Bill Shorten faces renewed pressure on ambitions to be PM as royal commission reopens

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten faces fresh scrutiny over controversial deals done in his role as n Workers Union chief. Photo: Michelle Smith Illustration: Matt Golding. Photo: Matt Golding
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Bill Shorten’s prime ministerial ambitions face a series of challenges in the coming fortnight as the trade union royal commission tests his account of controversial deals done in his former role as n Workers Union chief.

At the same time, federal Parliament resumes on Monday and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s radically revamped ministerial team is preparing for its first hit-out, and nervous Labor MPs admit the federal opposition is re-thinking its tactics and political strategy, with a renewed emphasis on policy to combat the new-look government.

The Opposition Leader’s record faces 10 days of scrutiny from Monday with political and media attention on the evidence of eight executives from building giant Thiess John Holland over Melbourne’s $2.5 billion EastLink tollway project.

The executives, including former Thiess John Holland figures Stephen Sasse​ and Julian Rzesniowiecki, are likely to be grilled about $300,000 in payments to the AWU after a landmark industrial agreement on the project in the mid-2000s saved the builder up to $100 million.

The $100,000 a year plus GST payments, made for three years, were first revealed by Fairfax Media in June and Mr Shorten was questioned about them in July.

Counsel assisting the commission Jeremy Stoljar, SC, alleged the $100,000 a year was a “pre-arranged target”, discussed by Mr Shorten and the company, and that to justify the money the union issued bogus or inflated invoices to Thiess John Holland for services that were either never, or only partially, delivered.

Mr Shorten told the commission he did not “particularly remember” such discussions, later refining his evidence to acknowledge he may have raised the idea of the AWU providing training “and the like”.

To date, Mr Sasse has refused to comment. It is widely expected his recollection on Monday will be that Mr Shorten explicitly proposed the $100,000 payments.

The royal commission is refusing to release publicly transcripts of two secret interviews with Mr Sasse, infuriating Shorten allies who believe his version of events may have changed between the first interview on June 29 and the second interview, on August 7. Mr Shorten appeared before the royal commission on July 8 and 9.

In a letter to affected parties, including Mr Shorten, on October 6 solicitor assisting the commission James Beaton released the transcripts of two interviews with Mr Sasse by the commission that “may be relevant to your consideration of the oral evidence to give on October 12” but warned the transcripts were subject to a non-publication order.

An ally of Mr Shorten’s said that if the commission “had nothing to hide, why won’t they release the transcripts?”

It is unclear whether documents exist to support either Mr Sasse or Mr Shorten’s recollection of events.

If that is the case, Tuesday’s evidence by Mr Rzesniowiecki – a Sasse underling at the time – will be especially important because the commission has documents in which Rzesniowiecki specifically refers to the $100,000 a year payments.

Since the switch to Mr Turnbull, Labor has released a raft of policies including in the areas of infrastructure, higher education, mental health and innovation, with more expected before the end of the year.

Sections of the king-making NSW Right faction are closely watching Mr Shorten’s performance, with support for the opposition softening among some.

One said: “People want Bill to succeed but there is a wait-and-see view. No one is willing him to fail, unlike Julia [Gillard]. And it’s not like we have Bob Hawke waiting in the wings.

“Obviously with Malcolm becoming leader, the pressure is now on and he is trying to respond with policy,” the MP said.

A second MP said that if Labor saw its primary vote slump to less than 35 per cent in three consecutive major polls, “come and see me” and “people know he is in trouble”. NormalfalsefalseEN-AUJAX-NONE /* Style Definitions */table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:””; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

Energy companies gouging households ‘because they can’

Up to 45 per cent of a electricity bill is paid to the retailer in Victoria. Up to 45 per cent of an electricity bill is paid to the retailer in Victoria.
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Up to 45 per cent of a electricity bill is paid to the retailer in Victoria.

Up to 45 per cent of a electricity bill is paid to the retailer in Victoria.

The government faces calls to overhaul the nation’s energy markets after the removal of all price controls has resulted in soaring retail margins for energy retailers.

The retail competition margin of gas and electricity retailers has risen to $600 per customer, research by the St Vincent de Paul Society shows, and makes up the largest component of the energy bill.

“The retail component of bills is too high in the deregulated, competitive electricity market,” the report found. “This is either because the cost of competition is high or because competition is ineffective.

“We have an energy retail market that ensures customers are paying over the odds for an essential service unless they annually dedicate time to compare energy plans and switch retailer.”

The rise in the retail margin means that as much as 45 per cent of the electricity bill is paid to the retailer in Victoria, and only around 11 per cent of the bill covers the cost of the actual electricity used, the survey has found.

In NSW, the retail component is 30 per cent. The balance of the bill is comprised mostly of network (or distribution) charges for delivering the electricity.

Even though the market has been deregulated for several years in Victoria and more recently in NSW, there are still a large number of households who either cannot or have not shopped around for the lowest prices on offer. As a result, these households often pay more than 50 per cent more for their electricity than households who have shopped around. Retail margins “outrageous”

“There will always be customers who will not or cannot participate in the market, and allowing retailers to charge them a significant premium, just because they can, is not an acceptable outcome,” Gavin Dufty, policy and research manager with the St Vincent de Paul Society, said.

Additionally, when households move onto a competitive contract, it typically runs for just 12 months, the survey has found, so that the household must shop around each year for a new supplier to ensure they do not face price gouging.

“With the outrageous retail premiums that customers are currently being charged, we need the market model fixed rather than just blaming consumers for failing to shop around,” Mr Dufty said. “Unlike other markets, people can’t exit the market.

“In other markets, your contract expires and then the company has to ‘price to entice’ you to continue to use their service. There is no competitive pressure with energy. We need to address that market failure. The retail cost component looks very expensive: the more competition, the bigger the margin.

“If the cost outweighs the gain, is it worth it?” he asked of energy market deregulation.

“Can you unbake the cake? You probably can’t.”

Therefore, government needed to find a way to put competitive pressure on the market, he said, since it was not reasonable to expect households to be ever vigilant about the gas and electricity contract.

“People have got better things to do. It has to be on the COAG energy ministers’ register,” he said, arguing the new Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, should “initiate a review of the National Energy Customer Framework in relation to retail pricing in deregulated markets”. Retailers winning as consumers lose

NSW-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre policy officer Oliver Derum​ said, obviously, the retailers were very profitable.

“You are seeking to profit by providing an essential service, and there are responsibilities that go with that, to ensure it doesn’t profit overly at the expense of the customer,” he said.

Mercedes Lentz heads Victoria’s Consumer Utilities Advocacy Centre and said: “Regulatory and policy settings need to be explored and ensuring affordability has to be addressed. This is an essential service, how can we allow it to be so unaffordable?

“We need more tools to make it simpler. We need tools to demystify electricity retailing.”

Victoria, for example, has as many as 18 energy retailers offering 4000 products.

“It is highly complex and consumers find it terribly confusing,” she said.

At the same time, consumers did not trust their energy retailers, she said.

Spinach in a muesli bar? Freedom Foods muscles up for superfoods attack

Like Popeye, cereal and snack company Freedom Foods hopes to use spinach to deliver its next knockout punch.
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The company controlled by the billionaire Perich family is muscling into the superfoods category to capitalise on an increasing number of ns ditching sugary and fatty treats for healthier options.

Freedom’s core range of gluten, wheat and nut-free products has won praise from analysts.

It is combining those products with so-called superfoods such as maca powder, goji berries and Popeye’s favourite, spinach, to produce a snack bar and breakfast cereal range. Superfoods can be scarce

Food scientist Kuan Chen said he faced a challenge when the company’s marketing department handed over the superfoods’ brief for the Crafted Blends range.

“Superfoods aren’t very abundant and, at times, there are supply issues,” he said.

“So we had to be able to source the produce and then see how it held up in the manufacturing process.”

The company hoped to use kale, which has surged in popularity in recent years, but it didn’t transfer well into powered form to be used in cereals and snack bars.

So, for one bar, it used spinach, combined with pepitas and chickpeas instead.

Marketing manager Monique Sommer​ said it was too early to say how supermarkets would respond to the new product range, but customers had warmed to the idea on social media and at a recent trade expo.

Ms Sommer said while the company had hits, it also had some misses, pointing to a flavoured milk range targeted at children which failed to gain sales traction when it was launched several years ago. Strategy ‘makes sense’ 

Morgans analyst Belinda Moore said the superfoods strategy made sense and should win support from the big supermarkets.

“[Freedom has a] fantastic line-up of exciting new products which are in the health and wellness category, which does very well,” Ms Moore said.

“The supermarkets are very supportive of the health food category. It’s a growth category because we are eating healthier foods these days, and it’s also generally a higher margin category.”

The move came after Freedom’s underlying net profit for the year to June 30 was weaker than expected, falling 60.3 per cent to $4.9 million.

This stemmed from the company commissioning a new snack bar line, which knocked about $2.8 million from the company’s gross margin.

Ms Moore said there was also greater than expected investment in people, new product development, R&D and brand marketing.

“This meant that EBITDA [earnings before interest tax, depreciation and amortisation] for the Freedom Foods business fell 53 per cent.”

However, Ms Moore said Freedom had “strong organic growth prospects over the next few years” because of its exposure to high-growth areas including dairy and allergen-free food.

“The company also has a huge opportunity to leverage these trends in offshore markets – North America and Asia – which are many times the size of .”

‘s biggest listed investment fund, n Foundation Investment Company (AFIC), also believes Freedom has prospects, acquiring a 0.6 per cent stake recently.

Last week, AFIC managing director Ross Barker said it bought into Freedom in “response to recent market weakness”.

It also snapped up holdings in Macquarie, Mainfreight and Challenger for the same reason.

Despite a 1 per cent stumble on Friday, Freedom’s shares are trading at a 17-day high at $3.02.

Dawn French to play Civic Theatre in solo comedy show February 2016

Dawn French is booked to appear at the Civic Theatre on February 12.
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BRITISH comedy superstar Dawn French is bringing her 30 Million Minutes show to Newcastle in February.

The actress, writer and comedian – famed for writing the comedy sketch show French and Saunders with creative partner Jennifer Saunders and for her role in TV sitcom The Vicar of Dibley – on Monday announced an expansion of her n tour to include Newcastle and Canberra.

The 21-date tour will also visit Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane, with many of the previously announced shows already sold out.

30 Million Minutes, a new show based on French’s life and career, has already garnered widespread critical acclaim during an extensive tour of the UK.

It’s touted as including various delights and riches, with the odd irksome tribulation thrown in, as the Brit takes audiences through the various lessons life has taught her, and the things she knows for sure.

Her extraordinary lack of willpower, combined with an enviable knack for nosey parking and showing off, has driven her to grapple with the big stuff of life in public: 30 million minutes of life in fact. That’s how long she’s been alive.

“I’m sick with excitement about this solo tour.

“I am enjoying the fact that I can’t categorise exactly what it is, but it’s somewhere between a monologue, a play, and an autobiographical slide show with a few funnies thrown in,” Dawn said.

“At last, I have had one of my three genie wishes granted, which is to work with [director] Michael Grandage.

“The other two wishes are as yet unfulfilled.

“They are secret, obviously, but suffice to say, one is about Barack Obama in Speedos.”

“The other is about me in Speedos, with cheesecake involved . . . enough said.”

Catch French at the Civic Theatre on February 12. Tickets go on sale on October 19 at 10am.

PNG chiefs talk of civil war over unpopular Chinan bank deal

Until now, the tribal chiefs in Papua New Guinea have been happy to host a hugely profitable natural gas project on the slopes of their mountainous land.
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It might have disrupted hunting grounds, ruined waterways and uprooted fruit and vegetables, but the money flowing from it also promised progress and development for the people.

So they stuck with a 2009 agreement to provide access and security to a $US19 billion ExxonMobil PNG liquid natural gas project, which has given ‘s nearest neighbour one of the highest GDP growth rates on earth.

All that, though, could change. They are threatening to “turn off the taps” after the PNG government barred their n lawyers from entering the country.

Landowners struck a deal in 2009 to allow the mine project in their mountainous area of PNG to go ahead.

It was the final straw for the deal that has turned increasingly sour for local tribesmen in the mountainous Hela province, where the majority of the gas is sourced.

ExxonMobil, n company Oil Search, and the PNG governments have all received profits ahead of schedule, but the local people say they are missing out.

Under the deal struck in 2009 to allow the gas project to go ahead, the tribesmen and women are entitled to exercise an option to buy a 4.2 per cent equity share, which could deliver upwards of US$6 billion over the project lifespan. .

But a Fairfax Media investigation can now reveal that a complex and unlikely deal inked in March last year between n bankers at Swiss firm UBS and close advisers of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has unnerved tribal leaders.

They say the deal effectively “mortgaged” their equity to plug a widening fiscal hole in the government’s own finances. It’s clear that trust between these land owners, the PNG government and the bank has been obliterated.

Prime Minister O’Neill has moved quickly to attack the “politicised” leak of documents, as a Fairfax report on Friday dominated social media in the country over the weekend.

He pointed blame at the previous Somare government, skirted revelations that the PNG government had “surrendered” most of the potential upside to UBS, and promised that ongoing court proceedings would provide clarity.

Fairfax can now reveal that tribal chiefs are seeking a court injunction to prevent Mr O’Neill and UBS from having further dealings with their promised equity without their full consent.

And they are incensed that the PNG government has obstructed those court processes by banning their Queensland lawyer, Greg Egan, from entering the country.

Last week n diplomats dismissed the blacklisting of Mr Egan as a “private” matter. But matters such as this have a history in PNG of blowing up into much more than that.

The landowners cite the precedent of the civil war in Bougainville, which followed the failure of mining company Rio Tinto and governments in PNG and to adequately negotiate with local people.

“We fear that when the government runs out of money, they may touch our money and spend it elsewhere,” says Dickson Ango, a chief of the Buta people, who own much of the land beneath the Hapono Block near Hides gas field in the Southern Highlands Province.

“If they are stopping us from expressing our rights to the courts of the land, then our own people will ask the government to come and talk to us by way of other means, like sit-in protests.

“It may cost the project.”

ONE DAY A WHITE-LEGGED MAN WILL COME

Dickson Ango is old enough to remember how his elders used to carry around the bones of their ancestors before the missionaries came. They decorated those bones, and spoke with them. These days, bones are buried in the ground and traditional animist beliefs have been supplanted by Christianity.

But there are astonishing continuities between the old world and new.

“When the white-legged man came to this mountain, Gigira, they found one of the world’s highest quality natural gas fields – enough to bring light to hundreds of thousands of people,” says Ango, recalling the “prophesy” of his forefathers.

“We can see now that everything is happening according to that prophesy,” Ango says. “So I want to tell the future generation that we must live in appreciation of what God has done.”

Ango believes his people have been “chosen” to be custodians.

“God in his divine plan put all those resources on our land, where our forefathers lived, because he knew that we – these people of Hela – we are people who are able to share, people who can laugh with others, and able to share those benefits with the rest of PNG and are able to agree with the government and welcome the developers.”

But such agreements are not without cost.

PYTHONS ARE GOOD PROTEIN

Wandigo Kau is a clan leader from the area known as PDL 1, which supplies 57 per cent of the gas to the PNG LNG project. When he was born in 1982 there were no schools, no shops and certainly no doctors to help a mother giving birth.

Life was short. Like most of his contemporaries, chronic malaria had given him a hugely swollen spleen. His own baby child, however, has been born into a world of previously unimaginable possibilities.

“My child will have a modern standard,” Kau says. “Not like my life. My life was too hard.”

For all that’s been gained, though, much has also been lost. Kau can no longer go on long hunting treks through lush jungle, crossing the tumbling streams of Mount Gigira with bow and arrows strapped across his shoulder.

Now the cassowaries, hornbills and protein-laden pythons that Wandigo Kau used to hunt have been chased away by three well-pads, three quarries, a waste dump, a huge gas conditioning plant, nine kilometres of pipeline and a main road.

Kau’s home in Tugu Tapira is the most intensely impacted in the PDL-1 area, where the majority of gas is sourced.  But all his neighbours have similar stories.

“We have given up our land, our water, our hunting grounds, our food gardens, we have given everything,” says Hamule Ngiame.

A 2009 meeting of the PNG landowners before the deal was struck.

THE BIG MEETING

Ngaime, like Wandigo Kau and Dickson Ango, was one of the tribal leaders who travelled to Kokopo, in far-away East New Britain, to negotiate the 2009 agreement that got the project off the ground.

That meeting was an anthropological and logistical feat to rival the engineering that has followed. Thousands of clan leaders were flown to Kokopo and stayed for months of rolling talks, camping in Oil Search-issued tents, arm wrestling government leaders to work out how compensation should be apportioned and spoils divided.

Oil Search managing director Peter Botton says the scale of the discussion was unprecedented. “Where else would you get 5000 people to sit down and discuss the size of the pie, and thousands more to talk about how to divide it?”

The negotiating motto of the tribal chiefs was straightforward: “No equity, no gas.” 

Thousands of clan leaders attended the meeting.

Many wanted a 10 per cent share. In the end, they were happy to settle for 7 per cent, plus royalties and grants – 2.8 per cent would be paid up front and the remaining 4.2 per cent when the gas was flowing.

“It was a huge task to mobilise all the people because most of the people were illiterate,” says Andy Hamaga, a leader of the Jula and Aya clans. “It took us six solid weeks to negotiate.”

The corporations had already conducted a complex social mapping exercise to work out the entitlements of 60,000 people. They had to do it an area where traditional land ownership is relatively fluid, and partly contingent upon continual occupation. Meanwhile tens of thousands of migrants were arriving in search of work.

In the end: “We were satisfied.”

Hamaga says his people trusted then prime minister Sir Michael Somare, often referred to as the founding father of the nation, his son Arthur, then a cabinet minister, and the provincial governor, Anderson Agiru.

“They asked us to provide security to the project, which we did.”

Adding political intrigue, the land owner claims are being supported by Arthur Somare, who led the 2009 negotiations, and who is the son of Sir Michael Somare, who recently referred Mr O’Neill to a leadership misconduct tribunal.

TURNING ON THE TAPS

Every three or four days a tanker leaves the Gulf of Papua for terminals in Japan, China and Taiwan, filled with tens of millions of dollars worth of gas, condensed at temperatures of minus-160 degrees into liquid form. Already, the $US19 billion investment in the highlands has expanded the GDP of ‘s closest neighbour by a staggering 25 per cent in just two years.

ExxonMobil, the US oil giant, delivered the project ahead of schedule. It has buoyed the share prices of n gas majors Oil Search and Santos, and it has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into PNG government coffers.

Port Moresby’s Grand Papua hotel is filled to bursting and the rents on expatriate apartments have gone through the roof.

But for the country’s 8 million citizens, the boom times never came. A World Bank report released last week declares that welfare standards might actually be going backwards.

The report also said PNG had breached its legislated debt level of 35 per cent of GDP by a considerable margin. More worrying, a mid-year Treasury update said the budget deficit for this year could blow out to 9 per cent of GDP without corrective action. Government services are not being delivered and bills are going unpaid.

Partly, PNG is suffering from a king-sized version of the resources bust also affecting . But mismanagement and cronyism are also to blame.

On the figures, the government might want to extract every kina of profit that it can from the “benefits-sharing” arrangement to give land owners their 4.2 per cent equity stake, which they are due to receive in the first half of next year.

And this is where Hela landowners, n investment bankers, and n and PNG politicians could all find themselves in the kind of serious conflict that, in the past, has led to civil war.

WE’LL TURN OFF THE TAPS

The fight is over the honouring of the old “gas for equity” deal.

Last May, the money started flowing. Exxon Mobil got its share, n company Oil Search got another, as did the PNG government. But what should have been a stream of revenue from royalties and grants to the local landowners has been nothing more than a trickle.

The PNG government says it has not yet finished the “vetting” process to ascertain who is entitled to a share of the money.

Landowners, however, say the government is deliberately dragging its feet. Exxon Mobil, with an eye to its biggest risk, cannot afford any further delay.

It recently offered 7 million kina ($3.5 million) worth of Land Rovers, hotel rooms and helicopter rides to make the journey of officials from Port Moresby to Hela easier.

A respected judge has been called in to accelerate the vetting process.

Some tribal chiefs are still showing patience. Last week the court intervened by overturning the ban on lawyer Mr Egan from entering the country.

But those who are taking the court action say time is running out for a negotiated solution. And the first thing they want is their own choice of financier and a chance to negotiate a reasonable price for their 4.2 per cent equity option.

“We don’t trust UBS … because they failed us in the first place,” says tribal leader Andy Hamaga. The government, he says, has “mortgaged our equity to get the UBS loan”.

And if they don’t get their way? “We will turn the tap off,” says Hamaga. “No choice.”

On Sunday, a UBS spokeswoman said the land owner’s 4.2 per cent equity option had been “carved out” of last year’s loan security terms, and that the bank was not doing the ongoing financing work that land owners feared. “We have not been mandated by anyone in PNG to raise the finance for the landowner call option,” said the spokeswoman.

The tribespeople have tried to talk to the politicians. Then they tried the courts. Options are running out.

Another leader, Hamule Ngiame, whose Pii and Komen clans live on the PDL-1 land, responsible for more than half of the PNG LNG’s gas supplies, says “Coming to the media is the second [last] option.”

“The last option is to disturb the project. We know that in 1989 we had the Bougainville crisis, over a similar issue of government failure in meeting its part to deliver landowner benefits.

“We will do the same.”

New-look Melbourne take early lead

Hakim Warrick dunks against the Hawks on Sunday.HIGH-SCORING Melbourne United emerged as the only team with a 2-0 record after the first week of the NBL season.
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Melbourne followed up their 99-84 away win over Townsville on Friday with a 93-81 home victory over Illawarra on Sunday.

Of the other five teams to play twice in round one, Adelaide, Cairns and New Zealand all split their matches, while Townsville and Illawarra both suffered two losses.

Perth and Sydney each won their only game.

Melbourne posted the two biggest team scores of the round and justified the pre-season buzz, suggesting their revamped roster under new coach Dean Demopoulos could be the one to beat.

Former NBA player Hakim Warrick did well off the bench, scoring 21 points on eight-of-11 shooting against Townsville.

He scored 14 points in 21 minutes against the Hawks, who were missing the injured Rhys Martin and Kevin Lisch.

Another off-season recruit, Todd Blanchfield, scored 29 points against his former club Townsville, nailing seven of nine three-pointers, and backed up with 15 points and 15 boards against Illawarra, for whom AJ Ogilvy tallied 20 points, 15 boards and three blocks.

Chris Goulding, who has returned to Melbourne this season, torched the Hawks for 26 points, although he missed nine of 13 long-range attempts.

“We’ve had some stretches that aren’t pretty,” Goulding told Fox Sports. “Myself, I’ve been a bit rusty. Some of the other guys would probably say the same thing, so we’ve got a lot of work to do. But to start 2-0, you obviously couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Reigning champions New Zealand Breakers started their bid for a fifth title in six seasons with a 90-71 away loss to Adelaide.

Back home on Sunday, they notched a 89-81 victory over Townsville despite being without captain Mika Vukona, whose run of 311 consecutive appearances was ended by a hamstring injury.

Last season’s losing grand finalists, Cairns, followed up a 79-74 home win over Illawarra with a 87-63 loss at Sydney.

Sparked by 22 points, nine rebounds and five blocks from returning centre Julian Khazzouh, the Kings overcame the late withdrawal of former NBA player Josh Childress with a foot injury and the bad vibes caused by their form at the pre-season tournament.

“Our backs were against the wall as far as the perception of no Childress, no win,” Kings coach Damian Cotter said.

“I give these blokes a lot of credit for the way they’ve conducted themselves the last two weeks since the Blitz.”

New import guard Markel Starks struggled in both of the Taipans’ first-round games, but Cairns coach Aaron Fearne was unhappy with the team effort against Sydney.

Perth produced a 15-0 run in the last five minutes to win 79-66 in Adelaide.

Trainers concerned about the firm Caulfield track as star fail to perform

Feeling the effects: Kermedec ridden earlier by Glyn Schofield (blue cap) to win the George Main Stakes. Photo: bradleyphotos杭州龙凤论坛m.auTrainers had real concerns about the firmness of the Caulfield track on Saturday. Several horses failed to find anything extra in the straight because they were feeling the effects of the hard ground, including Kermadec, Contributer and Fawkner in the Caulfield Stakes. Mick Price felt Lankan Rupee’s failure in the Schillaci Stakes was because of bone soreness, which was exacerbated by the firm ground.
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Godolphin trainer John O’Shea said he would not not risk Complacent, which has a history of leg problems, on a track such as Saturday’s if he was to get a run in the Caulfield Cup. Premier trainer Chris Waller made a lot of sense, saying trainers simply wanted a true guide as to what the ground might be. He suggested stewards should take control of the track at 3pm on the day before raceday to help get a consistency of ratings. Trainers understand hot weather means firm tracks but they want to know their horses will return home without jarring up. It is not just that they might underperform  on the hard track but that subsequent runs are also put in jeopardy.

Schofield ‘double’

It was a big day for the Schofield family at Randwick on Saturday. Just before Glyn won the Spring Champion Stakes on Vanbrugh, his daughter Whitney took out fashions on the field.

“[ATC media man] Brett Devine came in and told me I had the pressure on me to match her,” Schofield said. “Nathan [Berry, Whitney’s late husband] always said she should go in the fashions and that was the first one she has. It was great for her and the prizes were unbelievable. She got more than $30,000 of flights and other stuff for winning and I only got $16,000 for winning the Spring Champion. I still paid for dinner at the Cubby House on Saturday night, though.” The win on Vanbrugh took Schofield to the equal leading group 1 jockey in the country for the season on three wins with Hugh Bowman. Schofield has  had only eight group 1 rides, but  he has also had two placings and a fourth to go with the wins on Boban, Kermadec and Vanbrugh.

Randwick success

The second Saturday in October has become the runaway success of the spring in the 21st century. The strong Caulfield Guineas attracted more than 20,000 in Melbourne,  but the revelation has been Spring Champion Stakes day at Randwick. In the three years since it became a group 1 day it has built a tradition of its own. There were 18,250 on course on Saturday and it was a young, vibrant crowd enjoying some great racing and some of the sponsor’s product, Moet & Chandon.

Quaddie clean-up

One punter was on target with the Melbourne quaddie on Saturday, cleaning up Ladbrokes for more than $133,000 as he found the winners of the last four races at Caulfield. He had $250 on the quaddie, but  it could have been worse for the bookmaker. After finding Lucky Hussler among three selections in the first leg, he one-outed Stay With Me and Press Statement, before banking on  favourite Politeness and Wawail in the last leg. The pair hit the line together with favourite Politeness getting the nod.

Big statement pays off

Chris Waller is a great judge and a tip to friend Tony Muollo proved  very wise with Press Statement’s Caulfield Guineas win on Saturday. “When we had Pressday [also a group 1 winner], Chris said before he raced he goes all right. He said we should look at getting another one from the mare. I went out and brought the mare privately and got her cheap, I won’t say how much,” Muollo said. “I didn’t think I would get a horse like this from her, though.” Muollo sold 50per cent of Press Statement before this preparation. “I got a good price and for him to do that is great for everyone.”

Five minutes with QT forager Georgie Neal

QT forager Georgie Neal. Photo: Daniel SpellmanIn the City Issue 23: full edition
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​QT Hotels & Resorts is changing the face of its food supply chain to bring some seasonal and specialised produce straight from the producer to the plate.

It is excited to announce the appointment of Georgie Neal to the newly-created role of forager, which will see her establish a close working relationship with farmers and growers nationwide to source fresh, seasonal produce for QT’s award-winning restaurants including Canberra’s own Capitol Bar & Grill.

Which is an average day on the job like for you?

There is no such thing as an average day, every day is different. I’m usually on the road trying to see as many growers as I can because that face-to-face interaction with them is so important and I don’t think you can build the sorts of relationships I have with them from talking over the phone. Its old-school and there’s also lots of research.

Which growers and farmers have you found for Capitol Bar & Grill?

When I first came on board, I visited the Capital Region Farmers Market at EPIC and discovered some really stand-out producers there. The king of heritage apples is only 20 minutes from here, they’re called Loriendale Orchard, there’s also a great potato and garlic grower towards Cooma, and Braidwood is also really amazing. Once you speak to one person they will tell you about someone else and so on. It’s really exciting.

Why is it so important for restaurants to be supporting local growers?

Food is such a fundamental part of life, it’s not just an economic thing. I think we all really need to eat predominately what is grown in the region and what is grown seasonally. Why buy something that is not grown here when you can? I think it’s really the foundation of what dining should be all about. People are so caught up in being able to buy everything year round by walking into a supermarket, but produce doesn’t come in plastic bags and cling-wrapped, they come from the ground, it’s picked fresh and when you eat it straight away it has so much flavour, it hasn’t been gassed or cold-stored – it’s just so fresh. We’re not doing anything ground-breaking but Capitol Bar & Grill is really progressive in the way it wants to celebrate growers’ stories. It’s a genuine desire to support what people are doing and the extraordinary work that goes into making our food. As we change the menu we are really trying to work in reverse to how most restaurants work. We want to know what’s about to be in season and work with growers to use those ingredients – a more holistic vision of sustainability. The thing I love is that there is no limit to what we can do.

Where did your passion for food derive from?

I grew up in a food-mad family. We got together for all those special occasions, Christmas and birthdays, and that was what brought us all together and really instilled that love of food, culture and simple life into me. I’ve always been passionate about food, I’ve always read cookbooks instead of novels in bed and I absolutely love cooking. Entertaining and cooking for the people you love is the richest part of life. It’s such an instant pleasure and it’s very rewarding. Being a city girl there’s also that other side of my life that is enriched by seeing the origins of food and it’s really humbling being able to look at food differently.

What do you love most about your job?

Growers taking you into their heart and you become like their family. It’s so much more than just business for me, those relationships are everything and mean the world to me. I get really emotional about it because people are so generous with their time and knowledge and I just feel really, really lucky to be a part of it.

Capitol Bar & Grill A: 1 London Circuit, Canberra City W: qtcanberra杭州龙凤论坛m.au

Lowndes on Brock’s pace after sixth Bathurst 1000 win

Craig Lowndes salutes the crowd after winning at Bathurst on Sunday. Picture: Getty ImagesCOMPARISONS with touring car legend Peter Brock still make Craig Lowndes uneasy.
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But they will not be going away any time soon after the Holden veteran stormed to a remarkable sixth Bathurst 1000 crown at Mount Panorama on Sunday.

Any doubts over Lowndes’ V8 Supercars greatness were lost in the remarkable roar that greeted the popular 41-year-old on top of the podium beside co-driver Steven Richards. They finished the epic 161-lap enduro less than one second ahead of Ford’s Mark Winterbottom and Steve Owen.

Holden’s Garth Tander and Warren Luff were third.

Incredibly, it marked a record 13th Bathurst podium for Lowndes, leapfrogging Brock, Richards’ father, Jim, and Larry Perkins.

Lowndes has now won five of the past 10 Bathurst titles.

But he shifted uncomfortably when talk inevitably turned to equalling Brock’s once untouchable record of nine Bathurst wins.

“I said it was doubtful. Nine times is a lot of wins,” he said after his victory, which marked Holden’s record 30th on the mountain. “He was instrumental in helping me when I first came to the place.

“It’s an honour to have our names on that trophy.”

The victory ushered in another awkward topic for Lowndes: will he win his first championship since 1999?

His 101st career win helped Lowndes jump from fourth to second in the standings, just 399 points behind series leader Winterbottom with four rounds left.

“It’s a possibility, but I will need a DNF or two from Frosty to have a chance,” Lowndes said.

Next is the double-points Gold Coast 600 enduro from October 23, where Lowndes will again partner Richards.

Three-time V8 series champ Lowndes started from 15th on the grid, his worst Bathurst qualifying.

Yet he emerged with the lead in the pit-lane frenzy that followed the fourth and final safety car after Ford driver Scott Pye’s crash, setting up a final 20 lap sprint finish.

By the final lap Lowndes had established a three-second lead over Winterbottom, who had overcome two black flag penalties for electrical gremlins that affected his brake lights.

It gave Lowndes the chance to slow down and savour his final lap in front of his adoring fans on the mountain.

It made up for last year’s Bathurst debacle. Lowndes blamed sun glare for late-race contact on Winterbottom that ended both their Bathurst 1000 hopes with eight laps left.

Defending V8 series champion Jamie Whincup again left Mount Panorama a frustrated man.

Whincup was second when he was sensationally dropped to the back of the field with 20 laps left after ignoring team orders and being penalised for overtaking a safety car. AAP

MOST BATHURST 1000 WINS

9 Peter Brock

7 Jim Richards

6 Craig Lowndes, Larry Perkins, Mark Skaife

4 Steven Richards, Allan Moffat, Greg Murphy, Jamie Whincup

3 Dick Johnson, Garth Tander

MOST BATHURST 1000 PODIUMS

13 Craig Lowndes

12 Peter Brock, Jim Richards, Larry Perkins

10 Mark Skaife

8 Greg Murphy

MOST WINS BY MANUFACTURER

30 Holden

19 Ford

2 Nissan

1 Morris, Jaguar, BMW, Volvo

THEY were considered ‘‘a million to one’’ to finish their first Bathurst 1000.

And the first all-female team to contest the epic enduro since 1998 probably would have taken those odds after finding the Mount Panorama wall early on Sunday.

But before the cynics could say ‘‘I told you so’’, the wildcard entry were back on track well within the lap-55 deadline after somehow repairing their severely damaged Ford.

Applause erupted amid high fives throughout their garage after IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro finally got a chance to get behind the wheel with 108 laps left in the Great Race.

The mood could not have been more different barely an hour earlier.

Co-driver Renee Gracie fought back tears after sliding on fluid from David Wall’s Volvo and slamming into the wall at Forrest’s Elbow on just the 15th of the 161-lap Great Race.

De Silvestro could not hide her disappointment in the garage as Gracie somehow reversed out of the wall and nursed her severely damaged Ford back to the pits.

‘‘There was bloody fluid on the road and I’m in the wall. I’m so sorry,’’ Gracie told race engineer Paul Ceprnich on the team radio.

‘‘I’m coming back to the pits now. The steering’s stuffed.’’

The team finished the race 21st, a distant 40 laps down on the leaders and 35 laps down on 20th-placed Todd Kelly.

The all-female team had arrived at Mount Panorama with plenty to prove after old school V8 great Dick Johnson claimed they were ‘‘a million to one’’ to finish.

Gracie fired back with: ‘‘Dick Johnson hasn’t finished heaps of races so he can’t talk’’.

PNG chiefs talk of civil unrest over unpopular Chinan bank deal

How Oil Search deal found trouble in Papua New GuineaLawyers: how to launder PNG money in PNG: the near neighbour that forgot
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Until now, the tribal chiefs in Papua New Guinea have been happy to host a hugely profitable natural gas project on the slopes of their mountainous land.

It might have disrupted hunting grounds, ruined waterways and uprooted fruit and vegetables, but the money flowing from it also promised progress and development for the people.

So they stuck with a 2009 agreement to provide access and security to a $US19 billion ExxonMobil PNG liquid natural gas project, which has given ‘s nearest neighbour one of the highest GDP growth rates on earth.

All that, though, could change. They are threatening to “turn off the taps” after the PNG government barred their n lawyers from entering the country.

It was the final straw for the deal that has turned increasingly sour for local tribesmen in the mountainous Hela province, where the majority of the gas is sourced.

ExxonMobil, n company Oil Search, and the PNG governments have all received profits ahead of schedule, but the local people say they are missing out.

Under the deal struck in 2009 to allow the gas project to go ahead, the tribesmen and women are entitled to exercise an option to buy a 4.2 per cent equity share, which could deliver upwards of US$6 billion over the project lifespan. .

But a Fairfax Media investigation can now reveal that a complex and unlikely deal inked in March last year between n bankers at Swiss firm UBS and close advisers of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has unnerved tribal leaders.

They say the deal effectively “mortgaged” their equity to plug a widening fiscal hole in the government’s own finances. It’s clear that trust between these land owners, the PNG government and the bank has been obliterated.

Prime Minister O’Neill has moved quickly to attack the “politicised” leak of documents, as a Fairfax report on Friday dominated social media in the country over the weekend.

He pointed blame at the previous Somare government, skirted revelations that the PNG government had “surrendered” most of the potential upside to UBS, and promised that ongoing court proceedings would provide clarity.

Fairfax can now reveal that tribal chiefs are seeking a court injunction to prevent Mr O’Neill and UBS from having further dealings with their promised equity without their full consent.

And they are incensed that the PNG government has obstructed those court processes by banning their Queensland lawyer, Greg Egan, from entering the country.

Last week n diplomats dismissed the blacklisting of Mr Egan as a “private” matter. But matters such as this have a history in PNG of blowing up into much more than that.

The landowners cite the precedent of the civil war in Bougainville, which followed the failure of mining company Rio Tinto and governments in PNG and to adequately negotiate with local people.

“We fear that when the government runs out of money, they may touch our money and spend it elsewhere,” says Dickson Ango, a chief of the Buta people, who own much of the land beneath the Hapono Block near Hides gas field in the Southern Highlands Province.

“If they are stopping us from expressing our rights to the courts of the land, then our own people will ask the government to come and talk to us by way of other means, like sit-in protests.

“It may cost the project.”

ONE DAY A WHITE-LEGGED MAN WILL COME

Dickson Ango is old enough to remember how his elders used to carry around the bones of their ancestors before the missionaries came. They decorated those bones, and spoke with them. These days, bones are buried in the ground and traditional animist beliefs have been supplanted by Christianity.

But there are astonishing continuities between the old world and new.

“When the white-legged man came to this mountain, Gigira, they found one of the world’s highest quality natural gas fields – enough to bring light to hundreds of thousands of people,” says Ango, recalling the “prophesy” of his forefathers.

“We can see now that everything is happening according to that prophesy,” Ango says. “So I want to tell the future generation that we must live in appreciation of what God has done.”

Ango believes his people have been “chosen” to be custodians.

“God in his divine plan put all those resources on our land, where our forefathers lived, because he knew that we – these people of Hela – we are people who are able to share, people who can laugh with others, and able to share those benefits with the rest of PNG and are able to agree with the government and welcome the developers.”

But such agreements are not without cost.

PYTHONS ARE GOOD PROTEIN

Wandigo Kau is a clan leader from the area known as PDL 1, which supplies 57 per cent of the gas to the PNG LNG project. When he was born in 1982 there were no schools, no shops and certainly no doctors to help a mother giving birth.

Life was short. Like most of his contemporaries, chronic malaria had given him a hugely swollen spleen. His own baby child, however, has been born into a world of previously unimaginable possibilities.

“My child will have a modern standard,” Kau says. “Not like my life. My life was too hard.”

For all that’s been gained, though, much has also been lost. Kau can no longer go on long hunting treks through lush jungle, crossing the tumbling streams of Mount Gigira with bow and arrows strapped across his shoulder.

Now the cassowaries, hornbills and protein-laden pythons that Wandigo Kau used to hunt have been chased away by three well-pads, three quarries, a waste dump, a huge gas conditioning plant, nine kilometres of pipeline and a main road.

Kau’s home in Tugu Tapira is the most intensely impacted in the PDL-1 area, where the majority of gas is sourced.  But all his neighbours have similar stories.

“We have given up our land, our water, our hunting grounds, our food gardens, we have given everything,” says Hamule Ngiame.

A 2009 meeting of the PNG landowners before the deal was struck.

THE BIG MEETING

Ngiame, like Wandigo Kau and Dickson Ango, was one of the tribal leaders who travelled to Kokopo, in far-away East New Britain, to negotiate the 2009 agreement that got the project off the ground.

That meeting was an anthropological and logistical feat to rival the engineering that has followed. Thousands of clan leaders were flown to Kokopo and stayed for months of rolling talks, camping in Oil Search-issued tents, arm wrestling government leaders to work out how compensation should be apportioned and spoils divided.

Oil Search managing director Peter Botton says the scale of the discussion was unprecedented. “Where else would you get 5000 people to sit down and discuss the size of the pie, and thousands more to talk about how to divide it?”

The negotiating motto of the tribal chiefs was straightforward: “No equity, no gas.” 

Thousands of clan leaders attended the meeting.

Many wanted a 10 per cent share. In the end, they were happy to settle for 7 per cent, plus royalties and grants – 2.8 per cent would be paid up front and the remaining 4.2 per cent when the gas was flowing.

“It was a huge task to mobilise all the people because most of the people were illiterate,” says Andy Hamaga, a leader of the Jula and Aya clans. “It took us six solid weeks to negotiate.”

The corporations had already conducted a complex social mapping exercise to work out the entitlements of 60,000 people. They had to do it an area where traditional land ownership is relatively fluid, and partly contingent upon continual occupation. Meanwhile tens of thousands of migrants were arriving in search of work.

In the end: “We were satisfied.”

Hamaga says his people trusted then prime minister Sir Michael Somare, often referred to as the founding father of the nation, his son Arthur, then a cabinet minister, and the provincial governor, Anderson Agiru.

“They asked us to provide security to the project, which we did.”

Adding political intrigue, the land owner claims are being supported by Arthur Somare, who led the 2009 negotiations, and who is the son of Sir Michael Somare, who recently referred Mr O’Neill to a leadership misconduct tribunal.

TURNING ON THE TAPS

Every three or four days a tanker leaves the Gulf of Papua for terminals in Japan, China and Taiwan, filled with tens of millions of dollars worth of gas, condensed at temperatures of minus-160 degrees into liquid form. Already, the $US19 billion investment in the highlands has expanded the GDP of ‘s closest neighbour by a staggering 25 per cent in just two years.

ExxonMobil, the US oil giant, delivered the project ahead of schedule. It has buoyed the share prices of n gas majors Oil Search and Santos, and it has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into PNG government coffers.

Port Moresby’s Grand Papua hotel is filled to bursting and the rents on expatriate apartments have gone through the roof.

But for the country’s 8 million citizens, the boom times never came. A World Bank report released lastweek declares that welfare standards might actually be going backwards.

The report also said PNG had breached its legislated debt level of 35 per cent of GDP by a considerable margin. More worrying, a mid-year Treasury update said the budget deficit for this year could blow out to 9 per cent of GDP without corrective action. Government services are not being delivered and bills are going unpaid.

Partly, PNG is suffering from a king-sized version of the resources bust also affecting . But mismanagement and cronyism are also to blame.

On the figures, the government might want to extract every kina of profit that it can from the “benefits-sharing” arrangement to give land owners their 4.2 per cent equity stake, which they are due to receive in the first half of next year.

And this is where Hela landowners, n investment bankers, and n and PNG politicians could all find themselves in the kind of serious conflict that, in the past, has led to civil war.

WE’LL TURN OFF THE TAPS

The fight is over the honouring of the old “gas for equity” deal.

Last May, the money started flowing. Exxon Mobil got its share, n company Oil Search got another, as did the PNG government. But what should have been a stream of revenue from royalties and grants to the local landowners has been nothing more than a trickle.

The PNG government says it has not yet finished the “vetting” process to ascertain who is entitled to a share of the money.

Landowners, however, say the government is deliberately dragging its feet. Exxon Mobil, with an eye to its biggest risk, cannot afford any further delay.

It recently offered 7 million kina ($3.5 million) worth of Land Rovers, hotel rooms and helicopter rides to make the journey of officials from Port Moresby to Hela easier.

A respected judge has been called in to accelerate the vetting process.

Some tribal chiefs are still showing patience. Last week the court intervened by overturning the ban on lawyer Mr Egan from entering the country.

But those who are taking the court action say time is running out for a negotiated solution. And the first thing they want is their own choice of financier and a chance to negotiate a reasonable price for their 4.2 per cent equity option.

“We don’t trust UBS … because they failed us in the first place,” says tribal leader Andy Hamaga. The government, he says, has “mortgaged our equity to get the UBS loan”.

And if they don’t get their way? “We will turn the tap off,” says Hamaga. “No choice.”

On Sunday, a UBS spokeswoman said the land owner’s 4.2 per cent equity option had been “carved out” of last year’s loan security terms, and that the bank was not doing the ongoing financing work that land owners feared. “We have not been mandated by anyone in PNG to raise the finance for the landowner call option,” said the spokeswoman.

The tribespeople have tried to talk to the politicians. Then they tried the courts. Options are running out.

Another leader, Hamule Ngiame, whose Pii and Komen clans live on the PDL-1 land, responsible for more than half of the PNG LNG’s gas supplies, says “Coming to the media is the second [last] option.”

“The last option is to disturb the project. We know that in 1989 we had the Bougainville crisis, over a similar issue of government failure in meeting its part to deliver landowner benefits.

“We will do the same.”