27 Jul 18

Ocean treat to sink your teeth into

New sensation: Neil Perry’s Glacier 51 toothfish dish. Photo: SuppliedTen years ago, Patagonia toothfish conjured images of illegal fishing and endangered species.
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Now, one of the world’s rarest, hardest-to-catch fish is about to land in restaurants and, in about six months, in shops.

The Australian government has patrolled its territorial waters to keep out illegal fishers and Austral Fisheries, which now has a 2500-kilogram annual quota, uses hooks and lines to selectively catch the toothfish.

Chef Neil Perry describes the fish they catch 4000 kilometres offshore as ”supremely delicious, sustainable and Australian”. Perry isn’t the only enthusiast. Launched at the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival, Glacier 51 toothfish – named after the Heard Island glacial waters in which it’s caught – was so well received, salesman Dylan Skinns admitted, ”we can barely keep up with the orders”.

This week it goes on the menu at Rockpool Bar & Grill in both Sydney and Melbourne, as well as at Sake in Sydney and Grossi Florentino in Melbourne.

The fish lives in the ice-cold water of the Antarctic’s Great Southern Ocean. It’s an oily fish with a high fat content to withstand the freezing conditions, but this makes for a fish of great versatility and deep, rich flavour.

”A chef’s dream, they tell me,” Skinns says.

There were other chefs’ dreams at the festival, with Martin Benn of Sydney’s Sepia discovering salumi – handcrafted smallgoods, including rolled pancetta, flat pancetta, salami of all varieties, cured loin, dried Sardinian sausage, and guanciale (cured pork jowl). ”It will be on the bar menu [at Sepia] before the end of the week,” Benn says.

Food of the future was the focus of a panel discussion, with Peter Gilmore of Quay restaurant saying there would be less focus on foraging by chefs. More technique-driven cooking with a ”big emphasis on texture” were his tips for restaurant trends.

And David Kinch of Manresa restaurant in California agreed texture was growing in importance. ”There are certain cuts of meat that have texture … more people are realising that’s just the inherent nature of the meat and something to be celebrated,” he said.

Sue Bennett was a guest of Sunshine Coast Destination.On trend

● Marine Stewardship Council-certified sustainable Patagonia toothfish is appearing on menus in Sydney and Melbourne restaurants.

● Dining at home will enjoy a revival. For the well heeled, it will mean staff in the kitchen and a butler at the door.

● After a 12-year gap, apprenticeships for waiters are to be reintroduced. Research shows people will go back to a restaurant if the food is poor but the service is good, but finding skilled staff remains one of the industry’s greatest challenges. ”My fear is we don’t have enough kids looking for that career in the industry, but we have the resources [money to run courses],” says John Hart, Restaurant and Catering Australia chief executive.Something we never knew

Mussels change sex. When the meat is white, a mussel is male and tastes the sweetest. Mussels with orange meat are female and are generally less tasty.

It’s impossible to determine the sex before cooking.

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27 Jul 18

The way we’ll cook

Ancient grains are the future, especially quinoa. Photo: Danielle Smith1. Dust off your aprons
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We’ll be turning into our own grandmothers – pickling, preserving, jamming and marmalading, smoking and curing, dehydrating and fermenting. We’ll make fewer cheffy desserts, but there will be more baking, of cakes, pies, tarts, biscuits, slices, and what Americans call ”pie”, a cheesecake-style open tart with a biscuit crumb base and creamy filling. Sweet potato, white chocolate and banana-cream filling, come on down.

2. Remodel the kitchen

To the horror of clutter-hating kitchen designers, our kitchens will continue to change shape, as we surround ourselves with the things that make us happy and allocate more room for recycling, growing things and grills. We’ll also pinch the things we like about our favourite cafes and install them at home, from custom-made espresso machines and food served on planks and boards to smoothies and all-day breakfasts. And quinoa, of course.

3. Ancient grains are the future

The United Nations declared 2013 to be the International Year of Quinoa. It says the 3000-year-old grain is the organic food of the future, with a significant role to play in potential food security and the eradication of poverty. And there you were, thinking it was so last year. Along with other grains and seeds, quinoa is already on our shopping lists. In Donna Hay’s latest hit, Fresh and Light, it appears 13 times, in roles as varied as piecrust and sushi ”rice”.

4. We’ll probably dabble in a bit of these, too.

Singaporean laksa, ramen noodles and summer rolls, from our love and understanding of being part of south-east Asia; meatballs from Mexican to Moroccan, pasta al forno (oven-baked), slow roasts and everything-on-toast, for familiarity and much-needed comfort. Latin salsas, flavoured salts and Mexican chillies are on the menu for sheer excitement value, and porridge, native greens and raw foods for feeling good.

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27 Jul 18

First blow as Gidley hit by injury

Laurie Daley’s first camp as NSW coach was just a few hours old when he suffered his first major setback: the withdrawal of bench utility Kurt Gidley due to a foot injury.
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Scans on Gidley’s foot, following an injury during the Knights’ 28-12 loss to the Warriors on Sunday, stunned the Blues just 24 hours after the squad was announced for game one. Daley said he would name a replacement on Tuesday.

Daley will likely decide who to bring in for the ANZ Stadium clash on Wednesday week by around lunchtime, to have the replacement in camp by Tuesday’s afternoon training session.

But it is clear that the replacement will not be apples for apples. Daley will now decide whether to possibly bring in a second-rower or a prop to replace Gidley, given there are few players with the Newcastle player’s ability to play so many positions. Willie Mason, Aaron Woods, Boyd Cordner, Feleti Mateo, Josh Reynolds, Josh McCrone and Wade Graham are set to be considered. Daley may decide to add more size to his side, knowing starters Luke Lewis and Greg Bird can offer utility value.

Blues skipper Paul Gallen said on Monday night he hoped Daley opted for a bigger player.

”Personally, I think they should pick another bigger bloke,” Gallen told Triple M. ”Cordner, Tim Grant, Tariq Sims or someone like that. I think they should pick a bigger bloke. I just don’t think there’s another player in the game who can do what Kurt Gidley can do. I don’t think there’s any point in picking a McCrone or someone like that. I think we maybe should go a bigger guy.”

Daley wanted to watch Monday night’s clash between South Sydney and Cronulla before making a decision, which suggested that he was considering Rabbitohs five-eighth John Sutton, who can play in the forwards, as well as Cronulla’s Todd Carney, who were both pitched as options at No.6.

Further disruptions are also possible this week, with skipper Paul Gallen (knee) and Lewis (shoulder) missing Monday night’s clash with the Rabbitohs.

Gidley played on after the injury on Sunday but MRI scans on Monday confirmed a torn ligament in his right foot.

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19 Jun 18

Fifita’s future is not so blue 

Andrew Fifita: Turned his life around and has earnt his first Origin cap for NSW. Picture: John VeageSIX years after Andrew Fifita was bailed out of jail by his frustrated mother, again, the giant Cronulla Sharks prop gets to represent his state for the first time at Origin level.
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Better than being either a ward of the state, a state inmate, and much better than being just another state crime statistic.

Fifita, about to turn 24, admitted he could easily have become a teenage statistic, if he didn’t turn his life around in Sydney’s wild, wild west.

“I was running with some gangs on the streets up around home [Blacktown], and after mum got me out I was told in court that I had to get out of town,” admitted the twin son of an indigenous Australian mother and Tongan father.

“I sort of already realised that if I didn’t leave the streets, I might go to jail for good.”

His is an amazing story. His family encouraged him to move away, and he ended up in Griffith — to grow up, and rehabilitate.

So there the nephew of former St George forward John Fifita lived and breathed country football, finished his HSC, and despite some knockbacks along the way, eventually returned to Sydney with a small contract to play for Wests Tigers, along with twin brother David Fifita (he played lower grade and is now overseas).

Andrew Fifita, the once skinny giant who was told he was too thin by some other clubs, put on weight.

Plenty of it, and soon he ended up in the scrum, alongside the more seasoned and experienced Bryce Gibbs.

Andrew also gladly represented Tonga, and the Aboriginal All Stars, and City, too.

But his promising start with the Tigers in 2010, and into 2011, he couldn’t get a big go in the top Tigers team towards the latter part of 2011.

With salary cap problems in trying to buy Kiwi international and Melbourne Storm forward Adam Blair, the Tigers on-passed Gibbs to the Sharks, who got Fifita as part of the “bargain deal” in 2012.

Today, the Tigers wish they had kept both.

With a partner and their first child born just before Christmas, Andrew Fifita is now one of the biggest impact-forwards in the NRL, averaging more than 170 metres and impressing enough to gain a bench spot in the Blues pack, and alongside team-mates Blues captain Paul Gallen and fellow international, Luke Lewis.

“He’s still a bit of a mad, big kid … but he’s settled down to become one of our very best,” said Lewis of the 196-centimetre, 118-kilogram, prop forward.

“I think he’ll create havoc when he comes on from the bench.”

This time, legal havoc, with those big damaging runs through the rucks.

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19 Jun 18

Lynch coach award ‘deserved’

Big win: NSW Swifts captain Kimberlee Green (pictured) led her team to only their second win of the ANZ Championship. Picture: Murray WilkinsonSUTHERLAND Netball’s popular representative coach Maria Lynch was a deserved winner of the 2013 coach of the year award at the NSW Sports Federation 2013 Community Sports Awards held at Parliament House.
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Lynch beat four other finalists after her successes with multiple teams at the national, state and association levels.

Lynch celebrated a fifth consecutive 21/U National Netball Championship title with the NSW team in March last year, steered Sutherland Shire to a grand final victory in the Dooleys State League Waratah Cup last July, and became an integral member of the runners-up, NSW Waratahs, in the Australian Netball League last September. Lynch was assistant coach.

Lynch is “over the moon”.

“In a team sport, you share things with your team and as a coach, you are always looking for your athletes to go further and see accolades,” she said.

“It’s a wonderful recognition for the hours of work you put in, but in saying that it’s all part of being in a team sport and I share this with all the players I’ve worked with and coaches over the years.”

■Sutherland Shire Netball Association will field teams in two age groups at the three-day 2013 State Championships starting on Saturday week, June 8.

Sutherland Shire will have teams in the opens and 17 years and under divisions at Baulkham Hills, and St George Netball Association will field a 19-years and under championship team. More than 130 teams will converge on two venues for one of Netball NSW’s largest marquee events on the calendar.

■Australia will be the first country to use newly developed indoor player tracking technology to gain a competitive advantage ahead of the 2013 World Youth Netball Championships, 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2015 Netball World Cup in Sydney.

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19 Jun 18

Third-straight loss pains Hodgson

AG COLLEGE coach Stu Hodgson was lost for words on Saturday after the Southern Inland Rugby Union premier sunk to its third-consecutive defeat at Beres Ellwood Oval.
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Creeping further into the history books with the disappointing loss, the Aggies were outclassed in all facets of the game by an enthusiastic Waratahs performance, 32-8.

Scoring just one try in the effort, the Aggies were depleted with injury and confidence against an effervescent Tahs backline that refused to quit.

Sparking him into action, Hodgson struggled to comprehend the third-straight loss for the premier on Saturday.

“I told the boys at the start of the year that being the premier we pretty much had to gift every team 10 points on us before we started, because teams lift against the premier and that’s our burden,” he said.

“I never thought it would end up as untidy as this, ever. But, we just have to move on.”

Coping with a heavy injury toll, which also claimed captain Dave Armstrong and James Whiteley during the game, the Aggies failed to display their trademark confidence and precision. Despite his disappointment, Hodgson said the problem isn’t attitude based.

“I feel sorry for the boys, you can see they’re really trying but nothing seems to be working, it can’t be fun,” he said.

“Just going into contact we build pressure and then throw silly passes or make a mistake that turns the ball over and we get punished for it, and you just can’t do that.

“Waratahs played very well, their structures are in place and they’re a good side, our scrum was dominant and then we’d knock it on or have massive lapses in concentration.

“I just don’t know what it is.”

However, Hodgson said he was happy with the forward pack, but something needs to be tinkered in the backline to improve confidence.

“You play with the cattle you’ve got, but it’s just so frustrating that we can’t bank the profit from a good forward pack,” he said.

“We can’t go on making any excuses, we’re gutted but we’re just not doing the basics right.

“Ben Leaper was terrific again, but I don’t know how long he can last doing that every week, but Cam Jenkins and Stu Garret were great.”

Waratahs captain Jock Munro sails across the line to score despite a late tackle from Ag College five-eighth Ben Tett.

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29 Jul 19

Scientist smells a rat that proves to be a hit

Bush rats carry a parasite long overlooked by scientists.When Bill and Melinda Gates put out the call for a suitable animal to test drugs for the debilitating river blindness disease, geneticist Warwick Grant knew he had just the thing.
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Enter the Australian bush rat. Common in heathland areas of Victoria and NSW, the bush rat carries a parasite long overlooked by scientists.

First described 30 years ago by CSIRO scientist David Spratt, the parasite is found only in Australia, but produces the same symptoms in the bush rat that the chronic river blindness disease triggers in humans.

So Dr Grant wrote to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and secured a $100,000 research grant – one of only two Australians and 58 scientists worldwide to do so this year.

It will pay for Dr Grant and colleagues from his La Trobe University to collect parasite-carrying ticks from NSW bush rats trapped near Batemans Bay and place the ticks on laboratory rats.

The lab rat, which hails from the same family as the bush rat, then becomes an animal model on which to screen candidate drugs to replace the human treatment used by the World Health Organisation to prevent infection.

If successful, it will be the first time researchers have had an animal model on which to test the new drugs for the debilitating disease, which affects more than 37 million people in Africa.

”For most human diseases there are experiments in animals prior to clinical trials in humans,” Dr Grant said. ”That’s not possible for river blindness because there is no animal model available.”

The search for a suitable animal to study is growing increasingly urgent. While the drug Ivermectin has been successfully used for the past 25 years, it is not ideal. It does not kill the parasite and needs to be taken annually for up to 25 years.

The preventative drug, essentially the same drug given to dogs to prevent heart worm, has been around for more than two decades and there is growing concern the parasite will develop resistance.

”Eventually this drug will fail, so new drugs are desperately needed,” Dr Grant said.

River blindness affects mainly poor, rural African communities. Symptoms include permanent blindness, rashes, lesions and intense itching. It is caused by a parasitic worm that enters the body via the bite of a blood-sucking fly. Adult worms live under the skin for more than 15 years and produce millions of larvae that crawl around in people’s skin end eyes.

Dr Grant said while Australia was well known for its unique animals, the rare parasites those animals host were less appreciated.

”Our wildlife has evolved in isolation for a long time, so it follows that there is a lot of novelty in Australian parasites,” he said.

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29 Jul 19

Saving women and girls

Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, president of the Global Fund for Women. Photo: Eddie JimThe violence committed against women and girls by men is a global scourge. And it is only one of the barriers to women and girls attaining their full human rights and achieving their potential.
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In so many places around the world, the access of women and girls to economic and political participation and to basic reproductive health measures is blocked by outdated systems and structures controlled by men.

One might like to think that in liberal democracies such as Australia, women do not suffer discrimination. But that is not so. Women are sorely under-represented in positions of power here, continue to carry an unfair share of domestic responsibilities, earn less than men and are the victims of widespread violence.

Research by VicHealth shows that for Australian women aged 14 to 45, violence by intimate partners is the leading preventable cause of illness, injury and death. Every five or six days, a woman is killed in Australia by her partner or ex-partner.

Today’s guest in The Zone is one of the world’s leading activists for the rights of women and girls, Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, the president and chief executive of the San Francisco-based Global Fund for Women. The full transcript of our interview – as well as a short video of Kanyoro – is at theage南京夜网.au/opinion/the-zone.

Perhaps Kanyoro’s most fundamental message is that we all lose as a result of the violence and discrimination suffered by women. It is self-evident that nations cannot reach their potential when women are blocked from economic and political participation. Such exclusion also undermines a nation’s decency and dignity, as does genital mutilation of girls and forced marriage.

Kanyoro stresses that men need to play a core role in ameliorating the situation of women and girls.

”The human rights framework basically says all people are endowed with dignity. It is about all people. This is the first easy step for men – men can recognise the humanity of women.

”That is easy. It is easy because we are all human; everybody should just know it. Recognising that humanity and then respecting that humanity as equals, as friends, as sisters and brothers, as husbands and wives, as partners, in whatever we want to do professionally or otherwise, is a big step.”

But, Kanyoro laments, it is a step yet to be taken by many men. Why? She says women have low status pretty much everywhere.

”That is why women get discriminated against – because people do not think we’re equal. So that is the first step of what we would like to do to involve the men – recognising and changing their behaviour towards women. The second step is being involved together with women for advocating for bigger issues. It is not just about what happens to women. We want to see economies grow. How can we do that together? Through the participation of all people.”

The Global Fund for Women began 25 years ago. Since then it has created more than 9000 grants, worth more than $100 million, to women-led organisations throughout the world.

It is now working with groups in more than 170 countries. Recent research by Stanford University found that through its grant-making the fund had helped bring about laws on violence against women that now cover more than 1 billion women and girls. A comprehensive list of the grants can be viewed at globalfundforwomen.org/what-we-do/our-grantmaking.

Kanyoro, though, is frustrated. Applications for grants far exceed the funds available. She wants to raise another $100 million over the next five years.

Most of the fund’s money comes from private donations – by wealthy people and people with limited resources. ”We have a large donor base of individuals who give as much money as they are able to give and we believe that growing philanthropy is about actually making everybody take responsibility, not only when they have large amounts of money.

”We use a philosophy of equal generosity, because people give according to what they think they are able to give.”

She wants governments and businesses to give more, not as an act of charity, but out of enlightened self-interest. ”The work we do actually saves governments a lot of money … when women are safe, the hospitals don’t get overcrowded by sick people, children are taken care of, older people are looked after well, women participate as workers in businesses, in schools, in hospitals, women participate in decision-making at the political level. We’re actually part of that growth economy.”

One of the organisations Kanyoro met with in Australia is the Australian Women Donors Network, a Melbourne-based organisation that seeks to direct attention to the economic and social disadvantage of women and girls here and around the world and to encourage the funding of projects that invest specifically in women and girls.

During her visit, she also met with AusAID, seeking not only funding but also collaboration, particularly on projects in the Pacific, where the fund has given grants totalling $15 million.

”Certain issues are really important for the Pacific. We find the issue of violence against women in Papua New Guinea, for example, is really big, and in the Solomon Islands and in Samoa.” Prime Minister Julia Gillard raised the issue of violence against women in PNG during her recent visit there.

Kanyoro is keen to help women in PNG establish a women’s bank, a project that would mirror others elsewhere in the world.

”We believe that if there is a women’s bank in Papua New Guinea, women would have the confidence of owning and wanting to see it succeed, in the same way that we have seen, for example, women really trust something like microfinance in Bangladesh.”

Kanyoro’s commitment to women’s rights was inspired by her parents. She grew up in Kenya, and has worked internationally for the past 30 years in various human rights organisations. She was an early, leading campaigner for the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS.

”Both of my parents were very involved in the lives of people. I saw what kind of devotion they gave to issues. I saw how much it hurt my mum when she would see a mother lost through childbirth. I saw how much my own father would suffer just to keep the children inoculated and caring for [those affected by] malaria and all the things that were killing children and people.

”I was raised to understand that we do not live our lives for our own sake alone, that it is not about us but it is about being part of the human community.”

One of the issues the Global Fund for Women has focused on from its earliest days is technology; some of its early funding came out of the digital creativity crucible that is California’s Silicon Valley.

The concentration on technology is going to increase. Kanyoro cites the impact women made through their use of social media during the Arab Spring, which saw popular uprisings bring about regime change in nations such as Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen.

She talks, too, of a simple water-purification technology developed by a young woman in Canada. ”This technology has been tested in Peru, in Kenya and in India and it costs only $10. If we can equip many people to use this kind of technology, not only will it be useful in the rural areas where women need a lot of help and where we do a lot of support for women’s groups, but it will also change the lifestyles of those women. Technology also helps to reduce the workload for women.”

Providing access to education is also one of the fund’s top priorities. It supported women in Afghanistan who set up clandestine schools when the Taliban regime banned girls from schools.

One of those grantee partners, the Afghan Institute of Learning has blossomed into a multi-service organisation providing teacher training, health education and care in addition to general education. But Kanyoro says education alone won’t ensure human rights for women and girls. Other cultural changes have to happen. ”Yes you invest in girls’ education, but you also have to lessen the work that women have to do at home and you also make sure that families do have access to certain funding otherwise they will sell their girls or they will keep them at home. You also make sure that women have access to contraceptives to have smaller families. You just have to do a lot of things that are holistic.”

Kanyoro is buoyed by the changes her organisation has helped finance. She knows how much more progress is required, but believes it will come – if men and women work together. ”I have seen apartheid end. I have seen the Berlin Wall come down. If these huge global problems can be tackled, why shouldn’t we be optimistic for women?

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29 Jul 19

GPT abandons $3b Australand bid

Australand is still considered a takeover target. Photo: Dean OslandGPT Group has walked away from its proposed $3 billion bid for the office, industrial and development assets of Australand Property Group.
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The diversified trust set the real estate investment trust sector alight on December 10 last year when it launched an indicative, non-binding offer for the commercial, industrial and investment divisions of rival Australand.

The offer did not include Australand’s residential arm and was deemed too low by the takeover target and its major shareholder, with 59 per cent, CapitaLand.

The Australand directors said they had concerns the offer would leave its remaining residential business listed alone on the stock exchange with an uncertain future.

In mid-January, CapitaLand said it was reviewing its holding and would talk to other interested parties, after which a data room was established.

Several groups were said to have registered an interest to view the books, such as Mirvac and the global Blackstone Group.

Property analysts said at the time, that the proposed but non-binding offer by GPT would be the spark for a new round of mergers and acquisitions among the REITs – which has not occurred.

But some said on Monday that with the CapitaLand stake still on the market, Australand remains ”a takeover target”.

GPT’s directors said that after detailed due diligence and discussions, it had become apparent that a transaction at a price that GPT was willing to pay was not possible.

The group will continue with growth plans for its logistics and business parks and office portfolios and allocate capital accordingly, it said

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29 Jul 19

Westfield Miranda to get $435m facelift

Westfield Miranda, one of the larger shopping malls in the country, is to undergo a $435 million redevelopment, which will act as a blueprint for future projects.
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There will be a greater emphasis on fresh food and entertainment, the opening of international clothing brands and smaller anchor department stores.

Myer will relinquish its ground floor to a larger Woolworths, while a new multi-screen Event cinema complex will be added.

The mall is 50 per cent owned by the Dexus Wholesale Property Fund and the remainder is split between the Westfield Retail Trust (25 per cent) and Westfield Group (25 per cent).

The redevelopment will also include the addition of more than 100 speciality and international retailers, possibly including Zara, Top Shop and Apple, among others.

DWPF fund manager Graham Pearson said the aim of the revamp was to transform the centre into an entertainment destination. ”It’s all about the mix in a new shopping centre and the integration of new methods of retailing,” he said.

Westfield’s managing director, Australia and New Zealand, Robert Jordan, said a feature of the redeveloped centre would be an outdoor restaurant precinct with multiple dining options.

”Westfield Miranda will also offer premium customer services including valet parking and personal styling services,” Mr Jordan said.

”As centres get redeveloped there will be a greater emphasis on restaurant precincts, cinemas and the successful international labels.”

Mr Jordan said malls were now entertainment hubs and a modern centre was a form of town centre.

In its first quarter earnings report, issued on May 13, Westfield said it had a $12 billion pipeline of development work, of which its direct share is $5 billion.

This year Westfield Group expects to start between $1.25 billion and $1.5 billion of new developments, of which its share is up to $500 million, including Miranda.

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29 Jul 19

How Better Place got lost

The Australian former head of electric car venture Better Place, Evan Thornley, has blamed the company’s failure on poor management but says the shift away from petrol and diesel-powered cars is inevitable.
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Speaking to the media for the first time since Israel-based Better Place filed for liquidation over the weekend, Mr Thornley described the head office failings as his ”biggest surprise. Israel is pound-for-pound the best high-tech economy in the world. Why this company didn’t live up to Israel’s usual standards is something I will always wonder.”

Many savvy investors, including Morgan Stanley, HSBC and Israeli’s richest man, Idan Ofer, pumped about $US850 million ($885 million) into Better Place after being sold on the vision of fleets of electric-powered vehicles flooding global markets.

The company’s business model relied not only on such a transformation but on drivers turning to Better Place’s battery switching and management technology in volume.

Mr Thornley, who made a fortune with his LookSmart internet venture before a brief stint as a Labor MP in the Victorian Parliament, headed Better Place’s Australian operations before becoming global chief executive. He resigned after just three months when he disagreed with the board’s decision to close the Australian and US operations to focus on Israel and Denmark.

”The business had to get scale for the [research and development] expenses to be covered and for car makers to get manufacturing scale,” he said. “The problem was too much invested at head office, not too much invested in the field.

”Leaving the US and Australian markets left no upside for investors and therefore probably an inability to raise future capital,” he said.

Better Place’s Israel headquarters is yet to respond to Fairfax requests for comment. The company is reported to have only about 1300 customers, with about 150 of the first 500 contracts in Israel taken up by employees.

Mr Thornley said the head office, although staffed by talented employees adept at attracting risk capital, failed to mesh with the management strengths of the Australian and Danish operations, particularly in the assembly of expertise across a range of fields – from engineering to finance and software.

”I believe the underlying strategy and economics remain sound,” he said. ”But the failure of this execution will make raising capital for future attempts much more difficult, which is a great shame.”

Tiny demand

The lack of available electric models in the Australian market is one reason why their take-up has so far been minimal. This year, just 42 of the 358,165 vehicles sold have been purely electric-powered.

“With electric vehicles, because it’s still a developmental technology, (you’re seeing) smaller cars with range constraints…costing as much as a much more premium vehicle,” Andrew McKellar, executive director the Australian Automotive Association, said.

“The biggest take-up has been in markets where the governments have acted to provide strong consumer incentives,” he said. “In Australia, there are no strong incentives.”

Mr Thornton said the company had never focused on seeking government assistance “so no-one has anything to complain about there”.

“We supported government (electric vehicle) trials and did so at a loss.”

A consortium, including Better Place, General Electric and Bosch, received a “modest” investment from the government of about $3.5 million to build proof-of-concept electric Commodores, Mr Thornley said.

Technology bind

Alan Finkel, chancellor of Monash University and a former chief technology officer of Better Place Australia, said the company had been caught in a technological bind.

On the one hand, it needed to demonstrate the market’s potential scale in order to draw in the big car makers and drive down costs. On the other, it needed to get its products to market and to succeed before alternative offerings arrived.

“They were slowed down by their efforts to get to scale,” Dr Finkel said.

Among those alternatives is the Tesla Motors’s Roadster, a pricey high-performance sports car capable of driving 450 kilometres between charges, undermining the need for battery-switching services such as those offered by Better Place.

BMW’s i3 electric car, soon to hit showrooms, will be later be offered with an efficient internal combustion engine that, unlike hybrid petrol-electric cars on the roads now, recharges the battery to extend the vehicle’s range rather than drive its wheels.

Battery switching also required car makers to settle on a standard battery design – or at least a handful of them – to reduce their complexity.

While companies may settle on similar minor parts such as car seats or mirrors, the design of motors and batteries would be vital components, jealously held, to differentiate models and makes, Dr Finkel said.

According to Dr Finkel, Shai Agassi, the charismatic chief executive who founded Better Place in 2007 and served in the role until being replaced by Mr Thornley, was overly reliant on software and other experts drawn from Israeli start-ups.

His leadership presence also meant that the board of Better Place waited too long to take action, and by last September when they did move, Mr Agassi “had spent too much too soon”.

Future views

Despite the failure of Better Place, Dr Finkel – himself a successful entrepreneur and publisher of the Cosmos science magazine – sees no reason to doubt electric vehicles have a future.

“I’m a deep, deep believer of the electrification of the transportation system as a means to substantially reduce our carbon emissions profile,” he said. Expect, though, the process to take 20 or 30 years. “It will be a slow build.”

The AAA’s Mr McKellar also thinks the volume electric market will one day arrive.

“I suspect it is absolutely inevitable that alternative vehicle power-trains will develop, and come to the Australian market,” Mr McKellar said.

Electric vehicles, along with hybrid and other fuel-efficient cars, will form part of the future mix but “whether it will form the dominant technology, and over what timeframe, remains to be seen.”

Mr Thornley, who has returned to Australia, says he is exploring other low-carbon ventures, such as solar power and soil carbon – and the motor industry. ‘‘I obviously believe in the future of electric vehicles.’’

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29 Jun 19

Apple’s tax dodge leaves Ireland uncomfortably in spotlight

They say there is no such thing as bad publicity. Ireland might beg to differ, having been at the centre of a US Senate hearing on Apple’s tax practices at a time when the EU is working hard to crack down on tax evasion.
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On May 21, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee for Investigations dug into Apple’s tax activities in gory detail. Their findings show that Ireland has been at the centre of Apple’s success in tax avoidance.

The subcommittee found that the company used subsidiaries in Ireland to funnel about $US74 billion in income away from the US. The subsidiaries involved were incorporated in Ireland but not tax resident anywhere.

The structure allowed Apple to pay an effective tax rate of 2 per cent or less since 2003, well below Ireland’s corporate tax rate of 12.5 per cent. Perhaps the most damning part for Ireland came in the explanation of the low rate in the subcommittee’s report: “Apple told the subcommittee that, for many years, Ireland has provided Apple affiliates with a special tax rate through negotiations with the Irish government.”

This is serious. It would be awkward, to say the least, to have the government cutting deals with multinationals while also, as the holder of the EU presidency, presiding over a push for greater transparency in corporate tax dealings. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny immediately rebutted Apple’s version of events. Is there another explanation for why Apple pays such a low tax rate?

Seamus Coffey offers one on the Irish Economy blog: Apple benefited from a loophole in the way Ireland defines taxable income. The country’s 12.5 per cent tax rate applies to income after subtracting expenses such as royalty payments for intellectual property licences. In Apple’s case, these payments are huge, significantly reducing taxable income.

The royalties are paid to another Apple subsidiary in a different tax jurisdiction. This is sometimes referred to as a “Dutch sandwich”, because the payments are typically funnelled through the Netherlands on their way to Bermuda, where there is no corporate tax.

Whether Ireland really is a tax haven, the perception could be just as damaging as the reality. The countries calling the shots in the EU (namely, Germany) aren’t favourably disposed to countries that lure away their tax revenue. Just ask Cyprus, which received little sympathy for its banking troubles. Ireland will almost certainly succeed in exiting its bailout program in the next year, but it may need assistance from its eurozone partners in the future.

Ireland should use the Apple drama as an opportunity to consider whether the benefits of an attractive tax regime are worth the costs. Many multinationals have set up in Ireland for access to the European market. The low corporate tax is clearly a draw, but so is the skilled, English-speaking talent pool. Multinationals have helped to keep Ireland’s exports buoyant throughout the crisis, with pharmaceuticals, chemicals and business services performing well over the past few years. As of last year, multinationals employed about 150,000 people in Ireland.

Some analysts question how much Ireland benefits from the multinationals. Most of their profits flow to shareholders outside the country. Without them, Ireland would have struggled to achieve the export-led growth it posted last year. In the longer term, a sustainable growth model must involve Ireland weaning itself from exports and fostering domestic demand.

Perhaps the Apple embarrassment will awaken it to that reality.


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29 Jun 19

Analysts agree: the big four banks are expensive

Analysts are again questioning whether Australian banks are overvalued, after the financial sector led last week’s sharemarket sell-off.
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The big four banks have been trading near their historic valuation highs, with Commonwealth Bank’s price-to-earnings ratio recently lifting to about 15.5 times its annual earnings.

Before last week’s falls, CBA’s share price had risen more than 50 per cent in 12 months. The share price closed at $68.19 on Monday, 38 per cent higher than last May.

CIMB analysts John Buonaccorsi and Ashley Dalziell said local banks were about 20 per cent overvalued on most fundamental ratios.

“Using the Gordon growth model, current market pricing implies the Australian bank sector can achieve a constant 7 per cent terminal growth rate, or alternatively a 27 per cent [return on tangible equity], both of which are unlikely to be achieved,” the analysts said.

Platypus Asset Management’s chief investment officer, Don Williams, said CBA’s highest p/e ratio was in 1999 at about 17 times earnings. “We would argue that 14 or 15 times is at the high end of its valuation range and the low end is around 10,” he said

Last week, UBS analyst Jonathan Mott described CBA as the ”most expensive large bank in the world by nearly every measure”.

Using measures such as pre-provision profit, which looks at a bank’s core earnings, and tangible book value, which calculates the net asset value of a company excluding intangible assets and goodwill, the big four Australian banks were at the top of the world’s most expensive banks list, followed by the Canadian and Scandinavian banks.

Mr Williams said banks remained relatively attractive compared with other investments if investors were focusing only on yield.

”One of the reasons [banks] are trading expensive versus their own histories is because they still deliver a very high, safe, and for most of them, growing yield. As long as interest rates remain low and globally as well, the hunt for yield hasn’t disappeared … it’s just having a correction.”

But analysts said a falling dollar and expectations of an end to quantitative easing in the US led foreign investors to sell their shares in local banks last week.

“The proportion of that fall [in the banks] reflects not so much fear and loathing from a domestic investor perspective, but reflects offshore investors saying they are out of the bank holding they were in and out of Australian dollars,” Patersons Securities strategist Tony Farnham said.

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29 Jun 19

Telcos buck trend as market hit by losses

The market fell for a fifth straight day as concerns about Chinese growth and volatility on the Japanese sharemarket took their toll.
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Stocks fell more than 1 per cent in the morning, but the market clawed back half its losses thanks to a strong performance from telecommunications companies.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index lost 23.6 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 4959.9, while the broader All Ordinaries shed 25.7 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 4938.6.

Materials slumped 1.5 per cent as miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto shed 1 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively after Shanghai copper slipped and became mired near last week’s lows.

A senior FX strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland, Greg Gibbs, said the recent disappointing growth in China could be the ”new norm”, and we should expect to see growth closer to 7 per cent.

”My impression is that clients’ confidence in the Chinese economy has wavered and they are expecting this to be a relatively weak year in China,” Mr Gibbs said.

Retailers finished weaker, with the consumer discretionary sector losing 1.1 per cent.

David Jones lost 0.8 per cent after it reported a 3.4 per cent fall in its third-quarter sales. Myer dipped 1.2 per cent while electronic goods and entertainment retailer JB Hi-Fi slipped 0.1 per cent.

Financials dragged on the market, slipping 0.2 per cent, as investors sold banks after a recent stellar performance across the sector on the back of strong earnings reports and high dividend yields.

Commonwealth Bank fell 0.8 per cent, while Westpac dipped 0.3 per cent. ANZ bucked the trend, rising 0.6 per cent after saying it would outsource 70 call-centre positions to New Zealand to improve profit.

Biotechnology firm CSL lost 0.9 per cent, while Woolworths dropped 1.1 per cent to trade at three-month lows, and Wesfarmers slipped 0.3 per cent to six-week lows.

Telcos bucked the trend, rising 0.7 per cent.

The market has now closed lower for the fifth-straight session, with the S&P/ASX 200 plumbing a five-week low.

In Asian markets broadly, Japanese volatility dominated proceedings again with the Nikkei dropping a further 3.2 per cent.

Australia’s dollar, meanwhile, provided a reprieve for traders, steadying around US96¢.

With Agencies

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29 Jun 19

Retail still in the doldrums despite glimmers of hope

Just as well Paul Zahra is a retailer instead of a banker – otherwise the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission might be wondering if he was attempting a little price signalling while announcing disappointing sales figures.
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David Jones’ Zahra isn’t the first shopkeeper to let the market know what he thinks about that nasty habit of discounting. Even while announcing a ”Super Saturday” sale, Myer’s Bernie Brookes seemed to be warning Target not to pull the trigger on a discount war. Brookes also came out as a fan of a weaker dollar, claiming there would be more pluses than minuses for Myer.

That argument seems to come down to making international online shopping a little less attractive, but a weaker Australian dollar equally makes prices on imported stuff at Myer – the vast majority of it – a little less attractive, too. Or maybe a softer currency could become an excuse for prices at the troubled discretionary department stores stabilising and inching higher.

That’s what Zahra is rather desperately hoping, even while saying he expects everyone else to be slicing prices on excess winter clothing.

So we have David Jones signalling Myer, which is signalling Target, which is busy signalling distress as the new CEO works out what the chain should be after his two predecessors let it wander in the face of the resurgence by Australia’s biggest department stores: Kmart and Big W.

And that’s why, for all the publicity they garner, David Jones and Myer aren’t nearly as important as their coverage might indicate. Far from representing the mindset of the Australian consumer and the overall health of Australian retailing, the two mid-tier department stores represent themselves as they struggle to update their 19th-century business models.

They are the middle-order players in the department store space, which itself is the smallest of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ six retail categories. Myer’s 0.4 per cent lift in April-quarter like-for-like sales last week was greeted as good news, holding out the possibility of recording its first full financial year of sales gains since 2007. Yes, 0.4 per cent – a shop assistant’s sneeze. And never mind Monday’s announcement that DJs’ like-for-like sales went backwards by 3.4 per cent.

Meanwhile, both David Jones and Myer try to make the most of their online sales picking up – doubling, says DJs, up 200 per cent, says Myer – but those percentages are from a very low base and they remain unprofitable.

I glimpsed a ”unique browsers” graph for the 2012 calendar year that showed David Jones pretty much flat throughout, Myer picking up a little and The Iconic soaring far above them. The Iconic is an Australian e-tailer – not one of those nasty foreigners avoiding GST – and works on convenience, not price.

But The Iconic doesn’t make a profit either while it’s busy buying customers. With private equity backers and founded by a couple of Boston Consulting alumni, the business plan could well be to build the brand and then offload it to either one of the two obvious local candidates struggling in cyberspace or one of the foreign retailers that relish our market – companies who think Australian consumers are just fine and far from being on strike.

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29 Jun 19

BoJ boss puts faith in Japan’s ‘resilience’

The governor of Japan’s central bank has shrugged off concerns that the recent spike in bond prices could damage the country’s fledgling recovery.
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Haruhiko Kuroda, the Bank of Japan head, said analysis by the central bank last month showed that the country could withstand an increase in market interest rates of as much as 3 per cent, as long as there were accompanying improvements in the economy.

Japan’s sharemarket crashed 7 per cent last Thursday following weak economic data in China, speculation that the US was close to winding up its money-printing program and on fears that falling Japanese government bond prices would undermine the government’s economic strategy and punch a hole in bank balance sheets.

Sharemarkets across the world also took fright, with the Australian market down 2 per cent on the day.

But Mr Kuroda said that Bank of Japan estimates in April showed that a 1 to 3 percentage point rise in interest rates would not cause problems for Japan’s financial system, as long as it was accompanied by economic improvements, since a recovery would lead to increased lending and help to improve banks’ earnings.

“Japan’s financial system as a whole seems to possess sufficient resilience against such shocks as a rise in interest rates and deterioration in economic conditions,” Mr Kuroda said.

Mr Kuroda and Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, have launched a vast stimulus program, promising in April to inject $US1.4 trillion into the economy in less than two years through quantitative easing, to jolt the Japanese economy out of a 15-year deflationary malaise and lift inflation to 2 per cent.

The policy triggered a huge sharemarket rally. But a surge in bond yields, which means bond prices have fallen, has threatened to make government borrowing expensive.

Domestic banks could be forced to take losses on their large holdings of Japanese government debt.

Mr Kuroda said that the Bank of Japan was watching for any signs of overheating in asset prices and would take “appropriate action” if financial imbalances emerge, suggesting it might unwind its ultra-loose policy.

The Nikkei slid another 2.5 per cent on Monday but remains up 36 per cent for the year.

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