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08 Sep

Family of dead newborn ‘deeply distressed’ by Bankstown Lidcombe gassing report

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The baby son of Youssef and Sonya Ghanem, pictured, died after being given the wrong gas in hospital. Photo: Facebook Dr Kerry Chant (centre) at a press conference earlier this month to deliver the interim report. Photo: SMH
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Health Minister Jillian Skinner.

The family of the baby boy who died after being given the wrong gas at a Sydney hospital was deeply distressed by the systemic failures revealed by an investigation into the shocking incident.

It was a series of catastrophic errors that caused the death of the Ghanem family’s baby boy, John, and serious brain damage to a baby girl at Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital, found the Chief Health Officer’s final report released Saturday.

Their suffering was exacerbated by health minister Jillian Skinner’s decision to publicly release the report just 24 hours after their legal counsel had received it, the family’s lawyer said.

Two employees have been stood down, a further 14 people have been interviewed and 13 other personnel, including senior manager, have been flagged by investigators tasked with discovering how the newborns were exposed to nitrous oxide instead of oxygen in a resuscitation unit at the hospitals in June and July this year.

The first parlous error set in motion the tragic failures long before the two mothers had even conceived their babies.

In July 2015, a contractor for medical supply company BOC Ltd incorrectly installed the gas pipes in one of the hospital’s operating theatres. BOC also failed to properly test and commission the pipes, found the report.

It was all the more tragic considering the hospital decided to install the pipes to protect newborns, after after a gas cylinder ran out of oxygen as staff attempted to resuscitate a baby in January 2014.

“[T]here were failings in the installation of the piping, by BOC,” chief health officer Kerry Chant said at a press conference on Saturday.

Existing pipe work supplying nitrous oxide had been mislabelled as oxygen, the report read.

If correct procedures were followed  when the gas was installed in July 2015 the error would have been identified, it concluded.

“That commissioning and testing process was also flawed … so you have the combination of those two errors that led to this fatal incident,” Dr Chant said.

South West Sydney Local Health District, which oversees the hospital, and BOC failed to comply with national standards for installing medical gas, the report found.

“Clearly we have failed the families [of the babies],” she said.

The Ghanem family were “deeply distressed” by the report’s findings, their lawyer Stephen Mainstone said in a statement on Saturday.

“If proper procedures had been followed regarding the installation and testing of the gases, this tragedy would not have occurred,” he said.

The family’s pain and suffering had been further exacerbated by the health minister’s insistence on providing the interim and final reports to them without giving them sufficient time to properly consider the findings before she released them publicly, Mr Mainstone said.

“The minister has continually stated she is deeply sorry for the pain and suffering caused to the family. The timeliness of the release of these reports has done nothing to relieve that,” he said.

Mr Mainstone received the report via email at roughly 11.30am on Friday.

The family had not had the chance to see the report, and would not have time to process its contents before its was released on Saturday, Mr Mainstone said.

Health Minister Jillian Skinner did not front the press conference with Dr Chant. Her office said the Minister has apologised for the pain and suffering caused to the families. She did however briefly appear for TV cameras later in the day.

Opposition leader Luke Foley said it was “utterly outrageous” that Ms Skinner did not “front up” and she should be dumped immediately.

“I find it disgraceful that the government slips out a report through a public servant on a weekend,” Mr Foley said.

“Babies have been gassed in a NSW hospital … It is frankly a disgrace that neither Mike Baird or Jillian Skinner is standing up today,” he said.

The Health ministry has taken charge of continuing investigations into to whether further disciplinary action is needed, Dr Chant told the press conference.

Two employees have been stood down over the errors, a senior health bureaucrat and former general manager at the hospital, and a biomedical engineer.

An additional 13 people have been interviewed over the course of the investigation and a range of other people have been flagged for further interviews.

The Health ministry has taken charge of continuing investigations into to whether further disciplinary action is needed, Dr Chant said.

“It is important that we afford those individuals procedural fairness,” she said.

“The report also identifies that there is problems with the level of governance in relation to the commissioning of the clinical infrastructure of Bankstown Lidcombe Hospital and that need further investigation,” she added.

The report made several recommendations, including a separation between the person who installs the gas and the person who tests the installation.

SWLHD has been put on “performance watch” to ensure recommendations were implemented, she said.

“We are taking step to further strengthen our system to ensure the public has confidence that this will not happen again,” Dr Chant said.

In a statement on Saturday, Ms Skinner said: “The public can be assured the health system is safe”.

“The Ministry of Health will accept all recommendations raised in the Chief Health Officer’s final report to ensure this tragic error can never happen again.”

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08 Sep

NPL Preview: Tigers coach Gaby Wilk says Cooma should be Capital Football champions

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Cooma Tiger’s Stephen Domenici (right) will miss the semi-final against Canberra Olympic. Photo: Elesa KurtzThe Cooma Tigers have launched a protest in a bid to claim the league championship, coach Gaby Wilk saying the side should have been awarded three points when Tuggeranong fielded an ineligible player.
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Capital Football is yet to make a ruling on the Tigers’ appeal following their 1-0 loss to Tuggeranong two weeks ago.

The result cost them top spot on the ladder with Canberra Olympic jumping above them.

But Wilk says Tuggeranong fielded an unregistered player and the points from the game should have been awarded to his team.

Tuggeranong have been stripped of the three points but they weren’t awarded to the Tigers, who would have won the title had they been given the points.

“I’m very disappointed because that time when we last played against Tuggeranong you see an illegal player,” Wilk said.

“The federation take the three points from Tuggeranong but don’t give it to us. If the federation give the points to us we are champions, it’s not fair.”

Tuggeranong coach Miro Trninic says the player in question came from the club’s under-20s side after a host of injuries struck the top-grade squad.

Trninic says clubs are not allowed to change their playing roster after June which is why the player – who was not in the first-grade squad – is deemed ineligible.

Trninic has been in Canberra football circles for 16 years and believes there are “too many rules and regulations” in local football.

“If we are in the wrong, it was the right decision to take the points off – that’s my opinion and always will be,” Trninic said.

“It’s very sad. This Cooma team are pretending to win the championship by complaining about a 20-year-old boy. We ran out of players because of a lot of injuries, and that’s why we’re using under-20s players.”

Wilk argues Capital Football should be consistent after Belconnen were awarded three points when Cooma fielded an ineligible player in 2012.

“In 2012 they take three points from us and give it to Belconnen for a non-registered player,” Wilk said.

“Now when another club does the same the federation are saying they recognise Tuggeranong’s [violation] and take the three points but still don’t give the points to us.”

The Tigers will play Olympic in a major semi-final battle at McKellar Park on Sunday with the two best teams going head-to-head for a spot in the grand final.

“I think these are the two best teams in the competition and in the finals anyone can win,” Wilk said.

“We’re missing Stephen Domenici because of suspension, he’s a big loss.”

Domenici is the top goal-scorer this year, with 21 goals.

Olympic coach Frank Cachia believes Domenici is one of the best players in the competition but maintains Cooma are capable of a good performance despite his absence.

“Any team that’s got Domenici in it is a quality side,” Cachia said. “They’ve got one of the best targets in the competition and I don’t apologise for saying that.

“I think he’s an outstanding player and probably one of the top five players in the whole competition.

“Cooma have a lot of quality across the park and big people like [Nicolas] Abot and [Julian] Borgna, so they’re still capable of mounting a very serious challenge.”

Cooma and Olympic have beaten each other away from home, but Olympic hold the bragging rights with a win in the Federation Cup.

Along with winning the title (as it stands), Cachia hopes his side can take a psychological advantage heading into its semi-final.

“We can [take an advantage], I’d hope to think so,” Cachia said.

“There’s the game we won on the weekend which gave us the league and then we’ve got the week where we beat them twice in the Federation Cup and in Cooma [in the Premier League].”

NATIONAL PREMIER LEAGUE

Sunday: Semi-finals – Canberra Olympic v Cooma FC at McKellar Park; Belconnen United v Canberra FC at Deakin Stadium. Both games at 3pm.

ACT WOMEN’S PREMIER LEAGUE

Sunday: Semi-finals – Belconnen United v Canberra FC at AIS Grass Fields 3; Gungahlin United v Tugggeranong United at Woden Park. Both games at 4pm.

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08 Sep

Our other problem: xenophilia towards foreign investment

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Foreign investment takes off. Photo: Rob HomerThere are few topics on which there’s more irrational thinking than foreign investment. Trouble is, the illogic comes as much from economists and policy makers as it does from uncomprehending punters.
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Sometimes I think the wonky thinking by the economic literates is an overreaction to the crazy prejudices of the economic illiterates.

The punters think we can decide not to sell off the farm – not to allow foreigners to buy Australian businesses – without that having any economic consequences. Without the decline in foreign capital inflow leading to slower economic growth and a slower-rising material standard of living.

Of course, there’s no reason the electorate shouldn’t decide to trade off less foreign ownership for a standard of living that’s lower than it could be, provided people understand the price they’re paying.

The econocrats go the other way, exaggerating our dependence on foreign investment and other capital inflow.

Econocrats have the knowledge that we’re a “capital-importing country” burnt into their brains. They live in eternal fear that one wrong move could reduce the inflow to a trickle, stuffing us completely.

They preach the need for us to attract more foreign investment even while they worry that the dollar’s too high – another example of how long it’s taking economists to adjust their “priors” (long-held beliefs) to a world of floating exchange rates.

I can’t think of a time when we’ve had too little foreign investment. Even when the dollar briefly fell below US50¢ in 2000 there was no obvious problem.

Another silliness about the econocrats’ conviction that we can never have enough foreign investment is their assumption that prices – specifically, the rates at which various taxes are set – will be the overwhelming factor determining how much we get.

Treasury continually lectures us on how globalisation has made it easier to move financial capital between tax jurisdictions, thus making the quest for foreign investment far more “competitive”.

This, we’re assured, makes it imperative we have tax rates that are competitive with far less attractive investment destinations, including developing countries a fraction of our size, where cronyism and corruption are rife, and you can’t be sure of getting fair treatment in the courts.

Only economists, mesmerised by their model – which ignores all factors that can’t be measured in dollars – would be silly enough to imagine that decisions about where in the world to set up business would be made without reference to non-quantifiable factors.

That global companies such as Google or Apple would refuse to do business in Australia because our company tax rate is higher than Singapore’s.

Yet the need to be more price-competitive in the quest for foreign investment is advanced as almost the only argument needed to justify a cut in company tax. That there’d be nothing in it for domestic shareholders is treated as beside the point.

John Howard’s decision in 1999 to discount by half the rate of tax on capital gains was justified on the grounds that it would attract lots of investment by foreign fund managers. Never mentioned again.

In their revulsion against the public’s “economic nationalism”, the econocrats have gone to the opposite extreme of assuming all foreign investment is good and we never get enough.

When it suited the world’s big mining companies to come to Oz and engage in a decade-long frenzy to build more mines before China went off the boil, it never occurred to our policy makers to make the miners form an orderly queue.

Rather, we let them turn our economy upside down. We saw our job as ensuring the miners’ frenzy didn’t cause an inflation surge, using high interest rates and tolerating a hugely overvalued exchange rate to suppress the non-mining economy and allow the miners to get all the resources they wanted.

We did lasting damage to our manufacturing and tourism industries to allow the miners to have their rowdy party.

We’re left with a huge, capital-intensive, 80 per cent foreign-owned mining industry that employs just a handful of Australians.

Its foreign ownership wouldn’t matter so much if it was paying its fair whack of tax. But we let the miners con us out of imposing a sensible resource rent tax, and now we discover they’re turning legal somersaults to minimise the company tax they pay.

The econocrats have become so defensive towards foreign investment they’ve forgotten the most basic reason for having and managing an economy: self-interest.

Foreign investment is a means, not an end. It’s not our job to make our economy a playground for foreign companies.

We should welcome them and tolerate their self-interested, rent-seeking behaviour only to the extent that it leaves us better off.

Ross Gittins is the Herald’s economics editor.

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08 Sep

Transgender high school teacher Blaise Harris ‘discriminated against’ by Department of Education

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Blaise Harris at her home in Laguna. Photo: Simone De Peak”You have to think of the children.”
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That was what high school teacher Blaise Harris, a transgender woman, says she was told by a senior department of education manager when she complained about a school no longer offering her work.

In the words she heard judgment, condescension, prejudice, the painful suggestion that she was some sort of risk to the students. And a door closing on her livelihood.

“I was shaking with anger,” Blaise says, recalling the day last August. “I said, ‘Excuse me, you do know the difference between a transgender woman and a pedophile, don’t you?’ Then I just put the phone down.”

Ms Harris, 41, identifies as female. In 2014 she changed her first name from Christian, started taking female hormones, grew her hair long, and began the laborious process of changing gender on all her official paperwork.

Getting to this point, from a confused little boy growing up in a British military family in the middle east, to being a sniper in the Ulster Defence Regiment of the British army, through a painful divorce and coming out as female to her elderly parents, to where she can stand up and tell her real story: it’s been hell.

“I wouldn’t wish being trans on my worst enemy,” she says. “But I wouldn’t change my journey for the world. I’m a philosophical person.

“Coming out of the army, you can imagine I wasn’t a terribly empathetic person.

“I wouldn’t have learned compassion, tolerance, patience, empathy. Everything I’ve done has led me to this point.”

But a year ago, after what she alleges was unlawful discrimination by the Department of Education and the high school she had worked at casually for three years, Ms Harris was at “rock bottom”.

She says she has not been asked to work at Cessnock High School since she told them she was transitioning. The head teacher told her “it might be a problem”. The kids can be “nasty”. Then, no more offers of work.

When she complained to the department hierarchy, she says a senior manager said “I don’t have a problem with what the school did at all. You have to think of the children.”

And when she went to his boss, she alleges he backed the senior manager, saying “a lot of people have understandable misgivings”.

Ms Harris says she was so distressed and ashamed by this treatment that she stopped transitioning. She cut her hair, stopped taking hormones, gave away her women’s clothes, and began living as a man again.

“It played physical and mental havoc with me,” she says.

Ms Harris began to question what had happened with friends and supportive colleagues.

“I thought at the time, I can’t take on the department, they’re bloody massive, it would be easier to change me,” she says. “Then I changed back and sank into depression again, until I basically realised no – I’m not going to do this, I’m going to be who I want to be.”

So after four months, she resumed taking hormones and living as a woman.

“I don’t see how me having boobs and wearing a dress to work because that’s how I want to be, I don’t see how that negatively impacts on anyone else’s life,” she says.

The department has not replied to her formal letter of complaint after almost a month, but the Anti-Discrimination Board has accepted her case for adjudication.

Ms Harris is seeking an apology and compensation.

Her lawyer, Alana Heffernan from Maurice Blackburn, says “people who are gender diverse are treated by the law like anyone else who is vulnerable: people who are racially diverse, with family responsibilities, or a disability. You can’t treat them unfavourably.

“Gender diversity is a pretty current issue and it’s coming up more and more now. I think if people in Blaise’s situation speak out, we’ll find more people are also willing to speak out.”

A spokesman for the department said because it is compiling its submission to the Anti-Discrimination Board on the matter, it is not appropriate to comment further.

“Schools are committed to diversity in the workforce and to non-discriminatory environments,” the spokesman said.

“I want to stop this happening to other people,” Ms Harris says, of her motivation in going public, “because if this level of ignorance is hurting staff, I dread to think about some of the treatment that kids who are transgender might get, when the institution is this biased. I don’t want any other transgender person to go home and kill themselves.”

The increasing visibility of transgender people has seen many schools grappling with how best to handle the issue, particularly after the federally-funded anti-bullying Safe Schools program aimed at helping LGBTI students has been turned into a political football.

This week state Liberal MP Damien Tudehope lodged a petition against Safe Schools in NSW with more than 17,000 signatures largely from the Chinese community in his electorate in north-western Sydney; while Labor MP Penny Sharpe has on Thursday launched a counter-petition in support of the program.

There is an unexpectedly positive side to Ms Harris’s story. She has started a gender diversity awareness training business, and while one former colleague called her “a transsexual Satan worshipper”, other schools she still works at, notably Narara Valley High School, have been incredibly supportive, she says.

And the kids have been great, giving her hope for a future where being trans is widely accepted, without prejudice.

“One kid said, ‘Are you transgender?’ and when I said yes, he said ‘Oh thank God, I thought you were a hipster’,” Ms Harris says, with a chuckle. “And in class the kids said ‘Do you want to be called Miss or Sir?’ I said “Miss, please.’ And that was it. ‘Righto Miss.’ Didn’t hear ‘Sir’ again.”

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08 Sep

Sally Faulkner’s race to sell her 60 Minutes child snatch story

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Will Bridget Jones finally make it down the aisle in the third film in the popular franchise? Renee Zellweger is back but Hugh Grant is absent from the new Bridget Jones movie. Photo: Supplied
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Sally Faulkner is releasing a book, called All for My Children. Photo: Hachette Australia

The publisher of Sally Faulkner’s upcoming book has confirmed her memoir will be released just in time for Christmas.

All For My Children will be released in late November according to Hachette Australia and promises to chronicle Faulkner’s “whole story” following her arrest in April when attempting to recover her children in Beirut in April.

The botched child snatching with 60 Minutes may be what the publisher is pinning its publicity hopes on, however, judging from new press material, Faulkner’s backstory is the foundation for the plot.

“A 21-year-old Sally Faulkner had scored her dream life as an Emirates flight attendant. She travelled to exotic places and was dazzled by a world far removed from the suburbs of Brisbane,” a statement read before launching into what sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster screenplay. “Then she met Ali, charming, sophisticated, who she thought was the perfect man, married him and had the children she’d always hoped for. But that dream didn’t last.”

Calls and emails to Hachette by Fairfax Media to ask if a ghostwriter had been recruited to pen the highly-anticipated memoir went unanswered last week.

Writing, however, is one of her strong suits. During mediation after she was arrested in Lebanon, Faulkner’s lawyer claimed she had sent 150 emails to her ex-husband Ali Elamine that he ignored. It was this silence, combined with her reportedly exhausting all legal avenues in Australia, that led to Faulkner engaging with Adam Whittington’s child recovery agency to retrieve Lahela, 4, and Noah, 2.

After her release Elamine agreed to allow Faulkner to “come and go as she wants” to visit the children in Lebanon.

No doubt Hachette will be hoping sales of the book, which will hit shelves just in time for the festive season retail rush, won’t reflect the misfortune of Channel Nine.

As well as litigation with Seven over The Hotplate and other issues with the WIN Network, the bungled mission, which saw four staff being imprisoned alongside Faulkner and Whittington, dented the company’s annual earnings after it spent about $7 million on legal costs.

It is unclear what will become of the profits of her book as Faulkner was charged with kidnapping in Lebanon in July. According to The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, “in some circumstances it can also be used to confiscate the proceeds of crime against foreign law”.

This article has been updated to reflect Nine’s entire legal costs that were documented in the network’s annual report released last week.

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07 Aug

Bigger ETF market gives investors chance to outperform

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State Street Global Advisors’ chief operating officer for Asia Pacific said many investors were building portfolios solely from ETF products. Photo: Jessica HromasSavvy investors are tapping into the vast array of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) – which started out as a passive benchmark achiever in a portfolio – to generate outperformance in their own right.
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James MacNevin, chief operating officer for State Street Global Advisors Asia Pacific, part of the team that launched Australia’s first ETF in 2001, says the much-expanded product range means investors can choose to forgo active strategies altogether.

“We have lots of experience with investors being able to build a well diversified portfolio using nothing but ETFs,” MacNevin told AFR Weekend on the 15th anniversary of the launch of the SPDR S&P/ASX 200 and S&P/ASX 50 funds.

While benchmark funds such as the S&P/ASX 200 or S&P 500 funds remain among the most popular, MacNevin says investors are becoming more sophisticated and moving towards “smart beta” products, funds that scan company balance sheets in picking stocks rather than simply by index weight.

“Other investors have an appetite to do a kind of barbell approach, where they have index as well as core beta ETFs, and then complement that around active investments,” he adds. “What we’re looking to do is provide those investment exposures via ETFs,” he said.

Tim Murphy, director of manager research at Morningstar, says while it is possible to build an ETF-only portfolio, it is far from the norm and not advisable for many investors. There are some areas, such as small cap equities, where active managers have been able to consistently outperform.

“It is not a black and white scenario like many paint it. In a lot of these investing ideas you can get some polarising arguments. But, like most things in life, the right answer probably sits somewhere in the middle,” he adds.

Of the four major ETF players in Australia (including BlackRock, Vanguard and BetaShares), SSGA holds $4.8 billion of the total assets under management in Australia. Of that, $2.9 billion sits in its flagship ASX 200 fund, with an average daily trade turnover of $9 million.

MacNevin says while the rise of the ETF market had been a slow burn in its first 10 years, since 2001 the market has grown exponentially, with $23 billion under management. He believes the market  could hit $100 billion by 2020, such is ETF popularity particularly among self-managed superannuation funds.

“The benefits for investors will continue to be quite profound: a full range of ETFs for all asset classes and exposure to sectors,” he adds. It also means more competitors joining the market, putting the onus on SSGA to deliver thoughtful products while keeping the cost to entry low, a big draw for increasingly fee-conscious investors.

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07 Aug

Holden’s Jamie Whincup wins to reach Supercars ton

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Jamie Whincup, winner of the Sydney SuperSprint, is sprayed by vanquished teammate Craig Lowndes. Photo: Daniel Kalisz Whincup on his way to victory at Sydney Motorsport Park. Photo: Daniel Kalisz
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V8 superstar Jamie Whincup spoiled veteran Craig Lowndes’ race record party as he celebrated another Supercars milestone of his own at the Sydney SuperSprint on Sunday.

Already the most titled driver in Australian touring car racing history with a record six Supercars crowns, Whincup joined Lowndes in the exclusive club of winners of 100 or more championship races by beating his popular teammate in the second race at Sydney Motorsport Park.

The win denied Lowndes a fairytale victory in his record-breaking 600th championship race start after he blazed into the lead from fourth position on the grid to dominate the first 30 laps.

Whincup jumped Lowndes during their second pit stops, getting away fractionally faster to hit the front and run away to an unchallenged 100th race victory.

He achieved his century 14 months after Lowndes became the first to reach the ‘ton’ of race wins, a mark he has since extended to 105 successes.

While it took Lowndes, 42, almost two decades to amass his 100 wins, 33-year-old Whincup got there in just over 10 years.

He scored his first victory in his first event with the Triple Eight Holden team at the 2006 season-opening Adelaide 500, whereas Lowndes’ first two wins were in his championship debut in 1996 at Sydney Motorsport Park, which was previously known as Eastern Creek Raceway.

Whincup’s 100 wins is the latest milestone in his remarkable 10-year rise to become the most dominant and successful driver of his generation, and the best of all time if measured by his unmatched tally of championships.

Along with his narrow defeat by his other Triple Eight teammate Shane van Gisbergen in an epic battle in the closing stages of Saturday’s opening race of the Sydney SuperSprint, his win on Sunday – his third this season – consolidated his title points lead as he bids for a record-extending seventh Supercars title.

He is 137 points ahead of van Gisbergen, who faded to fifth place on Sunday, while Lowndes regained third place in the championship standings, 198 points off the lead, to stay in contention for an elusive fourth V8 crown 17 years after his last title-winning season.

Whincup was presented with a gold-painted replica of his race helmet in recognition of reaching his century, an achievement he acknowledged with typical humility.

“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a bit of relief there,” he said. “I’m very, very proud to join Lowndesy on the ton. It’s an honour. I think today (with Lowndes joining him on the podium) was very fitting.

“I like to think it’s 100 not out. There’s still a lot left in me.

“I’m not trying to tick boxes. I’m just out there for the fun of racing. The feeling of winning never gets old and that’s what drives me.”

Lowndes paid tribute to Whincup, who has been his teammate and nemesis for the past decade, and predicted he would eventually surpass his records for race wins and starts.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “It was a matter of when rather than if. He’s had a stellar career and he’s still as intense as ever.

“Records are made to be broken and there’s no doubt in my mind Jamie will do it (break Lowndes’ records).”

The next Supercars event is the September 16-18 Sandown 500 in Melbourne – the first of the two-driver endurance races and the traditional warm-up for the October 6-9 Bathurst 1000.

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07 Aug

[email protected]: Investors still on the sidelines

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Local sharemarket set for another flat open as global markets had a quiet night, with investors waiting on Janet Yellen’s speech at Jackson Hole on Saturday morning (AEST), while earnings season rolls on, with Coca-Cola, Mayne Pharma and Star Entertainment among those reporting.
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1. ASX: SPI futures are up 5 points

2. Equities: Dow -0.2%, S&P 500 -0.1%, Nasdaq -0.1%, Stoxx 50 -0.7%, FTSE -0.3%, CAC -0.7%, DAX -0.9%

3. Currencies: Aussie dollar still very flat, gaining +0.04% to 0.7616. It is fetching 76.59 Japanese yen, 67.51 Euro cents and 57.75 British pence

4. Energy: WTI oil gained +1.22% to 47.34 after Iranian oil minister said he would attend OPEC. Brent crude +0.5% to $US49.27 a barrel

5. Commodities: Spot gold -0.1% to $US1322.28 an ounce

6. Overseas data: Japanese CPI

7. US: BHP +1.2%, Rio +1%

8. Earnings: Coca-Cola Amatil (CCL), Corporate Travel Mgmt (CTD), Mayne Pharma (MYX), Saracen Mineral (SAR), Select Harvests (SHV), Star Entertainment (SGR), Super Retail Group (SUL)

Waiting on Yellen

Well the final countdown to Janet Yellen’s speech at midnight AEST has begun, and after a week where most markets have barely moved from where they started there are likely a number of traders who would relish a bit of volatility this evening. There certainly is a fear evident in markets that Janet Yellen is going to be surprisingly hawkish and talk up a September hike, this may be devoid of any real evidence apart from constant calls from the band of perma-hawk US economists, but nonetheless market liquidity has dried up in fear. Volumes have been down all week, while the volume on the S&P 500 overnight was more than 15% below its 100-day moving average and the Dow Jones had volumes down more than 27%.

Gold woe

The gold price has been battered this week as the threat of rising US bond yields has seen it lose 1.5% this week. Gold has been relatively well cushioned above the US$1,312 level since the start of July, but has been pulling back to this support level as hawkish Fed commentary has picked up in the past two weeks. Of course, should Yellen fail to follow through on her expectedly hawkish comments about an imminent September rate hike, gold could well be set for a rally.

US durable goods and capital goods orders both performed well overnight. Durable goods ex-transport gained 1.5% month-on-month (MoM) and capital goods nondefense ex-aircraft gained 1.6% MoM. If you saw these sorts of figures replicated throughout 3Q in the US that would be very positive for GDP and could help remove the major drag that we saw from inventories in 2Q, which could provide the basis for a December rate hike. But there are a lot of ifs yet before that happens.

EpiPen scandal hits healthcare

The scandal over Mylan’s pricing of its EpiPen has spilled over into the broader healthcare sector in the S&P 500 overnight with the sector losing 0.8%. This is not the first time that Hillary Clinton has emphasised her concerns over seemingly egregious price hikes for healthcare products, and with her dramatically leading in the polls, a number of investors began to pile out of other high-pricing biotechs. Alexion Pharmaceuticals has dropped 5.9% in two days as the Mylan saga blew up because it mostly relies on the revenue from one of the most expensive drugs in the world – Soliris – a treatment for rare blood disorders that costs US$500,000 a year. These parts of the market may continue to struggle in the lead up to the US election if Clinton’s likely success continues to firm.

Unexciting Asian session ahead

Asian markets are set to open relatively flat. It is likely to be a fairly low volume and unexciting Asian session as many investors looks set to sit on the sidelines ahead of Janet Yellen’s speech. Oil saw a nice bounce overnight as Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh confirmed he would attend the OPEC meeting in September, which should be a positive for energy stocks. Materials stocks were the best performer in the S&P 500 overnight, and BHP’s ADR rallied 1.2% boding well for the ASX session today.

What happened yesterday

The Australian sharemarket ended weaker on Thursday despite a valiant lift from Woolworths and Amcor, surging despite booking hefty profit losses.

Taking its weak lead from Wall Street, the S&P/ASX 200 spend most of the day trading lower ending down 0.4 per cent or 20 points to 5541.9. The All Ordinaries ended 0.4 per cent or 22 points lower at 5631.4.

 This column was produced in commercial partnership    between Fairfax Media and IG Markets

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07 Aug

NBN expects $5 billion of annual revenue by 2020, corporate plan shows

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Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the total cost of the project was now an estimated $54 billion, about $2 billion lower than forecast in last year’s corporate plan. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen The NBN hopes to gain 7m customers over the next four years. Photo: Rob Homer
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NBN Co expects to be earning $5 billion annually within four years, with average monthly revenue from each user at $52, according to a corporate plan released on Friday morning. It also expects to have 8.1 million households using the network within four years, up from 1.1 million today.

However, payments to Telstra and Optus to compensate the telcos for losing fixed-line customers will leave NBN with negative earnings until 2020, and it won’t be profitable until about 2022 due to high capital expenditure and operating costs.

And the forecasts released by NBN Co on Friday show it is tracking predictions made last year, but has run out of money much quicker than the Coalition expected when it was campaigning for office in 2013. This is due to annual capital expenditure costs in 2017 and 2018 being nearly twice what it estimated.

The Coalition expected funding to last a lot longer and reach only $28.8 billion by 2019. Instead, NBN Co will use up the last of its $29.5 billion in the next ten months and the Department of Finance has to find an additional $10 billion by July next year and $20 billion by 2020. NBN Co will have spent $48.6 billion by 2020 on current projections.

The government is still working out future funding options.

“The Government has not yet determined what form this support would take if it were required and continues to assess a number of options to ensure the best possible value for taxpayers is achieved,” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said on Friday.

However, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the total cost of the project was now an estimated $54 billion, about $2 billion lower than forecast in last year’s corporate plan.

“The network is ahead of schedule and ahead of its financial targets,” the Minister said on Friday morning.

Earlier this week the Australian Federal Police raided Senator Stephen Conroy’s office in Parliament House searching for the source of documents leaked by someone at NBN Co to the opposition. Senator Conroy is claiming parliamentary privilege on the documents.

“Matters of privilege are determined by the Senate itself…All I really can do is outline for you roughly what the process will be,” the Minister said.

The number of households connected by fibre-to-the-node technology, which partly uses the copper network, has increased from an estimated 4.5 million to up to 6.5 million households. And there may be 500,000 more fibre-to-the-premises connections than previously expected, for a total of 2.5 million. Nearly half of these will be houses built in coming years.

However, NBN Co still thinks it can get speeds of 100 megabits per second [Mbps] to 70 per cent of Australians, and 1 gigabit per second [Gbps] to 40 per cent of the population.

“It is with pleasure that we can actually produce such a plan that we believe advances the nation into the digital era,” NBN chief executive Bill Morrow said.

And the number of households expected to be connected by a hybrid fibre coaxial [HFC] cable connection has dropped from 4 million to between 2.5 million and 3.2 million households. NBN found the cost of connecting houses to HFC was about $2,300, not $1,800. Mr Morrow said this change demonstrates the benefit of a flexible technology mix.

NBN Co has discovered the cost of modems, equipment, construction, and cables for HFC was higher than it expected, which led to a “higher cost per premise than what we had estimated last year”, Mr Morrow told BusinessDay.

“The reduction of the number of premises [getting HFC] is because not all premises are equal to the average of $2,300. Some are cheaper and some are more expensive. For those that were way more expensive, it was the cross-over point to say ‘those homes will be better served with our remit of as-soon-as-we-can-with-the-least-possible-cost to move over to an alternative technology.”

Examination of the old copper telephone network has found it to be “in line with expectations”. This is important, because of a potential blow out in repair and maintenance costs.

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07 Aug

As EpiPen outrage mounts, Mylan offers some patients discounts

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Responding to a growing outrage from consumers and politicians, US pharma giant Mylan said on Thursday that it would lower the out-of-pocket costs to some patients who need EpiPens, which are used to treat life-threatening allergy attacks.
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The company said it would immediately offer more financial assistance with co-payments for patients with commercial insurance and expand the number of uninsured patients eligible for free EpiPens.

But the moves did not mollify critics of Mylan because the company did not lower the list price of the EpiPen, which has risen to $US600 for a pack of two from about $US100 in 2007.

So the total cost to the health system, a cost borne largely by insurers, the federal government and school districts, will remain the same.

“Mylan should not offer after-the-fact discounts only for a select few – it should reverse its massive price increases across the board immediately,” Maryland’s Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, who has been investigating rising drug prices, said in a statement. Blaming the insurers

In its announcement of the new measures, Mylan put much of the blame for the problem not on its price increases but on insurance companies for placing a higher burden on patients for out-of-pocket costs.

“We have been a long-term, committed partner to the allergy community and are taking immediate action to help ensure that everyone who needs an EpiPen Auto-Injector gets one,” Mylan’s CEO Heather Bresch said in a statement.

“We recognise the significant burden on patients from continued, rising insurance premiums and being forced increasingly to pay the full list price for medicines at the pharmacy counter.”

The EpiPen is an auto-injector containing the hormone epinephrine that can be used to counter or stave off anaphylactic shock caused by an insect bite, bee sting or food allergy. It is pressed against the thigh and automatically injects the drug.

Mylan said that out of the $US608 list price for EpiPen, it gets only $US274. The rest goes to pharmacy benefit managers, insurers, wholesalers and retail pharmacies.

Offering co-payment assistance and free product is part of the standard playbook for makers of expensive drugs. Making sure patients do not go without medicines reduces any political furor. Also, providing financial assistance only to those who need it reduces a pharmaceutical manufacturer’s revenue much less than cutting prices across the board.

The discounts call attention to how the out-of-pocket costs for drugs vary widely for consumers, depending on their insurance coverage.

The New York Times

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