$600bn boost tipped from iron ore: report

The iron ore industry is tipped to contribute more than $600 billion to the Australian economy over the next decade, despite falling prices for the steel-making commodity.

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The prediction by the Minerals Council of Australia came in a report which also found iron ore output rose from 17 million tonnes in 2000 to more than 650 million tonnes in 2014.

Australia’s iron ore market share had lifted from 34 to 50 per cent over the same period.

The report forecast “robust” strength for the sector, saying the industry would contribute more than $600 million to Australia’s economy over the coming 10 years even if prices remain at long-term average prices or below.

And it noted that more than 80 per cent of local capacity was among the cheapest to produce in the world.

“Australia now has a 50 per cent share of the seaborne market, a share built on vastly expanded production volumes which now exceed 650 million tonnes per year,” the report said.

“This will enable the industry to add more value to the Australian economy over the next decade than over the previous 10 years.”

However, on prices it conceded that some forecasts of spot prices for the next several years suggest further falls.

The report urged government to help boost productivity growth and cost competitiveness in the sector through workplace reform, promoting free and open markets and “stable and competitive tax and royalty arrangements”.

The report, released Tuesday, comes as exports of iron ore volumes rise, but prices slide.

Last week, figures released by the Pilbara Ports Authority showed June iron ore exports from Port Hedland rose 14 per cent to 38.3 million tonnes compared to the same month a year earlier.

The surge in exports to China comes as the world’s largest iron ore miners continue to be accused of flooding the market and driving prices lower, with many analysts tipping the price of Australia’s biggest export earner to fall below $US50 a tonne because of a global oversupply.

The report comes after steep falls in iron ore prices in recent weeks.

The Steel Index reported that iron ore closed at $US52.00 on Monday, down 3.9 per cent, while the Metals Bulletin had iron ore closing at $US52.28, down 5.4 per cent.

Bill Cosby admits in 2005 lawsuit he drugged women for sex

According to court documents, Bill Cosby, 77, made the admission during testimony in a civil case brought by a former Temple University employee, Andrea Constand, who alleged that Cosby tricked her into taking drugs before he sexually assaulted her.

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The case was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2006 but the documents in the case were unsealed on Monday after the Associated Press went to court.

Cosby’s lawyers had argued that the documents would cause severe embarrassment to the comedian-actor, who is best known for playing lovable father figure Dr. Cliff Huxtable on the hit TV comedy series “The Cosby Show” in the 1980s and 1990s.

A representative for Cosby did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

More than 40 women have come forward in the past year alleging Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them in incidents dating back decades. His attorneys have consistently denied the allegations.

Cosby has never been criminally charged and most of the allegations exceed the statute of limitations. However, his career has taken a hit in the past year with TV projects and live shows being canceled. He also stepped down from the board of trustees at Temple University, his alma mater. 

Cosby testified that in the 1970s he had obtained seven prescriptions for Quaaludes, the brand name for a sedative and muscle relaxant that was widely abused as a recreational drug in the 1970s.

“When you got the Quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these Quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?” Cosby was asked in the 2005 deposition. 

“Yes,” he replied. 

Asked whether he ever gave them to young women, his lawyers raised a lengthy series of objections. 

Cosby testified later that he gave Constand one and a half pills of the over-the-counter antihistamine drug Benadryl. Cosby has said little directly about the slew of allegations against him, telling ABC television in an interview in May that he did not wish to discuss them.

“I can’t speak; I just don’t want to argue; I don’t talk about it,” Cosby he said.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Jill Serrjeant, Bill Trott and Lisa Shumaker)

 

Former cop Tasered, sexually assaulted ex

A former Czech police officer tracked down his ex-girlfriend in Sydney, Tasered her, cut off her hair, and sexually assaulted her.

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A month later he wrote to her from prison offering her $2000 to drop the charges, a court has heard.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, returned home in June last year to find her ex-boyfriend Pavel Svanda standing outside her block of flats unannounced.

Surprised, as she did not know he was in Australia, the woman agreed to consider showing him around Sydney.

She later ignored his attempts to contact her further.

But two days later, Svanda turned up again.

Thinking it was someone else, the woman buzzed him in and was shocked to find him in her doorway.

Court documents state Svanda grabbed her, placed his hands over her mouth, dragged her to one of the bedrooms and Tasered her in the back.

“She felt pain and electricity going through her body and heard a crackling noise,” facts state.

When she tried to get away, he warned if she didn’t obey him he would hold down the Taser longer so it would finish her off.

He forced her on to the bed, bound her with black tape and gagged her.

Svanda then began hacking away at the woman’s hair with a razor and scissors.

Once this was done, Svanda repeatedly sexually assaulted her.

He left, warning her not to tell anyone about the attack.

He was arrested the next day.

A month later, court documents state the woman received a letter from Svanda in Silverwater prison apologising for what he had done and offering her $2000 to withdraw the charges against him.

The details of Svanda’s crimes can now be revealed after he pleaded guilty in Sydney’s District Court last month to a range of charges, including aggravated sexual assault, take and detain and acting with intent to influence a witness.

Court documents state the 38-year-old was a former police officer from the Czech Republic.

He is set to face sentencing in September.

IOOF denies dodgy business

Financial Services firm IOOF has rejected claims of widespread corporate misconduct following claims of serious wrongdoing among its staff.

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The company is fronting a senate economic committee inquiry on Tuesday into the financial advice industry, sparked by recent media reports of alleged corporate breaches at IOOF.

According to the media reports, IOOF is said to have previously investigated misconduct within its business, including allegations of insider trading and cheating on training exams, but failed to always notify the corporate regulator.

Last month, IOOF hired accounting giant PwC to review its regulatory breach reporting policy and procedures within the firm’s research division, where the breaches are alleged to have taken place.

Addressing Tuesday’s inquiry, IOOF managing director Christopher Kelaher defended the company’s compliance culture.

“These allegations have caused great distress to our investors, shareholders and the nearly 2000 of our staff across Australia,” Mr Kelaher told the committee.

“I’m confident I can confirm to you and the broader community that our company has an extremely strong compliance culture.

“Any claims of widespread wrongdoing have no basis on fact.”

He said the allegations centred largely around the conduct of the equity research team, currently made up of nine staff.

“The issues raised were historic, they were all identified internally and are certainly not indicative of any systemic failure,” he said.

“Each matter has been thoroughly investigated and where appropriate remedial action has been undertaken.”

The firm has previously said that most of the matters raised by Fairfax news reports had been addressed by thorough internal and board reviews, notifying industry regulators, ongoing checks of compliance measures and controls, employee education and independent investigation.

Mr Kelaher said an allegation of frontrunning – an illegal stockbroking practice – was investigated in 2009, but not substantiated.

“No insider trading has been detected, no short selling activity identified,” he said, adding that PwC had been engaged in late 2014 to investigate possible frontrunning at the company.

“These independent accountants have confirmed that no frontrunning had taken place between 2008-09 and 2014,” he said.

Mr Kelaher denied suggestions the company was in crisis mode, but conceded the company’s share price had dipped around 10 per cent since late June.

“The market goes down and the market goes up,” he said.

The inquiry comes amid fresh Fairfax reports that IOOF paid $2.8 million in compensation to 57 customers of its authorised financial planners over the past two years.

In its evidence, ASIC Commissioner Greg Tanzer said the corporate watchdog was looking at alleged breaches at the company.

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.