UGL boss denies ‘blowing the place up’

Richard Leupen. Photo: Michele MossopUGL chief executive Richard Leupen has defended his 13-year tenure at the engineering contractor, claiming he had not ”blown the place up” after abandoning its interim dividend and scaling back the group’s 2014 profit forecast.
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UGL’s shares fell 12 per cent, close to eight-year lows reached in December, after engineering profits tumbled 40 per cent in the first half.

Mr Leupen, who has been UGL’s chief executive since 2000, argued the group’s business model was holding up ”reasonably well” under stress as a 27 per cent rise in property group DTZ’s earnings and a lower tax rate boosted first-half net profits. ”I didn’t get us into potentially some of the biggest trouble this company could have found itself in,” Mr Leupen said.

But continued weak cash flow – which is running at $9 million, an ongoing decline in engineering profits, and the scrapping of a dividend for the first time during Mr Leupen’s tenure showed UGL still had problems to tackle, investors said.

”It’s another result where their free cash flow looks poor,” said James Power, a research analyst at Legg Mason, which owns UGL stock.

Cash flow has been hurt by costs associated with some 1178 lay-offs and a planned spin-off of DTZ.

Legg Mason holds UGL shares because it hopes to benefit from a de-merger or sale of DTZ, but is also hopeful the group’s engineering business will improve if it wins some of the $4.6 billion of engineering-related bids in its order book.

”The amount of bids they have out there is very large compared with the last couple of years,” Mr Power said, adding he was open to either a sale of DTZ or a de-merger as long as the company reaps between $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion from a potential buyer.

UGL plans to consider unsolicited approaches from several private equity companies in the next two months. But it is also proceeding with plans for a stock market listing of DTZ in Australia with the hope of completing the split this year.

”It’s not clear to us if [the approaches] are just bait or serious bids yet,” Mr Leupen said.

But some analysts expressed scepticism about the sale talk, arguing that UGL may be trying to flush out potential buyers to avoid having to proceed with a dilutive equity raising of up to $400 million to complete the demerger.

UGL, which has gearing of about 35 per cent, scrapped its interim dividend to strengthen the balance sheet ahead of the demerger.

A lawsuit filed by the former head of DTZ, Robert Shibuya, in California alleging UGL had engaged in financial manipulation and discrimination, had ”no substance”, Mr Leupen said.

”It’s a vexatious claim,” he told journalists. ”There is no substance to it.”

”It’s an extortionate claim seeking money.”

UGL plans to take legal action to defend the claim and will also consider counter-claims against Mr Shibuya, the company said.

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Labor’s man an also-ran as Downer heads for London

Heading to London: Alexander Downer. Photo: Tomasz MachnikFederal politics: full coverage
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Former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer is set to be named high commissioner to London in a move that would cut short the term of the Labor appointee Mike Rann.

The move is understood to be Mr Downer’s second preference after he lobbied hard to get the Washington posting but was rebuffed.

A source said Mr Downer’s links to the Republican side in the US capital were extensive but he was not so well-connected to the Democratic Party.

Fairfax Media has learnt the Abbott government has decided on the controversial switch with Mr Rann but, aware of the sensitivities, is not planning to announce the change until after the state election in South Australia on March 15.

The aggressive move would cut short Mr Rann’s three-year tenure, making his the second case of a former Labor premier being dumped for a former Howard government minister in a plum diplomatic posting.

But the news is not all bad for Mr Rann because he is likely to be moved to Rome as Australia’s ambassador there.

Mr Rann’s wife, Sasha Carrouzzo is of Italian extraction and it was known that Mr Rann had been keen for the Rome posting before his London job was announced.

Mr Rann is a former 17-year parliamentary leader of the ALP in South Australia and was premier from 2002 to 2011. He was also national president of the ALP in 2008.

Victoria’s erstwhile Labor premier Steve Bracks was blocked on the eve of his departure for the consul-general post in New York, shortly after the Coalition came to power last year.

He has since been replaced by the former Howard finance minister Nick Minchin in a move criticised as jobs for the boys. He is yet to take up the post.

Both South Australians, Mr Minchin and Mr Downer were conservative lions of the Howard cabinet and remain highly influential figures in the Liberal Party.

John Howard himself has also been the subject of speculation in relation to the Washington post, which is now held by former Labor leader Kim Beazley. Mr Beazley’s term was recently extended.

Other Howard-era figures have been appointed to government jobs, including Amanda Vanstone, who is engaged on the Audit Commission, and dumped Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella, who was appointed to the Australian Submarine Corporation.

Labor MPs are likely to be furious at the treatment of Mr Rann after the Rudd government elected to leave Ms Vanstone in Rome and the former Nationals leader Tim Fischer was appointed as ambassador to the Holy See at the Vatican in 2008. Former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson was also appointed by the Rudd government as Australia’s first ambassador to NATO in 2009.

Mr Downer’s appointment follows his recent conclusion of a post as chief United Nations envoy to Cyprus – a post he has held for five years. Persistent speculation has surrounded his next move, with the Washington slot regarded as his clear preference.

In a recent interview with Fairfax Media, he was typically vague: ”If any of those jobs came my way, I’d make a decision, but it would mean giving up my other jobs,” Mr Downer said of the London and Washington options.

Fairfax Media has been told Mr Downer has been lobbying hard for one of the roles despite claiming he intended to focus on his home state of South Australia, where he holds the state presidency of his party.

Mr Rann was appointed by the previous Labor government and took up his post in London in December 2012.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop scotched Mr Bracks’ post almost as her first decision.

Liberal sources at the time acknowledged the soundness of appointing Mr Bracks, but criticised the outgoing Labor government for making a political appointment which did not even take effect before the election of that year.

Mr Downer’s appointment would see him return to the city of his youth in a role previously occupied by his father, Sir Alexander, who held the post from 1963 to 1972.

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Chill out with an icy brew

Melbourne’s iced coffee and teaSydney’s iced coffee and tea
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Cold coffee has been the cafe star this summer. From cold drip to chilled pour-overs, coffee sparklers and inventive riffs on the affogato, here is our guide to the hottest cold brews and where to drink them.Cold drip

What is it? This is a slow drip-filter infusion using laboratory-like apparatus. Hario, the Japanese Pyrex, makes a cold drip set-up consisting of a beaker with a tap at the bottom that sits over another beaker for the ground coffee. The tap is set to let water flow at the chosen rate – say, one drop a second (very scientific) – on to a filter paper on top of the coffee. Once the filter paper is saturated, water seeps through the grounds and is collected in a third vessel at the bottom. The slow brew time, anywhere from three to 24 hours, and robust ratio of coffee to water (as much as 80 grams to the litre) can produce rich liquor-like flavours.

Sample Coffee’s Reuben Mardan does a quick cold brew, about three hours, with fruity coffees such as Kenyans to produce a cleaner, less boozy cup. Bean Drinking’s Keith Reay uses higher-acidity coffees and Africans like the Kenyans and Rwandans, as cold extraction reduces the acidity in the coffee. The absence of aromatics in coffee served cold – a major component of flavour – means the method works best with clean-flavoured coffees that cut through.

Where to try it: VIC Campos Coffee, Carlton; Industry Beans, Fitzroy; NSW Bean Drinking, Crows Nest; Sample Coffee, Surry Hills.Cold brew

What is it? Ground coffee is immersed in cold water and left to steep for up to 24 hours, either at room temperature or in the fridge, then filtered and served over ice. The Toddy is a purpose-made immersion brew jug with a tap in the bottom and a cloth filter. (It has nothing to do with toddy palms or hot toddies. It was invented in 1964 by a man called Todd.) Aaron Wood, of Seven Seeds, says they brew at a ratio of one part coffee to 10 parts water, then give the coffee a second filtering through V60 papers. The result is clear and sweet, more tea-like, says Wood, and free of the boozy flavours that cold drip produces sometimes. Salvage Specialty Coffee in Artarmon bottles its Toddy brew and keeps it in the fridge ready to go.

Where to try it: VIC Seven Seeds, Carlton; NSW Salvage Specialty Coffee, Artarmon.Cold espresso

What is it? Espresso coffee made the normal way then chilled for serving. In Milan an espresso shot with some sugar stirred in goes into a cocktail shaker with ice and comes out nicely chilled: caffee freddo. At Everyday Coffee in Collingwood, they add sugar syrup and give it a good shake to produce a frothy, cool espresso drink with an interesting savoury sweetness. Kino Verzosa, of Paramount Coffee Project, Sydney, says the baristas there put a double shot of espresso, two cubes of ice and some sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker ”and shake the crap out of it”. The trick is to get it nice and frothy, he says. Copenhagen’s Coffee Collective claims the froth brings out the fruity notes and gives the shakerato, as it is known here, a special mouth feel. Also on the menu at Paramount is the iced long black, made with cold water and ice cubes in the cup first, followed by a double espresso shot.

Where to try it: VIC Everyday Coffee, Collingwood; NSW Paramount Coffee Project, Surry Hills.Cold filter

What is it? Filter coffee brewed hot and then chilled. Everyday Coffee in Collingwood brews filter batches with a Moccamaster automatic drip brewer then plunges carafes of the coffee into ice to cool quickly it before bottling it. Reuben Hills in Sydney brews pourovers with hot water straight on to ice for a chilled filter coffee hit. Paramount Coffee Project’s Kino Verzosa serves the coffee with the ice melted as a fully cold beverage. His recipe: 14-15 grams of coffee, 80 grams of ice in the beaker and 120 grams of hot water poured over the ground coffee.

Where to try it: VIC Everyday Coffee, Collingwood; NSW Reuben Hills, Surry Hills; Paramount Coffee Project, Surry Hills.Sparkler

What is it? A mixture of coffee and chilled sparkling water. Bean Drinking in Crows Nest uses low-sodium sparkling mineral water and cold drip coffee. Keith Reay, of Bean Drinking, says it is less intense and more approachable than some cold drip coffee: the coffee flavours open up to make a refreshing summer drink. Coffee Alchemy in Marrickville serves a cold drip with carbonated water, on tap, while Double Roasters down the road mixes a double espresso shot with tonic water and lots of ice: an interesting mix of bittersweet espresso and sweet-bitter tonic water, with a bit of carbonated sparkle. In Melbourne, Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird float a double ristretto of their Black Blend on cold mineral water. ”One gulp. A sensory explosion,” says Andy Gelman, of Omar, while at Reverence Specialty Coffee & Tea, they serve Slow Dance Coffee’s cold brew with sweetened sparkling water to make a summer cooler that is reminiscent of chinotto.

Where to try it: NSW Bean Drinking, Crows Nest; Coffee Alchemy and Double Roasters, Marrickville; VIC Omar & the Marvellous Coffee Bird, Gardenvale; Reverence Specialty Coffee, Ascot Vale.Iced latte

What is it? What it says on the can: a double espresso shot served with chilled milk and ice. This is the drink that coffee-flavoured milk tries to emulate. At Double Roasters, they brew espresso shots, then add chilled milk and ice. St Ali offers a ready-to-go variation with filter-style coffee. They brew batches of something nice and chocolatey and bottle it with fresh biodynamic milk as white and white, with two sugars to go.

Where to try it: Double Roasters, Marickville, NSW; St Ali, Carlton North, South Melbourne and Bondi Beach.Affogato

What is it? The classic Italian version is a shot of espresso over a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, a mix of rich coffee flavours and warm, viscous liquid contrasting with the cold sweetness of the ice-cream, melting into a creamy-milky coffee slurp by the end. Gelato Messina does a great version: a scoop of its vanilla gelato in a glass, with a classic Italian espresso shot on the side – pour it over and get going. Sample Coffee has been pushing the affogato envelope: its Kenji affogato marries condensed-milk ice-cream (from a local Japanese joint) with espresso, while its lamington affogato – a lamington, vanilla-bean ice-cream and a double espresso shot in a glass – has been succeeded this summer by the tiramisu affogato: mascarpone ice-cream and soaked sponge finger biscuits layered with a double espresso shot of the house roast, Pacemaker. In Melbourne, Vincent the Dog pours a shot of Small Batch Candyman over a Ferrero-Rocher-flavoured scoop – delicious.

Where to try it: NSW Sample Coffee, Surry Hills; Cow and the Moon, Enmore; VIC Gelato Messina, Fitzroy; Vincent the Dog, Carlton.


Industry Beans: fifty/fifty The Fitzroy roaster brews batches of cold drip coffee – say, a Nicaragua Finca Limoncillo – and 24-hour cold immersion brew – maybe Mexico Nayarit – then serves both. The idea: sip a little of each to get the flavour differences, then mix to make your own custom cold coffee blend.

Bean Drinking: Arnold Palmer The Arnold Palmer (iced tea and lemonade) gets a  Coffea arabica reboot at Bean Drinking in Crows Nest: the tea is substituted with an infusion of cascara (coffee cherry pulp), while the lemonade is Bean Drinking’s own homemade version.

St Ali: Cold drip negroni A coffee cocktail, with cold drip coffee adding Punt e Mes-like extra bitterness to the negroni’s usual Campari, gin and vermouth mix.

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Rupert Murdoch takes to twitter-sphere to spruik pay TV bargain

He may be worth billions but ”Citizen” Rupert Murdoch has not lost his common touch.
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He performed the public service on Monday of tweeting the great value to be found in the services of his pay TV/cable businesses for budget-conscious consumers.

”$90 for 100& 24/7 tv channels expensive? Try family outing two-hour movie and compare,” says Rupert, who has obviously graced the cineplexes recently with family in tow.

Last week Murdoch was tweeting about other thrifty deals such as the subscription offer from News Corp paper The Times, which was offering Spotify free to its digital subscribers.

”Fabulous tone quality. I link spotify to my Jambox,” he tweeted of the music download service.

Jambox, for the digitally unhip, is a portable Bluetooth speaker.

Don’t expect Bing Crosby on Rupert’s Jambox. Black Eyed Peas front man is one of only 78 people Rupert follows on Twitter.RBA in the market

Is the RBA making a call on the housing market by putting a ”for sale” sign on its Kirribilli mansion?

The sales blurb describes it as a ”grand federation manor in an exclusive peninsula enclave” with six bedrooms, five with ensuite, 3.5-metre ornate ceilings and parking for four cars.

The home, which is next door to an RBA training facility, has been owned by the bank since 1986 but it has been rented as two separate properties to external parties for years.

In fact, this appears to have caused some issues for the bank when it came time to turf the tenants last year, with the spat making its way to the office of Glenn ”the Guv” Stevens.

In documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, an RBA internal email from June 6 reads: ”The letter from the [name expunged] is somewhat emotive and contemplates actions beyond the nature of the contractual relationship. We are looking for a polite, un-emotive response that clearly articulates our rights as landlord to terminate the lease.”

It adds: ”Noting this letter has been sent directly to the Governor of the RBA we are requesting a timely response.”

By June 14 a letter was making its way to the tenant on behalf of ”the Guv” and expiry of the lease was not the only issue addressed.

”I note your request to negotiate off market for the acquisition of the property, if the Bank decided to sell it. If the Bank were to sell any of its properties, for reasons of probity and in the taxpayers’ interests, it would approach the market transparently and at arm’s length.”

For the record, the RBA will be approaching the market ”at arm’s length” on March 22. No word on whether ”the Guv” is open to offers.Pot luck for Joyce

Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford added $1000 to the charity pot of his chief executive, Alan Joyce, just ahead of Monday night’s Qantas-sponsored CEO CookOff.

The only question is whether Clifford was in a charitable mood, or, was he rewarding his CEO’s successful appeal to government philanthropy last week?

Joyce also received $5000 from the Dick and Pip Smith Foundation, and $500 from Lachlan Murdoch.

It starts a social week for Joyce. He welcomes the cast and crew of hit US TV series Modern Family on Thursday as official sponsor.

Coincidentally, Modern Family is produced by the Murdoch family’s 21st Century Fox and is broadcast locally on the Lachlan-chaired Ten.A Williams worry

CBD is wondering if Kim Williams’ new role as an AFL commissioner might be causing a little indigestion for his former employer, pay TV broadcaster Foxtel, and in the free-to-air broadcast industry.

The AFL is already gearing up for the next round of negotiations over broadcast rights for its code.

Williams, in his former role as Foxtel boss, was at the core of negotiations on the last rights deal that Foxtel stitched up with Seven.

The deal didn’t go down well with Lachlan Murdoch in his role at Ten and is said to have helped ensure Kim’s departure from News Corp.

Got a tip? [email protected]爱上海同城论坛

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UQ student gets taste of laidback Google approach

Google intern Rachael Morgan in her personal creative space. Photo: Edwina PicklesThere’s a certain stereotype about Google internships that it’s all beanbags, ping-pong matches and computer games.
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University of Queensland PhD student Rachael Morgan, in Sydney for a three-month internship with the tech giant, says that stereotype is well-deserved.

But, in between the frivolity, there’s some work as well.

“I have to tell you, it’s really fun,” she said.

“We have amazing perks like a pool, ping-pong, we’ve got scooters around the office, beanbags if you need a nap – it’s just amazing.”

Ms Morgan said the laid-back approach taken at Google actually helped productivity levels rise.

“It really does help. You probably have it in your job that you just feel really fatigued and sometimes, in other companies, you feel under pressure that you have to sit at your desk and just meander through the day when really what you need is a 20-minute power nap,” she said.

“Here, if you need that power nap, you just take it. It’s really encouraged and it helps a lot with your productivity and it’s a great way to meet people around the office.

“If you want a game of ping-pong, you go up there, no-one else is playing then you see some people come in – it’s great.”

Ms Morgan completed a Bachelor of Engineering at UQ in 2010 and forged her interest in programming at St Mary’s Catholic College in Cairns.

During her three-month stint in Sydney, Google is providing Ms Morgan with inner-city accommodation, three meals a day and a modest income.

In return, Ms Morgan is working on a secret project involving Google Drive, which she hoped to be able to launch.

“As an intern, we’re given a big project to work on and big projects are chosen by your host,” she said.

“They’re actual real-world problems that your mentor would do if they had the time. You work closely with the team, which is really good.”

Google Australia public affairs manager Johnny Luu said competition for internships was fierce.

“We had 5000 applications for the internship positions,” he said.

“It’s the largest intake we’ve ever had and in fact I think we’ve doubled the number of interns we’ve taken over the past two years.

“We hire as many as we can, but a lot of the interns might be in their first year of university or go on to do their masters or a PhD, but we always try to hire as many as we can once they’re ready to join the workforce.”

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A corker debate

Numbers game: Whether a 20-point or a 100-point scale, rating wine is a complicated business. Photo: Graham TidyThe late Sir Kingsley Amis called it boozemanship: ”the art of coming out ahead when any question of drinking expertise or experience arises.” In a world awash with wine controversies, a crack team is about to wade into some of wine’s most hotly contested topics.
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A session on March 2 at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival promises outspoken debating and debunking of everything from vintage variation to closures, natural winemaking and scoring systems. What do those terms actually mean?Varying vintages

Wine grapes are a once-a-year crop, and the weather in any year – hot, cold, dry, wet – at any given location affects how the grapes and resulting wines taste. This is ”vintage variation”. Conventional wisdom has it that this variation is most evident in Old World regions such as Burgundy and Bordeaux; indeed, old-school, Old-Dart commentators have been known to contend it does not exist in sunny Or-Stralia.

Although most obvious in marginal, cooler climates, it occurs everywhere to some degree.

Is it desirable? Producers with trusted mass-market labels aim to deliver a consistent product and will minimise annual differences, often by blending grapes grown in different regions and conditions.

Premium winemakers aiming to express the character of a particular patch of land in an individual year are more likely to embrace these variations – up to a point, as they want their wines to be recognisable from year to year.We need closure

Wine-speak for the thing that keeps the wine in the bottle, a ”closure” is – in most of the world – a cylinder of bark taken from a cork tree in southern Europe. Since the 1980s there has been increasing concern about cork’s propensity to harbour and impart a chemical compound that makes otherwise good wine smell and taste like mouldy carpet – aka ”corked”. The cork industry has spent several zillion euros trying to counter this problem: through research; by changing industrial practices; and with international public relations campaigns. Cork remains the closure of choice in most countries, but most Australian producers regard corks with a vampire’s enthusiasm for garlic. Here, we prefer metal screwcaps. What’s not to like about screwcaps? Those who take the long view say we do not yet have a clear picture of how wines made to age for the long term will fare under screwcap. A criticism is that some wine sealed this way can be ”reductive”, a polite way of saying it smells like an egg sandwich in a warm lunchbox.Natural vs unnatural

Sound the klaxon and reach for your radiation suit – nothing generates explosive debate like the N-word. Natural practitioners advocate minimal intervention in the winemaking process and are often organic or biodynamic growers. They generally eschew additions (such as packet yeasts) used in conventional winemaking. The adventurous leave wines unfiltered; others use vessels such as clay amphorae or concrete ”eggs” for maturation; a few make ”orange” wines from white grapes fermented with the grape skins.

Supporters argue these wines are more exciting and a truer expression of the fruit than conventional, industrially produced wines. Detractors call it lazy, cowboy winemaking that results in unbalanced wines incapable of ageing well. In the demilitarised zone are those who applaud minimal intervention but believe it requires more skill and judgment than simply letting nature do her thing – and mutter that the word ”natural” is smug, divisive and undefined. This group includes makers who have worked for decades according to sustainable, minimal-intervention principles and methods, but neither use nor like the label ”natural”.

Some self-proclaimed natural wines show great character and finesse; some are proudly weird and – to their fans – wonderful; some simply seem off. Those without at least a little sulphur dioxide added at bottling can go from good to nasty quickly.Pssst, wanna score?

Wine is sunlight held together by water; bottled poetry; proof God wants us to be happy. So said Galileo, Robert Louis Stevenson and Benjamin Franklin. Can something so elusive be expressed in a number? To many wine buyers, an ostensibly objective score is easier to understand than a description.

So what’s the problem? Objectivity has its limits. One critic’s 90-point wine is not necessarily another’s.

Australia’s wine shows have traditionally used a 20-point scoring system, but the 100-point scale favoured by many critics is increasingly being adopted. Can you just multiply a 20-point score by five to get an equivalent 100-point score? Certainly not, say the critics. Although the 100-point scale appears more precise, it is generally applied in a narrower band between 80 and 100.

Acqua Panna Global Wine Experience – Storm in a Wine Glass, Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, March 2, with Tim Atkin MW, Sophie Otton, Steve Webber and Tim White, moderated by Mike Bennie.

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Two-thirds of voters believe there should be an inquiry into allegations the Navy deliberately burnt the hands of asylum seekers, a Fairfax-Nielsen poll finds

The hand of an asylum seeker, whom the Australian Navy allegedly abused. Photo: Amilia RosaTwo-thirds of voters, including more than half of all Coalition supporters, believe claims that the hands of asylum seekers were deliberately burned by border protection authorities should be investigated.
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The Abbott government refuses to launch an investigation into the claims, and has criticised media organisations such as the ABC as ”malicious” for reporting them. The result comes from the latest Fairfax-Nielsen poll conducted among 1400 voters across the country from Thursday to Saturday last week.

The ABC has also been strongly supported in the survey. Just three in 10 voters viewed the publicly funded national broadcaster as politically biased, and 59 per cent said it was not.

Asked if they thought allegations that the navy had deliberately burned the hands of asylum seekers warranted an investigation, two-thirds of respondents, or 66 per cent, answered yes.

Even among Liberal and Nationals voters, the proportion in favour of an investigation was safely in a majority at 55 per cent. Those satisfied with the claims being dismissed as hearsay was 31 per cent.

Among ALP supporters the ratio in favour of investigation was 75 per cent – a figure which jumped to 88 per cent among Greens voters.

The government launched an unprecedented attack on the ABC earlier this month for reporting that Indonesian police were investigating allegations that Australian navy personnel forced asylum seekers to hold on to burning hot engine pipes aboard their boat as a form of punishment.

The initial story showed graphic photographs of burnt hands along with the suggestion that the injuries appeared to support the torture claims. The ABC subsequently acknowledged that its report may have lent too much weight to veracity of the torture allegations, but stood by the story from Jakarta correspondent George Roberts.

However, its reportage became a focal point for conservative-led attacks alleging the ABC was left-leaning and culturally biased against the Coalition.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott complained the ABC too often took ”everyone’s side but Australia’s”.

Defence Minister David Johnston attacked ABC management for using ”weasel words” to justify its reporting.

While the Abbott government has railed against the ABC, 67 per cent of respondents said they believed it provided a more balanced presentation of news than commercial television news services. Just 15 per cent trusted commercial television news more.

Even among conservative voters, 53 per cent said the ABC was the more balanced television provider. Among the 31 per cent who felt the ABC was biased, a third called it ”pro-ALP”, 15 per cent said it was ”left-wing”, and another 7 per cent described it as ”anti-Coalition”.

Just 1 per cent branded it ”un-Australian” or ”anti-Australian”.

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Additive-free wine: a topical drop

Topical: The Rootstock wine festival in Sydney was popular with the public and a bit political with winemakers. Photo: James BrickwoodPut about 70 wine producers together in a room, add a pinch of yeast and a soupcon of zeal and what have you got? The second Rootstock Sydney sustainable and artisan wine festival.
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The February 8-9 festival attracted 13,500 people, a big step up from last year’s one-day event, with a much larger space (Carriageworks, the old Eveleigh railway yards in Newtown), more exhibitors and sideline activities including food, coffee, cider, beer, sake, an orange wine bar and music.

Rootstock is unsponsored and non-profit-making, with a legion of green-shirted volunteers ushering, manning the doors, fetching and carrying and doing the odd jobs. Many of these people are sommeliers, retailers and other members of the trade who so believe in the ideals of Rootstock that they just want to pitch in and help.

Almost 70 wine producers were represented, all of them employing organic, biodynamic or other sustainable forms of viticulture with minimal or zero additions and manipulations in their winemaking, an approach described as ”natural” winemaking, for want of a better word.

”Natural” winemaking has proved impossible to define, though, as these winemakers differ widely in their approaches. Some insist that absolutely nothing can be added to the juice or wine. That includes yeast, acid, tannin, enzymes and yeast nutrients, and – most controversially – sulphur dioxide. Others say that a minimal sulphur addition is essential at bottling time to ensure the wine doesn’t oxidise or succumb to taints, such as mousiness and Brettanomyces.

In truth, the winemakers present at Rootstock spanned a broad range. At one extreme you had the arch-fundamentalists who practise strict biodynamics and whose winemaking neither adds nor subtracts anything from the raw grapes. On the other, you had people who espouse some of the principles of organic or BD (but aren’t necessarily certified) and make their wines with minimal manipulation, but insist on sulphur at bottling. Consequently, the wines being poured for the public covered the gamut, from dirty infected wines to pristine modern wines.

The public is increasingly interested in these kinds of wines. For many, this kind of wine (and beer and cider) is a logical extension of choosing organic produce at the greengrocer or butcher. People are also more aware of pollution and are prepared to go out of their way, and even pay more, for produce that has been grown or raised in a sustainable way.

Many of the established Australian biodynamic and organic wineries were there, such as Cullen, Castagna, Jasper Hill, Gemtree, Lowe and Lark Hill, as well as the new wave, represented by Bobar, Harkham, Ngeringa, Ochota Barrels and Smallfry. Cloudburst, whose 2010 cabernet sauvignon was almost unknown when it won three trophies at the 2013 Margaret River Wine Show, caused some excitement, while Pheasant’s Tears, from the former USSR state of Georgia, which makes extraordinary wines from a plethora of indigenous Georgian grape varieties, including kisi, saperavi and rkatsiteli, turned many heads.

Leading New Zealand wineries Millton and Rippon were there, along with a strong representation of newer Kiwi ”sustainables”, including Churton, Muddy Water, Hans Herzog, Pyramid Valley and Mount Edward. There were also four Austrian wineries, including leading producers Pittnauer and Hiedler, pouring their indigenous varietals blaufrankisch, gruner veltliner, St Laurent and zweigelt.

The atmosphere was more friendly, relaxed and less businesslike than most wine fairs I’ve attended. It was as though attendees were united by a common ideal. The workshops I attended were more intense: there was some evidence of the intolerance of the fundamentalist here and there. Anton von Klopper, whom I admire for many reasons and whose Lucy Margaux wines I’ve greatly enjoyed, gave his audience a couple of long-winded diatribes. He was dismissive of those who like ”fruit” and ”freshness” in wine, and ridiculed the use of the word ”texture”. Perhaps he was just being a stirrer.

In another workshop, fellow scribes Max Allen and Alice Feiring claimed not to be critics and to reject the whole idea of wine criticism.

Allen said writers should stop pretending we can be objective about wine and stop scoring it; we should loosen up and allow ourselves to fall in love with it. Yet both admitted they use their critical faculties when deciding who and what to write about.

In another discussion, Jauma winemaker James Erskine wanted a new language of wine, dismissing the old one as alienating and boring, but it wasn’t clear what he was proposing as a substitute.

In summary, some of the philosophy seemed not to have been well thought out, and some presentations lacked preparation.

Overwhelmingly, though, Rootstock was a great event and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t continue to grow and flourish. Even if, as one Italian winemaker told an audience, the problem with ”natural” wine today is that it’s becoming fashionable.

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Myer, DJs merger warning

Myer was keen to maintain the two brands while cutting back-office costs in any merger. Photo: Jim RiceWith Myer believed to be preparing to dust off its $3 billion merger proposal for David Jones, new research suggests the combined group could lose millions of loyal customers unless they successfully differentiate their brands.
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Analysts say David Jones risks losing about 26 per cent of its customers – those who only shop at the upmarket department store rather than its mid-market rival – if the ”merger of equals” is mishandled.

According to Roy Morgan data, about 74 per cent of the 3.4 million customers who shopped at David Jones last year also shopped at Myer, which served around 5.8 million customers.

Under the merger proposal put to the David Jones board in October, Myer planned to maintain the Myer and David Jones brands and develop more differentiated offers to better target their respective customers and protect their combined sales.

Myer planned to maintain two independent merchandise and store operations teams, but the head office would probably move to Melbourne and functions such as supply chain, IT, human resources and treasury would be merged to try to extract synergy benefits estimated to be around $85 million a year.

Analysts said the merged companies could struggle to retain their most loyal customers if cost cutting, sourcing and sharing of services went too far and each chain lost its identity.

”Anything that blurs the boundaries between the department stores could create more problems and this data backs that up,” one analyst said. ”About 26 per cent of David Jones shoppers are loyal to David Jones and don’t shop at Myer – the challenge is trying to retain them when you merge the two,” he said.

”The biggest risk is the customers who don’t shop at both – they should be able to retain those customers who shop at both [Myer and David Jones]. They might not be as loyal to David Jones if it is no longer as differentiated from Myer because it is owned by Myer,” he said.

If the merged group maintained two head office structures and two supply chains in a bid to preserve their identities the cost synergies would be significantly less than $85 million a year.

This would reduce the value created by the merger, which Myer and its advisers believe could be as high as $900 million within three years.

Myer is considering a new approach to the David Jones board as soon as the retailer has appointed a new chairman and two non-executive directors. David Jones chairman Peter Mason and directors Steve Vamos and Leigh Clapham agreed to step down last week after pressure from shareholders angry about inappropriate share trading and poor corporate governance.

David Jones is also waiting to learn whether chief executive Paul Zahra changes his departure plans and stays on deck to complete the next stage of his turnaround plan.

Mr Mason has said the board would never consider a nil-premium merger, but would reconsider a merger proposal if the terms significantly improved.

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Magwatch: When politics and gossip mags collide with Obama ‘affair’

Regular Magwatch readers will know there are generally only four stories that can possibly be reported – who’s bust up; who’s hooked up; who’s porked up; and who’s lightened up. However, both New Idea and Famous break new ground this week with a thoughtful treatise on US politics.
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Leaving aside trivia such as healthcare reform and the US Fed’s quantitative easing policy, they go straight for the big one: Is Barack bonking Beyonce?

New Idea speculates furiously about furious speculation in some French newspapers that Obama is, as it is known in the business, “doing a Monica”.

Of course everyone involved has denied the rumours – presumably because they are, as it is also known in the business, “untrue”. Regardless, New Idea insists “the damage has been done” – while failing to add that it’s been done, at least in part, by New Idea and Famous.

On more familiar ground, Famous and New Weekly feature breathless reports on one Vito Schnabel, 27, an admirable young bloke who goes out of his way to help the elderly. So dedicated is he to his worthy project that he has recently been spotted squiring Heidi Klum, 40. Before that he was doing his bit with 51-year-old Demi Moore and has also been “linked” with Elle Macpherson and Liv Tyler.

Meanwhile, New Idea also looks at some of the issues facing mature women with its spread on the World’s Most Wanted Grannies.

This line-up includes Brazilian Heloisa Goncalves Duque Ribeiro, 63, who has so far knocked off four ex-partners, and Elizabeth Duke, 73, wanted for a robbery that killed a security guard and two police.

Perhaps big-hearted, cougar-chasing Vito could offer his services to detectives to tempt these wrinkly reprobates out into the open?

Finally, in yet more news relating to older women, Famous has a shot of actress Tara Reid leaving a Los Angeles breast screening clinic. But the mag must have missed the campaigns encouraging women over 40 to get regular mammograms, because rather than a measured heading saying “Sensible Tara gets health check” it somehow ended up with “Terrified Tara’s Health Scare”.

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