Misogynists, nutjobs and falsehoods: PM hits back

29/04/2019 // by admin


JULIA Gillard lashed out at ”misogynists and the nutjobs on the internet” and ”false and defamatory” reports in the Murdoch press as she delivered a 50-minute blow-by-blow rebuttal of allegations that she behaved improperly during her time as an industrial lawyer.

In a dramatic change of tactics, the Prime Minister abandoned her stonewalling on the issue after The Australian newspaper wrongly claimed she had set up a trust fund for her then boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, who was an official with the Australian Workers Union.

When she saw ”false and defamatory material attacking my character” recycled, she had decided to deal with the issues, she told a news conference yesterday.

In the 1990s, Ms Gillard, working at Slater & Gordon, gave legal advice on setting up an entity for Mr Wilson and his colleague, Ralph Blewitt. The fund was then used to siphon off money from companies, which believed they were paying for training. Ms Gillard has always denied any wrongdoing. There were also allegations that some union funds had been used on renovating her house.

Last week, a former partner in the firm, Nick Styant-Browne, said the firm had taken a very serious view of the situation and had accepted her resignation. Slater & Gordon and another former partner, Peter Gordon, have both said the firm’s 1995 inquiry into the matter had found nothing that contradicted Ms Gillard’s account.

The Prime Minister, who answered questions until journalists had no more to ask, said:

■She had ”determined to resign” from Slater & Gordon ”in circumstances where there had been growing tension and friction amongst the partnership” over several matters, including the AWU affair.

■She had advised on setting up the entity, the Workplace Reform Association, but did not sign the document for it and had no involvement in its operation.

■She had understood the entity’s purpose was to fund the re-election of a team of union officials. She preferred now not to call it a ”slush fund” – as she had in her interview during the 1995 Slater & Gordon inquiry – because that had an overtone.

■It was routine not to set up a file on the office system when free advice was given, but with hindsight it would have been better if she had.

■She had personally paid for all renovations to her Abbotsford house.

■She had ended her relationship with Mr Wilson when she

found she had been deceived, and had not been in contact with him since 1995.

Ms Gillard said the false claim about her was first made by News Ltd during the 2007 election campaign under the heading ”Con Man Broke My Heart”, and was repeated years later by Australian columnist Glenn Milne, whose ”employment was terminated”. The Australian yesterday apologised for the latest false report.

Ms Gillard said she had no plans to sue The Australian or former cartoonist Larry Pickering, who has been running a virulent internet campaign against her. Mr Pickering was operating a ”vile and sexist” website, but he was ”bankrupt or something, so you would end up with a never-ending trail – for what purpose?” she said. He could lose a dozen defamation actions and would still be ”propagandising sexist and vicious stuff about me until the end of time”.

Ms Gillard said this was not reasoned or factual but ”to do with this Americanisation of our politics, this eccentric, lunar-right, Tea Party-style interventions that we are seeing in our politics”.

Asked what her feelings towards Mr Wilson were now, Ms Gillard drew the line.

”I ended our relationship and I know that there’s some material in today’s Australian which would lead people to believe that our national newspapers are for Mills & Boon style recounts of words spoken between people who were formerly in a close relationship,” she said. ”It’s not my intention to canvass those matters.”

Rinehart’s cat plays with mouse

29/04/2019 // by admin

GINA Rinehart’s cat-and-mouse game with the board of Fairfax Media continued last night as she hired Morgan Stanley to try and find a buyer for almost 5 per cent of her shareholding at a tiny discount to the closing price.

The discount was so small that most plausible explanation is she is sending the signal that if she doesn’t get what she wants – two board seats – then she is prepared to torch her entire investment, an ugly prospect from the point of view of the impact on the share price.

Rinehart is the company’s biggest shareholder and after reducing her stake at a discount to her entry price last month to 14.9 per cent to satisfy director and officer liability insurance issues, and increase pressure on the board, she has shown she is willing to lose money to make a point.

The latest move, to sell down her stake to 10 per cent at 50¢ a share – 1¢ below the closing price – will put pressure on the shares when they open today. The parcel of shares were pulled because they could not find a buyer at such a small discount.

Fairfax shares closed down 9.7 per cent yesterday after Fairfax chief Greg Hywood issued a gloomy outlook for 2013 and revealed that revenues in the early part of the current financial year were 10 per cent behind last year’s.

The fall in the shares was not helped by the fact that it wrote down its mastheads and goodwill by $2.8 billion, which many interpreted as a sign of the board’s pessimistic outlook for cash flows.

Hywood talked about the company being in a perfect storm of one of the worst cyclical downturns, coupled with massive structural changes.

While he is right that the advertising market is ugly, a lot of the problem boils down to structural issues.

Fairfax posted an earnings before interest and tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of $506 million ($607 million in 2011), which looks pretty good if it was not for the fact that annualised cost savings of $56 million from redundancies will cost the company $200 million. These sort of costs will continue for the next two years at a time when the company is watching revenue go backwards and the monetisation of its digital brands is yet to translate into meaningful dollars.

The feeling is the group’s 2013 EBITDA will be closer to $400 million given the structural shift away from newspapers to digital. They will be lower again the following year. If this is right then it is hard to imagine hard-copy newspapers surviving within three or four years.

However, if the advertising market picks up, it will enable the company to milk the print business with its legacy costs a little longer. The great white hope is that the digital business continues to gain traction with it, on a stand-alone basis, being able to produce EBITDA of $100 million a year. On a multiple of 10 this would value it at $1 billion.

Fairfax is targeting cost savings of $235 million, partly by reducing its workforce by 20 per cent over the next three years, as it moves to a digital-first platform. It is early days and the board and senior management need time to get there.

There has been strong speculation that a few private equity groups are looking at the company with a view to breaking it up. Fairfax’s enterprise value, which is the market cap plus debt is a tad over $2 billion, which looks good against an EBITDA of $506 million. The company can also decide if it continues in its current form or breaks itself up. But as the share price drifts closer to 50¢, the clock is ticking.

The brutal reality is traditional media is going through massive structural changes. The fall in revenue and earnings is largely structural. It’s why there are $2.8 billion of asset write-downs and impairment charges. It is also why News Corp made more than $2 billion of write-downs two weeks ago, most of which was from its Australian newspaper mastheads.

The pattern is this: digital revenue is up, audiences continue to fragment and advertisers are putting more of their dollars into the digital space.

Fairfax has a strong brand and its audiences have grown 30 per cent since 2007. However, it, along with the rest of the global media world, has to find the magic bullet on how to monetise these digital platforms.

Seek, Realestate南京夜网 and Carsales all have market caps well above Fairfax and their earnings and stock prices keep going up – structural tailwinds.

Media information company SMI, which does not cover all advertising spending, showed that ad revenue booked into newspapers (metro, national, regional and suburban) was down a massive 29.5 per cent.

Newspapers are not alone, they are merely ahead of the curve in terms of bearing the structural pain as audiences increasingly move online.

In the United States, which is a good indicator of things to come in Australia, figures show that internet protocol TV (IPTV) is rising at the expense of television.

Recent figures from the US indicate that people are increasingly turning from TV to IPTV.

Comcast showed a drop of nearly 400,000 TV subscribers in the past year, Time Warner Cable lost 169,000 residential video subscribers and DirecTV reported a loss of 52,000 subscribers in the second quarter.

US cable TV is actually free-to-air (FTA) as there is no FTA without a cable connection, so to see cable connections being dropped in these numbers is more like people turning off FTA than turning off cable. Internet customers are on the rise. Time Warner Cable increased its broadband subscribers by 59,000.

Old favourites appear once more in ASX hall of shame

29/04/2019 // by admin

ASX commanders fired their annual warning shots across the bows of the sharemarket’s corporate cling-ons yesterday, telling 39 companies to either pay their listing fees or be tossed off the stock exchange.

The groups have seven days to lodge a bank cheque with the exchange or be delisted. Last year 75 per cent of those served with the notice paid up, but that still meant 13 companies were delisted.

All of the companies nominated yesterday were already suspended, but Insider would like to pay special tribute to three companies – Asian Pacific, Biron Apparel and Natural Fuel – which have now made it onto the list three years in a row, and so far lived to … well, not much really.

Asian Pacific was a website design company until its shares were suspended in early 2008. Not long before that, then chairman Barry Maranta had looked at helping to bail out former cricketer Craig McDermott’s troubled businesses.

Asian Pacific was finally handed over to administrators, and promises of a revival have continued, the last at the end of March this year when the Takeovers Panel’s favourite applicant, Darren Olney-Fraser, repeated the company’s commitment to relist as soon as practicable and become National Health Ltd.

Olney-Fraser tried to raise $500,000 late in 2011 from a convertible note issue, but it was abandoned after failing to attract sufficient support.

Biron Apparel has been telling investors since last December that it plans to buy into Perth-based Terraflow, which it said had $5 million of business supplying water management services to the mining industry – including BHP’s Pilbara operations. Updates reveal that Biron has raised $250,000 from issuing shares, and its last statement in June said it was closing in on finalising a notice of meeting and independent experts’ report for the deal.

Natural Fuel has not been heard of since July last year when director Simon Lill announced that it was on the verge of buying into oil production in California.

Insider would also like to give a big welcome back to Viculus, which rejoined the list of non-fee paying companies after a break last year. Viculus has managed to make the list of dubious distinction four out of the past five years. Once a retirement village manager, it retired from that business when it went into administration in 2009.

Last year it managed to turn an accounting-rules inspired $16 million profit by having its debts forgiven as the shell was cleaned up for a proposed relisting as an investment company. That is not happening, either.

Finally, one of Insider’s favourite listed companies, Zheng He Global Capital, is also facing delisting for not paying fees. As noted earlier this month, Zheng He has had only two directors, neither of them Australian residents, since July – which would seem to put it in breach of a whole lot more than not paying listing fees. Maybe those two are too busy trying to recover the $20 million that shareholders thought was the company’s assets, but turned out to be claimed, and banked, by the Malaysian-based family that is Zheng He’s largest shareholder.

That is a shame, because if it is delisted, shareholders may never hear about how the hunt for the money is going.

Directors take wing

QANTAS chairman Leigh Clifford and fellow non-executive directors must have breathed a sigh of relief when chief executive Alan Joyce yesterday stood by his commitment to getting the international business back on a profitable footing within three years.

That is not just because Clifford will have another bang-up annual meeting this year trying to convince shareholders that they should not mind the width of losses, but look at the quality of the business. Insider wonders whether Clifford and the other non-executive board members would also have had in mind that so long as Qantas retains an international operation, one of the best post-employment perks going around will still be available to them – annual free air travel.

Clifford gets four overseas jaunts and 12 domestic trips each year, which were valued at $25,000 in last year’s annual report. Lesser directors get only half that allowance each year.

Insider figures that if a value has been put on the perks, then there must be a limit to where you fly, rather than an open-ended Phileas Fogg-style trip. Still, that works out to about $1500 a ticket – which tends to suggest, unsurprisingly, that the lanky Clifford ain’t flying cattle class.

When you leave the board, though, it is a little like a politician’s golden ticket – ex-directors of Qantas retain half that travel allowance annually, for a period equal to the number of years served.

In Clifford’s case, for example, his five-year anniversary has just rolled around which means that even if he stood down at this year’s annual meeting, he has 40 free tickets on Qantas’ fleet to use – or about $62,500 of plane sailing.

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Remembering a true Bombers favourite

29/04/2019 // by admin

MERV Neagle played 147 games for Essendon over nine seasons, a fair innings yet not enough to put him among the all-time greats of the club in terms of service or status.

Yet for many Essendon fans of a middle-age, Neagle, 54, tragically killed yesterday in a truck accident near Griffith, in New South Wales, will always occupy a special place in their hearts and memories, a pivotal part of long-time coach Kevin Sheedy’s first batch of ”Baby Bombers”, and in the breaking of a 19-year premiership drought.

The most definitive memory of an at-times underrated player surely remains the final goal of the famous 1984 flag win, when Essendon turned around a 23-point three-quarter-time deficit against bitter rival Hawthorn after having been belted by a record margin by the Hawks the previous year.

A then-record nine-goal final term delivered the long-suffering Bomber hordes their promised land. Deep into time-on, and with Essendon leading by 18 points came the symbolic exclamation mark, Neagle taking the ball on the outer wing, taking off on a run and delivering the coup de grace with a 55-metre bomb.

Neagle, from Dimboola, like teammate Tim Watson, was a product of the club’s successful country recruiting zone. A saddened Watson said last night that he’d known Neagle his entire life and would always remember him as a ”likeable, loveable larrikin”. Watson recalled when they were both paperboys in Dimboola, waiting to begin their rounds, eagerly scanning the VFL teams, Watson a Richmond supporter, Neagle a Bomber.

As a footballer, even at junior level, Watson recalled a ”fiery, volatile” player. Yet Watson also paid tribute to Neagle’s natural talent. ”Because Essendon had such a good side, it was often overlooked how good he was,” he said. ”He was a real power athlete, he was quick, and for his size pretty strong overhead.”

The captain of that 1984 premiership team, Terry Daniher, was similarly stunned on hearing the news. ”He was a terrific, hard-running player on the wing for us, who gave us his all and had the tenacity to run all day without a spell,” he said. ”He was a great mate who loved a beer and loved to be around his teammates. He was just a good bloke.”

Neagle debuted in 1977, but blossomed under the coaching of Barry Davis, his distinctive gait matched with some silky delivery into the forward line. By 1980, Neagle had hit peak form on a wing. Playing every game, he racked up an average of 25 disposals. Watson was a popular favourite to win the Brownlow Medal that year, but it was Neagle who finished runner-up to Footscray’s Kelvin Templeton.

When Sheedy arrived as coach in 1981, Neagle quickly became a favourite for his mix of skill and an uncompromising, hard-nosed attack on the ball in a side that was young, and in the coach’s view, in need of some toughening up. The wingman was never slow to fly the flag during a tough era, memorably in 1983 at Princes Park when Robert DiPierdomenico ironed out Essendon’s Alan Stoneham. Neagle, almost inevitably, was the first Bomber to remonstrate.

”I was lucky enough to coach Merv and he was not only a brilliant footballer but was also a real character and a highly respected teammate and friend to many people,” Sheedy said last night. ”Merv has left us all too soon but has left those who knew him with many great memories.”

Neagle was unfortunate to miss out on the second leg of the back-to-back Essendon premierships in 1985. He was part of the second semi-final win over Hawthorn but was a late withdrawal on grand final day through injury. He then became part of the Sydney Swans’ recruiting push, and left the Bombers on big money, playing another 56 games, despite often being hampered by injury. He retired at 32.

Neagle’s son, Jay, played 28 games for Essendon between 2007 and the end of last year, and is now playing in Queensland. Another son, Jydon, plays in the TAC under-18 competition with the Murray Bushrangers, and is a potential father-son recruit in this year’s national draft.

Neagle had this year been coaching Hume Football League club Walla, about 40 kilometres north of Wagga Wagga, after moving his family back to where his wife, Donna, had grown up. Winless and bottom of the ladder last season, Walla had risen to the cusp of the finals under his stewardship. ”It’s a terrific little club, mate, and the social side is really strong,” Neagle told The Sunday Age in a recent interview. ”We play the game, and I yell at them if we get beat, then we all walk over to the pub, forget about it and have a beer.”

As sad as yesterday’s news was, he could be certain plenty of old Bombers fans will be – while sharing a beer – determined not to forget a favourite.