purpose of the contribution or identify the alleged donor, who it said was based in the Middle East.

The scandal has prompted a crackdown on Mr Najib’s political opponents, including officials in the long ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

Pressure on the Prime Minister intensified last week when the sultans of Malaysia’s nine states urged a proper investigation into the scandal that was “adversely affecting the world’s view of Malaysia” and its economy.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation is said to have opened an investigation into money-laundering allegations related to the fund, but Malaysian police later said it had not been contacted by the FBI.

Investigations are on-going into 1MDB in at least four countries, including Singapore and Switzerland.

Despite the ringgit currency plunging to 17-year lows, Mr Najib appears to have the support of a majority of UMNO divisions which have benefited from entrenched money politics and the party’s largesse.

Critics accuse Mr Najib’s supporters of stirring racial sentiments among the majority Muslim Malays to shore up his support.

Dr Mahathir ruled Malaysia from 1986 to 2003.

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Senate push for more women on government boards

Opposed to the law change: Minister for Women Michaelia Cash. Photo: Andrew MearesCarolyn Hewson has been a full-time worker for more than 35 years.
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In that time she has been an economist, investment banker and director on boards such as Westpac, AMP, CSR and AGL.

Most of these roles have been in a “male dominated” environment. But she always expected that as more women stayed at school and graduated from university, “change was just a matter of time”.

Ms Hewson, who is currently a director at BHP Billiton, said that for a long time she made excuses about the lack of balance in corporate and government boards.

But now, in 2015, only 20 per cent of ASX200 directors are women and less than 40 per cent of government board members are women.

“We see only slow progress … there are no longer any valid excuses,” she said.

For this reason, Ms Hewson is backing a bill proposed by a group of Senate crossbenchers that would make it compulsory for federal government boards to be at least 40 per cent female.

In 2010, Labor introduced a 40 per cent women, 40 per cent men diversity target for government boards, but according to the bill’s explanatory note, this is only “aspirational”.

Ms Hewson told a Senate inquiry that the government could lead and influence the corporate sector with the bill.

“Do not underestimate the important message that this legislation for balanced representation will send to corporate , the civil society sector and wider n community,” Ms Hewson said.

The bill, sponsored by independents Nick Xenophon, Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus and Greens senator Larissa Waters, would not impose penalties on non-compliant portfolios, but would seek an explanation.

Women’s Leadership Institute founder Carol Schwartz also backed the bill, noting that “merit” was not an objective term. But Institute of Public Affairs senior fellow Mikayla Novak said the bill would only have a “weak signalling effect” in the private sector and would not necessarily create broader gender improvements.

The bill stands a good chance of passing the Senate, with Labor saying it was “closely examining” the bill and would confirm its position after the inquiry.

But it appears doomed in the lower house, with Minister for Women Michaelia Cash saying the bill will “duplicate existing mechanisms and runs counter to the government’s commitment to reduce red tape”.

“The government supports appointments based on merit,” Senator Cash said.

The latest figures released last week showed that the overall number of women on federal government boards has dropped slightly over the past year, with only 39.1 per cent of positions held by women.

This is down from 39.7 per cent in 2014 and 41.7 per cent in 2013.

Of the new board appointments in 2014-15, 38.4 per cent went to women, while 30.1 per cent of all chair and deputy chair roles were filled by women, another slight drop on last year’s figures.

It also found that only 10 out of 18 portfolio areas met the 40 per cent target. Veterans’ affairs and employment were the worst performing portfolios with women comprising less than 25 per cent of board positions.

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Premier Mike Baird heckled as he calls on councils to back local government reforms

NSW Premier Mike Baird. Photo: Louise KennerleyThe Premier has urged the state’s councillors to get behind his government’s push for fewer councils – even if it means some of them would be out of a job.
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Mike Baird was greeted by applause and repeatedly interrupted by hecklers as he used his address to the Local Government NSW annual conference to push the case for reforms viewed with hostility by many in his audience.

“There’s no doubt that if we have less councils we have hundreds of millions of dollars that we can put to work for our ratepayers,” he said.

“The choice of the councils is do you want to put that towards lower rates, you want to put that towards more services, you want to put that towards more infrastructure for your community.”

The Rosehill Gardens Racecourse event comes just days before the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal delivers its report to government, setting out whether councils are “fit” or “unfit” as merged groups or individual councils.

Mr Baird told the crowd that there would be a “last period of consultation” before any changes were expected to be finalised by the end of the year.

“If there is an opportunity on the back of that report for you to take actions in the interests of your community, my call for you is to do it,” Mr Baird said.

“And that might mean that some here are no longer councillors. Some here may no longer be in local government beyond the next election.”

The Premier also used the speech to call out “all types of myths” he said were being circulated by campaigns opposing mergers, including that sporting fields would close, libraries would be lost and rates would rise.

“Not one part of that is true,” Mr Baird said.

“Oh come on,” a heckler shot back.

But Mr Baird said he was “determined to finish this process with local government”.

“Change has to happen and I know that many here will be resistant to that change – and I can see the placards, thank you,” he said to laughter, then applause. “I had the constructive feedback on the way in, thank you.”

About seven protesters from the Save Our Councils coalition also awaited Mr Baird as he left the venue.

“Don’t smile,” shouted one, “hold a referendum!” Protesters confront Premier Mike Baird over council amalgamations. @abcnewsSydneypic.twitter杭州龙凤论坛m/tmEwdshGnq— Luke Rosen (@luke_rosen1) October 11, 2015

Save Our Councils spokeswoman Nella Gaughan​ said the only group to benefit from “huge mega councils” would be developers.

“Developers know that fewer councils and fewer councillors will reduce the ability of local people to oppose inappropriate developments,” she said.

Local Government Minister Paul Toole​ is scheduled to address the conference on Tuesday.

Quiet cyclone season predicted for China as El Nino sets in

Cyclone Raquel made history earlier this year. Photo: BoM Cyclones can have a big impact on ‘s neighbours, such as Vanuatu, which was hit by Cyclone Pam in March. Photo: Lawrence Smith
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This year’s powerful El Nino in the Pacific will likely have one benefit for , with fewer tropical cyclones expected in the region, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

There is only a 9 per cent chance that will have more than the 11 cyclones typical for the November-April season, the bureau said in its seasonal outlook released on Monday. Of those 11, four storms usually cross the n mainland coast.

In El Nino years, weather patterns shift eastwards and conditions are less conducive for cyclones to form in the n region. Those patterns, including a stalling or reversal of the easterly equatorial trade winds in the Pacific, also tend to reduce rainfall and lift temperatures over much of .

Residents in northern areas, though, are warned to be prepared for cyclones since tropical storms are still likely, including at least one cyclone making landfall, if previous El Nino years are any guide.

“An El Nino reduces the risk [of cyclones] but it doesn’t reduce it to zero,” Andrew Watkins, manager of the bureau’s climate prediction services, said. “What people still clearly need to do is to prepare.”

While fewer cyclones would be welcomed by many, drought-hit farmers may be less happy with the prospect of fewer rain events.

“For coastal regions it’s definitely a good sign,” Dr Watkins said. “But for inland areas, the breakdown of tropical cyclones into rain depressions often brings the best rainfall.”

The following bureau chart shows the tracks of cyclones between 1997-98 – during the biggest El Nino on record – and 2009-10:

Extreme year

The outlook comes as climate experts marvel at what has been a year of extreme weather events, including tropical cyclones.

Cyclone Raquel made history as the earliest cyclone on record for the Queensland zone after it formed near the Solomon Islands in July.

The north Pacific, meanwhile, has had a record number of hurricanes. These also included more days with multiple cyclones spinning simultaneously in 2015 than in all previous years combined during the satellite era, Philip Klotzbach​, a climatologist specialising in tropical storms at the Colorado State University, noted last month.

Other unusual events included Hurricane Oho changing track earlier this month to head eastwards towards the Canadian-Alaska region: Update on Hurricane #Oho. Still on a highly anomalous—and nearly unprecedented—path toward British Columbia/Alaska: pic.twitter杭州龙凤论坛m/GkOEQpd6GL— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) October 8, 2015

This year’s El Nino is now among the fourth strongest on record, with sea-surface temperatures over a large area of the central and eastern Pacific at least two degrees warmer than average.

Cyclones, hurricanes or typhoons – as the storms are known in the north-west Pacific – typically need sea-surface temperatures of at least 26.6 degrees to form.

Climate change is predicted to lead to a similar number of cyclones for the n region but they may be more intense once they form. Typhoons may become both more frequent and more intense in their basin, the north-west Pacific, climatologists say.