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He has since been replaced by the former Howard finance minister Nick Minchin in a move criticised as jobs for the boys.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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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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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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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

Filling

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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Best of the best NSW produce

Prime yields: cool-climate apples.Many years ago, wheat farmer Doug Cush was in Italy selling wheat. When a buyer for one of the large pasta manufacturers asked him where he was from, Cush told him somewhere between Narrabri and Moree in the north-west of NSW.
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”Aah, Bellata,” said the Italian buyer.

”How could he have known that?” Cush says. ”Bellata is tiny. There’s only 400 people in the district and 100 people in town, and that’s probably an exaggeration.”

What the Italian buyer knew about this small Australian farming community was that it produced some of the world’s best durum wheat.

Northern NSW is prime hard wheat-growing country. With a gluten count of between 40 and 50 per cent – much higher than soft wheat used in bread and biscuit-making – hard wheat is the key to good pasta.

Cush would never have contemplated growing anything else. ”What you aim to do as a farmer is look to the land and climate,” he says. ”We don’t try to grow biscuit flour because the climate here is wrong.”

NSW abounds with places that have become synonymous with the food grown there. Mention Bilpin or Batlow and you’ll get ”apples” in response. These cool-climate growing areas, along with Orange in the NSW central west, make NSW the second-highest apple producer in the country after Victoria. (Who knew we produce more apples than Tasmania, the Apple Isle?)

When it comes to potatoes you’re talking Dorrigo on the Northern Tablelands and Robertson in the Southern Highlands.

”Go into any fruit and vegetable shop on the east coast of NSW and the best looking potato on the shelf will be a Robertson potato,” says John Hill, Robertson potato farmer.

Like all farmland close to Sydney, Robertson has come under intense pressure from rising land prices and over the years the number of potato growers has fallen from 40 to three. With 60 hectares under cultivation, the Hill family – three generations are involved in the farm – is the largest grower in the district.

At the other end of the spectrum is Norman Gair, who decided 10 years ago to stay small and grow exclusively for farmers’ markets. He and partner Robyn Jackson grow 42 varieties of potato on their Robertson farm, including Toolangi delights and Otway reds.

”The iron-rich ferrosols that you find in Robertson have the advantage of a fine microstructure that doesn’t impede growth or drainage,” says Damien Field, senior lecturer at Sydney University’s Faculty of Agriculture and Environment. ”It’s a soil prized for potato production.”

Think milk and the south coast immediately springs to mind. ”Dairy cows originated out of places like Jersey and Guernsey,” Picton dairy farmer John Fairley says. ”They do better in cool climates. Which is not to say you can’t dairy farm anywhere else, but the south coast has traditionally done well in dairying. They have the climate, regular rainfall and good pasture.”

When Ridley Bell relocated from Victoria to northern NSW in 1979, it was in search of the ideal combination of rich soil and subtropical climate to grow blueberries. He found it at Lindenvale, between Lismore and Ballina, and thereby introduced a new horticulture industry to the region.

In the 1970s there was a lot of change in what was formerly dairy and pork country. Plantings of other new crops, such as avocado and macadamias, were greeted with scepticism. But decades on, both industries have proved themselves.

”There are very few places in Australia, or even the world, that have the all-important combination of subtropical weather, high rainfall, warm winter temperature and rich volcanic soil,” says Martin Brook, who, with his wife Pam, founded Brookfarm macadamia farm. The Brooks selected a property near Byron Bay and, with an understandable bias, believe the region produces the best-tasting nuts.

Another fairly recent horticultural innovation in Australia is the olive, which grows well in NSW.

”The regions growing olives don’t stop at borders,” says olive grower Robert Armstrong, from Crookwell, on the west-facing slopes of the Great Diving Range.

With about 30,000 hectares devoted to olives, Australia is a minnow compared with the world’s biggest oil producers, Spain and Italy, Armstrong says. But it’s the flavour and freshness of the oils produced here that counts. Armstrong credits the cold Crookwell nights for the robust flavours found in his Alto olives and oil.

Cold nights and frost are essential to growing good raspberries, which is why they do so well in the Southern Highlands.

Nicki and David Penn have been growing raspberries on their Cuttaway Creek farm near Mittagong since 2002. ”Dave’s father used to buy raspberries from this farm to make jam that he would bring to Sydney when he visited us,” says Nicki Penn.

What they don’t sell during the fresh raspberry season (February-March), they turn into vinegar, jams and sauces. All have picked up awards at the Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart Fine Food shows, testament to the quality of the raw ingredients and Nicki’s skill in the kitchen.

Jenny Bradley, a lamb grower from Armatree, north of Dubbo, is a member of the longest-running producer-owned co-operative in Australia, the Tooraweenah Prime Lamb Marketing Co-operative. She believes anywhere is lamb country. Along with beef farming, lamb producing has a long and proud history in NSW.

Peter Strelitz of Milly Hill Lamb agrees: ”We do lamb well throughout NSW – New England, Cowra, Wellington.”

Both producers cite genetics, management of soil and pasture and animal welfare as integral to producing good-quality lambs.

And what about seafood? The New South Wales coast, says consultant John Susman from Fisheads Seafood Strategy, is home to the oyster he considers the greatest on the planet, the Sydney rock. ”It’s unique in that it is grown all along the coast yet tastes different because it reflects the growing conditions in each region.”

Also on Susman’s most-wanted list are king prawns from northern NSW – close to the continental shelf where prawns thrive in the cold, deep water – along with school prawns and the eastern rock lobster.Outstanding in the field

Apples

From Batlow, Bilpin and Orange

Try Mirrabooka Farm, orangeapples爱上海同城论坛m.au

Blueberries

From Coffs Harbour and Northern Rivers

Try Mountain Blue Farms, mountainblue爱上海同城论坛m.au

Durum wheat

From Bellata

Try Bellata Gold durum wheat flour and semolina, bellatagold爱上海同城论坛m.au

Hazelnuts

From Mudgee and Orange

Try Australian Gourmet Hazelnuts, gourmethazelnuts爱上海同城论坛m.au

Lamb

From all over – New England, Cowra, Wellington and the north-west

Try Milly Hill Lamb, millyhill爱上海同城论坛m.au

Macadamia nuts

From Northern Rivers and Nambucca

Try Jelbonleigh Estate, jelbonleigh爱上海同城论坛m.au

Milk

From South Coast

Try Tilba Real Milk, southcoastcheese爱上海同城论坛m.au

Olive oil

From all over – Crookwell, Mudgee, Forbes

Try Rylstone Olive Press olive oil, rylstoneolivepress爱上海同城论坛m.au

Potatoes

From Robertson and Dorrigo

Try Highland Gourmet Potatoes. See Norm and Robyn at Pyrmont Growers’ Market

Raspberries

From cool climates such as Southern Highlands and Orange

Try Cuttaway Creek Raspberry Farm, cuttawaycreek爱上海同城论坛m.au

Sydney rock oysters

From Tweed Heads to Merimbula

Try Tathra Oysters, tathraoysters爱上海同城论坛m.au

Truffles

From Jindabyne, Southern Highlands and central west

Try Lowes Mount Truffiere, lowesmounttruffles爱上海同城论坛m.au

You can explore the best of NSW produce at the NSW Food and Wine Festival – nswfoodandwine爱上海同城论坛m.au.

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Forge axes CEO David Simpson after loss of Horizon Power contract

Forge chief executive David Simpson is believed to have been made redundant from the failed mining services company, joining thousands of rank-and-file workers who have lost their jobs in the wake of its slide into administration.
Shanghai night field

Mr Simpson’s exit in recent days came as Forge lost one of its two remaining contracts over the weekend; the $125 million deal with Horizon Power to build a new power station at South Hedland in Western Australia.

That leaves Forge holding just one contract – to build the Diamantina power station in Queensland – and there was speculation last night that it could be gone within days, too.

The loss of Horizon has seen a further 70 Forge workers lose their jobs, adding to the estimated 1400 to have already been let go.

Last week Forge employees who were working on power stations and mining projects in Western Australia and Queensland were retrenched after the principals of the construction jobs exercised contractual rights they claimed on the projects.

Their retrenchment followed Forge’s financiers withdrawing support for the company earlier last week, with KordaMentha Restructuring appointed receiver and manager, after Forge appointed Ferrier Hodgson as the voluntary administrators.

Still, it is hoped that many of the retrenched employees will find work quickly, and it appears that about 50 former Forge employees working on Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill project will be rehired within days.

Forge and Spanish company Duro Felguera won a $1.47 billion contract to build a processing plant at Roy Hill in December, but Forge’s slide into administration last week has cast doubt over the future of that work, and the jobs of the Forge employees.

Skilled Group spokeswoman Delphine Cassidy said on Monday the company would take on more than 50 of the former Forge employees that were working on Roy Hill, as part of efforts to ensure the contract was not compromised.

The hiring is expected to be an interim measure until a reworking of the contract – which is Duro Felguera’s first in Australia – is completed.

Roy Hill spokesman Darryl Hockey said the Forge failure would not have a major impact on the scheduled completion date of the $US10 billion mine, port and rail project.

”Continuity of construction is important to the Roy Hill project. The key contractors are moving to get things back on track very quickly,” he said.

”We are confident our long-term interests have not been unduly impacted.”

Roy Hill is a joint venture between Ms Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting, Korean steelmaker Posco, China Steel Corporation and Japanese company Marubeni.

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