Monthly Archives: October 2019

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Reserve Bank holds rates but wants to see dollar go lower

The Reserve Bank has left the door open to further interest rate cuts, saying it has ”scope for further easing, should that be required”.

The bank board decided to leave its cash rate on hold at the half-century low of 2.75 per cent on Tuesday in part because it saw some signs its earlier cuts were boosting economic activity and wanted to wait and see if there were more.

It was also pleased that, since it last met, the Australian dollar had slipped below US100¢, providing the first boost from a lower exchange rate in more than a year.

But in a statement released after the board meeting, governor Glenn Stevens made it clear the dollar was nowhere near low enough.

”It remains high considering the decline in export prices that has taken place over the past year and a half,” he said. Souring the bank’s view of the decline in the dollar was the knowledge that in the month in which the dollar fell, commodity prices slipped 3 per cent, depriving exporters of much of the benefit from the lower exchange rate.

The bank will watch movements in the dollar and commodity prices closely in the next few weeks in order to form an opinion as to whether the recent slide in the dollar is a small one-off adjustment or part of a move back to the more normal exchange rate it thinks Australia needs.

The bank’s focus on the

exchange rate means that each monthly board meeting is ”live”, with the board prepared to cut rates if needed without waiting for the quarterly inflation result.

Mr Stevens said inflation was under control and ”expected to remain so over the next one to two years”.

Economic growth was ”a bit below trend”, providing another reason to cut rates again ”should that be required to support demand”.

Treasurer Wayne Swan said the bank had ”the flexibility to cut” should it need to.

The economy was in a transition that would ”not be seamless, particularly with the dollar still at high levels”.

Meanwhile, Australia’s biggest wholesale mortgage broker AFG reported that it had processed a record number of mortgages in May, $3.6 billion worth, up 13 per cent from the record $3.2 billion processed in April.

AFG makes up 10 per cent of the market.

Mark Hewitt, AFG’s general manager of operations, said there had been a marked lift in borrowing since February.

”Borrowers of all types were encouraged by the further rate reduction in early May and the expectation that we are in a low rate environment for some time to come,” he said.

”Reassuringly, the growth looks sustainable. We are not seeing the normal characteristics of a boom. The average new loan size is the same as it was over a year ago.”

The increase applies to all types of mortgages: loans for purchasing houses, loans for first home buyers, loans for investors and refinancing.

Futures market prices late on Tuesday implied a 100 per cent probability of a further interest rate cut by October. The chance of a cut at the bank’s July meeting was 32 per cent.

Wednesday’s national accounts are regarded as unlikely to alter the Reserve Bank’s thinking.

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‘Next top jock’: station rewards royal prank DJ

A still from an interview with 2dayfm presenters Michael Christian and Mel Greig, which aired on A Current Affair late last year. Photo: Image courtesy Channel Nine.One of the two radio announcers at the centre of the disastrous royal prank saga has won a national competition to discover the station’s “next top jock”.

Michael Christian, who six months ago was under fire for his role in the prank call to a London hospital that led to the suicide of a nurse caring for the Duchess of Cambridge, was on Tuesday given the award by his bosses at Southern Cross Austereo.

In a statement, Southern Cross Austereo said it was “thrilled” to crown Christian – who moved into Melbourne’s Fox FM mornings timeslot after being suspended in the wake of the fallout from December’s prank – as the joint winner, alongside Sydney 2Day FM mornings host Ellie Mobbs.

It comes amid reports that management has cut off Mel Greig, Christian’s former co-host who also participated in the prank call.

Last December, Greig and Christian, filling in as hosts of the Hot 30 program, phoned the King Edward VII hospital in London and impersonated the Queen and Prince Charles in a bid to find out more about Kate Middleton’s pregnancy, where the duchess was being treated for morning sickness.

The nurse who answered the call, Jacintha Saldanha, 46, committed suicide days later. Ms Saldanha did not reveal any information about the duchess’s condition, but transferred the call to her room where another nurse did reveal information.

As part of his victory last night, Christian won a trip to Los Angeles for a tour of the radio studios of the city’s leading station.

In a statement, Christian said: “From the start, I felt like I had something to prove to myself … Regardless of all that’s happened in the past few months, I’m still at the top of my game. So it felt good to see my name at the top of the final leader board!

“If this competition has taught me anything, it’s that there’s a LOT of talent in this company. Plus it’s given all our announcers access to ideas, ways of thinking and people we might [not] normally have day-to-day contact with.”

The judging panel for the awards comprised Southern Cross Austereo’s head of content, Craig Bruce, Fox FM content director Dave Cameron and 2Day FM content director Derek Bargwanna.

Christian’s victory comes as reports at the weekend suggest that Southern Cross Austereo management had cut Greig off.

“The producers [also involved in the prank] and MC [Christian] aren’t having much contact with Mel any more and it seems as though everyone has gone back to work as though nothing has happened,” an unnamed Southern Cross Austereo insider told Adelaide’s Sunday Mail.

Greig’s lawyers say she wants to testify at the inquest on Ms Saldanha – expected to be held in September – while her employers say that they are working for her to return to work “at a time that’s right for her”.

The newspaper also suggested that Greig had been stopped from sending a condolence letter to Ms Saldanha’s family.

Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

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No deceptions, says CSIRO

The CSIRO has denied it duped the pharmaceutical giant Novartis into buying a compromised anti-counterfeit device to protect millions of medicine vials.

A Fairfax Media investigation in April revealed that DataTrace DNA, a joint venture between CSIRO and another company, Datadot Technology, misled the Swiss multinational by passing off cheap Chinese chemicals as its own “trade secret” formula.

But the deputy chief of the government’s peak scientific organisation, Mike Whelan, told a Senate Estimates committee that CSIRO’s internal investigation had found no evidence that it had deceived or wilfully misled DataTrace or Novartis over the supply of materials.

“Secondly we have identified no evidence that CSIRO officers deceived or wilfully misled DataTrace or Novartis with respect to the security level of the solution offered by DataTrace to Novartis,” he said.

Mr Whelan said the organisation was continuing its investigation into the allegations, but defended the sale of its 50 per cent share in DataTrace three months after signing the deal with Novartis.

“The allegation that CSIRO seeked [sic] to capitalise on the alleged deception of Novartis through the sale of CSIRO’s interest in DataTrace is also false,” he said.

He said there was nothing unusual about CSIRO “selling down its shareholding” in a company.

In 2010, DataTrace DNA Pty Ltd signed a five-year deal with Novartis to supply a custom-designed high-security forensic “tracer” that would protect its vials of injectible Voltaren from being copied, filled with a placebo and sold by crime syndicates.

But despite a deal to supply a unique tracer code, DataTrace issued Novartis cheap tracer it had bought in bulk from a Chinese distributor.

The sale of counterfeit medicines has become a booming black market and a significant global health problem. Interpol seized 3.75 million units of fake drugs in 2012.

The invention sold to Novartis – a microscopic chemical powder painted on the neck of its Voltaren ampoules – was supposed to protect against such counterfeit attacks.

Instead Novartis was given a widely available tracer material that was only suitable for low-risk applications with no security concerns.

Damning internal documents seen by Fairfax Media showed DataTrace and some of the most senior officials at the CSIRO knew that Novartis was being misled in a deal believed to be worth $2.5 million.

As a result of the Fairfax Media revelations DataDot was placed into a trading halt and the company launched an internal investigation. Federal Science Minister Don Farrell also called for CSIRO to investigate the allegations.

When questioned by Senator Richard Colebeck at Monday’s estimates committee about why he did not launch an independent investigation, Senator Farrell said an internal review was appropriate because other third parties were also conducting investigations.

“We believe that’s the way to best protect the reputation of CSIRO,” he said.

The shadow minister for science, Sophie Mirabella, criticised the government for failing to conduct an independent enquiry.

“Months after the government was embarrassed into launching an investigation into these very serious allegations of corruption at CSIRO, we hear today that the investigation is being conducted by none other than CSIRO itself,” said Mrs Mirabella.

“CSIRO should have nothing to fear from a genuinely independent investigation into allegations of serious misconduct,” she said.

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Paramedics not muted by threats 

Source: Bendigo Advertiser

Paramedics are writing statements on ambulance windows to have their message heard. Photo: BLAIR THOMSON

Bendigo paramedics say they have faced threats of disciplinary and legal action over messages scrawled on ambulance windows.

A number of local ambulances have been adorned with hand-written messages calling for better working conditions and fairer pay.

Ambulance Victoria management labelled the notes “graffiti” and urged paramedics to stop “defacing” ambulances.

In a recent bulletin circulated to staff, Ambulance Victoria general manager specialist services Mark Rogers said the signs drawn with chalk pen did not fall under protected industrial action. “Any existing graffiti must be removed from all ambulances immediately by the current crews on shift,” he wrote.

“If handwritten messages continue to be written on Ambulance Victoria vehicles, Ambulance Victoria will consider taking action in relation to such conduct, which may include disciplinary action or legal proceedings.”

Bendigo paramedic Brett Adie said some staff had already faced threats.

“The government have really cracked it with us over it,” he said. “Management have made some unofficial warnings that they are considering action… All the messages are doing are informing the community of what’s going on.” Ambulance Victoria Loddon Mallee regional manager Kevin Masci denied that management had made any legal threats.

“That is categorically untrue,” he said. “We have been asking them to wipe them off. We don’t want ambulances covered in chalk, basically. At the end of the day I think a lot of the messages are controversial.”

Mr Masci said the ongoing argument between Ambulance Victoria and the union was about whether the signs were protected or unprotected industrial action.

Ambulance Employees Association state secretary Steve Mcghie said staff would be protected because the messages were being written outside work hours. He believed the threats had resulted from increasingly heated negotiations over the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement.

“There’s no question there has been a bit of an effort from Ambulance Victoria to pressure staff to stop doing it,” he said.

“Our instructions to our members is that they need to be able to do it in off-duty hours.”

Mr Mcghie said paramedics have had a positive response from the community.

“We’re trying to get the message out there,” he said. “It’s got people talking.”

Mr Masci said he was no closer to determining when a pay agreement would be reached with staff.

Hunt for US Marine – kidnapped in Mexico

McAllen, Texas: The FBI is searching for a US Marine reservist who served in Iraq, his father and uncle after they were kidnapped at a ranch in Mexico last month, authorities said on Tuesday.

The FBI has asked for the public’s help to locate US Marine Armando Torres III, who was taken with his father Armando Torres II and his uncle Salvador Torres on May 14 in La Barranca, Mexico, near the southern tip of Texas.

The FBI says it is working with Mexican law enforcement agencies to locate Torres, a US citizen, and the two older men, who are both Mexican citizens.

Investigators in Mexico say a property dispute over the partial sale of the ranch may have triggered the kidnapping.

Armando Torres III drove into Mexico on May 14 to visit his father’s ranch, the FBI said in a statement. Shortly after his arrival, gunmen entered the property and kidnapped the three Torres men, who have not been heard from since.

“We’ll take any leads to find this guy safely,” said Erik Vasys, an agent from the FBI’s San Antonio office.

Officials at the state attorney general’s office in Tamaulipas, where the ranch is located, said the kidnappings appeared to be linked to a dispute between Torres’ family and a man to whom his grandfather had sold part of his ranch.

After the grandfather died, Armando Torres II and his brother Salvador decided to renege on the sale, angering the man, who vowed to settle the matter, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

They added that it was unclear where the kidnap victims were or who had taken them. Tamaulipas is one of Mexico’s most lawless states, with much criminal activity going unreported or uninvestigated for fear of reprisals.

“It’s just shocking, you know, because you don’t want to believe it,” Mr Torres’ sister, Cristina Torres, told ABC News. “My cousin called me. She told me you know that she had seen a white truck outside the house. She saw several people just get out of the car and go inside the house and they grabbed my brother and my uncle and my father and just took them.”

Cristina Torres did not immediately return requests for comment from Reuters on Tuesday.

Armando Torres III is a member of the US Marines in the Individual Ready Reserve – a category of former active duty or reserve military personnel who do not regularly drill, but may be called on to serve – and served in Iraq.


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