25 February 2008

Smile, you're on speed camera

One of NSW's biggest revenue sources is under threat, as Patrick Carlyon reports.

It doesn’t make much sense to dispute a speed camera fine of a few hundred dollars when a lawyer, such as Sydney’s Dennis Miralis, charges $1650 to appear in court to defend you. To lose would be to multiply the expense. And, anyway, why challenge technological evidence considered almost indisputable? The camera never lies, does it? Last year, in a public relations disaster, a fixed camera on Melbourne’s western ring road was proved to be inaccurate, costing the Bracks government at least $13m in repaid fines, and perhaps tens of millions more in lost revenue. The unlikely crusader was Vanessa Bridges, a student in a Datsun 120Y that could barely outrun a mangy dog.

Now, in NSW, a different flaw has been revealed in the unpopular technology. The crusader in this instance is Miralis, whose defence of little people against the previously indefensible has been likened to Tiriel Mora’s lawyer in The Castle. Some have called it a technicality. But Miralis describes his magistrate’s court victory last week as a precedent that questions the validity of all fixed speed camera fines in NSW. Miralis got off a driver (who also won $3300 in costs) because the police could not prove that the details of the photo of the driver’s apparently speeding car had not been tampered with.

Miralis researched the algorithm code, such as time of day, place and speed, used to authenticate camera images after getting off another driver last November. In that instance, Miralis showed that necessary symbols of the algorithm, as required by law, were missing. He then discovered that researchers from a Chinese university had figured out how to break the security code, known as MD5, and theoretically alter the logged details. Miralis found MD5 was little used overseas any more. It was the basis for his successful defence on August 9.

Despite eight weeks’ leave from the magistrate, the Roads and Traffic Authority failed to produce an expert witness to testify to MD5’s safeguards. The next morning, Miralis had 400 calls in two hours from drivers nabbed by speed cameras. He expects to be interviewing prospective clients most of this week. “People are very angry about it,” he says. “Some have paid fines because they haven’t been able to pay for a defence.”

Miralis says the RTA (and its equivalents in other states) have relied on drivers’ natural reluctance to contest fines. The NSW government has admitted little, but like all state governments, it has much to fear from the verdict. As with poker machines, the governments rely on growing revenues from speeding drivers. In Victoria, speed cameras were collecting up to $176m a year before last year’s fiasco. Given that state’s stricter enforcement of limits, and escalating fine scales, many wonder whether road safety has been pipped by revenue-raising as the higher priority. Similar objections were raised last year in South Australia, when plans to install cameras in wheelie bins were released.

Yet Ian Johnston, of Monash University’s Accident Research Centre, believes the speed camera’s place in road safety is assured. He argues that the reduced road toll in Victoria, where fixed cameras are unmarked, reflects their safety credentials. The introduction of more secret cameras three years ago saw the number of fines in Victoria rise to 90,000 a year. Numbers are now back to about 50,000, he says. During the same period, the road toll has dropped 30%. “The theory is that you have to create uncertainty in the mind of the driver,” he says. “Drivers have to have a high chance of getting caught.”

Perhaps in NSW, given Miralis’ research, drivers may now also have a high chance of getting off.

Bulletin, 17 August 2005

Serial bullies …Women who make life hell at work

Think bullying only happens in the playground? Nuh-uh. The workplace she-bully is alive, well and raising hell. By Sarah Marinos

Sally*, 27, manages a women's clothing store in Melbourne — with military discipline. Her staff don't stay long. She screams at her all-female workforce, ridicules them and expects them to work through their lunch hour or stay late to attend meetings where she usually criticises their work.

If Sally isn't criticising, she's giving a worker the silent treatment. She sweeps into the store and says hello to everyone but her victim. The victim is left out of shop gossip and Sally might even begin a vicious rumour about them.

"One of my previous staff members was such a lazy cow. I constantly had to tell her how to do her job. Eventually I took her out the back of the store and let her have it," says Sally.

"I said that if she wanted to succeed in life she had to be smarter. I also told her she was too fat. She was a size 16, for god's sake. I'm sure she put off customers when they came into the store. Who wants to be served by someone wearing a potato sack? I know what I said sounds harsh, but I was telling her for her own good."

Last year, Sally slapped a 17-year-old Saturday girl who dared to answer back when Sally accused her of taking five minutes extra for her lunch.

"I know she was five minutes late because every time staff leave the store they have to ask me first and I note down the time," says Sally. "I told her she'd have to stay back after work and she said no. I saw red. Her smug little 17-year-old know-it-all face pissed me right off, so I slapped her. She looked pretty shocked and left the following week.

"There was nobody around when I slapped her, so if she complained it would be my word against hers, and I've been with the company for eight years. Who are the bosses going to believe? Me, who runs one of the company's most profitable stores, or some 17-year-old airhead?"

Bullying: the hidden torment
Sadly, Sally's staff aren't the only victims. New research has found that 70 percent of Australians are being bullied in the workplace, or have been bullied in the past. And don't think it's just about the young male apprentice who gets his head flushed down the toilet. Bullying happens in all industries, at all levels and it's not an all-male affair. Women are just as likely as men to bully at work. Studies by Job Watch, an employment legal advisory service in Melbourne, has found the retail, health and hospitality industries are riddled with she-bullies like Sally. In the past year, the organisation received more than 1000 complaints of workplace bullying — two-thirds of the calls came from women victims aged between 25 and 34 — and many of those were victims of a she-bully.

"There are a lot of women suffering in silence at the hands of other women," says Zana Bytheway, executive director of Job Watch. "In some cases, bullying happens because people love the sense of power it gives them. It's about ego. In other cases, I think bullying happens because people are under so much pressure. They have to do more in less time and with less staff. Productivity, profits, pressure. It's a potent mix.

"We spend the bulk of our time at work and work plays a huge part in how we see ourselves and how we value ourselves. I've seen women give up their careers, develop stress and anxiety problems, lose their confidence, lose their relationship and even become suicidal because they are bullied by another woman at work. It's a very serious, sinister and under-estimated problem."

Amanda*, 35, is a senior manager in a small company in Adelaide. She's been in her current job for just over three years and has been bullied for most of that time by another senior manager, a woman 10 years older than her.

"She's always been volatile and aggressive, but when I won an award for my work, she spat at me and said 'That's outrageous'," recalls Amanda. "Then she began a whispering campaign. She suggested to my superiors and colleagues that I wasn't capable of doing my job. Behind my back she grabbed every opportunity to run me down. She deliberately failed to pass on information I needed to do my job so I looked like an idiot at meetings; I wouldn't have a clue what everyone was talking about.

Amanda would tremble whenever she received an e-mail or phone call from her she-bully. The bully played with her nerves by alternating between nice and nasty. Amanda drove to work never knowing what to expect next.

"It was like domestic violence. One day she screamed and told me how hopeless I was. The next day she talked to me in a cutesy voice and asked for my help," says Amanda. This year, Amanda saw a psychologist because the bullying pushed her to breaking point. "I thought I was going to crack. I was physically and emotionally exhausted.

"My psychologist helped me develop skills to cope with her. Now when she rages, I don't react. Because she doesn't get a reaction, it's not as much fun for her. I've also stood up for myself more. I've told her I'm aware of the things she says behind my back and I've told my bosses what's been going on. They haven't done anything to stop her, though, and I did think about leaving my job but why should I go? Then she wins."

So, what's the appeal?
New research has also found that there's not just one kind of workplace bully. According to Keryl Egan, a Sydney-based clinical psychologist, bullies fall into three main categories: accidental, destructive and serial. The accidental bully is aggressive, intelligent, confident and successful and expects a lot of the people working around them. They don't listen to others, always feel they're right and, when the pressure is on, they lose their temper — but have no idea how their behaviour hurts the people around them. In other words, their bullying is not premeditated. "The destructive bully is narcissistic. They see any competition or threat as a serious assault and they go into a rage," says Egan. "They feel entitled to positions of power." So they bully because they can.

However, the most worrying workplace bully is the serial, or psychopathic, bully — and it seems women are particularly effective at this kind of behaviour. They intentionally hurt colleagues and revel in the pain they cause. "The psychopathic bully is very good at showing one face to the boss and another face to the people below them," explains Egan. Her research says it can take two years for a psychopathic workplace bully to be exposed.

"They isolate their target so that person doesn't have a support network. They manipulate the victim's workload and working conditions and make unrealistic demands and unpredictable decisions. One minute they praise, and the next minute they criticise. They isolate or ignore their victim and the bullying is systematic and relentless. They have a complete lack of empathy."

Egan says most people become psychopathic bullies because of a damaged childhood. They've usually been bullied themselves by uncaring parents or been emotionally neglected. They're incapable of having compassion for anyone else because they didn't receive love and care themselves.

Sally says whenever she's been generous in life people have taken advantage of her. "Sometimes I feel bad when I see the girls at work in tears. I see how they look at me when I arrive at work — they're afraid — but if they're afraid of me, they're not going to take advantage of me. Being soft doesn't get you anywhere."
*Names have been changed.

msn 24 October, 2006

Cop sacked over bully claims

A VICTORIA Police senior sergeant has been sacked over claims he bullied colleagues and degraded women under his command.

Richard Shields was also accused of undermining public confidence in the prosecution of an alleged drug dealer by having an affair with his female solicitor.

Officers under his command had allegedly been investigating the accused trafficker, according to a notice of dismissal filed in March.

Mr Shields last night told the Herald Sun he denied the allegations and would go to the Police Appeals Board to try to get the decision overturned. "I'm not happy about it at all. I've been denied justice in the way the process has been run from go to whoa," he said.

Mr Shields, who served in the state crime squads during a 19-year police career, said he had requested a meeting with Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon, who announced the dismissal, without naming the officer.

Mr Shields said he had not been interviewed over the claims.

Mark Buttler, Herald Sun September 29, 2006

Brennan replaces Kaz in Keycorp outsourcing deal

SYDNEY services group Brennan IT has picked up a whole-of-business outsourcing deal at cards and terminals group Keycorp.

Brennan will support Keycorp's desktops, servers, and provide applications management and maintenance support in a three-year agreement worth more than $1.8 million.

Keycorp's major shareholder, Telstra, is also the sole owner of deposed incumbent Kaz.

Keycorp chief information officer Jeff Beencke said Brennan IT was chosen because it was "better attuned" to the 400-seat organisation than competitors that aimed more at organisations with 2000 seats or more.

Brennan IT expected to have two to three more 500-seat deals by the end of the year, managing director David Stevens said.

The company was expanding, looking to add another five sales staff, almost doubling its present total.

But finding the right candidates had been difficult.

"Service-oriented sales guys are particularly difficult to find," Mr Stevens said.

Brennan IT, which operates business-focused telco, SecureTel, also derived 23 per cent of revenue from hardware and software, he said.

The company, which has 70 staff and revenue of $70 million, is planning for a 48 per cent increase in revenue for the full year and 70 per cent growth in earnings.

The SecureTel business was the profit engine, contributing about 60 per cent of earnings, Mr Stevens said.

He said Brennan IT had opened Canberra, Adelaide and Perth offices earlier in the year, but had no plans for a share-market float.

"We want to be able to move into emerging markets – that may not have an impact on our bottom line in the short term – and not have to answer to shareholders for that," he said.

Mr Stevens said much vendor-led commentary on the SME market was disconnected from what was happening in the real world.

He said companies with less than 50 seats were mainly concerned with system stability, performance and cost of ownership, and those with more than 50 seats found security and attendant issues, such as director liability, more important.

"We don't see them at all concerned about the server platform that they are running or the types of PCs on their desktops," Mr Stevens said.

"Often, especially in the smaller companies of 250 seats or less, the guy that owns the company is the MD, so every dollar you are spending is his dollar and he is very concerned about getting that dollar back."

Chris Jenkins, The Australian April 19, 2005

Gatto found not guilty

Dominic Gatto has been found not guilty of murdering Andrew Veniamin.

The jury delivered their verdict in the Victorian Supreme Court at 12.30pm today, after retiring yesterday morning.

Twenty-eight-year old Veniamin died from three gunshot wounds in the La Porcella restaurant in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton on March 23.

The prosecution argued 49-year-old Gatto shot and killed Veniamin after inviting him to the restaurant.

After chatting for 30 minutes at a table with a number of Gatto's acquaintances, the pair went to a passageway at the rear of the restaurant, Crown prosecutor Geoff Horgan, SC, told the court during the six-week trial.

It was there that Veniamin suffered his fatal wounds.

Gatto, who remained at the scene until police arrived, admitted to the shooting, but claimed it was in self defence and that Veniamin had produced the murder weapon.

The trial, before Justice Philip Cummins began on April 28.

Emma Chamberlaine, msn15 June, 2005

Overpaid CEOs: what they really earn

Overpaid organisers — it's one way of looking at CEOs of the nation's top 50 companies. Some of them take home in a week what the rest of us earn in a year, and the top 10 earn a whole lot more.

Rupert Murdoch tops the list at over $23.5m.

Macquarie banker Allan Moss pockets a handsome $18.5m a year.

Leighton's boss Wal King gets over $12.5m.

Roger Corbett, who heads Woolworths, does a fine job, but is it worth $8.5m?

The average CEO in this country now earns $3.4m a year. That's about $13,000 each working day. It's $1300 in a lunch break, and $65 for a quick toilet break.

Australian Worker's Union secretary Bill Shorten is fuming about the figures.

"People are simply not worth $15 million, $18 million a year. There is no business case for it.

I'll tell you what, if someone wants to advertise a job for $2 million a year and not $3 million a year, they will still get as many capable takers," he says.

Tony Mercaldi is a CEO who runs his own customs business. He reckons he works as hard as those other bosses but his pay packet is vastly different.

"Here, for example, we're open six days a week and the top wage is $50k," he says.

Finance journalist Trevor Sykes points out that it's a healthy economy and not so much savvy business skills that has boosted the salaries of bosses.

"About five years ago the chief executives of the top four banks were earning roughly about $2 million a year. Nowadays it's more than double that and at Westpac it's a matter of over $7 million," he says.

"Now, all the banks have performed well in that time but in this buoyant market they should perform well … let's see when a rough market comes along. I bet none of them take a pay cut.

"Shareholders have no power at the moment. All they can do is make a vote against the remuneration report at the annual meeting but that has no force — it's merely indicative. It doesn't stop them being paid."

msn 23 February, 2006

Telstra launch turns big pond

Telstra's preparations for an $8 billion T3 sale were upset this morning when an emergency sprinkler forced the evacuation of hundreds of people as chief Sol Trujillo made his big pitch.

The sprinkler sent water cascading onto the stage where Mr Trujillo was addressing hundreds of analysts, media representatives and top Telstra executives, forcing them to flee.

Mr Trujillo had begun his key presentation on the group's outlook when the sprinkler suddenly activated at about 11.10am, pouring water down onto the stage. Witnesses said the sprinkler may have been set off by a halogen lamp set up directly beneath it to provide extra lighting for the stage.

Water was cascading over the stage and drenching the first three rows of tables set up for those attending the presentation, witnesses said.

Analysts said they were annoyed and wet after being doused with water and scrambling to gather their laptops, phones and notes.

The analysts congregated out on the roof of the Overseas Passenger Terminal overlooking Circular Quay.

One said: ''All I know is the fire alarm went off and then I got wet.''

Another said he was ''annoyed'' by the inconvenience.

Security personnel evacuated the room, in the Overseas Passenger Terminal on the edge of sydney's Circular Quay at about 11.15am, and the fire brigade arrived on the scene soon after.

"We're not done yet,'' Mr Trujillo said. "The building had a glitch so we'll try to work through it and we will keep going.''

Telstra had planned a full day's briefing at the venue to set the stage for Monday's formal launch of the $8 billion T3 offer. Telstra spokesman Andrew Maiden said the group would issue a statement in the near future.

Earlier Mr Trujillo had talked up Telstra's prospects as it continues his five year transformation plan, and also announced that a new broadband mobile network had been turned on, to deliver wireless broadband services to 98 per cent of Australia's population. But the Telstra boss also confirmed that the group's earnings projections had been trimmed.

Telstra later announced that it had decided to move the entire presentation because the accident, to Sydney's Hilton Hotel on George Street. The group is now scrambling to re-start at 1.30 this afternoon.

Telstra shares were 2c higher at $3.75 at 11.30am.

Malcolm Maiden The Age October 6, 2006

Telstra under fire for payphone cut plan

The government is demanding Telstra explain a proposal to slash payphone numbers across Australia as coalition politicians blast the telco's latest cost-cutting strategy.

Rural MPs and senators want Communications Minister Helen Coonan to take a tough line with Telstra, which has confirmed it may cut up to 1,000 payphones.

Earlier reports suggested Telstra planned to cut 5,000 of its 32,000 payphones.

Senator Coonan promised rural Australians they would not be left without adequate phone services after the Telstra proposal emerged in a leaked company document.

Senator Coonan promised rural Australians they would not be left without adequate phone services after the Telstra proposal emerged in a leaked company document.

"The government will not see people in rural and regional areas stranded without a payphone," she said.

Furious government backbenchers - already trying to appease voters unhappy with plans to privatise the telco - reminded Telstra it had a legal obligation to provide a minimum number of payphones.

Liberal backbencher Alby Schultz said a number of backbenchers had raised their concerns with Senator Coonan.

"This is the direction I have always warned Telstra would take and I am extremely concerned that Telstra is going to move some of these payphones," Mr Schultz told AAP.

The MP said he was worried profit would be Telstra's only motivation once it was privatised.

"It will be run simply on profit lines for its shareholders, to the detriment of communication service to rural and regional Australians," he said.

"The government needs to, if it has to, tighten up the universal service obligation ... so they are airtight."

The universal service obligation requires that a standard telephone service and payphone is accessible to all Australians, wherever they live or carry on business.

The government is annoyed the idea to slash the number of payphones was made public in the media - and just a week after Telstra was grilled by senators.

Telstra confirmed it was looking at getting rid of about 1,000 payphones but promised it would not have an effect on 7,500 phones guaranteed under its universal service obligations.

"Most of these are in urban areas where there is duplication," Telstra spokeswoman Liz Jurman said.

"It does not affect any (universal service obligation payphones) ... they are quarantined from this."

Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce said it was another example of Telstra's arrogance.

"This (plan) will go to the most disaffected in the community, and will marginalise them even further," he told AAP.

Telstra is reportedly looking at cutting phones which collect between $1,500 to $4,000 from customer use each year.

But Nationals MP Paul Neville said Telstra should not be making decisions based on how much a payphone is used.

"You've got to look at ... whether or not there's mobile coverage in the area, whether or not there is a public safety issue, whether or not it's on a major tourist route where people may need to have access to a phone," he told ABC radio.

Senator Coonan put the government's position to Telstra during a meeting, where she asked the company for full details about its plans.

"She's obviously interested in looking more closely at the precise details of Telstra's plan to see where they impact and what communities would be disadvantaged," a spokesman for Senator Coonan said.

Nationals leader Mark Vaile vowed his party would hold Telstra to account.

"The universal services obligation is not negotiable and the Nationals will be keeping a close eye on the behaviour of Telstra," he said.

Opposition communications spokesman Stephen Conroy said the payphone plan was only the first wave of service cuts as Telstra moved towards full privatisation.

"(Payphones) are an essential service to the young and the elderly in our community and Telstra's plans will leave these people without any options for communications services," he said.

msn Feb 20, 2006

Telstra turmoil

When Rebecca Dovey and Chantelle Woolridge moved into their new home in Sydney's west they wanted a phone connection. Sounds simple enough, but it hasn't been.

Nine weeks later, they still don't have a working landline. They have made fifteen calls to Telstra, had nine service men visit their home, and made three formal complaints, but for some reason, Telstra just can't get it right.

"We've rung Telstra saying 'it's still not working' and they are basically saying 'well, what can we do about it?'," Chantelle says.

On top of all that, they've been billed a $130 connection fee as well as a $55 service charge each time a contractor has turned up.

Telstra bungled things so badly that the girls' number was connected to their neighbour's house ... and he lost his Optus number.

Neighbour Joe was understandably upset. He wants his own number back and is sick of getting phone calls from people trying to reach his neighbours' house.

"We rang up Telstra and they said 'bad luck, go call Optus' and I said 'but it's your fault, your technicians were the one who caused it, who snipped my phone line'," Joe says.

While the girls' case might be an inconvenience, Telstra has been embroiled in another bungle on the New South Wales North Coast, but this time it was a stuff-up that could have cost lives.

On Wednesday, Julie Jones' air charter company was involved in the search for a missing fisherman near Coffs Harbour. He was found alive but, in the middle of the operation, Telstra shut down the company's telephones because of a billing bungle.

"For us to lose our communication when someone is lost at sea and we have pilots in the air and no communication with the command centre puts people's lives at risk," Julie says.

While unable to communicate with search and rescue headquarters in Canberra, Julie also couldn't contact her pilots by phone.

"I was so angry that my heart was nearly jumping out of my chest," says Julie.

"Telstra provide communication services. We expect a level of service, we expect them to deliver what they promise," she says.

msn 17 March 2006

Telstra rules breached in rehiring

Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie overruled his chief executive, Ziggy Switkowski, and rehired a former Liberal Party staffer, doubling his former salary to $400,000 a year.

A Senate committee heard yesterday that 10 months after John Short's job as manager of government relations in Canberra was made redundant, Mr McGauchie ordered that he be hired as a consultant on the full sale of Telstra.

Mr Short had received a redundancy payout of between $100,000 and $150,000 but did not have to repay the money despite Telstra's rules about former employees having to hand back such payments if they returned within two years.

Telstra's head of regulatory affairs, Bill Scales, told the committee Mr Short was appointed to advise chief financial officer John Stanhope on Telstra's full privatisation, despite no such job being advertised.

He said Dr Switkowski first suggested rehiring Mr Short last December and again in January this year. Mr Short had worked for Mr Scales until his job was made redundant last July. But Mr Scales rejected the idea, pointing out Telstra's policy on rehiring former employees.

Jason Koutsoukis, The Age May 25, 2005

Sol's $17m fortune

TELSTRA boss Sol Trujillo has amassed a $17.8 million fortune in the US.

Investigations by the Herald Sun have revealed Mr Trujillo owns real estate worth an estimated $11.2 million and a massive share portfolio valued at $6.6 million.

Among the telco chief's assets is a $5.6 million luxury home in a gated community in the hills outside San Diego, and another $5.6 million waterfront property in a gated estate in the millionaire's playground of Dana Point.

Mr Trujillo's double-storey mansion in the Ritz Cove gated community at Dana Point has breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

The home, in the middle of the area known as the Californian Riviera, is about 100km south of LA.

The 730sq m house has five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a spa and a pool.

Mr Trujillo's second home is even larger, some 760sq m in size, and is nestled among rolling hills inside the exclusive Del Mar Country Club in the Rancho Santa Fe valley, north of San Diego.

That home is also hidden inside a gated community that is fenced off from the public and guarded 24 hours a day.

The Del Mar home fea-

tures five bedrooms, 6 1/2 bathrooms and a pool.

The house has views of the club's own golf course and is one of only 96 homes on the estate.

When home, Mr Trujillo and his wife, Corine, are able to enjoy use of the estate's six tennis courts, fitness centre and a massive golf clubhouse that, according to advertisements, can cater to parties of up to 500 people.

Mr Trujillo's US wealth also includes an extensive share portfolio worth at least $6.6 million.

Examination of US Securities and Exchange Commission records reveals Mr Trujillo, who has no shares in Telstra, has significant holdings in several US companies where he has worked.

But it is likely he has other share holdings, as he is only required to disclose shares in companies where he worked in a management position.

Among Mr Trujillo's major holdings is some 25,684 shares in retailing giant Target, worth an estimated $1.88 million.

He has been a director for Target since 1994.

Mr Trujillo's largest publicly disclosed holding was with softdrink company Pepsico, where he worked as a director from 2000 until his resignation in July last year, before he joined Telstra.

The last public document from March last year showed he held 41,762 shares, worth $3.66 million.

SEC records also show Mr Trujillo owns 12,255 shares in media company Gannett, worth $926,840.

He has worked as a director of Gannett since May 2002, but in March this year Gannett notified the SEC Mr Trujillo would not seek re-election to the board of the company.

Mr Trujillo's portfolio also includes 4600 shares in technology company Electronic Data Systems, valued at about $150,000.

He was a director with EDS from January to October 2005.

Telstra caused a stir this week when it announced Mr Trujillo would receive nearly $9 million for his first year in the job, which includes a $2.6 million incentive payment, despite the company's plummeting share price.

Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello have asked questions about the salary package, suggesting the board needs to be able to justify it to shareholders.

Mr Howard yesterday urged shareholders to quiz the company about the multi-million-dollar salary at Telstra's annual meeting in November.

"I would hope that there are questions asked about it at the annual meeting," he said.~ with AAP

Nick Papps, Sydney Herald Sun September 30, 2006

Telstra pays AU$333m for Chinese Web group

Telstra has splurged AU$333.5 million to acquire a 51 percent controlling stake in Chinese real estate and home furnishing and improvement Web site company SouFun Holdings, in addition to selling off its Australian superannuation business.

In a statement issued this afternoon, Telstra chief executive Sol Trujillo said the Chinese acquisition provided growth opportunities for the company's directories and online business Sensis, which will manage SouFun.

"SouFun provides an attractive entry point into China, one of the world's fastest growing economies, allowing Sensis to leverage core capabilities into a larger, faster growing and less mature market than Australia, with high performing, internationally experienced local management," Trujillo said.

Telstra also announced it had sold Australian Administration Services, the superannuation administration business of its subsidiary KAZ Group.

The sale to Link Market Services for AU$215 million realised a profit of approximately AU$56 million. The sale follows a review that determined the superannuation administration services was no longer strategic to Telstra's business going forward.

Telstra took pains to quash persistent rumours KAZ itself was on the market, saying the ICT services group remained "an important part" of Telstra's strategy.

SouFun founder and chief executive Vincent Mo will remain a significant shareholder while the balance of the shares will be held by management and IDG, a venture capital firm.

Telstra chief financial officer John Stanhope said SouFun was a high growth company and an extremely strong business. "SouFun is cash flow positive from day one," he added.

It is expected to contribute net revenue of AU$52 million and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of AU$18 million in fiscal year 2007.

Soufun will also be earnings per share accretive from year three.

Sensis chief executive Bruce Akhurst said Sensis' growth strategy was to expand into new geographic markets through partnerships or acquisitions.

"By expanding our business globally we are able to take our extensive experience offshore and become a leading Australian exporter of IP, while consolidating world best practices and applying them to our existing business operations to stimulate growth," he said.

SouFun provides information, advertising and listing services to China's growing online real estate and home furnishing and improvement sectors.

Its primary revenue is generated by online display advertising on the SouFun.com website.

SouFun will continue to be lead by Mo and its local management team, Telstra said. "Sensis will add senior representatives with key expertise to Vincent's team," Telstra said.

"In the immediate future, Sensis and SouFun will continue to work closely to leverage mutually exclusive business benefits."

AAP 31 August 2006

Telstra denies punishing wayward schools

Telstra says it's possible that schools in other states and territories will join NSW in having to pay more for their line rental if they remain with other carriers.

Schools in NSW have been told the cost of their line rental will almost double from $19 to $35 a month unless they take all phone business back to Telstra, News Ltd reported.

At least 150 cash-strapped schools have switched from Telstra to other providers to save money on phone charges.

But, in a bid to lure them back, Telstra is phoning the schools offering special deals on calls and rental.

Schools that decide to stay with an alternative carrier will be penalised through the higher line rental charge, controlled by Telstra.

Telstra spokesman Warwick Ponder said NSW was currently the only state or territory where the telco was increasing rentals.

"It is only in NSW where this process is underway," Mr Ponder told AAP.

This was because not all state governments allowed individual schools to access alternative carriers, he said.

"Each state and territory government has different contract arrangements, including whole of government centralised bulk discount arrangement," he said.

Asked if schools in other states and territories could also face a price surge he replied: "it's a possibility".

"It is possible in a state where schools are able to go to the market and source their contracts individually."

Mr Ponder also defended Telstra against criticism it's punishing schools for sticking with other telecommunications providers.

"Telstra's shareholders are being asked to subsidise competition, while these companies send their profits back to shareholders overseas," he said.

"It's like trying to get a fuel discount from a service station when you shop at the wrong supermarket, or asking for an upgrade with one airline, when you bought the plane ticket with another."

NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said her department had written to Telstra to ask it not raise line rentals.

"We are urging Telstra to continue with existing line rental rates and I'ld like to see the federal government step in as the majority shareholder and make sure Telstra isn't exploiting public schools," she told Southern Cross Broadcasting.

An Optus spokeswoman said Telstra was not playing fairly by pushing other competitors out of the market.

"Telstra's latest actions come as no surprise. It is yet another example of Telstra threatening and intimidating customers in order to damage its competitors," the spokeswoman said in a statement.

"We make it a point to deal with our customers fairly and we would expect the incumbent to exercise the same behaviour."

msn Sep 14, 2006

Sucralose Toxicity Information Center

Splenda, also known as sucralose, is artificial sweetener which is a chlorinated sucrose derivative. Facts about this artificial chemical follows:

  • Pre-Approval Research
    Pre-approval research showed that sucralose caused shrunken thymus glands (up to 40% shrinkage) and enlarged liver and kidneys. The manufacturer put forth two arguments in an attempt to claim that sucralose is not toxic:

    1. The dose of sucralose in the experiments was high. However, for chemicals that do not have generations of safe use, the dosage tested must be adjusted for variations in potential toxicity within the human population and between humans and rodents. In order to this, toxicologists estimate a variation of effects in the human population of 10 times. In other words, one person may not have effects until a dose of 10 mg per kg of body weight (10 mg/kg) is reached, while another person may have chronic toxicity effects at 1 mg per kg of body weight (1 mg/kg). In addition, it is well known that many chemicals are much more toxic in humans than in rodents (or even monkeys). For example, the chemicals that the sweetener aspartame breaks down into vary from 5 to 50 times more toxic in humans than in rodents. Therefore, toxicologists estimate a further 10 times the dose for differences between human and rodent toxicity for a total of 100 times (10 * 10).

      In order to estimate a potential safe dose in humans, one must divide the lowest dose in given to rodents that was seen to have any negative effects on their thymus glands, liver or kidneys by 100. That dose is then known as the maximum Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) for lifetime use. Keep in mind that the TDI is just an estimate. Some chemicals are much more than 10 times more toxic in humans than in rodents (or will cause cancer in humans in low-dose, long-term exposure and do not cause cancer in rodents at all). A person ingesting the TDI for some chemical may find that it causes cancer or immune system or neurological problems after many years or decades of use. So, if the manufacturer claims that the dose was equivalent to 50 diet sodas, then the TDI would be one half (1/2) of a diet soda, and even that dose may or may not be safe.

    2. The manufacturer claimed that the sucralose was unpleasant for the rodents to eat in large doses. They said that starvation caused the shruken thymus glands. From the New Scientist (23 Nov 1991, pg 13):

        [Toxicologist Judith] Bellin reviewed studies on rats starved under experimental conditions, and concluded that their growth rate could be reduced by as much as a third without the thymus losing a significant amount of weight (less than 7 percent). The changes were much more marked in rats fed on sucralose. While the animals' growth rate was reduced by between 7 and 20 percent, their thymuses shrank by as much as 40 percent.

    Other adverse effects reported in pre-approval research included:

    • Shrunken thymus glands (up to 40% shrinkage) (EO56)
    • Enlarged liver and kidneys. (EO57 & E161)
    • Atrophy of lymph follicles in the spleen and thymus (EO51, EO56, EO151)
    • Increased cecal weight (E151)
    • Reduced growth rate (EO57)
    • Decreased red blood cell count (EO55)
    • Hyperplasia of the pelvis (EO57)
    • Extension of the pregnancy period
    • Aborted pregnancy (E134)
    • Decreased fetal body weights and placental weights (EO32)
    • Diarrhea

  • Recent Research
    A possible problem with caecal enlargement and renal mineralization has been seen in post approval animal research.

  • Sucralose Breaks Down
    Despite the manufacturer's mis-statements, sucralose does break down into small amounts of 1,6-dichlorofructose, a chemical that has not been adequately tested in humans.

  • Independent, Long-Term Human Research
    None. Manufacturer's "100's of studies" (some of which show hazards) were clearly inadequate and do not demonstrate safety in long-term use.

  • Chlorinated Pesticides
    The manufacturer claims that the chlorine added to sucralose is similar to the chlorine atom in the salt (NaCl) molecule. That is not the case. Sucralose may be more like ingesting tiny amounts of chlorinated pesticides, but we will never know without long-term, independent human research.

  • Conclusion
    While it is unlikely that sucralose is as toxic as the poisoning people are experiencing from Monsanto's aspartame, it is clear from the hazards seen in pre-approval research and from its chemical structure that years or decades of use may contribute to serious chronic immunological or neurological disorders.

  • Addendum (October 2, 2000)
    Occasionally, persons emailing ask questions about sucralose research. What follows is a copy of a response one such question. The answer starts by summarizing the aspartame (NutraSweet) issue and then addresses the sucralose issue.

      Let me start by saying that, as you may know, there is a quickly growing body of evidence demonstrating the toxicity of aspartame. This includes:

      • Recent European research showing that ingesting aspartame leads to the accumulation of formaldehyde in the brain, other organs and tissues (Formaldehyde has been shown to damage the nervous system, immune system, and cause irreversible genetic damage in humans.)
      • An extremely large number of toxicity reactions reported to the FDA and other organizations
      • A recent report showing that nearly 100% of independent research has found problems with aspartame.

      Why is this relevant to the sucralose question? Similar to the aspartame situation 15 years ago:

      1. Pre-approval test indicated potential toxicity of sucralose.
      2. There are no *independent* controlled human studies on sucralose (similar to 15 years ago for aspartame).
      3. There are no long-term (12-24 months) human studies of sucralose's effects.
      4. There is no monitoring of health effects. It took government agencies decades to agree that there were countless thousands of deaths from tobacco. Why? Simply because there had been no monitoring or epidemiological studies. Without such monitoring and studies, huge effects can easily go unnoticed.

      So, without even addressing the pre-approval research showing potential toxicity, it is clear that sucralose has a) no long history (e.g., decades) of safe use, b) no independent monitoring of health effects, c) no long-term human studies, and d) no independent human studies. I would hope that the Precautionary Principle, now commonly used in Europe, would be a guiding force for people who are interested in health. Otherwise, we might as well just use any poorly tested, artificial (lab-created) chemical that has shown potential for long-term toxicity.

      As far as the pre-approval research related to sucralose.... As you probably know, pre-approval research is rarely published. It is only available from the FDA by filing a Freedom of Information Act request. However, you can see a very short summary regarding sucralose and shrunken thymus glands in the "New Scientist" (23 November 1991, page 13).
It is very important that people who have any interest in their health stay aware from the highly toxic sweetener, aspartame and other dangerous sweeteners such as sucralose (Splenda), and acesulfame-k (Sunette, Sweet & Safe, Sweet One). Instead, please see the extensive resources for sweeteners on the Healthier Sweetener Resource List.

Sep 11 attacks exposed as 'an appalling fraud'

The ultimate conspiracy theory book is flying off the shelves, writes Caroline Overington in New York.

The airliner that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11 was in the air for almost an hour before the building was hit.

The aircraft, apparently hijacked, was known by everybody watching the live footage to be heading for the Pentagon or the White House.

Why are there no video images or photographs of the aircraft before it ploughed into the Pentagon?

Could it be there was no such aircraft? That it was a hoax?

Perhaps what really happened is this: the United States Government, anxious to overcome inevitable public opposition to its plans to beef up military spending, hired a special agent, Osama bin Laden, to plan simultaneous attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

It blew up the buildings itself.

The claims about the Pentagon attack come from a French book topping sales on the Amazon.fr Web site, the French equivalent of Amazon.com.

The book, L'Effroyable Imposture (The Appalling Fraud), is also No 1 on the Associated Press weekly Top 10 for France.

Both lists catalogue the book under non-fiction. Essentially, the book's author, Thierry Meyssan, says the US is lying about September 11; that it staged the events itself so it could go to war in Central Asia and the Middle East and make a fat profit.

The book has sold out - about 20,000 copies - and bookshop owners in France are quoted by news agencies as saying it is "flying off the shelves".

The book is supported by a Web site, Hunt the Boeing, (www.asile.org/citoyens/numero13/pentagone/erreursen.htm), which shows pictures of the Pentagon after it was hit.

The site challenges viewers to "find the Boeing" in any of the pictures. The Web site and book say he hole in the Pentagon's wall is too small to have been made by a 757, and that there are no traces of an aircraft in any of the pictures.

"Did you find the Boeing?" they ask. "Well done. Get in touch with the master of illusion, David Copperfield. He'll be glad to hear from you."

Meyssan is president of Voltaire Network, a French think-tank. He has been described by news agencies as a respected intellectual and as "reasonable". He could not be reached by the Herald.

There have been thousands of fantastic claims about the terrorist attacks.

Most of the urban myths speed across the Internet, where they gain currency.

Arab schoolchildren supposedly told their classmates before September 11 that the World Trade Centre would be attacked. An Arab man who dropped his wallet on September 10 kindly told the person who returned it not to fly the following day.

The aircraft's black boxes have been found, and the voices on them are not human. The aircraft over Pennsylvania was not forced down by determined passengers, but shot down by the US military.

A train was found in the station below the twin towers, packed with bodies. A pair of severed hands, held together with plastic cuffs, was found on top of a building near the World Trade Centre (sadly, horribly, that last rumour is true).

Many of these reports have a sheen of officialdom: Meyssan's Web site has pictures supplied by the Pentagon, and verbatim statements from police chiefs. Most come to pieces when tested. Meyssan offers no alternative theory as to what might have happened to the people on board American Airlines flight 77.

A Pentagon spokesman, Glen Flood, told Reuters the book was "a slap in the face" to the American people. He had not read it, and he had no intention of doing so.

Sydney Morning Herald, April 9, 2002

Sensis to review its $150m IT spend

SENSIS has launched a wide-ranging review of its $150-million-a-year technology spending, as it prepares to unveil version 2.0 of its search engine.

The directories monopoly's technology has been under fire since last year's launch of Sensis.com.au, culminating in chief information officer Len Carver's removal last September.

Criticisms have focused on the functionality and speed of the site. A beta version of the new site will appear later this month, with a full implementation planned for May.

In his first interview since formally taking the reins in February, Sensis chief information officer Chris Stevens said: "We are very keen to make sure that the technology we have got supports the core processes of the business.

"That might entail some updates and a refresh of some of those technologies," he said.

"Over the next 12 months we are sharpening some of those technology roadmap choices and making sure we orient ourselves toward that to keep in step with demand."

Mr Carver was in the role only 12 months. Mr Stevens joined Sensis last year from Westpac.

Mr Stevens said: "What we are doing is looking at what are the capabilities that the business really needs in the years ahead and what are the technology choices that best support that.

"We are going through the capability analysis steps and then that will swing into a technology review. Its about business process and then falls into technology options."

Telstra in the midst of a program to cut about one-third from its $1.5- billion-a-year IT budget over three years, after admitting it could not make a 50 per cent cut.

Mr Stevens said Sensis IT operates independently of Telstra's.

"We are continuing to look at some of the bottom-line efficiencies in IT," he said.

"One of the focal areas is making sure we get the best return on investment for our sourcing arrangements."

Sensis relies heavily on Amdocs, a company that maintains the Oracle databases for the Yellow and White Pages.

Amdocs does day-to-day process and billing for the directories and provide the print output.

"We are reviewing what is the shape of some of those sourcing arrangements in the long term," he said.

"I don't think its an area we would automatically want to do ourselves."

At this stage, Sensis is using internal resources for its review, but it is likely to engage a consultancy to help establish a formal refresh program and sourcing evaluation.

"The other environment we are looking to further leverage are Yellow Pages Online, White Pages Online and Whereis," he said.

"It means building a content syndication engine that will become a central repository for the company's publishable content."

This is being done on an Oracle 10G database.

"We expect to have the first production use of that in July," he said.

Sensis' top management has had an overhaul in the past six months.

In December, long-time chief Andrew Day left to head World Directories, a European directories business. He took three key senior staff with him.

He was replaced by Bruce Akhurst, a senior Telstra executive.

Sensis has a number of projects under way, including a company-wide move to open-source servers, and an Oracle database upgrade.

"We have been progressively going through on a case-by-case basis to look at the value of moving from Unix to Linux," he said.

"You will see Linux co-exist with more modern application types and some of the legacy platforms, but its will become more of a consistent flavour."

Michael Sainsbury The Australian April 19, 2005

DJ Australian Govt Reviews Telstra Contract With Alcatel

CANBERRA (Dow Jones)--Australian Communications Minister Helen Coonan is reviewing Telstra Corp.'s (TLS) decision to award a A$3.4 billion contract to French equipment supplier Alcatel S.A. (13000.FR), her office confirmed Tuesday.

The contract, awarded soon after U.S. telecoms veteran Sol Trujillo started as Telstra's chief executive last July, was scrutinized by a parliamentary committee Monday.

Telstra executives were asked why Alcatel won the deal when a secret Telstra memo, tabled to the committee by opposition communications spokesman Stephen Conroy, detailed a series of problems Telstra had experienced with Alcatel projects over a 10 year period.

Coonan and Finance Minister Nick Minchin wrote to Telstra requesting more information about the Alcatel contract, Coonan's spokeswoman said.

"She's received a response only recently," the spokeswoman said. "She's considering that response."

The government is preparing to sell its 51.8% stake in Telstra, Australia's biggest telecommunications company, in about October or November this year. At current prices, Canberra will raise about A$25 billion (US$18.9 billion) from the sale that is targeting local retail investors and major global fund managers.

A formal decision to sell the shares - a process known as T3 - hasn't yet been made although legislation allow the sale passed the parliament last year.

The government is awaiting resolution of a series of regulatory issues, including an agreement between Telstra and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on how Telstra's competitors will be allowed to access the telco's existing and future networks.

A ruling is expected in the next few weeks, indicating Cabinet's approval of the T3 sale may be madein early July after the ACCC decision has been scrutinized by industry rivals such as Singtel Optus, Vodafone, and the public. Telstra has warned it may withdraw billions of dollars of new investment if its returns aren't satisfactory, potentially putting it at loggerheads with the government during the T3 sales process.

Trujillo, who is undertaking a dramatic remodeling of Telstra to reduce its reliance on its declining fixed line business, is a former member of the Alcatel Chairman's council.

"Telstra acts commercially in its procurement processes," Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie said in a statement sent to Dow Jones Newswires.

"The company is engaged in the fastest and most dramatic transformation of any incumbent telecommunications company worldwide," he said.

McGauchie admitted the decision-making process on the Alcatel deal was fast but said that was part of the company's transformation process.

"We are making our processes faster and less bureaucratic so they also serve the interests of our customers and shareholders rather than suppliers," he said.

Alcatel Australia had no comment.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires May 23, 2006 04:46 ET (08:46 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Fact sheet - food additives - The dirty dozen

The dirty dozen

1. 102 TARTRAZINE …colouring
FD&C Yellow No 5, CI 19140. Synthetic azo dye. Used in confectionery, soft drinks, packet desserts, fruit flavoured cordial, pickles; can provoke migraine, urticaria (skin rash), itching, rhinitis (runny nose), blurred vision, purple patches on the skin, irritability, restlessness, inattention and wakefulness in young children. Immunosuppressive effects.

2. 110 SUNSET YELLOW ... colouring
FD&C Yellow No 6, CI 15985. Synthetic azo dye. Used in cereals, bakery items, crumbed foods, sweets, snack foods, ice cream, drinks and canned fish; also in many medications including Ventolin syrup; can provoke hives, eczema, gastric upset, swelling of the blood vessels, nasal congestion, behavioural problems and wakefulness in children. Able to cross the placenta. Potentially dangerous to asthmatics.

3. 123 AMARANTH … colouring
FD&C Red No 2, CI 16186. Synthetic coal tar dye and azo dye. Used in jelly crystals, packet cake mixes, fruit flavoured fillings; can provoke urticaria, overactivity in children. Linked to malignant tumours in rats.
Immunosuppressive effects. Banned in the USA in 1976.

4. 127 ERYTHROSINE … colour
FD&C Red No 3, CI 45430. Synthetic coal tar dye. Used in glace and canned red cherries, strawberries and rhubarb, quick custard mix, biscuits, packet trifle mix. Can cause phototoxicity (sensitivity to light). Large dietary intakes of this additive could affect the thyroid. Should be consumed sparingly by children. Reduces sperm counts and increases sperm abnormalities in mice. Has oestrogen-like growth properties and could be a significant factor in human breast cancer. The US Food and Drug Administration has recommended that this dye should be banned as a carcinogen.

5. 160b ANNATTO EXTRACTS … colouring
Annatto, bixin, norbixin, CI 75120. A vegetable dye from the seed coat of the tropical Annatto tree. Used in cereals, biscuits, margarine, yoghurts, ice-cream; can provoke urticaria, gastrointestinal, airways and central nervous system reactions including behaviour problems and headache; possible role in the development of diabetes mellitus especially in the undernourished state.

6. E211 SODIUM BENZOATE ... preservative
Used in soft drinks, fruit drinks, fruit flavoured cordials, toppings, syrups, maple syrup and syrup medications including Phenergan. Can provoke asthma, urticaria and gastrointestinal symptoms, plus behaviour problems in children.

7. 220 SULPHUR DIOXIDE … preservative
Used in dried fruit, soft drinks, cordials, fruit drinks, beer, wine, sausages, other processed meats including pet meat, hot chips, instant mashed potato, prawns; can provoke asthma and skin rashes especially in young children; destroys Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and folic acid in the body, from both foods and supplements. Associated with an estimated 12 asthma deaths in the USA and thiamine deficiency in pet dogs and cats in Australia leading to vestibular dysfunction, irritability and occasionally death.
Banned in meat in the USA since 1959.

8. 282 CALCIUM PROPIONATE…preservative
Used in bread, hamburger buns, crumpets, English muffins, pita bread; can provoke irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance in children, migraines, skin rashes, gastrointestinal upsets; found to cause forestomach tumours in rats, long lasting learning deficits and brain alteration when given to very young rats.

9. 320 BHA (BUYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE) … antioxidant
Used as a preservative in oils and fats, and products containing oils and fats including fried foods, softened butter, dairy blends, margarine, hot chips, frozen chips, crisps, biscuits, ice-cream cones. May be unlisted in products containing less than five percent vegetable oils. Can provoke eczema, irritable bowel symptoms, migraine, irritability, restlessness, inattention, wakefulness and depression. Frequent reports of toxicity at high doses, including promotion of forestomach cancers in rats. Not permitted in foods intended specifically for infants and young children.
Banned in Japan.

10. 621 MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE ... flavour enhancer (MSG)
Introduced into Western food in 1948. Added to savoury processed foods including snack foods, instant noodles, biscuits, takeaways, prepared meals, sauces, gravies, stocks and stock cubes, canned tuna, many frozen foods. In cigarettes and animal food. In over 10,000 foods in USA. Derived from the fermentation of molasses. Can provoke migraine, asthma, eczema, irritable bowel symptoms, heart palpitations, dizziness, nausea, heart attack-type symptoms, irritability, restlessness, inattention and wakefulness. Not permitted in foods intended specifically for infants and young children.

11. 635 RIBONUCLEOTIDES … flavour enhancer
A combination of disodium guanylate (627) and disodium inosinate (631). Used in the same foods as MSG, also rotisseried chicken, chicken flavoured salt, blended butter. Originally prepared from sardine, meat and yeast extract, now prepared synthetically. Reports of adverse effects include itchy skin rashes, angio-oedema (swelling of the lips, tongue or eyes, may constitute a medical emergency), and behavioural effects in children. Not permitted in foods intended specifically for infants and young children. Should be avoided by people with gout.

12. 951 ASPARTAME ... artificial sweetener
Artificial sweetener 200 times as sweet as sugar. Used in 9000 products including diet drinks, low joule or 'no added sugar' foods, confectionery, chewing gum and medications. The US Food and Drug Administration has received more complaints about this additive than any other. Reported effects include headache, mood alteration (anxiety, agitation, irritability and depression), insomnia, fatigue and dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms and allergic reactions. US research suggests a link to brain tumours. Diet drinks containing it are banned for US Air Force pilots.

The information on this fact sheet has been provided by nutritionist Sue Dengate.

ACCC boss says buy petrol on Tuesday

The competition watchdog has advised motorists to take advantage of the current petrol pricing system and buy when petrol falls to its lowest price each week.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel released the findings of the ACCC's inquiry into the retail petrol market, saying there was no "obvious evidence" of collusion despite popular suspicions to the contrary.

The inquiry's aim was to bring transparency and understanding to the unleaded market, not to find a way of cutting prices.

Mr Samuel said motorists about to hit the road for the Christmas holidays should continue to follow his long-time advice.

"The prices are not always high, they do go down to their lowest levels by about Tuesday. They go up high on the Wednesday," he said.

The ACCC report also sheds light on the use of computer software used by more than 3,500 petrol stations across the country to monitor the prices of competitors and set their own prices.

But Mr Samuel said using this software was not collusion.

"If we're to say that copying your competitor was a breach of the law then we'd be almost cutting out any form of discounting whatsoever," he told the Nine Network.

The Age, December 19, 2007

Thuraya offers “GPS distance and direction display”

Thuraya offers “GPS distance and direction display” as a standard feature in its mobile phone. This extremely resourceful feature makes Thuraya’s GPS function similar to any commercial GPS receiver.

The “GPS distance and direction display” feature on Thuraya’s “Man Machine Interface (MMI)” extends the GPS functionality to support the calculation of distance and direction between two points.

When a user determines the present location using the existing MMI commands, the menu option will be available to allow a distance and direction to be calculated. Once you initiate this menu command, the results will prompt you to select a stored benchmark location from memory. After the selection is done, the phone calculates the distance and direction from the current point to the stored point, displaying the results of distance and directions to the user.

More about GPS

Thuraya’s handheld mobile phone not only combines satellite and GSM, it also offers built-in Global Positioning System (GPS). The positioning system is generally used in aircraft, ships, ground vehicles, and also by individuals. While the GPS system is valuable for land, sea and airborne navigation, it is also used for surveying, geophysical exploration, mapping and vehicle location systems.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a system consisting of 24 operational satellites in six circular orbits that lie in non-synchronous orbits at inclinations of 55 degrees, 20,200km above the earth. The constellation circles the earth once every 12 hours and consists of four groups of six satellites, including 21 that provide the positioning service and three back-ups.

The GPS satellites are used to calculate the position of a GPS receiver on or above the surface of the earth by applying simple geometry together with computing algorithms that assist the receiver in determining which satellites to use and resolve any ambiguity related to location. GPS allows users to determine their three-dimensional position, velocity and time (regulated by atomic clocks) 24 hours a day across the world. GPS reached full operational capability on 17 July 1995. The three segments to GPS are space, control and user.

Although the system was developed by the US Department of Defense, the system can be used by anyone. There are two levels of service, a Standard Positioning Service (SPS) and a Precise Positioning Service (PSP). The SPS is for general public use and is intentionally degraded to protect US national security interests through a process called Selective Availability (SA) which controls the availability of the system’s full capabilities. It is accurate to within 100 metres (2drms) horizontal 156 meters (2 Sigma) vertical 300 metres (99.99% probability) horizontal 340 nanoseconds time (95% probability).

thurayadeveloper.com August 13 2007

Gillard says PM knew IR laws would hurt

The Howard government knew their Work Choices reforms would hurt working-class Australians, opposition industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard said.

Ms Gillard said the latest biography of Prime Minister John Howard by academics Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen showed that cabinet members who approved the introduction of the laws in 2005 were aware some workers would be disadvantaged.

Ms Gillard told reporters that the controversial Work Choices legislation had stripped away wages and conditions of Australian workers.

"Mr Howard and his government have always maintained a fiction that they didn't know these laws were going to hurt Australian working families," Ms Gillard said.

We have information form the heart of the Howard Government that they always knew that Australian working families would get hurt

The book, John Winston Howard: The Biography, reveals that the prime minister pushed ahead with the legislation and put concerns aside in order to bed it down well before the next election.

The book says one cabinet minister recalled then Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews telling Mr Howard and the cabinet "that there was no getting around some workers losing out".

But timing took precedence, it says.

"Howard wanted to begin the process of getting the legislation through parliament, conscious that the government had a long way to go in selling the merits of the changes," the book said.

"Australian workers and their families are entitled to say to Mr Howard `you knew that this was going to happen to us, you planned it, this is your fault'," Ms Gillard said

She described the introduction of the IR laws as a "cold-blooded, calculated, premeditated act".

She said the company recruited by the Victorian government to save 380 call centre jobs in Bendigo had used federal industrial laws to slash new workers' pay by up to $120 a week.

The Bracks government signed a deal five months ago with the company, Excelior, claiming it as the saviour of the AAPT centre in Bendigo.

But it has emerged the centre's new workers will be paid up to $124 a week less than workers on an existing union deal and be denied a 17.5 per cent leave loading and six weeks' paid maternity leave, according to News Ltd newspapers.

"The Victorian government can't control the way in which a private company runs its industrial relations," Ms Gillard said.

"But it is further evidence of the way these laws allow people to be treated - at the end of the day companies respond to the laws of this country, and it's the federal government that makes the industrial relations laws."

msn July 21, 2007

Govt's IR ad blitz backfiring

The Howard government's latest advertising blitz is reportedly reinforcing fears surrounding its Work Choices reforms rather than dispelling them.

A research firm has surveyed worker reactions to the series of ads that feature Workplace Authority director Barbara Bennett.

It found the images of workers talking about losing holiday entitlements and penalty rates, and fears surrounding job security and conditions for young workers, was having an unintended effect.

"(It is) educating the public as to the negative realities of the new IR laws rather than myth-busting," Essential Research has told The Weekend Australian newspaper.

"The fundamental problem with this ad is that in its attempt to diffuse the negative perception of the IR laws, which is now deep-seated in the community, it is actually strengthening those perceptions."

Responses as to the effectiveness of the ad campaign include:

"You can call (the) Ombudsman but you have already lost your house, your job ... you are living on the street with your kids ... six years later you might get a reply".

And: "This is a government campaign trying to say that the workplace agreements aren't a bad thing. Although the lady seems very trustworthy, I don't trust her".

The campaign has been running since last month, when the government softened its laws and introduced a fairness test to protect workers earning $75,000 or less.

msn Aug 4 2007

Human rights expert suspects CIA of torture

THE CIA's destruction of videotapes showing the interrogation of terror suspects gives more reason to fear that detainees face torture, according to a UN human rights expert.

"It is one more argument that supports the contention that the CIA has been involved and continues to be involved in the use of interrogation techniques that violate the absolute prohibition against torture," special rapporteur Martin Scheinin said.

Mr Scheinin, who is the UN expert on human rights and counter-terrorism, said the behaviour of CIA officials he met on a visit to the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba this month only strengthened these suspicions.

"I draw the same conclusions from the way the CIA acted during my visit," he said.

"They were participants in one of my meetings but they failed to answer any single question in a substantive, meaningful way, which only confirmed the suspicions that they have too much to hide."

CIA chief Martin Hayden this week said that he knew the secret interrogation tapes existed, but not that they had been destroyed.

Following press reports, Mr Hayden revealed last week in a letter to CIA staff that the tapes were made in 2002 and destroyed in 2005, just as the US Congress was investigating allegations of US abuse of terror suspects.

The tapes reportedly showed interrogation methods, including a technique of simulated drowning called "waterboarding", that have been denounced as torture by human rights groups, lawmakers and one former CIA interrogator.

The US government maintains it does not use torture, but refuses to say what techniques are used on detainees by intelligence agencies.

During a Senate confirmation hearing in November, attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey refused to address the legality of bringing a prisoner to near drowning to make him talk, drawing fire from opposition Democrats and human rights groups.

"The evasion of high-ranking civilian and military officers in respect of waterboarding is indicative of waterboarding remaining a permitted interrogation method for the CIA," Mr Scheinin said.

He also called on the US authorities to scrap the military commissions where terror suspects are tried at Guantanamo, saying their cases should be brought before regular courts or military courts martial.

In a report to the UN Human Rights Council, the Finnish professor of international law expressed "grave concern about the situation of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay... and the lack of judicial guarantees and fair trial procedures afforded to individuals suspected of terrorist activity."

Scheinin said the US should close the facility and acknowledge its primary responsibility in deciding what to do with the remaining detainees, many of whom cannot return to their countries of origin for fear of torture.

From correspondents in Geneva, Agence France-Presse December 14, 2007

Phone database opened to MPs

JOHN Howard and Kevin Rudd now have your address, phone number and the right to call you any time, even if you have a silent listing.

Under changes to the Telecommunications Bill which came into effect last week, politicians have access to the public number database which lists all residential and business numbers.

The Telstra-managed database also includes addresses, unlisted mobile numbers and users' service providers, while access comes with no restrictions to the timing and number of calls.

Privacy advocates believe the new laws will see subscribers bombarded with calls leading up to the federal election.

The latest exemption comes after politicians were given the right to ignore listings on the Government's new Do Not Call register and follows a similar immunity from spam legislation.

An industry insider told The Daily Telegraph the changes gave every political party unlimited access to every resident.

"Now that they have access to this database, there is no law stopping them calling any time and any number of times," the insider said.

"It basically means, with this year's election coming up, watch out, the calls are coming.

"It also means all you have to do is register yourself as a political party and you have access to the database."

The Australian Privacy Foundation has long been calling for greater security surrounding the Integrated Public Number Database.

But its vice-chairman David Vaile said the amendment does nothing to protect citizens from politicians.

"Politicians have fine form in exempting themselves from privacy acts. It has gotten out of control," he said.

During the last election, Prime Minister John Howard gave his electorate an insight into political telemarketing, swamping residents with a recorded message.

Andrew Carswell Daily Telegraph May 29, 2007

What the government can and can't do about banks

The Rudd Government's package of measures to make it easier to switch banks has been welcomed by many of those familiar with the red tape of trying to do just that. But how much can the government interfere with the operations of the private banking sector?

Under the Banking Act, the government has an obligation to ensure banks not only comply with the Act but also to see that there is a fair marketplace.

The new measures announced by Treasurer Wayne Swan focus on the red tape involved in transferring direct debits and credits when you move to a new bank and entry and exit fees when you change mortgage lenders.

"The Account Switching Package will reduce unnecessary barriers to customers changing providers and increase consumer awareness of financial services products and their costs and how to go about switching if that is what suits them best," the Treasurer says.

But can it be argued that the banks are private businesses that should be able to act as they choose without government interference? After all, the government doesn't run around setting food, housing or clothing prices, so why should it interfere with the banks?

The argument for government interference rests with the need for a fair marketplace and for transparency when the banks change rates and/or fees. For instance, fees don't always reflect the actual economic cost. It seems hard to justify the banks slugging customers with a $35 overdraft fee when an account is in the red to the tune of just $10.

Interaction between government and banks isn't new. Up until 1986 the government imposed a 13.5 percent ceiling on mortgage rates.

Christopher Zinn of Choice says his organisation both supports and endorses the Treasurer's four-point package.

On the issue of exit and entry fees on mortgages, Zinn says: "If you compare Australia's exit and entry fees on home loans with other countries, we are at the top, which is an indication that Australian banks are not as competitive as overseas. And we believe it's competition that drives down prices."

Another issue when changing mortgage lenders is timing. Denis Orrock of Infochoice believes the government should mandate both the timing and costing of terminating a loan.

"As it stands it's not hard to switch lenders; what is hard is to discharge the loan and the banks seem to make it difficult," says Orrock. "The government should mandate a timeframe for switching loans, say 10 to 15 working days, and what is a reasonable cost for terminating a loan."

As to the move to raise rates, Choice's Zinn accepts the banks may be entitled to pass on the increasing cost of business to customers, but his concern is that there is not enough transparency in the system.

Under the Howard Government, the banks tended to move in tandem with the Reserve Bank, so when the central bank raised the base rate, the banks followed suit. When rates were falling, the previous government put pressure on the banks to lower their interest rates accordingly. That pressure wasn't necessary when rates were rising, as the banks readily moved in line.

As Saul Eslake, chief economist with the ANZ, observes: "[Former treasurer] Costello did not threaten regulation but he did exert heavy moral pressure on the banks". But since the federal election, the banks, led by the Commonwealth, have acted independently of the RBA. Was this because of a change in government?

David Bell, CEO of the Australian Bankers Association, thinks not, saying these independent moves were all to do with the subprime crisis in the US and so it was not reliant on the change in government.

"There is a claim that the previous government could have somehow, if they had been re-elected, been able to hold back the tide of out-of-cycle interest rate increases," says Bell. "This doesn't make sense because the increases stem from the US sub prime lending problems. While product pricing is an individual bank matter, the ABA sees no evidence that recent bank interest rates increases have been unjustified."

Government involvement in the banks' operations appears to have a role in ensuring fairness. Just how far that will go remains to be seen.

By Gillian Bullock, ninemsn Money Feburary 2008

Young people capable of IR deals: Hockey

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey says young people are perfectly capable of negotiating pay and conditions with their employers.

Unions have argued the federal government's Work Choices laws give the upper hand to employers, particularly when dealing with young, inexperienced workers.

But Mr Hockey said young people were more used to negotiating these days areas.

"The kids are negotiating mobile phone contracts worth literally thousands of dollars a year," Mr Hockey told ABC Radio.

"In some cases, they are borrowing money for cars, they are going and borrowing money for overseas trips - yet they can't negotiate a contract?"

He said that in any case workers under the age of 18 needed parental consent before they could sign an Australian Workplace Agreement (AWA).

Mr Hockey said he would "love to be on AWA".

"But that is for other people," he said.

"I'd love to have a bonus scheme and I'd love to have arrangements that rewarded on the basis of hours of work.

"I'd happily trade off everything."

But he said politicians did not have the opportunity to do so because their pay was set by the independent Remuneration Tribunal.

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Sharan Burrow said Mr Hockey's comments showed the government had turned its back on young workers.

"His comments are bizarre and totally out of touch with reality," Ms Burrow said.

A recent government-funded study found that some young workers in cafes, shops and bars had lost between 25 and 31 per cent of their take-home pay under Work Choices, she said.

"It is absurd to suggest a young worker aged 16, 17 or 18 has an equal bargaining position with the manager of a multi-national fast food chain," Ms Burrow said.

"The fact is that under Work Choices, young workers have been the most vulnerable and have suffered big cuts to their pay and conditions."

The Australian Fair Pay Commission on Wednesday launched a review of pay rates for juniors and trainees.

Ms Burrow said the union movement was concerned the review was a "cover-up" for the government's plan to cut wages and conditions of young people.

msn September 27, 2007

WorkChoices wording makes sackings easier: report

A new report has found a slight difference in the wording of workplace laws has given employers more opportunity to restructure their businesses.

The report was commissioned by Victoria's Workplace Rights Advocate, and compiled by a senior lecturer in workplace law at Monash University.

Dr Anthony Forsyth says he concentrated on one aspect of the new WorkChoices laws - the provision allowing workers to be dismissed for genuine operational reasons.

"In the past, the employer would have had to show some element of the necessity of the restructuring that they're going through, but under operational reasons, they don't have to show that there's any strong financial imperative," he said.

"The difference in terminology - operational 'requirements' under the past law, and operational 'reasons' under the new law might seem subtle, but it is in fact a very big difference in terms of the broad types of cases that can now be included in an operational reasons dismissal, that will mean an employee won't any longer have a claim."

Victorian deputy premier Rob Hulls says the report shows job security is a thing of the past under the new laws.

He says the report suggests that if a boss does not like a worker, or the company needs smartening up, a person can be sacked.

"Being able to dismiss an employee for operational reasons has been interpreted very broadly, which means that any employee in Victoria can virtually be dismissed without any valid reason being given," he said.

abc.net.au September 10, 2007

Student arrested, shot with Taser gun for asking a question

A university student has been wrestled, held down and shot with a Taser gun — all for asking presidential candidate John Kerry a couple of questions.

The University of Florida's Andrew Meyer, 21, is shown in a YouTube video being wrestled by six officers and dragged towards the exit at a forum featuring Senator Kerry.

He throws his arms in the air, yelling "What did I do?", "Help" and "Get away from me" as the officers repeatedly try to remove him from the building.

When Mr Meyer finally tries to sidestep the exit and make his way back into the hall, he is thrown to the ground and held down.

"Stop resisting," a female officer demands.

"If you let me go, I'll walk out of here," Meyer replies, before pleading "don't Tase me, bro … I didn't do anything."

Then, surrounded by up to seven officers holding him to the floor, the man is hit with the Taser for two to three seconds.

Kerry, all the while attempting to continue his address, is drowned out by the man's screams and the clicking of the electrical gun.

The student's questions seem harmless enough considering the heavy police reaction.

First, he asks Kerry why he didn’t dispute the results of the 2004 election, which the Democrat lost to George W Bush.

With officers gathering behind him, Mr Meyer then asked Kerry if he was a member of the same 'secret society' as Bush.

The video has received a massive response, mostly expressing outrage towards the perceived overreaction of the police.

While Mr Meyer was charged with resisting police and disturbing the peace, many commentors believe he has the right to sue the state.

msn September 19, 2007

Sex offender released into Qld community

Notorious sex offender Robert John Fardon has been released from a Brisbane jail under strict conditions.

Queensland's Supreme Court on October 19 ordered Fardon be released on a strict 38-point supervision order after his arrest in July for breaching a previous order.

Corrective Services Minister Judy Spence told state parliament Fardon had been released to an undisclosed location on Tuesday morning.

The 59-year-old man has spent most of his adult life in prison for violent sexual assaults committed in 1978 and 1988, and remained in custody on a court order after completing his sentence in 2003.

He was released in December last year on a 32-point supervision order which he has breached three times this year.

He was arrested in July after leaving his Brisbane residence and travelling north to Mackay and Townsville, reportedly fearing attack from vigilantes.

Under the terms of his release, Fardon is banned from contacting children under the age of 16 without consent from Corrective Services.

Fardon has also consented to being fitted with an electronic monitoring device.

Ms Spence said she would not be releasing details of Fardon's whereabouts.

"I'm sure many people will want to expose Mr Fardon's whereabouts," Ms Spence told parliament.

"But I want to keep in mind the man has to live somewhere, and we have the toughest system in the country for monitoring these type of offenders.

"Mr Fardon will be under intense scrutiny to ensure the community is safe."

msn Oct 30, 2007

Is your Facebook in the wrong hands?

You might not feel threatened when the CIA's number-two man announces he doesn't take online privacy that seriously — unless you believe he has your Facebook password.

"(In) our interconnected and wireless world, anonymity — or the appearance of anonymity — is quickly becoming a thing of the past," said deputy director of US intelligence Donald Kerr late last month.

"Privacy, I would offer, is a system of laws, rules, and customs with an infrastructure of Inspectors General, oversight committees, and privacy boards on which our intelligence community commitment is based and measured."

Mr Kerr basically announced that the US Government is to be trusted when it comes to monitoring internet activity and correspondence.

And why would the average Australian Facebook user care about this?

Any Facebooker who bothered to read the fine print when signing up should already know they've granted the social networking giant "an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license to use" their personal information at leisure.

If conspiracy theorists are right, the more than 50 million Facebook users who agreed to those terms may have unwittingly sold their online souls to the US Central Intelligence Agency.

In 1999, long before it became the multi-billion dollar enterprise it is today, Facebook received close to $15 million funding from Accel Partners, a venture capital firm whose manager James Breyer sat on the board of the National Venture Capital Association alongside members of CIA data warehousing organisation In-Q-Tel.

Mr Breyer also served on the board of internet development firm BBN Technologies alongside Dr Anita Jones, the former director of Defence Research and Engineering for the US Department of Defence.

At the time, Dr Jones was overseeing the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and its Information Awareness Office project — allegedly aimed at gathering and storing as much public information as possible for the government's perusal.

The information they were seeking reportedly included internet activity, credit card purchase histories, airline ticket purchases, car rentals, medical records, educational transcripts, driver's licences, utility bills, tax returns and any other available data.

Scary stuff in a world full of online shopping and for-your-eyes only emails, and Congress agreed — cutting funds from the IAO in 2003 following uproar from civil libertarians.

But that wasn't the end of it, according to conspiracy buffs: they say that Facebook is simply the IAO under a different name.

Adding fuel to the rumours, late last year the CIA made their interest in Facebook known when they opened a page on the site dedicated to recruiting staff for their National Clandestine Service. The page includes a YouTube video advertising work in the agency.

If you've got a Facebook and are worried about the men in black peering into your life, unfortunately it's too late to escape.

You can't delete an account on the site, you can only "deactivate" it. All of your information remains with the site, ready to be re-activated (or data-mined by people with the right credentials) at any time.

One possible solution — change your profile name to Donald Kerr, and your interests to "controlling the internet". Delete your contacts, format your hard drive and move to Mexico.

msn Nov 15, 2007

Ex-mistress ran bordellos for Packer, biography reveals

A MISTRESS of the late media tycoon Kerry Packer ran a private bordello for his business and political associates and after their affair ended and they became estranged committed suicide, a new book says.

Paul Barry has updated his bestselling biography The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer, including in it the sad story of one of Packer's mistresses that on legal advice was withdrawn from the 1993 edition.

Carol Lopes was a black American model with whom Packer had a four-year affair from the late 1970s.

Described by Barry as "gregarious, glamorous, gorgeous" and a star at society parties, Lopes told friends she was Packer's "SONAP: Sex Only, No Appearances in Public" and referred to him as "His Nibs".

Packer put her up in lavish apartments in Bellevue Hill, near his family residence, and she enjoyed brief public fame as a late-night B-grade movie hostess on Packer's Nine television network.

After their affair ended in the early 1980s Lopes began organising for Packer private bordellos each summer in expensive and secluded rented houses in Palm Beach.

Lopes travelled to New York, London and South America to find intelligent, well-educated and beautiful women who were paid about $10,000 a week at the bordello, the biography says.

Barry writes: "Carol confided to friends that Kerry ran this private bordello to thank men who had done him a good turn." He says politicians and business people attended the bordellos, but does not name any.

The relationship between Packer and Lopes soured later in the 1980s. After he stopped supporting her financially she attempted to kill herself three times before succeeding in 1991. Much of her 16-page suicide note was addressed to Packer. It is on file with the NSW coroner's office, but has not been made public.

A second letter found in Lopes's apartment says: "Kerry Packer is the only family I know [Lopes had been raised by foster parents]. He has taken care of me for 12 years. I have been denied access to this man. For what reason, I don't understand.

"He is not aware of how distressed I am … I have no alternative but to end my life."

Apart from the media baron's "notorious" love of prostitutes, Barry recounts Packer's stream of mistresses given apartments and found jobs, with Packer footing the bill. After Packer died in December 2005 the Herald revealed he had transferred property shares worth at least $10 million to his long-time mistress Julie Trethowan.

Gerald Stone, in his recent book Who Killed Channel 9?, recounted that Packer divided the final days of his life between Trethowan and Ros, his wife of more than 40 years.

He also revealed that in his 30s Packer had a brief, torrid affair with his then employee Ita Buttrose, who became a magazine editor.

The updated biography, which won the 1994 Banjo award for non-fiction, is published on August 1, but copies appeared in bookshops this week.

Matthew Ricketson, Brisbane Times July 26, 2007