Sydney public transport: fewer complaints

“People … are telling us they are seeing improvements”: Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian Photo: Lisa McMahon “People … are telling us they are seeing improvements”: Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian Photo: Lisa McMahon
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“People … are telling us they are seeing improvements”: Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian Photo: Lisa McMahon

“People … are telling us they are seeing improvements”: Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian Photo: Lisa McMahon

Grumbling about public transport might be as much a feature of Sydney as the harbour. But according to government surveys, Sydney residents are doing it less.

The light rail service from Dulwich Hill to Central was the only form of public transport to experience a drop in “customer satisfaction”, according to survey results released on Thursday by the Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian.

Satisfaction ratings for trains, buses, ferries and taxis all increased in the year to May. But the surveys also highlighted what caused commuters and occasional passengers the most angst.

For train and ferry passengers, the availability of parking near train stations and wharves remains the biggest issue. Just 13 per cent of train users said they were very satisfied with parking levels.

Bus passengers, meanwhile, nominated the lack of information about service delays as their biggest complaint. The infrequency of buses was also nominated by a large number of bus passengers as a complaint.

The customer satisfaction index was created by Ms Berejiklian’s Transport for NSW based on survey results.

The surveys also measure satisfaction by train line. The Carlingford Line (now called T6) scored the lowest level of satisfaction. The Hunter Line, which the state government plans to truncate, recorded the highest, while among inner rail lines the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line also scored highly.

Ms Berejiklian said: “We know we still have plenty of work to do, but overall people using public transport are telling us they are seeing improvements.

“We will use this feedback to ensure we see even better results again next year,” she said.An earlier version of this report incorrectly referred to the Carlingford Line as T5.

WorkCover NSW bullying: Wayne Butler receives belated apology for poor treatment and dismissal

Bullied … Wayne Butler, the Workcover NSW employee, received an unconditional apology for the poor treatment he received by his employer. The Industrial Commission had already ordered that he be reinstated to his job. Photo: Phil HearneA belated and unconditional apology has been given to Wayne Butler who was bullied by the workplace safety regulator, WorkCover NSW.
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The apology comes four months after a joint parliamentary committee found that bullying is rife in the ranks of the regulator.

The cross-party committee urged WorkCover to make a public apology to staff including Wayne Butler, an employee it was forced to reinstate after it sacked him for dubious reasons. The committee said this was important to help the organisation rebuild trust with staff.

A letter by Vivek Bhatia, chief executive officer of the WorkCover Safety, Return to Work and Support dated on Wednesday apologised for the way Mr Butler was treated during an investigation and for his dismissal. WorkCover accepts that he was exonerated and completely cleared of all allegations.

“This is an unconditional apology, made without any qualifications or reservations. I regret the way in which you were treated during the investigation and your dismissal and I acknowledge that you and your family did go through a difficult and distressing time. I would also like to extend my apology to your family as well,” the letter said.

“The STWS Executive Team and I, sincerely apologise for all statements made during the inquiry hearings which may have inferred that WorkCover held other evidence if misconduct by yourself. This is not the case at all.

“I confirm there are no matters to your conduct other than the allegations made against you in 2012. All of those 2012 allegations were not sustained even partially in a court of law, whose decision we accept without reservation.”

Deputy President of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission Rodney Harrison described an investigation WorkCover conducted into Mr Butler as little more than a “witch-hunt” and characteristic of “institutional bullying”.

Mr Butler had spent 12 years in WorkCover’s Safety, Return to Work and Support Division until being sacked in November 2012 following an investigation Mr Harrison denounced in June last year as “deplorable”.

The committee also recommended new anti-bullying laws for all workers in NSW in a report that was damning of WorkCover. It also called for independent oversight of the agency, which has responsibility for regulating workplace safety and providing workers compensation.

Greens MP and Industrial relations spokesperson David Shoebridge said the government apology comes just 48 hours before WorkCover is required to make its submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into bullying.

“Without this continuing Parliamentary pressure it is pretty obvious that WorkCover would not have apologised,” he said.

“This apology is far too late, but I welcome the fact that it is unconditional and has finally been delivered.

“Mr Butler, like every employee in NSW, deserves to be treated with far more respect than he received at the hands of WorkCover.”

From Hipsters to Soul Mates

Cavemen: Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier star in Soul Mates which debuts on ABC2 on October 23. Cavemen: Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier star in Soul Mates which debuts on ABC2 on October 23.
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Cavemen: Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier star in Soul Mates which debuts on ABC2 on October 23.

Cavemen: Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier star in Soul Mates which debuts on ABC2 on October 23.

In a yoga studio turned TV-set in Bondi Pavilion, it is difficult to spot where the ultra irony of the beachside burb ends and the mockumentary begins, such has been the success of the YouTube sensation Bondi Hipsters in nailing the parody of this generation’s zeitgeist cliche.

Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier, whose alter egos Dom Nader and Adrian Archer are a perfect distillation of society’s grievances with the hipster trope, have come along way since shooting the early episodes of Bondi Hipsters in the lounge room of their friend’s apartment.

Decked out in flamboyant lycra ensembles, Boshier and van Vuuren are preparing for an afternoon shoot that will see Dom and Adrian attempt to navigate the perennial quandary of zen-seekers: the yoga fart.

Above the din of  TV  cameras rolling into position, van Vuuren’s directions fly thick, fast and ridiculous across the wooden-panelled studio: “As long as the person who sees the camel toe is behind the person who has the camel toe.”

As the production crew scuttle across the set, rushing to add the final touches before lunch break, a make-up artist manages to hold van Vuuren still for just long enough to seal Dom’s beard to his face.

Everything looks set to roll on an upmarket episode of Bondi Hipsters. Except, not quite.

The duo are midway through filming their latest, and undoubtedly most ambitious venture yet, Soul Mates – a  6-episode comedy series commissioned by ABC2, which sees Dom and Adrian’s Bondi Hipster bromance reincarnated across the time continuum.

“It’s a comedy show about two dickheads who bump into each other in other lifetimes,” Boshier says as he greets me on set, bespectacled in his character Adrian’s signature black-framed glasses (ironically lensless of course).

After two years of refining Dom and Adrian’s moral and sexual ambiguities for an internet audience, Boshier and Van Vuuren’s acting talents will be tested in a fresh set of characters: as cavemen in the neanderthal era, as Kiwi assassins in the ’80s and as agents in a time travel agency in the future.

“We haven’t done any TV before,” Boshier says, “and we haven’t done anything internationally before in TV.”

But this is what makes the duo’s swift rise from obscurity to mainstream all the more remarkable, and a testament to the internet’s power to juggernaut raw talent. Neither actor’s CVs are furnished with the formal acting qualifications you might expect of stars of a major network TV series.

The two men had already staked separate claims to the title of “viral sensation” when they met at a YouTube convention in 2011. A guest speaker at the convention, Van Vuuren had garnered worldwide attention with the Fully Sick Rapper – a video web series he created while quarantined in a Sydney hospital for six months with tuberculosis in 2010.

“It was the first time that I had come across Christiaan’s stuff, and I immediately thought our senses of humour were aligned,” says Boshier, who had achieved internet notoriety as “Trent from Punchy”, a foul-mouthed bogan from Sydney’s western suburbs. He was also part of the team behind the Beached Az whale series.

The young creatives kept in contact after the convention, riffing on ideas for collaboration. Some weeks later, in a setting that could not have been more ironically suited, van Vuuren and Boshier sketched out the idea for Bondi Hipsters.

“We caught up in North Bondi and had a breakfast, and had an avocado smoothie that we both agreed had a consistency of dragon semen,” says Boshier.

“That was the moment,” Boshier recalls, when van Vuuren struck with comedic timing: “so I have this idea of two hipster characters we can jam on.”

And so, in late 2011, Dom Nadier and Adrian Archer, the two self-absorbed fashionistas from Bondi, arrived on the internet, spruiking their nameless fashion label in their signature hipster argot.

“Why waste fahshun resources on printing labels? We’re trying to minhamise our environmentahl footsie,” Dom says, as he flicks his cigarette butt out the window.

From there “it started to naturally blend from a two-person thing to a three-person thing,” Boshier says, with Connor van Vuuren, Christiaan’s brother, joining the fold as a co-writer.

These days, the talented triumvirate are a professional outfit.  When Soul Mates hits TV screens in October, the brothers will celebrate their first co-directing TV credits under their production company, the Van Vuuren Brothers.

With Dom and Adrian, purveyors of the underground and undiscovered, now poised at the precipice of mainstream success, will the duo’s TV debut bring about their ideological demise?

“Christiaan wanted to kill them off immediately,” Boshier says, but hints that Dom and Adrian may well endure for as long as the millennial subculture does.

“Not to say we want to globally dominate,” he says, but  “we haven’t explore the lengths to which we can take these characters.”

Soul Mates, ABC2, Thursday, October 23, 9.30pm

Muslim groups, lawyers and academics call for Foreign Fighters Bill to be put on ice

More than 40 groups have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis over the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill. Photo: Andrew Meares More than 40 groups have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis over the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill. Photo: Andrew Meares
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More than 40 groups have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis over the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill. Photo: Andrew Meares

More than 40 groups have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis over the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill. Photo: Andrew Meares

Muslim groups, lawyers, Amnesty International and Civil Liberties Australia have united to urge the federal government to delay passing its latest anti-terror law.

Forty-three groups, including the National Imams Council and Lebanese Muslim Association, have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis warning that the case has not been made for the need for the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill.

The bill, which will bestow new powers on national security agencies to detain and investigate terror suspects and returning fighters, will be rushed through Parliament by the end of the month with the support of Labor.

“The government is seeking to rush this law through Parliament … doing so will deny our elected representatives and the community the opportunity to fully debate the proposed changes,” the group wrote to Senator Brandis in a statement delivered on Wednesday afternoon.

“The government must explain why all of these changes are needed. Australia already has laws to meet the threat posed by foreign fighters. Indeed, the government and its agencies have formidable powers to combat terrorism. In light of this, it is not clear why some of the changes in the bill are necessary, particularly where they could have a major impact on the human rights of every Australian.”

Several of the groups who signed the letters have already lodged detailed submissions to the Senate committee scrutinising the bill. It is due to report on Friday ahead of Parliament’s return on Monday.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance has raised concern the new law could be unconstitutional as it will allow security agents to search houses before applying for a “delayed notification” warrant and give the Attorney-General power to suspend a terror suspect’s welfare payments. In both cases, there would be no avenue to appeal to the courts.

The Muslim Legal Network, a co-signatory, raised concern in its submission that the new concept of “advocating terrorism” could preclude teachings from certain passages of texts such as the Koran and the Old Testament.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, the independent regulator overseeing the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, has said the legislation is so wide as to redefine the meaning of “security” which could lead to any Australian who commits a criminal act overseas becoming a legitimate target of ASIO.

The organisations and individuals include constitutional expert George Williams of the University of NSW, international law Professor Ben Saul of Sydney University and Professor Hilary Charlesworth, of the Australian National University.

In its letter, the group pointed out that existing anti-terror laws do not lapse until 2015, allowing time to scrutinise new measures like the Foreign Minister’s power to proscribe certain areas of conflict as “no go zones” for Australians.

“These regimes risk encroaching on rights to freedom from arbitrary detention, free speech, movement and association, without specifically addressing the threat posed by foreign fighters,” the group said.

“Given the extraordinary nature of this bill, the undersigned call on the Australian Parliament to not pass the bill without a more comprehensive public consultation on the necessity of the laws and their compliance with domestic and international human rights obligations.”

A spokesman for Senator Brandis declined to comment.

Opposition grows to storage of photo and biometric data

There will be a major expansion of facial recognition imaging. Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said “a clear explanation” was needed from the government. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Privacy fears: the government has announced a significant expansion of its biometric data collection.

Photographs of millions of Australians will be stored by the Immigration Department, and this “biometric data” gathering could extend to fingerprinting and iris scanning under the Abbott government’s controversial counterterrorism laws.

The “foreign fighters” bill means there will be a major expansion of facial recognition imaging of Australians passing through international airports in a crackdown on passport fraud that could eventually apply to a wide range of biometric data – which could be shared with other government agencies.

Critics say the danger of such information being hacked is profound, given many personal electronic devices are now secured by fingerprints and iris scans.

The sheer scale of the personal information that would stream into the government’s databanks is set to open one of the first fissures in the largely bipartisan approach to national security, with Labor warning that the legislation poses a danger to privacy.

“It’s clear that this provision would be a significant expansion of biometric data collection by the government,” shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said.

“Australians deserve a clear explanation from the government about what protections will be put in place to protect the privacy and security of their information.”

The legislation specifically clears the way for all Australians as well as foreigners to be photographed when they leave Australia and when they return if they go through automated passport gates – which are set to become far more commonly used.

The department estimates that between 40 and 60 per cent of the 35 million travellers leaving and entering Australia each year would be photographed, many millions of them Australians.

The department can also share the biometric information for “specified purposes” according to the bill’s explanatory memoranda, though it does not explain what these purposes are.

The foreign fighters bill is being scrutinised by the high-powered parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security before a vote expected by the end of the month.

It would allow the government to collect and store fingerprints and iris scans without needing to pass new laws. This could instead by done through regulations, which can be blocked only if opposition parties muster a majority of MPs in either house.

The Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, told a recent parliamentary hearing into the legislation that under the changes, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection would hold personal biometric information to an unprecedented “extent and volume”.

The Immigration Department was rocked this year by an embarrassing data breach in which the personal details of nearly 10,000 asylum seekers were mistakenly made available on the department’s website.

Underscoring the extent of security concerns, the growing biometrics database would be secured by the nation’s top defence cyberspooks, the Australian Signals Directorate, according to testimony given by the department to the intelligence and security committee last week.

The ASD has indirectly suffered its own data breach recently in the case of renegade American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, whose massive leaks of Western intelligence files involved some relating to the agency including, most spectacularly, details of Australian spying efforts against Indonesian leaders.

Privacy advocates are particularly worried about the consequences of biometric data being hacked because, unlike a passport or a tax file number, it cannot be changed.

“You can’t readily change your fingerprints or your face,” Australian Privacy Foundation chairman Roger Clarke said.

Labor MP Anthony Byrne, the intelligence and security committee’s deputy chairman, expressed deep concern at a public hearing last week about the privacy implications.

“I am deeply, deeply uncomfortable with that level of data being kept by that department, particularly given the potential for someone to break into that and basically lift hundreds of thousands of fingerprints of Australian citizens,” he said.

“Think about the privacy implications of that with iris recognition, which is used for laptops and computer systems. Iris scans are now being used on portable devices.”

Emily Howie of the Human Rights Law Centre said more debate was needed about the government’s counterterrorism laws.

“Australians’ right to privacy is often eroded through the use of new surveillance powers and technologies without proper legal safeguards,” she said. “Of course the government has a responsibility to protect the community, but it must do so in a manner that is reasonable and accountable.”

Call to overhaul fishy seafood labelling

Label My Fish: Frank Camorra, executive chef of the hatted MoVida restaurants, is calling for better labelling on seafood products. Photo: Eddie Jim
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Label My Fish: Frank Camorra, executive chef of the hatted MoVida restaurants, is calling for better labelling on seafood products. Photo: Eddie Jim

Label My Fish: Frank Camorra, executive chef of the hatted MoVida restaurants, is calling for better labelling on seafood products. Photo: Eddie Jim

Label My Fish: Frank Camorra, executive chef of the hatted MoVida restaurants, is calling for better labelling on seafood products. Photo: Eddie Jim

‘Deception’: Seafood industry wants country of origin labels

Enjoy the flathead fillets dished up last night? Chances are the “flathead” was an unrelated species, bottom-trawled in Argentinian waters.

Australia’s lax labelling laws for seafood mean restaurants and retailers can withhold information on the origins and species of popular seafood, depriving consumers of the ability to make informed choices.

On Thursday, Greenpeace and the Australian Marine Conservation Society launched the Label My Fish campaign, demanding Australian laws match the European Union standards that require the origin, species and method used to catch or farm be declared on seafood labels.

“The Aussie ‘flathead’ we think we are eating may well be an imported, cheaper South American fish, of a completely different family,” said David Ritter, chief executive of Greenpeace Australia. “But there is often no labelling on your pub or fast food menu, or packet of frozen ‘flathead’, to reveal the truth.”

The Label My Fish alliance, backed by celebrity chefs, academics, and Taronga Zoo and Zoos Victoria, says clearer labelling will encourage the use of sustainable fishing methods, boost the local fishing industry and lift public health protections.

Greenpeace research shows basa, native to the Mekong Delta and not a member of the dory family, is often marketed as “pacific dory”. Two-thirds of barramundi is imported from Asia.

Pregnant women and children under six are warned by health experts to limit their consumption of certain species, such as shark (sold as flake), catfish and orange roughy, because of mercury content.

“But the labelling laws make it impossible for pregnant women to follow the warnings and that’s a big shock,” said Mr Ritter.

Restaurant and Catering Australia opposes the calls, saying the industry will lose $300 million a year to comply with such laws. The “onerous” task will require updating menus, reconfiguring back-end systems and maintaining compliance.

Its chief executive John Hart said with 70 per cent of seafood coming from overseas through “fragmented”, “irregular”, and regularly disrupted supply chains, even suppliers will struggle to offer detailed information about the product.

“There’s a long way to go before we’re even half way close to being able to meet such labelling requirements at the back door of restaurants,” he said. “Most of the suppliers don’t have anywhere near that level of information. If we don’t know, we can’t put it on the menu.”

Frank Camorra, executive chef of the hatted MoVida restaurants, changes his nuevo-Spanish menus daily and has thrown his support behind the campaign.

He says his suppliers, Joto in Sydney and Clamms Seafood in Melbourne, “know exactly who’s caught the seafood, how it’s been caught and where”, allowing him to share information readily with patrons via menus and wait staff.

“It seems common sense to me. People want to know not only which state it comes from, but almost which regions,” he said, referring to items such as surf clams, prawns and scallops.

Greenpeace says new labelling laws will also benefit local and overseas fishermen who have invested in fishing sustainably but struggle to compete with cheaper imports.

Louis Hatzimihalis, a fisherman from Port Phillip Bay in Victoria, has stopped catching arrow squid and scallops because of imports from South America and China. “We can’t afford to catch it at that price. But you just can’t compare the quality.”

Consumer advocate Matthew Evans interviewed chefs, retailers, suppliers and fishermen here and abroad to examine the impact of weak labelling laws for a three-part series called What’s the Catch?, to be screened on SBS from October 30.

“Some [fishing methods of] seafood we eat damage our marine environment, are produced by people under unfair conditions and may carry risks to our health,” he said. “What we really need is to know just what’s on our plates.”

Chefs Peter Gilmore of three-hated Quay and Tom Kime of Fish & Co have also joined the demand for labelling reforms. Academics from the Australian National University, Sydney University and the University of NSW have also given their support.

A Senate inquiry into seafood labelling is underway and will deliver a report on December 4.

EDITORIAL: Reforming electoral donations

Mike Baird in Newcastle last month. TRUE to his word, NSW Premier Mike Baird is ensuring the state’s voters go to the polls next year with an improved electoral donations system.
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Mr Baird was under pressure to make changes, following the catastrophic impact of the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s Operation Spicer on the Coalition’s parliamentary standing.

Revelations about abuses of the donations laws sent 10 Liberals MPs to the cross-benches and prompted the members for Newcastle and Charlestown to quit Parliament.

No doubt the reforms as announced won’t go as far as many would like. They stop short, for example, of a fully publicly funded model.

But some aspects will be universally welcomed. The requirement that all donations be published for voters to scrutinise before they cast their ballots is a case in point.

It has been a galling feature of the system to date that details of who bankrolled whom haven’t been available until months after it really mattered.

Under the new scheme, at least voters will have a chance to change their minds about voting for a particular candidate or party if they believe certain donations might adversely influence outcomes in important areas of policy.

Spending caps on donations and on electoral communications will also be imposed, ideally cooling the ‘‘arms race’’ between parties for the costliest and most pervasive campaigns.

Donations to political parties will be capped at $5000 and the cap for individual candidates will be $2000.

Spending caps for electoral communications will also be fixed at $100,000 per party for every seat contested.

Unions will be covered by third party spending caps, which will fall from more than $1million to $250,000.

Politicians caught using slush funds and scams similar to those uncovered by ICAC could face up to 10 years in jail.

It is not entirely clear whether it will still be possible for parties to encourage donors to direct funds to federal offices, from whence they may be able to distribute the money at ostensible ‘‘arm’s length’’. Since donations at the federal level are relatively unregulated and since both major parties have demonstrated a powerful determination to prevent the creation of a federal corruption watchdog, this might still be a tempting option for those wanting to avoid problems with the new NSW law.

Mr Baird has acknowledged that more needs to be done to repair a system that has become badly corrupted.

He has promised that the measures now announced are only a first instalment, with more to follow once the independent panel, chaired by former public servant Dr Kerry Schott, reports back to Parliament later this year.

For now, the first steps are welcome.

GREG RAY:’A great day for the world’

Image from Getup杭州龙凤论坛‘‘A GREAT day for the world’’, happened this week, thanks to an event in Australia.
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So our Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, said.

Wow, what does it take to be a ‘‘great day for the world’’ in the eyes of Australia’s paramount leader?

World peace? Hahahaha. Pull the other one.

A vaccine for Ebola. Sighhhh. Not really.

Advance in clean energy? Sit down you twit.

Something that saves lives? Nope.

Something that saves jobs? Awww, sort of looks like that a bit, but not really.

Well what then?

A new coalmine.

Seriously, a new coalmine sent our PM into such a state of rapture that he felt moved to describe it as ‘‘a great day for the world.’’

Yes indeed, a new coalmine jointly owned by BHP Billiton and Japanese giant Mitsubishi. It’s in Queensland, it’s called Caval Ridge, and it will produce 5.5 million tonnes of high-quality hard coking coal a year for however long it lasts.

It will be operated by a fly-in, fly-out workforce whose members will stay in a purpose-built village, and BHP said more than 30,000 people applied for 950 jobs in the mine and its sister operation, Daunia.

Clearly, the announcement is good news for people who want jobs in the mine.

Only last month BHP/Mitsubishi cut 700 jobs from its Queensland mines and a couple of months before that it cut back operations at its Goonyella mine to keep that one in the black.

BHP/Mitsubishi, along with Rio Tinto and the rest of the transglobal mining crowd, have been desperately trying to cut their production costs.

That’s because the world, which only a couple of years ago was so hungry for coking coal that it was prepared to pay more than $US300 a tonne for the stuff, is now practically swimming in oversupply and the price has dropped to about $US113.

Ummm, so how come – you want to know – BHP/Mitsubishi is opening a new mine that will add millions more tonnes to an already oversupplied market?

It’s a signal to its smaller, weaker competitors in coal that BHP/Mitsubishi plans to be the last man standing.

The low prices will send some competitors broke, force mines to close and put hundreds of miners out of work. Those who can’t get their production costs down are doomed, unless prices suddenly surge again, which doesn’t seem likely in the near future.

That’s how it goes, in the cruel marketplace. When margins get squeezed, those with the deepest pockets survive the longest and stand the best chance of still being around when things get better. Ideally, from their point of view, those survivors can them ramp their prices right back up and, with fewer competitors to worry about, keep prices higher for longer.

It’s a bit like airline ticket price wars. A dominant airline creams off the profits for years, until a competitor sniffs the fat margins and tries to muscle in with cheaper fares to steal some market share.

The big player responds with deep discounts until the newcomer falls down dead and then prices go right back up again, probably even higher than before.

So, you might wonder, how does the opening of this new coalmine represent ‘‘a great day for the world’’?

I think we all know the answer to that. It doesn’t. It’s neither good nor bad, really. It’s just a giant mining company marking out its territory to ensure that, when the tide turns and the coking coal price starts ticking up again, it will dominate.

Why would the leader of a supposedly middle-ranking power fall over himself in a display of fawning over this piece of news?

Maybe because Labor leader Bill Shorten, having revealed that his party will go to the next election with a carbon price back on its campaign platform, has effectively painted a big target in the middle of his forehead for the mining industry to aim at, perhaps with a re-run of the expensive advertising campaign it used to stub out Kevin Rudd.

A great day for the world?

Maybe not. But maybe a great opportunity for the Coalition to cement an important ally.

If BHP/Mitsubishi wants to be the last man standing in Australian coal exports, Tony Abbott probably wants something similar for himself in the electoral stakes.

Probe into killing of diggers Robert Poate, Stjepan Milosevic and James Martin ‘not objective’, inquest hears

The fallen soldiers are farewelled. Photo: Harrison SaragossiSoldiers at a remote Afghan  patrol base where three Australian soldiers were murdered, had been asked “leading questions” during an official army probe into the killings, an inquest was told.
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The uncommon civilian inquest into the 2012 combat deaths has also heard that, despite 32 diggers dying in Afghanistan, the Defence department had only held  one high-level Commission of Inquiry into such fatalities.

Private Robert Poate, Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic and Sapper James Martin were gunned down by a rogue Afghan soldier at Patrol Base Wahab on August 28, 2012.

A Queensland coroner is inquiring into the deaths which had previously been investigated by a Defence process known as an Inquiry Officers Inquiry.

The families of the dead soldiers successfully lobbied for the inquest after being dissatisfied with the Defence Force’s inquiry.

First to give evidence on Tuesday was former chief legal officer for all Australian operations, Colonel Jim Waddell, who was quizzed by lawyers for the families and counsel assisting the coroner about the army’s official investigation process.

Col Waddell confirmed under questioning that of the 32 soldier deaths in Afghanistan, only one, which had involved a helicopter crash, had been subjected to a full Commission of Inquiry.

He said commission of inquiries into such deaths, were not often held because they were expensive costing up to $1.7 million and soldiers’ deaths in a warzone were “expected”.

Col Waddell said a commission of inquiry was only normally undertaken if there was a systemic issue, as had been the case in the helicopter crash.

The inquest was also told that the families of the three dead soldiers had been unhappy the subsequent official defence report into the deaths which was heavily redacted.

Barrister Peter Bodor QC, representing the family of Private Poate, described the level of redaction in the inquiry report released to the families as “totally unjustifiable”.

But Col Waddell disagreed, saying he “didn’t accept” the statement.

Mr Bodor also put to Col Waddell that the army was “very possessive of information that is not forced out of it” and that some of the redacted information was available in the public domain.

Col Waddell replied he  “could see how people would have that view”.

Mr Bodor also asked Col Waddell about the investigation process undertaken during the inquiry at Patrol Base Wahab.

He queried whether Col Waddell had been made aware that many of the critical questions asked of soldiers at the base had been of a “leading nature”.

Col Waddell said such information had not been brought to his attention.

He also rejected Mr Bodor’s suggestion that a commission of inquiry should have occurred into the deaths given they occurred at a time when there was a heightened threat around relating to local religious customs and while soldiers were in a relaxed disposition.

He also rejected that the officers inquiry had been of a “low level” nature.

Col Waddell said that for a commission of inquiry to be go ahead, “we would need to have a reason for needing it to have some substantial value or .. learning lessons that have not already been learned”.

“We don’t believe the inquiry officer found systemic deficiencies,” he said.

The inquest continues.

Property makes Australians the world’s richest, says Credit Suisse

‘Remarkable figures’: Property is at the heart of Australia’s wealth, Credit Suisse reports. ‘Remarkable figures’: Property is at the heart of Australia’s wealth, Credit Suisse reports.
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‘Remarkable figures’: Property is at the heart of Australia’s wealth, Credit Suisse reports.

‘Remarkable figures’: Property is at the heart of Australia’s wealth, Credit Suisse reports.

Thanks to their houses, Australians are the richest people in the world, according to the investment bank Credit Suisse.

The fifth annual study by the Swiss bank of global wealth trends found the median Australian adult was worth more than $US225,000 ($258,000) in June, well ahead of the second wealthiest population on this measure, the ­Belgians, at $US173,000.

They were followed by the Italians, French and British, all at around $US110,000.

Only 6 per cent of Australians have wealth below $US10,000, compared with 29 per cent in the United States and 70 per cent for the world as a whole.

Household wealth in Australia is heavily skewed to “real assets” – essentially property – which average $US319,700 per household, or 60 per cent of gross assets. This is the second highest in the world after Norway.

The 2014 Global Wealth Report shows global wealth is 20 per cent above its pre-crisis peak and almost 40 per cent higher than the low recorded in 2008.

Australians have grabbed more than their fair share of the growing pie. The section of the report on Australia is titled “No worries”, a headline that some economists may take issue with but which is deserved based on the rapid and almost uninterrupted accumulation of wealth over the past 14 years, as detailed in the report.

Since 2000, the net wealth of the average, or mean (as opposed to median), adult Australian has more than quadrupled, from $US103,151 to $US431,000. That makes us the second richest population on this measure, behind the Swiss at $US581,000.

Over the past 12 months, average adult wealth has grown 5 per cent.

“These are obviously remarkable figures for Australia,” Credit Suisse Private Bank chief investment strategist David McDonald said.

“We are well positioned globally in terms of wealth, as well as the spread of wealth.”

Dollar driven

The appreciation of the currency has been a considerable tailwind over the period but even in constant currency terms, average wealth has grown 145 per cent over the past 13 years to $US369,000 from $US151,000.

While global wealth has increased, the gains have not been spread evenly, with the report finding that the trend since 2008 has been one of increasing inequality, particularly in developing economies.

“The financial crisis has acted as a breakpoint in inequality, as most countries were showing a flat or declining trend before 2007,” said Markus Stierli from the Credit Suisse Research Institute, which published the report.

Australia is classified a “medium ­inequality” country by the Credit Suisse researchers, a group that includes New Zealand and is defined by the richest 10 per cent controlling between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of the country’s net wealth.

Among developed economies, Hong Kong, Switzerland and the United States are deemed to have “very high inequality”, where the top 10 per cent control more than 70 per cent of the wealth.

This is borne out by the average wealth figures of the US. Median adult wealth in the world’s largest economy stood at only $US54,000 – well out of the top 10 richest populations.

But when measured on an average – or mean – basis, the US ranked fourth in terms of household wealth at $US348,000.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch chief economist Saul Eslake attributed ­Australia’s relatively even spread of wealth in part to its love of property.

“Rising house prices tend to reduce inequality, as they make up part a greater part of middle class wealth,” he said.

But with growth in house prices and sharemarkets expected to be more muted over coming years, and with the currency weakening, growth in net wealth can be expected to slow, Mr McDonald said.

Globally, the mean average per adult reached an all-time high of $US56,000, an increase of $US3450 over the previous 12 months, driven by higher share prices.

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