Archive Month: December 2018
Dec 29 , 2018 / By :

Uber’s Australian general manager, David Rohrsheim, in one of the hire cars. Taxis wait outside Fairfax Media’s Sydney office.
Nanjing Night Net

It’s 5pm on Tuesday and I should have finished work two hours ago. I’m at Fairfax Media’s Pyrmont office at 1 Darling Island Road and I’m more than ready to head home to Surry Hills.

I usually work from home, but today I went into the office to see some colleagues and get a wristband for the staff Christmas party. (OK, maybe I just went in for the wristband.) But instead of taking a taxi – or the light rail to Capitol Theatre and then walking – I decide to try out Sydney’s new on-demand luxury private hire car service, Uber.

I had heard about it properly launching in Sydney this week and thought it might be fun to try it out. It allows you to book a private driver and luxury car (usually a Holden Caprice) via your smartphone whenever you need it and then watch the car and driver approach you on a map with an estimated time of arrival.

This is something that would normally be reserved for rich company executives but is now going mainstream with the help of apps like Uber and Dash being used by private car drivers when they are having down time and want more business.

I book the luxury car and driver at 5.11pm via the app and it tells me a few seconds later that “Ronny” is on his way and will be about 19 minutes. It also shows me a button to call him if need be and sends me a text saying his ETA and how many stars he’s been given by his passengers (4.7 out of 5 – nice work, Ronny!). According to the Uber app, Ronny is currently at Rushcutters Bay. As it’s peak hour, I wonder to myself if he can really make it in the 19 minutes Uber claims.

Meanwhile, outside Fairfax’s office, I see a row of taxis, one of which I normally would have jumped into to go home. At this point I realise my long day at work probably would have been over a lot quicker had I  taken one of them instead of using Uber (or booked an Uber ride a lot earlier than I needed to take it). But heck, I stick with it, especially since this particular ride is free, not because I’ve been offered a review ride as a journalist, but because I noticed a tweet sent out via Twitter with a promotion code late on Tuesday saying rides of $60 or less would be free for the next three hours.

As Ronny makes his way to the office, the taxis begin to pile up at the rank outside work. When I first came outside to wait at 5.21pm there were two taxis and now, at 5.27pm, there are five.

It’s 5.28pm and Ronny has arrived – two minutes earlier than the ETA! (well done, Ronny). I ask him how he got to me so quickly. He tells me he took the cross-city tunnel and complains about how expensive it is ($5 from memory).

But I  knew already that he took the tunnel of course, as I saw him take it on the map as he drove towards me.

As we drive off in his Holden Caprice, he asks where I want to go. I offer directions and he takes me. He tells me how tech illiterate he is, but that hasn’t stopped him from signing up to the Uber app to make more use of his time as a driver.

Three of the best things about travelling this way were the fact 2GB wasn’t playing on the radio, the driver wasn’t talking to his wife on his phone and he didn’t smell.

All too often I’ve been in a taxi and all three of the above annoying factors have been at play.

I also found the conversation I had with the driver was more intelligent than what I’m normally used to with a taxi driver. He also knew where I wanted to go too, unlike many, many Sydney taxi drivers. For example, I remember once telling a taxi driver to go to Star City and he didn’t know where it was.

The interior of this car was also very nice and it smelt fresh.

Once we get to just outside my house I Ronny him to pull over. He pulls out his iPhone 5, presses an on-screen button and it calculates the fare I would have had to pay had the ride not been free. As it pops up on his screen I’m impressed: $27.95.

Normally a taxi home from work would cost me somewhere between $14 and $16. At this point I should mention that I wouldn’t normally have to give the driver money in the form of cash or credit/debit card. That information I saved on the Uber app on my smartphone earlier when I signed up so that the money could be deducted automatically after a trip.

Once I accept the payment, Ronny press another on-screen button and gives me, the passenger, 5 out of 5 stars. He says this is so other drivers know whether I’m good enough to pick-up or whether I’ve been given a bad rating as a passenger.

Very soon after this I get an email showing the journey on a map and a breakdown of the charges, time spent in the taxi and the distance travelled. This is very cool, and not something I would normally get from a taxi service.

Overall, I rate the experience 5 out 5. Yes, there are taxi apps like Ingogo, GoCatch, myTaxi and Taxi Pro that can get me an on-demand taxi (not that I needed one as there is a rank outside work), but I would find this service really useful if it was 3am on a Saturday and I was stuck in Kings Cross with a bunch of drunks all trying to get taxis. I’d also find it useful for taking someone on a date.

General manager for Uber Sydney, David Rohrsheim, wouldn’t tell me how many drivers Uber currently using its service but he said Uber was always adding enough cars to meet demand.

He said the feedback from users had been great, especially from those in areas poorly services by taxis. On average, he estimates his service costs about 20 per cent more than taking a taxi and is much cheaper than booking a luxury private car directly with a private hire car service.

“We make hire cars more accessible,” he said. “And we think there is a lot of demand for something like this … It reduces the rates and increases the volume for private car drivers.”

 This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Dec 29 , 2018 / By :

One day it was “world’s best practice”, the next it was time to consider an “alternative method”.
Nanjing Night Net

The operator of the Tasmania Mine at Beaconsfield has quietly stopped dumping its toxic waste back into the historic gold mine but neither the operator nor the state regulators is willing to explain the reasons for the backflip.

BusinessDay reported in August opposition to a proposal by the operator BCD Resources to dump 300,000 tonnes of tailings – mining leftovers thick with arsenic, cyanide and other toxins – straight back into the underground mine itself.

At the time, BCD chief executive Peter Thompson, West Tamar mayor Barry Easther, Tasmania EPA and the state department, Mineral Resources Tasmania, all denied there was a risk of poisonous seepage into the water table as a result of the waste.

The plan was “world’s best practice”, said Thompson. EPA director Alex Schaap agreed with Thompson’s assessment and the company’s waste proposals.

Fine print

Yet buried in the small print in the latest BCD quarterly release is this: “Removal of tailings from the plastic-lined tailing dam 2 by hydromining (water cannon and suction pumps) has been suspended after the removal of 20 per cent of its contents as this technique was neither effective nor efficient. Alternative, lower cost means for closure of tails dam 2 are under investigation”.

The company has dumped one-fifth of its waste from its main tailings dam back down the mine but stopped, with little explanation. Contacted last week, BCD chief financial officer Rochelle Greenwood declined to elaborate on the decision.

Peter Thompson was unavailable for comment as he had left the company. The EPA’s Alex Schaap issued this statement through a spokeswoman:

“I am considering a proposal from the company for an alternative method of management of tailings at the Beaconsfield site.”

There is no news as to whether the decision to stop dumping the tailings was due to safety reasons, environmental reasons, technical reasons or cost reasons – a mixture of these – or even intervention by other parties.

Tragic past

This Beaconsfield gold mine is no stranger to controversy. Its collapse on Anzac Day in 2005 killed miner Larry Knight and buried two others underground, before a dramatic rescue.

Both before and after that there had been rancorous controversy and a slather of legal actions over the ownership and corporate activity of the mine. Even today, a nine-year battle over a Freedom of Information request relating to the abandoned investigation of the corporate collapse by the regulators remains unresolved.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is still refusing to hand over FOI documents despite orders from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). It still denies a cover-up.

The dispute over the tailings then, and the latest mysterious volte-face, is darkly befitting of the history of the Tasmania Mine.

The practice of pumping benign tailings underground to backfill mining stopes is common practice in Australia – as BCD had claimed – and it was used previously at the mine itself. But one mining expert told BusinessDay tailings had “never before been used in this country to fill up all the non-stope mine openings (such as ventilation shafts, the main access decline, main levels, drives, cross cuts etc) in an underground mine and therefore resulted in the sterilisation of significant JORC-standard mineral resources”.

Waterlogged slimes

 BCD had claimed, he said, that filling up all the mine openings with toxic tailings would not prevent the mine being reopened. Thompson had told BusinessDay that it would be easy to drill back through the tailings in all the openings even if the slimes were waterlogged.

Critics of the plan disagreed, citing not only environmental risks to the water table but also “economic vandalism” in sterilising a demonstrated gold resource. There is still plenty of gold in this mine, although costly and technically difficult to extract.

The company had declined to discuss the size of the remaining gold resources. It did not dispute the calculation (based on its own announcements before it began to play down the size of the resource this year) that remaining resources were at least 275,000 ounces of gold, worth over $420 million in the ground at the current gold price of about $1530 an ounce

Critics of the tailings proposal also claimed that BCD was seeking to obtain a short-term financial benefit, of the order of $2 million to $3 million, related to environmental bonds. The Tasmanian government, via its department, Mineral Resources Tasmania (MRT), and its regulator, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have approved the BCD proposal.

Read more here

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Dec 29 , 2018 / By :

‘We will always defend our interests’Twist in a bitter feud
Nanjing Night Net

It is understood that Tourism Australia will hold a board meeting this afternoon to discuss the shock decision by the Qantas boss, Alan Joyce, to cancel a $40 million contract with the tourism group.

Joyce gave another spray today to the covert operation a group of businessmen are running to take control of the airline and oust him from the top job.

At a lunch speech, Joyce referred to the group of businessmen, including the former chief executive Geoff Dixon, the former senior executive Peter Gregg and Mark Carnegie, as APA Mark 2.

He was referring to the failed APA bid by Qantas in 2007 at $5.40 a share. He didn’t mention that he was part of APA Mark 1.

While the group that makes up “APA Mark 2” has not announced its intentions, Joyce knows something is going on and is trying to stop it while it is still in its embryonic stages.

To this end he is using various tactics to flush out the club, with the latest being his decision to suspend a 40-year relationship worth more than $40 million over the next three years with Tourism Australia, on the basis of a conflict of interest.

The conflict, he believes, is that the chairman of Tourism Australia is Geoff Dixon.

This is designed to put pressure on Dixon or the government to force his resignation or make him come clean on his role in the consortium.

Joyce referred to this decision in his speech: “Today you’ve seen mention of correspondence relating to the Qantas relationship with Tourism Australia and a conflict of interest issue. Given that the Tourism Australia chairman is a member of the APA Mark 2 club, we deemed it prudent to suspend our partnership with Tourism Australia.”

Joyce is clearly rattled by what is going on. Qantas’s share price is trading at about $1.34, putting it on a market cap of $3 billion, which is a far cry from the $2 a share it was listed at 17 years ago. It is also a long way from a takeover offer five years ago of $5.40.

The consortium has been toying with the idea of doing something with Qantas for more than a year to address the airline’s tumbling share price, disappointing earnings, stoushes with the unions and its latest decision to tie up with Emirates.

APA Mark 2 see value in the airline and want to unlock it for shareholders. This includes floating Jetstar and the frequent flyer business and beefing up its strategy in Asia. To put it into perspective, Jetstar’s profit in the latest year was a little more than $200 million, as was its frequent flyer business. If these were floated they could each have a value of up to $2 billion.

The consortium is yet to take the plunge but there is enough information out there that the way they plan to do it is by building a stake at the same time as garnering support from shareholders to get them on the board and make changes from within.

Joyce tried to be dismissive of the speculation by saying there was no evidence they knew their aims and ambitions themselves.

Dixon et al know the airline like the back of their hands and have spent a lot of time thinking about Qantas and its strategy.

The move to suspend the deal with Tourism Australia was designed to send a powerful message to the consortium that Joyce and the Qantas board will not take the assault laying down.

“At Qantas we are not looking to recreate the past. We are not dwelling on earlier times. The world has moved on and we are busy taking care of today’s business, looking after Qantas interests and advancing our strategy for all of our stakeholders and for all of our shareholders.”

The clock is now ticking for the consortium to put their cards on the table and let shareholders decide on the best way forward for the company.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Dec 29 , 2018 / By :

The architect of the superannuation system, the former prime minister Paul Keating, has attacked super fund managers for investing too heavily in the stock market.
Nanjing Night Net

Mr Keating said Australians expected unrealistically high returns from their super funds, which in turn encouraged fund managers to take too many risks on the market.

He also called for an increase in super fund contributions, from 12 to 15 per cent, but said the additional contribution should be placed in a long-term, government-run fund and devoted to healthcare.

He said this was necessary because people were living far longer than was expected when the superannuation scheme was set up.

“Instead of 15 per cent wage equivalent going simply to retirement accumulations, managed by the private funds management industry, I’m suggesting that an alternative may be 12 per cent under the SG [superannuation guarantee] being managed privately and 3 per cent collected under a modified SG being managed within a government longevity insurance fund,” Mr Keating told the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia conference this Wednesday.

Mr Keating said Australian super funds had about two-and-a-half times the exposure to the stock market as European schemes, meaning they were too exposed to the most volatile asset class.

He said fund managers reaped benefits in the form of increased fees when their investment decisions performed well, but were not exposed to any downside risk when the market plunged.

“This is pretty squalid,” he said.

He said both sides of politics, together with business and unions, needed to join together to redesign the super system to cope with an ageing population.

And he praised opposition leader Tony Abbott and shadow treasurer Joe Hockey for supporting the Gillard government’s move to increase super contributions from 9 per cent to 12 per cent.

“The question is, is it enough? The answer is no,” he said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Dec 29 , 2018 / By :

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce says the airline will strongly defend its interests amid agitation from a group of high-profile investors he describes as “APA Mark II”.
Nanjing Night Net

Speaking at a business luncheon in Sydney on Wednesday, Mr Joyce noted that the club of investors included some key players from the failed $11.1 billion bid for Qantas in 2007 by Airline Partners Australia.

“There has been some interesting speculation about the aims and ambitions of APA Mark II – but so far there is no evidence they know their aims and ambitions themselves,” he said.

Mr Joyce said the world had moved on from the days when the private equity consortium was circling Qantas and the airline was now “busy taking care of today’s business, looking after Qantas interests, and advancing our strategy for all of our stakeholders and for all of our shareholders”. “Where we see specific issues that need addressing, we do so. We will always defend our interests,” he said.

A group of investors including former Qantas executives Geoff Dixon and Peter Gregg, Sydney money man Mark Carnegie and adman John Singleton has been garnering support from large shareholders and unions for a change in strategic direction at the de facto national carrier.

In an escalation of the stand off with his former mentor, Mr Joyce has suspended Qantas’s ties with Tourism Australia because of what he describes as the conflicted position of Mr Dixon who is its chairman.

He wrote to the federal Tourism Minister, Martin Ferguson, late on Monday to advise him of its decision to suspend the relationship with Australia’s peak tourism body.

“The consortium is determined to stymie the Qantas-Emirates partnership which has otherwise been enthusiastically embraced by the tourism industry, our customers and our shareholders,” Mr Joyce said in the letter to the Tourism Minister.

“Qantas is of the view that as chairman of Tourism Australia, Mr Dixon is in a position of significant and untenable potential conflict.” Mr Joyce told the luncheon today that he had “deemed it prudent” to suspend its partnership with the country’s peak tourism body because Mr Dixon was a “member of the APA Mark II club”.

He also made a strong defence of his five-year strategy which he said was “firmly established” and the “main game now” was about implementing it. “We need to get on with the game-changing partnership with Emirates, if and when we pass the anti-trust hurdles,” he said. The group of well-connected businessmen has privately questioned the benefits to Qantas of the extensive tie up with Emirates. The deal is under consideration by the competition regulator, which is expected to release a draft decision before Christmas.

In a rebuff to the agitators, Mr Joyce said 98 per cent of Qantas’s shareholders supported the close alliance with Emirates. The group of investors has a stake of about 1.5 per cent in Qantas.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.