Why deny US-style Fair Use copyright laws to Australians?

Copyright reform needed: LaborWhy did we gain the restrictions of US copyright law but not the rights?After an 18-month review, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has backed calls to bring Australia’s copyright laws into the modern age with “Fair Use” exemptions. The change would streamline our current hotch-potch copyright laws, which aren’t designed to cope with the rapid pace of technological change.  Australia’s current copyright laws need to be rewritten to account for every new technology, an approach which saw everyone breaking the law for almost thirty years until we gained the right to record free-to-air television in 2007. The ALRC’s “Copyright and the Digital Economy” report wants to replace this with proactive Fair Use laws which use four technologically-neutral “fairness factors” to determine whether an act of copying is within the law.Federal Attorney-General George Brandis agrees that copyright laws need an overhaul, describing them as “overly long, unnecessarily complex, often comically outdated and all too often, in its administration, pointlessly bureaucratic”. That sounds promising, until Brandis keeps talking and you realise he wants to focus all his attention on filtering the internet and chasing movie downloaders, rather than forging balanced copyright laws. Brandis has already signalled his reluctance to embrace Fair Use law due to the supposed uncertainty it would create for copyright holders. This of course conveniently ignores the fact that the United States – one of the world’s major content creators – has had similar Fair Use laws in place for decades.The ALRC report anticipated this kind of response from the likes of Brandis, and addressed it head on in the summary report:”The standard recommended by the ALRC is not novel or untested. Fair use builds on Australia’s fair dealing exceptions, it has been applied in US courts for decades, and it is built on common law copyright principles that date back to the 18th century.””If fair use is uncertain, this does not seem to have greatly inhibited the creation of films, music, books and other material in the world’s largest exporter of cultural goods, the United States.”Fair Use laws obviously aren’t creating too much uncertainty in the US, but our current laws are definitely creating uncertainty in Australia. The Optus TV Now and IceTV cases are two high profile examples where businesses were dragged through the courts even though they felt they were on the right side of the law – and so did the courts in some circumstances. Fair Use rules will create more certainty for copyright owners and businesses contemplating new services based on their content. What’s really frustrating is that Australians didn’t inherit Fair Use rights under the 2005 US Free Trade Agreement, in a text-book example of “do as we say, not as we do”. The agreement saw Australia adopt many of the restrictions of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, such as a ban on circumventing Digital Rights Management even if you’re exercising your rights under copyright law. Even if Australians are granted Fair Use exemptions for acts such as format-shifting our DVD libraries, these digital rights management (DRM) laws will stand in the way.If Fair Use does get up in Australia, it will be interesting to see if other services and copyright holders introduce token DRM protection just so they can neutralise Fair Use exemptions. Other agreements such as the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership also seem heavily weighted in favour of protecting copyright holders and at the expense of our rights under law.The ALRC clearly states that Fair Use does not include piracy, but some people are happy to muddy the water to ensure we get more copyright responsibilities without the corresponding rights. If Fair Use copyright laws are good enough for the US, why aren’t they good enough for Australia? Where do you think the balance lies? 
Shanghai night field

Read More

Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest pockets $103m as Fortescue joins dividend rush

Andrew Forrest at his iron ore mine at Cloudbreak. Photo: Quentin JonesFortescue Metals Group has joined in the dividend bonanza sweeping the Australian market, announcing a higher than expected half-year payout that will see close to $103 million flow to its biggest shareholder, billionaire rich-lister Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest.
Shanghai night field

The 10¢ per share dividend is equal to the dividend that came with full year profit announced by the company in 2013.

The dividend came as Fortescue reported a $US1.71 billion net profit for first half, which was slightly lower than the $US1.77 billion that a consensus of analysts were expecting.

But it was better than the $US1.67 billion that UBS was expecting.

The result is a stunning 259 per cent higher than the first half of 2013, and reflects the huge rise in production that is underway at the iron ore miner.

Fortescue has also benefited from higher than expected iron ore prices over the past six months.

Fortescue has kept its full year export guidance at 127 million tonnes, despite weather challenges over the past seven weeks.

Fortescue chief executive Nev Power warned last month that heavy rainfall was persisting through January and could interrupt production and shipments.

The wet weather has continued since then, and UBS analyst Glyn Lawcock noted this week that one year’s worth of average rainfall in the Pilbara had fallen in January alone.

That prompted Mr Lawcock to lower his export estimate to 125 million tonnes, but the company is so far holding its guidance at 127 million tonnes.

Fortescue was initially forecasting that exports would range between 127 million tonnes and 133 million tonnes in the 2014 financial year, but changed that in January to 127 million tonnes exactly.

Fortescue wants to gradually increase its dividends until it hits a consistent dividend payout ratio of between 30 and 40 per cent.

But the company will need to pay down more of its debt before it hits that level.

The dividend paid out by Fortescue was almost double the 5.3¢ dividend analysts had been expecting.

Read More

‘Dairy wars’ not over as Bega Cheese positions for battle

Bega Cheese’s factory on the NSW south coast. Photo: Orlando ChiodoNSW-based Bega Cheese has hinted the dairy wars are not over, saying the company is well-positioned for further consolidation and the battle for milk supply as it reported an 18 per cent jump in first half profit to $18.7 million.
Shanghai night field

The cheese company, which listed on the ASX in 2011, recently lost out to Canadian giant Saputo in the dramatic three-way takeover battle for Victorian dairy group Warrnambool Cheese & Butter.

But Bega said it has reaped $98.9 million, before tax and costs, for its 18.8 per cent stake in WCB and expects to report an after-tax profit of $44 million in its full-year accounts.

“The recent battle for control of WCB was a demonstration of both the value of dairy assets in Australia and Bega Cheese’s positioning as a key player in the ongoing rationalisation of the Australian dairy industry,” Bega said.

“Bega Cheese has a very strong balance sheet and is well-positioned to participate in the ongoing opportunities in the Australian dairy industry.”

The comment comes just days after the banker who led Saputo to victory in the $530 million battle for Warrnambool said he expects dairy deals to keep flowing.

“There’s a trend of bringing global companies like Saputo to the Australian market and helping them build out their position,”Rothschild managing director Sam Prentice said.

“Private equity firms are all looking at their portfolios and which of their investee companies are suitable for IPOs.”

Announcing its first-half profit, Bega said there are a number of organic growth opportunities it intends to pursue in further value-adding its whey and dairy nutritionals products.

“The group expects to consider a number of investment and corporate opportunities in the short to medium term.”

Adverse weather and competition for milk supply drove an 8 per cent drop in milk intake to 336 million litres, but group revenue rose 4 per cent to $510.6 million and earnings before interest and tax jumped 15 per cent to $30.2 million.

Near-record dairy commodity prices and the recent decline in the Australian dollar underpinned the growth in earnings.

Bega said the outlook for dairy commodities is positive primarily due to the insatiable demand from China for whole milk powders and whey powders.

The company said a key focus going forward will be on providing incentives to grow its existing milk pool and procure new supply, suggesting it is ready for a battle to win farmers from rivals like new entrant Saputo.

“A number of new entrants in milk supply procurement, strong competition amongst existing players and increased returns from international markets will continue to create a highly competitive market for milk,” Bega said.

Bega declared a full-franked interim dividend of 3.5¢, matching the dividend paid in the prior period.

Read More

Extra security sent to Manus Island detention centre following days of rioting

Federal politics: full coverage
Shanghai night field

Minister Scott Morrison has bolstered the number of security guards on Manus Island detention centre by more than a third , following days of violence that left one asylum seeker dead and scores of others severely injured.

On Wednesday afternoon Mr Morrison announced he would be sending the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, and a team of private security guards to the Papua New Guinea island.

‘‘After what has been a very difficult 48 hours, the centre is now operational”, Mr Morrison said.

General Campbell will arrive in Manus Island on Thursday to assess the ‘‘stability’’ of the centre, Mr Morrison said.

“He is highly experienced skilled in dealing with issues like this,” Mr Morrison said.

General Campbell is expected to assess ‘‘personal and protective’’ security measures at the centre, before reporting back to the minister.

On Wednesday afternoon, 51 Wilson Security staff were also being sent to Manus Island. On Tuesday Mr Morrison said there were 100 security staff on ‘‘standby’’ if tensions rose for a third night. They will join 130 security forces who were sent there a few weeks ago, Mr Morrison said.

There has been heavy criticism of Australia’s failure to protect  asylum seekers since mass violence started on Sunday night, leaving one asylum seeker dead, 12 critical and 77 injured.Clive Palmer from the Palmer United Party has called for Mr Morrison’s resignation, saying the Immigration Minister had ‘‘blood on his hands’’.

‘‘We know for sure people are in danger, people have been killed. It’s a breach of an international convention not to provide proper security. They have been detained against their will and they are being subjected to attacks,’’ Mr Palmer said.

‘‘You can’t say a policy is succeeding when people are dying,’’ he told Fairfax Media.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young repeated her calls for an independent inquiry to be established, including a review of Mr Morrison’s behaviour.

“The minister’s conduct needs to be a part of any such investigation, the results of which will determine the viability of his continuation in the role,” she said.

But the Coalition and Labor have maintained their support of the offshore detention centre in the face of condemnation from refugee advocates, who have called for the immediate closure of a centre that they argue is so dangerous it now mirrors the conditions of countries people were initially fleeing from.

David Manne, the executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Centre said asylum seekers who had fled killings, torture and arbitrary detention were now facing the same reality on Manus Island.

‘‘These types of conditions, they break people, and crush them,’’ he said.

Labor spokesman on immigration, Richard Marles, has also called for an inquiry.

‘‘We need to make sure the Abbott government is on top of this meltdown at Manus Island. ‘‘What about better oversight of what’s going on there? Clearly there is no control over what’s happening.

‘‘The Abbott government has questions to answer.’’

Amnesty International refugee coordinator Graham Thom said his organisation saw the violence as a ‘‘clear breach’’ of Australia’s United Nations’ obligations to the safety of asylum seekers.

‘‘The reality is we are the ones who are transferring them there, and we have ultimate control over these people,’’ he said.

Follow us on Twitter

Read More

Veuve and tears

The local ladies most likely to emulate the behaviour of their US counterparts.Production company Matchbox Pictures (The Slap, Formal Wars) auditioned two Australian cities, in addition to the casting of six Australian society belles who would bring glamour and catfighting to match that of the original American reality-soap franchise, The Real Housewives of … (insert iconic American locations such as New York, Beverly Hills, LA and Miami).
Shanghai night field

The winning Australian city may seem an unlikely choice, given her competitor’s international profile as a playground of the rich and famous.

The pressure is now on Melbourne, and her filthy rich, well-preserved fabulous nobodies, to succeed where other US reality transplants such as Celebrity Survivor and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy have failed.

”It was a bold and brave move to do it in Melbourne,” says executive producer Kylie Washington. ”We wanted to give it a classy and layered approach. Melbourne’s the espresso martini whereas Sydney’s the champagne cocktail.”

Cultural commentator and staunch Melburnian Bernard Salt is surprised at the choice of city. He says there is a cultural equivalent to Melbourne in Sydney, but suggests that geographical demographics played a part.

”Sydney’s (wealthy community) is scattered and tribal,” Salt says. ”The Vauclusians don’t like the Point Piperans, the Point Piperans don’t like the Woollahrians. Toorakians are united by their geography, by the river, by Toorak Road. You get a sort of colony down by Brighton, but Toorak is unique, geographically, within Australia.”

Salt predicts Australians will devour this local representation of opulence just as we have dramas and reality shows from suburbia. He says the concept meets both the desire to relate and the desire to marvel at the unattainable.

With a meandering storyline without the endgames or personal journeys towards self-improvement on which most reality shows hinge, Housewives is pure voyeurism.

”People like to watch it to envy, to judge,” Salt says. ”We’re endlessly fascinated with the lives of celebrities and the fabulously rich. It’s about dreaming, ‘How would I handle that wealth? Would I do it this way?’.”

The six identities who will bare their First World problems over Veuve and lobster were approached by Matchbox. It took seven months to cast the show. In property developer Janet Roach; barrister Gina Liano; caterer Chyka Keebaugh; plastic surgeon’s wife Andrea Moss; rock star’s wife Jackie Gillies; and architect’s wife Lydia Schiavello, Kylie Washington found an explosive mix of personalities guaranteed to create fireworks, as well as business-savvy women eager for exposure.

”They were upfront about (their business interests), but we don’t mind, that’s what the Housewives are all about, upselling businesses. We always said to them, it’s not an advertorial for anything, this is a part of your life and it’s fascinating,” says Washington.

In order to sell cosmetic procedures and cocktails, as do two of the Melbourne Housewives, they know they must indulge in histrionics and attack each other at every turn.

According to media professor Catherine Lumby, the spectacle is outdated and offensive. ”It’s a very camp idea,” says Lumby. ”It’s over the top and it announces itself as not very serious. On the other hand, to use the term ‘housewives’ is trading on some really old ideas about women and how they behave and what their identities are. It’s not clever. It’s a banal, copied, dated idea … The women are clearly being asked to perform.”

Washington insists that the talent is as volatile off screen, with nuclear arguments continuing over the phone well into the nights after filming.

Throwing hissy fits has an obvious advantage other than selling facelifts. As reality television blogger Emma Ashton points out, the stars of American franchises are replaced if they step out of the ring. Ashton sees The Real Housewives of Melbourne as soap for a younger generation.

”This is aspirational, it’s conspicuous consumption, it’s drama, it’s pretty clothes and flashy jewellery, which you can see on Dallas and Dynasty and The Bold and the Beautiful, but we think we’re seeing real life,” says Ashton. ”Foxtel has played hardline with these people. They’ve said to them, you’re going to have to give us your families. I’m surprised and pleased that we’re seeing husbands and sons involved in the storylines. We’re seeing what we think is their private lives.”

The time is also right, she says, for the concept to work both for local socialites and their audience.

”If you tried this in Melbourne or Sydney 10-15 years ago, it would have been a complete no-no,” Ashton says. ”It would have been a cultural cringe, but now the cult of celebrity has changed. Who we see in the A-list pages in the social pages each week are not the old money. It’s the new money, the reality TV stars, the soapie stars. That’s the new normal.”

The Real Housewives of Melbourne, Arena, Sunday, 8.30pm. 

Read More

Fat Tony actor says Tony Mokbel will ‘probably think most of it’s bullshit’

Actor Robert Mammone had to shave part of his head to get Tony Mokbel’s look right for Fat Tony & Co. The old gang is back … Les Hill as Jason Moran and Vince Colosimo as Alphonse Gangitano.
Shanghai night field

Cross Keys Reserve is an ordinary footy oval in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, a forgettable expanse of car park and playing fields but for its dubious claim to fame as the site of a chilling double-murder 11 years ago.

It was here in 2003 that underworld figures Jason Moran and Pasquale Barbaro were shot dead in broad daylight. There were children in the back of the van where the two men were executed, while other children kicked footballs on a Saturday morning.

The chilling scene was vividly captured in the original Underbelly, and once again a crew is here for the filming of the latest chapter in the Screentime-Nine true-crime saga.

Ominously, a pair of policemen who could easily be mistaken for actors are in the process of apprehending a man right next to the tents where catering and production crews are installed.

For various reasons, Fat Tony & Co isn’t branded ”Underbelly”, though its roots are unmistakably in the original 2008 drama.

Key events of Melbourne’s so-called gangland wars that were central to Underbelly are revisited here, while many Underbelly actors reprise what amount to career-defining roles: Vince Colosimo as Alphonse Gangitano, Gyton Grantley as Carl Williams, Les Hill as Jason Moran, Madeleine West as Danielle McGuire and Simon Westaway as Mick Gatto.

The eponymous character of Fat Tony & Co is convicted drug trafficker Tony Mokbel, who was largely excised from Underbelly on account of pending criminal trials at the time of its broadcast.

Even after a major re-edit, the character played by Robert Mammone was identified only as ”Larry” in the original.

With equal measures of humour and caution, Mammone recalls that ”changes had to be made once a certain gentleman who was wanted by the police was apprehended”.

Mokbel was famously arrested wearing a punchline-worthy wig in Greece in 2007 after ”disappearing” from Melbourne while on trial the year before.

Implicated in several murders, he was finally sentenced in 2012 to 30 years in prison for his involvement in drug trafficking.

The wig makes a brief appearance in later episodes of Fat Tony & Co, but what surprised Mammone during his months-long stay in Melbourne for the shoot was how much people knew about ”that guy with the wig”.

”When I ventured out … everyone had a story, either an encounter with Mokbel himself or one of his brothers or someone related to them, from a horse trainer that trained horses that he apparently didn’t own but really did, to cafe guys and sports people. He was quite a character in this city. Up in Sydney, where I live, there’s also no shortage of conversation about him”.

Born in Kuwait to Lebanese parents who emigrated to Australia in the mid-1970s, the young Tony Mokbel was a milk bar owner and pizza chef before turning to the manufacture and importation of drugs.

Many parts of Mokbel’s colourful story remain open to conjecture, and Mammone goes to great lengths to emphasise Fat Tony & Co is a fictional story based around certain known events.

”I looked for footage of him walking, talking, all those characteristics that give me a clue of the character and it was hard to find anything, in fact I couldn’t. I realised then that in line with what Screentime and Channel Nine wanted, that it’s a drama. I decided to take a few little cues from there and re-create my own (character) because it’s not a documentary and, while I’m portraying a real person, I think it best we take dramatic licence and create an entity that may or may not be exact. As far as this show is concerned I don’t think it needs to be exact”.

For Mammone, the death of Mokbel’s father when Tony was 15 was a key to the strong work ethic that was thrust upon him. ”He was certainly determined to be successful and to be wealthy and (trafficking was) the best way he knew how to do that. He was uneducated, so what the hell, if he didn’t do it someone else would. And he was smart enough to actually generate and turn over the sort of dollars that big, big, big business generates, not just guys who deal pills in nightclubs, which was way beneath him.

”When I spoke to some police officers some years ago they were begrudgingly admiring of what he got up to and the level he operated at and were in no doubt that had he chosen to go down a legal path business-wise he’d have been successful. His drive, his work ethic, there’s no way he could fail.”

Despite amassing considerable wealth, Mammone’s Mokbel doesn’t rest on his laurels. ”It was always onwards and upwards. I have a line (in the show), ‘I’m a shark, always moving’, and it’s true, for me anyway.”

Apart from news footage of Mokbel entering and leaving court, Mammone was unable to find any significant films or recordings that Mokbel left behind.The only time he’s heard Mokbel’s voice was a recorded phone call that Mokbel made to an Australian journalist from a Greek prison.

”Even that conversation I heard five years ago, there was a lot of thought in it. It wasn’t just babbling. Every sentence had a motive.”

The task of ”creating” Mokbel’s receding hairline fell upon hair and make-up supervisor Helen Magelaki. Mammone’s head was partially shaved so that the hand-stitched wig could be fitted. The sides of Mammone’s scalp were shaved daily and make-up applied to cover the white area on his forehead, a process that took two people 90 minutes every day.

Knowing that the real Tony Mokbel will be watching his portrayal of him will weigh on him.

”I’d really hope that he watches it and enjoys it. He’ll probably think most of it’s bullshit because it is a drama, but I do hope he appreciates the effort everyone has put in.”

Fat Tony & Co premieres on Sunday at 8.40pm on Nine.

Read More

Dine-in delights: the world’s best hotel restaurants

Sense of place: Las Balsas in Patagonia. Tapas Molecular Bar, Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo. Photo: Chris Chen
Shanghai night field

When the food matters as much as the rooms, check our list of hot hotels, writes Ute Junker.

More than a century ago, Cesar Ritz and Auguste Escoffier made it clear: a great hotel needs a great restaurant.

Over the years, however, the definition of hotel dining has expanded. For every formal dining room, there’s now a breezy meal on the terrace, or even a snack of crispy fried insects.

So what makes a hotel restaurant great?

More than just sublime food, it should offer a sense of place, plus an X-factor that sets it apart.

Here is a selection of places where dinner is a destination.

NOMAD HOTEL

New York

Cool and class collide at this hip eatery, which has been virtually booked out since it opened last year. Each of the restaurant’s separate spaces has its own vibe, from the buzzy Atrium to the cosily opulent Parlour and the romantic Fireplace.

The menu has the finesse you’d expect of chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara, the team behind the revered Eleven Madison Park restaurant.

There’s enough foie gras and truffles to suit the expense-account diner, while more inventive vegetable-based dishes showcase Humm’s modern approach.

For a perfect night out, grab a seat in the Parlour (mood lighting that still lets you read the menu – respect!) and start with a salad of fresh, sweet young brussel sprouts done three ways – steamed, shredded and fried leaves -with accents of hazelnuts, apple and lemon.

That should leave enough room for the show-stopper roast chicken for two, done with foie gras, black truffle and brioche: worth every cent of the $79 price tag.

See thenomadhotel爱上海同城论坛m.

MANDARIN-ORIENTAL HOTEL

London

Few things are what they seem at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, the celebrity chef’s outlet in London’s Mandarin-Oriental Hotel.

Those light fittings? They are actually jelly moulds. That mandarin?It’s made of foie gras.

This a wonderland of a restaurant, with an inventive menu and superb service.

From the warm welcome when you arrive, to the meal’s grand finale, ice-cream made at your table, the experience is seamless.

More than any other hotel group, Mandarin-Oriental has perfected the art of destination dining. With Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, they have trumped themselves.

See mandarinoriental爱上海同城论坛m/london.

WHARE KEA LODGE

Wanaka, New Zealand

It’s a rare hotel where you feel comfortable popping into the kitchen in the morning to ask for a coffee, but then, staying at Whare Kea Lodge feels more like staying with super-wealthy friends.

Which is what you are doing, sort of: the six-bedroom lodge was once the Myer family holiday home and has retained that laidback vibe. Meals are served at a communal table and feature whatever chef James Stapley feels like serving up. That could include delicious Bluff oysters, a salad of West Coast crayfish and homegrown heirloom tomatoes, wild Fiordland venison, or the bite-size beignets. Best of all, Stapley likes to please: following our raptures over the beignets served for dessert, he whips us up another batch the next morning.

See wharekealodge爱上海同城论坛m.

LA MAMOUNIA

Marrakech

Some chefs think they know everything. Rachid Agouray is not one of them. When he was asked to add a contemporary twist to the classic Moroccan dishes for which La Mamounia’s Le Marocain restaurant was famous, he turned to the experts: local women. It’s the women who keep Morocco’s culinary traditions and his team of specially recruited females has created some of Morocco’s most interesting cuisine.

Whether it’s a phyllo cigar stuffed with chicken or a reinvented pastilla, the traditional pigeon replaced with lobster and salmon, the dishes are a delight.

Throw in a torch-lit terrace, carved cedar screens, tinkling fountains and the scent of jasmine – and it’s an Arabian night.

See mamounia爱上海同城论坛m.

ANANTARA XISHUANGBANNA

Yunnan, China

You don’t have to eat the bamboo worms if you don’t want to, but you’ll be missing out if you don’t.

Bamboo worms don’t feature on most Chinese menus but Xishuangbanna is a very particular pocket of China. It’s the Chinese equivalent of the wild west, closer to Thailand than to cities such as Shanghai and Bangkok, and known for its vast rainforests, wild elephants and majestic centuries-old tea trees.

Top marks to the hotel for showcasing the cuisine of the local Dai tribespeople, full of fresh herbs and indigenous specialties such as ganba (air-dried beef), river snails, river weed, and rice dishes cooked in bamboo.

And the bamboo worms? The local equivalent of crisps, flash fried and perfect for munching on as you pull on a beer. Ganbei!

See xishuangbanna.anantara爱上海同城论坛m.

LE ROYAL MONCEAU RAFFLES

Paris

Here are some reasons why we love La Cuisine, one of two Michelin-starred restaurants in this Parisian pleasure palace.

There’s the decor: a funky updating of the traditional grand restaurant that is not in the slightest stuffy. There’s the attentive service, in which no detail is neglected: order steak, and you will be invited to choose from a selection of nine knives, each with its own history.

There’s the menu, which offers both traditional and innovative approaches. Atlantic cod, for instance, comes as both a traditional confit option, or an Asian-influenced version with braised black rice, honey, ginger and lemon.

Just be sure not to peak too early: once the cheese sommelier has had his way, you’ll still need room for the made-to-order Pierre Herme millefeuilles combinations such as fig and foie gras.

See www.leroyalmonceau爱上海同城论坛m.

HOTEL TRAUBE TONBACH

Black Forest, Germany

How did a small spa village in the Black Forest, home to just 8000 people, come to score eight Michelin stars?

Largely through the rivalry between the town’s two largest hotels, Hotel Traube Tonbach and Hotel Bareiss.

Both hotels invested heavily in their restaurants and both can boast three-Michelin-star restaurants but only the Traube Tonbach has chef Harald Wohlfahrt. Wohlfahrt is culinary royalty. Not only has he held three stars for more than 20 years, he also trained most of Germany’s other three-star chefs himself.

All that and he still finds ways to weave new flavours and textures into his dishes, such as a delicate char served with kataifi and a salad of carrot, coriander, ras al hanut and caraway seeds.

With food this good, it’s hard to restrain yourself – but you can always burn it off afterwards with a walk in the Black Forest.

See traube-tonbach.de.

LAS BALSAS, VILLA LA ANGOSTURA

Patagonia, Argentina

If you appreciate the perfection of an exquisitely decorated petit four, or a single scallop perched carefully on a porcelain spoon, you’re going to love Las Balsas, a small but perfectly formed hotel with an equally enchanting restaurant.

The setting alone is enough to conjure superlatives – a shoreside location on Lake Nahuel Huapi, the prettiest mountain-fringed lake in northern Patagonia – but Lucas Dabrowski’s way with local ingredients is just as impressive.

A crab strudel with squid ink and apple is wonderfully light, with a perfect blend of flavours; but Dabrowski’s real genius lies in reinventing favourites such as roast chicken, here served with sun-dried tomato, black olives, toasted almonds and potato and cheese fondue.

Throw in an impressive wine cellar showcasing Argentina’s extraordinary wines, and you have a real little gem.

See relaischateaux爱上海同城论坛m/lasbalsas.

MANDARIN-ORIENTAL HOTEL

Tokyo

Sometimes, dinner at the hotel restaurant is the easy option.

When you’re too tired and hungry to go elsewhere, you end up sitting in a corner table, reading your book or your iPad while you eat. At Tokyo’s Mandarin-Oriental hotel, they have an antidote for this kind of meal: the Tapas Molecular Bar.

Two chefs, two nightly sittings, eight diners, 16 courses, plenty of molecular flimflammery, including dragon imitations using liquid nitrogen: it’s a night out that turns strangers into participants in a culinary adventure.

The food is exquisite, each themed plate showcasing a different set of ingredients.

The pretty Underwater Forest, for instance, highlights delicately briny flavours such as Okinawa seaweed, kombu seaweed broth and sea urchin.

See mandarinoriental爱上海同城论坛m/Tokyo.

FIVE MORE TO TRY

BRITAIN

The UK has no end of country houses with fine food, but few do it as well as Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons.

BRAZIL

The Fasano family understand food – and branding. Before they opened the Hotel Fasano in Sao Paulo, they ran the city’s biggest restaurant empire. Naturally their hotel restaurant – again called Fasano – is one of the best in town.

SPAIN

Basque chef Martin Berasategui has brought his creative cuisine to Barcelona’s Condes de Barcelona hotel, highlighting quality ingredients such as smoked eel and woodpigeon.

FRANCE

Some might call this cheating – Michel Bras’ eponymous triple Michelin star restaurant came first, the attached rooms followed. But we love the place so much we’re including it anyway.

US

There’s plenty of southern comfort on offer at Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm but the real reason people flock here is dinner in the atmospheric barn.

Read More

Chinese developer snaps up Tabcorp building in latest Sydney asset sale

A new round of assets sales is set to hit the Sydney market worth well over $200 million in coming months.
Shanghai night field

It is expected the main buyers will continue to be overseas-based investors, some of whom are keen to get a foot hold into the market and convert the offices into residential.

The Ausgrid Tower at 570 George Street, opposite Sydney Town Hall and St Andrew’s Cathedral, is said to be close to being sold.

It is is being divested by the NSW Government with a mooted price tag of about $200 million.

Real estate agents speculated that chinese investors, Greenland, was an interested party.

Stockland has also confirmed it has non-core assets on the market including its share of the Piccadilly Centre in Pitt Street and has done a deal with Investa Commercial Property Fund to sell the office component of 135 King Street. Stockland will retain the retail component.

The latest sale was by AMP Capital, which has exchanged contracts on the Tabcorp headquarters at 495 Harris Street Ultimo with a Chinese developer for $63 million.

The office property has 10,000 square metres of net lettable area over four floors, with basement parking and two ground floor retail suites.

The current site zoning is mixed use and provides for a variety of uses including commercial and residential premises.

AMP Capital Wholesale Office Fund Manager Nick McGrath said he was pleased with the sale of the asset, which delivered upon the fund’s strategy to divest smaller, non-core assets.

In other deals Mirvac is looking to sell 50 per cent of its 275 Kent Street, Westpac headquarters, worth about $410 million and a further $500 million of ”non-aligned” assets to help fund its office and retail projects and recent acquisitions.

Read More

Cash splash: Another $6b to line investor pockets

Six of the major businesses reporting this week plan to pay out a total $6.3 billion in dividends. Photo: Peter BraigCompanies are continuing to line investor pockets with cash returns this reporting season, with more than $6 billion in dividends paid this week.
Shanghai night field

Wesfarmers, BHP, Fortescue, Suncorp, Woodside and Seek are amongst the group of corporates splashing cash on investors.

Fortescue surprised investors on Wednesday, when it announced a total dividend payout of $US292 million ($324.41 million), of which close to $103 million with be paid to its biggest shareholder and company chairman Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest.

Combined, six of the major businesses reporting this week plan to pay out $6.3 billion in dividends, a sign of confidence in their own businesses, and the Australian economy.

In the case of Woodside and Suncorp, dividends were increased, despite profits falling.

Forecasts have varied and there is still some worry surrounding Australia’s transition away from the mining economy, but payout ratios continue around record highs.

The 10-year average S&P/ASX 200 payout ratio is about 60 per cent but has been as low as 52.2 per cent – the payout in 2007 – Perpetual’s figures show.

Healthy dividends are popular with Australian investors and companies, despite cut-backs, have been keen to keep investors happy with solid and growing returns.

Consumer spending is slowly returning and the aggressive cost-cutting has allowed the flow of dividends to keeping pushing through.

Stronger balance sheets, repositioned asset portfolios and underlying profitability have given businesses the confidence to pay out increased dividends, Morgan Stanley head of investment strategy Malcolm Wood said.

”It is a vote of confidence in the future, of course. Companies don’t like mucking around with their dividends too often and the market still offers a very attractive dividend yield, vis-a-vis alternative assets,” Mr Wood said.

”I guess that management and boards are saying they’re fairly comfortable with the outlook.”

The yield theme has been prominent for the Australian market in recent years.

Falling bond yields, short and long term rate cuts, and less appealing term deposits have sent investors looking for a more profitable use of their money.

So far this earnings season, things have looked positive.

Of the 30 per cent of companies that have reported, more than half have beat net profit expectations, Deutsche Bank strategist Tim Baker said.

“The change to earnings is more modest (+1-1.5 per cent for financial years 2014 and 2015), but still positive. And this should be viewed against the backdrop of only very mild earnings downgrades coming into results, making the hurdle of beating expectations higher,” Mr Baker said.

Read More

Why the ‘Penfolds curse’ could strike again

Penfolds’ earnings potential in the next two years is vast. Photo: Tamara DeanIs there a Penfolds curse at work? A succession of six corporate owners of Australia’s most famous wine brand over the past three decades have either been taken over or run into financial strife, and the prospect of it happening again remains high.
Shanghai night field

It’s as if the ghosts of the founders Dr Christopher and Mary Penfold, who started Penfolds in 1844, are wreaking their revenge because the wine brand has strayed so far from its original purpose of being a medicinal benefit for patients of Christopher’s medical practice.

The latest custodians, Treasury Wine Estates, have earned the wrath of investment markets and the credibility of the board and management is in tatters, as they battle to try and restore some confidence in the company’s direction after a run of disasters. Much depends on the reception received by Treasury chairman Paul Rayner and his stand-in chief executive Warwick Every-Burns, who stepped out of the Treasury boardroom to run the company last September. They will attempt to defend their strategy on Thursday when they outline the full details of the $40 million full-year profit downgrade announced three weeks ago, as Treasury officially unveils its first-half profit results. But how long will Treasury be around in its current form?

The irony is that Penfolds itself is a highly-profitable business and the jewel in the crown of Treasury. Penfolds is estimated to make around $180 million in profits annually, which is about three quarters of the total profits of Treasury’s sprawling wine business which also includes the Beringer brands in the United States, and Wolf Blass, Rosemount, Seppelt, Lindemans and Wynns in Australia.

Penfolds’ earnings potential in the next two years is vast, as a treasure trove of up to $280 million worth of high-quality red wines currently maturing in barrel halls will hit the market.

This is why potential suitors are closely eyeing the corporate mess that Treasury has found itself in and the potential upside for a new owner. Speculation centres on Chinese firms and private equity buyers as those most interested.

The Penfolds brand, with a 170-year-old history, has proven very resilient over three decades of corporate ructions with the brand having passed through six different sets of corporate owners since the early 1980s. The prestige of the flagship Penfold’s Grange, the latest release of which the company was selling for $785 per bottle, is a huge strength and the halo effect down through the range is a winner in the marketplace.

Bruce Kemp was chief executive of Southcorp Wines, a forerunner of Treasury, for most of the 1990s and is today chairman of Tasmanian wine company Pipers Brook. He says Penfolds has enormous cache in the marketplace.

“It still stands out,” Mr Kemp says. Penfolds Grange and the higher-quality Penfolds range that sits underneath it were big profit drivers in the 1990s, and two decades on, the “halo” effect is still intact. “There’s a pretty big halo, and a big shadow down the line,” Mr Kemp says.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst David Errington has all but given up on Treasury’s current board and management and says ”if the board’s focus turns to maximising shareholder returns, it will need to consider breaking the company up”.

A break-up would result in a scramble for the best assets, with Penfolds at the top of the tree. The one possible saviour in the ongoing Treasury saga is the prospect of a new, highly-respected chief executive being appointed soon. There are persistent rumours about the long-time boss of Coca-Cola Amatil’s Australian operations, Warwick White, having been approached to take the job. Outgoing CCA chief executive Terry Davis, who had been the subject of speculation that he has being courted, says he has not interest in taking another chief executive role at a public company.

But Penfolds has been through a lot. It’s had six owners in just over three decades. In the mid-1970s, Penfolds was acquired by then NSW brewer Tooth & Co, and then in the 1980s became part of corporate raider John Spalvins, Adelaide Steamship Company, which also owned Woolworths, David Jones and a host of big-name food brands including Peters ice-cream and Four’N’Twenty pies.

Mr Spalvin’s empire fell apart after the 1987 sharemarket crash under the weight of $7 billion in debts, and Penfolds was sold off to another beer company, SA Brewing, in 1990. SA Brewing, an ASX-listed company, changed its name to Southcorp in 1993, sold off packaging and water heaters businesses, and Southcorp Wines became a stand-alone wine business. It then merged with privately-owned Rosemount Wines in 2001 in what was effectively a reverse takeover, to become the world’s largest wine company. But things went awry under new management and in 2005 it was taken over by Foster’s Group. But plans by Foster’s to extract efficiencies from selling beer and wine into the same liquor retailers didn’t work properly, and after further management changes, Foster’s was split into two companies in 2011. The wine company was re-badged Treasury Wine Estates and in May, 2011 set sail on his new voyage as an ASX-listed debt-free wine group, with Penfolds as the biggest brand.

Chief executive David Dearie lasted a little over two years but was then punted by the board in September, 2013, taking the blame for $160 million in writedowns connected with the United States wine operations.

A potential predator of Treasury will be closely eyeing the red wine inventory sitting in barrel halls at Penfolds. Bank of America Merrill Lynch believes the profit increase from the Penfolds business over the next two to three years is substantial, with Penfolds having increased inventory levels of its higher-priced wines from $50 million worth in 2011, to $280 million in 2013. The stockbroking firm estimates that Penfolds currently contributes 75 per cent of Treasury’s total depressed earnings before interest and tax, and given the difficulties Treasury has faced with under $10 bottled wines in Australia with its other commercial brands, that proportion of profits may be even higher.

Read More

Peter Betham says failure not an option for Waratahs back line against Western Force

Confident: Peter Betham throws a last-gasp inside ball in the Waratahs’ trial against Auckland Blues on February 7. Photo: Anthony JohnsonWaratahs winger Peter Betham is fully aware of the danger of the Force back row stifling vital ball supply to the NSW back line in Sunday’s Super Rugby clash at Allianz Stadium.
Shanghai night field

But the New Zealand-born flyer says the threat will not provide just cause for the Waratahs failing to showcase the potency of the NSW back line. Such is Betham’s new strength of mind, galvanised by the confidence he gained from his performances last year that lead him to make his Wallabies Test debut.

Betham, 25, says he realises the quality of ball the NSW backs receive from their formidable forward pack will depend on their West Australian opposition. “Especially with the type of back row the Force always produce, it’s definitely going to be a battle at the breakdown,” he said. “It’s not an excuse for the backs to not play. We are definitely going to make gains.”

This time last year the former Brumbies and Rebels player was at the dawn of a new season with the Waratahs that would end with him scoring five tries from 15 games in Super Rugby. Last year also saw the Sydney University winger play his first – and so far only – Test for the Wallabies: in the starting side that lost 41-33 to the All Blacks in Dunedin.

Asked about his mindset on the eve of season two under Waratahs coach Michael Cheika, Betham said: “I am quietly confident. That lack of confidence which led to errors in games [beforehand] is pretty much a no-go for me. That [confidence] is one thing I will take into this season. I will put my [best] foot forward. It won’t stop me from doing the same things that I do.”

Betham, who has 24 Super Rugby caps, says he is physically superior now: “I am getting faster,’’ he said. ‘‘My general fitness is going pretty well, so when it comes to fitness your numbers generally get a bit higher with your speed.”

With this new speed and confidence, Betham hopes he will be more assured and effective on the field – from anticipating opportunities to running on to the ball. “It’s [about] getting the confidence up and putting yourself in situations where you are under pressure but confident in your ability to get the job done,” Betham said.

It helps being in a Waratahs back line that offers so much strike power and laden with various options in attack with Nick Phipps at No.9, Bernard Foley at No.10, Kurtley Beale at No.12, Adam Ashley-Cooper at No.13, rookie Alofa Alofa at No.14 and Israel Folau at No.15.

“It is a back line that has matured, and [with] the additions we have had with Kurtley Beale and Nick Phipps, it [has] more firepower,” Betham said. “It’s just about getting the right combinations on the day. It’s not exactly [that] the best players will be on the field, but the best players on the day will be on the field.”

Betham rates Foley’s skills at five-eighth highly: “There are a lot of things of his game that are unseen – his communication skills, his leadership role in the team.”

As for the competition for the NSW wing slots, heightened by Alofa’s push into the starting side after joining the Waratahs squad from the ranks of Shute Shield rugby? “It’s definitely healthy competition,” Betham said. “Having guys like Alofa is refreshing and it adds a different dimension to our back line.”

Read More

Stevie Nicks reveals love of Game of Thrones: ‘It blows my mind’

Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), who Nicks describes as ‘sickly, deeply, sadistically evil’, in Game of Thrones. Photo: SuppliedFleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks has confessed she’s a huge fan of Game of Thrones and wants to write music for the show.
Shanghai night field

Nicks told Britain’s Radio Times that after she contracted pneumonia and her mother died in 2011, she became a recluse and was comforted by the HBO drama.

“I didn’t leave the house for almost five months … With my pneumonia and my mother’s death I watched the entire first season of Game of Thrones. That certainly took my mind off everything,” she said.

Nicks thought so much about George RR Martin’s characters and plot that she now wants to contribute to it.

“I would love to write some music for the show. I’ve written a bunch of poetry about it — one for each of the characters. On Jon Snow … on Arya … on Cersei … on Cersei and Jaime, the blonde on blonde … on Khaleesi …

“I’m always looking for that kind of inspiration, and I’m very inspired by it.”

Nicks admires Martin’s ability to create complex worlds with such well-drawn characters.

“The guy who wrote these stories [Martin] is my age now, and I think: how in the world does somebody come up with these 15 or so characters and then everything that’s wrapped around each one of the 15 characters? It blows my mind that he’s able to create this vast, interlinked world.”

Nicks admitted a fondness for many of the show’s female characters – whether good or evil.

“Khaleesi [Emilia Clarke] is my new favourite heroine. And Cersei [Lena Headey] is fantastic. She’s just mean as shit. And you know who else is mean? Not Joffrey [Jack Gleeson] — he’s beyond. He’s just sickly, deeply, sadistically evil. But no, the one that’s going to marry him, Margaery [played by Natalie Dormer]. She is just such a great evil person. And she thinks she is going to be able to handle him. And then you have Brienne of Tarth [Gwendoline Christie] — I love her.”

– Peter Vincent

Read More

Best of Sochi: Day 11GALLERY

Martin Fourcade of France stretches for the finish line next to Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway during the Men’s 15 km Mass Start during day 11 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES Short track speed skaters compete in the Short Track Ladies’ 3000m Relay Final B at Iceberg Skating Palace on day 11 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Shanghai night field

Tina Maze of Slovenia reacts after a run during the Alpine Skiing Women’s Giant Slalom on day 11 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Marianne St. Gelais of Canada falls while competing in the Short Track Ladies’ 1000m Heat at Iceberg Skating Palace on day 11 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Tina Maze of Slovenia wins the gold medal during the Alpine Skiing Women’s Giant Slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games at Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Taihei Kato of Japan crashes as he competes in the Nordic Combined Men’s Individual LH during day 11 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at RusSki Gorki Jumping Center on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Nathan Smith of Canada competes at the shooting range in the Men’s 15 km Mass Start during day 11 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

A coaching staff of South Korean short track team celebrate winning the gold medal in the Short Track Ladies’ 3000m Relay Final at Iceberg Skating Palace on day 11 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Armin Bauer of Italy competes during the Nordic Combined Men’s Individual LH on day 10 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at RusSki Gorki Jumping Center on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Martin Fourcade of France practises at the shooting range in foggy conditions before the Men’s 15 km Mass Start during day 11 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Omar Visintin of Italy (red bib), Pierre Vaultier of France (green bib), Jarryd Hughes of Australia (blue bib), Hanno Douschan of Austria (white bib) and Konstantin Schad of Germany (yellow) compete in the Men’s Snowboard Cross Quarterfinals on day eleven of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Hanno Douschan of Austria (white bib), Luca Matteotti of Italy (blue bib), Pierre Vaultier of France (green bib), Paul-Henri De Le Rue of France (yellow bib), Omar Visintin of Italy (red bib) and Cameron Bolton of Australia (black bib) compete in the Men’s Snowboard Cross Semifinals on day eleven of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Michael Goodfellow and Greg Drummond of Great Britain sweep the ice while playing Norway during the Curling at Ice Cube Curling Center on day 11 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Cameron Bolton of Australia looks on after the Men’s Snowboard Cross 1/8 Finals on day eleven of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Joergen Graabak of Norway leads the pack in the Nordic Combined Men’s 10km Cross Country during day 11 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at RusSki Gorki Nordic Combined Skiing Stadium on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Lavinia Chrystal of Australia makes a run during the Alpine Skiing Women’s Giant Slalom on day 11 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway practises at the shooting range before the Men’s 15 km Mass Start during day 11 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Janne Ryynaenen of Finland makes a trial jump as he competes in the Nordic Combined Men’s Individual LH during day 11 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at RusSki Gorki Jumping Center on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Vanessa Vanakorn of Thailand prepares to make a run during the Alpine Skiing Women’s Giant Slalom on day 11 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Read More