‘Not dreamin’ – Caton painting a winner

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Packed to the Rafters star Michael Caton is now a Packing Room Prize winner.

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A painting of the veteran Australian actor took out the accolade in Sydney on Thursday, launching the 2015 Archibald Prize season.

French-born Sydney-based artist Bruno Jean Grasswill beat 46 other finalists to win the favour of the NSW Art Gallery’s staff who unpack every entry to the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes.

Head storeman Steve Peters said Grasswill’s multi-coloured “big head” painting stood out the moment he saw it on the first day of submissions.

“He came in bright and smiling. I knew he’d be in the running,” said Mr Peters, who has picked every winner since the prize’s inception in 1991.

The actor himself was bright and smiling at the announcement in Sydney on Thursday, congratulating Mr Grasswill and thanking the gallery jurors for their “impeccable taste in art”.

“It’s a bit gritty and a wonderful use of the colours red and orange,” Mr Caton said of the painting but he had one jokey complaint.

“The eyes don’t follow you around the room.”

While the Packing Room Prize pick has never coincided with the winner of the $100,000 Archibald Prize, Grasswill, who up until this painting had every one of his previous entries rejected, said he trusted Mr Peters’ judgment.

“Steve’s seen more Archibald entries than any art critic, any painter or anyone, he’s seen them all,” he said.

While the jury snubbed the much-hyped portraits of Jacqui Lambie, two other firebrand politicians, Cory Bernardi and Bob Katter made the cut.

The Archibald Prize winner will be announced on July 17.

Container fuels Vic police shooting probe

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A red plastic fuel container may help identify who shot a policeman amid a wave of violence that appears to have targeted the father and ex-wife of gangland killer Carl Williams.

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Detectives say the container was left outside an Essendon house that was hit by up to nine petrol bombs early on Sunday morning.

The house is in the street where Ms Williams lived before reportedly moving out this week.

Police have described the attack as a possible case of mistaken identity.

Someone shot at George Williams’ Broadmeadows home early on Tuesday minutes before 31-year-old First Constable Ben Ashmole was blasted with a shotgun from another car during a routine traffic stop.

He suffered pellet wounds to the back of his head and was released from hospital on Wednesday after surgery.

Detective Inspector Steve Clark says police are investigating whether the shootings are linked to petrol bomb attacks at the Essendon house and a house in Mr Williams’ street.

“We’ve had some arson attacks where Molotov cocktails, for want of a better word, have been thrown at residences in those streets,” Det Insp Clark told reporters on Thursday.

“We’re exploring links between those attacks and the shooting of a policeman on Tuesday morning.”

Police have released an image of a red Scepter five-litre fuel container and a black Ford Escape SUV similar to the one used by the gunman and accomplice when Const Ashmole was shot.

A burned-out Ford Escape was found in an industrial estate in Coburg North soon after Tuesday’s shooting.

Police searched that area on Thursday for the shotgun used in the Moonee Ponds shooting of the officer.

Det Insp Clark asked petrol station owners to look through CCTV for sales of the petrol container, and for anyone on the Coburn North area with CCTV to review their footage.

He said Mr and Ms Williams were willingly helping police.

“We’re getting a whole lot of co-operation, so I’ve got no concerns there,” he said.

But he would not be drawn on whether the shootings and firebomb attacks were part of a wider conflict within Melbourne’s underworld.

Carl Williams was convicted of four murders during Melbourne’s bloody gangland war and was himself murdered in his Barwon Prison cell in 2010.

Solomon Islands mine declared ‘disaster zone’ over dam collapse fears

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A gold mine sold for A$100 by an Australian company to landowners in the Solomon Islands in May has been declared a disaster area by the government.

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Solomons Environment minister Samuel Manetoali said the tailings dam at the Gold Ridge mine, 30km outside the capital Honiara, is in a perilous condition.

Heavy rain after unseasonal Tropical Cyclone Raquel last week has now filled the dam to about 20 centimetres below capacity, its highest ever recorded level.

The dam holds tens of millions of tonnes of toxic sludge and was not designed as a water storage facility.

Landowners and the government fear the dam wall will erode and could collapse, if there is an uncontrolled release of water.

The tailings contain concentrated levels of arsenic and cyanide and other heavy metals.

A condition of the sale by Australian miner St Barbara to GoldRidge Community Investment Limited (GCIL), a local landowner company, was the transfer of all legal liability.

Thousands of people live downstream from the dam and have welcomed the government’s disaster declaration.

“We will continue to discuss with the government other things related to dewatering,” said Walton Naezon, GCIL manager and former local MP, told the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Commission.

“(It) must be perfectly done and then once we are all satisfied and all stakeholders satisfied and communities well-informed then we will continue with the dewatering process.”

Australian miner St Barbara sold the mine to landowners in May after it was shut down by a flash flood and then looted in April last year.

Landowners hope to find a new investor to restart the mine and maintain the tailings dam.

St Barbara abandoned the operation after the Solomons government repeatedly refused to allow it to release untreated water from the already dangerously full tailings dam.

The Australian Stock Exchange-listed company lost over $300m in the two years it operated the almost 20-year-old mine.

As part of the A$100 deal, St Barbara must install a new water treatment plant so clean water can be pumped out of the dam into the local river system.

A World Health Organisation report commissioned by the Solomon Islands government earlier this year found the untreated the water would pose a limited environmental risk if released.

Bob Vassie, managing director and CEO of St Barbara said in a statement to SBS:

“New ownership of the mine has finally focused the Solomon Islands Government on the urgent need to start pumping to lower the water levels.”

“This is something the Government repeatedly rejected during our tenure, even when the World Health Organisation recommended it in February this year”.

The Solomon Islands government has been contacted by SBS for comment.

US woman adopts dying dog so his final days are full of happiness

Nicole Elliot decided to take Chester the dog home from US-based shelter, Animal Ark Rescue when she discovered the small pooch was dying from cancer.

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The animal foster parent wrote on her Facebook page that it was a tough decision, but she wanted to give Chester “normal doggy experiences” and to make him as happy as possible. 

“I slept on it, and woke up knowing it was the right thing to do,” she told WTVM, a US television news program. “I knew that it would be my responsibility to make his final days the best I could, to mine and his ability.”

“I am trying to give him normal doggy experiences that he may have never had the chance to do before, and a ton of spoiling.”

She added that Chester had cancerous lumps all over his body and was heartworm positive, but “still so sweet and as perky as he could be.”

Ms Elliot wrote on Facebook that she was creating a bucketlist for Chester. Some experiences the US mother has already treated Chester to include: riding in the car with the windows down, eating a hot dog, a doggy sundae, swimming, and even an oatmilk spa bath. 

“I am wanting to do a sort of bucket list for Sweet Chester and give him and awesome final ride. I am open to suggestions and ideas. Today I took him on a shopping spree, and gave him a soothing oatmeal milk bath. He really enjoyed the bath.”

In her latest Facebook post, Ms Elliot wrote that Chester had to visit the vet.

Chester’s story has attracted widespread media and online attention, with more than 20,000 people liking Ms Elliot’s Facebook page. She has since encouraged users to donate to the non-profit organisation Animal Ark Shelter. 

Post by Chester’s final journey on Monday, 6 July 2015.

Post by Chester’s final journey on Saturday, 4 July 2015.

Post by Chester’s final journey on Sunday, 28 June 2015.

 

Govt agency takes CFMEU to court

A major trade union and its representatives allegedly broke the law 822 times after shutting down two Queensland work sites, a federal government agency says.

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Fair Work Building and Construction says the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and 21 of its officers and agents committed the offences as part of a prolonged campaign to force the sites’ head contractors into signing an enterprise agreement.

The sites, a $60 million Queensland University of Technology project and a $770 million redevelopment of the Enoggera Army Barracks in Brisbane, were shut down for a combined 97 days in 2013.

FWBC alleged CFMEU official Anthony Kong told a contractor at the Enoggera site whether the agreement was going to be “fixed soon or am I going to be here for another one or two weeks?”

The operations manager allegedly responded: “It’s hard to fix it with a gun pointed to your head.”

In another instance, FWBC alleges workers voted to return to work, but CFMEU assistant state secretary Jade Ingham replied by saying, “Look, I’m running this meeting, keep quiet.”

During that time, the CFMEU instructed workers to down tools at various points despite a Fair Work Commission order preventing the union from organising industrial action at the sites.

The FWBC alleged the industrial action affected the QUT site on 48 days and the Enoggera site on 49 days.

The agency has accused the union of breaking the law 411 times and 21 representatives, including state secretary Michael Ravbar, of committing a combined 411 breaches as well.

FWBC director Nigel Hadgkiss said it was in the public’s best interest to take this matter to the courts.

“All building and construction industry participants should have the right to work,” Mr Hadgkiss said.

“Reports of workers being told to be quiet when they express an interest in going to work are extremely concerning.”

The matter is listed for a directions hearing on August 7.

Comment from CFMEU has been sought.

Vic mine owners refusing to pay fire bill

A company ill-prepared for a devastating Victorian coalmine fire could end up in court after refusing to pay an $18 million bill.

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GDF Suez said it was surprised to get an invoice from the Country Fire Authority for the Hazelwood mine fire, which blanketed nearby Morwell in toxic smoke and ash for 45 days in early 2014.

“We believe the fire services levy – which is in effect an insurance policy – is designed specifically to cover fire suppression activities, whether they be large or small,” GDF Suez said in a statement on Tuesday.

But Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the company owed Victorians.

“We had 7000 volunteer firefighters who rallied together for 45 very, very long days, risking their own health and safety in a voluntary capacity to bring that devastating fire under control and save that town,” she said.

Ms D’Ambrosio said GDF Suez had been found to be ill-prepared and didn’t respond quickly enough to the bushfire.

“If GDF Suez had been prepared and responded quickly, then things may have been very different,” she said.

Ms D’Ambrosio said the fire services levy covered the day-to-day operations of emergency services, not events like the Hazelwood fire.

Acting Premier James Merlino said the bill was a “conservative” amount, given the effort that went into fighting the blaze.

“If they do not (pay it), the government will consider all options, including court proceedings,” he said.

An official inquiry into the mine fire, chaired by Bernard Teague, was reopened in May and is expected to report on health-related effects by December.

Last week, arson detectives charged a 20-year-old man, who cannot be named, with arson and recklessly causing a bushfire over the blaze in the Latrobe Valley that spread to the Hazelwood mine.

He was bailed to return to court in September.

Housing competition to benefit consumers

Australia’s banks are tipped to fiercely compete for the business of owner occupiers in the next year, meaning even better deals for consumers.

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Australia’s largest mortgage broker AFG’s managing director Brett McKeon predicts already aggressive competition will intensify as banks focus on the owner-occupier market, saying the banks are quite liquid at the moment and wanting growth.

“I think the owner-occupier end of the market’s going to be quite fiercely contested over the next 12 months and that’s probably where most of the focus will be,” Mr McKeon told AAP.

“It’s hard to see better terms than what you’ve got but I think it might be possible.”

Mortgage holders are already benefiting from record low interest rates, with the Reserve Bank of Australia keeping the cash rate on hold at two per cent on Tuesday.

Mr McKeon said he would not be surprised if the banks undertake further discounting in areas such as upfront rates, application fees and ongoing fees.

Where the discounting has stopped is in the investment loan area.

“That’s been very evident in the last quarter,” he said.

Many banks have tightened their guidelines for lending to housing investors, either making loans tougher to get or more expensive.

Loans to investors have been driving growth in lending for housing, with the investor segment running at about double the growth rate for owner occupiers.

CommSec chief economist Craig James notes, however, that Australia is not witnessing unprecedented interest by investors in the housing market.

He said from 1991 to 2008 the annual growth of investor home loans was consistently stronger than it is today, peaking at 39 per cent in 1991, almost four times the current growth rate.

“Clearly people do the sums and they realise that they’re getting value for their money going into the housing market rather than going into other assets,” Mr James said.

“There’s still a degree of wariness about putting your money in the share market after the global financial crisis.”

Mr James cautions that a large influx of new homes coming on to the market in the next two years will likely mean supply exceeds demand and a possible substantial fall in prices.

“The bottom line is we’ve got demand exceeding supply, the new homes are being built and in 18 months/two years, those homes are going to be coming on to the market. No doubt in some regions of Australia there’s going to be indigestion problems as that new supply has to get absorbed.”

INVESTORS DRIVING GROWTH IN HOUSING LOANS

* Investor housing credit up 0.8 pct in May; annual rate 10.4 pct

* Owner-occupier credit up 0.4 pct; annual rate 5.7 pct

* Investment loans 36.9 pct of AFG loans in June (April peak 43.1 pct)

Source: RBA, AFG.

$3.2 trillion lost as China’s market sinks

More than $US3 trillion has gone up in smoke in less than a month in China as the country struggles to stem the bleeding from its plunging share markets.

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Despite a highly publicised intervention from authorities at the weekend, China’s main stock exchanges in Shanghai and Shenzen have remained on a rollercoaster ride this week.

Chinese shares surged in early trade on Monday before paring their gains and then suffering heavy falls on Tuesday.

Since mid-June, the indexes have lost around 30 per cent and 38 per cent, respectively burning up a combined $US3.2 trillion ($A4.27 trillion) in wealth.

That’s more than double the size of Australia’s stock market and 13 times the entire Greek economy gone.

But the colossal slides have been largely overlooked in Australia, where the market gained almost two per cent on Tuesday, as investors focused on the turmoil in Greece, which appears to be headed for a messy exit from the euro zone.

IG Market Strategist Evan Lucas says that’s unfortunate because China is Australia’s largest trading partner and any weakness in the economy there could have some nasty knock on effects here.

He said concerns about the fallout from the market collapse had played a key role in the slide in oil and iron ore prices in recent days.

“You can see already that oil is collapsing, clearly that comes down to China, and iron ore is already falling back to levels we saw earlier this year and that is a big risk to small and mid cap miners,” he said.

West Texas crude price slumped seven per cent overnight on Monday to $US52.50 a barrel, while iron ore prices tumbled another 5.4 per cent to just over $US52.

Chinese authorities have done all they can to put a floor under the market: short selling has been banned, more than 700 shares have been suspended from trading, new initial public offerings have been cancelled, and the country’s largest brokers have agreed to buy 120 billion yuan of blue chip stock.

But the moves have so far failed to calm investors and wild swings have become the norm on markets.

Mr Lucas said the government’s lack of success could undermine investor confidence further.

But Credit Suisse Australia chief investment strategist David McDonald said the market slide wasn’t completely unexpected, given the sharp rise in Chinese stocks in the past year.

And he downplayed the risk to the rest of the Chinese economy.

Despite its multi-trillion dollar size, the share market is still a relatively small part of China’s economy compared to most developed nations, which may help to limit any fallout from the recent slide.

Mr McDonald expects China’s growth trajectory – the economy is expected to grow about seven per cent this year – to remain in tact.

“We are still confident in the growth outlook for China,” he said.

NAIDOC Week: a time to celebrate and reflect

NAIDOC Week is a time to honour Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to reflect on issues Australia faces in closing the gap in health standards for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

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This year, NAIDOC Week will finish on Sunday, July 12.

The theme surrounding NAIDOC Week this year is ‘We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate’, to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ connection to the land and sea.

Australia’s First Peoples make the oldest living culture on the planet.

The official NAIDOC website suggests Australians could celebrate the week by learning language groups and names of places in their regions.

About 150 Indigenous languages are spoken in Australia today, but most are endangered, according to the AUSTLANG website.

Why is NAIDOC Week important and how did it start?

NAIDOC Week is historically born of Aboriginal protest movements and organisations, and was founded on the principle more needed to be done to promote Indigenous rights in Australia.

NAIDOC traces its roots back to the Day of Mourning, an Aboriginal protest held on Australia Day on January 26, 1938.

That day, 150 years after English settlers arrived in Australia, protestors marched through the streets of Sydney followed by more than 1,000 people.

It was one of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world.

The Day of Mourning was held annually from 1940 to 1955 on the Sunday before Australia Day, and was known as Aborigines Day.

In 1956, state and federal governments; church groups and Aboriginal groups established the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee or NADOC, with celebrations to be moved to the first Sunday of July.

It was not until 1991 that an ‘I’ was added to NADOC to recognise the distinct cultural differences in Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and the NAIDOC acronym was changed to mean National Aboriginal and Islander Observance Committee.

A week would be set aside each year to celebrate Australia’s First Peoples’ cultures.

What’s being done to celebrate NAIDOC Week this year?

The most important event this week was the historic summit between Aboriginal and Islander elders and Australian political leaders.

The summit addressed recognising Australia’s First Peoples in the nation’s constitution, as well as legal elements to protect Aboriginal and Islander rights.

While the main celebration is in Adelaide, this year’s NAIDOC host city, there are festivities across the country for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians where people can learn more about the country they share.

The NAIDOC website has a list of NAIDOC events you can attend.

Does it draw attention to any issues?

This week’s summit on including Indigenous Australians in The Australian Constitution has drawn attention to Australia’s chances to reform its founding document.

While NAIDOC Week is a celebration, it also highlights the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in Australia and the problems those communities face.

These issues include a lower than average life expectancy, high incarceration rates and the threatened closing of remote communities in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

The Australian government’s Close The Gap campaign aims to address the disparities in health and education outcomes, but the 2015 report admitted most targets were not on track to be met.

Gay Pride and conservative Christians face off in Seoul

Around 30,000 people from the LGBTQIA community and their allies overwhelmed a few thousand anti-gay protesters during Seoul Pride on June 28.

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Candy Yun, member of the Korean Queer Culture Festival committee (KQCF),
which organised Pride, said while some protesters tried to lay down in the path of the parade and threw things at people passing on floats, the day ran according to plan. 

Yun said the police also handled the protesters well, and those who tried to enter the festival area or encroach on the parade were led away by police. 

Anti-gay Christian groups beefed up their protests in May this year after KQCF attempted to gain a permit to hold Pride at Seoul Plaza. Both groups had camped out at the local police station for days to secure a permit, which is handed out on a first come, first serve basis. 

The protesters were issued a permit, with the Namdaemun police station citing conflicting applications and potential traffic and pedestrian problems as to why it rejected KQCF’s application, despite Pride being held since 2000. 

The backlash was swift. Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to South Korean President Park Guen-hye, urging for the parade to be allowed. 

“The South Korean government should protect the freedom of assembly and expression of the LGBT community and their allies instead of forbidding them to assemble and march on the streets of Seoul,” HRW said. 

The victory by the protesters was short lived, and on June 16, the decision was overturned by Judge Ban Jeong-woo in the 13th Administrative Court. The court stated “upholding the notice to restrict the parade would be damaging toward the Festival Organization Committee in a way that would be difficult to recover from.” 

Genesis M., a 25 year-old Australian who has been living in Korea since August 2014, believes the controversy helped to promote the parade and bring more people out. 

“When (rights are) readily available, we become quite complacent, but when we’re told ‘No, you can’t do that’ on unfair grounds, it incites social action within people,” he told SBS Australia after the parade. 

Korea remains a country with deep anti-gay sentiment. Many LGBTQIA in Korea fear coming out because of the risk they will be fired from their job. Others are subjected to homophobic attacks. 

Genesis was recently waiting for a friend at City Hall subway station – where Pride was held – when an older man approached him. 

“He asked me ‘Are you a faggot?’ in Korean. Because I understand Korean, I said ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ and he said ‘I think you’re a foreigner faggot. Foreigner faggots need to get out of Korea – you’re ruining Korea,’ Genesis said. 

But there are signs the country is slowly changing. A recent public opinion survey by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies found Koreans who supported legalising same-sex marriages rose from 16.9 per cent in 2010 to 28.5 per cent in 2014. 

Younger people were found to have changing attitudes towards LGBTQIA, but the views of those over 50 remained unchanged, with many of the conservative Christian protesters in this demographic.  

Francis Yeu, a Korean 52 year-old human rights activist, recently married his partner Charles Cayasa, 44, at the Seoul Human Rights building May 23, and both marched in the parade holding a ‘Just married’ sign. 

Their marriage is not legally recognised in Korea, but Yeu said he noticed a change in his family’s attitude toward his husband after they got married – they now ask about Charles. 

Compared to 10 years ago, when Yeu said the LGBTQIA community was only about activists meeting in small groups, he believes it has slowly gained more power. 

“Nowadays, more and more Koreans are coming out every day. I’m gay. I was born like this. I’m proud. It’s become more and more progressive,” he said. “I hope in the future that Koreans and LGBT rights are greater.” 

Shorten to face AWU questions at inquiry

Bill Shorten will be quizzed on “ghost” union members and deals struck with construction companies when he faces the royal commission on Wednesday.

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The former Australian Workers Union national secretary will be the third Labor leader, after Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, to appear at two royal commissions initiated by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Ms Gillard appeared at the unions inquiry and Mr Rudd faced questions in the home insulation commission.

Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday the evidence of previous witnesses showed there were a lot of “ghosts” on union membership rolls and deals had been done to “dud” workers.

“Let’s see what light can be cast on that in the next day or so,” he said.

Labor workplace spokesman Brendan O’Connor told AAP the prime minister had his own questions to answer.

“Why has the prime minister set up two royal commissions (the second being the home insulation inquiry) and summoned three Labor leaders to those commissions?” he said.

“Why has he spent $80 million of taxpayers’ money going after his political opponents, and wouldn’t that money be better spent on health and education services?”

Mr Abbott said the aim of the inquiry was to deliver “honest unions”.

Mr Shorten has been briefly mentioned in evidence during the inquiry in 2014 and 2015.

He has provided several affidavits to the royal commission.

In one affidavit, Mr Shorten denies a 1996 conversation in which he was alleged to have told former AWU Victorian president Bob Kernohan “we are all just moving on” when discussing the recovery of some worker redundancy payments.

In another, he does not recall discussing a “paid education leave” arrangement negotiated with the company Chiquita Mushrooms in 2004.

Mr Shorten is also expected to be asked about the legitimacy of companies paying the union dues of workers and funding AWU-run training programs.

Mr O’Connor said any allegations of criminal conduct were better dealt with by police and the Australian Crime Commission.

“It’s spurious to suggest there is endemic corruption to warrant spending so much money on these matters,” he said.

“Whatever is put to him, you will see in Bill a person who for most of his adult life worked in defence of wages and conditions and job security for workers.”

The royal commission’s final report is due by the end of the year, after the government extended its hearings.

Meanwhile, a video has emerged of Mr Shorten delivering a passionate speech about Labor values to a pub crowd.

In the video posted on YouTube, Mr Shorten outlines to noisy patrons at Sydney’s Covent Garden Hotel on Sunday night his vision for a country where “people can organise to have a strong minimum wage and will not be subject to a royal commission”.

Share ownership on the decline

The number of Australians who own shares continues to fall but we still rank among the largest share owners in the world.

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About 36 per cent of adult Australians – 6.48 million people – have invested in shares directly or through managed funds, down from 38 per cent in 2012.

Market operator ASX said that is still one of the highest levels of share ownership in the world.

Total participation in the share market by retail investors has been in decline for the past decade, and the latest research shows more Australians are turning to international markets.

The latest study by ASX showed investors typically enter the market in their late 20s or 30s, and men are more likely to invest than women.

The number of investors trading online is on the rise at 58 per cent, outnumbering those using a full-service broker or adviser.

Direct investing continues to be favoured over indirect investments via managed funds, driven by a desire among investors for more control.

“As managed funds lost the visibility they once had in the marketplace, younger investors became less aware that these funds offered them a relatively affordable entry point to investing,” ASX said.

The report said only the most knowledgeable investors considered using managed funds as a strategy to diversify their portfolio.

THE TYPICAL AUSTRALIAN SHARE OWNER

* Tertiary-education man

* Trades predominantly through an online broker

AUSTRALIAN SHARE OWNERSHIP TRENDS

* 58 pct trade online

* 31 pct use a full-service broker/adviser

* 33 pct invest directly, down from 44 pct in 2004

* 10 pct invest indirectly, down from 32 pct

* 38 pct of men own shares directly, and 27 pct of women

* 39 pct of investors are aged 45-64

Source: ASX 2014 Australian Share Ownership Study

Obama shows a looser side on Twitter

Forget the prime-time interviews or the formal, choreographed news conferences.

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The White House has used Twitter to promote the president’s views for years, but mostly in a highly scripted manner, with tweets composed by press aides and released at strategic times.

Only occasionally would Obama post to Twitter himself, identifying a bona fide presidential tweet by appending his initials.

Now Obama is composing his own tweets almost daily, weighing in on issues of the day from any location, without the filter of his press office.

He’s been tweeting with increased frequency since inaugurating his personal twitter account, (at)POTUS, earlier this summer.

“Hello, Twitter! It’s Barack. Really!” Obama wrote in May.

“Six years in, they’re finally giving me my own account.”

So how, exactly, does a president tweet?

Obama, who has been known to use an iPad and a Blackberry, can send tweets from a variety of secure devices, according to the White House.

Obama gives his team a heads up before he tweets, and his staff says he sometimes agrees to tweet about topics his aides suggests.

In the six weeks since Obama kicked off the account, he’s already amassed more than three million followers.

He follows only 66 Twitter users – mostly sports teams, federal agencies and top government officials.

He briefly set a record for the attracting a million followers faster than any other Twitter user.

But Obama’s record was quickly broken by Caitlyn Jenner.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, says Obama was enthusiastic about having the chance to use venues like Twitter to communicate with people.

“He’s really taken to the idea,” Earnest said.

A LOOK AT SOME OF OBAMA’S RECENT TWEETS:

GAY MARRIAGE

Obama’s first reaction to the Supreme Court’s historic ruling legalising gay marriage nationwide came not in a press release or a Rose Garden appearance, but through his Twitter account.

“Today is a big step in our march toward equality,” Obama tweeted on June 26.

“Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else.”

HOLY GUACAMOLE

When an enthusiastic debate broke out on Twitter this month about including peas in guacamole, Obama took to Twitter to say he had no appetite for the added ingredient.

He responded to the pea-laden recipe in The New York Times during a “Twitter town hall” – a medium the White House has been trying out in which the president takes questions from Americans directly on Twitter.

“Respect the NYT, but not buying peas in guac,” the president wrote, offering his personal recipe: “Onions, garlic, hot peppers. Classic.”

BRING IN THE BAND

After Obama tweeted that he’d spent his morning listening to the new album from The Black Keys, the rock band tweeted back asking if they could use Air Force One for their upcoming gigs.

A few hours later – at 8pm on a weeknight – Obama tweeted his response to the band: “It’s not mine; just a loaner. Maybe you can come play at the White House sometime instead?”

No word on whether the group will be rocking out at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

NO. 1 FAN

Obama congratulated the American team and midfielder Carli Lloyd for their victory on Sunday night in the Women’s World Cup.

“What a win for Team USA!” Obama wrote, adding: “Your country is so proud of all of you. Come visit the White House with the World Cup soon.”