Tony Abbott

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Get with the program: Coding to be taught in schools from primary age

9:00PM | Sunday, 20 September

Coding has replaced history and geography in Australia’s new digital technologies curriculum which was endorsed by education ministers on Friday.   As the Australian reports, it ensures that 21st century computer coding will be taught in primary schools from Year 5, and programming will be taught from Year 7.   It’s as part of a slimmed-down national curriculum that was given the tick of approval by Education Minister Christopher Pyne in one of his last acts before being sworn in as Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science later this morning.   There’s been a big push for a greater focus on coding and STEM subjects in schools from a primary level, and it seems a good fit with new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s heavy focus on innovation and preparing for the jobs and economies of the future.   The government will be pumping $12 million into four separate STEM initiatives: the development of innovative maths curriculum, the introduction of computer coding, a P-TECH-style school pilot site and the funding of summer schools for STEM students from underrepresented groups.   “High quality school STEM education is critically important for Australia’s productivity and economy wellbeing, both now and into the future,” Pyne said in a statement.   “We are restoring the focus on STEM subjects in schools and making sure our teachers get more instruction on STEM during initial teacher training.”   Opposition Leader Bill Shorten signalled his support for coding in schools earlier this year but then prime minister Tony Abbott was not impressed.   “He said that he wants primary school kids to be taught coding so they can get the jobs of the future,” Abbott said.   “Does he want to send them all out to work at the age of 11?”   Want to grow your business with Instagram? StartupSmart School can help

Enabled Employment launches new site to help veterans return to civilian life

4:00AM | Wednesday, 8 April

Canberra-based startup Enabled Employment has launched a new platform in order to help returning veterans ease back into the workforce and, by extension, civilian life.   The company has partnered with not-for-profit Soldier On Australia to create a website where employers looking to hire casual, part-time or permanent staff can be matched with former army personnel and their partners.   The website was officially launched on Wednesday morning by Prime Minister Tony Abbott at Soldier On Australia’s national headquarters in Canberra.   Enabled Employment is two years old and a graduate of the Griffin Accelerator program. Originally the startup was an online marketplace aimed at tackling Australia’s low disability employment rate, however there are plans to also branch out to cover people living in rural or remote areas.   Founder Jessica May told StartupSmart the idea for the website came about because her grandfather served in Vietnam and Soldier On were willing to collaborate as part of their Hands Up program.   “What they’re offering is a diploma level qualification from Australian Business Academy and rehabilitation services through Connect, and an employment hub through us where we can offer flexible work for people who have served our country and returning to civilian life,” she says.   “Veterans need flexible work arrangements just like people with disabilities to get back into the workforce. We offer flexible working arrangements… and to their families as well as they can get disrupted by military life.”   May says there is a lot of progress happening in how veterans are integrated back into society, however more needs to be done and she hopes her startup can play a role in improving people’s lives.   “The support out there is amazing,” she says.   “It’s the same with the disability world – people were crying out for this service. There’s been nothing like this available.”   May says many employers have told her how veterans are their best employees because they are resourceful and quick-thinkers.   So far around 40 jobs are listed on the platform, with Fujitsu Australia one of the first major company to jump onboard.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Buy tickets to the 2015 StartupSmart Awards.  

THE NEWS WRAP: Labor accuses Tony Abbott of politicising metadata laws

2:37PM | Monday, 16 February

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has expressed his disappointment with the way the Coalition government has politicised the debate surrounding data retention legislation and suggested Labor’s bipartisan support may be withdrawn.   Fairfax reports Shorten has sent a strongly-worded letter to Tony Abbott, urging his government to consider a number of concerns relating to the proposed data retention laws – including cost, press freedom and civil liberties.   The news follows a report on StartupSmart’s sister website Crikey, which revealed Labor was poised to back the government’s mass surveillance scheme.   The proposed legislation would currently require Australian phone and internet companies to store customer data so that intelligence agencies can access it without a warrant. Just Eat acquires Mexican food delivery startup Takeaway ordering and delivery startup Just Eat has announced the acquisition of Mexican ordering service SinDelantal in a bid to strengthen its presence in Latin America.   Chief executive of Just Eat, David Buttress, said in a statement the acquisition will secure the startup’s long-term strategy.   “We are delighted to be entering the thriving Mexican market, which offers exciting growth opportunities and strengthens our international portfolio,” he said.   “An increased stake in IF-JE further supports our commitment to building on our strategy to develop market leading positions and offer more consumers the benefits of a great online takeaway experience with JUST EAT.”   Just Eat is operating in 13 counties and in 2013 its revenue grew by 58% to more than $A190 million. Automated graphic design startup raises $1.1 million Automated logo design startup Tailor Brands has raised $US1.1 million ($A1.4m) in seed funding in a bid to scale its business.   TechCrunch reports the funding round was led by Disruptive Ventures and various angel investors.   The startup aims to help businesses create logos and other branded items quickly and easily by using algorithms and a series of questions instead of hiring a graphic designer.   Tailor Brands is operating in 35 countries following its launch last year. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.26%, rising 46.97 points to 18,019.35. The Australian dollar is currently trading at 77.75 US cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Tony Abbott’s prime ministership under threat: WA backbencher calls leadership spill for Tuesday

2:40AM | Friday, 6 February

Tony Abbott could be replaced as Prime Minister of Australia on Tuesday, following a decision by Western Australian backbencher Luke Simpkins to call a leadership spill.   Simpkins emailed his colleagues in the Liberal Party today, advising them he has submitted his spill motion to the chief government whip, Philip Ruddock. The motion has been seconded by fellow backbencher Don Randall.   Simpkins says in the email, republished by Fairfax, the spill will give the Liberal Party “an opportunity to either endorse the Prime Minister or to seek a new direction”.     Email from Luke Simpkins to colleagues calling on a spill. #libspill pic.twitter.com/H7eA80ioEU — Latika Bourke (@latikambourke) February 6, 2015     Simpkins said his electorate office has been “inundated with emails and walk ins” over the past two weeks from people “questioning the direction the government is being led in” and the Prime Minister’s decision to award a knighthood to Prince Phillip “was for many the final proof of a disconnection with the people”.   “As I have said in the past, I have no front bench ambitions. I just want to make sure that the economic vandals do not get back into power and our children and grandchildren are not left to pay Labor’s bill,” Simpkins said.   “I do this because I believe it is in the best interests of the people of our country”.   Fairfax reports no candidates have signalled their intentions to run against Tony Abbott.   Pressure has been mounting on the Prime Minister this week, following a disastrious election result for the Coalition in Queensland last Saturday and Abbott’s decision to dump his signature paid parental leave scheme on Monday.   This story originally appeared on SmartCompany. More details on Crikey's live blog.

Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh calls for regulation of Airbnb and Uber

1:48AM | Tuesday, 27 January

Rapidly growing international tech businesses like Airbnb and Uber should be subjected to stricter regulation to ensure they don’t avoid their tax obligations, according to shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh.   Leigh is giving a speech to the McKell Institute in Sydney tonight, in which he will call on the Australian government to continue the fight against multinational corporations that deliberately avoid paying their fair share of tax.   “The sharing economy needs to be better regulated,” Leigh told Fairfax ahead of the speech.   “I certainly don’t believe that the sharing economy should expand because it’s avoiding taxes. It ought to expand on offering a better product to Australians.”   Leigh said there’s “an extraordinary number” of Australians that have used Airbnb and individuals who make money from renting out their homes, should pay tax on that income.   “There’s nine million empty bedrooms in Australia at the moment. That’s a huge number of spare bedrooms for people looking to make ends meet on their mortgage … [regulators] simply need to say that if people are making income that ought to be reportable in tax returns.” Sharing economy needs regulation Leigh previously wrote about the benefits of the ‘sharing economy’ in an opinion article in the Herald Sun earlier this month, but also spoke then of the need to “think creatively” to ensure the balance between regulation and incentives to grow is correct.   “At the moment it’s also hard to know if the people providing these [Uber] services are paying their taxes and doing the right thing when it comes to insurance and other consumer protections,” Leigh wrote.   “For sharing economy services, we’d ideally have a set of rules that offer core protections for public safety and make it easy for everyone to pay tax on what they earn.”   “At the same time, those rules would be flexible and simple enough to support the growth of these services. We should particularly aim to avoid strangling them through over-zealous regulation, because regular consumers would then miss out.”   Read more: The sharing economy is here.   University of New South Wales economics professor Tim Harcourt told SmartCompany it is “probably smart” to increase regulation for startups such as Uber, which operate in an industry in which existing competitors are subject to long-standing regulation.   But Harcourt says when it comes to innovative companies, it is often a case of “learning as we go”.   “With startups, we often don’t know what will happen in practice until there are some miles driven,” Harcourt says.   “We wouldn’t pass legislation for rocket ship rides to the moon, but you never know, Richard Branson might start doing that.”   “You have to be open to innovation and entrepreneurship as soon as possible and where there is some evidence of problems, you consult with industry,” he says. The problem with base erosion and profit shifting In Leigh’s speech tonight, entitled ‘No country ever tax dodged its way to prosperity’, Leigh will describe base erosion and profit shifting – or BEPS – as “among the most important global economic debates of our time”.   “It’s difficult to put a figure on the tax dollars lost to BEPS – after all, it’s hard to count something that isn’t there,” Leigh will say.   “But we do know that when Labor, in our last term of government, closed just a few of the loopholes that facilitated BEPS, the budget was over $4 billion better off.”   “It is often said that tax is the price of civilisation. If that’s so, there’s also a strong argument that requiring companies to contribute their fair share wherever they make profits around the world civilises the forces of globalisation.”   While Leigh will say in his speech that “globalisation creates many opportunities for economic good”, he says if a “global tax system creates incentives for doing dodgy deals, then dodgy deals will get done”.   “Likewise, if the financial framework supports honest dealing and a fair contribution by all, then big corporations will find less reason to stray from this path.” Closing tax loopholes Leigh says politicians and policymakers are the “architects” of the incentive system for global businesses and it is possible to “get those incentives flowing in the right direction”.   Leigh says work is already being done to achieve this, citing the OECD action plan on BEPS, commissioned by the G20 in 2012, and the Irish government’s moves to close the “Double Irish Dutch Sandwich” tax loophole, but called on the Australian government to do more.   “Unfortunately, while the Irish government is closing tax loopholes, to the benefit of everyone, including Australian taxpayers, the Australian government has re-opened significant ones, which will costs us dearly,” he says.   “Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey’s decision not to proceed with Labor’s proposals to tackle debt loading and improve the offshore banking unit regime has effectively handed $1.1 billion back to big global firms.”   Harcourt believes there is bipartisan support for minimising tax avoidance by multinational corporations in Australia, pointing out that Treasurer Joe Hockey has also spoken publicly about the need for more action.   At the end of the day, Harcourt says small businesses can ultimately be the losers from large corporations avoiding their tax obligations.   “The great Australian concept of a fair go doesn’t just apply to the unemployed or people with disabilities,” Harcourt says.   “It also applies to small businesses.”   “Small businesses are general happy to pay tax if the blue chips are also paying tax, but if they read about the large companies avoiding tax, they feel an unnecessary tax burden.”   This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.

Melbourne startups sit down with Tony Abbott to press case for more support

10:19PM | Wednesday, 15 October

Startup figures got the chance to lobby Prime Minister Tony Abbott to encourage superannuation funds to invest in venture capital, as well as open up equity-based crowdfunding, when he visited The Hub co-working space in Melbourne on Wednesday.   While at The Hub, Abbott officially announced reforms to employee share option schemes and met with startups HealthKit and School of Life.   Hub Australia founder and chief executive officer Brad Krauskopf was granted an audience with Abbott and Minister for Small Business Brice Billson, along with representatives from the venture capital industry, Startup Grind, Silicon Beach, That Startup Show, AngelCube, and the Founders Institute.   During the meeting, the group congratulated Abbott and Billson on the changes to employee share option schemes that have been implemented as part of the government’s Industry Innovation and Competiveness Agenda. They also lobbied the government for more support.   “How do we make it so that it’s easier for super funds to invest in venture capital? How can we get (equity-based) crowdfunding going as well,” Krauskopf says of the group’s concerns.   “All these things are known issues. So in that sense it wasn’t new stuff, but we got the opportunity to communicate it.”   Krauskopf says changes to employee share option schemes are an important first step from the government to support startups.   Pollenizer chief operating officer Clare Hallam explains how the system currently works, illustrating why the changes are so important.   “For a startup that has raised some angel money and now has a valuation of $1 million, it’s a challenge to motivate a new employee with equity. If you issue the shares the employee has to pay for them, you can give a payment summary for the value of the shares, but the employee will have to pay the tax at the point of issue. Not very attractive to the employee to pay tax on something that may never reach its proposed value,” she says.   Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association chief executive Yasser el-Ansary is thrilled such a problem will no longer exist when the proposed changes are implemented next year. However, he adds while it’s a step in the right direction, more work needs to be done if Australia is to catch up to other developed countries and compete globally in key growth innovation over the long term.   “Part of that will be ensuring that innovative businesses have access to venture funding at all stages of growth and that Australia improves its ability to translate and commercialise basic research into real products and outcomes,” he says.   “We will be continuing to advocate for more policy changes to encourage greater private sector investment into this critically important part of the economy.”   The government’s commitment to invest $12 million in improving the focus of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in primary and secondary schools was also announced as part of the agenda. That $12 million includes $3.5 million that will go towards providing greater exposure to computer coding in schools.   Australian Computer Society chief executive officer Alan Patterson says that’s “most welcome” but much more needs to be done.   “We must recognise basic coding as a foundation skill and build it into the national curriculum,” he says.   “This needs to start at a young age, so that our students are better prepared and equipped to compete globally, as other countries such as the UK have these programs in place.   “A focus on technology for students in schools means we need better professional development for teachers in the technology space.   “ICT is uniquely dynamic – and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. Many of today’s young people will work in jobs nobody has even heard of today. This requires a lifelong approach to skills and education in the technology area.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

What now for the NBN as taxpayer investment is capped?

5:34AM | Friday, 16 May

The Abbott Government’s first federal budget has allocated funds for capital investment into the National Broadband Network (NBN) to continue up to 2017-18 but with a cap of A$29.5 billion.   This falls well short of NBN Co’s original forecast of A$44.1 billion not withstanding various estimates of cost blowouts and new NBN Co leadership’s revised forecast of A$72.6 billion.   The Coalition under Tony Abbott’s leadership in opposition and in government has long maintained that NBN could cost less and be rolled out quicker.   That commitment was confirmed this week by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull following the budget announcement on spending.   In a statement, he said the budget provides A$20.9 billion in equity funding to NBN Co to cover up to 2017–18. This is on top of A$8.6 billion already committed bringing the total to the capped A$29.5 billion.   New sources of funding needed   NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow now faces some difficult decisions in deciding how best to allocate resources to meet the objective of providing high-speed broadband across Australia.   Since the Coalition’s election in September last year the NBN has been subject to a number of reviews and a wholesale clean out of management.   With many reviews, such as the cost-benefit analysis, yet to report, the strategic direction for NBN Co is uncertain making it difficult to comment on future developments with accuracy.   What can be said with certainty is the capping of the government’s investment gives a clear indication that Coalition’s NBN will be vastly different from that proposed under Labor.   But some issues will need to be addressed so they do not provide a thorn in the side to NBN Co or hinder the rollout of broadband across the community.   The funding cap amplifies the need for private investment. Only A$57 million has so far been earned in revenue related cashflow against the A$7.3 billion invested to date.   NBN Co will therefore be required to increase revenue and raise funds through private equity or debt financing to ensure it can fund both operational expenses and future capital investments. But it will need to show an attractive rate of return potential to lure Australian institutional investors, superfunds and other international investors.   Alternatively NBN Co will be forced to secure loans to bridge the gap. But whether the Abbott government would offer debt guarantees to the company remains an open question.   NBN Co may seek to reprioritise the rollout of the planned network by cherry picking more profitable connections in metropolitan regions. But this may detract from the rollout of services in areas with a higher capital cost, such as regional towns and outer suburban areas, which are often those areas that have the most to gain from the provision of broadband.   Deals with telcos   The A$11 billion deal with Telstra to lease part of its existing network is currently under renegotiation. This might extend to accessing existing fibre-to-the-cabinet, hybrid fibre-coax and dark fibre in addition to copper infrastructure to speed up “new” NBN rollout.   A changing technology mix means that some existing copper will not be decommissioned, entering operation as part of the NBN.   The outcomes of the renegotiation and the terms of any new agreement will impact the rollout and the future technology mix. Fibre-to-the-node in some form and maximising the use of existing copper infrastructure appears to be a dominant base for such mix and existing carrier infrastructure may offer opportunities in a funding constrained environment.   By further reviewing its construction and installation methods NBN Co may be able to achieve some cost savings and curtail cost blowouts.   Network competition   The NBN Co is operating in an uncertain regulatory environment. The current rules were set up with the NBN Co being a monopoly wholesale infrastructure provider.   But internet service provider TPG’s plan to rollout its own fibre-to-the-basement network is changing the telecommunications landscape requiring a regulatory response. Failure to clarify this would force NBN to lose opportunities in rolling out to rapidly expanding apartments sector with a customer base often opting for higher tier services.   Australia would then see its history repeated once more with parallel network rollout similar to the hybrid fibre-coax rollout by Telstra and Optus.   Maintaining the wholesale monopoly for NBN Co could have possible competitive consequences. Currently there appears to be a confusion in the way wholesale services are defined with potential restrictions on emerging market opportunities. NBN review panel’s terms of reference is seeking input on clarification of this.   Relieving NBN Co of its wholesale-only constraints, or at least redefining its limitations, would allow it to provide network connectivity directly to business end-users such as mobile base-stations, large businesses, governments and national infrastructure such as power grids which offer high growth potential.   This approach would be good for NBN Co as it would open new revenue streams that would support the government’s desire for the company to increase private investment.   Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas is a Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. He is currently an Associate Director with the Institute for Broadband-Enabled Society which has received funding from a range of sources including the University of Melbourne and Victorian Government. He is also the Director of Melbourne Accelerator Program which helps to promote entrepreneurship culture through acceleration of start-ups. Views expressed in this article is entirely that of the author and do not reflect the views of his employer - University of Melbourne. He receives funding from the Australian Research Council.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

THE NEWS WRAP: Australia signs trade agreement with Japan

4:34PM | Monday, 7 April

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have struck a bilateral trade agreement that will see tariffs cut on Australian agricultural exports.   Under the agreement, Japan’s tariff on Australian beef will be cut from 38.5% to 19.5% and the duty-free quota for cheese will increase from 27,000 tonnes per year to 47,000.   Exporters of fruit, vegetables, seafood, sugar and wine will also benefit from the agreement, although tariffs will remain on Australian rice exports to Japan.   In return, Australian tariffs on consumer electronics and whitegoods will be lowered, while Japanese-made cars will be $1500 cheaper, on average, under the agreement.   “This is the first time that Japan has negotiated a comprehensive economic partnership agreement or free trade agreement with a major economy, particularly a major economy with a strong agricultural sector,” Abbott said.   Another seasonally adjusted boost to job ads   There was a seasonally adjusted 1.4% increase in job ads during March, on top of a sharp 4.7% rise in February, according to the latest ANZ job ads series.   The survey marks the fifth consecutive increase in job ads, which are seen as a good indicator of future movement in unemployment figures.   “The trajectory of the pick-up in job advertising will be important for gauging the timing and pace of future interest rate rises,” ANZ's Australian chief economist Ivan Colhoun said. “ANZ continues to expect the cash rate will remain unchanged in 2014 and increase modestly by 1 percentage point to 3.5% over 2015.”   Wesfarmers sells insurance business   The parent company of supermarket giant Coles, Wesfarmers, has announced the $3 billion sale of its insurance business to global broking group Arthur J. Gallagher, following the sale of its insurance underwriting business in December.   The company expects profits from the deal of between $310 million and $335 million, increasing the total profits from its insurance sell-off to over $1 billion.   “It will either reduce debt or [we will] find a way of returning the proceeds to shareholders, or we'll find an investment. We're always looking at opportunities to invest, and we've got a track record of being very disciplined,” chief executive Richard Goyder said.   “We're not going to sit on an undergeared balance sheet for too long either … we've got a track record of returning money to shareholders if we don't need it.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down to 16245.9. The Aussie dollar is down to US92.70 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Government bullish about free trade agreement with Japan, but beef remains a bone of contention

4:27PM | Sunday, 6 April

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he remains cautiously optimistic about Australia securing a free trade agreement with Japan, although tariffs on Australian beef exports remain a key point of contention between the two nations.   Currently, Japan has a 38.5% tariff on Australian beef, which they are considering halving to 19.35%, although that might not be enough to secure an agreement.   “Under the free trade agreement, about which we are optimistic, we are hopeful not just of getting more Australian produce sold in Japan, more Japanese products sold in Australia, but we want to have more investment, more two-way investment and more opportunities for Australian companies to flourish here in Japan,” Abbott says.   TPG Capital close to investing in Airbnb   Private equity firm TPG Capital is close to investing in Airbnb at a $US10 billion valuation, with the online accommodation marketplace set to raise $US500 million in its current financing round.   The service, launched in 2008, allows users to rent out a couch, bedroom or house, and claims listing in over 34,000 cities.   Neither TPG Capital nor Airbnb are currently commenting publicly about the negotiations.   US economy grows 192,000 jobs, unemployment remains steady   The US economy gained 190,000 jobs during March, while the unemployment rate remained steady at a near five-year low of 6.7%, according to new official figures.   The US Labor Department figures also show employers increased the number of hours offered to employees, interpreted by analysts as a sign of growing confidence in the economy.   “It is strong enough to indicate the economy is back on track, but not so robust that the Federal Reserve would have to start thinking about actually raising rates," Joel Naroff, head of Naroff Economic Advisers, told Reuters.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down to 16412.7. The Aussie dollar is down to US92.87 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Abbott hoses down GST speculation

3:23PM | Thursday, 13 March

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has hosed down speculation of a GST increase after former treasury secretary Ken Henry called an increase to the tax “necessary”.   “Raising the GST rate one day will be seen as necessary to underpin fiscal sustainability in the Australian federation,” Henry said.   In response, Tony Abbott said the views of Henry were those of a private citizen.   “Ken Henry is a distinguished, retired federal public servant, he's a distinguished former secretary of the Treasury; he deserves to be listened to with respect.   “But they're just private views of a private citizen. We have a tax reform program, and tax reform begins with repeal of the carbon tax, the repeal of the mining tax.”   Reject Shop chairman says chief executive wasn’t pushed   The chairman of discount retailer The Reject Shop, Bill Stevens, has denied rumours former chief executive Chris Bryce was pressured to resign, after the chain announced a 16% slide in half-year profits last month.   On Thursday, Bryce announced his resignation from the retailer, effective this financial year, with the sudden announcement sparking speculation he had been pressured by the board to stand aside.   “The answer to that question [of Bryce being pressured] is unequivocally 'no'. This is entirely Chris' decision, and he has clearly looked at it from his perspective. Chris has his own reasons and part of it is it has been a solid four-and-a-half years as CEO,” Stevens says.   Qantas chairman blames Labor for productivity drop   Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford has lashed out at former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, claiming the repeal of Work Choices led to a drop in Labor productivity, in a speech to the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.   “The re-regulation of the labour market a few years back stalled the productivity improvement. Productivity went backwards – just as demand was softening and capital spending was slowing down.   “It is already too late for governments to invest the proceeds of the boom. Those proceeds have gone. We are now in need of major infrastructure investment like the second Sydney airport, as well as major roads and rail, at a time when government budgets are under pressure.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down to 16108.9. The Aussie dollar is up to US90.27 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: SPC Ardmona signs $70 million deal with Woolworths

3:21PM | Monday, 10 March

Troubled food processor SPC Ardmona has signed a key deal with Woolworths worth $70 million, which will see it supply an additional 24,000 tonnes of product to the supermarket giant over five years.   The landmark deal comes after the company, owned by Coca-Cola Amatil, received $22 million from the Victorian government, after Prime Minister Tony Abbott turned down a request for assistance.   “There is no question that the fact of the government being prepared to support the package with SPC has been the determining factor in this [deal],” Victorian Deputy Premier Peter Ryan says.   “The company could well have been lost. But with the $22 million coupled with the $78 million being contributed by the company, that $100 million investment is now literally going to bear fruit.”   Iron ore price tumbles as concerns grow about China’s economic outlook   The price of iron ore has dropped below $105 per tonne, in its biggest single-day fall in five years, over mounting concerns about the outlook for the Chinese economy.   The fall saw the benchmark iron ore price for Tianjin in China drop by 8.3% to $US104.70 a tonne, down 22% for the year.   It comes after a string of official figures, showing exports plunged 18.1% in February, along with weaker than expected credit figures and a larger than expected fall in producer prices.   Hochtief looks to boost stake in Leighton, ASIC to investigate share price rice   Spanish-controlled German firm Hochtief is looking to increase its stake in Leighton, announcing an offer to buy three out of every eight shares owned by other shareholders at $22.15 each.   The offer represents an 18.8% premium over the construction giant’s adjusted average share price of $18.65.   However, ASIC is set to investigate a spike in Leighton’s share price last week, ahead of the announcement.   “As part of our normal market surveillance, ASIC of course will look at the latest movements in Leighton share price, ahead of this announcement from Hochtief,” an ASIC spokesperson told the ABC.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down to 16418.7. The US dollar is down to US90.23 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Qantas in showdown with unions over job cuts and wage freezes

2:26PM | Thursday, 27 February

Embattled Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce is set to begin talks with union heavyweights today after announcing 5000 job cuts and a wage freeze, following a massive $252 million loss for the December half.   “The current position is unsustainable. There are many Australian companies that have failed because they were not prepared to make the hard decisions. Qantas is not one of them,” Joyce says.   Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has poured cold water on the idea of a federal government debt guarantee for the troubled airline.   “Why should the government do for one what it is not prepared to do for all, or what is not necessarily available for all?” Abbott says.   Air New Zealand posts record profit   Air New Zealand has posted a record half-year profit of $NZ140 million ($A130 million) despite expectations of a $49 million loss at Virgin Australia, in which it holds a 24.5% stake.   “We have worked hard on improving our cost base in an environment where we have not grown,” Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon says.   “In fact, we have reduced our capacity flown overall as we realigned our long-haul network.”   Nationals MP raises doubts over paid parental leave   New South Wales National Party Senator John Williams has raised doubts over the future of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s proposed paid parental leave scheme, telling the ABC the economy is too weak to support the plan.   “I've said all along, I don't have a problem with the paid parental leave scheme. That is our policy so long as the economy is strong, but I do have concerns about the strength of the Australian economy,” Williams says.   “To me a strong economy in Australia [has] a four in front of unemployment – that's currently got a six in front of it and a four or close to four in front of economic growth - and we're currently growing at 2.5%.”   Williams says he will have talks with Abbott before announcing whether he’s willing to cross the floor over the proposal.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up to 16248. The Aussie dollar is down to US89.6 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Kickstarter hacked

2:20PM | Sunday, 16 February

Crowdfunding site Kickstarter has posted a security notice revealing hackers gained access to its customer database and is urging all users to immediately change their passwords.   In a post on the company’s official blog, chief executive Yancey Strickler says the hackers did not gain access to credit card information and the vulnerability used by the hackers has since been closed.   “While no credit card data was accessed, some information about our customers was. Accessed information included usernames, email addresses, mailing addresses, phone numbers, and encrypted passwords.   “Actual passwords were not revealed; however, it is possible for a malicious person with enough computing power to guess and crack an encrypted password, particularly a weak or obvious one.   “We set a very high bar for how we serve our community, and this incident is frustrating and upsetting. We have since improved our security procedures and systems in numerous ways, and we will continue to do so in the weeks and months to come.”   Branson lobbies federal government not to financially assist Qantas   Virgin founder Richard Branson has taken out full-page advertisements in News Corp papers telling Prime Minister Tony Abbott to “think twice” about providing financial assistance to Qantas.   “Should the Australian taxpayer be forced by the Australian Government to prop up the Qantas Group, as Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey is suggesting, business people worldwide should think twice about investing in Australia for fear of such intervention in their sectors,” Branson says.   “Qantas has gone to its shareholders on numerous occasions over the last few years to wage its capacity war against us.   “Now that shareholders have turned that tap off, the company is turning to the Australian taxpayer to try and bail it out.”   Overseas quantitative easing might be boosting the Aussie dollar   Reserve Bank assistant governor Christopher Kent has warned the Australian dollar might be overvalued as a result of the money printing programs of major overseas central banks.   “The fact that these expansions have been occurring for some time suggests that they may have been placing some upward pressure on the Australian dollar in the years following the onset of the global financial crisis,” Kent says.   “The fact that they are still playing out may have continued to provide some support to the Australian dollar beyond the time at which the terms of trade and the interest rate differential had begun to decline.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up to 16154.4. The Aussie dollar is up to US90.59 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Hockey identifies $130 billion in assets for privatisation

2:28PM | Thursday, 13 February

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has identified up to $130 billion in state and federal government assets that could be privatised in order to find new infrastructure investments.   “We need to facilitate private-sector investment in infrastructure and in Australia in particular, because mining investment is coming off,” Hockey told Fairfax.   “We've got to recycle precious capital – taxpayers’ capital. It's not a case of selling the family jewels, it's asking another member of the family to buy the jewels so that we can then go down the road and buy some more.   “We're not selling assets particularly to reduce debt, we're selling assets to allow us to put money into other things that are going to build the economy of tomorrow.”   Unemployment hits 6%   Australia’s unemployment rate has hit 6%, its highest level since July 2003, with 3700 jobs lost in January, according to new Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.   The figure shows 7100 full-time positions were cut, while 3400 were added, as the participation rate remained steady at 64.5%.   Victoria, traditionally a manufacturing state, recorded an unemployment rate of 6.4% – its worst since January 2002, while Western Australia saw a seasonally adjusted jump in its unemployment rate from 4.6% to 5.1%.   Tasmania recorded the worst unemployment rate at 7.6%, although this is down from 8% earlier this year.   Victorian Premier hailed as a hero for $22 million SPC Ardmona pledge   Victorian Premier Denis Napthine has announced it will chip in $22 million to refit SPC Ardmona’s food processing plant, with parent company Coca-Cola Amatil chipping in a further $78 million.   The deal specifies at least 500 staff will have to be employed at the plant for a minimum three years, and the cash payment will be repaid by the company if it leaves Shepparton within the next five years.   “This co-investment will deliver a bright future for SPC Ardmona. It is a great day for jobs in Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley, a great day for SPC Ardmona, a great day for our fruit growers and fruit industry and a fantastic day for Victoria,” Napthine says.   Australian Workers Union state secretary Ben Davis praised the state Liberal government for the pledge.   “Denis Napthine has done what Tony Abbott should have done, and there is a real lesson in this for the Abbott government – this is how you support businesses that are doing it tough,” Davis says.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up to 5319.8. The Aussie dollar is down to US89.9 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Russian authorities declare bitcoin crackdown

2:28PM | Sunday, 9 February

Russian authorities have deemed crypto-currency bitcoin illegal, claiming the virtual currency could be used to finance money laundering or terrorism.   “Systems for anonymous payments and cyber currencies that have gained considerable circulation - including the most well-known, bitcoin - are money substitutes and cannot be used by individuals or legal entities,” the Russian Prosecutor General's Office says.   “Citizens and legal entities risk being drawn - even unintentionally - into illegal activity, including laundering of money obtained through crime, as well as financing terrorism.”   Tony Abbott planning royal commission into union finances   Prime Minister Tony Abbott is set to announce a royal commission into union finances this week, which is set to focus on how members’ fees are used.   While the royal commission is partly in response to the AWU slush fund affair, it is unlikely to look at the broader issue of trade union corruption.   “I think it would be, frankly, irresponsible for the government not to respond to that growing demand in a very thorough way,” Attorney-General George Brandis says.   Unsurprisingly, the royal commission has been attacked by the opposition.   “The idea that we need to have an expensive multi-million-dollar political royal commission, rather than give those scarce resources to our hardworking police, means the wrong priorities,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says.   Obama backs Hockey’s calls for IMF reform   The US has backed calls by Treasurer Joe Hockey to reform the International Monetary Fund to allow emerging economies to have a greater say in the organisation.   “To secure global economic stability into the future, the United States must support IMF reform now,” Hockey says.   “Failure to reform means that we risk a shift away from the IMF and the multilateral system towards bilateral or regional approaches and an international financial architecture that's fragmented and misaligned.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up to 15,794.08 points. The Aussie dollar is down to US89.6 cents.

A decade of Facebook: 10 interesting things you don’t know about the social network

2:37AM | Tuesday, 4 February

Facebook is 10 years old today. It’s time for birthday celebrations for the social network with 12,800,000 Australian users and 1.19 billion users worldwide. But it’s also time to reflect on 10 interesting things you don’t know about the social network.   1. The social network makes more money now from mobiles than PCs   Facebook is worth around $US135 billion and has successfully made the shift to focusing on mobiles. In Facebook’s fourth quarter earning report filed on January 29 this year the social network disclosed that for the first time sales from ads on mobile phones and tablets exceeded revenue from traditional PCs.   In an interview marking Facebook’s 10th birthday, founder Mark Zuckerberg told Bloomberg the shift to mobile was “not as quick as it should have been”, but “one of the things that characterizes our company is that we are pretty strong-willed”.   2. Facebook tried to buy Snapchat   In 2012 Facebook bought Instagram for $US1 billion even though the photo sharing app had no revenue source. Zuckerberg described the deal as a milestone, saying "we don't plan on doing many more of these, if any at all"; but last year, Facebook reportedly offered $3 billion to buy Snapchat. On two occasions. Snapchat refused the offer.   3. Paper has just launched   Facebook’s latest creation is a newspaper-style app called Paper. Paper includes photos, friend updates, and shared articles in an image-heavy, uncluttered way. The stories are picked and ordered based largely on how much they are shared and “liked” on Facebook, with a team of human editors ensuring that the content comes from the right sources.   “Paper makes storytelling more beautiful with an immersive design and full-screen, distraction-free layouts,” Facebook states.   4. Zuckerberg and Facebook are all about goals   Zuckerberg told Bloomberg he has lots of goals for Facebook and for himself personally. Facebook’s founder has in previous years vowed to learn Mandarin (2010), to eat only animals he slaughtered himself (2011), and to meet someone new each day (2013). For 2014 he intends to write at least one well-considered thank-you note every day, via email or handwritten letter.   “It’s important for me, because I’m a really critical person,” he says. “I always kind of see how I want things to be better, and I’m generally not happy with how things are, or the level of service that we’re providing for people, or the quality of the teams that we built. But if you look at this objectively, we’re doing so well on so many of these things. I think it’s important to have gratitude for that.”   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 5. Voting is the most talked about topic on Facebook   The 10 most talked about topics on Facebook in 2013 by Australian users were ‘vote’, Kate Middleton, cricket, Kevin Rudd, Grand Final, Election, GST, Lions, Tony Abbott and Big Brother.   6. It’s set to compete with Google   Over the next five years, Zuckerberg wants Facebook to become more intuitive and to solve problems that in some cases users don’t even know they have.   He wants to target the 5% and 10% of posts on Facebook where users pose questions to their friends, such as requests for the names for a good local dentist, or the best Indian restaurant.   Zuckerberg told Bloomberg the social network should do better at harvesting all that data to provide answers. A domain which is traditionally the preserve of search giant Google.   7. Users are a devoted bunch   Facebook users generally log in to the social network regularly and stay for long periods of time. The percentage of Facebook users that log in once a day is now 76% while the average time spent on Facebook per user per month is 8.3 hours.   8. Facebook is targeting developing countries   Facebook is targeting developing countries through the formation of a group called Internet.org with six other technology companies, including Samsung, Qualcomm and Ericsson.   The group is looking at simplifying their services so they can be delivered more economically over primitive wireless networks and tapped into using cheaper phones.   Zuckerberg says more users in undeveloped countries will subscribe to mobile services for the opportunity to use Facebook, which in turn makes it more economical for mobile operators to improve their wireless networks to support higher-bandwidth services such as online education and banking.   He has described early tests as “promising”.   9. Doomsayers warn Facebook could go into rapid decline   Researchers from Princeton University published a paper earlier this year suggesting Facebook might lose 80% of its users by 2017 entering a period of “rapid decline”.   “The application of disease-like dynamics to [online social network] adoption follows intuitively, since users typically join OSNs because their friends have already joined,” says the study, which is awaiting peer review.   Facebook has hit back at the work as “incredibly speculative” and used its own data engineers to use the same methods of "scholarly scholarliness" to prove that Princeton itself was on the brink of extinction.   10. It’s king of social referred traffic   Facebook is still the king for social referred traffic, according to Adobe’s most recent social intelligence report.   But Facebook is slowly losing ground to other social media, in particular Twitter and Pinterest.

THE NEWS WRAP: Major ANZ glitch forces $70m in refunds

1:31PM | Wednesday, 29 January

The ANZ Bank has refunded $70 million to 235,000 home loan customers, with some errors dating as far back as 2003 and leading to the bank to review all its home loan, savings and small business accounts.   “Part of our ongoing program of work at the moment is to make sure that all of our accounts are performing in accordance with the terms and conditions documents that are out there,” ANZ’s Australian head, Phil Chronican, says.   “When you discover an issue of this nature, you want to be 100% sure that you haven’t got anything else of that nature in your business, so we’ve been reviewing all of our products.   “We literally are going through every product, every terms and conditions booklet, and checking the systems against the products against the terms and conditions.”   Hockey’s hard line on SPC Ardmona   Treasurer Joe Hockey has taken a hard line on any federal government bailouts of struggling food company SPC Ardmona, which is asking for $25 million in assistance.   “If we're asking the Australian people to help the government to live within its means, then corporate Australia must also follow," Hockey said.   “The parent company of SPC Ardmona, Coca-Cola Amatil, which is an Australian company, in the first six months of this year had a profit of over $215 million, for six months, and yet there is a request for $50 million of taxpayers' money.   “I think you can understand why we are being very cautious, very careful about handing out taxpayers' money to companies that are profitable let alone companies that aren't profitable.”   Abbott pressures Shorten over ABCC reintroduction   Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reiterated calls to reintroduce the Howard government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).   In a stinging attack on Labor, Abbott questioned whether opposition leader Bill Shorten supported law-abiding citizens or was “on the side of people with a tendency to break the law”.   “Are they [Labor] on the side of getting to the bottom of this or do they want to support a culture of cover-up?” Abbott says.   “And this is a very serious question for the Leader of the Opposition and obviously he'll have the chance to answer it to pretty soon.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down to 15,7606.6 points. The Aussie dollar is down to US87.34 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Google Glass coming with new frames, prescription lenses

1:22PM | Tuesday, 28 January

Google has announced a series of new frame designs for its Google Glass augmented reality headset, as well as the option of getting prescription lenses fitted, ahead of its launch later this year.   The tech giant has announced a deal with US-based optical health insurance provider Vision Service Plan that will see prescription lenses fitted to the device.   The company has also unveiled its “Bold” and “Curve” frame designs, which will retail at $US225, as well as a range of different sunglass-style designs for $US150.   Morry Schwartz to launch a new broadsheet newspaper   Morry Schwartz, the publisher of the Quarterly Essay and the Monthly, has announced he will launch a new weekly print newspaper on March 1.   The newspaper, named the Saturday Paper, will feature a range of prominent columnists including David Marr, Christos Tsiolkas, Robert Manne and Kirsty Simpson.   It is set to be sold in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, with the first issue coming out on the same day Fairfax converts its weekend editions of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers to a compact format.   Abbott pushes for ABCC return as CFMEU corruption allegations mount   Prime Minister Tony Abbott has argued for the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) as allegations of bribery, extortion and threats of violence rock the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).   The building industry watchdog, which was originally created under the Howard government, was abolished by former prime minister Julia Gillard in 2012.   “What today's revelations demonstrate is the absolute pressing need for the reestablishment of the [ABCC] with full power, full authority, full funding," Abbott says.   "If the Labor Party is serious about tackling corruption again they will stop standing in the way of the reestablishment of a strong cop on the beat in that particular industry.   “The commission should have full authority to ensure that the law is upheld. Full authority to ensure that the law is upheld in an industry which has been long marked by lawlessness.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up to 15932. The Aussie dollar is up to US87.75 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Joe Hockey warns community to prepare for budget cuts

12:24PM | Tuesday, 17 December

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has warned the entire community will have to accept government spending cuts as Australia heads for an economic trough as the budget deficit deepens and federal debt on track to hit $667 billion.   Hockey says harsh measures will be needed to prevent deficits from continuing for a decade, The Australian reports.   “Every area of government expenditure is being examined, not just for its immediate impact, but for its sustainability as well. I think that is a key issue," Hockey said.   Holden workers to hear assistance package   Prime Minister Tony Abbott is expected to announce an assistance package for Holden workers who face losing their jobs as the car maker prepares to stop production in Australia in 2017, the ABC reports.   It says Abbott has indicated he wants to help workers move into new jobs by focusing on the existing strengths of communities affected by the closure.   The aim will be to reskill and retrain the workers with a view to keeping them in the sector, the ABC reports.   Holden’s decision to quit manufacturing in Australia will see 2900 workers lose their jobs in South Australia and Victoria.   Saputo raises offer for Warrnambool Cheese & Butter   Canadian dairy giant Saputo has raised its offer for takeover target Warrnambool Cheese & Butter, taking the company’s value to as much as $538 million.   The move came after the Takeovers Panel said the offer put in place arrangements that were complex, created uncertainty and “were most undesirable”.   As a result, Saputo added a condition whereby investors would receive $9.40 per share, on the provision it won acceptances of 75%, and $9.60 per share with 90% approval, The Australian reports.   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 0.1% at 15,875.26 points while the Australian dollar is at 89 US cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Premiers to meet Tony Abbott after Holden closure announcement

12:23PM | Wednesday, 11 December

The premiers of Victoria and South Australia, Denis Napthine and Jay Weatherill, are set to hold talks with Prime Minister Tony Abbott following the announcement by Holden it will end production in Australia by 2017.   The decision by Holden’s parent company, General Motors, to end production in Australia will directly impact 2900 jobs over the next four years across Victoria and South Australia, with more than 30,000 jobs at risk nationally.   “It's about the whole industrialisation of our economy, and what now needs to be put in place to replace what is a very significant element of the South Australian economy, indeed of the national economy,” Weatherill says.   “I'll seize that opportunity to talk to Mr Abbott about the future of Toyota and how the federal government can work with the state government and Toyota and the entire automotive supply chain industry to secure the future of Toyota,” Napthine says.   “I spoke to Mr Yasuda of Toyota last night. Obviously the government will be talking to Toyota… We want Toyota to continue. They are in a slightly different position to Holden – much more of their local production has been for export,” Abbott says.   Bill Morrow to be named new NBN boss   Vodafone chief executive Bill Morrow is set to be named as the new chief executive of the NBN Co., according to reports.   The announcement is set to be made as Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull prepares to deliver a strategic review into the rollout, which identifies cost issues and flaws in Labor’s rollout of the project.   Vodafone plays hardball on rents   Mobile communications giant Vodafone is threatening to abandon stores as part of its hardball negotiating tactics with retail landlords, as the struggling telco attempts to renegotiate leases on its stores.   “[They] verbally are refusing to pay the rent. For an enterprise of the calibre of Vodafone, this is cowboy behaviour, considering all the bad press Vodafone have had. They are playing hardball,” one landlord told Fairfax.   “This request [to cut rents] is on the back of numerous store closures that have been performed in the last two years due to the significant losses that have been incurred from the impact of customers leaving. In conjunction with the above customer base loss there have been considerable revenue losses,” a leaked letter from the company to landlords reportedly states.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down to 5109.5. The Aussie dollar is down to US90.63 cents.

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