Baird refuses to answer questions over UBS phone calls

NSW Premier Mike Baird at Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital on Thursday. Photo: Darren Pateman The Premier has refused to say who in his office phoned UBS about its report on electricity part-privatisation. Photo: Darren Pateman
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NSW election 2015: full coverage

Premier Mike Baird has refused to say who in his office called an investment bank before it altered a report on electricity privatisation to make the findings more favourable to his government.

Opposition Leader Luke Foley on Thursday questioned if global investment firm UBS was offered “inducements” to rewrite the report, and said Mr Baird was “treating people with contempt”.

Just nine days out from the March 28 election, Mr Baird has been forced into a fresh defence of his cornerstone re-election policy: part-privatisation of the state’s electricity “poles and wires”.

It emerged on Wednesday that UBS, one of the two banks handling the power proposal for the government, had released a report saying it would damage the state’s budget in the long term because billion of dollars in dividends and other payments would be lost.

But the bank, which stands to benefit by earning millions of dollars in fees if the transaction proceeds, reissued the report with an addendum removing a statement that the transaction was “bad for the budget”.

On Wednesday, Mr Baird admitted staff in his office had contacted the bank shortly before it reissued the report, indicating UBS was told the original version did not take into account broad economic benefits flowing from the power plan.

Mr Foley said reputable firms such as UBS “don’t lightly change the public advice they issue”.

He demanded to know who in the government contacted UBS, and whether Mr Baird spoke to UBS Australia chief executive Matthew Grounds.

“Were inducements made, was pressure brought to bear? There’s many questions to be answered here,” Mr Foley said.

“Did Mr Baird direct one of his people to place a call to UBS and put pressure on them to rewrite their advice to their clients?”

At a news conference on the Central Coast on Thursday, Mr Baird refused to answer questions about the report, including who in his office called the investment bank, whom they spoke to or when the Premier’s office first learned about the report’s damaging contents.

“The MD of UBS put out a statement on this yesterday,” Mr Baird said. “He has dealt with it. End of story.”

Mr Baird denied directing any staffer to call the bank himself but would not provide details.

Asked again at a later press conference to reveal who called UBS, Mr Baird said: “UBS acknowledged in their own research that they did not take account of the broad economic impacts. At their own instigation. Full stop. End of story.”

On Wednesday, a UBS spokeswoman said the initial report was independently determined by the bank “to be incomplete as it had not taken into account the budgetary impacts of the investment proceeds”.

“The analyst then reviewed publicly available information about the investment proceeds and reissued his research based on his own views,” she said.

UBS has been contacted for further comment.

Mr Foley said the Premier’s request that voters “trust” the government will reap $13 billion for the privatisation, rather than the $11 billion suggested by the report, was “treating people with contempt.”

“Saying ‘trust me’ doesn’t cut it in an election campaign when all of our party’s policies are rightly scrutinised,” he said.

“I trust the expert advice. If he can only get $11 billion, what are the $2 billion worth of infrastructure projects … he will ditch?”

The government says the sale proceeds will be used to fund a range of big-ticket infrastructure projects including a second rail crossing of Sydney Harbour.

Labor has promised a more “modest” $10 billion suite of spending, which would delay construction of the harbour crossing by four years.

Mr Foley on Thursday announced a Labor government would spend $55 million to help NRL clubs expand their community programs, by strengthening links to their local areas.

It would deliver community-based amenities, such as playing fields, aquatic centres and visual arts spaces.   2015 NSW election: Policy reckoner

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Second time lucky for Study Group as Vocation sells Endeavour for $75m

Second time lucky for UK-based Study Group which has bought Endeavour College for $75m from Vocation. Endeavour runs courses in naturopathyEmbattled education group Vocation has cut loose one of its best performing businesses in a bid to ensure the survival of the mothership, selling the Endeavour College of Natural Health for $75 million to British-based global company Study Group.
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Ironically, Study Group was one of the under-bidders last year in a sale process when Vocation itself acquired the Endeavour operations in June, 2014 for $84 million, and has been able to pick it up cheaper this time.

Study Group’s Australasian managing director Warren Jacobson says he’s “very comfortable” with the price paid now, and he’s not worried about any of the spillover to the Endeavour brand from the so-called “Vocation contagion”.

Vocation’s reputation has been battered by damning audit reviews by regulators in Victoria on two businesses, BAWM and Aspin, which are unrelated to Endeavour. Vocation has shredded $700 million-plus in sharemarket value in the past six months.

“We’re very confident that the Vocation contagion, as the press has termed it, has not spread to the Endeavour brand,” Mr Jacobson says.

Investors remain sceptical about the long-term future for Vocation, which is still working on a strategic review of its business and looking at options for its capital structure to create a slimmed-down organisation.

The company has been through a tumultuous time since listing on the Australian Securities Exchange in late 2013. Vocation shares inched up marginally early on Thursday after the Endeavour sale announcement but are still wallowing around the 8¢ mark, compared with $3.40 in early September 2014.

Vocation will pay down almost all of its bank debt through the Endeavour sale, reducing debt from around $85 million to around $10 million.

The imminent sale of Endeavour was first revealed by Fairfax Media two days ago.

Vocation’s three remaining largest businesses – Real Institute, AVANA and Customer Service Institute of Australia – will form the core of the slimmed-down company.

Endeavour, which was established in 1975, runs a range of courses including acupuncture, remedial massage, homeopathy and Chinese medicine across six campuses. The Vocation banking syndicate, made up of Westpac, Commonwealth Bank and NAB, has insisted on substantial asset sales for its continued support, with KordaMentha’s corporate advisory arm 333 Capital running a sale process over the past few weeks.

Vocation chief financial officer Stewart Cummins says there may be one more small asset sale, but Vocation wasn’t necessarily trying to get to a point where it had no debt at all.

“No debt, low debt, it’s not a big difference,” he says.

Vocation chairman Doug Halley, who took over from inaugural chairman and former federal treasurer and education minister John Dawkins late last year, says there was strong interest from “many credible parties” for Endeavour.

He says Vocation will announce its capital and corporate structure in the coming weeks along with a revision of profit forecasts to reflect the skinnier version of Vocation after its asset sales.

On Tuesday, Vocation announced it had sold the Perth-based Australian School of Management and the Australian College of Applied Education for a combined $15 million, well above the $4 million it paid for the businesses last year.

Study Group is a global business.  It already operates the Australian Institute of Applied Sciences, a natural health education provider, and the Australian College of Physical Education, which runs tertiary courses in sports, health and physical education. Mr Jacobson says Study Group has 13,500 students in Australia, before taking into account the Endeavour acquisition.

He says Endeavour chief executive Carolyn Barker will stay with the business and be part of Study Group’s executive leadership team.

Analysts had been speculating for some time that Ms Barker may be under consideration to take over as the chief executive of Vocation, with inaugural chief executive Mark Hutchinson announcing in January he would be stepping down in the wake of Vocation’s heavy profit downgrade and serious operational problems.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp takes 14.9% stake in APN as Independent News & Media exits

APN has lost its long-time controlling shareholder, Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien Independent News & Media. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has acquired a 14.9 per cent stake in APN. Photo: Lucy Nicholson
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Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has intrigued its rivals by swooping on a 14.99 per cent stake in APN News & Media, which owns strong-performing radio assets, positioning Australia’s biggest media company for further consolidation of the struggling media sector.

It acquired most of the stake in a sale by APN’s Irish dominant shareholders, ending a 27-year-relationship with the trans-Tasman newspaper, radio and outdoor advertising group by selling their combined 30 per cent stake for about $300 million.

The surprise move, news of which was broken on Thursday morning by Fairfax Media, comes as the federal government considers ripping up cross-media ownership restrictions that limit mergers between traditional players.

While News describes the holding as an “investment stake”, APN pays no dividends and the shares have already performed strongly in the past 18 months. “It’s not untypical for News to buy these strategic stakes as part of a bigger-picture move or a bigger play,” said one senior media executive who asked not to be named.

A 14.99 per cent stake gives News, which is prevented by law from buying APN, a right of veto if another company attempted to acquire APN via a scheme of arrangement. News Corp’s local rival Fairfax Media, which owns The Australian Financial Review and Business Day, has discussed various commercial opportunities with APN in recent years.

APN owns more than 100 regional newspapers, many of them in Queensland, and Australian Radio Network, which is the star of the radio sector with leading FM breakfast shows on its Sydney stations KiiS FM, and WS FM.

News Corp is prevented from acquiring 15 per cent or more of APN because News co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch owns 100 per cent of rival radio company Nova Entertainment. Nova owns the Sydney stations Nova and Smooth FM. No media owner can control more than two radio licences in a major market.

News Corp’s move took some media watchers aback because APN shares have already performed very strongly as it has fought back from a debt crisis. The stock, which was suspended at 94¢ on Thursday morning, has almost doubled in the past year having traded as low as 22¢ in June 2013.

The share price recovery has been put down to APN’s poaching of star radio duo Kyle Sandilands and Jackie Henderson from Southern Cross Media’s 2Day FM and a series of asset sales and acquisitions orchestrated by APN CEO Michael Miller.

Mr Miller, a former News Corp executive, is highly regarded by Lachlan Murdoch and his father Rupert, and has been tipped as a potential future successor to News Corp Australia CEO Julian Clarke.

In a statement from the US,  News Corp said: “APN has a high-quality portfolio of Australian and New Zealand radio and outdoor media assets and small regional print interests. It is led by a quality management team that has successfully driven improvements in the performance of the business.”

The purchase is subject to regulatory approval by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Foreign Investment Review Board.

News Corp acquired a 10.2 per cent stake in the block trade executed by Credit Suisse at 88¢ per share. News Corp had quietly built a 4.8 per cent stake before the trade.

In a watershed moment for APN, its long-time parent, Independent News & Media, controlled by Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien, sold 191 million shares valued about $180 million.

Simultaneously, Mr O’Brien’s investment vehicle Baycliffe has sold 125 million shares valued at $117 million. Both holdings were sold in a block trade handled by Credit Suisse, as revealed by The Australian Financial Review’s Street Talk on Thursday morning.

APN’s largest shareholder, the contrarian fund manager Allan Gray Australia, did not buy any shares in the trade, having cut its stake in APN to about 15.5 per cent from 17.7 per cent earlier this week.

When asked for a comment on News Corp’s purchase, Allan Gray CEO Simon Mawhinney said: “Welcome to the register!” He said the fund manager had trimmed its stake to reduce its exposure as part of its “prudent portfolio management” because the “share price has done so spectacularly well off a low base”.

Independent News & Media has sold the holding as it earns no dividends from APN and is under pressure from its lending banks following a refinancing agreement put in place in April 2013.

The transaction will wipe out a €115 million ($161 million) debt and relieve the company of its €4.5-million-a-year interest burden.

It is understood that Baycliffe is exiting as it does not typically take minority positions in companies and is happy to leave the APN investment at the same time as INM.

APN’s New Zealand business NZME, which it has positioned for a float when conditions are right, owns The New Zealand Herald, the country’s leading newspaper.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Vixens unbeaten, despite being below their best

Star burst: The Vixens’ Madi Robinson in flight in her last match against the Thunderbirds. Photo: Grant TreebyAs the first draws in ANZ Championship history were played out in Sydney and Adelaide last Sunday, the Melbourne Vixens remained unbeaten three rounds into their title defence.
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After an emphatic 24-goal thrashing of the Central Pulse in round one, the Vixens followed up with uglier, closer wins against the Adelaide Thunderbirds  and the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic.

“Even though the last couple of weeks has been a hard slog, I think that’s good for us as well,” said Vixens coach Simone McKinnis.

“But we know that each week we have to get better at what we do. I don’t think we’re near where we can be.  You look at the weekend just gone and you had four teams that couldn’t win, and it was looking like it was going to be another case, but we found a way, and I’m rapt with that.”

While three of the five Australian conference teams are undefeated,  the Thunderbirds enter round four without a victory and on  Sunday face a second match in 15 days against a rival they have struggled  to beat – the Vixens.

“It’s incredible how sometimes you just have that bogey team that you really struggle against,” said star Vixens wing attack Madi Robinson. “I think the thing with Adelaide is that across the court and across our starting seven we do line up very well against them. There’s some incredible match-ups, and that’s probably why it’s always a tough encounter. But it’s obviously good to be on the winning side … that’s for sure.”

Robinson will line up against her close friend and Diamonds teammate Rena Hallinan, the T-birds’ captain and former Vixen due to play her 100th game.

As is their custom, the pair will not speak in the lead up. “Mentally after Sunday I’m going to really look forward to the rest of the season and know I can actually have my best friend back and start calling her every week because the last few weeks have been a bit difficult,”  Robinson said.

The Vixens lead the head-to-head with the Thunderbirds 12-6 overall, and 5-4 in Adelaide, where the match will be played this weekend.

While the current Thunderbirds do not appear close to replicating the former glories of their two title-winning seasons in 2010 and 2013, they are prepared to experiment and innovate, and will be determined to pinch the win they need to avoid their worst start to a season.

Shooter Carla Borrego, who appears low on confidence, was terrible (13/25) in round two, but better in Sunday’s draw with the Mystics and remains a barometer of her team’s fortunes.

The problem is that formidable Vixen defender Geva Mentor has regularly had Borrego’s measure, and will anchor a team that continues to get the job done.

“I think even our first few games have shown a little bit of just what the ANZ Championship is always like,” Robinson said.

“You win one by a lot, you have a hard grind and you play horrible but you still win, and you fight out and just secure it. “It’s good to get the three wins, regardless of how we did it.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

NBA players won’t stop resting until crowded schedule changes

Breaking: LeBron James has been reinvigorated after taking a fortnight off mid-season. Photo: USA Today SportsFollow Hoops Heaven on Twitter
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The only solution to the supposed epidemic of resting star players is to stretch the NBA season out a few weeks so there are fewer crowded stretches on the schedule.

Playoff-bound teams are already resting players – it’s a trend which has grown in recent years and will only become more prolific.

Any time a coach decides to give one or more of his stars a night off, there will be a story about the kiddie who travelled hundreds of kilometres for that one night to see their favourite player in action.

Nobody likes to get disappointed when they fork out big dollars for an NBA ticket but sometimes when you go to a big event, you get the understudy instead of Bette Midler in Rochelle, Rochelle.

Golden State, Memphis and Atlanta have recently started following the lead set by San Antonio mentor Gregg Popovich and given some of their main performers nights off even when they have no specific injury concerns.

LeBron James took a couple of weeks off midway through the season and has been phenomenal since his return, helping Cleveland surge into the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

It’s never fair to compare anyone to Michael Jordan but the old-school thinkers point to the Chicago Bulls superstar as evidence that players don’t need to rest to make it through an 82-game season. Jordan played all 82 games nine times during his 15-season career, including his Washington swansong in 2002-03. He only played less than 78 in the regular season in 1985-86 when he had a serious foot injury (18 games), when he made his comeback from baseball (17) late in 1994-95 and his first year as a Wizard (60) in 2001-02.

Perhaps if Jordan did take some games off during his first stint with Chicago from 1984-93, he wouldn’t have had the overwhelming feeling to walk away from the game at the age of 30 to walk onto the baseball diamond. There were many other reasons, including his father’s murder, cited by Jordan at the time but burnout was definitely a factor.

Maybe he wouldn’t have felt the need to retire again at the age of 35 in 1998 when he still had a few more years left in him although he said at the time the main reason for hanging up his Air Jordans that time was the decision by the Bulls to jettison coach Phil Jackson.

The climate has changed in recent years. Coaches won’t be going back to the old ways of playing their stars excessive minutes on every night they’re available. The only coach who seems to be in denial about rest and restricting minutes is at Jordan’s old team, Chicago’s George W Thibodeau. He gets away with it because he keeps getting the Bulls into the playoffs even though his team has been dogged by injuries although there have been several reports suggesting club management is fed up with his style of coaching.

Sports science is all about peaking at the right time of the season. Coaches know nobody cares about a random match against Orlando in March but everyone remembers how their team goes in the playoffs.

The NBA has paid lip service to its scheduling problem by trialling a 44-minute game in the pre-season and floating the idea or reducing the season from 82 games. Neither option should or is going to happen. Changing the length of matches or the season means every record in the history book will need an asterisk to denote which era any given feat occurred in.

There is no fix-all solution to the rest issue. If it was a 41-game season with no back-to-back matches you could still see someone like Popovich giving one of his veterans a night off just to ensure they had a few more miles in their legs for the playoffs.

If the NBA cut the pre-season of eight games per team in half and started the season in mid-October instead of at the end of the month or early November, then teams will have fewer horror calendar stretches where they have back-to-back matches or the dreaded run of four in five nights.

Why not?

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Australian game classification gets much-needed streamlining with international rating tool

The new system will result in Australian ratings being applied to games on digital storefronts, without each one needing to be analysed by the ACB.Australia’s video game developers are welcoming the federal government’s participation in a new program that could bring our classification system further into line with the rest of the world.
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The program — which justice minister Michael Keenan announced last week would apply to Australia on a trial basis — allows game-makers to have their digital products classified for release simultaneously around the world by completing a free online questionnaire about the content in their game.

Currently, any game made available in Australia must be classified by applying to the Australian Classification Board (ACB), a process that can take months, cost up to $2460 and is largely impractical and unenforceable when considering the hundreds of games released on digital platforms every day.

The switch to the new online tool — run by the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) — means developers in participating countries will have their games automatically rated in Australia for free, and Australian developers can similarly use the tool to get classified in all participating regions, which includes the US and Europe.

Each participating region sets its own guidelines for classification, meaning the online tool will ideally apply the same familiar Australian classifications (from G to R18+) to each game that the ACB would have applied if its members had sat down to analyse it personally.

 

The tool applies only to games released on digital platforms, so publishers of the blockbuster games available in brick and mortar stores will still need to go through the ACB.

Leigh Harris, co-founder of Sydney independent developer Flat Earth Games, said the changes won’t have an immediately noticeable effect for consumers, but that it was a relief the government had chosen this route over more restrictive or expensive alternatives.

He said it’s widely understood that the government currently allows digital games to be sold without official classification — online marketplaces like the Apple App Store and Steam apply their own age ratings to games — but that this was merely a stopgap measure until government could find a way to easily and consistently get official ratings into the digital space.

“The government wants to have their say in the kind of content available for Australian consumers, and rather than trying desperately to contain digital games within the old legacy system they’ve made the positive step of [joining the IARC]”, Harris said, adding that replacing each digital storefront’s rating symbols with the ACB’s would make for more consistency, and hold the government accountable for making sure classifications reflected Australian values.

“It gives us [Australian creators of digital content] legitimacy within Australia. Plus it’s free, and it makes it easier to release in other countries. The government gets their say and we at least know we’re abiding by the rules to get our games out to as many people as possible.”

Harris got to know the Australian classification system well while working with developer Rockstar — makers of Grand Theft Auto — and said the expense involved in the current system would be prohibitive if applied to independent game developers.

“Even games that get huge on the App Store often come from really humble beginnings, and those are the kinds of games you would not see in Australia if the government had instituted something like the current classification system for digital games,” he said.

The new system is currently reliant on digital marketplaces opting in to co-operate with the IARC and display official classifications. This week Google Play became the first major marketplace to sign on, meaning games on Android devices will soon carry ACB classifications.

Australia’s Interactive Games and Entertainment Association said the government’s participation in the program was a good step towards fulfilling the Australian Law Reform Commission’s recommendations, handed down in 2012, to ensure enforceable classification rules.

Minister Keenan said Australia’s trial of the IARC online tool will last for 12 months, during which time the ACB will continue to scrutinise the assigned game classifications “to ensure they reflect the Australian community’s expectations and standards”.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Liberals shy away from Newcastle Art Gallery expansion funding pledge

Labor, Greens, Socialist Alliance candidates get behind the gallery, but Liberals are a no show. Picture: Dean OslandDESPITE sitting on the backburner for the best part of two years, the cost of extending Newcastle Art Gallery has not blown out and the project remains ready to go, supporters say.
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The claims were made at a rally outside the gallery on Thursday when Newcastle candidates for next week’s state election were asked to sign a pledge of support for the gallery and its expansion plans.

Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp and Socialist Alliance candidate Steve O’Brien were on hand to sign the pledge, while Greens candidate Michael Osborne has also signalled his intention to sign. But gallery supporters were ‘‘very disappointed’’ that Liberal candidate Karen Howard avoided the ceremony, earlier telling the Newcastle Herald that she would not commit to funding the gallery’s long-held expansion plans because she didn’t believe the project was properly costed or that plans were finalised.

When last costed, the expansion carried a $21 million price tag, with $14 million being sought from the state government with the remainder expected to come from Newcastle council.

Mr Crakanthorp said a Labor commitment of $14 million ‘‘remains rock solid’’ should it win government next week.

Ms Howard, who signed the pledge when she ran as an independent candidate at last year’s byelection, said she wanted to be ‘‘properly briefed ’’on the project’s status before renewing her commitment, but gallery supporters said she ‘‘already has all the information’’.

In an email sent to Premier Mike Baird on Tuesday, Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes said she had been ‘‘briefed on the DA plans and I am confident council can deliver this project within the original budget constraints’’.

‘‘Given that over $300 million was allocated to Sydney arts and cultural institutions projects in the last state budget, a $14 million allocation in the next budget is a very reasonable request for the second city of NSW,’’ Cr Nelmes wrote.

Prominent gallery supporter Cathy Tate said she was disappointed by Ms Howard’s no-show, particularly given ‘‘that the Liberals in the 2012 Hunter Region Action Plan listed the expansion as a key catalyst project in the city’s revitalisation’’.

Ms Howard told the Herald that while she ‘‘supports the city’s arts and cultural centres’’, she would not sign the pledge because ‘‘this pledge is different to the last one and is a politically-motivated attempt to wedge me’’.

‘‘The last pledge was for the overall support of our cultural institutions and this one is to match Labor’s hollow promise of $14 million,’’ she said.

‘‘I reiterate my support for the arts and cultural institutions but we need to understand more about where this project is at. I’ve seen reports which put the cost at $14 million, $21 million, $28 million and I don’t know if it’s going to cost $50 million.

‘‘I have asked Newcastle council’s general manager to brief me on where the project is up to but unfortunately that hasn’t happened yet.

‘‘Having said that, when I’ve been out doorknocking and talking to the community, no one has raised the art gallery expansion with me. I know it’s important that we have a vibrant and functional art gallery, but it’s not a high priority in the community.’’

Mr Crakanthorp said Ms Howard was ‘‘just playing games’’.

‘‘This project is a key catalyst project to revitalise the city,’’ he said. ‘‘Why are the Liberals ignoring it?’’

Greyhounds banned in connection with live baiting scandal have suspensions lifted for Easter Egg

Ban lifted: nine dogs have been cleared to race. The NSW Racing Appeals Tribunal has cleared nine greyhounds to race in the Golden Easter Egg carnival – NSW’s richest series – overthrowing a ban slapped on them for allegedly being connected to Victorian trainers under investigation for live baiting.
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The NSW Racing Appeals Tribunal upheld the appeals of behalf of connections of the greyhounds, who had been lodging with Victorian handlers stood down for allegedly engaging in the abhorrent practice. Most had been there in preparation for the Australian Cup carnival.

Earlier this month GRNSW invoked the ban on the greyhounds after receiving information they had moved back north of the border despite no wrongdoing alleged on behalf of their NSW conditioners.

But the NSW Racing Appeals Tribunal ruled the state governing body didn’t have the power to issue the suspensions.

“Since my appointment as CEO of GRNSW I have inherited a set of rules which, in my view, are deficient and are impeding the capability of GRNSW to properly supervise the industry and safeguard the public interest,” GRNSW’s interim chief executive Paul Newson said.

“This is something I will be addressing as part of my work to implement a robust governance and compliance framework. Over the coming weeks my priority continues to be enhancing the GRNSW investigative and compliance capability to ensure individuals found to have engaged in misconduct, including live bating, are held to account.”

Seven of the nine greyhounds – Awesome Project, Keybow, Over Limit, Recruitment, Zipping Saxon, Zipping Spike and Zipping Willow – were drawn in the Golden Easter Eggs heats on Saturday.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Motley Fool: Feeding frenzy for the telco sector

10 years ago, Australia’s telecommunications sector looked vastly different to what it does today, with many more companies.TPG Telecom’s recent bid for iiNet has certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons, coming hot on the heels of the merger between cable providers Vocus and Amcom, and raises questions about more activity in the sector.
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iiNet shares are trading above the price TPG is offering, suggesting investors expect a higher bid to come over the top. That’s unlikely for several reasons, but several smaller players may well have attracted the attention of the bigger fish.

BigAir, MyNetFone, Speedcast International and Nextdc could all be on investors’ minds, and even Newsat and micro-cap Skyfii could be on the menu.

Calling all iiNet bidders

Optus appears unlikely to make any moves to mount a competing bid for iiiNet, while the corporate regulator, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) would take a dim view of Telstra bidding.

That’s the two largest Australian telco companies sidelined. Another potential bidder in M2 Group also appears unlikely. M2 is still digesting its recent acquisitions, and would have to raise substantial capital to get a deal over the line.

But clearly, size and scale are on the menu in both mergers above. And the one big-daddy driving them all is data.

Clear the pipes

Data usage is still growing rapidly, via our smartphones, streaming video on demand (SVOD) services such as Stan, Netflix and Hulu, and the continued growth of YouTube. And that’s just consumers. Corporates are ever more likely to access software and applications in the cloud, consuming and generating even more data.

Owning the data ‘pipes’ and the services that sit atop them is likely to be lucrative for many years to come.

Cheaper options?

And that’s where the smaller players mentioned above come in.

BigAir has its own unique data ‘pipes’ – being microwave transmissions. Businesses can use the microwave links provided by BigAir for high performance data transmission to both up- and download, and the company has also targeted student colleges and universities. Those customers, as well as BigAir’s technology, may well be highly attractive to the larger telcos.

Speedcast International focuses on remote or offshore locations, providing internet access to oil rigs, remote mining camps, shipping vessels and a whole range of users, via satellite. In fact, Speedcast boasts more than 1,000 customers across 4,700 separate locations, with 1,700 offshore. The company has been on a bit of an acquisition binge recently, buying Hermes Datacomms and Geolink Satellite Services in just the past month, but both purchases look like complementary add-ons.

And then there’s Nextdc, which designs, builds and operates data centres across Australia. While data centres may become commoditised products, Nextdc is virtually the only independent data centre provider in Australia – a factor that appears highly unlikely to remain as such for long – and most likely under the microscope by the combined Vocus/Amcom entity.

The others, including voice-over-internet-protocol (VOIP) and data communications services company MyNetFone which has diversified considerably in the past few years, potential satellite builder Newsat if it can get past its myriad problems, and Skyfii, which provides WiFi networks for small to medium businesses and the software to capture and analyse information provided by users on those free networks, could also be on several watchlists.

Foolish takeaway

10 years ago, Australia’s telecommunications sector looked vastly different to what it does today, with many more companies. In another decade, it will again look vastly different, and many of the smaller stocks mentioned above may have already been integrated into the large telco players or have gone on to become big players in their own right.

Watch this space. On your smartphone or tablet. While connected to free WiFi. Unless you are too busy watching videos or movies that is…

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Mike King is a Motley Fool investment analyst. He owns shares in Seek, Carsales and Flight Centre. You can follow Mike on Twitter @TMFKinga. The Motley Fool’s purpose is to educate, amuse and enrich investors. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691).

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Reg Lindsay now standing tall in bronze and hearts of fans

BOUQUETS: Sculptor Tessa Wallis and Ros Lindsay with the Reg Lindsay Standing Tall statue.There’snow a permanent reminder of one of Australia’s country music legends standing tall at the East Cessnock Bowling Club.
Shanghai night field

Kew (Victoria) sculptor Tessa Wallis created the life-sized bronze statue of Reg Lindsay, titled Standing Tall (after one of Reg’s many hit songs).

And Reg is not alone. The cast of a horse that looks very much like old Joe, Reg’s last horse, stands alongside him.

HAPPY DAY: Bruce McCumstie, Ros Lindsay and MC Jon Wolfe with the Standing Tall statue.

“Reg used to ride old Joe in parades and he also sang from his back at many rodeos and functions,” Ros said.

“Joe was my barrel race horse. He won two state titles and travelled full-time around the rodeo circuit for over six years, taking me to the pay window on many occasions.

“When he retired, he made the perfect horse for Reg, and Joe enjoyed his new life being Reg’s mate.”

The unveiling took place on March 8, with Central Coast-based country star Adam Harvey and Aussie legend Chad Morgan removing the covers to reveal the work before a large crowd of Reg’s friends in the industry.

“We were delighted that Chad Morgan made the trip down from Queensland for the unveiling,” Ros said.

PRELIMINARIES: Just prior to the unveiling, Brad Pickford played the bagpipes, with Miss Cessnock looking on.

OLD MATES: Two country legends – Chad Morgan and Geoff ‘Tangletongue’ Mack.

“Michael Pincott and Beryl Imhoff wrote a song called Reg Lindsay You’re A Legend and they both travelled from Queensland for Michael to perform the song live.”

Ros started raising funds for this wonderful tribute to her late husband back in 2011 and decided to situate the life-sized bronze in Cessnock as it was the last home town Reg shared with her.

East Cessnock Bowling Club secretary manager Marlene Hartog and the board members have been extremely helpful with the fundraising, hosting a series of concerts at the club.

Geoff and Tabbi Mack, who made a generous donation at the beginning of the venture, enjoyed seeing the statue finished and were thrilled to be part of the event. Allan Caswell performed after the unveiling andwas very well received.

SNAPPY DRESSERS: Chad Morgan catches up with the ever-elegant Tabbi Mack.

Bob Morton and The Summerland Kings were the backing band and enjoyed working with The Crosby Sisters and other artists on the day.

Auriel Andrew received a standing ovation after her dynamite

performance.

Among the guests was Frances Little (Jimmy’s daughter), who was there to represent her late father.

A booklet has been produced, along with post cards and a Standing Tall wine, which are now available from the club.

It was a big weekend in Cessnock, with the annual Reg Lindsay Rodeo attracting large crowds who were treated to action aplenty, the day before.

Ros is planning a huge concert for the 2016 Tamworth Country Music Festival with lots of Reg’s mates being invited to share the bill.

GIDDY-UP: Danny Searle in action on El Paso in the novice saddle bronc at the Reg Lindsay Rodeo.