Green Guide letters

Alan Jones’ relevance comes into question.Nine a quinella too far
Nanjing Night Net

WE ALL like a gamble on the races at this time of year. But it was most disturbing to watch the ”gamble-isation” of Channel Nine’s telecast of the races the past two Saturdays. Surely it is time to look at all gambling advertising on television and what restrictions can be placed on it. And for TV stations and sporting bodies to be more responsible in their acceptance of the gambling dollar? Though methinks things have gone too far.

Ellen McGregor, Frankston

Please scratch Waterhouse

”THE Tom Waterhouse Show”, presented on Nine on Saturday afternoons, has been rudely interrupted by horse racing. This must cease! Wouldn’t bet on it though.

Rod Miller, Elwood

Tom’s double fault

FIRST the tennis. Now the horses. Is there anything Tom Waterhouse can’t spoil the viewing of?

T. Higgins, East Melbourne

Rhomance cream of the crop

TO CONTINUE the saga about Rhonda and Ketut (I love it!), judging by the twinkle in Rhonda’s eye I’d say she did make it with Ketut, but anyhow it’s fun wondering about it and much more interesting than almost anything else available on the box these days.

Rosemary Dale, Belgrave

Jones keeper-uppers dwindle

JUSTIN Smith’s excellent piece on Alan Jones (GG 25/10) and the perception that Jones’ influence has waned, leads some of us to wonder why he ever had so much influence in the first place. Jones is a ”sneerer”. People who laugh off, or indeed sneer at any point of view they disagree with. Many people, including media, seem to be intimidated by these types such as Andrew Bolt. On the other hand, they might think it is just a waste of time debating with such bombastic people.

John Rawson, Briar Hill

No laughing matter

I AGREE with Shelley Frawley and Pat Lightfoot (GG, 25/10). What do we want? Clarke & Dawe. When do we want it? Every Thursday, ABC TV. (Not just sometimes.)

Ruth Boschen, Balwyn

ABC out of its mind

WHY were we fobbed off by Leigh Sales saying in an offhand way that if we wanted to see Clark & Dawe we could watch them on the ABC website? For me, they are the highlight of 7.30 and should not be ”out of sight, out of mind”.

Sue Donovan, Abbotsford

Delta no good

DELTA Goodrem’s appearance on Nine’s ACA left me disappointed. Her words were extremely unclear so that only about 10 per cent came across as intelligible. There is obviously a problem with her diction or an audio failure. Whichever, it needs fixing.

Graham Price, Elwood

Serious screen types

HAVING gone to see To Rome with Love without any preconceived view, I was delighted to enjoy more belly laughs from a film than I have done in years. Surely ABC TV’s film reviewers – At the Movies – have lost their sense of humour, Margaret especially? Thanks to Woody Allen, I’m still laughing, particularly under the shower!

Peter Cowden, Clifton Springs

The amazing waste

RE: THE Amazing Race – in this day and age of carbon footprints and saving the planet, has anyone considered the trivial use of our precious resources by a group of people rushing from location to location – not to experience other cultures and countries, but just to enable them to go somewhere else?

Wayne Murray, Cannons Creek

Ten’s breakfast of champions

WE ARE probably not your demographic, but we love Paul Henry and Kath Robinson for breakfast. We switched from Today a few months ago (sorry Lisa!) and really enjoy Paul, Kath and Magdalena. Only complaint: don’t finish at 8.30am. We also love The Project – Charlie, Carrie and co. are great. Keep up the good work Channel Ten – some of us are watching!

Susan Secombe, Edithvale

Thank you Ten-fold

THANK you, Channel Ten, for changing the time of The Project – we love it, but were chopping and changing between Channel Seven News.

Joan O’Neill, Mount Waverley

Joining Josie’s hunt

YES, Josie Wadelton (GG, 25/10), we too are missing that ”daily fix” of Bargain Hunt. Why would Channel Seven (7Two) stop showing a program that British people set their lunchtime around, and of which an Australian version was filmed with Tim (Wonnacott) last year? Obviously, people love it. Please bring it back!

Elizabeth Moore Golding, Kensington

Calling all cult audiences

LOST in the wilds of ABC2 on a Tuesday evening, The Strange Calls is going to come and go with few noticing it. This deliciously droll and surreal comedy, set on the north coast, is excellent. Barry Crocker is fabulous and can hog a scene just standing there. If it were made by the BBC, it would have a huge cult following.

D. Martin, Mount Martha

Carry on, SBS

IT WOULD be refreshing if SBS would cease including in its otherwise commendable eclectic mix of weekend programs some bawdy foreign film or documentary with a rather unsubtle title such as Sex Workers and Proud! or Diary of a Nymphomaniac. I realise that the network is committed to covering as many of the 7 billion stories as possible, but just because a show has French subtitles, it doesn’t suddenly rise above the level of soft-porn guff.

Peter Waterhouse, Camberwell

iStapler malfunction

DR ROSEMARY, as per your suggestion I used a stapler on my Green Guide. I now have a cracked iPad screen. What do I do now?

T. Screens, Melbourne

Radio no longer a staple

I CARE not about staples. What annoys me is the apparent demise of your radio guide. We’re in troubled times, I know, but at least print the programs that are on ABC Radio National and we’ll say no more about it. Carry on.

Alan Meagher, Ballarat

Arnos amends

RATHER than allow the pages of my Green Guide to become messy, each Thursday I now use a two-hole punch and then insert a reusable Arnos fastener.

Richard Opat, Elsternwick

Have your say

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Firm new hand at the helm

Beverley McGarvey aims to reverse the fortunes of a beleaguered Network Ten by taking a calm, steady approach.CHANNEL Ten may be facing challenges almost unprecedented in its 48-year history, but its response – on the programming front at least – is not the wholesale panic you might expect. True, David Mott departed as chief programming officer in August in a sign things weren’t right, but his successor was found within. And the course Beverley McGarvey appears to have set isn’t a million miles from ”steady as she goes”.
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”Our challenge is to rebuild what we have,” McGarvey says. While acknowledging that ”we have some work to do”, the Belfast-born 39-year-old insists ”we have a brilliant brand”.

McGarvey says the narrative around Ten has become a little skewed by the relentless negativity of the coverage. ”It’s easy to get lost in all the noise,” she says.

However, that negativity hasn’t come from nowhere. Cold, hard facts tell you revenue is down 15 per cent year on year, Ten’s share of the advertising market has dropped from 29.3 per cent to 24.3 per cent in the same time frame, and in a three-way split of the commercial free-to-air audience, Ten has shed more than three points across its suite of channels. And from a viewer’s perspective, the network has put to air a string of duds.

But barely a week into her new job, McGarvey would rather accentuate the positive. ”Some of our shows are still doing very well. MasterChef performed incredibly well; even MasterChef All Stars did almost 800,000 every night against the Olympics. The Assange telemovie did 1.3 million.

”Viewers will come but we need to regain momentum and make sure Ten is the first option, that people think, ‘I will put on Ten first tonight because I know they will have something for me.”’

However, momentum can run both ways. Ten has had some good programs this year, particularly in the drama stakes, but rarely have those shows done as well in the ratings as they should have. McGarvey concedes that ”our schedule is underperforming for the quality of the shows” – she cites The Good Wife and Homeland as examples, and who could argue? – but she’s convinced audiences for them will rebound as people regain faith in the schedule.

”We have to have confidence in the shows we know are good,” she says. ”We don’t want to be throwing away good brands because we’re having a tough patch now, because it’s much harder to launch a new show than to bring back a show that hasn’t done as well as you hoped.”

There’s no getting away from the fact that Ten’s image has suffered this year as a result of some poor shows – Everybody Dance Now, I Will Survive, The Shire and Being Lara Bingle, we’re talking about you. Arguably, the rot started last year with The Renovators. The fact so many of the flops have been Australian has probably contaminated other locally made shows. Puberty Blues is one.

”We know it should have done better,” McGarvey says. ”We’re bringing it back. We need to put it in the right slot, give it the right marketing support and get the audience back into it.”

The delayed appearance of Lisa McCune’s family drama Reef Doctors has nothing to do with any perceived turnoff from local shows or with the fact its star and producer was in the news for the wrong reasons. ”It’s so blue and shiny we want to play it in winter when people will find it escapist and beautiful and it feels like something really special,” McGarvey says.

That’s the kind of strategic planning a TV programmer lives or dies on. Meanwhile, The Simpsons’ move back to Ten from Channel Eleven is a bid to shore up the younger (but not too young) demographic on the main channel and ”to offer an alternative to news programming”.

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Detective saga with staying power

Actor Danny Pino (far right, with co-stars Mariska Hargitay and Dann Florek) says the SVU storylines resonate with real-life victims of sex crimes.Show of the week: Law & Order: SVU – 300th episode, Thursday, Channel Ten, 8.30pm
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ACHIEVING the milestone of 300 episodes is, for any television series anywhere, exceptional. To do it as a weekly crime series over 14 years in the most crowded genre and competitive market in the world is, simply, remarkable.

Tonight, the New York-based sex-crimes drama Law & Order: SVU hits this mark.

SVU (which stands for Special Victims Unit, an elite squad of detectives who police sexually based offences, which are considered especially heinous in the criminal-justice system) is the last iteration of Dick Wolf’s crime franchise that’s still in production. ”The Mothership”, as Wolf calls the original Law & Order series, lasted 20 years and more than 450 episodes. Its distinctive New York crime stories live on in reruns on pay TV where it has earned its dues as a modern classic.

Law & Order: Criminal Intent, notable as the home of Vincent D’Onofrio’s eccentric but brilliantly entertaining Detective Bobby Goren, eventually limped to 10 seasons. Law & Order: LA made it through a full year before being cancelled. (Trial by Jury, a less celebrated L&O incarnation, lasted just a few episodes, so let’s not talk about that.)

Indeed, along with providing work to countless New York actors over more than two decades, Wolf’s legacy and the omnipresence of his series can be distilled to the ominous and evocative ”chung-chung” sound that breaks up segments of every L&O episode.

Sure, SVU is at times predictable. But fans will tell you that’s also one of its virtues.

Unlike The Mothership, through which Wolf regularly churned over cast members, the cast of SVU had remained stable until last year when the most popular character, Christopher Meloni’s combustible Detective Elliot Stabler, departed the squad room.

Stabler and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) constituted one of television’s most endearing (platonic) couplings. His withdrawal led to some forced changes that eventually rejuvenated the series.

Warren Leight, an L&O veteran, became show-runner. A new team of staff writers were recruited and two new actors joined the cast as lead detectives: former Cold Case star Danny Pino and The Good Wife’s Kelli Giddish.

For Pino, who was born in Miami to Cuban parents, the 300th episode’s significance was not lost. The 38-year-old has ”only” appeared in 27 episodes.

”It’s a drop in the bucket in comparison to the amount the show has amassed,” he says. ”But it’s an honour to be part of that.”

Every show’s set has it own specific dynamic yet, for Pino, SVU appears to hold a resonance beyond the screen.

”The fact that we deal with crimes of a sexual nature means survivors of these crimes are just that,” he says. ”They have to endure past an attack and beyond the abuse they have sustained. Yes, our show is fiction, but there are a group of viewers watching the show who are unfortunately dealing with the very topic we address.

”It’s not a show about homicide, because the main victim has to endure and survive beyond that. For a lot of these survivors [who are, in fact, viewers], the show serves as something more than entertainment. The letters I have received, and many of the people I have met, are an indication it has a resonance far beyond the screen.”

One of the hallmarks of the L&O franchise (with a few notable exceptions) is that the writers have rarely opted to delve into the private lives of the detectives. Each episode was self-contained, with a crime that was solved by the end of the hour. This is no longer the case on SVU.

We have in the past year watched Pino’s character’s marriage disintegrate. Meanwhile, his boss, Captain Donald Cragen (played by Dann Florek), was embroiled in a scandal involving a prostitute ring. This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Crimfotainment takes no prisoners

Border Security: Australia’s Front Line.Surveillance Oz.
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”You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you in a promo.”

THE saturation of police procedures in popular culture has given rise to the well-documented ”CSI effect”, which sees the public harbour inflated expectations of criminal investigations, court processes, and an erroneous familiarity with forensics. Television has had a discernible impact on the justice system and the justice system is, in turn, having an impact on television. Australian screens are awash with observational series that follow police as they seek to expose and apprehend lawbreakers in a genre that I’ve taken the liberty of dubbing ”crimfotainment”.

Australian television is approaching terminal velocity as it zeroes in on the bottom of the cultural barrel. First, reality TV came for the actors and I did not speak out. Then it came for the writers and I did not speak out. Now it has come for the cameramen. Surveillance Oz is a remarkably popular show that has successfully done away with everything that makes TV special, right down to picture quality. The program’s images depend heavily on CCTV footage obtained from a chain of parking garages, and are of such graininess that many faces featured don’t even need to be pixilated.

The voice-over explains that parking operators in a central control room are on ”high alert for antisocial behaviour”. I’ll tell you what I think is antisocial behaviour: a woman innocently patting her boyfriend’s arse at a pay station while being spied on by a faceless drone in a remote location with cinnamon doughnut stains on his pants, who logs the footage later sold to a production company that broadcasts it across the country.

And where are we as a society when an inebriated woman can’t straddle a boom gate for the edification of her friends without her impromptu burlesque show being set to music in prime time? Dance like no one’s watching, indeed.

Lectures on decency are especially hard to stomach from a parking company that extorts customers to the tune of $80 for a five-hour stay. For that kind of dough, I want champagne on arrival and a bounce on the boom gate thrown in for free.

Border Security: Australia’s Front Line is now in its 11th season and, from what I understand, its motto is, ”We will decide which fruits come to this country and the circumstances in which they come”. Subjects can’t help but know they are being filmed, and the dilemma for officials is that everybody looks dodgy after a 14-hour flight. As someone who suffers from an unfortunate condition where I appear to be lying even when telling the unvarnished truth, I admit to just a tinge of admiration for the American woman who flew to our shores with a kilo of cocaine stashed under her wig. Each episode contains three tales of intrigue, and is an invaluable document of what not to do. Budding drug-runners are advised to wash their hands and clothes, not bring in food along with drugs, and for god’s sake rehearse your story. Border Security is the purest form of catharsis for lazy do-gooders who think they’re doing their bit for national security by watching.

AFP: Australian Federal Police is another love letter to an organisation that, given controversies, could do with surveillance of its own. Each episode chronicles two cases and, judging by the vainglorious press conference of one story arc, the war on drugs is nearly over and troops will be home by Christmas.

Those who like their goodies and baddies without the grey can be further satisfied with a plethora of road-based cop-docs – effectively low-cost community service announcements for the police that invite us to keep calm and carry on. Highway Patrol is but one local version of, literally, car-crash TV. Frenetic drums feed the voyeuristic adrenalin and the chases and prangs allow for rubbernecking without the traffic. Omnipresent police cameras catch the cretins and ensure the plods mind their manners for when mum plays the video to her bridge buddies.

The ubiquity of cameras means paranoia has never been so reasonable. Public transport tickets track our itinerary; government advertising encourages us to dob on neighbours; credit-card details are one slip from being public property; nightclub venues scan our ID; and open media alerts strangers to our whereabouts. I’d wear a hoodie to protect my innocence if I didn’t think it made me look guilty.

”What have you got to hide?” is the rhetorical question of the modern tyrant. Australians are increasingly comfortable jettisoning privacy for social convenience and specious feelings of safety. The electronic equivalent of peering through curtains is also a rich source of cheap and titillating TV.

Follow Daniel Burt on Twitter @trubnad

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

Slush fund questions nasty politics: PM

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has accused the opposition of playing ”nasty personal politics” as it stepped up its attack on a union slush fund from which her former boyfriend stole hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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For a third consecutive day, Ms Gillard refused to give specific answers to questions in Parliament about her role in helping establish the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association in 1992, when she was a partner at law firm Slater & Gordon.

During a fiery exchange in question time, Liberal MP Andrew Laming was ejected from the chamber for shouting ”corrupt” at Ms Gillard, who was later forced to withdraw a personal remark directed at Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop had called on Ms Gillard to explain how a cheque for $67,000 drawn on the AWU association towards the purchase of a Fitzroy property in 1993 had been paid into a Slater & Gordon trust account.

”As a lawyer advising on the conveyance, does the Prime Minister stand by her statement that she didn’t know it was from a union slush fund she had established,” Ms Bishop said.

She also quoted from a 1996 affidavit by AWU national secretary Ian Cambridge – now a Fair Work Australia commissioner – who questioned how Slater & Gordon could have permitted the use of union funds in the purchase without union permission.

”As a lawyer acting for the union, and on the purchase of the property, how could the Prime Minister have been ignorant of the source of the funds?” she said.

Ignoring the specific questions, Ms Gillard hit back: ”How can the opposition assert that it is focusing on the nation’s interests and not nasty personal politics when it goes down this track?”

The Age revealed two weeks ago that Ms Gillard had secured the incorporation of the AWU association after vouching for its bona fides as a non-profit body devoted to workplace safety and training to the WA Corporate Affairs Commission.

But Ms Gillard told her legal partners in 1995 that the association was a union ”slush fund” and told a media conference in August that it was established to fund union election campaigning.

Fraud squad investigators confirmed that her former boyfriend, AWU official Bruce Wilson, had stolen more than $400,000 from the association, with more than $100,000 used towards buying a Fitzroy unit in the name of a Wilson crony, Ralph Blewitt.

Amid a barrage of interjections, Dr Laming shouted ”corrupt” at Ms Gillard, which he withdrew before being suspended by Speaker Anna Burke.

Moments later, Ms Gillard interjected: ”The Abbott strategy is to smear,” which she was then forced to withdraw.

”I did not make an offensive remark,” she said. ”What I said is, this is the Leader of the Opposition’s strategy and I hope he’s proud of it, given what it’s led to in the House.”

She said she had repeatedly answered questions on the AWU issue in the past.

”I dealt with those matters on the public record extensively and no amount of bellowing by those who sit opposite changes that in any way,” she said.

Dr Laming said outside Parliament that it was not a matter of ”personal politics” to challenge Ms Gillard about her knowledge of the AWU scandal. ”These are legitimate questions that deserve answers,” he said.

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Police drop probe on Rudd curse video leak

THE federal police have abandoned their pursuit of the damaging leak of a video in the run-up to this year’s leadership confrontation that showed Kevin Rudd in a fit of rage.
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In the video, which dated from September 2009 when he was prime minister, Mr Rudd was heard swearing and banging a table. The video was a message for a Chinese Communist Party anniversary prepared at the request of the Australian embassy in Beijing.

The 10-minute message was in complex Chinese and Mr Rudd later said he was swearing at his own inability to get it right.

The video was leaked before Mr Rudd issued his leadership challenge, and fed into the Gillard supporters’ narrative that he had been out of control and tyrannical as leader. Mr Rudd, who was still foreign minister when the leak occurred, said in a hastily arranged TV interview: ”I’ve never pretended not to swear from time to time.”

The leak was referred to the federal police, who said on Wednesday its investigation ”did not identify sufficient material or evidence to substantiate charging of any person for theft or unauthorised disclosure”.

Mr Rudd later tweeted: ”Recording congratulatory video messages today. The only F word I used was … fantastic effort.”

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Redundancy scheme boosted

THE cost of a federal government scheme that pays workers their entitlements when companies go broke is set to soar, after new laws passed the lower house.
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On Tuesday night, the Gillard government’s Fair Entitlements Guarantee Bill was passed in the House of Representatives.

Workers who lose their job when a business is liquidated or goes bankrupt will be paid all of their entitlements – with no limit on how much taxpayers will have to spend picking up the tab.

The government views the change as a way to protect workers who lose their job through no fault of their own.

The move has been attacked by the federal opposition, which voted against it on Tuesday. Labor said this was proof the Coalition had ”returned to their anti-worker ways”.

But opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz said the change meant that, when businesses went broke, instead of the government just covering 16 weeks of redundancy entitlements, it would now pay for an unlimited amount.

”It sets a standard way beyond most enterprise agreements,” said Senator Abetz, who pointed out that the Coalition established the scheme in 2001. ”It’s a good scheme – but making it open ended [is not good]. This is just going over the top.”

Senator Abetz said that Labor had pushed through the law ”at the behest of trade union bosses, who will use it … to create a new employment standard”.

”Once you start saying that [workers made redundant get] four weeks of pay for every year of service, you are saying to somebody of 30 years’ service ‘You are entitled to 120 weeks of redundancy pay’. The standard it sets … will mean union bosses can say ‘Well, that’s what even the Parliament decided’.

”This is pushing a good thing too far. It’s this sort of mentality and approach that started off Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland,” Senator Abetz said.

Since it was established in 2001, the federal government has spent about $1 billion on the General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme (GEERS).

GEERS – which will be renamed the Fair Entitlements Guarantee – is designed to pay the wages, annual leave and redundancy entitlements of workers that are left unmet when liquidators are called in.

Previously, only 16 weeks of redundancy entitlements were paid under the scheme.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said the bill delivered on the government’s 2010 election promise to provide greater certainty for Australian workers if their employer could not pay them the employment entitlements they were owed.

”Australian workers, who have loyally worked for companies for years, will continue to get the protections they deserve now under a statutory scheme,” he said.

”Employees are often given little to no warning when a company goes under and this is our way of trying to ensure they are not disadvantaged through situations they have no control over,” Mr Shorten said.

GEERS was established by Tony Abbott, the then minister for employment, after the collapse of airline Ansett and National Textiles, a business run by Stan Howard, brother of then prime minister John Howard.

The scheme has the support of both sides of politics, industry, unions and insolvency practitioners who administer payments to workers.

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Q&A with Simon Marshall

NEXT Tuesday Simon Marshall, former jockey and racing personality, will co-host the Melbourne Cup coverage on Channel Seven.
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You rode 15 group 1 winners as a jockey. How did you get into the media?

I was about 18 when I realised my career as a jockey could be short-lived, and some wise heads said I should start looking for something else and develop some other skill sets. I won the Australian Cup and I was interviewed by Bruce McAvaney, and from that I thought there hadn’t really been a presenter who had come out of the saddle and taken up the microphone as such, so I got elocution lessons, did some radio work and picked up a gig in 1996 at Channel Nine as a guest reporter, working with Tony Jones and Lou Richards. I ended up getting a contract with Channel Nine in 1997.

You rode in three Melbourne Cups. How many have you covered?

Eight.

Is the excitement of covering it anything like riding in it?

You still get excited. It places you back when you rode and what the jockeys are going through when they get introduced in the mounting yard before you get on the horse.

The race has become much more international as more countries are represented by various horses. How do the jockeys feel about that?

It was intriguing to us that they could come from the other side of the world and compete with our horses. The 24-hour flight for a horse is very demanding. I had respect that they had a crack at it. Anybody can get a horse fit to ride. Only great people can get them there mentally to be a champion.

What do you try to bring to the telecast?

Racing is different. It has its own pulse, especially the four days at Flemington. You get 400,000 people there over those days. It’s our opportunity to talk a bit of racing to those who [wouldn’t usually watch]. Most people are fascinated with how fast and far a 500-kilogram thoroughbred can run and how hard it is for a jockey to stir it and get it going. You try to break all that down. It’s a lot of fun but quite challenging.

Bruce McAvaney is a doyen of Australian sport. What’s it like working with him?

He has become a doyen through study and passion of sport. Racing is in his blood and through his family. He gets wrapped up in the storyline and the history of it. His No.1 passion is the 100-metre [sprints at the] Olympics, but very close would be the Cup.

Are you allowed to bet in your role?

I am now I’m not a registered rider. I like a quaddie with my mates. I’ll also support my own horses with the company I am involved in, DC3 Riders.

As a jockey, did you find the crowd’s focus on the social element of Cup day a distraction?

If you’re new at it, you become a rubberneck and walk away gobsmacked at what actually goes on and how many people get there. But when you get on a beast that you’ve been getting up at 4am every day to [work with], the adrenalin kicks in and your mind focuses on winning that race. You flick the switch and concentrate on what you have to do.

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Capital management adds value if well executed

CAPITAL management is much talked about among Australian companies but rarely executed with much panache. Properly used, capital management can create tremendous value for shareholders.CSL Limited (CSL)
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THE joys of a big health company being able to borrow at 4 per cent have created a beneficial cycle for CSL. The company recently announced a $900 million buyback of its stock, making it the fifth buyback the company has undertaken in recent years.

At the end of last year, CSL organised about $1.5 billion in debt with the combination of a private issue in the US and a new facility with its bankers. Analysts assume the money has been borrowed at an average of about 4 per cent. If this is the case, the company, in theory, can buy its own stock up to a price-earnings multiple (P/E) of about 25 times. It sounds incredible, but that is the case.

At $46.60 a share, CSL is trading on a historical P/E of about 25 times and a prospective P/E on 2013 earnings of closer to 21 times. If the company buys the whole $900 million worth of stock in the next 12 months, it will purchase about 6 per cent of all shares traded. If we assume it will need to pay $50 a share over the year, it will buy 18 million shares at an average P/E of about 23 times. This is pushing the limit, but analysts point out that with earnings projected to grow strongly in 2014, it will be earnings-per-share accretive in that year – two years from now.

While CSL’s buyback announcements support the share price, there is a strong argument the company should ditch its buyback and issue shares for an acquisition or give the excess cash back to shareholders, even though dividends would be unfranked. For investors, they should be concerned if CSL continued to buy shares above the $50 market, because it requires earnings to grow strongly into the medium term. That is always a dangerous assumption.Devine Limited (DVN)

AT THE other end of the scale to CSL is Queensland-based property group Devine. Like most companies that rely on property for its earnings, Devine has fallen on hard times. More recently, though, the company’s share price has spiked from a low of 53¢ in August to 71¢ this week, with investors a little more excited about the story in a lower interest rate environment.

Devine’s earnings were clobbered in 2012 because of the benign activity in all forms of property in the Queensland and Victorian markets, and the share price has fallen to about 35 per cent of the group’s stated asset backing. Ideally, Devine would jump in and start buying its own shares, just like fellow Queensland group Sunland has done recently. Every share Devine would buy at this level would increase its net asset backing.

Unfortunately for Devine, its balance sheet, with gearing sitting around 30 per cent, is not in a position to buy back its shares and pay a dividend at the same time. If, however, the board believes the carrying value of its assets, the company should seriously consider putting the company up for sale to realise the value. Another approach is to sell some of its assets for near book value and use the funds raised to buy back shares.

If there are no buyers for the overall company, Devine, with 14,500 land lots, is a great leveraged play into a recovery of the Queensland and Victorian property markets in 2014. Over the fullness of time the share price could easily double even if asset value is written down 20 per cent from current levels.Bendigo and Adelaide Bank (BEN)

HISTORY tells us that it is dangerous to own banks in the November to February period because they generally underperform the broader market. However, for those obsessed with franked dividends, it might pay to have a closer look at Bendigo Bank. The company had its annual meeting earlier this week and despite talking about a tough environment there was no downgrade forthcoming.

There is a lot to dislike about Bendigo, with its paltry 9 per cent return on equity and a hefty cost-to-income ratio of 59 per cent topping the list. If you can overcome these sickly numbers, it might be worth switching into the stock once Westpac, NAB and ANZ go ex-dividend in November.

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The Age does not accept responsibility for stock tips.

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Telstra reveals Defence deal win, growth strategy

TELSTRA has won a communications contract worth about $150 million a year with the Department of Defence, and outlined a growth strategy for the next year at its annual investor day.
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Shares reached a three-year high of $4.14 during the briefing, the highest price since the government announced it was building a national broadband network and ending Telstra’s monopoly over fixed communications in Australia.

Shares went up even though Telstra will no longer guarantee a fully franked 28¢ dividend. It would instead announce dividends at financial results every six months, chief financial officer Andrew Penn said.

Management would focus on growing the business so it could ”increase the dividend over the long term”, he said. ”We recognise very much that what our shareholders want is good returns from Telstra. One of the ways we can deliver that return is through a dividend.”

But Mr Penn would not commit to a dividend payout ratio, which would ensure Telstra shareholders get a set amount of the annual profit.

Meanwhile, Telstra would enter negotiations this week to supply all of Defence’s terrestrial communications after being named as preferred tenderer, chief operations officer Brendon Riley said.

While Telstra would not say how much the contract was worth, Defence told bidders that it spent $156 million on terrestrial communications in 2008-09, according to a briefing document.

The contract is to upgrade, replace, standardise and rationalise Defence’s existing network, which contains about 70,000 desk computers, 15,000 laptops and 600 BlackBerries and is spread across 330 locations in Australia.

Chief executive David Thodey outlined five strategies for Telstra in 2013-14 including: maintaining its lead in the mobile market, winning fixed-broadband customers, taking out more costs, growing the business and creating a ”customer service culture”.

He told investors that Telstra had ”no god-given right that it will be successful” and that its success would depend on executing plans to grow the business while the NBN is built.

”NBN [deal] is done. I have moved on. Yep, there are some fights ahead of us, but I think we are more about positioning ourselves for those fights and how to be really a good competitor in the market and do well,” Mr Thodey said.

These include a push to exploit Telstra’s undersea international cable network to provide managed services to global companies. Mr Riley said Telstra would focus on selling a full telecommunications service to Australian and other companies setting up in Asia.

Mr Thodey also announced Telstra would trial NBN Co’s fixed wireless NBN services with a view to launching them in mid-2013 and was ”considering our options for satellite services”.

And asked whether Telstra would oppose Foxtel selling broadband services – a strategy that has helped pay TV operators grow customer numbers overseas – Mr Thodey said there was ”nothing in the relationship between Telstra and Foxtel that prevents them from reselling telecommunications services”.

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