Fears of looming China credit crunch spark new gold rush

China’s “unfolding credit crunch” is having an unforeseen and dramatic impact on gold prices as investors urgently stock up on the precious metal as a form of financial protection against a sharp correction in the world’s second-largest economy.
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This is the main reason why gold prices have unexpectedly shot up more than 10 per cent to breach $US1300 an ounce for the first time since November against the prevailing forecasts for weaker demand made by many industry experts at the beginning of the year, according to Adrian Ash, head of research at gold trading platform BullionVault爱上海同城论坛m

Gold traded on the Shanghai Gold Exchange has also reached a three-month high.

Rebounding is part of the reason for the rise, Mr Ash said, adding: “Gold lost 30 per cent and silver nearly 40 per cent last year. The world economy will struggle to deliver all the good news priced in by that crash. But China’s unfolding credit crunch looks central now.”

Uncertainty is growing over China’s ability to sustain the rapid rates of economic growth it has seen over the past decade amid concern over high levels of debt among its provincial governments. These concerns have helped drive sharp falls across emerging markets since the beginning of the year.

Mr Ash says capital flight is happening at a rapid rate in China because of the $US1.8 trillion ($1.99 trillion) of funds that have flooded into unregulated, non-bank “wealth management products” that offered very high yields, up to 17 times as much as cash deposits. Many of these funds are now feared to be trading at a loss, setting up a crunch moment.

“Bullion traders never knew before what would happen to prices if China hit trouble,” Mr Ash said, “because we’ve never before seen Chinese demand plumbed into the world market so deeply. Its jewellery buyers, together with rising mining costs worldwide, helped finally put a floor under gold in 2013. But while that kind of consumer demand will never drive prices higher, capital flight by wealthier households and money managers certainly can.”

Mr Ash says the first default that could be a sign of China’s credit bubble bursting was reported two weeks ago when a $US50 million coal-mining bond failed to repay investors on maturity. He says that about $US875 billion of other such products are due to mature in 2014 and that Beijing has few answers.

“Gold’s 2014 rally had been steady before, far quieter than the rebound from last spring’s record crash,” he said. “But rising for seven of the past eight weeks, something it hasn’t managed in two years, gold has now risen for six trading days running. That’s a very rare move, last seen when gold neared its peak above $US1900 during the euro crisis, US debt downgrade and UK riots of August 2011.”

Meanwhile, uncertainty continues to surround a 500-tonne discrepancy in China’s gold import figures and its domestic supply. The unaccounted-for Chinese gold has helped to fuel market speculation that the People’s Bank of China may be stockpiling or that bigger volumes are changing hands on the grey market as a hedge against financial turmoil.

But other brokers say the rise in gold prices last week above its 200-day moving average was mainly because of the fall in the dollar against a basket of other currencies. Commerzbank said that SPDR Gold Trust, the world’s largest gold exchange-traded fund, raised its holdings above 800 tonnes of the precious metal for the first time.

Telegraph, London

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The ‘slaw that makes salad hot

Jill Dupleix’s Asian slaw. Photo: Edwina Pickles Jill Dupleix’s Asian slaw. Photo: Edwina Pickles
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Don’t stop till you get enough: Asian slaw. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Horchata Photo: Edwina Pickles

What is it?

A crisp and crunchy coleslaw using the pale, softer wong nga bak (wong bok/wombok/Chinese cabbage) and a hot, sweet-and-sour Asian dressing instead of the traditional raw green cabbage and mayonnaise. Chefs use it to add freshness and crunch to steamed pork buns, Asian tacos and smoked meats.Where is it?

”It’s our No. 1 best-selling salad,” says head chef Alex Alice of Melbourne’s multi-tasking Howler, part warehouse bar, part arts hub and part beer garden/diner.

”We use red cabbage and Chinese cabbage, roasted snake beans, Vietnamese mint, basil and coriander in a punchy, hot-and-sour red nam jim dressing and top it with crisp shallots and roasted cashews.”

In Sydney, the best antidote to the full-on, feed-the-man barbecued smoked meats platter at hot new Papi Chulo in Manly, is a super-refreshing Vietnamese slaw of red cabbage, Chinese cabbage, mint, coriander and Vietnamese mint dressed in a tangy nuoc cham of fish sauce, sugar, lime, water and vinegar. ”It’s the traditional accompaniment to Vietnamese chicken congee and ‘bun mang vit’ duck and bamboo noodle soup,” says Merivale Group chef Dan Hong. ”We needed a nice fresh slaw with fragrant herbs to cut the richness of the smoked meats.”Why do I care?

Because it’s one of those can’t-stop-eating things that people go crazy about.Can I do it at home?

Too easy. For a real crowd pleaser, add a packet of Chang’s Fried Noodles at the last minute for an extra bit of crunch, or serve with Chinese barbecued pork or chicken.Asian slaw

Toss the salad just before eating or the cabbage will soften too much.

500g Chinese cabbage

75g small red cabbage

100g carrot, peeled

3 green (spring) onions

100g snow peas

1 red chilli

1 cup coriander sprigs

1 cup mint leaves

1 cup Asian basil leaves

2 tsp soft brown sugar

2 tbsp rice vinegar

2 tbsp fish sauce or soy sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt and pepper

2 tbsp beer nuts or cashews, roughly chopped

1. Cut the Chinese cabbage in half, lengthwise, then finely shred crosswise.

2. Finely shred the red cabbage.

3. Cut the carrot into long shavings with a vegetable peeler then cut into long thin matchsticks.

4. Cut the spring onions, snow peas and chilli into long matchsticks. Toss with the cabbages, carrot, coriander, mint and basil.

5. To make the dressing, whisk the sugar and vinegar together, then whisk in the fish sauce, sesame oil, chilli sauce and olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Pour over the cabbage mixture and lightly toss, scatter with nuts and serve.

Serves 4 as saladSourcing

NSW Papi Chulo, 22-23 East Esplanade, Manly Wharf, Manly, 9240 3000

VIC Howler Melbourne, 7-11 Dawson Street, Brunswick, (03) 9077 5572

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Melbourne Food and Wine Festival to transform railway bridge with Immersery pop-up

Immersery cocktail. Photo: Roberto Seba Immersery cocktail. Photo: Roberto Seba
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The Immersery bar dumplings.

Johanna Picton, left, and Mary Papaioannou from Hassell at the Sandridge Rail Bridge Immersary site. Photo: Eddie Jim EJZ

An aerial view of the disused bridge, soon to be transformed into a thriving festival hub.Aerial view of some of Queens Bridge. Photo: Paul Rovere

Not many new restaurants can expect 80,000 diners in their first three weeks, but the Immersery Festival Kitchen Bar and Raingarden, now taking shape on a disused railway bridge and a floating barge in the Yarra River, is no ordinary eatery.

Seven of Victoria’s top chefs will take turns in the kitchen, dishing up dumplings and share plates created especially for the festival, and 22 bartenders will be pouring cocktails in one-night-only collaborations.

Welcome to the 2014 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s signature site, the Immersery Festival Kitchen Bar and Raingarden.

”This is a massive project,” says festival chief executive Natalie O’Brien, of the pop-up space, which packs down and vanishes after 17 days. ”It’s the largest scale construction we have ever attempted.”

A complex, nine-day build, the Immersery is using 15 individual contractors and 1.5 kilometres of PVC pipe, and, once it’s in operation, nearly half the manpower of the festival’s staff and volunteers.

It’s oriented around the little-known and largely ignored Sandridge Rail Bridge, a Victorian Heritage Registered construct arching across the Yarra River. It has been out of public circulation since the 1950s, when its use as a rail freight link was decommissioned.

Designed by Hassell, the project expands on the festival’s water theme.

Temporary sites – for dining, drinking, community gathering and education – will be built around the historic bridge, each site exploring water in its three states (liquid, vapour and solid; see breakout), while serving as the festival’s hub.

”The reactivation of the bridge was really about trying to push the boundaries on every level, to think of ways where we could be on water, over water and beside the water,” O’Brien says.

”We really want to represent innovation and express the food and wine of Melbourne, while pushing the boundaries on what can be achieved. It’s mind-blowing for me some days to think this is where we have got to.”

Johanna Picton, one of Hassell’s young team and one of the project’s designers, is excited as she walks around the site.

”We will be extending the bridge and laying a temporary floor. It will then serve as a roof for the dining areas stationed beneath,” she says, walking beneath the point where the Sandridge Rail Bridge juts out over Southbank’s concourse.

She points to the space that will form a wall of rainwater gardens planted in reclaimed 40-gallon drums, then opens plans of the PVC water pipes, showing how they will create a floating ”cloud” above the bridge, framing a new view for Melburnians across the city.

”Everything is reusable,” she says. The pipes from Melbourne Water are cut into usable lengths to be resold following the event, and the raingarden plants will go back into circulation at nurseries.

For Hassell principal Mary Papaioannou, the entire project has been a thrill.

”The fact that it is constructed over nine days, is packed out for 17 days and then it disappears is something intriguing,” Papaioannou says. ”That we insert a structure that is a little surprising, very intense and that is there to serve a moment. It’s adding a new public space to Melbourne’s landscape and I think that is really worthwhile.”

As exciting as the structure is, it’s the food that’s the real thrill for Huxtable’s chef Daniel Wilson. He is one of the seven chefs involved in creating a menu that celebrates Melbourne’s love affair with Chinese yum cha, brought to life by Peter Rowland Catering out of a shipping container-turned-kitchen established on site.

”The idea is to cook using water techniques,” Wilson says, the more creative the spin, the better.

For Wilson, as for the others involved, the Immersery offers the chance to reach out to Melbourne in a big way.

”This is the largest scale cooking event I have been involved with,” he says. Each chef will be featuring for one night during the course of the project, with food served alongside drops from Seppelt, Coldstream Hills and T’Gallant.

”It’s really what Melbourne and the festival is all about.

”Innovation and doing things just a little bit differently.”Menu sneak peek

● Reuben dumpling Adam Liston and Joel Alderson (Borrowed Space) revamp this classic sandwich.

● Spiced Wessex saddleback pork empanadillas Jesse Gerner (Anada and Bomba) goes for a Mexican spin.

● Chicken, shiitake, fermented seaweed, preserved lemon, nori and rice crunch dumpling Rachel Reed and Hamish Nugent (Tani Eat & Drink) have created a triangular parcel of Japanese-inspired joy.

● Scallop, Sichuan pepper and snow-pea tendril with black vinegar and chilli oil dressing Daniel Wilson (Huxtable) adds some Chinese spice.

● Eggplant miso dumpling Flo Gerardin (Silo) takes a fresh look at Japanese.What is a raingarden?

Gardening guru Jane Edmanson is thrilled about the booming ”grow your own” trend that is sweeping Australia and, as Melbourne Water’s raingarden ambassador, she reckons raingardens are the ideal way to create our own backyard Gardens of Eden.

”A raingarden is a specifically built garden that employs the idea of a diversion of water,” Edmanson says.

It can be done with all kinds of plantings, including fruits and vegetables.

”Normally, when you have a big rain storm, water goes whooshing off the roof and straight to the stormwater drain, where it is lost. With raingardens, the water is funnelled straight into a garden bed, getting water to the plants at the root, a much more efficient way, as water isn’t lost through evaporation.”

Good draining is essential, so scoria (volcanic rock) is used as the base layer. Next comes the pipe diverting water from the roof, laid horizontally on top of the scoria. On top of that is more scoria and sand, then a wick to take the water up to the roots (fabric rolled into a cylinder), then a topping of potting mix or soil ready to take plants. An overflow pipe is also installed in case of flooding.

”It doesn’t eliminate the need for watering,” explains Edmanson, ”but you are making the most of the rainwater when it arrives.”The elements

Explore the three states of water – liquid, vapour and solid – at the Immersery Festival Kitchen Bar and Raingarden.

SOLID

A floating bar stationed on a barge provided by Port of Melbourne beneath the Sandridge Rail Bridge on the Yarra River assumes the position of water’s solid state. Expect new-wave twists on cocktail classics exploring the three states of water as prepared by some of the best bartenders in Australia. Thursday to Sunday night is the time for one-off bar collaborations that bring together MONA’s Void Bar (Hobart) with the Lui Bar, Bulletin Place (Sydney) with Black Pearl and Alfred and Constance (Brisbane) with LuWow. Self-guided wine tasting flights available. Seats 80 and is available for private hire.

LIQUID

Food and plant life form the basis of water’s most familiar state. Bite in to the flavours of some of Melbourne’s top chefs at a swath of dining spaces, from river-edge seating for 30 to ticketed undercover seating for 100, as they prepare food using a range of water-based techniques against the backdrop of vertical raingardens, where visitors can learn about the benefits of this resourceful approach to planting.

VAPOUR

For the first time, an installation on the disused Sandridge Rail Bridge will open up a new part of the city to the keen and the curious. The idea of the project is to form an urban retreat, a free space where an artistic scramble of PVC water pipes forms a cloud canopy framing a new vantage point of the city, soundtracked by a water-themed sound installation. Carry up a drink and enjoy the views.

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Bombers coach Thompson feels loss

Bombers coach Mark Thompson wasn’t one to get sentimental about his return to top-level coaching at the end of Monday night’s game. He was just grumpy at losing a game his side looked to have safely in its keeping.
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The familiar feeling, he said, was “that anger you feel when you lose matches. It shouldn’t be like that, it’s only a practice game, but yeah. I don’t like losing.” Thompson’s demeanour was affable, but no one could doubt his desire after his side had gone down by a point in its first competitive hit-out for 2014.

“We look for positives and look for room for improvement – that’s what these games are for,” he said. “Unhappy to lose the game and unhappy that we broke down when we had a lead. We want to win all games. But it is a practice match, and we expect to get better.”

The structure of the Essendon side looked more settled than in recent years, with Michael Hurley now settled in defence, while Jake Carlisle and Joe Daniher showed the makings of a potent two-pronged forward line. Daniher approaches season 2014 a far stronger player, having gained over 15 kilograms since joining the club.

“For about six weeks we’ve been playing them together, and we’ll continue that,” Thompson said. “We can’t play them enough together; I think they’re going to have a good chemistry in the end.

“They’re both 200 centimetres, so they’re going to be hard to stop if they stay fit and work together and get some experience under their belt playing together.”

“We want to play Hurls back. He played all his junior footy there, and he just looks good; he looks safe. The back six, when it repeatedly comes in quickly, any side’s going to get goals kicked on them. That happened a bit too much tonight.

“We did have a young side, and they did show ability at times – [Martin] Gleeson, [Zach and Jackson] Merrett, [Jason] Ashby, Joe Daniher. That’s what I was pleased about tonight; I just wanted to see these players play, and they excited us.”

Gold Coast Suns coach Guy McKenna was wry about the result. “We could say it went according to plan,” he quipped. “It was a good result, better to finish that way than the other way, and we got away relatively unscathed from an injury point of view, so we’re happy with that.

“Certainly [I was] pleased by the boys’ willingness to fight out the game, not that I’ve ever questioned their ability to do that, but I thought that was a good sign of their maturity.

“We turned over some good kids again. Sean Lemmons, before he hurt his shoulder – he may be right next week, he showed he’s got some wheels down back. Clay Cameron, his ability to compete in the air and on the ground on talls and smalls. And Jack Martin certainly got his hands on the ball and tried to take the game on, got caught on a few occasions and got away on some others.”

Both clubs said there would be turnover in their midfields approaching their next games, with captain Jobe Watson, Brendon Goddard and Paul Chapman all to come in for the Bombers. McKenna said Gary Ablett, Michael Rischitelli and David Swallow would all be rested, with the club to face the Brisbane Lions in Townsville on Sunday.

Essendon didn’t escape unscathed from the game, with youngster Alex Browne injuring a knee and likely to miss weeks, though it is not yet known whether he has injured his medial or anterior cruciate ligament.

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What is the difference between farro, spelt and freekeh?

What is the difference between farro, einkorn, spelt and freekeh? C. Fraser
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Centuries ago, Western civilisation had a midlife crisis and dumped a whole lot of wholesome and dependable grains for a newer, more glamorous species from the same genus – namely, wheat. We mostly stopped growing grains such as einkorn (Triticum monococcum), spelt (Triticum aestivum spelta) and farro (Triticum turgidum dicoccum) in favour of modern wheat varieties such as durum (Triticum durum).

Freekeh is made from modern wheat varieties that are harvested green then roasted. Einkorn is still grown in parts of Europe on poor soils. In France, it is called petit epeautre, or ”little spelt”, and in Italy, it is called farro piccolo or ”little farro”. It can be cooked in a chewy pilaf or tossed through a salad with beans and tomatoes.

Farro, sometimes called emmer, can be cooked as one would steam brown rice and added to salads, but is delicious made into farrotto, similar to risotto, or simmered in chicken stock with sauteed carrots and celery to make soup. Spelt is high in protein and quite commonly ground into flour and used in baking. Depending on how the grains are processed, they may require soaking before cooking.

How can anyone eat persimmons? They are vile. E. Latz

Oh dear. There are two types of persimmon. One is mouth-puckeringly astringent until it ripens to form an aromatic jelly inside. The other can be eaten like an apple. I think you may have tried the former. The persimmons that are ready to eat are varieties such as fuyu and its more colourful cousin, jiro.

Varieties such as nightingale need to be ripened at room temperature to break down the flesh inside, lose their astringency, and reach their voluptuous and heady jelly-like best.

What can I do with jars of old marmalade? C. O’Neill

There is a great chef called Suzi McKay, who used to grow all her vegetables for her restaurant long before it was fashionable. She smoked her lamb racks in the flue of a wood stove and had a collection of aged hand-made preserves. I tracked her down to her restaurant, the Five Fires, at the Jordan in Port Lincoln.

Although I have not found any health authority information to back her statement, she claims: ”Properly made marmalade never goes off. It ages like wine.” She reeled off a series of ideas on how to use aged marmalade: try it in a bread-and-butter pudding made with croissants; or a steamed pudding with marmalade at the bottom of the bowl; or a dipping sauce or marinade for steamed snapper with ginger, chilli, fish sauce, soy sauce and marmalade.

”When I had the Harvest Home Hotel,” she says, ”I would sear a duck’s breast, slather it in aged marmalade, then throw it into a stinking-hot oven and serve it with a baked eggplant seasoned with Moroccan spices.”

What is the difference between Israeli cous cous and moghrabieh? K. Lang

Israeli cous cous, or ptitim, is made from wheat-flour paste that is extruded to make pearl-like balls and was developed in Israel during the mid-20th century. It is cooked like pasta and used in salads. Moghrabieh is a cous cous made from semolina, hand-rolled and eaten throughout the Arab world. Cooked in seasoned chicken stock and served with meats, it is delicious.

Letters

The sausage correspondence continues, with J. Simpson writing: ”Around 1965, when I was 13, I worked on Saturday mornings making sausages for [butcher’s name omitted for legal reasons] in Cronulla. These sausages were very popular, with people travelling from afar to buy them. One day we had a visit from a Food Authority inspector who took away various samples. X was subsequently prosecuted and fined for selling sausages that contained insufficient fat. When this was reported in the media, we were inundated with customers. It was highly suspected, though never proven, that X and the inspector were wartime mates.”

Send your queries to [email protected]爱上海同城论坛m.au

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Investigate claims of burns, say voters

Prime Minister Tony Abbott complained about the ABC’s coverage of the burns claims, but a new poll says two-thirds of Australian voters believe the claims should be investigated. Photo: Andrew MearesFederal politics: full coverageMichael Gordon: Demonising and secrecy must endFresh breakout at Manus Island
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Two-thirds of Australian voters, including more than half of all Coalition supporters, believe claims that asylum seekers’ hands were deliberately burnt by Australian border protection authorities should be investigated.

That is despite the Abbott government refusing to launch an investigation into the claims, while slamming 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, with just three in 10 voters viewing the publicly funded national broadcaster as politically biased while 59 per cent said it was not.

Asked if they thought allegations that the navy had deliberately burnt 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 constituted just 31 per cent.

Among ALP supporters, the ratio in favour of investigation was 75 per cent – a figure that 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 the veracity of the torture allegations, but stood by the story from its Jakarta correspondent, George Roberts.

However its reportage became a focal point for a slew of conservative-led attacks alleging the ABC was left-leaning, culturally biased against the Coalition, and without mature judgment.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott complained the ABC too often took ”everyone’s side but Australia’s”, as he criticised it for lacking a basic affection for the home team. He said the ABC should have given the navy ”the benefit of the doubt”.

Defence Minister David Johnston, however, made those comments look mild, admitting he was so furious at ABC management that he had taken a week to cool down enough to speak publicly.

He attacked ABC management for using ”weasel words” to justify its reporting, which he said had ”maliciously maligned” the navy.

”If ever there was an event that justified a detailed inquiry, some reform and investigation of the ABC, this is it,” he said.

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, over half (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”.

However, just 1 per cent branded it either ”un-Australian” or ”anti-Australian”.

Support for the ABC has softened slightly, however, with the 67 per cent backing of its news and current affairs services dropping 3 percentage points over 14 years, when its support was measured at 70 per cent.

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Demonising and secrecy must stop, Mr Abbott

Federal politics: full coverageFresh breakout at Manus Island
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The apparent delivery of the first of Tony Abbott’s three-word promises as Prime Minister is being undermined by a lack of accountability that is unsustainable.

It is one thing to hold back information that might be useful to people smugglers. It is another to dismiss serious allegations as unworthy of investigation, and to besmirch those who consider it in the public interest to report them.

And it is another to continually demonise those already in indefinite detention in punishing conditions on Nauru and Manus Island, and to obfuscate on their fate.

Abbott’s ”stop the boats” promise clearly resonated with the electorate, but voters are entitled to know how that promise is being implemented and even Coalition supporters – or a majority of them – believe the claims of ”torture at sea” should be subjected to scrutiny.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison rejects calls for an inquiry because he has been assured that nothing untoward happened when a group of asylum seekers was turned back to Indonesia.

He says the claims that asylum seekers were deliberately burned are being ”endlessly repeated” in a bid by ”smugglers and others” to undermine the government’s policy, yet surely a short, sharp and independent probe could have quickly put them to bed.

The Prime Minister says he is ”thrilled” Indonesia and the US can have candid talks, but his joy will be tempered if our largest, nearest neighbour expresses its displeasure at how its opposition to his turn-back-the-boats policy has been so flagrantly disregarded.

Moreover, the lack of clarity about what awaits those already on Nauru and Manus Island is an invitation for tensions to erupt, as they did in a minor way at Manus Island at the weekend.

Telling them, as Abbott did on Monday, that ”if you don’t want to be in detention, don’t come illegally” might deter others from coming but only worsens an already fraught situation in the camps.

So does prejudging their claims by casting them as people who ”are living in a horrible country” and want a better life.

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Let’s go aperitivo

Aperolspritz. Photo: Anna KuceraItalians certainly aren’t above criticism (Silvio Berlusconi, anyone?), but when it comes to eating and drinking – and the rituals associated with eating and drinking – they lead a fairly blameless existence.
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Take aperitivo for example. The word, which comes from the Latin ”aperire”, meaning ”to open”, describes a particular type of drink imbibed before dinner to help stimulate the appetite. Usually dry and crisp like prosecco or slightly bitter like Campari, these types of drinks can also be found in other cultures (the French Lillet, for example, or fino sherry in Spain), but only in Italy does aperitivo operate as a verb as much as a noun.

The phrase ”prendiamo un aperitivo” is an invitation to participate in a post-work, pre-dinner ritual that involves having a drink and tucking into a variety of snacks that are often included in the price of the drink (though drink prices are often jacked up a little to cover the cost).

Some of these snacks are as prosaic as potato chips and bowls of nuts, but it varies from bar to bar and might also include grissini, pizza, little pasta dishes, fresh mozzarella, grilled vegetables and salumi.

Whatever the offer, the atmosphere of the aperitivo is innately civilised and convivial, leagues away from the idea of ”happy hour” or an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The drinks are targeted to the purpose of the aperitivo – getting you primed for dinner – with the most common being the Spritz (most commonly a mix of Aperol, prosecco and soda water, served over lots of ice with a slim wedge of orange) and the Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water either shaken with ice and strained or served on the rocks, both garnished with an orange wedge). Drinking prosecco, champagne or table wine (as long as it’s on the crisper, drier end of the spectrum) is also perfectly legit.

Aperitivo is widespread across Italy but is more common in the north, with places like Milan and Venice elevating it to a kind of art form.

It’s a little harder to come by in Australia but it does exist, though often you’ll have to pay for the snacks as you go. It may not be quite in the spirit of true aperitivo but, as the Italians know, even the idea of aperitivo is better than no aperitivo at all.

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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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Alcohol lobby link to dumping health body

Federal politics: full coverage
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Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash’s former chief of staff had links to the alcohol industry – and played a key role in stripping Australia’s peak drug and alcohol body of its funding.

Alastair Furnival told staff at the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia in a meeting in December that their organisation, established 46 years ago, would no longer be funded.

The Public Health Association of Australia and Australian Medical Association say the de-funding is not in the public’s best interests and must be reversed.

Fairfax Media can reveal that Mr Furnival ran the meeting where the council was informed of the funding cut, with no input from the Assistant Health Minister despite a former Liberal politician being a key player on the council’s board.

Former Liberal MP Mal Washer said he had contacted Senator Nash’s office on several occasions, but had only been able to speak to Mr Furnival.

”Normally when you contact them, they will have a yarn with an ex-federal colleague,” Dr Washer said. ”There was no reason given [by Mr Furnival] for the cut except for ‘We don’t have enough money and have a nice day’.”

He said neither Mr Furnival nor Senator Nash appeared to have much knowledge about the council, including its huge library of more than 100,000 drug and alcohol resources that will now have to close.

Mr Furnival resigned as Senator Nash’s chief of staff on Friday citing a ”smear campaign” against him after Fairfax revealed that he and Senator Nash had intervened to have a new healthy food website taken down, and that he had been involved in high-level food policy negotiations with the states and territories without disclosing that he co-owns with his wife a lobbying company that works for the soft drink and confectionery industry. At these meetings both declared no conflict of interest.

Senator Nash made a late-night statement to the Senate on Tuesday to admit that Mr Furnival had ”a shareholding” in Australian Public Affairs, after earlier stating he had no connection with it.

Documents lodged with the corporate regulator show it is wholly owned by another company, Strategic Issues Management, of which Mr Furnival and his wife Tracey Cain are the sole shareholders, and Mr Furnival was the director.

In 2004, Strategic Issues Management was described as specialising in co-operatives in the alcohol, transport and agriculture industries. Australian Public Affairs appears to have been involved in alcohol-industry PR at least as recently as 2012.

Public Health Association of Australia head Michael Moore said the government had to reinstate the council’s funding and reinstate the website.

The council’s chief executive, David Templeman, agreed the decision should be overturned. ”I’m just literally gob-smacked by the vetting process that has gone on in the Prime Minister’s office,” he said. The government had changed its story on why the funding was cut, first saying that it needed the savings and then wrongly stating that the council had been in financial difficulties.

”I know that the industry has not been happy with our advocacy, they expressed that to the chair of the ADCA board last year,” he said.

Council patron Ian Webster, Emeritus Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of NSW, said in the past it had successfully worked with numerous state and territory governments, including John Howard’s.

It also helped develop the Hawke government’s National Drug Strategy. He said it was ”absolutely strange” to suddenly have its funding removed. He said it had taken a number of positions on alcohol – including supporting taxation based on alcohol volume, rather than product, and limits on advertising and availability – that were opposed by many in the industry.

”I do know that there are some powerful interests involved … we now have an alcohol-industrial complex at every different level promoting an economy where each on its own is reasonable, but together does a great deal of harm to the community,” he said.

Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King said: ”Senator Nash needs to make a full account of these matters. In particular why she chose to abolish ADCA and is opposing the health-star rating system in light of these conflict-of-interest revelations”.

Australian Medical Association head Steve Hambleton said the funding cut should be reviewed. ”When we see adverse effects and acute side-effects from a toxic product continuing to rise we have to really question the wisdom of de-funding a body that is trying to reverse that,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Senator Nash said there had been no discussions about whether the funding cut would be reviewed.

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