Monthly Archives: January 2019

Government urged to scrap NT intervention

Church leaders and Indigenous community representatives are urging the federal government to scrap a plan to extend the intervention policies targeted at Indigenous communities.

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Labor’s Stronger Futures legislation is before the Senate and likely to pass with bipartisan support.

The laws will continue the intervention policies for another 10 years and include jail terms for alcohol possession, as well as a controversial program that cuts parents’ welfare payments if their children do not attend school.

The measures are widely opposed by Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, who say they were not properly consulted on the government’s plans and the laws are racist.

Catholic bishop Pat Power urged senators on Monday to dump the bill. He said the measures would undermine the good work done by former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who formally apologised to the Stolen Generations in 2008.

“The Indigenous people themselves are the ones that should be calling the shots in this,” Bishop Power told reporters in Canberra.

“Legislation won’t be successful if it’s just imposed in that way. “It needs to be owned by the people that are most affected by it.”

Ivan Roberts from the Uniting Church said the government should work to empower Indigenous communities rather than treating them as unequals.

“Aboriginal people have been here for 40,000 years,” he said.

“And they will continue to be here if we empower them to take charge of their own communities.

“They will be here not because of the intervention but in spite of the intervention.” Barbara Shaw, who represents Indigenous communities in central Australia, said communities weren’t properly consulted by the government on its plans.

“No one actually wants this,” she said.

“It’s a waste of time and it’s a waste of money.

“Everyone needs to know in Australia where the taxpayers’ money is going and it’s not helping our people.”

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne said she would present a petition to parliament showing 42,000 signatories opposed to the legislation.

The Senate is expected to vote on the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2011 and the Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 later in June.

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Fairfax cuts ‘herald an age of change’

The former editor-in-chief of The Age newspaper, Andrew Jaspan, voiced a commonly held view of embattled media company Fairfax’s job-slashing, paper-shrinking and paywall-raising plan to save its digital life.

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“It’s too late,” the now editor of online journal The Conversation said on Monday.

Fairfax announced on Monday that it will cut 1,900 jobs, reduce its flagship broadsheet newspapers in size to tabloid, and close its two major printing presses in Sydney and Melbourne in a bid to cut hundreds of millions from its ballooning costs.

The 170-year-old publisher will also introduce paid subscription paywalls to access online content from 2013, and promote a digital first strategy aimed at capturing the online market where three-quarters of its readers are now found.

Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood launched the restructure, to the shock of his staff, on Monday under the banner of Fairfax of the Future.

“We are taking decisive actions to fundamentally change the way we do business,” Mr Hywood said.

Fairfax’s share price has traded at historic lows of around 60 cents in recent weeks and the company had warned of declining revenues and announced the shedding of nearly 60 jobs at its regional papers before Monday’s surprise announcement.

Mr Jaspan said the company had suffered from a failure of management, with the shift in focus to online a welcome change but one that had been resisted for too long to avoid a damaging fall in the share price, which has left the company vulnerable to a takeover by mining magnate Gina Rinehart.

Mr Jaspan said Fairfax had progressively lost advertising revenue as its lucrative classified business was lost to online competitors.

While the company was cutting its costs, he questioned why it was delaying measures such as reducing the size of its broadsheets until March 2013.

“They just move too slowly,” he said.

“It’s too late but at least they now have a plan.”

Media academic and journalist Margaret Simons said no print company had been immune to the rise of online media.

“The key mistakes were made a long time ago when Fairfax failed to anticipate the death of the classified advertising business,” she said.

Ms Simons said the challenge for news organisations now was to find a sustainable model – but whatever model that was, they would be smaller, less profitable organisations.

Paywall readership, she says, is in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands historically enjoyed by print.

The New York Times and The Times of London are two examples of papers that have gone behind paywalls, with questionable success.

“You definitely see a huge reduction in your reader numbers but the hope is that you meet (some level of) sustainability,” she said.

With its share price now around 65 cents and Ms Rinehart holding nearly one-fifth of the stock, Fairfax is vulnerable to a takeover from either Ms Rinehart or a private equity firm.

If that were to happen, Ms Simons said, Fairfax may not be able to proceed with its outlined plans.

Whatever the outcome, she said, the internet brought about change in the nature of news and information “comparable to the invention of the printing press”.

“Anybody who says `we have the answer, this is the new, sustainable model’ is kidding,” she said.

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National unity cabinet seen in Greece

World powers have urged Greece to move quickly as coalition talks inch towards a possible national unity cabinet after an election win by pro-bailout parties that eased fears of a Greek eurozone exit.

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The Harvard-educated conservative leader Antonis Samaras won the election with his New Democracy party and held coalition talks after President Carolos Papoulias urged parties that a deal on Monday was “a categorical imperative”.

“The country cannot remain ungoverned even for an hour,” Papoulias said.

The 61-year-old Samaras, a former foreign minister, said: “A national agreement is an imperative… We need to resolve the question immediately.”

But his most likely coalition ally, Evangelos Venizelos of the socialist Pasok said he wanted a national unity cabinet including other leftist parties.

“The best thing would be to form a government of national responsibility… Discussions on the formation of a government should be completed on Tuesday.”

Samaras said after the meeting that he had struck an agreement with Venizelos on the formation of “a government of national salvation” by Wednesday.

Second-placed radical leftist Syriza, which has called for an unpopular EU-IMF bailout deal that has imposed harsh austerity conditions on many Greeks to be torn up, has already ruled out joining any coalition led by New Democracy.

Samaras’ conservatives won 129 of the 300 parliamentary seats in Sunday’s historic vote, Syriza won 71 seats, Pasok 33, Independent Greeks 20, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn 18, Democratic Left 17 and the Communist Party 12.

With many Greeks increasingly fed up with austerity, more than a quarter of the vote in the election went to Syriza. Its firebrand leader Alexis Tsipras vowed on Monday that he would “keep the government in check”.

Samaras has promised to respect Greece’s international engagements but also said on Monday that there should be amendments to the harsh conditions of the bailout deal “so the Greek people can escape from today’s torturous reality”.

Key EU player Germany has said there could be an extension of a deficit cutting deadline but New Democracy’s campaign promises appear to go further, including a reduction in property and sales taxes and a freeze in pension and salary cuts.

“Elections cannot call into question the commitments Greece made. We cannot compromise on the reform steps we agreed on,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned in the Mexican resort of Los Cabos just ahead of the G20 summit.

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Investors doubt Fairfax rescue

Investors and analysts abandoned Fairfax Media, with some even predicting a short term death for its bleeding metropolitan newspapers.

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Fairfax shares fell back to near record lows, closing 8.5 per cent weaker at 59.5 cents after a 7.4 per cent jump on Monday.

And analysts gave avoid or neutral ratings to the company’s stock despite the announcement of drastic cost cutting measures on Monday, including slashing 1,900 jobs.

As well as the jobs, Fairfax will shut two printing presses and start charging people to view its key websites – including The Age and Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) – to try and ensure its survival in the digital age.

The action has also brought planned job cuts at rival publishers News Ltd to a head, with sources telling AAP similar numbers of redundancies would be announced there on Wednesday.

Morningstar equities analyst Tim Jones values the stock at just 45 cents a share as the value of its mastheads continues to plummet along with circulation.

He also planned to lower his current full year net profit forecasts of $203.8 million.

“The big question I have over Fairfax is monetising its digital content,” he told AAP.

“There aren’t really any examples of international success of companies making significant returns from that. “How the business evolves from here creates a lot of uncertainty and risk I think for investors.” CCZ Equities consultant Roger Colman said News Ltd’s huge chunk of the volatile newspaper market was too big for Fairfax to survive.

“The SMH and Age as a combination must be trading at a loss for the second half,” he told AAP. “They’re in real trouble when you shut down printing plants.”

He predicted that if half of the newspapers’ readership converted to $100 a year paywalls, current revenue of about $500 million could plunge to $40 million to $50 million.

He said the company’s last profit release in February showed the average online reader looked at the website 1.28 seconds a day on average compared to 20 minutes for a newspaper reader. That along with the new paywall would make it difficult to keep audiences and generate large online advertising revenue, he said.

Citigroup analyst Justin Diddams was cool on Fairfax shares, questioning whether earnings might fall more, as was Goldman Sachs’ Christian Guerra who questioned even whether the measures went far enough.

The other issues weighing on the company include turmoil about the mass job cuts, its effect on the quality of journalism and the intentions of the world’s richest woman Gina Rinehart buying into the company.

Ms Rinehart’s stake stands at 18.7 per cent and she has asked for three board seats and wants to be able to influence editorial content, which is being fiercely resisted.

“I think the board is looking a little bit vulnerable,” City Index chief market analyst Peter Esho said, while saying a takeover could not be ruled out. Ms Rinehart did not respond to requests for comment.

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Spain bailout fears mount

Fears of a full-scale bailout for Spain have mounted as its borrowing costs spiked to danger levels on concern over the nation’s stricken banks and fast-rising debt.

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After Greek elections averted the immediate threat of Athens exiting the eurozone, concern turned to Spain where the banks have been thrown a eurozone lifeline of up to 100 billion euros ($A125 billion).

As Greece’s pro-bailout parties negotiated the terms of a coalition government, Spain’s troubles mounted.

Tapping the markets for the first time since the Greek vote on Sunday, Spain raised 3.04 billion euros, beating its 2.0-3.0 billion euro target in an auction of 12- and 18-month notes.

But it had to pay exorbitant rates to lure investors – 5.074 per cent for 12-month debt and 5.107 per cent for 18-month debt.

The yield on Spanish benchmark 10-year government bonds shattered the 7.0 per cent barrier on Monday for the first time since the creation of the euro in 1999, pushing above 7.2 per cent.

On Tuesday, the yield on 10-year bonds was at 7.003 per cent.

“It now appears inevitable that Spain will require a sovereign bailout, possibly very soon,” said Capital Economics chief European economist Jonathan Loynes.

Rising bond yields reflected a belief that the banking bailout, agreed with eurozone partners on June 9, would not address broader fiscal problems, he said.

Spain’s plan to cut the public deficit from 8.9 per cent of economic output last year to 5.3 per cent this year and 3.0 per cent in 2013 relied on a “very unlikely” recovery from recession next year, Loynes said.

Markets held out little hope for quick help from Europe.

The leaders of Italy, France, Germany and Spain will hold a summit on the eurozone crisis on June 22 in Rome, ahead of a full European Union summit from June 28-29.

Kathleen Brooks, research chief at brokerage Forex南宁桑拿会所,, said Spain could avoid a rescue only if its debts were underwritten by stronger eurozone partners and if the European Central Bank bought its debt.

“But at the rate its yields are rising, Spain doesn’t have enough time to wait for Europe’s politicians to decide whether or not to underwrite the debts of the weakest states, it needs action now.”

Spain, the eurozone’s fourth-biggest economy, faces its next debt market test on Thursday, when it will try to raise up to two billion euros in a mix of two-, three- and five-year bonds.

In a sign that the crisis is reaching into the heart of the eurozone, investor confidence in Germany took its steepest fall in 14 years in June, according to a survey.

The ZEW think tank’s economic expectations index, having fallen by more than 12 points last month, plunged a further 27.7 points this month to minus 16.9 points, the lowest level since January.

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Tense talks start on Iran nuclear program

After a near breakdown in talks, European Union representatives say they are willing to persist with talks on Iran’s nuclear program for two more days.

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The Moscow talks between Iran and six key nations saw little movement on their first day, with both sides unwilling to budge. The clash almost prematurely ended the first of two scheduled days of negotiations, according to participants.

But later Monday, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the talks might now last to Wednesday, according to Russian news agencies.

“The negotiations are hard, but they are continuing,” said the spokesman.

If nothing else, the talks now seemed set to at least continue through Tuesday, as originally planned. Iranian sources said Ashton had requested a break until midday on Tuesday.

One sticking point was the European Union’s refusal to countenance an end to sanctions on Iranian oil, as demanded by Iran.

The import ban on Iranian oil would come into effect on July 1 as planned, said a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who leads the six-power group made up of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

Iran also stuck to its positions, with its chief negotiator Saeid Jalili demanding that the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany formally recognise its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

But Ashton’s spokesman Michael Mann made clear that the world powers want Iran to stop enriching uranium to a level of 20 per cent.

While Iran says it needs this materials to fuel a scientific reactor in Tehran, the group of six fears that this enriched material might one day be processed further into nuclear weapons.

The powers also want Iran to let the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigate alleged nuclear weapons and research projects, but Tehran’s representatives said this would be possible only if sanctions were lifted.

The EU did not expect the sanctions issue to be solved in Moscow, according to Mann.

Participants said that the atmosphere on Monday was “not positive”.

Iran started the Moscow round by criticising Ashton and her group for making little effort to engage with Tehran and prepare for the current talks.

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News Ltd to cut jobs in restructure

News Ltd chief executive Kim Williams says jobs will be cut as part of a major restructure at Australia’s biggest newspaper publisher.

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In an address to News Ltd staff on Wednesday, Mr Williams outlined major changes to the company’s editorial and sales operations.

He said while there would be retrenchments, he was unable to say how many jobs would go. “We will have to make a variety of positions redundant,” he said.

“There will be new skills hires also.”

Under the changes, News Ltd will streamline its editorial and sales operations at its newspapers, which include The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and The Australian.

Coinciding with the restructure announcement, Mr Williams confirmed News Ltd would buy Australian Independent Business Media, which publishes the Business Spectator website and Eureka Report.

Mr Williams did not say how much News paid for the business, but reports suggested it was more than $20 million. Earlier, News Ltd announced it had made a $1.97 billion bid for James Packer’s Consolidated Media.

The deal, if approved by regulators, will allow Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd to dominate Australia’s pay TV industry.

News Ltd would take full control of Fox Sports and lift its stake in pay TV operator Foxtel from 25 to 50 per cent, making it a joint owner with Telstra.

Mr Williams said significant changes were needed to be made to the way News Ltd worked, managed and delivered its products.

“This is the only way to drive the company forward and respond sensibly and properly to the rapid change evident in the landscape of media operation and use,” he said.

“We must change to create a viable and sustainable future. “Frankly, the changes we are living through are economically challenging requiring a resilient approach and original solutions.”

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Fairfax paywall plan commendable: Turnbull

Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull says Fairfax Media’s plan to erect a paywall for its news websites will be very challenging for the embattled company.

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Fairfax Media announced on Monday it would cut 1900 jobs, close two printing plants and introduce online subscriptions.

Mr Turnbull says there will always be a lot of journalism but the challenge for media companies in an online world is to find a business model to pay for it.

He says the move by Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood to introduce paywalls for its websites from early 2013 is “very commendable”.

“You can make the case that Fairfax should have done more sooner but you can’t live your life backwards, whether as a company or as a person, and so they’ve got to get on with it,” Mr Turnbull told Sky News on Monday.

“But it is a very, very challenging transition and you know the question is as he tries to do this corporate surgery, will the patient survive?”

Mr Turnbull said Fairfax’s metropolitan mastheads – The Age in Melbourne and The Sydney Morning Herald – along with weekday editions of News Limited’s The Australian were likely to become published only online.

He said hopefully for democracy, media companies could make the transition from paper to digital where they offer “sufficiently authoritative digital, online newspapers”.

“We must not short-sell the importance of news gathering, independent news gathering, news gathering with credibility and integrity that people believe is objective,” he said.

Mr Turnbull said the federal government should not subsidise a print newspaper, a view he shares with Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

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No talent needed for pop music: study

No talent necessary: The perfect pop tune can be engineered by a computer program and refined with the input of listeners, according to a British study published in the United States on Monday.

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The experiment, known as DarwinTunes, aimed to test the importance of consumer choice in shaping the music that becomes a hit on modern airwaves.

The program used randomly generated synthesiser beats, tunes and noise ranging from chime sounds to buzzing and beeping.

Online users voted on each the computer’s eight-second-long creations, grading them from “I can’t stand it!” to “I love it!” said the study.

The “loved” tracks were mingled in with other preferred tracks. The more of these “evolutions” a particular track went through, the better people seemed to like it, said the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We wondered whether consumer choice is the real force behind the relentless march of pop,” said Armand Leroi, co-author of the research and professor of evolutionary developmental biology at Imperial College London.

“Every time someone downloads one track rather than another they are exercising a choice, and a million choices is a million creative acts,” Leroi added.

“After all, that’s how natural selection created all of life on earth, and if blind variation and selection can do that, then we reckoned it should be able to make a pop tune. So we set up an experiment to explain it.”

Around 7000 web listeners took part in the experiment for the published study.

The noise samples that got the worst ratings soon went extinct, while those that were more pleasing to the ear lived on.

“After approximately 2500 generations under natural selection, the authors found that the loops quickly evolved from noise into appealing music,” said the study.

“We knew our evolutionary music engine could make pretty good music in the hands of one user, but what we really wanted to know was if it could do so in a more Darwinian setting, with hundreds of listeners providing their feedback,” said co-author Bob MacCallum, a mosquito genomics bioinformatician in the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London.

“Thanks to our students’ and the general public’s valuable input, we can confidently say it does.”

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Biggest quake in a century rocks Victoria

It was the biggest earthquake to hit Victoria in more than a century and millions felt it when it struck just before 9pm (AEST) for about 30 to 40 seconds on Tuesday.

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Reports started coming in from residents in suburban Melbourne and then spread to the northeast and southeast of the state.

Cat video with a difference as quake strikes:

Windows were rattled, floors rocked and roofs shook as the quake struck at about 8.55pm.

The Geoscience Australia website was in meltdown as people flocked online to find out what occurred and Twitter went wild.

When Geoscience was able to restore its site it had the news that the quake that rocked Victoria was the biggest in the state for 109 years.

Geoscience reported the earthquake had a magnitude of 5.3, down from their earlier estimate of 5.5.

It was almost 10km deep with an epicentre between Trafalgar and Moe in the southeast.

Anthony Atkin, the duty manager of the Criterion Hotel at Trafalgar, just west of Moe, said he feared for his life when the quake hit.

“I thought the roof was going to fall down,” Mr Atkin said.

“Everyone in the hotel ran outside, it was like a train was coming through the hotel.

“I’ve been here for 44 years and never felt anything like it.”

He said the quake lasted for around 20 to 30 seconds “but it felt like a lifetime”.

He said alarms had been set off in many shops in the town.

Moe police constable Chris Hand was enjoying a cup of coffee when he felt the ground moving.

“I had the cup sitting on the table and it spilled over,” Const Hand told AAP.

“We’ve had a lot of calls but no one is reporting any damage or injuries at this stage.

“It was a decent-size rumble, the biggest I’ve ever felt.

“The ground moved for 15 to 20 seconds.”

State Emergency Service spokesman Lachlan Quick said there had been about 30 calls for help, mainly in Gippsland, but no reports of injury.

“It’s been mostly low level building damage – a chimney collapse in Moe, a garage has collapsed, some cracked walls but nothing major,” he said.

In the state’s northeast Bright resident Mandy Ditcham said she felt her house shake just before 9pm and initially thought it was high winds.

“I was sitting by the computer and I felt the ground shaking,” Ms Ditcham said.

“I thought it must have been really windy outside. It was making the house shake… it lasted for about 10 seconds.”

Phone lines and the internet ran hot as the tremor was felt all over the alpine area from Wangaratta to Harrietville.

In Melbourne, millions felt the impact.

Ron Smith from Kew said his whole house shook.

“We heard a roar and thought it was the wind,” he told AAP.

“The floor and the walls shook, the whole house shook.”

Jan Turnbull of East Bentleigh was in bed when the room started moving.

“My lamps were shaking and the windows were rattling, it was quite strong,” she said.

Victorian MP Bruce Billson told a late-night sitting of federal parliament that members of his community were shaken and puzzled following the quake.

“There are plenty of people with shaken nerves, wondering what was going on,” Mr Billson told the chamber.

“To our community, our thoughts are with all those responding to anxious calls and hope there is no injuries or substantial damage.”

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