City’s wake-up call on barriers

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Nanjing Night Net

FOR nearly a decade, scientists have told city and state officials that New York faces certain peril: rising sea levels, more frequent flooding and extreme weather patterns.

The alarm bells grew louder after tropical storm Irene last year, when the city shut down its subway system and water rushed into the Rockaways and Lower Manhattan.

As New Yorkers awoke to submerged neighbourhoods and water-soaked electrical equipment, officials took their first tentative steps towards considering major infrastructure changes that could protect the city’s fragile shores and 8 million residents from repeated disastrous damage.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state should consider a levee system or storm surge barriers and face up to the inadequacy of the existing protections.

”The construction of this city did not anticipate these kinds of situations. We are only a few feet above sea level,” Mr Cuomo said.

”As soon as you breach the sides of Manhattan, you now have a whole infrastructure under the city that fills – the subway system, the foundations for buildings” and the World Trade Centre site.

The Cuomo administration plans talks with city and federal officials about how to proceed. The task could be daunting, given fiscal realities: storm surge barriers, the huge sea gates that some scientists say would be the best protection against floods, could cost up to $US10 billion.

But many experts say, given what happened with the latest storm, that inertia could be more expensive.

After rising roughly 2.5 centimetres per decade in the past century, coastal waters in New York are expected to climb as fast as 15 centimetres per decade, or 60 centimetres by mid-century, according to a city-appointed scientific panel.

”Look, the city is extremely vulnerable to damaging storm surges just for its geography, and climate change is increasing that risk,” said Ben Strauss, director of the sea level rise program at the research group Climate Central in Princeton, New Jersey.

”Three of the top 10 highest floods at the Battery [southern New York] since 1900 happened in the last 2�0�5 years. If that’s not a wake-up call to take this seriously, I don’t know what is.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is known worldwide for his broad environmental vision. But one former official said it had been difficult to move from theoretical planning to concrete actions, and it was hoped that the storm this week would change that.

A state report on rising sea levels, issued on the last day of governor David Paterson’s administration in 2010, suggested that erecting structural barriers to restrain floodwaters could be part of a broader approach, along with relocating buildings and people further from the coasts.

”A fair question to ask is, have we been as focused as we need to be for emergency preparations?” said the former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ”We’ve just been lucky. We need hardening for the risk we’ve always faced. Until things happen, people aren’t willing to pay for it.”

The answers all in good time

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Nanjing Night Net

Archie Panjabi won an Emmy for her portrayal of Kalinda Sharma in The Good Wife.ARCHIE Panjabi has an intriguing theory. What if the ”good wife” behind the title of the excellent US drama series The Good Wife is not Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick, but rather Panjabi’s own cooly dexterous investigator Kalinda Sharma? Four years into the role, it’s a concept Panjabi has begun to seriously mull over.

The early episodes of the fourth season, which Channel Ten has been airing swiftly after the US, has seen the introduction of Kalinda’s husband, Nick, played by British actor Marc Warren.

The interplay between the reunited couple has been as jarring as it is odd. There’s some brusquely explicit sexual interactions and surprisingly violent altercations. Yet even for a leather-clad character who frequently indulges in both, their raw primal nature is almost shocking to watch.

The Good Wife has always crossed genres: those of the case-of-the-week procedural, political thriller, romance and legal drama. Presumed ”good wife” Ms Florrick was humiliated by politician husband Peter (Chris Noth), who was caught cheating on her with prostitutes.

As the show began, Noth’s character was in jail and Florrick returned to the workforce, joining the law firm Lockhart/Gardner. With the exception of Alan Cumming as Eli Gold, the show has quickly become centred on its outstanding female cast, led by Margulies and Panjabi.

The London-born Panjabi says the initial (uncomfortable) direction of this season was written with the intention of giving the audience an intimate insight into a toxic relationship.

”In typical Good Wife fashion, all the loose ends will be tied up. Everything will eventually connect. It’s not obvious at first.”

The aggressive nature of the scenes, she says, was to provide insight into the most intimate relationship the bisexual, sexually promiscuous Kalinda has had.

”They have taken risks with Kalinda from day one,” she says. ”The storyline with Nick, which is so intense, is a big risk, but I think eventually, as things start to unravel, you will get an insight into why Kalinda is the way that she is. A lot of unanswered questions that have been building up in the show will eventually start to get answered.”

When the show began, Panjabi says, the part of Kalinda was deemed a minor role.

”The impression I got was her strength in getting people to talk was to do it by manipulating them sexually. She is a tough woman. Sort of an Eastern Erin Brockovich. But I was nervous because I didn’t want to be a woman who would always undo her button to get something because there would not be much of a life for that character.”

To defuse her own fears, Panjabi submitted a two-page backstory to the show’s writers on how she perceived the character and where she felt her story should go.

”I felt like they took it on board and started to write towards that,” she says. ”That really helped the development of the character.”

Kalinda swiftly became one of the show’s most intriguing elements. She had auditioned for the role while still based in London, having ”overnighted” the producers an audition tape recorded in her kitchen. The next day they called her and offered her the role.

”It all happened really quickly,” she says. ”Normally, you’d be flown to America and be subjected to a few auditions in front of the network and producers. None of that happened to me.”

They clearly made a shrewd choice; Panjabi won an Emmy following the show’s first season.

And there have been fewer more shocking – or satisfying – scenes on network television this decade than when Kalinda took to arch rival Blake’s car with a baseball bat.

”I often will read a script and say to myself, ‘That’s just ridiculous and it will not work,”’ she says. ”When I did that scene, I went completely into character and just trusted the director. Then it went viral online and everybody was talking about it. It just didn’t feel that intense at the time.”

So, back to her theory. How could Kalinda be the ”good wife”?

”After she married and was a wife, it definitely changed the way she is. Was she the good wife? She is the byproduct of living with someone like that for so many years. What has he done to her to make her like this? Or was she always like that? I’m hoping we can look at that relationship and try to understand.”

BHP aims to dump trucks

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Nanjing Night Net

It takes 10 to 11 workers for every truck’ says BHP executive Marcus Randolph.TRUCKS could soon disappear from some mines altogether, with BHP Billiton confirming it is investigating technology that could render the dump-truck irrelevant.

Just as the industry was growing accustomed to the notion of driverless and autonomous trucks working the world’s mines, BHP executive Marcus Randolph said the resources giant was investigating mobile crushing and processing equipment that could be moved close to the ore, rather than the other way around.

”The technology has shifted … We have got to a point where we have sizers and crushers of substantial size that you can move in a day or two,” he said.

”We are getting to the point where you can bring your crushers much closer to the face and it is practical to run mines without the truck, where the loading gear loads straight into your bulk mining system.”

BHP and particularly Rio Tinto have invested heavily in autonomous trucks and trains, which are claimed to have lower error rates, better productivity and reduce the costs of employing and accommodating drivers in remote mine sites such as the Pilbara.

But Mr Randolph said even greater savings and efficiencies could be gained if the trucks were removed altogether.

”When you run a truck, it takes 10 to 11 employees for every truck,” he said.

”It takes 4�0�5 to five to run it, all the crews that do the maintenance on it, all the camp people that do the camp cleaning and cooking and everything else.

”If you go autonomous you get rid of half of those. If you go truckless you get rid of all of them. You do this at a time when you see increasing diesel prices, carbon taxes, a number of reasons why getting rid of trucks or using fewer trucks is desirable.”

Mr Randolph said the technology was already viable in mines with soft ground that did not require blasting but he said it could be adapted to also work in mines that did require blasting.

He said the future was likely to have a place for both autonomous trucks and truckless mines, and BHP was ”focused on both”.

The comments came in a briefing with British investors overnight, where BHP discussed at length its plans for its iron ore and coal businesses.

Most notably, BHP said it could get significantly more export capacity for its iron ore within the Port Hedland inner harbour if smaller rivals failed to use their capacity.

Port Hedland Port Authority refused to confirm that such ”use it or lose it” provisions existed, and smaller miners have previously bristled at such a suggestion.

Earlier this year the West Australian government assured smaller miners such as Atlas Iron, Hancock Prospecting and Brockman Mining their port capacities were secure.

But there is believed to be a class of capacity, known as D class, that allows an exporter to opportunistically take advantage of capacity that is not being used for some reason.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Joyce shrugs off any concern over airline competition

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Nanjing Night Net

ANTAS chief executive Alan Joyce has dismissed concerns about an emboldened competitor following Virgin Australia’s move to take control of Tiger Australia and regional airline Skywest.

Speaking a day after Virgin sought to widen its reach, Mr Joyce said Qantas was ”in the best position in all segments that it operates in” regardless of the competition from its rival.

”We’re going to be very competitive, no matter what happens [to the competitive environment],” he told a tourism forum in Canberra. ”I’d rather have the best business airline in the country; I’d rather have the best low-cost carrier in the country; I’d rather have the best regional carrier in the country.”

Virgin’s advances on Tiger and Skywest will require approval from the competition regulator, which has expressed concerns about the creation of a duopoly in the domestic market.

Merrill Lynch analysts said they did not expect an immediate response from Qantas, but the key risk for the incumbent was a quick boost in the size of Tiger’s fleet. ”If Tiger proceeds with expanding its fleet, we expect Qantas will respond by adding capacity to defend its 65 per cent market share,” they said.

Virgin has proposed lifting Tiger’s fleet from 11 aircraft to 35 within the next five years, which could up the budget airline’s share of the domestic market to 10 per cent. A larger Tiger threatens to lower returns for Qantas and budget offshoot Jetstar, as they will be forced to respond to retain market dominance.

Macquarie Equities analysts said Virgin’s plans to buy a 60 per cent stake in Tiger would give it an ”additional lever to tackle Qantas at both ends of the market with a lower cost base in each”. But the analysts said investors’ main concern for Virgin would be the time it would take to turn around Tiger, which has only made a profit once in the past 10 quarters.

”Strategically the acquisitions … improve Virgin’s domestic platform, providing it with a comprehensive product portfolio,” they said. ”However, turning around Tiger will be a significant task.”

Tabcorp bets on itself for the future

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Nanjing Night Net

TABCORP is pushing for New South Wales to keep its wagering licence exclusive next year, but backed itself to beat the competition whatever the outcome.

”The last jurisdiction to review its off-course licensing arrangements was Victoria and that state determined that a sole retail wagering licence was the optimal model,” Tabcorp chairman Paula Dwyer told investors at Wednesday’s annual meeting.

”We are hopeful that the NSW government will come to a similar conclusion when reviewing the best model for funding its racing industry.”

Tabcorp recently reported a 2.9 per cent rise in revenue to $488.9 million for the first quarter, with wagering revenue down slightly due to less favourable terms governing its new wagering licence in Victoria.

But the company said it had increased its share of the overall wagering market, demonstrating the success of its strategies.

”We are competing well,” Ms Dwyer said. ”We have increased our share of wagering turnover to 44 per cent … so we’ve increased it in a period of heightened competition. We’ve invested in our channels to market so we believe we have got the most competitive offering.”

Ms Dwyer offered little news on the company’s $687 million legal action against the Victorian government over the loss of its poker machine licence this year.

She said the company would not put a limit on legal costs. The matter was before the court and Tabcorp would continue to evaluate the case.

Ms Dwyer said the case could take years.

All the company’s resolutions were passed with strong support from shareholders, although there was contention about whether it was appropriate to have Tabcorp’s former chief executive, Elmer Funke Kupper, on the board.

A representative of the Australian Shareholders Association said it was ”poor governance” for a former CEO to serve on the board and look over the decisions made by current chief executive David Attenborough.

The ASA did not believe Mr Funke Kupper could efficiently serve on the board of Tabcorp as well as being chief executive of the Australian Securities Exchange.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Telstra reveals Defence deal win, growth strategy

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Nanjing Night Net

TELSTRA has won a communications contract worth about $150 million a year with the Department of Defence, and outlined a growth strategy for the next year at its annual investor day.

Shares reached a three-year high of $4.14 during the briefing, the highest price since the government announced it was building a national broadband network and ending Telstra’s monopoly over fixed communications in Australia.

Shares went up even though Telstra will no longer guarantee a fully franked 28�0�4 dividend. It would instead announce dividends at financial results every six months, chief financial officer Andrew Penn said.

Management would focus on growing the business so it could ”increase the dividend over the long term”, he said. ”We recognise very much that what our shareholders want is good returns from Telstra. One of the ways we can deliver that return is through a dividend.”

But Mr Penn would not commit to a dividend payout ratio, which would ensure Telstra shareholders get a set amount of the annual profit.

Meanwhile, Telstra would enter negotiations this week to supply all of Defence’s terrestrial communications after being named as preferred tenderer, chief operations officer Brendon Riley said.

While Telstra would not say how much the contract was worth, Defence told bidders that it spent $156 million on terrestrial communications in 2008-09, according to a briefing document.

The contract is to upgrade, replace, standardise and rationalise Defence’s existing network, which contains about 70,000 desk computers, 15,000 laptops and 600 BlackBerries and is spread across 330 locations in Australia.

Chief executive David Thodey outlined five strategies for Telstra in 2013-14 including: maintaining its lead in the mobile market, winning fixed-broadband customers, taking out more costs, growing the business and creating a ”customer service culture”.

He told investors that Telstra had ”no god-given right that it will be successful” and that its success would depend on executing plans to grow the business while the NBN is built.

”NBN [deal] is done. I have moved on. Yep, there are some fights ahead of us, but I think we are more about positioning ourselves for those fights and how to be really a good competitor in the market and do well,” Mr Thodey said.

These include a push to exploit Telstra’s undersea international cable network to provide managed services to global companies. Mr Riley said Telstra would focus on selling a full telecommunications service to Australian and other companies setting up in Asia.

Mr Thodey also announced Telstra would trial NBN Co’s fixed wireless NBN services with a view to launching them in mid-2013 and was ”considering our options for satellite services”.

And asked whether Telstra would oppose Foxtel selling broadband services – a strategy that has helped pay TV operators grow customer numbers overseas – Mr Thodey said there was ”nothing in the relationship between Telstra and Foxtel that prevents them from reselling telecommunications services”.

Capital management adds value if well executed

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Nanjing Night Net

CAPITAL management is much talked about among Australian companies but rarely executed with much panache. Properly used, capital management can create tremendous value for shareholders.CSL Limited (CSL)

THE joys of a big health company being able to borrow at 4 per cent have created a beneficial cycle for CSL. The company recently announced a $900 million buyback of its stock, making it the fifth buyback the company has undertaken in recent years.

At the end of last year, CSL organised about $1.5 billion in debt with the combination of a private issue in the US and a new facility with its bankers. Analysts assume the money has been borrowed at an average of about 4 per cent. If this is the case, the company, in theory, can buy its own stock up to a price-earnings multiple (P/E) of about 25 times. It sounds incredible, but that is the case.

At $46.60 a share, CSL is trading on a historical P/E of about 25 times and a prospective P/E on 2013 earnings of closer to 21 times. If the company buys the whole $900 million worth of stock in the next 12 months, it will purchase about 6 per cent of all shares traded. If we assume it will need to pay $50 a share over the year, it will buy 18 million shares at an average P/E of about 23 times. This is pushing the limit, but analysts point out that with earnings projected to grow strongly in 2014, it will be earnings-per-share accretive in that year – two years from now.

While CSL’s buyback announcements support the share price, there is a strong argument the company should ditch its buyback and issue shares for an acquisition or give the excess cash back to shareholders, even though dividends would be unfranked. For investors, they should be concerned if CSL continued to buy shares above the $50 market, because it requires earnings to grow strongly into the medium term. That is always a dangerous assumption.Devine Limited (DVN)

AT THE other end of the scale to CSL is Queensland-based property group Devine. Like most companies that rely on property for its earnings, Devine has fallen on hard times. More recently, though, the company’s share price has spiked from a low of 53�0�4 in August to 71�0�4 this week, with investors a little more excited about the story in a lower interest rate environment.

Devine’s earnings were clobbered in 2012 because of the benign activity in all forms of property in the Queensland and Victorian markets, and the share price has fallen to about 35 per cent of the group’s stated asset backing. Ideally, Devine would jump in and start buying its own shares, just like fellow Queensland group Sunland has done recently. Every share Devine would buy at this level would increase its net asset backing.

Unfortunately for Devine, its balance sheet, with gearing sitting around 30 per cent, is not in a position to buy back its shares and pay a dividend at the same time. If, however, the board believes the carrying value of its assets, the company should seriously consider putting the company up for sale to realise the value. Another approach is to sell some of its assets for near book value and use the funds raised to buy back shares.

If there are no buyers for the overall company, Devine, with 14,500 land lots, is a great leveraged play into a recovery of the Queensland and Victorian property markets in 2014. Over the fullness of time the share price could easily double even if asset value is written down 20 per cent from current levels.Bendigo and Adelaide Bank (BEN)

HISTORY tells us that it is dangerous to own banks in the November to February period because they generally underperform the broader market. However, for those obsessed with franked dividends, it might pay to have a closer look at Bendigo Bank. The company had its annual meeting earlier this week and despite talking about a tough environment there was no downgrade forthcoming.

There is a lot to dislike about Bendigo, with its paltry 9 per cent return on equity and a hefty cost-to-income ratio of 59 per cent topping the list. If you can overcome these sickly numbers, it might be worth switching into the stock once Westpac, NAB and ANZ go ex-dividend in November.

Q&A with Simon Marshall

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Nanjing Night Net

EXT Tuesday Simon Marshall, former jockey and racing personality, will co-host the Melbourne Cup coverage on Channel Seven.

You rode 15 group 1 winners as a jockey. How did you get into the media?

I was about 18 when I realised my career as a jockey could be short-lived, and some wise heads said I should start looking for something else and develop some other skill sets. I won the Australian Cup and I was interviewed by Bruce McAvaney, and from that I thought there hadn’t really been a presenter who had come out of the saddle and taken up the microphone as such, so I got elocution lessons, did some radio work and picked up a gig in 1996 at Channel Nine as a guest reporter, working with Tony Jones and Lou Richards. I ended up getting a contract with Channel Nine in 1997.

You rode in three Melbourne Cups. How many have you covered?

Eight.

Is the excitement of covering it anything like riding in it?

You still get excited. It places you back when you rode and what the jockeys are going through when they get introduced in the mounting yard before you get on the horse.

The race has become much more international as more countries are represented by various horses. How do the jockeys feel about that?

It was intriguing to us that they could come from the other side of the world and compete with our horses. The 24-hour flight for a horse is very demanding. I had respect that they had a crack at it. Anybody can get a horse fit to ride. Only great people can get them there mentally to be a champion.

What do you try to bring to the telecast?

Racing is different. It has its own pulse, especially the four days at Flemington. You get 400,000 people there over those days. It’s our opportunity to talk a bit of racing to those who [wouldn’t usually watch]. Most people are fascinated with how fast and far a 500-kilogram thoroughbred can run and how hard it is for a jockey to stir it and get it going. You try to break all that down. It’s a lot of fun but quite challenging.

Bruce McAvaney is a doyen of Australian sport. What’s it like working with him?

He has become a doyen through study and passion of sport. Racing is in his blood and through his family. He gets wrapped up in the storyline and the history of it. His No.1 passion is the 100-metre [sprints at the] Olympics, but very close would be the Cup.

Are you allowed to bet in your role?

I am now I’m not a registered rider. I like a quaddie with my mates. I’ll also support my own horses with the company I am involved in, DC3 Riders.

As a jockey, did you find the crowd’s focus on the social element of Cup day a distraction?

If you’re new at it, you become a rubberneck and walk away gobsmacked at what actually goes on and how many people get there. But when you get on a beast that you’ve been getting up at 4am every day to [work with], the adrenalin kicks in and your mind focuses on winning that race. You flick the switch and concentrate on what you have to do.

Redundancy scheme boosted

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Nanjing Night Net

HE cost of a federal government scheme that pays workers their entitlements when companies go broke is set to soar, after new laws passed the lower house.

On Tuesday night, the Gillard government’s Fair Entitlements Guarantee Bill was passed in the House of Representatives.

Workers who lose their job when a business is liquidated or goes bankrupt will be paid all of their entitlements – with no limit on how much taxpayers will have to spend picking up the tab.

The government views the change as a way to protect workers who lose their job through no fault of their own.

The move has been attacked by the federal opposition, which voted against it on Tuesday. Labor said this was proof the Coalition had ”returned to their anti-worker ways”.

But opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz said the change meant that, when businesses went broke, instead of the government just covering 16 weeks of redundancy entitlements, it would now pay for an unlimited amount.

”It sets a standard way beyond most enterprise agreements,” said Senator Abetz, who pointed out that the Coalition established the scheme in 2001. ”It’s a good scheme – but making it open ended [is not good]. This is just going over the top.”

Senator Abetz said that Labor had pushed through the law ”at the behest of trade union bosses, who will use it … to create a new employment standard”.

”Once you start saying that [workers made redundant get] four weeks of pay for every year of service, you are saying to somebody of 30 years’ service ‘You are entitled to 120 weeks of redundancy pay’. The standard it sets … will mean union bosses can say ‘Well, that’s what even the Parliament decided’.

”This is pushing a good thing too far. It’s this sort of mentality and approach that started off Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland,” Senator Abetz said.

Since it was established in 2001, the federal government has spent about $1 billion on the General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme (GEERS).

GEERS – which will be renamed the Fair Entitlements Guarantee – is designed to pay the wages, annual leave and redundancy entitlements of workers that are left unmet when liquidators are called in.

Previously, only 16 weeks of redundancy entitlements were paid under the scheme.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said the bill delivered on the government’s 2010 election promise to provide greater certainty for Australian workers if their employer could not pay them the employment entitlements they were owed.

”Australian workers, who have loyally worked for companies for years, will continue to get the protections they deserve now under a statutory scheme,” he said.

”Employees are often given little to no warning when a company goes under and this is our way of trying to ensure they are not disadvantaged through situations they have no control over,” Mr Shorten said.

GEERS was established by Tony Abbott, the then minister for employment, after the collapse of airline Ansett and National Textiles, a business run by Stan Howard, brother of then prime minister John Howard.

The scheme has the support of both sides of politics, industry, unions and insolvency practitioners who administer payments to workers.

Police drop probe on Rudd curse video leak

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Nanjing Night Net

THE federal police have abandoned their pursuit of the damaging leak of a video in the run-up to this year’s leadership confrontation that showed Kevin Rudd in a fit of rage.

In the video, which dated from September 2009 when he was prime minister, Mr Rudd was heard swearing and banging a table. The video was a message for a Chinese Communist Party anniversary prepared at the request of the Australian embassy in Beijing.

The 10-minute message was in complex Chinese and Mr Rudd later said he was swearing at his own inability to get it right.

The video was leaked before Mr Rudd issued his leadership challenge, and fed into the Gillard supporters’ narrative that he had been out of control and tyrannical as leader. Mr Rudd, who was still foreign minister when the leak occurred, said in a hastily arranged TV interview: ”I’ve never pretended not to swear from time to time.”

The leak was referred to the federal police, who said on Wednesday its investigation ”did not identify sufficient material or evidence to substantiate charging of any person for theft or unauthorised disclosure”.

Mr Rudd later tweeted: ”Recording congratulatory video messages today. The only F word I used was … fantastic effort.”