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.

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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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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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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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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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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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Record coal exports to China boost Aurizon’s forecast

Aurizon has hauled a record amount of coal. Photo: Darren PatemanAurizon chief executive Lance Hockridge signalled cost cutting by mining customers was paying off as the rail operator hauled record amounts of coal in the first half of the year and raised 2014 forecasts.
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The weakening Australian dollar and extensive cost cutting by key customers like the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance had improved local miners’ competitiveness as they sold coal to China, Mr Hockridge said.

”Our Australian customers are very focused on retaining, indeed improving, their market share of the available demand, and that’s all about a cost and efficiency game,” he said.

Aurizon has benefited from the higher exports, with the group’s coal haulage volumes rising 13 per cent to 109.7 million tonnes in the six months to December.

Underlying earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT) in its coal division rose 32 per cent to $187 million and Aurizon lifted its full-year haulage guidance to 207-212 million tonnes from 200-205 million tonnes.

The rail operator has been cutting costs and improving productivity to meet the mining companies’ demands for more efficient and flexible services, Mr Hockridge said. ”We’re able to give our clients the confidence they can sell against the available market.”

But despite stronger coal volumes, Aurizon’s half-year net profit fell 39 per cent as it took a $197 million asset impairment charge (previously announced in December) related to the shrinking of its locomotive and wagon fleet and job cuts.

Aurizon shed 262 jobs through a voluntary redundancy program in the first half and expects further redundancies as other parts of its business, such as its rail corridor between Townsville and Mount Isa in Queensland, are restructured.

Underlying earnings before interest and taxation, which exclude impairments and job cuts, rose 19 per cent to $423 million.

Aurizon is ”likely ahead of target” on its goal to reduce its operating ratio (which measures operating expenses as a percentage of revenue) to 75 per cent by fiscal 2015 from 94 per cent three years ago, Citigroup analyst Anthony Moulder said.

Mr Hockridge warned Aurizon could face industrial action from more than 100 train drivers in NSW’s Hunter Valley as it renegotiates long-standing employee agreements but said the group was committed to change.

”We will continue to reform the business no matter what the outcomes,” he said.

Aurizon has also made progress in discussions with Indian coal miner GVK Hancock over a joint rail and port venture in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, and hopes to sign a formal agreement in the first half of 2014, Mr Hockridge said.

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Karen Martini’s creme fraiche recipes

Fried morcilla sausage with figs, pickled eschalots and creme fraiche. Photo: Marcel Aucar Karen Martini creme fraiche recipes.
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Karen Martini creme fraiche recipes.

Though creme fraiche and the less glamorously titled sour cream have different fat contents and are made a little differently, they both bring much to savoury cooking, with a lightly tart profile that balances the creamy richness.Fried morcilla sausage with figs, pickled eschalots and creme fraiche

This is quite a sophisticated and intense dish, with the rich, spicy blood sausage complemented so well by the luscious fig and tangy creme fraiche – perfect as a small appetiser or a tapa.

30g pearl barley

salt flakes

pinch sugar

2 purple eschalots, in 3mm slices

extra-virgin olive oil

2 morcilla sausages, sliced about 2cm thick on an angle

4 tbsp creme fraiche

2 large ripe figs, sliced thickly

2 handfuls baby kale (or use baby spinach or baby rocket)

sherry vinegar

1. Heat three centimetres of oil in a small pot until about 200C. Fry the barley in batches until it puffs up (a few seconds). Remove, drain on paper towels and season.

2. Add a pinch of salt and sugar to the sliced eschalots, toss through and set aside for five minutes to soften.

3. Heat a splash of oil in a frying pan and cook the morcilla until crisp, about one minute each side.

4. Dollop one tablespoon of creme fraiche on to each plate, top with the hot morcilla and fig slices and scatter over the eschalots and kale. Dress with a little vinegar and oil, sprinkle over the puffed barley and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Drink Try a Spanish white such as godello or a light, unoaked tempranillo.

Vinaigrette potatoes with cornichons, caperberries and fried egg

This is a delicious breakfast or brunch dish. You could easily add cured or smoked fish or even diced, warm corned beef.

10 chat potatoes, unpeeled

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

extra-virgin olive oil

salt flakes

freshly ground black pepper

4 free-range eggs

2 handfuls parsley leaves, torn

1 handful fresh dill

10 tiny cornichons, split lengthways

2 spring onions, very finely sliced

2 green chillies, finely sliced

4 tbsp creme fraiche

8 caperberries (from delicatessen)

1. Boil the potatoes whole until tender. Drain well, slice in half and add to a bowl with the vinegar and two tablespoons of oil. Season with salt and pepper, toss through gently and set aside for five to 10 minutes to take up the flavour and cool a little.

2. In a non-stick frying pan heat a little oil, crack in the eggs, season and fry sunny side up, leaving the yolk runny.

3. While the eggs cook, gently toss the potatoes with the parsley, dill, cornichons, spring onion and chilli.

4. Dollop the creme fraiche on to each plate, pile on the potatoes, top with the egg and caperberries and serve.

Serves 4

Drink: For a late brunch, a glass of gruner veltliner would be perfect.

Onion, gruyere, speck and sour cream tart with smoked mussels

This is my take on the German classic, zwiebelkuchen, which basically translates as onion cake. My version is a bit richer with the addition of gruyere and also has a twist with the smoked mussels – though it’s delicious without them as well.

Sour cream pastry

250g plain flour

150g butter, chilled and diced

1 tsp salt flakes

1 egg

2 tbsp sour cream


100g smoked speck, finely diced

30g unsalted butter

4 cloves garlic, finely sliced

4 white onions, finely sliced (about 350g)

2 eggs

350g sour cream

1 tbsp plain flour

350g gruyere

coarsely grated salt flakes

freshly ground black pepper

2 tsp smoked paprika

To serve

18-20 smoked chilli mussels (you can buy these vacuum-packed)

1/2 bunch dill, picked and chopped

1 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 165C fan-forced or 185C conventional.

2. In a saute pan over medium heat, cook the speck until it starts to brown. Add the butter, garlic and onion and gently cook for 15-20 minutes or until soft and translucent but not browning. Set aside to cool.

3. While the onions cook, whiz the flour, butter and salt in a food processor to a sandy crumb. Add the egg and sour cream and process until it starts to form a ball. Form into a round between two sheets of baking paper and chill for half an hour.

4. When you are ready to bake the tart, in a large bowl whisk together the eggs, sour cream and flour, add the gruyere and the garlic and onion mix, season lightly with salt and pepper and mix through.

5. Roll chilled pastry into a rough rectangle and place on a baking tray on baking paper. Pour mix on to the pastry (mix will be stiffish and malleable), leaving a border around the edge of three to four centimetres. Fold edges up, crimping corners together to make a free-form tart. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake 30-40 minutes or until golden. Cool to room temperature.

6. To serve, toss the mussels through the dill with a squeeze of lemon. Cut the tart into portions, top with the mussels, serve.

Serves 8-10

Drink a good weissbier

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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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Bumper profits push market to higher close

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A strong interim profit result from Australia’s biggest resource company, BHP Billiton, has lifted the local stock exchange, offsetting some earnings disappointments.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 9.9 points, or 0.2 per cent, on Tuesday to 5392.8, while the broader All Ordinaries Index added 0.1 per cent to 5402.2, as investors focused on a mixed bag of half-year company earnings reports.

There was no overnight lead from Wall Street, after markets in the United States were closed on Monday for the President’s Day public holiday. In the afternoon session a spike in Japan’s Nikkei following comments from the Bank of Japan was positive for sentiment.

Shares and the dollar were both supported by the release of minutes from the Reserve bank of Australia’s February policy meeting, which confirmed the central bank is likely to keep the official cash rate on hold at its record low of 2.5 per cent for many months.

BHP Billiton gained 2.3 per cent to $38.89 after beating expectations with a 69.4 per cent rise in interim net profit compared to the first half of last financial year. The company also continued to reduce costs and improve cashflow.

The resources giant did not lift its interim dividend by as much as some in the market had hoped, however, the chief executive Andrew Mackenzie flagged investors can expect higher capital returns at the end of the year.

“It is still early in reporting season, but so far most results from the large caps have been well received with share prices getting a lift,” Invesco Australia portfolio manager Nicole Schuderl said.

“Returning cash to shareholders is likely to remain a major focus as reporting season continues,” Ms Schuderl said. “Reducing costs will also continue as another area of focus, especially for mining and resources companies.”

Mining was the best-performing sector, up 1 per cent, boosted by the BHP result and strong iron ore and coal prices.

Rio Tinto rose 1.9 per cent to a near 12 month high at $70.88 as the spot price for iron ore, landed in China, rose for the fourth day in a row to $US124.40 a tonne.

The big four banks were split. Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 0.2 per cent to $74.53 despite trading without the right to its $1.83 interim dividend on Monday.

Westpac Banking Corporation dipped 0.2 per cent to $32.86, ANZ Banking Group rose 0.1 per cent to $31.64, and National Australia Bank gained 0.8 per cent to $35.04 ahead of providing a quarterly update later in the week.

Telstra Corporation rose 0.2 per cent to $5.23. It was reported the telecommunications giant is set to axe 400 jobs from its Sensis directories business later this week.

Coca-Cola Amatil lost 5.3 per cent to $11.22 after departing chief executive Terry Davis delivered the company’s weakest profit result in nearly two decades. Slimmer profit margins on soft drinks and a $400 million write-down on fruit canning business SPC Ardmona contributed to a 82.5 per cent slump in interim net profit.

Packaging company Amcor fell 4.2 per cent to $10.33 despite showing interim net profit rose 21.9 per cent and flagging up to $2 billion worth of possible acquisitions.

Expectations for contractors to the mining and energy industry are low this reporting season due to a slump in demand from new projects. Three resource services companies surprised the market with better than expected interim results.

Monadelphous Group was the best-performing stock in the ASX 200, climbing 9.7 per cent to $17.10 after reporting a record half-year profit of $87.1 million, up 10.1 per cent on the previous corresponding period. MacMahon Holdings added 12 per cent to 14¢ after showing a new Mongolian contract helped it return to profitability in the half-year ended December. RCR Tomlinson rose 2 per cent to $2.98 after posting a 14.2 per cent increase in interim net profit and upping its interim dividend.

Other stocks that advanced following the release of half-year results included Challenger Ltd and Sirtex Medical.

Financial services group Challenger Ltd rose 3.3 per cent to a record $6.61 after showing a 25 per cent rise in interim net profit compared to the previous corresponding period.

Drug developer Sirtex Medical added 3.8 per cent to $14.96 after showing a 43.6 per cent rise in interim net profit. The company said results of a clinical trial into the broader application of its radioactive liver cancer treatment that were due for release in 2014 have been delayed until early 2015.

Pacific Brands was the worst-performing stock in the ASX 200, dumping 9 per cent to 65.5¢ after reporting a net loss of $219 million for the first half of fiscal 2014, compared to a $38.9 million profit in the previous corresponding period. The company sells iconic Australian clothing and footwear labels including Bonds, Volley, and Stubbies. Sales were up for the first time in five years but a $252 million write down linked to its struggling workwear division slugged the bottom line.

Other stocks that declined following the release of interim reports included Sonic Healthcare, Seven West Media, Asciano, and Arrium.

Pathology and radiology clinic operator Sonic Healthcare dipped 0.5 per cent to $16.90 despite narrowly beating analyst expectations for interim net profit.

Seven West Media lost 1.8 per cent to $2.14 after showing interim revenue dipped 1.1 per cent.

Asciano dipped 0.4 per cent to $5.74 after unveiling plans to merge its coal haulage and rail freight divisions as it reported a 4 per cent slip in first-half net profit.

Arrium (formerly OneSteel) fell 2 per cent to $1.75 despite interim net profit rebounded to $220 million, up from a $448 million loss in the previous corresponding period that had featured hefty write-downs.

Transport and logistics company McAleese crashed 34.6 per cent to an all time low of 72¢ after emerging from a trading halt to warn the market it now expects a $37.9 million loss for the current half-year period due to troubles with its Cootes Transport division. The stock debuted at $1.47 in November.

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