Monthly Archives: March 2019

Helping hand for children with autism 

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WHEN Hilton Grugeon’s son Tim was young, it was a time when problem children were typically blamed on the mother.
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Years later Tim was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a relatively mild condition on the autism spectrum.

The experience gave the property developer an insight into the plight of parents of autistic children.

So when the Hunter Aspect School for children with autism needed help to find a permanent home, he was eager to help.

The result was unveiled yesterday at the official opening of the Hunter Aspect School in Thornton.

The Newcastle Herald first exposed the school’s plight in August 2010 when it was squeezed out of its Shortland Public School base because of stimulus-package works and growing enrolments.

The late Tim Austin lobbied Paterson MP Bob Baldwin, who then contacted Mr Grugeon.

What followed was a true community project.

The Owens family donated land, Mr Grugeon oversaw construction, the federal government provided stimulus-package money, the state government fitted out an early-intervention centre, the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation gave $165,000 for the library and Maitland City Council scrapped the rates.

Groups such as The Men’s Shed as well as tradespeople volunteered their services.

The school, which already has 105 children, is fully equipped to cater to the needs of autistic children and administer the work of its satellite classes around the region.

It will be at capacity with 118 students in 2013. There is even talk of building a dedicated high school next door.

An emotional Mr Grugeon helped officially open the centre yesterday.

‘‘It’s what we said we’d do and we did it. This community is fantastic – it will rise to the challenge for those members of the community that have got the tremendous burden of a child with autism,’’ he said.

Among the enrolments is Ben Harris, 6, of Metford. His mother Lynda Harris said parents appreciated the purpose-built school and supportive staff.

‘‘It’s so huge to be able to leave them at a school where you know their needs are being met,’’ she said.

Principal Liz Murray said it meant the world to the autism community.

‘‘There’s always going to be somewhere they can go to get the services they need,’’ she said.

HOME AT LAST: Student Ben Harris, 6, Hilton Grugeon and Lynda Harris, at the Aspect Hunter School opening. Picture: Marina Neil

Raising the bar for Goods Line drawcard

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Swipe the picture to see what Sydney’s Goods Line will look like.
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A “destination” cafe, bar or restaurant would be added to help offset the cost of Sydney’s Goods Line, an elevated city park along a former freight line likened to New York’s High Line.

But the “city farm” once proposed for a portion of the Ultimo site adjoining the Powerhouse Museum has been scaled back to a garden.

The commercial food and beverage component was pitched as another potential drawcard to the 500-metre linear park, a wi-fi-enabled civic ‘‘spine’’ running through the centre of a revitalised cultural and education precinct.

Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority’s Darling Harbour director, Debra Dawson, said expressions of interest could open as soon as this year.

“The commercial elements will also contribute to the identity of the project,” she said. “So we’re looking for things that are exceptionally complementary and sustainable and they may run and manage the event side.”

The development application for the Goods Line is expected to be lodged with the City of Sydney in a matter of weeks, with work to begin in June if it is approved. The authority put the project’s budget at between $5 million and $10 million.

It’s anticipated 2014 opening would coincide with that of the University of Technology’s nearby business school building, designed by the Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry.

Sydney’s lord mayor Clover Moore said the Goods Line would connect the area between Surry Hills and Darling Harbour for pedestrians.

‘‘It’s really knitting back the city as should have occurred when Darling Harbour first went ahead,’’ she said.

Cr Moore joined with the Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, in drawing parallels between the project and New York’s High Line – a 2.3km park along an old freight line, nine metres above the city.

The Goods Line will stand four metres above the city at its highest point.

‘‘We really want this to be Sydney’s version, but better, of New York’s High Line,’’ Mr Hazzard said.

The Powerhouse Museum’s manager of strategy and planning, Peter Morton, said the High Line was a more passive space than that planned for the Ultimo site.

A cafe could be connected to a ‘‘transformer’’ building in the centre of the civic corridor, which the Powerhouse also intended to use to ‘‘come outside the walls of the museum’’, he said.

‘‘From the museum’s perspective, we’ll want to run public programs and a whole series of events and other things in that space,’’ he said.

But the room for the urban agriculture plot known as the ‘‘city farm’’ was ‘‘much smaller than initially envisaged’’ by an earlier feasibility study, he said.

The council had identified the disused Powerhouse Museum car park as one of two possible sites for the full-scale project, which is now earmarked for Sydney Park at St Peters.

A city spokeswoman said council and the museum had been consulting with the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority and Infrastructure NSW about the smaller plot.

“They support the project and have their designers looking at the best way for the City Farm to be integrated with The Goods Line and the new convention centre,” she said.

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Court finds Indonesia’s oil agency unconstitutional

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Indonesia’s Constitutional Court has thrown its resource investment environment into further turmoil by declaring that the country’s own oil and gas licensing agency and regulator is unconstitutional.
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The regulator, BPMigas, was disbanded as of yesterday and the national government hurriedly announced that the Energy and Mineral Resources department would take over its role in administering 302 production sharing contracts.

The chairman of the now-defunct agency, Raden Priyono, said ongoing negotiations with foreign companies, including a proposed $12 billion investment by resource giant British Petroleum (BP) for an expanded natural gas facility in Papua, would now stall.

Contracts for licenses worth $70 billion which companies had signed with BPMigas were also now in doubt, he said, though other commentators played this down.

BPMigas was set up by the newly democratic Indonesia in 2001 as an independent statutory authority to replace the regulation and licensing function of state-owned oil producer, Pertamina, which had become hopelessly corrupted under the Suharto regime.

BPMigas has no link to the oil company BP.

But despite being a government agency, BPMigas has run afoul of growing nationalist sentiment, with the belief afoot that it was awarding too many lucrative contracts to foreign companies and cheating the Indonesian people out of income. The court case was brought by 42 community and Islamic groups.

Contracts governing 29 oil and gas projects are up for renewal between 2013 and 2017, and pressure is building on the Indonesian government to nationalise them all.

Indonesia produces 2.36 million barrels of oil per day and foreign owned companies including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Total, ConocoPhillips and BP account for about 90 per cent of the country’s production. Companies have refused to comment as they digest the implications.

The Constitutional Court’s binding judgement declared the agency unconstitutional because it is in violation of Article 33 of the 1945 Constitution, which guarantees that land, waters and natural resources should be “under the power of the state”.

The court said that because BPMigas did not actually operate oil and gas wells, and therefore the constitutional requirement was “degraded”.

Chief justice Mahfud MD – who reportedly has political ambitions to be the next Indonesian president – led the judgement.

Dien Syamsuddin, the chairman of Muhammadiyah, one of the world’s largest Islamic organisations and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said the judgement “represents a people’s victory”.

But Phil Shah, a consultant to the oil and gas industry, said the move was “a disturbance”. While BPMigas had, at times, been a “scourge” for foreign investors, the judgment was “another obstacle in the path overall”.

“It’s an unfortunate event, and certainly disappointing, but it’s one of many.”

Recent laws in other parts of the resource industry have forced foreign miners to pay new taxes on exports, to hastily formulate plans to process and smelt minerals in Indonesia, and to sell down their stakes in productive mines to 49 per cent to local businesses.

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Cooking the books: new charges laid

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Kurt Tippett of the Crows under marks under pressure from Will Schofield of the Eagles in round 17, 2012. Kurt Tippett
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Slicing the pie: Kurt Tippett in his guise as a Balfours Bakery ambassador on YouTube.


ADELAIDE entered into a secret agreement with one of its sponsors to divert payments to Kurt Tippett after the player knocked back an offer to join the Gold Coast.

As further damning evidence emerged in the Crows’ salary-cap scandal, the club’s football boss, Phil Harper, has been charged by the AFL after a letter signed by Harper was unearthed by the league’s investigators.

The written evidence of the alleged under-the-table third-party agreement with the South Australian bakery Balfours has also implicated Adelaide chief executive Steven Trigg.

Fairfax Media understands Trigg authorised the diverted five-figure annual payment without the knowledge of his board.

With Trigg’s AFL future already hanging in the balance, he faces a third charge of breaching AFL rules – in this instance the breach is his second charge relating to total player payments impropriety.

Although the Balfours deal was lodged with the AFL, the diverted written agreement was not.

The letter instructed Balfours, which each year paid the Crows an annual sponsorship sum of between $150,000 and $200,000, to reduce those sponsorship payments by about $30,000 and instead pay them to Tippett, who would assume the role of a Balfours ambassador.

Fairfax Media has learnt that Tippett earned the third-party payments during the 2010 and 2011 seasons and during that time hosted a ”Tippett’s Tips” segment in which – dressed in an apron and chef’s hat – he performed in a kitchen segment before tucking into a Balfours pie.

The agreement appears to have been a clear contravention of the AFL’s salary cap rules and appears to have taken chairman Rob Chapman and his board by surprise. Clubs are forbidden from having any association with players’ third-party agreements.

The fresh charges on Wednesday prompted a series of urgent meetings involving Adelaide officials, directors and their lawyers. The Crows’ defence is being led by David Edwardson, QC.

And further damning allegations have emerged over the timing of a rewritten letter, which was originally sent by former football boss John Reid to Tippett and his manager Peter Blucher in October 2009.

The letters, both revealed by Fairfax Media, were dated October 2009. In its original form the letter suggested a secret trade deal, third-party payments worth $200,000 and an instruction to the player not to lodge the letter with the AFL.

It sparked the investigation and subsequent multiple charges laid against Adelaide, past and present officials, and Tippett.

The board had believed the second letter – which was rewritten to eliminate damning evidence of suggested salary-cap breaches – was re-sent soon after the first version.

But allegations emerged on Wednesday that the rewritten letter was forwarded to the Tippett camp towards the end of the 2012 season – almost three years after the original version. The letter was still signed by Reid but is understood to have been sent by current Crows officials in a bid to cover the club’s tracks.

Trigg is understood to have told

the club’s lawyers it was his belief that the Reid letter was a private agreement between the Crows and Blucher, was not part of a contract and would not necessarily be honoured.

Adelaide has also been charged on a third count under Rule 17, which relates to draft and total player payment rules. The club’s board, Tippett, Trigg, Harper and Reid have all been summoned to appear before the AFL Commission on Monday.

The club raised eyebrows across the AFL community when it stated on Monday that it was being investigated by the AFL as a direct result of its decision to come forward and admit the Tippett agreement and offer full assistance to the investigation.

The club’s statement went on: ”Throughout the past three years and the recent trading period it was always the club’s intention to comply fully with all AFL rules on the draft and player payments.

”The club draws attention to its exemplary record and reputation of total and willing compliance with all AFL rules that govern the draft and total player payments over the past 22 years. We have the highest regard for those rules and the reason that they exist.”

Tippett, who faces a lengthy period on the sidelines should the commission deregister him, remains hopeful of joining Sydney.

The Swans have indicated they would not be put off drafting Tippett should he be forced to sit out the game for a lengthy period.

The 25-year-old plans to vigorously defend the two charges against him through his lawyer David Galbally, QC, and intends to call Blucher as a key witness.

The commission hearing is looming as a bitter exchange of evidence involving Tippett and his former club, which faces heavy fines and draft bans.

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Anti-austerity anger stirs strikes, protests in Europe

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Protesters shout slogans during a general strike in Madrid that has grounded more than 700 flights.Protesters bristling over austerity cuts will launch a Europe-wide string of rallies and strikes today, pouring into streets, refusing to work and grounding more than 700 flights.
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General strikes in Spain and Portugal will spearhead the day of action called by European unions and joined by activists as anger over governments’ tight-fisted policies boils over.

For Spain, the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy where one in four workers is unemployed in a deep recession, it is the second general strike in eight months in protest against draconian budget cuts.

Spain’s main CCOO and UGT unions have urged people to rally under slogans such as “They are taking away our future!”, deploying pickets during the night at airports, bus and railway stations.

Activists alerted social networks of an evening rally outside the parliament in Madrid.

The action comes as Spain’s right-leaning government and Socialist opposition discussed how to combat a surge in home-owner evictions, blamed for two suicides in just 15 days.

Neighbouring Portugal, where protesters booed visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday when she came to support Lisbon’s austerity policies, will also hold a general strike.

Protests are being called in some 40 towns and cities across the bailed-out nation, including Lisbon and Porto.

The impact of strike may be undermined by legislation requiring a minimum service in both Spain and Portugal, but airlines have nevertheless warned of a large number of cancellations.

Iberia, Iberia Express, Air Nostrum, Vueling, Air Europa and easyJet cut more than 600 flights including some 250 international routes. Ryanair said no flights had been scrapped yet.

Portugal’s TAP said it was grounding more than 160 flights, most of them international.

Greece is the epicentre of the eurozone’s debt crisis but its unions are focused on the national crisis and it has limited its protest to a three-hour work stoppage and a rally in Athens.

Despite passing a hotly contested 13.5-billion-euro package of austerity measures last week, Athens is battling to convince its international rescuers to unlock the next bailout payment to stave off collapse.

Greece’s finance minister, Yannis Stournaras, warned Tuesday of a “very high” risk of default.

Italian unions, too, are seeking a four-hour work stoppage.

The European Trade Union Confederation said it was the first time that it had organised a day of industrial action that included simultaneous strikes in four countries.

“By sowing austerity, we are reaping recession, rising poverty and social anxiety,” the union confederation’s general secretary Bernadette Segol said in an online statement.

“In some countries, people’s exasperation is reaching a peak. We need urgent solutions to get the economy back on track, not stifle it with austerity. Europe’s leaders are wrong not to listen to the anger of the people who are taking to the streets.”

Short of taking full strike action, unions and activists in other European countries say they, too, plan to support the “Day of Action and Solidarity” against austerity and in favour of jobs.

Union-led rallies are being called across France, Belgium and in Poland, where workers decry “social and wage-dumping” in their country.

High-speed Thalys rail services between Belgium and Germany have also been cancelled for the day.

In Germany, viewed by many in southern Europe as the paymaster behind the austerity drive, the union federation DGB has called protests across the country including in Berlin and Frankfurt.

“For now it is mostly people in southern Europe suffering from a crisis they are not responsible for. But the consequences will surely be felt in the rest of Europe,” it said.


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Gillard, Abbott and the state of the hashonomy

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It’s not quite Mitt Romney’s ”horses and bayonets” or a ”binders full of women” internet moments – but Australian japesters with keyboards are out in force at the Twitter hashtags #ThingsMorePopularThanAbbott and #triedtobeauthenticbut
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The ”things more popular” hashtag came into being and trended earlier this week after the publication of a national opinion poll with poor approval ratings for the Opposition leader.

”Tried to be authentic but” followed well intentioned but clumsy remarks Mr Abbott made about his desire to recruit ”an Aboriginal person from central Australia, an authentic representative of the ancient cultures of Australia”.

The contributions at the Abbott hashtags range from laugh out loud witty to mildly vitriolic. Options more popular than the Opposition leader include ”warm Fanta”, ”a hipster in Broadmeadows”, and ”barrier eleven at the Cox Plate.”

But lest we conclude, as is sometimes argued, that the ”socials” always lean left – Twitter has imposed some conversational balance with #ThingsMorePopularThanGillard

The tone at this hashtag is more straight-up rebuke than glancing wit. More popular than the Prime Minister? ”A cold shower, stabbing oneself in the eye, I could keep going.” ”That sharp pebble stuck inside your shoe.” ”Me marrying your Mum.”

You get the drift.

With Twitter regarded as the default homepage of Australian politics, professional politics watches these periodic outbreaks on Twitter, and the social media crowd watches back – interesting and energising of course, and a teeny, tiny bit circular.

Canberra blogger and tweeter Paula Matthewson wondered in a piece published this week whether the Twitterverse might need a Bex and a good lie down.

Ms Matthewson questioned Twitter’s ”group think”, ”confected outrage” and ”biodegradable empathy”.

”With the identification of each new cause, Twitter seems to be ratcheting up the rhetoric (perhaps in the face of desentisation or ennui), and shrilly denouncing non-participants as non-believers,” Ms Matthewson wrote on her Dragonista blog.

”Some days it resembles nothing more than a gaggle of GetUp! toddlers, high on sugar and running in noisy circles. On such days, Twitter should be made to take a good lie down.”

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NSW to tighten controls over councils

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New laws will allow the state government to suspend local councils for up to three months and order them to improve their performance, instead of waiting until they need to be sacked.
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NSW Local Government Minister Don Page said he would introduce new laws allowing earlier intervention.

Existing laws only allow for the sacking of councils after a long period of dysfunction, expensive public inquiries and intervention by the minister and the governor.

“In the past the only measure available was sacking councils after a public inquiry, which generally only happened after a long period – usually years,” Mr Page said on Wednesday.

“This resulted in long delays during which the community was disadvantaged, and business including DAs were delayed and services suffered.

“These new laws will act as a powerful deterrent against council misbehaviour and will enable a more appropriate response to problems that arise.”

Councils to have been sacked in recent years for alleged misconduct include Wollongong and Shellharbour.

Councillors at Ryde council voted six to five at a meeting in July to terminate the general manager’s contract after major ructions and complaints to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Mr Page said it was clear from the level of dysfunction demonstrated in several councils in recent years that the government had insufficient power to manage such problems.

“This is resulting in unnecessary cost to both councils and the state, poor service delivery for affected local communities, with effective operation of council business often severely disrupted,” he said.

“While most councils get on with the job of delivering services in an efficient and timely manner, there have been some extreme examples in recent memory of councils behaving very badly indeed.

“It is my fervent hope that I never have to use these new powers. For the first time in 17 years not a single council in NSW is under administration. We want to keep it that way.”

Under the news laws the minister or director general will have stronger powers to gather information from councils to identify dysfunction, new powers to issue an “order to improve” and new powers to suspend a council for up to three months.

“These powers will complement our new laws governing councillor conduct and tougher penalties for councillors who misbehave,” Mr Page said.

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Court releases debt collection agency’s ‘vicious’ recordings

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Audio of phone calls in which debt collection agency ACM Group attempted to blackmail people into repaying debts has been released by the Federal Court.
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The calls released by the court include one particularly offensive call in which an ACM employee engaged in behaviour described by Justice Nye Perram as “rude, condescending and vicious”.

ACM, also known as Accounts Control Management Services, purchased the debts from Telstra and banks including the NAB and Commonwealth Bank for a few cents in the dollar.

In an October 26 judgment, Justice Perram found ACM “engaged in unduly harassing and coercive conduct” against debtors by “heaping personal abuse upon them” and “blackmailing them by threatening to reveal their positions as debtors to relatives, friends, employers or neighbours”.

Justice Perram took particular note of a May 15, 2009, call between a debtor who owed about $21,000 to the CBA and ACM supervisor “Connie”.

“It is worthwhile noting that the transcript does not capture the tone of Connie,” Justice Perram said.

“By turns rude, condescending and vicious, no description of this call (and some of her later efforts) can adequately capture the offensiveness involved.”

Audio released by the court shows Connie repeatedly belittled and interrupted the female debtor, who became audibly distraught as the call went on.

During the call, the debtor said she was “so scared”, to which Connie responded sharply: “Scared of what?”

She then proceeded to threaten to tell the debtor’s husband about the credit card debt, something the debtor was clearly keen to avoid.

“We’re going to be serving you with papers and we don’t necessarily have to serve you in person,” Connie said.

“We can then turn up to your family home and serve your husband with them, basically – and then he will find out.”

At the time, the debtor was staying with a friend rather than at her family home.

Connie also told the debtor she would “do some property searches on you, on your name” and interrogated her about a mortgage on the family home jointly held with her husband.

“We’ve been spending too much time on this file and if we don’t get any action before next Friday, and I mean solid action, I mean money action … we’re going to start legals and you’ll be served at [the family home],” Connie said.

“He’s not only going to find out about it, he’s going to lose his family home over it,” she said.

Connie also threatened to contact a family friend and tell her of the debt.

“I promise I will get back to you on Monday… please don’t tell anybody,” the debtor said.

“Promise? Do you know we’re recording these tapes now with you because we’ve had too many broken promises,” Connie said.

At the end of the call, Connie signed off with a cheery “Bye love.”

In a follow-up call a few days later, she threatened to bankrupt the debtor.

Justice Perram described Connie’s conduct as “misleading” because ACM was not in fact about to commence bankruptcy proceedings.

“I’m going to do it today, [you will get them] in the next couple of days, probably at the home address,” Connie said.

She berated the debtor, yelling at her that “we’re not having any more broken promises”.

The recording continued after the debtor hung up and Connie can be heard giggling.

“She has got money, she’s hiding it from husband, we need to do something about it,” Connie told a colleague.

In another call, recorded on November 27, 2009, ACM employee “Dorelle” told a debtor: “We’re ACM Group. We’re the number one debt collection agency in Australia, all right? We – we’re ruthless, mate.”

Dorelle told the debtor a “lot of people” regretted going to court against ACM.

“So I’m going to give you a final opportunity, mate, okay? You need to come up with a goodwill payment,” Dorelle said.

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China and India booms over: forecaster

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The catch-up boom in China, India, Brazil is largely over and will be followed by a drastic slowdown during the next decade, according to a grim report by America’s top forecasting body.
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Europe’s prognosis is even worse, with France trapped in depression with near- zero growth as far as 2025 and Britain struggling to raise its speed limit to 1 per cent over the next three parliaments.

The US Conference Board’s global outlook calls into question the BRICs miracle (Brazil, Russia, India, China), arguing that the low-hanging fruit from cheap labour and imported know-how has already been picked.

China’s double-digit expansion rates will soon be a romantic memory. Growth will fall to 6.9 per cent next year, then to 5.5 per cent from 2014 to 2018, and 3.7 per cent from 2019-25 as the aging crisis hits and investment returns go into ‘‘rapid decline’’.

Growth in India – where the reform agenda has been ‘‘largely derailed’’ – will fall to 4.7 per cent to 2018, and then to 3.9 per cent. Brazil will slip to 3 per cent and then 2.7 per cent. Such growth rates will leave these countries stuck in the ‘‘middle-income trap’’, dashing hopes for a quick jump into the affluent league.

‘‘As China, India, Brazil, and others mature from rapid, investment-intensive ’catch-up’ growth, the structural ’speed limits’ of their economies are likely to decline,’’ it said.

The fizzling emerging market story is a key reason why the West has relapsed this year.

‘‘Mature economies are still healing the scars of the 2008-2009 crisis. But, unlike in 2010 and 2011, emerging markets did not pick up the slack in 2012, and won’t do so in 2013,’’ it warned.

The Conference Board says Europe’s demographic crunch and poor productivity have reduced trend growth to near 1 per cent, though it could be worse if the region makes a hash of monetary policy and follows Japan into a ‘‘structural deflation trap’’.

Large numbers of people may be shut out of the jobs market forever.

Germany will outperform Italy and France massively over the next five years, implying a bitter conflict within the eurozone over control of the policy levers. While the report does not analyse debt-dynamics, it is hard to see how the Club Med bloc could keep its head above water in such a grim scenario.

Bert Colijn, the Board’s Europe economist, said France’s woes stem from low investment and delayed austerity. He thinks Spain will fare better, growing at 1.8 per cent until 2025 as ‘‘creative destruction’’ unleashes fresh energy. America has a younger age profile and should eke out 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent growth until 2018 as the ‘‘output gap’’ closes, and 2 per cent thereafter.

The Board said lack of demand lies behind the current global malaise, but the fading technology cycle may prove a greater threat over the long term. The thesis is based on work by Prof Robert Gordon from Northwestern University, who says the creative burst of the past 250 years is a ‘‘unique episode in human history’’ and may be fading.

The Board’s forecast is starkly at odds with an OECD report last week predicting that China would grow at 6.6 per cent until 2030, and India at 6.7 per cent – propelling the two powers to global dominance.

Apostles of the BRICs revolution are certain to dispute the claims. Yet there could be no clearer sign that the emerging market euphoria of the past decade has fully deflated.

The Daily Telegraph, London

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Offshore bidding plan draws oil industry’s ire

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David Byers of APPEA is concerned by a new offshore bidding plan.Australia will introduce cash bidding for the awarding of offshore exploration licences in “mature areas,” a move that has drawn opposition from the oil industry’s main lobby group.
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“This will only apply to mature areas or those known to contain petroleum accumulations,” said Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, after revealing the plan at a Committee for Economic Development lunch.

The move “will prevent over-exploration in areas where none or little may be required and, in doing so, ensure the lease of these areas is equitable, economic and efficient”.

But the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) criticised the plan, saying it would add to costs and was likely to squeeze out smaller players in the industry.

“The introduction of cash bidding has the potential to impact on Australia’s small explorers who may have limited funds available for exploration,” APPEA chief executive David Byers said. “Many of these companies have been directly responsible for identifying the resource potential of regions and basins that are now producing oil and gas in Australia.”

Mr Ferguson said the government would consult with industry before finalising the cash bidding process. The move was intended to prod companies to bring production opportunities to the market rather than sit on the resource.

“In these mature areas, if they are prepared to pay real money because they think it’s commercial, then logically . . . they’ll be wanting to get a return on that investment,” he said.

“We might have a floor price below which, if we don’t get what we think is appropriate for the opportunities, you just don’t award an outcome.”

APPEA said the existing method in granting exploration licences by assessing proposed work programs and the likelihood of success had served Australia well.

“Cash bid payments reduce the overall pool of funds available for companies to undertake exploration, because they divert funds from the drilling of wells to the payment of government access charges,” Mr Byers said.

Geoscience boost

Separately, Mr Ferguson announced the government had reversed course and would increase rather than cut funding for Geoscience Australia, the federal body charged with mapping the country’s resources.

Geoscience will now receive an extra $114 million over four years to identify more of the mineral wealth.

“In many ways, we’ve hardly scratched the surface,” Mr Ferguson said.

Geoscience will receive $34 million in 2013-14 and $40 million for the following three years, the minister said.

The extra funding will come as a relief to Geoscience staff. Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, the funding had been budgeted to fall from $113.8 million in the current fiscal year to $98.8 million in 2013-14 and $88.4 million the following year.

The funding included $26 million a year to Geoscience for its pre-competitive data program to improve the knowledge of the resource base and open up opportunities for new resource projects, Mr Ferguson said.

“It’s about doing the work that will keep the pipeline [of projects] going for decades in the future,” he said.

The extra funds will also help contribute to the regular release of more acreage for exploration.

The additional money also includes $5 million in 2013-14, increasing to $8 million in the subsequent three years, to enhance Geoscience’s groundwater modelling capabilities to assess better the long-term health of the Murray-Darling Basin and other regions, the ministry said.

An extra $3 million rising to $6 million in 2014-15 will go to boost the body’s disaster planning and response program, the Australian Tsunami Warning System, and to further understand Australia’s clean energy potential.

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