April, 2019

Sydney’s Goods Line misses Gehry business school opening after delays

The incomplete pedestrian area next to the newly constructed Gehry building. Photo: James BrickwoodA Sydney project compared to New York’s famous High Line will not be ready for the grand opening of Frank Gehry’s first Australian building after becoming mired in delays.
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The Goods Line, a former freight railway track being converted into a pedestrian and cycling connection linking Darling Harbour and Central, was expected to open alongside the UTS business school designed by the renowned architect.

But the official unveiling of the university’s Dr Chau Chak Wing Building will go ahead on Monday with most of the adjoining Goods Line yet to be finished, after the state government project missed the anticipated deadline.

The 250-metre northern section of the multimillion-dollar, wifi-enabled, elevated park and thoroughfare was due to be ready by “early 2015” after its initial November completion date was pushed back.

It was expected to be finished ahead of the next stage, the redesign of a southern section of the former freight line linking through to Railway Square.

The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA) said the contractor was working “tirelessly” to complete the first northern stage “as soon as possible”.

“Unfortunately, unforeseeable delays have slowed progress on site,” a SHFA spokeswoman said.

Delays associated with working around Sydney Trains’ high-voltage network, wet weather, design improvements and the delivery of pre-cast concrete panels used for key project elements like pathways, seating and stairs had all taken a toll on the timeframe, she said.

“UTS is a member of the [Goods Line] Steering Committee and has been kept updated on the project program throughout,” she said.

The Goods Line, billed as the civic “spine” of Ultimo’s education and technology precinct, is also expected to serve as a “visually attractive and functional frontage” to the Gehry building.

Work on the northern section, extending from the Ultimo Road underbridge through to the Powerhouse Museum, began in March last year.

UTS deputy vice-chancellor Patrick Woods said a 40 metre by 20 metre section of the Goods Line directly outside the Gehry building would be ready in time for Monday’s opening.

Mr Woods said the delays with the rest of the project had not held up the official opening of the business school building, which was completed in November.

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As Sydney builds its light rail, its last tram leaves for Victoria

Sydney’s last tram gets ready for its last journey Photo: Nic Walker Sydney’s last tram in the Rozelle tramsheds, which are about to be redeveloped. Photo: Nic Walker
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An artist’s impression of the City of Sydney’s plan for George Street in 2020. Photo: Supplied

Trams on the corner of George and Druitt streets, outside the QVB in the Sydney CBD in 1920. Photo: Supplied

Trams run down George Street in the early 20th century. Photo: Supplied

Half a century ago, Sydney’s last tram pierced the streets of Sydney’s eastern suburbs on a journey that would mark the end of the light rail in the hearts and minds of many Sydneysiders.

On Thursday, the last tram of that era embarked on a journey of resurrection, departing from the Rozelle tramsheds for Victoria after being neglected by successive NSW governments who enthroned cars and buses as the kings of Sydney’s roads.

Battered, bruised and graffitied with “bonez” and “babs was here” scrawled along it, the tram began its trip at the same time as the City of Sydney released its George St: 2020 paper on Thursday.

The paper gives the city a glimpse of a familiar future as the council mapped out its plans for the return of the George Street light rail route, on the exact path that up to 1500 trams once pounded the concrete.

During the 1920s, Sydney’s tram network was the largest in the southern hemisphere. So ubiquitous was the tram that entire suburbs and areas, like Bondi Junction and Maroubra Junction, were named after the point at which its lines met.

From 2019 the 21st century’s version of the “transport of the future”, or trams rebranded as light rail, will once again propel their way down George Street and Anzac Parade.

According to the City of Sydney plan, light rail will run down the middle of George Street, with a tree zone on either side, followed by a variable “flex-zone” for street furniture and an almost four metre pedestrian area along  buildings’ edges.

Though glamorised with all the mod cons of 2015, it’s a route that was already well established in 1920.

“This transformation is a unique opportunity to ensure that George Street becomes a world class boulevard that is also a thriving business and retail environment,”  Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

The cost of building the light rail  from George Street to Kingsford is expected to blow out to $2.1 billion by the time it is complete in 2019.

It is a figure that has left some wondering what would have happened if Sydney had just left its tramway network intact.

“Having the infrastructure there would have made a huge difference to the city today,” said Harold Clark, the president of the Sydney Tramway Society. “We would have a world class system but we gave it away because it was the flavour of the month to give it all up for cars and buses.”

The cost of the light rail project may prevent the government from expanding its capacity to anywhere near the level of its heyday, said Gavin Gatenby, from the advocacy group EcoTransit.

“The whole point about light rail is that it’s affordable, high-capacity and very flexible. It should be much cheaper than this. The fact that prices have been driven up so high means that we are not able to afford the amount of light rail we should be able to get.”

Mr Clark, who rode the city’s last tram in 1961, also regrets that the city’s last vintage trams have been left to rot.

“Now that we have light rail returning, they could have been made into fantastic tourist attractions, like the city circle line in Melbourne or the cable car in San Francisco.”

As for Sydney’s last tram, after the graffiti is cleaned and the emerald green restored in Victoria, it will come home again to its final stop at Mirvac’s Harold Park precinct in Sydney’s inner west. There it will form the centrepiece of the old tramsheds, which are being redeveloped into a shopping centre that also promises to blend old and new.

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Duntroon workers win redundancy payments

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Dumped defence contractor Serco will have to pay hundreds of thousands in redundancies to up to 200 Canberra workers sacked after the Britain-based multinational lost the facilities contract for defence sites around the capital.

The Fair Work Commission has Serco, and its joint venture partner Sodexo, pay the cleaners, cooks and security guards, many of whom worked at the Royal Military College Duntroon, after a dispute over which workers were owed severance pay-outs.

The services union United Voice said the FWC decision had exposed the behaviour of the joint venture partners towards its former workers as “ugly and mean”.

The union says the workers, many of whom earned about $550 a week, might get between $4000 and $5000 each.

The joint venture Serco Sodexo Defence Services (SSDS) employed about 1400 workers in the ACT and parts of surrounding NSW, until it failed in a tender for Defence Department work last year.

SSDS supplied catering security and cleaning services to the military college and other military and defence installations, employing about 300 people, including about 100 casual employees.

When the joint venture failed in its bid to have its contract renewed in 2014, the workers were sacked with many of them finding work with the companies who took over the contracts.

Under Fair Work laws, a company does not have to pay a redundancy to a worker if the employer has secured a new job, with similar pay and conditions, for its former employee.

SSDS refused to pay redundancies to many of its Canberra workers, arguing that it had helped to get them jobs with the new contractors at defence, freeing the joint venture from the legal obligation to pay-out their former employers.

But after a three-day hearing in Sydney in November, Fair Work Commissioner Julius Roe found, in a decision handed down on Thursday, the joint venture had not played as decisive a role in its former employees’ new jobs as it claimed.

Workers gave evidence that they had heard about the jobs with the new contractors from a variety of sources, including Defence Department public servants.

“I am satisfied that SSDS was not a strong moving force behind the SSDS employees being offered employment with Transfield, Wilson, Brookfield, Menzies, AFL, Blackhawk, Spotless or Compass,” commissioner Roe wrote in his decision

“The actions of SSDS were insufficient to cause acceptable alternative employment to become available to the redundant employees.”

But the company still has a chance to reduce its liability with commissioner Roe agreeing to hear more legal arguments on the amounts to be paid.

A spokesperson from SSDS would not comment other than saying the company had noted the decision and was considering its position.

Tony Cabello, a security guard at the Defence Department’s Russell Offices, said he and his colleagues had been shocked when they lost their jobs at SSDS and had been given little help in securing new employment.

“Some of us were lucky to get employed but it wasn’t a very nice Christmas,” the father-of-four said.

United Voice ACT Branch Secretary Lyndal Ryan was scathing of the joint venture partners’ behaviour towards its former workers.

“This is the ugly and mean side of giant corporations,” Ms Ryan said,

“They can’t be allowed to flout local laws to rob hard-working loyal staff of their entitlements.

“This money is a drop in the ocean for SSDS but is a huge amount of money to those workers who have been left waiting.”

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Red-faced Canberrans avoid “messy” bowel cancer tests

Ella Wallace’s bowel cancer was treated successfully after early detection. Photo: Melissa Adams Ella Wallace’s bowel cancer was treated successfully after early detection. Photo: Melissa Adams
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Ella Wallace’s bowel cancer was treated successfully after early detection. Photo: Melissa Adams

Ella Wallace’s bowel cancer was treated successfully after early detection. Photo: Melissa Adams

A large number of Australians are avoiding free tests for the country’s second biggest cancer killer – and it may simply be to avoid embarrassment.

Bowel Cancer Australia data released on Thursday revealed only 43 per cent of males and 34 per cent of females surveyed had screened for bowel cancer despite the majority falling in the high-risk age group.

The reason? More than three quarters of respondents believed people avoided the tests because they are messy and embarrassing, despite the disease claiming nearly 4000 Australian lives each year.

Bowel Cancer Australia has launched a new awareness campaign – Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late – to encourage more people to prioritise bowel cancer tests.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program provides Australians aged 50 or older with free screening kits.

The organisation independently surveyed 1206 people aged 40 to 70 years to retrieve the data.

In the 2011-2012 year, 5717 Canberrans participated in the national screening program, 353 testing positive, according to the Department of Health.

Between 2008 and 2012, 128 Canberrans aged 74 and under died from bowel cancer.

Canberra colourectal surgeon Dr David Rangiah said there was a general reluctance about anything bowel related.

But screening and early detection could save lives.

“Anything related to bowels, I think that puts people off,” he said.

“I certainly think we’re behind other screening programs in terms of acceptance. Once people become aware it’s a really simple test to do … and it’s a private thing to do, it will become more acceptable.”

Dr Rangiah said the relatively new screening program involved gathering a small amount of fecal matter in a sealed bag and sending it to the organisation for testing.

He said anyone with bowel cancer symptoms such as bleeding, changing bowel movements or severe abdominal pain should see a doctor, even if they participated in the screening program or were younger than 50.

“Above age 50, incidents of bowel cancer really take off – age is probably the highest risk factor,” he said.

“But we are seeing an increase in incidents of bowel cancer below age 50, particularly among people in their 40s. Although it’s relatively uncommon, it shouldn’t be ignored.”

Franklin mother of two Ella Wallace knows firsthand the importance of seeking help straight away.

At 39 she is well below the typical bowel cancer age bracket. She discovered she had cancer almost five years ago.

“I had just given birth to my second daughter, she was four months old … and I was just about to go back to work after maternity leave,” she said.

“I noticed the smallest amount of blood on a tissue. I mentioned it to my husband. Right away, he said to get it checked. I never once thought it would be bowel cancer.”

A colonoscopy revealed the worst. Luckily, Ms Wallace’s cancer was at stage where it was operable and treatable.

Life is back to normal although she’s still at the watch and act stage.

“There’s a stigma that goes with colon cancer. I’m not male, I’m not 50 to 60 years old,” she said.

“Prevention is obviously the best cure and catching it early is so important. Don’t wait, don’t hesitate.”

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NSW government announces $2.1 million funding boost for mental illness

“Developmentally appropriate” program: Minister for Mental Health Jai Rowell. Photo: Jonathan Ng “Developmentally appropriate” program: Minister for Mental Health Jai Rowell. Photo: Jonathan Ng
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“Developmentally appropriate” program: Minister for Mental Health Jai Rowell. Photo: Jonathan Ng

“Developmentally appropriate” program: Minister for Mental Health Jai Rowell. Photo: Jonathan Ng

The NSW government has announced that it will contribute an extra $2.1 million to a support program for young people with a mental illness.

A successful trial at Richmond psychiatric rehabilitation centre of the young peoples outreach program (Y-POP) found an 80 per cent reduction in the amount of time spent in hospital by young clients after entry to the program.

Minister for Mental Health Jai Rowell said that those involved with the program made significant progress in a number of aspects of their lives including social engagement, independent living skills, health and well-being, self-esteem and confidence levels.

The program has been running since 2009 in Blacktown and Penrith and children are referred mostly after a period of treatment in a hospital.

“It’s for young people who have trouble connecting with other services,” said Pamela Rutledge, the chief executive of Richmond PRA.

“We go into the kids’ homes, we work with their family, often kids are locked away in their room, they’re so frightened and unwell. [Staff] can basically sit and talk to them and help them reconnect and get them in touch with clinical help if they need it or back to school or work.

“We’ve had amazing success with helping kids avoid hospitalisation. We’ve prevented suicide.”

The successful trial has led to the government committing funding to establish centres in South-Western Sydney, Hunter New England, Nepean Blue Mountains, Northern NSW and Western Sydney local health districts.

“Previous NSW community living support programs for people with severe mental illness have focused on the needs of adults,” Mr Rowell said. This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Supermarket giants’ push into healthfood gets boost

Nielsen said more than two thirds of Australian households bought healthfood products last year.Coles’ and Woolworths’ push into the healthfoods category has been bolstered by a global survey underlining the strength of consumer demand for healthier packaged and fresh foods.
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According to research firm Nielsen, about 71 per cent of consumers in the Asia Pacific region are changing their diets to lose weight and 25 to 40 per cent are more than willing to pay a premium for foods that are free from artificial colours, flavours and gluten, low in fat and salt, and higher in protein and fibre.

In Australia, more than half (56 per cent) of consumers believe they are overweight and 78 per cent believe changing their diet is more important than exercising.

This behaviour is underpinning strong growth in the healthfoods category and prompting Coles and Woolworths to boost their offers by creating health food “destinations” within stores – increasing shelf space, expanding the number of products, and building private label brands.

Sales of packaged healthfoods grew by 8.2 per cent in supermarkets to $665 million last year, according to Nielsen Homescan, more than double the rate of growth in the broader food and grocery market and almost twice the rate of growth in fresh food (4.4 per cent) such as fruit and vegetables, dairy and meat.

Retailers’ private label healthfood brands grew by 18.1 per cent and now account for 15.5 per cent of sales in the category. About 52 per cent of healthfood shoppers purchased a retailer brand in the past year.

The Nielsen data also suggested that Coles was outperforming its larger rival in the category, lifting its share to 36 per cent, ahead of Woolworths’ 34 per cent share.

Coles’ healthfood brands include Coles Organic, Coles Simply Less and Coles Simply Gluten Free.

“Coles is seeing a significant increase in demand for healthier foods such a quinoa, chia, coconut oil and coconut water,” a spokesman said.

“In response, we have introduced larger pack sizes on selected products and recently dropped the prices on our Coles Brand quinoa and chia products to give customers better value.”

Woolworths said sales of own-brand healthfood products including its Macro brand had been growing at an average 25 per cent a year for the last three years.

Woolworths acquired Macro Wholefoods for around $16 million in 2009 and launched Macro healthfoods in supermarkets later that year. Macro sales are now worth around $600 million a year.

“We have seen an increase in several product types including allergen-free products, ancient grains such as quinoa and chia seeds, as well as healthier snacking,” a spokesman said. “We have invested heavily in ensuring these products are given space in our stores and are now stocking more than 400 own-brand products in our range.”

Nielsen said more than two thirds of Australian households bought healthfood products last year, underlying the opportunity for suppliers and retailers alike.

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Weet-Bix takes on Weetabix: UK to get fed an Aussie-style breakfast

Weet-Bix maker Sanitarium is taking on Weetabix, the largest player in the £1.2 billion UK cereal market, by targeting British consumers who skip breakfast.
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In its first move outside Australia and New Zealand, Sanitarium has set up a joint venture with Melbourne-based finance and investment company Wingate to launch its market-leading liquid breakfast product, Up&Go, in UK supermarkets.

Sanitarium’s international food general manager, Bennie Hendricks, says the UK liquid breakfast category is underdeveloped but could be worth £300 million in five years, based on Australian trends.

“Sanitarium hopes to have at least a 60 per cent share of the market,” said Mr Hendricks, who is overseeing the Up&Go rollout, which starts next month in Tesco supermarkets after a “soft” launch on Australia Day.

Sanitarium claims that 38 million Britons skip breakfast at least once a week and demand for eat-on-the go products such as breakfast biscuits and bars has been booming.

Up&Go, developed by Sanitarium 16 years ago, has more than 90 per cent of the $300 million liquid breakfast market in Australia, will compete with Weetabix’s On the Go breakfast drink, which was launched last January.

Sanitarium has no qualms taking on Weetabix Ltd, which makes leading brands such as Weetabix, an almost identical product to Weet-Bix, Alpen muesli and Weetos.

Weetabix is controlled by China’s Bright Foods, which is taking Weetabix’s products into Asia and considering listing the 83-year old company on the Hong Kong or London stock exchange after buying a 60 per cent stake in 2012.

“We believe in this specific category we’ve had a lot of years of experience and we have developed strong new product development expertise over the years,” said Mr Hendricks. “I’m not sure what the level of expertise that Weetabix has got in that category.”

Sanitarium and Wingate have no plans to export Up&Go to the UK. The product, which has been growing 25 per cent a year over the past five years, is made at Sanitarium’s factories on the NSW Central Coast.

Their joint venture company, Life Health Foods UK, will outsource production and distribution of Up&Go to contract manufacturers and third-party distributors.

In the UK, the product’s formulation and packaging has been tweaked to better suit British tastes, but marketing will play up the brand’s Australian origins.

“”We’d like to first make a success of our launch of Up&Go and … we’ll look at other opportunities as well,” said Mr Hendricks. “The UK market is very similar to that of Australia but has not developed in some areas – there is a gap in the market here for nutritional cereal.”

Sanitarium, which is owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, has set up a 50/50 joint venture with Wingate rather than tap the UK church for financial assistance.

“We like to partner with people who are aligned to our values and our culture and we believe Wingate is a good fit and they can help us to expedite the process of growing our brands on a global platform,” said Mr Hendricks.

Wingate group managing director Farrel Meltzer said the investment company, which has close ties to the Smorgon family, had made a “substantial” investment in the joint venture but declined to disclose the value of its interest for competitive reasons.

“There’s no one else in the world with a product like this – many have tried but they are the world leader in this particular product and no-one has had this level of success in a breakfast product,” Mr Meltzer said.

“(The investment) ticks the business opportunity box and the quality of partner box and the risk box,” he said.

Much to the chagrin of rivals such as Kellogg’s and Nestle, Sanitarium pays no corporate tax in Australia or New Zealand because of its charity status. However, the UK joint venture will be a taxable entity and will be obliged to pay corporate tax once it starts generating profits.

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Fortescue running at full speed, but can we bet on iron ore?

Illustration: Kerrie Leishman.Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals is running at full speed, chasing the falling iron ore price with cost reductions. If the rate at which the iron ore price has fallen over the past nine months continues it will eventually bulldoze Fortescue’s profits.
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But the West Australian-raised   entrepreneur and his management team are proving tenacious, continuing to generate cash even in this particularly tough environment, and nothing in the financial briefing from chief executive Nev Power on Thursday suggested the company had moved to DEFCON one.

The company is not pursuing asset sales to reduce debt and even more surprising it is not ruling out a dividend in 2015, although most are predicting shareholders should not be counting on one.

Thanks to some clever marketing footwork by chairman Forrest, the company’s debt repayment schedule is not onerous.

Another ratcheting down of Fortescue’s costs in the second (December) quarter, and the prediction they will continue to fall in the remainder of this financial year, means the group’s all-in cost including interest and sustaining capex should be  $US45-46 a tonne, compared with iron ore’s current price of about US$63. And after applying a discount to Fortescue’s particular type of iron ore, that would deliver the company about US$53.50 a tonne and a comfortable, rather than healthy, margin.

This margin is better than most analysts had built into their models.

The flip side is that the iron ore price could continue its slide and the company would need to sell assets, or at least sell part-interest in some mines. That is a lever Forrest and Power can pull if they need to.

The dilemma for investors is clear. Are we at, or near the bottom of the iron ore price cycle? If we are and the price starts to improve over the next six months, Fortescue is in a good position to capitalise and its share price, which has fallen proportionately more than other large producers, should recover.

Fortescue, like other producers, has managed its costs in part courtesy of the falling Australian dollar and cheaper oil-based energy costs.

Power takes the view – albeit one that is Robinson Crusoe-like – that the iron ore supply/demand market is in balance now. This is despite the massive addition to seaborne supply that has hit the market over the past year and will continue for a while yet.

While in China and Europe high-cost supply of iron ore is coming out of the market the Australian majors and the Brazilian Vale just keep digging up more.

Power said the price of the commodity was weakened by speculative futures trading and this must eventually turn.

Whether he proves to be prescient in his prediction lies with what the Chinese government decides to do about stimulating  its economic growth.

If, for example, it allows the economy’s growth to fall to less than 7 per cent this year, as some have predicted, it could be a while before iron ore prices recover.

This time a year ago Power and the team at Fortescue were pretty bullish on the outlook for the iron ore price.

But on Thursday, at least, the announcement of Fortescue’s impressive production figures for the December quarter and the forecasts to reduce costs more presented investors with some reprieve, as the share price gained almost 9 per cent.

It undoubtedly silenced some Fortescue watchers, who are concerned the falling iron ore price could have pushed it into negative cash flow – or worse an existential moment.

While Forrest’s personal (paper) fortune has fallen to about $2 billion, the reality is that this company has sufficient arsenal to fight, even if the iron ore price drops.

It can sell assets, even its prized infrastructure assets, if it needs to and in the worst-case scenario it could raise (highly shareholder dilutive) equity.

At this point most commodity analysts are busy downgrading their price forecasts for iron ore and no one is raising them yet.

The most bearish see the price fall to $US50 at some point in 2015 but not necessarily staying there.

Others are more optimistic on price but see lower prices lasting as long as a decade.

For Fortescue the more likely scenario is that it will continue to pay down enough debt that its all-in costs will become easily manageable. But it could take years to get to that position if the metal’s price remains at these weaker levels.

From an investors’ perspective it becomes a crap shoot around picking the bottom of the cycle. At this stage few are willing to take the bet, given the iron ore price continues to fall.

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We were not consulted on data retention law changes: ASIC

ASIC has warned that under the new laws, Australia’s burgeoning $1.87 trillion retirement savings pool could be even more exposed to fraud.The corporate regulator says it was not consulted about changes to data retention laws that will leave it without access to phone recordings vital to catching white-collar criminals.  Speaking before the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, Australian Securities and Investments Commission commissioner Greg Tanzer warned that the agency had “grave concerns” the bill, which removes ASIC from being able to access telecommunications data, could pose serious threats to economic security. “This type of evidence is vital for ASIC’s investigation of white-collar crime such as insider trading,” Mr Tanzer said.  “We have grave concerns that the bill in its current form could compromise ASIC’s investigation powers and increase the threat to Australians of financial crime.” Mr Tanzer said ASIC had not been consulted by the Attorney-General’s Department about being excluded from the list of agencies allowed to access telecommunications data under the new laws.  He said the agency first learnt about the decision when details of the bill were made public on October 30.  Deputy chair of the committee, Labor MP Anthony Byrne, described the situation as a “pretty interesting consultation process”.  A spokesman for Attorney-General George Brandis declined to comment. The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill was introduced by Mr Brandis in October as part of the government’s “counter-terrorism” package. Under the current regime, ASIC and other regulators are able to access stored metadata but that will be curtailed under the bill making its way through Parliament. ASIC has warned that under the new laws, Australia’s burgeoning $1.87 trillion retirement savings pool, which has already been a target of corporate criminals, could be even more exposed to fraud.  “The physical harm and the mental anguish that is suffered by victims of fraud and white-collar crime is vast and ongoing, as demonstrated by the collapse of the Trio superannuation funds,” Mr Tanzer told the committee. ASIC and its previous incarnations have had access to telecommunications data since 1979. Metadata from communications intercepts are one of the regulator’s key evidence-gathering tools in prosecuting white-collar criminals, particularly insider trading cases, which are notoriously hard to prove. Mr Tanzer told the committee that the regulator had used metadata in 81 per cent of insider trading cases it had prosecuted.  Information ASIC has gathered as part of investigations of corporate crime in the past, including basic information on telephone calls and emails, will not be able to be obtained for investigations unless it is given special clearance by the government. The bill was designed to ease privacy concerns about the new requirement that telecommunications companies retain communications metadata for two years by limiting the number of agencies that can access the stored information. The regulator has urged the government in its submission to the inquiry to include it on the list of agencies entitled to access the data.
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Retirement savings at risk from focus on domestic equities: Goldman Sachs

The growing appetite for equities at the expense of fixed interest comes despite a lacklustre performance from the ASX in 2014. Photo: Jessica ShapiroThe country’s growing army of retail investors and SMSFs are putting their retirement savings at risk by chasing dividend yields at the expense of investing in other asset classes, according to research by Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GSAM).
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An annual survey of 600 retail investors raises some fascinating questions about asset allocation, the psychology of retail investors, their knowledge of risk, and the country’s $1.8 trillion retirement savings.

It shows retail investors have low confidence in the outlook for the domestic economy for 2015, with only 13 per cent more confident than a year ago. Despite this, most expressed strong confidence in the outlook for Australian equities, with 77 per cent expecting annual returns from equities of more than 5 per cent over the next three years.

The growing appetite for equities at the expense of fixed interest, international equities and other asset classes comes despite a lacklustre performance from the ASX in 2014 that resulted in it ranking 44 out of 73 global exchanges. Australia has been a relatively poor equities market performer when ranked on the global stage for at least eight years.

It also follows the release of a thought-provoking report last year by Credit Suisse claiming SMSFs are “retarding investment, employment and growth in Australia”. It estimated that the SMSF sector, many of which are retail investors, which represents $531 billion of the country’s $1.7 trillion retirement savings, accounts for 16 per cent of the Australian stock exchange. This money, it argued, along with an obsession by investors for dividend yields, was affecting the decisions of corporate Australia in terms of share buybacks and dividend payments versus capital expenditure.

According to GSAM’s research, money will continue to pour into equities. The survey shows that more than a third of respondents intend to increase their exposure to Australian equities in the next 12 months.

Jessica Jones, who runs Third Party Distribution at GSAM in Asia Pacific ex Japan, said the research indicated that retail investors do not understand the importance of a diversified portfolio. She said 65-year-olds – who might be expected to have more diversified portfolios – have the highest bias to Australian equities, with 91 per cent invested in the asset class and 36 per cent intending to invest more of their retirement savings in equities in the next year. Only 17 per cent invested in fixed interest.

She said the research showed a clear disconnect between retail investors saying they have a low appetite for risk (42 per cent stated it was the most important criterion) and wanting to increase their exposure to Australian equities. The survey showed 86 per cent of retail investors have an exposure to Australian equities and only 13 per cent have direct fixed interest.

“Retail investors appear to be ignoring some important macro themes as they set investment intentions, and in our view the data points to an ongoing lack of meaningful diversification in investment portfolios,” she said.

The firm’s research found that two-thirds of respondents who had a financial adviser rated their financial adviser as the biggest influence on their investment decisions, compared with 65 per cent of investors who did not have a financial adviser who relied on their own experience, views and knowledge.

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