Tony Abbott being urged to consider dumping Joe Hockey and calling a March election: cabinet ministers

Under the pump: Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer The PM is being urged to dump Treasurer Joe Hockey. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Analysis: Farewell Joe, hello ScoMo? Abbott’s loyalty to be tested again

Cabinet ministers say Prime Minister Tony Abbott is being urged to dump Joe Hockey as Treasurer if the Canning byelection goes badly for the Liberal Party.

And an early federal election, to be held in March 2016, is also being considered at the highest levels of the Abbott government.

Fairfax Media has been told by two cabinet ministers that talks over axing Mr Hockey have been held, with a move to sacrifice the Treasurer designed to shore up Mr Abbott’s own leadership and quell a potential backlash after the September 19 poll.

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison, who is widely considered to be one of the government’s star performers, would likely be elevated to the Treasury post and Mr Hockey would be offered another portfolio.

The Liberal Party  holds the seat of Canning with a margin of 11.8 per cent, but recent polling in the seat shows it is now on a knife edge, with swings to Labor of as much as 10 per cent forecast.

One cabinet minister familiar with the talks said a swing against the Coalition of more than six per cent – which would still see the Liberal Party’s candidate Andrew Hastie win the seat -€“ would be bad news for the prime minister and more than 10 per cent would be “dire”.

“They are considering dumping Hockey post-Canning and believe that will get them to Christmas,” the minister said, with any move dependent on the result.

A second cabinet minister said  Mr Abbott was under “œenormous pressure” and  it was possible Mr Hockey would be “thrown to the wolves”€ to protect the prime minister’s leadership.

Two weeks ago, Nervous Liberal MPs told Fairfax Media that if the Coalition lost the Canning byelection it would be “all over” for Mr Abbott.

The move on Mr Hockey would be designed to reset the Abbott government’s economic messaging, direction and strategy, shore up the prime minister’€™s hold on the leadership just seven months after an extraordinary spill motion  and see the government through until Christmas.

Under the plan, parliament would then not return in February and instead a double dissolution election would be held in March.

A third cabinet minister approached by Fairfax Media about the prospect of Mr Hockey being dumped and a March poll being called said they “wouldn’t write that off as a theory”.

That minister said  a swing of less than six per cent against the Abbott government in Canning would be a good result.

And a fourth minister said  “if Canning goes badly, he [Mr Abbott] will have to do something dramatic, quickly” but played down the likelihood of Mr Hockey being dumped for Mr Morrison.

That minister said a March poll was “absolutely on the cards” and that Mr Abbott was expected to reshuffle his front bench by the end of the year.

This is not the first time there have been internal discussions about Mr Hockey’s future, with Mr Abbott promising in May that the Treasurer would stay in his job until the next election no matter how his second budget was received.

A decision to dump Mr Hockey would be politically risky as, despite having endured a difficult 15 months since handing down his first budget, the Treasurer has a loyal band of supporters in the party room.

It would be welcomed, however, by some in Coalition ranks who in part blame the Treasurer for the government’s current woes, including the fact that it has trailed in the polls since the May 2014 budget.

The leaking of confidential talks about the future of Mr Hockey and a possible early election could also stay the Prime Minister’s hand and ensure the Treasurer remains.

Last week, Mr Hockey was again criticised by colleagues for being distracted from his day job after signing up to co-chair a parliamentary friendship group for an Australian Republic and for a speech that again flagged personal income tax which was short on detail.

The Abbott government has been hit by a rolling series of crises and missteps including most recently the resignation of former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and questions over the future of trade union Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon.

A spokesman for Mr Abbott said he had full confidence in his Treasurer and  “the Prime Minister is on the record as saying he expects the Government to run a full term”.

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Amal Clooney referred to as ‘actor’s wife’ in news agency tweet sparking outrage

International news agency Associated Press has been criticised for sending a tweet that referred to human rights lawyer Amal Clooney as an “actor’s wife”.
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The tweet concerned a story on Clooney’s comments following the conviction of Al-Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who were found guilty in a Cairo court of “spreading false news” and sentenced to three years’ jail.

Clooney has represented Fahmy, a Canadian national, since last year.

She said the verdict sent out a dangerous message. “It sends a message that journalists can be locked up for simply doing their job, for telling the truth and reporting the news,” she said.

“And it sends a dangerous message that there are judges in Egypt who will allow their courts to become instruments of political repression and propaganda.”

On Twitter, there were many critics of the AP tweet.

Radio host Dominic Knight tweeted “that’s Amal Clooney THE RESPECTED LAWYER”.

Celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton tweeted that “the AP might want to rethink how they refer to women on Twitter”.

Clooney — who married actor George Clooney in Venice in September 2014, and took his name — is a barrister with London’s Doughty Street Chambers. She specialises in international law, criminal law, human rights, and extradition.

She was a rapporteur for a report released in 2014 by the International Bar Association Human Rights Initiative that raised questions about the independence of judges and prosecutors in Egypt. *Amal bursts into room* “I’ll save you” “Are you a lawyer?!” “Better. I’m Amal Clooney. Actor’s Wife.” “Thank god!” pic.twitter上海夜网m/SoSihUPpJ1— Hari Srinivasan (@Hari_PR1) August 29, 2015

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Public servants go thirsty as depts’ budgets dry up

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Public servants in Canberra have been told to bring their own tea and coffee to work as the Abbott government’s cut continue to bite.

As agency budgets dry up, thirsty bureaucrats at the Industry Department have been told that tea and coffee for office kitchenettes will not be supplied at departmental expense.

But coffee beans for the taxpayer-funded coffee machines that proved so controversial under the previous Labor government can still go on the company credit card.

Bosses at Industry have also been warned not to bill taxpayers for boozy senior executive service get-togethers and permission for high flyers to bring along their husbands or wives must come from the top, the rules say.

The latest instructions from Industry’s finance unit lays down the law on what can and cannot be bought with departmental funds.

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Flowers for the office and alcohol, in most circumstances, are on the banned list.

A departmental spokesman said the orders went out in early August so that public servants drafted in from other departments in “machinery of government” changes would have no doubt about the spending rules.

A cup of tea or coffee for a departmental staffer is not considered “business catering” at Industry.

“The following examples are not considered appropriate, and would be a personal expense: coffee, tea and sugar supplies purchased for use by departmental officials (e.g. for the department’s conference/meeting/training rooms or kitchenettes)” the instructions say.

“This excludes the provision of milk.”

But coffee beans for department-issued coffee machines for use by departmental officials are considered “business catering” and will be paid for out of official funds.

Cups of tea for volunteers who work for free at the national science exhibition centre Questacon are also safe from the bean counters, the guidance makes clear.

But coffee and tea at team meetings at cafes also make the banned list, along with gifts for public servants moving on or retiring from the department and pot plants or flowers for the office come under the heading “personal decorations” and are not to be billed to the taxpayer.

The department’s elite SES are not above the rules, the instructions make clear, and alcohol served at their forums, networking events and other functions are not to put on the departmental credit card.

The 16-page guidance note from the finance unit contains some strong advice for public servants on their duties when accepting or offering hospitality.

“The provision and/or acceptance of hospitality requires careful judgment, due to the possible perception of undue benefit or conflict of interest which in turn can have a significant effect on the reputation of the integrity and impartiality of the department, the Australian Public Service and/or the Commonwealth,” the note says.

“Employees must exercise due care and diligence when providing or accepting hospitality.”

An Industry Department spokesman said the new guidance was produced so everyone in the department, including new recruits, knew the rules.

“The department has reviewed its policy following multiple machinery-of-government changes over the last few years,” he said.

“The guidance is provided to staff to ensure a consistent approach is adopted across the department.”

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National campaign needed to raise understanding about suicide

The stigma of mental illness and suicide is preventing people from seeking help.Comment: John Brogden on his attempt to take his own lifeBrogden: ‘Experiences like mine show there is a way back’
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A national education campaign is needed to address misconceptions about suicide, according to recommendations in a report into the experiences of people who attempt to take their own lives.

Lessons for Life, a joint research project between SANE Australia and the University of New England, found that judgment from both health professionals and friends or family hindered the recovery of people who had attempted suicide.

SANE Australia’s suicide prevention manager Sarah Coker said people interviewed for the project overwhelmingly felt the stigma of mental illness and suicide prevented people from seeking help.

“They were very keen to reduce the stigma about suicide so people feel more comfortable talking about when they are not doing well,” she said.

“If they are having thoughts of suicide they won’t be too scared to say that because they are worried about how people will react.”

A number of participants, who ranged in age from their teens to their 70s, pointed out that a suicide attempt is wrongly trivialised as a cry for attention.

“They wanted to get quite a strong message across that the attempt was not attention-seeking, that suicide is not a selfish act,” Ms Coker said.

“Unfortunately, these people feel like a burden on others and that by removing themselves they are doing others a favour. It is distorted but they are in such a bad way, that is the way they were thinking at that time.”

The report and accompanying video provides an rare glimpse into the recovery process for people who have survived a suicide attempt.

Ms Coker said participants volunteered to take part because they felt it was important to show there can be a way forward.

“Nearly all the participants came back afterwards to say they found the process to be quite a cathartic experience,” she said.

“They were overwhelmingly motivated by the desire to help others. They wanted to turn something that had been a very negative experience in their life into a positive experience.”

Participants said their recovery was aided by finding effective professional help as well as support from friends and family.

Difficulty in finding appropriate help was the most commonly reported barrier to recovery, with 80 per cent of participants describing negative experiences with the hospital system. One-third said they felt they were not taken seriously or misunderstood and a large proportion reported having difficulty being admitted or being discharged too early.

The report recommends improving professional services by educating health workers about the importance of supporting people who have attempted suicide and working with hospitals to raise the standards of admission and discharge procedures.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians under the age of 44, claiming 2,535 lives in 2012.

Support service Lifeline is raising awareness about suicide with a series of public walks on September 10, Suicide Prevention Day.

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Inspired by Warren Buffett, Perpetual’s Garry Laurence is flying high

Garry Laurence Perpetual’s head of global equities has read every single one of Warren Buffet’s famous newsletters dating back to the 1970s. Photo: Peter RaeA lot of kids would have been happy to pick up the pocket money and think of something else to do with their life – but not Perpetual Investments portfolio manager for global equities Garry Laurence.
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So intrigued was he with the way his family’s printing business was run, that the young Garry looked beyond his after-school and weekend work putting pages together to the nuts and bolts of balance sheets, suppliers, customers and market trends.

When his father, sensing the ramifications of the digital revolution, sold the company and bought a software venture, Laurence ran his slide ruler over that one, too. His love of the minutiae of cash flow, interest coverage, leverage and profit margins was born – as was his suspicion of cyclical industries.

And both have endured. Today, Perpetual’s 34-year-old strategist travels the world, talking to senior executives from some of the best-known companies on the planet while weighing up geopolitical concerns, market trends and capital flows. At home, he also helped set up his wife’s online fitness business, and never tires of getting to know the DNA of companies.

With about $670 million under management in the firm’s Global Share Fund, Laurence and his team have a portfolio crammed with some of the biggest corporate names in the United States, along with stocks from China, Japan and Europe. The fund was relaunched last year to broaden the horizons of the traditionally domestic-focused fund manager.

Current holdings include NASDAQ OMX Group, Bank of America, Verizon Communications, General Electric, eBay, Oracle Corporation, China’s Zhaopin and Qihoo and Deutsche Börse and BBVA from Europe.

The  line-up is US heavy but the stock-picking criteria transcend geographical boundaries. The team looks for strong cash-flow, cash-heavy balance sheets, low price-earnings ratios with growth potential and favourable situations such as monopolies and oligopolies.

“The great thing about Perpetual is that it has this very strong focus on strong balance sheets and we have strict metrics on what a good balance sheet means,” says Laurence.

“For us, we look at interest cover.

“I look at the free cash flow and make sure that free cash flow can pay down the net debt very quickly, and can meet the interest costs,” he says

“What that means is that during periods of weakness and fear, the companies that will fall the most are the ones that are highly indebted. By steering clear of that, you tend to outperform in a falling market.”

And so the statistics attests. According to Perpetual’s own calculations, the net debt-to-equity ratio across the fund’s holdings is an average 12.7 per cent, compared with the benchmark index’s 51.2 per cent. Interest cover is 26.5 per cent, compared with 10.4 per cent for the index.

Laurence likes sharemarket companies such as NASDAQ OMX and Deutsche Börse because there are high barriers to competition and the technology is already in place, making it easier to grow earnings.

Legendary stock-picker Warren Buffett has always advocated buying into this sort of market dominance.

Laurence is a fan, having read every single one of Buffett’s famous newsletters dating back to the 1970s.

“Basically, I like to buy businesses,rather than stocks,” he says, “and I’ve been doing that from a very young age.”

At university, where he completed bachelors degrees in law and commerce, he still had time to build his own, successful equity portfolio. His first job in the business was an internship at Morgan Stanley, before he moved on to PM Capital as an analyst and then Perpetual.

There, this back-to-basics approach to share selection, supported with forensic financial assessment of the companies, appears to be working.

Since its creation in January 2011, the Perpetual Global Share Fund has outperformed the MSCI World Net Total Return benchmark every year, by an average of 2.8 percentage points after fees.

Absolute return after fees has averaged just over 19 per cent.

“Our approach is basically to buy these high-quality businesses that, through the cycle, grow their earnings consistently, and buy them at attractive prices,” says Laurence.

“And we’ve got a concentrated portfolio, so with all these movements in markets, what you’re seeing are valuations going up and down but the core businesses and high-quality ones should continue to grow their earnings.”

Nor does this bottom-up focus preclude continuous study of the big global trends that can spark routs and corrections, or alter a company’s outlook over the mid-to-long term.

On his latest visit to Europe, in June, Laurence attended a round of macroeconomic and investment conferences to hear the views of European Central Bank board members, politicians and the like. This was on top of the always-crucial meetings with the chief executives and chief investment officers of the companies that Perpetual holds.

And how much detail is he trying to extract from senior executives when he sits down with them?

“Because we are long-term investors, we are not really trying to find out how the next quarter’s going,” says Laurence.

“It’s more of just getting a sense for strategically what they are doing with the business, insuring that they are staying competitive, that the actual industry is still growing and that there aren’t any structural issues.

“Also, we try to really understand the management team and insure that they’re managing the business for the best interests of shareholders.”

Perpetual’s global equity fund is underweight in Europe, having sold down a lot of “expensive industrials” when their prices started to look frothy.

However, it still holds pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi Aventis, Spanish bank BBVA and Ebro Foods, also of Spain. In the first case, Laurence likes the range of products, earnings growth rates and the company’s successful push into emerging markets.

The Spanish selections, meanwhile, reflect the country’s recent recovery from the ravages of the global financial crisis.

“We are slightly overweight in Spain, because we think the economy is improving,” says Laurence.

He also likes financial stocks in the US because the economy is ticking along nicely and interest rates are about to rise for the first time in almost a decade.

Laurence is also happy to hold China Life, the US-listed insurance group, because of the extremely low rates of insurance product penetration in the world’s most populous nation, and hence the company’s growth potential. Online job search company Zhaopin and mobile security group Qihoo 360 Technology are trading on low price-earnings ratios and will grow along with China’s middle class.

He is unperturbed by recent market gyrations in the country, and its move to devalue the currency.

“The companies that we own that are exposed to China are companies that are in the services or consumer-related spaces, which are continuing to grow their earnings quite strongly, and in sectors where the penetration rate of their products are very low,” he says.

“We don’t think any of these movements in currency or gyrations in the markets are really going to have an effect on those trends.”

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Fears thousands will still slip through the net after workers compensation changes

Teacher Dianne Denton who injured her shoulder in a fall in late 2013 has less than two months to appeal an insurer’s decision. Photo: Christopher Pearce MSW Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet says the government is committed to a scheme that places the injured worker at the centre. Photo: Supplied
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Injured workers will no longer have the opportunity to top up lump sum compensation payments if their condition deteriorates over time as a result of a NSW Court of Appeal decision which has ruled they will be limited to making just one claim.

The decision comes after the state government restored some of the benefits it took away from injured workers under its WorkCover reforms in 2012.

However, the government ignored warnings from the WorkCover Independent Review Office when it amended the workers compensation scheme earlier this month, introducing changes which increased benefits for people with the most serious injuries and those needing hearing aids and prosthetic limbs who lost benefits in 2012.

However, for the vast majority of people with less serious injuries needing continuing  medical treatment, WorkCover Independent Review Officer Kim Garling warned that access to benefits would be more difficult.

“Where the insurer disputes whether the treatment is reasonably necessary there are instances where the compensation period expires before a decision is made by the Workers Compensation Commission or on appeal to the court,” he said.

Mr Garling was also concerned that injured workers would no longer be assessed for their long-term needs, based on their level of permanent impairment. Instead, they will be given only one assessment which means if their condition deteriorates at a later date, or after surgery, they will not be able to ask for an increase in their lump sum compensation payment.

A NSW Court of Appeal decision in Cram Fluid Power v Green on Thursday has confirmed that injured workers will not be entitled to make a further lump sum claim if their condition worsens.

Patrick Scala, from Shoalhaven Heads, said he was “shattered” to learn on Friday that he will have no further entitlement to a lump sum payment.

He injured his lower back on three occasions between 2005 and 2008 when he was working as night filler packing shelves at a supermarket. He received a lump sum payment in 2009 and has not worked since 2007.

“My condition has got worse since 2007 but the door has been slammed shut,” he said.

“In the last three years, I’ve had two hip replacements and back surgery and am going in for another one on the 9th of September because the first surgery failed,” he said.

Sydney teacher Dianne Denton injured her right shoulder in a fall in late 2013 and after the pain became progressively worse, a specialist doctor recommended surgery earlier this year. But because she can only qualify for payments for medical expenses for two years from the date of her injury under the government’s latest amendments, her window will expire in October.

“I am disappointed that …the insurer automatically said sorry, we cannot open your case,” she said.

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said the Court of Appeal decision meant that once an injured worker had their level of  impairment assessed “they are stuck with that assessment forever, regardless of any serious deterioration or surgery that has made their injury significantly worse”.

“The effect of this is that thousands of workers are prevented from getting access to necessary medical treatment and income support.”

NSW Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet said the government was committed to a workers compensation scheme that is “fair, sustainable and places the injured worker at the centre”.

“[T]he 2015 insurance reforms passed this month will see $1 billion of benefits and premium reductions distributed to injured workers and business.”

A WorkCover NSW spokesman said it was reviewing the Court of Appeal decision which relates to the 2012 changes.

He said the government had considered advice on the 2015 reforms from a range of stakeholders.

“The assessment of whole person impairment for an injured worker is intended to occur once the injured worker’s condition has stabilised,” the spokesman said.

“Any potential for delays in treatment associated with ongoing legal disputes should be mitigated by the extension of medical entitlement time periods, a feature of the recent changes to the workers compensation system.”

Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesman Anthony Scarcella said he welcomed the government’s decision to restore extra resources to the workers compensation scheme.

However , he was “troubled” by the changes to the entitlement to payment of medical expenses.

“There are many conditions that result in significant levels of impairment that require little treatment. The government has recognised this by providing lifelong assistance with hearing aids, batteries, and other aids,” he said.

“On the other hand there are many conditions, such as non-surgical back injuries, that result in little impairment but require significant ongoing treatment to support a worker continuing to work. The legislation also fails to recognise that the level of impairment can increase over time as a result of a deteriorating condition or subsequent surgery.”

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Australia should embrace ‘US-style privately managed public schools’

Charter schools have the potential to boost academic performance, a new report has found.State governments should look to US-style “charter schools” – privately managed public schools – as a way to boost the poor academic results of Australian students, a new report argues.
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The report, published by the free market Centre for Independent Studies, argues that charter schools would encourage innovation and extend school choice to poorer parents who cannot afford private schooling.

Charter schools would be funded at an equivalent rate to public schools, but would be run by private organisations – including non-profit and for-profit companies. They would not charge fees.

“Charter schools can be much more responsive to the challenges local communities face,” one of the report’s authors, CIS policy analyst Trisha Jha, said.

“There has been a strong trend towards greater school autonomy in Australia over recent years and this would be the next step to bring more flexibility and choice into the public system.”

The report, Free to Choose Charter Schools: How charter and for-profit schools can boost public education, says the United States, England, Sweden, Chile and New Zealand have all introduced forms of charter schooling.

A review of academic studies on US charter schools found small academic improvements overall, but strong positive impacts for disadvantaged families – especially if schools adopt high expectations and a “no excuses” approach. The most successful US charter schools are run by non-profit “chains”, running networks of schools in disadvantaged communities, the report finds.

Ms Jha said charter schools would expand the educational options for low-income families.”The use of residential zoning to determine public school enrolments means choice is currently limited to parents who can enter the non-government sector or who can afford to move house,” she said.

Parents would apply for their children to attend a charter school and if there were excessive applications a lottery system would apply.

The results of Australian students in international tests have been stagnating or going backwards despite significant funding increases, the report argues, and charter schools could help correct this.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has stressed the importance of school autonomy and allocated $70 million to make public schools more independent.

Australian Education Union president Correna Haythorpe said allowing for-profit companies to run schools would be a “disaster” for Australia’s schooling system.

“The key to improving our schools system is to invest in schools through needs-based Gonski funding and ensure that all schools have the resources to deliver a quality education to every child,” she said.

“OECD research shows that the best-performing systems are those which focus on equity in funding.”

Grattan Institute school education program director Peter Goss said teacher quality was the most important factor in boosting results and that this was only partly dependent on the level of autonomy from government a school has.

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Prime Media chairman John Hartigan defends push for media reform

John Hartigan says the campaign for media reform is picking up. Photo: Louise KennerleyPrime Media Group chairman John Hartigan has defended the company’s push for media reform and said that an attack by Seven Group chief executive Ryan Stokes is aimed at securing a seat on the regional broadcaster’s board.
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“I wonder why Seven is so scared of what the competition may look like in the event that the media laws change. Their concerted campaign to stop them suggests that concern, I simply don’t understand it,” Mr Hartigan said.

He refuted claims that Mr Stokes made to News Corp that Prime was undermining its own business in its campaign to have the government act of media reform.

“It suggests to me that [Mr Stokes] might be trying to persuade some of the bigger shareholders that Seven should have a seat on the board and this is something that he has been actively doing over the past few weeks,” Mr Hartigan, who is a former chief executive of News Corp Australia, said.

Seven is Prime’s second-largest shareholder with more than 11 per cent of the company.

Regional television operators, as well as Nine Entertainment Co and Fairfax Media, publisher of The Australian Financial Review, have all argued that media laws are outdated and need to be relaxed.

Seven West Media, which is more than 39 per cent owned by Seven Group and is chaired Mr Stokes’ father Kerry Stokes, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp have been opponents for changes to media ownership laws. News Corp would ack change only  if Foxtel, of which it owns 50 per cent, can get more exclusive sports rights, which would mean changes to anti-siphoning.

Prime, along with WIN, Southern Cross and Imparja, launched a campaign across their networks to raise awareness of the reform issue and garner public support.

“Our Save Our Voices campaign is not about Prime, it’s about regional jobs, it’s about regional advertisers, it’s about regional community support and the future of those regional voices,” Mr Hartigan said.

“It’s not dissipating at all. We see it as continuing to build momentum, not just for the next weeks but for the next months. We’re in this for the long term and you’ll see all sorts of new ingredients brought into it over the coming weeks,” Mr Hartigan said.

Prime executives, along with the other regional networks, have continued to meet with politicians on all sides to try to push media reform forward. It is understood the regionals have also put forward the proposition of removing legislation that would prevent mergers and acquisitions between them.

Seven Group said as Prime’s second-largest shareholder, it had the right to question the broadcaster’s strategic choices.

“It’s absolutely in our commercial interests for Prime to flourish, not the reverse, given we get a percentage of their revenues; we want them to make as much as they possibly can,” a spokesperson said.

“There is simply no demonstrable link between calls to scrap the reach rule and the sustainability of local news. Their continued focus on regulatory change rather than the future of their regional broadcasting business is short changing their shareholders and regional viewers.  Both deserve better.”

Seven noted that Prime on Thursday delivered profit growth for the past financial year, but it had no interest in buying the regional broadcaster even if the reach rule were changed.

“This week Prime has yet again delivered a best-in-class result for which they are to be congratulated.  But it defies credibility that a regional broadcaster with a net profit of over $35 million cannot afford to deliver local news to the communities it is licensed to serve.”

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Labor under pressure to back long service leave changes being considered in many states

Federal Labor is under pressure to get behind changes that would let workers transfer their long service leave entitlements from job to job.
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The Australian Greens have joined with the union movement and public policy experts in advocating for a national portable long service leave scheme. But employers have warned such a scheme would impose big costs on companies and could see wages, benefits and work hours slashed.

While portable long service already exists in some sectors, namely construction and cleaning, it is not widespread. The Victorian government recently announced a state-based inquiry into portable long service leave but the Greens and ACTU are pushing for a national inquiry.

The Greens sought to set up just such an inquiry last year but Labor sided with the Coalition to vote against it.

But spurred on by Victoria’s move – as well as the ACTU’s campaign and supportive research by the McKell Institute – the Greens have decided to try again.

Lower house Greens MP Adam Bandt has written to opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor asking for Labor’s support to set up a Senate inquiry when parliament resumes next month.

“Two crossbench Senators have already indicated their support and I believe Labor’s backing will see the inquiry established,” Mr Bandt says in the letter.

Advocates believe everyone should continue to receive entitlements like long service leave despite changes to the employment market that force people to work a high number of jobs with different employers.

The latest research shows that under the current system only a quarter of Australian workers will stay with the same employer for  10 years, meaning most  people never get access to long service leave.

But Labor appears resistant to such a national portable scheme. A spokeswoman for Mr O’Connor said only that Labor is “committed to working with state and territory governments to achieve a national minimum standard for long service leave to form part of the National Employment Standards”.

The McKell Institute, a progressive think tank, says a portable long service leave system would be of great benefit not only to employees but also to employers, government, the community and economy more generally. It argues workers would be more productive and less likely to have accidents or get sick if they get a solid mid-career break.

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Freeview to release new personal video recorder

Freeview’s Liz Ross said the time was right for networks to get their on-demand services into the market. Photo: James AlcockFreeview will launch its first personal video recorder on Tuesday as it markets the one-year anniversary of the launch of its FreeviewPlus service.
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Freeview is hoping the launch of a PVR will help the service grow, as it continues to add to the range of television brands, including Samsung, Sony and LG, with competition increasing over the last 12 months.

“It was the right time for the networks to do something about getting their on-demand services out into the market, particularly the commercial networks,” Freeview chief executive Liz Ross said.

Since the launch of FreeviewPlus in September 2014, Foxtel has halved its entry level price to $25, and subscription video on-demand services Netflix and Stan, which is 50-50 owned by Nine Entertainment and Fairfax Media, publisher of The Australian Financial Review, have launched in Australia.

Foxtel’s penetration has remained relatively stable at about 30 per cent in recent years, unlike the American market where subscription TV penetration is more than 85 per cent.

Freeview will be hoping the combination of the free-to-air broadcaster’s catch-up services and the ability to record live television, will keep Australians tuned into free content. Multiple chanels

Freeview’s first certified PVR will have a digital tuner, built-in wi-fi, a 1 terabyte hard drive and allow for multiple channels to be recorded at once.

Ms Ross said sales for the set-top box it launched in May were going well, with retailers going through several re-orders and more retailers trying to sign on to sell the box.

In its first year FreeviewPlus has won best enhanced TV service at the international interactive TV awards and was shortlisted for best TV or video service to update or launch at the Videonet Connected TV Awards.

“This is an exciting time in television. New services, interactive advertising, personalisation and social networking are all possible with this technology platform and we will continue to see more innovation in the near future from our free-to-air broadcasters,” Ms Ross said.

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