Archive for July, 2019 | Monthly archive page

Family celebrates as Greste heads home

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

“It’s also difficult to realise that this day has actually come. Even though I sort of dreamed about it quietly not daring to think about it too much, it’s arrived now.” Photo: Glenn HuntThe smiles on the faces of Lois, Juris and Andrew Greste said it all. Finally, their son Peter Greste is coming home.

“Well, it certainly is a good morning,” said Juris, succinctly summing up the family’s mood.

After enduring 400 days in an Egyptian jail, Mr Greste was released from Tora Prison early on Monday morning Australian time, immediately boarding a plane to Cyprus with his brother Michael.

The experienced journalist, who was working for Al-Jazeera when he was arrested before Christmas 2013, was expected to arrive on Australian shores today.

“I’m ecstatic. I just cant say how happy I am about it,”; Peter’s mother Lois Greste said.

“It’s also difficult to realise that this day has actually come. Even though I sort of dreamed about it quietly not daring to think about it too much, it’s arrived now.”

Peter Greste was deported from Egypt on Sunday night, and is now recovering in Cyprus with his brother Michael.

“[Peter] said it all happened so fast and so quick,” Mrs Greste said. “He’s still absorbing it all and I think it’s going to take him several days.”

Mrs Greste said her two sons had enjoyed beer and pork in Cyprus, and Peter would probably want prawns when he arrived in Australia.

“There’ll be a tear or two shed I think,” she said.

Mr Greste, al-Jazeera’s Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, and al-Jazeera producer Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, were jailed following a trial that was widely criticised as a farce by legal experts and human rights commentators.

Despite a lack of evidence presented to the court and their consistent denial of the charges, the trio were found guilty of aiding a terrorist organisation, belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group, and making false news that damaged Egypt’s international reputation. Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years in jail, Greste and Fahmy to seven years.

In November Egypt’s President issued a  decree that allowed him to deport foreigners charged with criminal offences – a process that would assist Greste, and possibly Fahmy, but leave their Egyptian colleague stuck in prison.

Egypt’s Court of Cassation – their only avenue for an appeal – ordered a retrial of the three journalists on January 1 but did not grant bail. At that point they had just passed their one-year anniversary in prison.

Facing a retrial and with no guarantee of bail, Greste and Fahmy formally applied to be deported via a presidential decree, which was granted at the weekend.

A security official told Reuters that Fahmy would be released “within days”, but there was no word yet on the fate of Mohamed.

“Peter won’t rest until they’re released from prison and we hope that will follow in the very near future,” his brother, Andrew, said.

“We do feel very deeply for them,” Juris said. “We have met their families. They are lovely people and it is sad that it’s happened to them as much as it’s been an overwhelming, desperate thing for us too.”

At an early-morning press conference to confirm the news on Monday, Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said she spoke to Greste shortly after his release and he is desperate to come home.

Ms Bishop also paid tribute to the role of consular staff in his release, noting that Greste had thanked the Australian government, the public and journalists who had rallied to his cause.

“He told me that it had sustained him through the very long time that he spent in jail,” she said.

Ms Bishop also thanked other governments  who had supported his cause and, at Australia’s request, made representations on his behalf to the Egyptian government.

“I personally spoke with the foreign minister in Egypt and made a number of representations, oral and in writing, and spoke to President [Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi,” she said.

Andrew said the journalist had been in a confined space during his imprisonment and had limited information about was what happening with his case.

“It’s going to take him a little bit of time to absorb what has actually occurred and the enormity of what’s occurred today and the enormity of the campaign and the amount of support that he’s received,” he said.

The family described the campaign to free Peter as the biggest challenge of their lives, and Andrew joked that his brother had better not get into any more trouble.

“He only gets one crack at this, only gets one crack at it out of me anyway,” he said.

Andrew asked the world to respect his privacy, “to give him time to appreciate his freedom before he faces the media.”

Mr al-Sisi said that, had he been in power when the al-Jazeera crew were arrested, he would have preferred they had been deported rather than face a trial.

The three al-Jazeera journalists were among at least 16 journalists imprisoned in Egypt, along with at least 16,000 political prisoners including activists, students, unionists, academics and lawyers.

Cadbury plans to cut the size of its family blocks of chocolate to save costs

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

Cadbury, the No.1 player in Australia’s $2 billion chocolate market, plans to reduce the size of its big-selling family blocks of chocolate by about 10 per cent to save costs.

The company blames rising packaging and raw material costs and has chosen to shrink the weight of its most popular product rather than increase the $4.99 recommended retail price.

Amanda Banfield, managing director of Australasia for Mondelez International, the parent company that owns Cadbury and other big-selling brands, including Vegemite, Kraft, Red Tulip and The Natural Confectionery Co range of sweets, said she expected a backlash.

“We have to kind of be real about that,” she said. “Clearly any chocolate lover is going to be a bit disappointed”.

Cadbury reduced the size of its family blocks of chocolate in 2009 from 250 grams to 200 grams, before partially lifting it in 2013 back to 220 grams because of disquiet from customers.

The Cadbury blocks of chocolate are made in Claremont in Tasmania, which churns out around 80 million blocks a year. This is the same factory Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised a $16 million injection to in the election campaign before his 2013 victory, to try to help the Tasmanian economy.

Ms Banfield said Cadbury was working through the details with the federal Government on the funding, which is part of a $66 million upgrade of the Cadbury plant, of which the company is providing $50 million.

“We’re waiting for a final outcome,” she said.

The decision to shrink the weight of the chocolate blocks was in response to an array of cost pressures. The 220g block is the core product of the Cadbury range, although it does sell different sizes in the range.

“We’ve just had unprecedented cost headwinds over the past 18 months,” she said.

She pointed to rising packaging costs and a lift in the price of raw materials. The main ingredients are cocoa, sugar and milk.

Ms Banfield emphasised that Cadbury didn’t set the prices the blocks sold for in supermarkets, and that big chains did sell them on promotion from time to time. “In the end, I need to be very clear, we don’t set prices,” she said.

About 60 per cent of sales of the Cadbury family blocks of chocolate come from the shelves of the two big chains of Woolworths and Coles.

Cadbury has a total market share in chocolate of 50 per cent in Australia, and dominates the market in family blocks of chocolate with a share Ms Banfield estimated to be “in the mid-60s”.

Analysts say supermarket chains have been making inroads into the chocolate market with private-label blocks of chocolate, which sell on the same shelves as the branded products.

Ms Banfield said the reduction in weight was a business decision to keep costs down and hadn’t been influenced by broader issues around tackling obesity. Rival firm Nestle, late in 2014, decided to cut the size of its Killer Python jelly snake confectionery range from 47 grams to 24 grams to cut calories and respond to consumers’ concerns about sugar intake in children.

“This is not about addressing the obesity challenge,” Ms Banfield said, adding that most families enjoyed a small portion of chocolate as a treat from time to time.

The Mondelez business employs about 3000 people throughout its operations in Australia and New Zealand and has annual revenues of about $2 billion.

Ms Banfield, who took over as managing director of the Australasian business in late 2013, said consumer confidence in Australia is patchy and there continues to be uncertainty in the minds of shoppers.

“I think consumer confidence has been a bit bumpy recently,” she said.

The company manufactures Vegemite at a plant at Port Melbourne and Ms Banfield said decisions late in January by British supermarket giant Sainsbury’s to take Vegemite off its shelves in Britain because of falling sales would leave many buyers of the product disappointed.

Q&A returns with a new blood red set and surgical approach to the federal government’s woes

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

Chief surgeon … Q&A host Tony Jones was back to direct the questions for a program titled ‘Elections, Economics and Knightmares’. Photo: Q&A Outspoken: Jacqui Lambie. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

“Spaceships of the sea”: Independent Senator John Madigan. Photo: Andrew Meares

Our national TV trauma unit, Q&A, returned to ABC screens on Monday night with a new set that evoked nothing so much as a heart transplant being performed live, with the leftover red bits being tossed as decoration to the back wall for someone to clean up later.

Notwithstanding the new digs, our regular chief surgeon Tony Jones had returned to oversee the procedure – and on hand he had a new assistant: Nurse Jacqui, resplendent in hospital white.

Nurse Jacqui – aka independent senator Jacqui Lambie – was armed with both scalpel and surgical hammer, both of which she applied, often without warning, to the evening’s main patient, Barnaby Joyce, the government member diagnosed as most able to withstand the procedures to be inflicted on a body politic in distress.

Lambie has more front than Myer and less finesse than a Q&A set designer, which made for entertaining television; even Jones was rendered silent as she rampaged against the sins of the ruling class and explained to Barnaby that his arse and his elbow were actually separate body parts.

“Yippee, yippee, leave him there, leave him there,” was her Calamity Jane-style analysis of Labor’s preferred fate for Tony Abbott. And: “What’s Australia got left to sell – its soul?” But she saved her best for a jihad on a media proprietor of Australian birth but lately holder of an American passport. “It’s about time Murdoch stayed the hell out of politics in Australia, that’s the first thing he can do.” She continued: “Suck it up, mate. Bet I don’t get in The Australian tomorrow.”

Lambie was in full flight. Also soaring to great heights, if with more restrained rhetorical extravagance, was Wayne Swan. The former Labor treasurer has endured several years of media agony since his party’s 2007 triumph gave way to the kind of in-house cat-fighting now infecting his opponents.

But this would seem to be Swan’s time. From the backbench, in recent days he has enjoyed his two most celebratory television appearances in nearly a decade, first as an ABC panellist on Queensland election coverage and then scheduled for a follow-up kicking of his enemies on Monday night. Revelling in the one-two punch on Joyce with Lambie, he may be enjoying himself more this week than any politician in the land.

With all this taking centre stage it was a surprise that the best line of the night went to the independent Victorian senator John Madigan, someone few had heard of and whose somnolent tones seemed destined to ensure most of us never did.

If you’ve ever seen Barry Humphries do his non-Edna inspiration from the Melbourne suburbs — Sandy Stone of Glen Iris — you will have an idea of just how Madigan delivers his pearls. And like Sandy Stone, he is capable of suddenly shaking you awake with a cracking line you will never forget.

In a discourse on Australia’s ability to build things — like the Collins class submarine — he proclaimed: “Submarines are the space ships of the ocean.”

Just like that, with no regard for Jacqui Lambie who had worked so hard all night to do the very same thing, a humble indie senator from Ballarat very nearly broke Twitter. If confirmation were needed, Q&A was well and truly back.

Expectations surveys show business sector optimistic about employment

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

A survey has found that 30 per cent of firms expect to hire during the second quarter. Photo: Rob HomerThe business sector’s outlook on employment is the most positive for 10 years, Dun & Bradstreet’s Business Expectations Survey shows.

However, the sector is planning to trim its short-term outlook for sales and profits, Dun & Bradstreet says.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s business expectations survey is similarly downbeat.

The D&B survey’s results for the second quarter of 2015 show the employment expectations index lifted to 23 points, up from 16.1 points the previous quarter and 9.2 points in 2014.

The survey has found that 30 per cent of firms expect to hire during the second quarter, compared with 7 per cent that will reduce staff numbers.

“The outlook on employment is the most positive for 10 years and follows data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing that the unemployment rate fell to 6.1 per cent,” the survey said.

Among other findings for the second quarter of 2015: The sales expectations index eased to 33.6 points, down from the previous quarter’s 10-year high of 38.7 points, and flat compared with the same time last year;The profit expectations index dropped to 20.4 points, down from 25.9 points the previous quarter and 20.7 points a year earlier;The capital investment index eased to 10.9 points, down from 14.9 points in the first quarter of 2015 and up marginally from 10.0 points a year earlierThe selling prices index – companies intending to raise their prices – eased to 24.3 points, down from 26.3 points in the first quarter of 2015 and flat compared with the 24.2 points recorded a year earlier.

The chief executive of Dun & Bradstreet in Australia and New Zealand, Gareth Jones, was downbeat on the overall survey despite the good employment result.

Mr Jones said the survey findings suggested the business sector had reappraised its view of the economy’s immediate prospects.

“The healthy optimism that was recorded for the first quarter of [the] year appears to have dissipated amid uncertainty about near-term economic growth and an unsettled operating environment,” Mr Jones said.

“Dun & Bradstreet now expects Australia to achieve real GDP growth of just 2.3 per cent this year, while last month the IMF downgraded its growth forecasts for both China and the world economy.

“Confusing the local scene is a variable currency, falling oil price, sharemarket turbulence and fragile consumer confidence.

“While the Business Expectations Survey reveals that forward-looking expectations have softened, they do remain above their 10-year average. In addition, the actual performance reported by businesses for the end of 2014 was strong.”

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Business Expectations Survey also shows that business remains worried about the prospects for the Australian economy in the year ahead.

Business confidence, as measured by the Expected Economic Performance Index, fell sharply for the third quarter in a row, from 48.0 to 45.5.

“Businesses remain pessimistic about the year ahead for the Australian economy,” ACCI chief executive Kate Carnell said. “Uncertainty about the passage of many elements of the government’s reform agenda and headwinds from abroad continue to weigh on business owners’ minds.

“The government needs to use the upcoming budget to give momentum to its reform efforts by explaining the need for change. The government has embarked upon many worthwhile reforms, including deregulation, repairing the budget and improving competition policy and the financial system. But, overwhelmingly, business needs to see concrete steps being taken.”

Government protected accused Ombudsman Bruce Barbour from future legal proceedings

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

Shielded even after he leaves the job of Ombudsman: Bruce Barbour. Photo: Dallas KilponenShowdown looms as Ombudsman claims immunityPolice plunged into controversy over bugging claimsAnalysis: time to clean up the festering sore’It’s disgraceful’: Deputy Commissioner in the hot seat

NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour has been shielded from having to give evidence in legal proceedings relating to his work after leaving office amid claims he is mounting an “attack” on whistleblowers involved in a police bugging scandal rocking the force.

As the government and Mr Barbour were fighting moves to establish the current parliamentary inquiry into the long-running scandal in November, NSW Attorney-General Brad Hazzard introduced a bill to change the Ombudsman’s Act.

The act already shielded a serving ombudsman, staff and consultants from being compelled in legal proceedings to appear as a witness or produce documents relating to their work.

The change extended those exemptions to former holders of the office and former staff and consultants, meaning Mr Barbour is shielded even after he leaves the job.

The significance of the change was highlighted last week when Deputy NSW Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas launched a withering attack on how Mr Barbour is conducting his investigation into the bugging scandal.

For the past two years Mr Barbour has been investigating the controversial bugging operation codenamed Mascot/Florida.

During the operation, more than 100 police and civilians were targeted between 1999-2001 but many of the warrants were issued by the Supreme Court at the request of the police with little or no evidence of wrongdoing.

Mr Kaldas, one of those bugged using a corrupt policeman-turned-informant codenamed M5, has been interviewed by Mr Barbour for his investigation.

But giving evidence to the parliamentary inquiry last Friday, Mr Kaldas claimed Mr Barbour has mounted “a well-planned attack” to silence him as a whistleblower.

He accused Mr Barbour – who is due to give evidence on Tuesday – of “methodology used by the McCarthy era” and declared: “I hold fears of his intention towards me”.

The inquiry into Mascot/Florida is rocking the highest ranks of the NSW police as another Deputy Commissioner, Catherine Burn, was in charge of M5 and Commissioner Andrew Scipione for a time oversaw the operation.

Labor MP Adam Searle – an inquiry member – said the timing of the amendment was “very curious, to say the least, coming as it did at a time when MPs were receiving vigorous complaints about the conduct of the Ombudsman”.

“The government, ministers and staff, could advance no cogent explanation of why this change was being brought forward at this time and when pressed they were highly embarrassed,” Mr Searle said.

Inquiry deputy chairman Greens MP David Shoebridge said: “We asked at the time why these new immunity provisions for the Ombudsman were so urgent [but] this has never been satisfactorily answered.”

A spokeswoman for Premier Mike Baird referred to the second reading debate during which it was explained Mr Barbour requested the change “for consistency’s sake” with other like agencies.