Tabcorp bets on itself for the future

TABCORP is pushing for New South Wales to keep its wagering licence exclusive next year, but backed itself to beat the competition whatever the outcome.
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”The last jurisdiction to review its off-course licensing arrangements was Victoria and that state determined that a sole retail wagering licence was the optimal model,” Tabcorp chairman Paula Dwyer told investors at Wednesday’s annual meeting.

”We are hopeful that the NSW government will come to a similar conclusion when reviewing the best model for funding its racing industry.”

Tabcorp recently reported a 2.9 per cent rise in revenue to $488.9 million for the first quarter, with wagering revenue down slightly due to less favourable terms governing its new wagering licence in Victoria.

But the company said it had increased its share of the overall wagering market, demonstrating the success of its strategies.

”We are competing well,” Ms Dwyer said. ”We have increased our share of wagering turnover to 44 per cent … so we’ve increased it in a period of heightened competition. We’ve invested in our channels to market so we believe we have got the most competitive offering.”

Ms Dwyer offered little news on the company’s $687 million legal action against the Victorian government over the loss of its poker machine licence this year.

She said the company would not put a limit on legal costs. The matter was before the court and Tabcorp would continue to evaluate the case.

Ms Dwyer said the case could take years.

All the company’s resolutions were passed with strong support from shareholders, although there was contention about whether it was appropriate to have Tabcorp’s former chief executive, Elmer Funke Kupper, on the board.

A representative of the Australian Shareholders Association said it was ”poor governance” for a former CEO to serve on the board and look over the decisions made by current chief executive David Attenborough.

The ASA did not believe Mr Funke Kupper could efficiently serve on the board of Tabcorp as well as being chief executive of the Australian Securities Exchange.

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Joyce shrugs off any concern over airline competition

QANTAS chief executive Alan Joyce has dismissed concerns about an emboldened competitor following Virgin Australia’s move to take control of Tiger Australia and regional airline Skywest.
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Speaking a day after Virgin sought to widen its reach, Mr Joyce said Qantas was ”in the best position in all segments that it operates in” regardless of the competition from its rival.

”We’re going to be very competitive, no matter what happens [to the competitive environment],” he told a tourism forum in Canberra. ”I’d rather have the best business airline in the country; I’d rather have the best low-cost carrier in the country; I’d rather have the best regional carrier in the country.”

Virgin’s advances on Tiger and Skywest will require approval from the competition regulator, which has expressed concerns about the creation of a duopoly in the domestic market.

Merrill Lynch analysts said they did not expect an immediate response from Qantas, but the key risk for the incumbent was a quick boost in the size of Tiger’s fleet. ”If Tiger proceeds with expanding its fleet, we expect Qantas will respond by adding capacity to defend its 65 per cent market share,” they said.

Virgin has proposed lifting Tiger’s fleet from 11 aircraft to 35 within the next five years, which could up the budget airline’s share of the domestic market to 10 per cent. A larger Tiger threatens to lower returns for Qantas and budget offshoot Jetstar, as they will be forced to respond to retain market dominance.

Macquarie Equities analysts said Virgin’s plans to buy a 60 per cent stake in Tiger would give it an ”additional lever to tackle Qantas at both ends of the market with a lower cost base in each”. But the analysts said investors’ main concern for Virgin would be the time it would take to turn around Tiger, which has only made a profit once in the past 10 quarters.

”Strategically the acquisitions … improve Virgin’s domestic platform, providing it with a comprehensive product portfolio,” they said. ”However, turning around Tiger will be a significant task.”

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BHP aims to dump trucks

‘It takes 10 to 11 workers for every truck’ says BHP executive Marcus Randolph.TRUCKS could soon disappear from some mines altogether, with BHP Billiton confirming it is investigating technology that could render the dump-truck irrelevant.
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Just as the industry was growing accustomed to the notion of driverless and autonomous trucks working the world’s mines, BHP executive Marcus Randolph said the resources giant was investigating mobile crushing and processing equipment that could be moved close to the ore, rather than the other way around.

”The technology has shifted … We have got to a point where we have sizers and crushers of substantial size that you can move in a day or two,” he said.

”We are getting to the point where you can bring your crushers much closer to the face and it is practical to run mines without the truck, where the loading gear loads straight into your bulk mining system.”

BHP and particularly Rio Tinto have invested heavily in autonomous trucks and trains, which are claimed to have lower error rates, better productivity and reduce the costs of employing and accommodating drivers in remote mine sites such as the Pilbara.

But Mr Randolph said even greater savings and efficiencies could be gained if the trucks were removed altogether.

”When you run a truck, it takes 10 to 11 employees for every truck,” he said.

”It takes 4½ to five to run it, all the crews that do the maintenance on it, all the camp people that do the camp cleaning and cooking and everything else.

”If you go autonomous you get rid of half of those. If you go truckless you get rid of all of them. You do this at a time when you see increasing diesel prices, carbon taxes, a number of reasons why getting rid of trucks or using fewer trucks is desirable.”

Mr Randolph said the technology was already viable in mines with soft ground that did not require blasting but he said it could be adapted to also work in mines that did require blasting.

He said the future was likely to have a place for both autonomous trucks and truckless mines, and BHP was ”focused on both”.

The comments came in a briefing with British investors overnight, where BHP discussed at length its plans for its iron ore and coal businesses.

Most notably, BHP said it could get significantly more export capacity for its iron ore within the Port Hedland inner harbour if smaller rivals failed to use their capacity.

Port Hedland Port Authority refused to confirm that such ”use it or lose it” provisions existed, and smaller miners have previously bristled at such a suggestion.

Earlier this year the West Australian government assured smaller miners such as Atlas Iron, Hancock Prospecting and Brockman Mining their port capacities were secure.

But there is believed to be a class of capacity, known as D class, that allows an exporter to opportunistically take advantage of capacity that is not being used for some reason.

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The answers all in good time

Archie Panjabi won an Emmy for her portrayal of Kalinda Sharma in The Good Wife.ARCHIE Panjabi has an intriguing theory. What if the ”good wife” behind the title of the excellent US drama series The Good Wife is not Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick, but rather Panjabi’s own cooly dexterous investigator Kalinda Sharma? Four years into the role, it’s a concept Panjabi has begun to seriously mull over.
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The early episodes of the fourth season, which Channel Ten has been airing swiftly after the US, has seen the introduction of Kalinda’s husband, Nick, played by British actor Marc Warren.

The interplay between the reunited couple has been as jarring as it is odd. There’s some brusquely explicit sexual interactions and surprisingly violent altercations. Yet even for a leather-clad character who frequently indulges in both, their raw primal nature is almost shocking to watch.

The Good Wife has always crossed genres: those of the case-of-the-week procedural, political thriller, romance and legal drama. Presumed ”good wife” Ms Florrick was humiliated by politician husband Peter (Chris Noth), who was caught cheating on her with prostitutes.

As the show began, Noth’s character was in jail and Florrick returned to the workforce, joining the law firm Lockhart/Gardner. With the exception of Alan Cumming as Eli Gold, the show has quickly become centred on its outstanding female cast, led by Margulies and Panjabi.

The London-born Panjabi says the initial (uncomfortable) direction of this season was written with the intention of giving the audience an intimate insight into a toxic relationship.

”In typical Good Wife fashion, all the loose ends will be tied up. Everything will eventually connect. It’s not obvious at first.”

The aggressive nature of the scenes, she says, was to provide insight into the most intimate relationship the bisexual, sexually promiscuous Kalinda has had.

”They have taken risks with Kalinda from day one,” she says. ”The storyline with Nick, which is so intense, is a big risk, but I think eventually, as things start to unravel, you will get an insight into why Kalinda is the way that she is. A lot of unanswered questions that have been building up in the show will eventually start to get answered.”

When the show began, Panjabi says, the part of Kalinda was deemed a minor role.

”The impression I got was her strength in getting people to talk was to do it by manipulating them sexually. She is a tough woman. Sort of an Eastern Erin Brockovich. But I was nervous because I didn’t want to be a woman who would always undo her button to get something because there would not be much of a life for that character.”

To defuse her own fears, Panjabi submitted a two-page backstory to the show’s writers on how she perceived the character and where she felt her story should go.

”I felt like they took it on board and started to write towards that,” she says. ”That really helped the development of the character.”

Kalinda swiftly became one of the show’s most intriguing elements. She had auditioned for the role while still based in London, having ”overnighted” the producers an audition tape recorded in her kitchen. The next day they called her and offered her the role.

”It all happened really quickly,” she says. ”Normally, you’d be flown to America and be subjected to a few auditions in front of the network and producers. None of that happened to me.”

They clearly made a shrewd choice; Panjabi won an Emmy following the show’s first season.

And there have been fewer more shocking – or satisfying – scenes on network television this decade than when Kalinda took to arch rival Blake’s car with a baseball bat.

”I often will read a script and say to myself, ‘That’s just ridiculous and it will not work,”’ she says. ”When I did that scene, I went completely into character and just trusted the director. Then it went viral online and everybody was talking about it. It just didn’t feel that intense at the time.”

So, back to her theory. How could Kalinda be the ”good wife”?

”After she married and was a wife, it definitely changed the way she is. Was she the good wife? She is the byproduct of living with someone like that for so many years. What has he done to her to make her like this? Or was she always like that? I’m hoping we can look at that relationship and try to understand.”

The Good Wife airs on Channel Ten on Wednesday nights.

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City’s wake-up call on barriers

FOR nearly a decade, scientists have told city and state officials that New York faces certain peril: rising sea levels, more frequent flooding and extreme weather patterns.
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The alarm bells grew louder after tropical storm Irene last year, when the city shut down its subway system and water rushed into the Rockaways and Lower Manhattan.

As New Yorkers awoke to submerged neighbourhoods and water-soaked electrical equipment, officials took their first tentative steps towards considering major infrastructure changes that could protect the city’s fragile shores and 8 million residents from repeated disastrous damage.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state should consider a levee system or storm surge barriers and face up to the inadequacy of the existing protections.

”The construction of this city did not anticipate these kinds of situations. We are only a few feet above sea level,” Mr Cuomo said.

”As soon as you breach the sides of Manhattan, you now have a whole infrastructure under the city that fills – the subway system, the foundations for buildings” and the World Trade Centre site.

The Cuomo administration plans talks with city and federal officials about how to proceed. The task could be daunting, given fiscal realities: storm surge barriers, the huge sea gates that some scientists say would be the best protection against floods, could cost up to $US10 billion.

But many experts say, given what happened with the latest storm, that inertia could be more expensive.

After rising roughly 2.5 centimetres per decade in the past century, coastal waters in New York are expected to climb as fast as 15 centimetres per decade, or 60 centimetres by mid-century, according to a city-appointed scientific panel.

”Look, the city is extremely vulnerable to damaging storm surges just for its geography, and climate change is increasing that risk,” said Ben Strauss, director of the sea level rise program at the research group Climate Central in Princeton, New Jersey.

”Three of the top 10 highest floods at the Battery [southern New York] since 1900 happened in the last 2½ years. If that’s not a wake-up call to take this seriously, I don’t know what is.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is known worldwide for his broad environmental vision. But one former official said it had been difficult to move from theoretical planning to concrete actions, and it was hoped that the storm this week would change that.

A state report on rising sea levels, issued on the last day of governor David Paterson’s administration in 2010, suggested that erecting structural barriers to restrain floodwaters could be part of a broader approach, along with relocating buildings and people further from the coasts.

”A fair question to ask is, have we been as focused as we need to be for emergency preparations?” said the former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ”We’ve just been lucky. We need hardening for the risk we’ve always faced. Until things happen, people aren’t willing to pay for it.”

NEW YORK TIMES

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