Furious winds sweep through parliament

Unexpected political and natural calamities have added challenges to what was already going to be a big week for Malcolm Turnbull.

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The final week of parliament before the May budget was set to be a showdown over changes to racial discrimination law changes, penalty rates for the low-paid and corporate tax cuts.

But Cyclone Debbie swept across the political landscape as it wreaked havoc in north Queensland.

A commercial dispute between sugar miller Wilmar and marketer QSL also made its way into and out of Turnbull’s in-tray.

And a long-dormant extradition treaty with China ended up being the political equivalent of juggling a steamed dumpling.

Despite its massive damage, the cyclone received relatively little attention in parliament.

Turnbull was asked one question about it, on Tuesday, before attention turned to issues of the day and on Wednesday it was off the question time radar altogether – apart from a Greens question linking the disaster to the coal industry.

However by the end of the week Turnbull and Bill Shorten flew to Bowen to see the damage first-hand and reassure residents of federal support.

The sugar growers’ dispute has been a simmering issue in north Queensland for some years.

But it has failed to register in Canberra until the Nationals started to fear One Nation was taking the lead on the issue.

On Wednesday night – just hours before Turnbull headed to the sugar-rich region of north Queensland where canegrowers were fretting about their cyclone-hit crops – Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and Treasurer Scott Morrison revealed the industry would be covered by a mandatory code of conduct.

While it is a form of re-regulation of the industry, Turnbull and Morrison have copped it on the chin in order to keep the Nationals on side, north Queensland voters happy and One Nation at bay.

It also gave Turnbull a sweetener to talk about on Thursday’s trip.

The extradition treaty with China has sat on the shelf since John Howard signed it 10 years ago but didn’t ratify it.

The treaty regulations were tabled just ahead of a visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Chinese leaders have raised its ratification with the Australian government at every available opportunity, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was keen for it to happen.

But a few minutes before she was due to talk to the government’s leadership group, Shorten phoned Turnbull to say the shadow cabinet had decided not to back the ratification.

A short time later Turnbull confirmed to Shorten the treaty would be pulled from the parliament’s agenda.

The prime minister was already under pressure from within coalition ranks and faced the possibility of the treaty being “disallowed” in the Senate, with the support of Labor, the Greens, crossbenchers including former Liberal Cory Bernardi, and potentially several coalition senators.

To make things worse, Tony Abbott wrote a newspaper article condemning the treaty he once spruiked as vital to Australia-China relations.

Embarrassingly, ministers were still talking up the treaty as Turnbull was telling Shorten it was off.

On Thursday, the government was seeking to return to its two priorities: watering down race-hate laws in the name of free speech and passing at least part of its plan to cut company taxes.

However, compromise was expected before MPs headed out of Canberra for the pre-budget break.

A deal on small business tax cuts, temporarily shelving breaks for big business, looked the most likely scenario.

Changes to the Racial Discrimination Act appeared almost certain to fail, despite there being unanimous support for reform of the way the Human Rights Commission handles complaints.

A messy week for the government can only feed into voter perceptions Turnbull is floundering – shown in weak personal approval ratings and Labor’s solid two-party preferred lead in the polls.

The prime minister will now have a five-week parliamentary break ahead of the May 9 budget to show he hasn’t been blown off course.

Electromagnetic work linked to form of MND

Workplace exposure to electromagnetic fields has been linked to a higher risk of developing the most common form of motor neurone disease, Netherlands research suggests.

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Experts noted an association between exposure to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

ALS causes weakness and wasting in the limbs and people only tend to live for two to five years from first experiencing symptoms.

In the new study, Professor Roel Vermeulen, from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and colleagues, examined data for 58,279 men and 6,573 women aged 55 to 69, who were followed for 17 years.

Some 76 men and 60 women died of ALS during the study.

The research found that high levels of electromagnetic field exposure were largely confined to the men, and depended on their jobs.

Those whose jobs had exposed them to high levels of extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields were more than twice as likely to develop ALS as those who had never been exposed through their work, the study suggested.

Furthermore, those in the top 30 per cent of cumulative exposure (duration multiplied by intensity) were nearly twice as likely to develop the disease.

“Those whose jobs had exposed them to high levels of extremely low-frequency magnetic fields were more than twice as likely to develop ALS as those who had always been exposed to only background levels through their work,” Prof Vermeulen said.

These jobs included electric line installers, welders, sewing-machine operators and aircraft pilots.

“These are essentially jobs where workers are placed in close proximity to appliances that use a lot of electricity,” Prof Vermeulen said.

“The present study adds evidence to previous studies that have suggested that extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields is related to ALS risk.”

Brian Dickie, director of research development at the Motor Neurone Disease Association said while the results suggested high exposure to low frequency magnetic fields is associated with the risk of MND, it was subtle.

“This only becomes apparent when relatively large numbers of people are studied, indicating that any such effect is a very subtle one.

“It does not mean that exposure causes MND.

Warm weather to stretch into winter: BOM

Don’t pack away those summer clothes just yet – warmer-than-usual weather is on the cards for the rest of autumn and the start of winter.

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The Bureau of Meteorology’s latest climate update forecasts above average temperatures for most of the country between April and June.

Below-average rainfall is expected across southern Australia, but plenty of rain is tipped to drench the east coast, Tasmania and the far north.

BOM forecasters say most climate models are continuing to suggest an El Nino will develop this winter as a result of warmer sea temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.

“Days and nights are likely to be warmer than average for much of Australia but cooler in some areas of the far north,” senior climatologist Andrew Watkins said on Thursday.

“Below average rainfall is likely over much of Australia but it might not start out that way in several places.

“In April, tropical air may continue to bring rain to the eastern and northern coastal fringes.”

The bureau’s latest update comes after the summer heat extended into the start of autumn, with Victoria and Tasmania recording their warmest March temperatures.

And while it remained warm in much of NSW, the state’s northeast recorded two to three times as much rain as usual by mid March.

Northern Australia has also seen above average rainfall during its annual wet season, largely as a result of a monsoon trough and tropical lows.

And while Cyclone Debbie wreaked havoc in parts of north Queensland this week, there have been far fewer cyclones than usual in the region with just five recorded so far instead of the usual 11.

Earlier this month, the bureau said recent changes in the tropical Pacific Ocean and atmosphere combined with international climate model outlooks suggested there was a 50 per cent chance of an El Nino forming by July.

El Nino is associated with below average winter-spring rainfall over eastern Australia and warmer than average winter-spring maximum temperatures in southern states.

As well as a shift in temperature extremes, El Nino can increase the chances of bushfires in southeast Australia.

The El Nino that spread from 2015 into 2016 was one of the three strongest on record, causing drought and driving temperatures higher.

Temperatures were nearly 1C above average in 2016, making last year the fourth-warmest on record.

Commercial networks want out of kids’ TV

Commercial free-to-air networks are calling for the scrapping of children’s and pre-school content quotas, with dwindling young audiences and restrictive advertising making shows difficult to fund.

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Ten Network told a parliamentary hearing on Thursday that children are no longer watching its kids’ programs, with Ten’s audience of five to 12-year-olds usually at around 2,000.

Instead, kids are turning to the ABC’s dedicated children’s channel and iView, Foxtel’s children’s channels, Netflix Kids and YouTube, Ten chief executive Paul Anderson said.

Kids’ programs are almost impossible to monetise due to the low audience numbers and the restrictive nature of advertising, he said.

“With children not watching these programs, and advertising dollars not available to fund them, this content should be the remit of the national broadcasters ABC and SBS,” Mr Anderson said.

Seven West Media chief executive Tim Worner also told the hearing that children are more likely to turn to the ABC’s children’s channel.

“It is going to be far more likely that Australian children are going to go there to watch their content rather than find it in the isolated pockets where it is on commercial free-to-air television,” he said.

“It is neither sustainable nor defensible for commercial broadcasters to be required to spend millions of dollars a year on programs that are watched by only a few thousand child viewers.

“Children just do not watch children’s programs on free-to-air television anymore – it is something that just doesn’t happen.”

The broadcasters are also calling on the government to make its interim $127 million licence fee cut, delivered in June, permanent.

A key component of the media reform package announced in the federal government’s May budget includes replacing broadcasting licence fees with cheaper spectrum usage charges.

Both Seven and Ten said a permanent reprieve from fees would allow the savings to be reinvested into Australian production.

“We work hard at coming up with Australian programming which now must stand out in the crowd,” Mr Worner said.

“But hitting these goals requires investment and it requires Australian media companies to remain viable.

“(The package) helps us invest in a future where Australian stories are still a vital part of our lives.”

Bailey stood down on email ‘technicality’

The head of Queensland’s corruption watchdog says Labor government minister Mark Bailey has been stood aside over a technicality, rather than actual corruption.

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The Crime and Corruption Commission has found Mr Bailey may have engaged in corrupt conduct in January by deleting an email account used to correspond with a top union official.

Mr Bailey used the email address [email protected] to correspond with Electrical Trades Union boss Peter Simpson last November, but deleted the account following a right to information request in January.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk responded on Wednesday by asking Mr Bailey to stand aside pending a further investigation by the state archivist.

Under questioning at budget estimates hearings in state parliament on Thursday, CCC head Alan MacSporran QC played down Mr Bailey’s conduct, labelling the finding a “technicality”.

“We had the emails. We looked at them. They didn’t bear out the allegation that he had attempted to use a private email account to cover up what had been discussed between himself and the ETU,” Mr MacSporran said.

“Because there was no evidence of that, what we’re left with is the bare allegation that by deleting emails, or deactivating the account, there is potentially a breach of the public records act.”

“Now that’s an offence, but in terms of its seriousness in the scheme of things, that’s not a serious allegation.”

Mr MacSporran admitted use of private emails by ministers was a “corruption risk” and was a breach of the ministerial handbook.

Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls accused the premier of only standing Mr Bailey down once “cornered” and presented with no other choice.

“These are serious matters. They go to the heart of our democracy. They go to the heart of people’s confidence in government,” Mr Nicholls told reporters.

“For six months this has been playing out, and (Ms Palaszczuk) has refused to stand aside or sack Mr Bailey, and indeed has only acted in a crisis.”

Deputy Premier Jackie Trad defended Mr Bailey, saying he had “more than excelled” in his time as minister.

“We have to wait for the outcome of the investigation, but I personally believe that Mark has been an outstanding minister. This has been an error in judgement,” she told the ABC.

The LNP opposition used Thursday’s budget estimates hearings to put further pressure on the government, asking Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath if she had ever used a private email account.

Ms D’Ath replied that she had used a private email account to print documents and speeches she needed for meetings.

A similar explanation was given earlier this month by Environment Minister Steven Miles.

Mr Bailey will be paid as a backbencher while the state archivist carries out further investigations into his emails.

Treasurer Curtis Pitt and Environment Minister Steven Miles will take over his portfolio responsibilities, with Mr Pitt to take charge of energy, biofuels and water supply, while Mr Miles will look after main roads, road safety and ports.

Labor cuts Rudd adrift over asylum seekers

Kevin Rudd has been accused of rewriting history as senior Labor figures line up to reject his claim that asylum seekers held in offshore detention should have been resettled in Australia after a year.

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The former prime minister has complained he’s tired of being held to account for the coalition government prolonging a regime of offshore immigration detention which he initiated.

And while politicians bicker over who is responsible for those languishing in the island camps, refugees on Manus Island have learned they will begin leaving for the United States in October.

Marking the fourth year of offshore detention in Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, Mr Rudd argued his 2013 agreement was only meant to last a year.

“What Abbott did and what Turnbull has sustained is taken a 12-month agreement and made it into a permanent agreement,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

“The bottom line is, these poor folks should have been resettled in either New Zealand or Australia or elsewhere three years ago.”

But Labor frontbencher Richard Marles says that wouldn’t have been the case.

“It is absolutely critical that Australia be off the table,” he told Sky News.

“What Kevin says now and what he tweets now is a matter for him.”

In 2013, Mr Rudd said asylum seekers who arrived by boat would have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees.

Former cabinet colleague Anthony Albanese said the plan was for refugees to be resettled in PNG or another country within a year.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Mr Rudd was either misleading the Australian people in 2013, is doing so now, or perhaps both.

He dismissed as wrong and deceptive the former prime minister’s claim asylum seekers would only have been detained for 12 months.

“What does he want us to believe – that somehow these people were just going to magically disappear after a 12-month period?”

Mr Dutton conceded he would have preferred refugees on Manus Island left sooner than October, with the detention centre closing that month.

“Our desire was obviously to have them off tomorrow; I want Manus Island to close. We’re still going to maintain Nauru,” he told Sky News.

“We have been caught up in the US process; they have a quota each year.”

President Donald Trump slashed the US refugee intake from 110,000 people to 50,000 and the cap was reached last week.

“Their year finishes on September 30, so we’ve now been pushed into October in terms of when people will move,” Mr Dutton said.

More than 1600 refugees have expressed interest in the US resettlement deal, which is expected to offer up to 1250 places.

Mr Dutton expects the US will take about 1200 people.

Decommissioning of the Manus Island refugee processing centre is under way, with a nearby transit centre being expanded.

Australia will stop offering help to refugees voluntarily returning to their home countries on August 31.

‘We have little or nothing in common’: What Menzies really thought of the Commonwealth

The documents show Sir Robert Menzies openly questioned the Commonwealth’s viability and accused new member nations of “thriving on antagonism” by waging a coordinated campaign of “anti-colonialism” engineered to strip “the white men” of their power.

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The former Prime Minister also joined forces with former President of the United States John F. Kennedy to personally encourage the United Kingdom to join the European Economic Community, now known as the modern European Union.

So sensitive were the never-before-seen “personal and private” telegrams exchanged by the Liberal Party founder and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1962, the Secretary of the Cabinet warned they should not be read “by anyone at all” in the civil service, even instructing bureaucrats in Canberra to further limit their circulation.

‘Out with the white men’

“Any enthusiasm I had for the new Commonwealth is waning fast”, Prime Minister Menzies confessed to his counterpart in London.

“People like me are too deeply royalist at heart to live comfortably in a nest of republics.

“The new republics seem to thrive on antagonism.

“They appear to have less affinity with our own conception of freedom than they have with Moscow and Peking.

“In the depths of our being, we have little or nothing in common with them.

“For most of the new members, the cry of ‘anti-colonialism’ seems to be the raison d’etre of nationalism.

“For, as we see so clearly out here, ‘anti-colonialism’ means ‘out with the white men’.

Commonwealth leaders meet in London 1960. Getty

“Quite frankly I think we retain certain communities in the Commonwealth for inadequate reasons.

“To take a sample case, I can understand why Ghana wants to remain in the Commonwealth.

“In the hope of benefits.

“But it contributes nothing.

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“The truth is that the Commonwealth, which used to have a structure and a spirit, is rapidly becoming a sort of tower of Babel.

“We run the grave risk of disintegration.”

Prime Minister Menzies complained about his “uncomfortably close” 1961 election victory, revealing a reluctance to travel to London for a Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ meeting.

“I must confess I did not enjoy the last two very much,” he said in the communication.

His reluctance was also because he said his “nominal majority includes one or two people who would be quite happy to make mischief in my absence” and he feared an extended absence from Canberra could see a repeat of his “bitter experience” in 1941, when he was ousted from office during a similar visit to Britain.

The Prime Minister also vented his fury at plans to discuss increased “movement of populations between Commonwealth countries” at the upcoming summit.

Former Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies and former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan remained friends, in 1968. (National Archives of Australia)National Archives of Australia

“If we were at liberty to discuss the internal racial policies of one member, it would be quite legitimate that at some subsequent meeting to discuss, for example, the Australian immigration policy which is aimed at avoiding internal racial problems by the expedient of keeping coloured immigrants out”, the Prime Minister huffed.

“We already have a mass of new members of the Commonwealth, some of whom have no real independence except political, and quite a few of whom are strangers to our notions of self-government and civilised administration.

“Many of us have great anxiety about the Commonwealth and the disappearance of so many of its old characteristics.

“They will be acutely increased if it turns out that we in Australia are to be told how we are to manage our own affairs.

“The plain English of it is that the new Commonwealth has nothing like the appeal for us that the old one had.

“When I ask myself what benefit we of the Crown Commonwealth derive from having a somewhat tenuous association with a cluster of republics… some of which like Ghana are more spiritually akin to Moscow than to London, I begin to despair.”

The role of war

Mr Menzies’ forthright observations appear to have struck something of a chord with Harold ‘Supermac’ Macmillan as he sat at his grand desk overlooking Horse Guards Parade at Admiralty House in London.

Having boldly told British voters they’d “never had it so good” and to embrace “the wind of change”, the last British Prime Minister born during Queen Victoria’s rule and to have fought in World War I painted a very different picture of the world in an uncharacteristically reflective and unsanitised reply. It was deemed so sensitive that it was only ever allowed to be seen by The Queen and First Lord of the Admiralty … until now.

Having confided that he too believes the Commonwealth has become “an absolute tragedy” with “young and inexperienced” nations “itching to interfere”, Prime Minister Macmillan then devoted nearly 18 pages mulling “the end of the white man’s accepted predominance”, offering a unique insight into the pressures of high office.

“My Dear Bob,” he began.

“I know you will let me just ramble on a little as if we were talking in a room together – how I wish we could!

“You and I were born into a very different world… and here we are, my dear Bob, two old gentlemen, Prime Ministers of our respective countries, sixty years later, rubbing our eyes and wondering what has happened.

“What has really happened is this.

“By folly and weakness on the one side, and incredible wickedness on the other, Europe has twice pulled itself to pieces in a single generation.

“I do not think the loss of life, terrible as it has been (especially since it always takes its toll of the best), has been the chief loss.

“Nor does the squandering of money and materials amount to much: these can be replaced.

“What has really gone is the prestige of the Europeans – British, French, Germans, call them what you will.

“Whether in the Old World, or migrated to the New World, or settled in Australasia, or in Africa, Europeans have broadly governed the world for over 2,000 years in a more or less coherent unit.

“What the two wars did was to destroy the prestige of the white people.

“For not only did the yellow and blacks watch them tear each other apart, committing the most frightful crimes and acts of barbarism against each other, they actually saw them enlisting their own yellows and blacks to fight other Europeans, other whites.

“It was bad enough for the white men to fight each other, but it was worse when they brought in their dependents.

“And what we have really seen since the war is the revolt of the yellows and blacks from the automatic leadership and control of the whites.

These are staggering personal reflections from a Prime Minister who so publicly embraced decolonisation.

A process, he wrote, had seen the death of “universal pride and confidence in the successful transformation of territories won haphazardly into an orderly Empire consisting of two great divisions”.

“Of these the first included the mother country and the countries of British tradition – Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and, with all the problems of the Boers, South Africa.

“Here there was no difficulty… there was the Empire of the free, independent, advanced, civilised, Christian people that you now correctly call the Crown Commonwealth.

“Then there was India.

“Most Indians, with the exception of a few agitators, accepted the need for a period of education.

“Thirdly, the Colonial Empire, spread over Asia and Africa, the Pacific and the Far East.

“Here the process of evolution to self-government had hardly begun.

“It was a matter of civilising savages.

“Nobody, certainly, expected that it would be what it has proved to be.

Prime Minister Macmillan appears not to have known – or to at least did not acknowledge – that Australia’s Indigenous culture dated back tens of thousands of years.

Former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan watched from the sidelines as the United Kingdom formally joined the European Union in 1972. ( European Communities) European Communities

Debating a European union

Five years after France, Belgium, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and The Netherlands signed the Treaty of Rome in March 1957, the United Kingdom was still debating the merits of entering a political and economic union with “the six”.

“It is an uncertain future”, Prime Minister Macmillan mused in his dispatch to Canberra.

“Of Germany, you can never be sure.

“There are some fine men with good ideas… but there is always a streak of barbarism in the German people.

“It is the kind of smouldering fire which can easily be fanned up into a roaring flame.

“It is for this reason, apart from any economic question, that I have very slowly come to the conclusion that we ought, and indeed we must, try to have a political influence in Europe.

“I still do not know whether they really want us either economically or politically.

“For we may find that after all the whole thing falls to the ground.

“But if it does I do not think things will be better.

“It would be almost impossible for us to continue in NATO or keep large forces at enormous expense to defend a Europe that does not want us economically or politically on reasonable terms, and I would not be surprised to see comparatively soon not this time the Germans on the Channel ports but Communist-controlled countries.”

Sir Robert Menzies encouraged Prime Minister Macmillan to sign up to “guide Europe” on “political, repeat political, grounds”, confiding the President of the United States John F. Kennedy had expressed a similar belief to him that the United Kingdom was best placed to fight Australia and America’s interests.

During a meeting in Washington, he claimed JFK said to him: “You know, the interesting thing is that if Great Britain goes into the European community we will be outside of it and you will be also.

“In these circumstances, we both have a lively interest in maintaining and developing our own trade into the extended Europe and in the avoidance of over-nationalistic economic policies in the Community itself.

“We therefore have a lot in common and should be disposed to help each other to maintain and expand access for our good to the European Market.”

It was an approach Prime Minister Macmillan ultimately shared, but the United Kingdom’s application to join the European Economic Community was blocked, twice, by France.

He watched from the sidelines a decade later when Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath finally signed the accession treaty in 1972.

The late German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signs the Common Market Treaties in the ancient city hall of Rome on March 25, 1957. (European Communities) European Communitie

Fake news?

Harold Macmillan would only spend another year ensconced in power and his long letter to Canberra revealed a political weariness.

“Our instrument of government was not created for the present day and is being subjected to pressures for which it was not intended”, he penned.

“Parliament meets far too long in the year.

“Ministers have no holidays.

“Although I have been away for a day or two to shoot or play golf I have not been away from the telegrams, the office, the boxes, for five years.

“And so we are terribly apt to deal with immediate problems and postpone the longer terms ones.”

In his reply, Sir Robert Menzies, who would go on to spend another half-decade in office despite his narrow election win, takes aim at the media.

“The great art and self-sacrificing profession of Politics is sneered at by the Press, whose controllers are self-elected, and the confidence of whose views is in direct ratio to their ignorance”, he mused.

“The business of a Cabinet is to think and to perform.

“But what time do we have to think?

“Cabinet meetings are squeezed in, and are rarely intellectually exhaustive.

“In Australia, the distances from electorates are so enormous that some Ministers have to chose between doing their Cabinet duty and, as absentees, losing their seats.

“Reading and thinking become more difficult at the very time when they are most needed.

“You are right when you say that our instrument of government is out of date – though I cannot think of a better one.”

Bellamy’s shares plunge as trade resumes

Shares in embattled infant formula maker Bellamy’s fell sharply as they resumed trading after the surprise suspension of a key Chinese regulatory licence for its newly acquired canning facility.

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Bellamy’s shares, which were suspended from trade for nearly two weeks, dropped 34 cents, or five per cent, to a closing price of $6.40, after plunging by more than 12 per cent during the day.

The company this month completed a $60.4 million capital raising to fund the $28.5 million acquisition of a 90 per cent indirect interest in the Camperdown Powder canning facility and other parts of the company’s turnaround strategy.

However, following the July 7 suspension of Camperdown’s Powder’s food licence by the Certification Accreditation Administration of the People’s Republic of China (CNCA), Bellamy’s on Monday issued a supplementary prospectus to the capital raising offering refunds.

The infant formula maker said it had entered into arrangements with the underwriters – including major shareholder Janchor, which was founded by Bellamy’s chairman John Ho – to cover any withdrawals by investors.

Bellamy’s also said it had made full responses to enquiries raised by the CNCA about allegations received by the regulator from a third-party complainant relating to record-keeping and previous quality issues at Camperdown.

The Tasmanian-owned company on Monday said its sales and profitability had improved.

The company expects revenue of about $121 million in the second half of the financial year, and full year revenue of about $239 million.

Second half earnings before interest and tax are expected to be at the upper end of guidance disclosed in the prospectus.

Bellamy’s said it has been cashflow positive since March 2017, reflecting increased sales and an improving inventory position.

Myer CEO defends Topshop strategy

Myer boss Richard Umbers remains committed to his “wanted brands” strategy despite the retailer suffering a $46 million hit from the collapse of its Topshop experiment and continuing pain from fashion label sass & bide.

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Less than two years after announcing Topshop as part of the ‘New Myer’ five-year turnaround strategy, Myer has closed all 17 of its concession stores and will write down its $6.8 million stake in the brand.

Myer bought a 20 per cent stake in Austradia, the Australian franchisee for the Topshop Topman, to ensure it was the only department store chain to have the label.

Myer on Thursday announced it will take a total $45.6 million hit comprising a $6.8 million writedown on Topshop and a $38.8 million impairment of the value of its struggling sass & bide brand.

“Topshop was a key brand and one of the first ones we took on,” Mr Umbers told AAP on Thursday.

“It is now part of a natural cycle of renewal, which in this particular case was prompted by the unfortunate circumstances of Australia.”

Myer had previously flagged full-year net profit above 2016’s $60.5 million.

However writedowns and another $20 million in costs are now likely to eat up a significant portion of the $66 million to $70 million underlying full-year net profit it now forecasts.

Mr Umbers said fierce price cuts across the apparel sector, weak consumer spending due to low wages growth and heavily indebted households have created tough trading conditions.

“And there’s some anticipation of more tough times ahead with interest rates possibly going up and housing prices not increasing the way they have in the past; all of that contributes to reduced spend,” he said.

Despite Topshop’s collapse and the resignation of deputy CEO Daniel Bracken, who was one of New Myer’s architects, Mr Umbers said Myer will stick to its turnaround plan, including chasing wanted brands and continuing sass & bide.

Topshop did deliver benefits in that it opened Myer up to a raft of new brands, including most recently Forever New, he said.

Shares in the retailer closed at an all-time low of 73.5 cents – down 9.8 per cent for the day and far from Myer’s 2009 issue price of $4.10.

Almost $600 million has been wiped from Myer’s market value since August last year in a decline which could see it become a takeover target.

Solomon Lew’s retail group Premier Investments bought a 10.8 per cent stake in Myer in March and released a statement calling it “a strategic investment,” which fuelled speculation that the retail magnate was gearing up for a takeover.

Comment has been sought from Mr Lew, a former chairman of Coles Myer, who is now chairman Premier, which owns Smiggle stationery stores, Peter Alexander pyjama stores and the Just Group.

Citi retail analyst Craig Woolford said department stores generate about 17 per cent of their revenue in the June-July sales period and blamed Myer’s shift away from discounting for hurting its second-half earnings.

Pietersen slams England top order after South Africa rout

Opener Keaton Jennings has totalled 44 runs in his four innings in the first two tests of the four-match series, which is tied at 1-1, while number three Gary Ballance has failed to score a fifty in his last 11 innings.

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England cruised to a comprehensive 211-run win in the series opener at Lord’s but new captain Joe Root was given a rude awakening in the second test when South Africa won by a massive 340 runs at Nottingham to square the series.

“They picked a poor test-match team,” Pietersen told Sky Sports after scoring 52 off 35 balls in his return to domestic cricket for Surrey in the NatWest T20 Blast on Wednesday. “I know they won at Lord’s but that was the brilliance of Joe Root.

“There’s individuals that are brilliant, but the collective don’t fire as much as they should and there are some holes in that batting order.”

Root, who replaced Alastair Cook as England’s test captain, scored a splendid 190 to set up England’s win.

While Cook has looked solid during the series, the left-handed opening batsman has in the past been criticised for his defensive approach.

“You cannot have a top three that bat as the top three bat or has poor technique, you cannot have that,” said the 37-year-old Pietersen, who played 104 tests for England.

“You’ve got to change that up, get them striking, get bowlers thinking ‘Goodness, if I don’t bowl this ball in the right place, I’m going to get whacked’. Malan and Roy are my choice.”

England will have to make at least one change to their batting line-up for next week’s third test at The Oval as Balance has been ruled out with a broken finger.

Roy has been a regular member of England’s limited-overs squads but was not selected for the 50-over Champions Trophy at home last month.

Malan improved his chances on his England debut last month in the deciding Twenty20 international against South Africa in Cardiff, where he starred with a series-winning 78 off 44 balls.

(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by John O’Brien)

Big four banks lead market higher

Another day of strong gains by the major banks, and a rally by energy stocks, has pushed the share market higher.

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The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index rose 0.5 per cent to 5,761.5 points, as the financial sector closed 2.4 per cent higher.

The Australian dollar briefly hit 79.89 US cents after the latest employment numbers showed another rise in full-time employment, but it fell back in afternoon trade to be worth 79.24 US cents at 1700 AEST.

Citi Global Markets director of equities sales Karen Jorritsma said the big banks were again the focus, following the banking regulator’s Wednesday announcement of milder-than-expected capital requirement increases.

“ANZ has done twice the normal daily volume,” Ms Jorritsma said.

“Nnow that nervousness around the capital raising is resolved, the big banks are back in business.”

ANZ gained 2.9 per cent, Westpac added 2.4 per cent, National Australia Bank rose 1.6 per cent and Commonwealth Bank was 0.9 per cent higher.

“Investors were particularly bullish about ANZ which has sufficient capital due to the sales of some of its wealth management assets, while CBA, from a valuation standpoint, is least appealing with the slight possibility they may do a capital raising,” Ms Jorritsma said.

The major energy stocks all rose on higher overnight oil prices, while Santos upgraded its full year sales and production forecasts, leading to a gain of 8.3 per cent.

Oil Search was up 1.8 per cent, Woodside Petroleum gained 0.7 per cent and Origin gained 0.3 per cent.

Myer had a day to forget, losing 9.8 per cent to 73.5 cents, following an earnings downgrade and announcement of a $45.6 million hit from its investment in Topshop’s Australian franchisee and fashion label sass & bide.

“I don’t see how Myer can redeem itself, without providing any detail to quell the market,” Ms Jorritsma said.

Infant formula maker Bellamy’s Australia dropped five per cent to $6.40 as its shares resumed trading after two-week hiatus, following its offer of refunds for the capital raising on a canning facility that failed to gain Chinese regulatory licensing.

ON THE ASX:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 was up 29.4 points, or 0.51 per cent, at 5,761.5 points at 1630 AEST

* The broader All Ordinaries index was up 26.3 points, or 0.46 per cent, at 5,805.7 points.

* The September SPI200 futures contract was up 38 points, or 0.67 per cent, at 5,703 points.

* National turnover was 2.2 billion securities traded worth $6.5 billion.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT AT 1700 AEST:

CURRENCY ASK BID PREVIOUS

AUD/USD 0.7925 0.7923 0.7949

AUD/JPY 88.88 88.8 88.99

AUD/EUR 0.688 0.6875 0.6902

AUD/NZD 1.0798 1.0784 1.0802

AUD/GBP 0.6088 0.6082 0.6106

GOLD:

The spot price of gold in Sydney at 1700 AEST was $US1,2389.33 per fine ounce, down from $US1,239.84 per fine ounce on Wednesday.

BOND SNAPSHOT AT 1630 AEST:

* CGS 4.50 per cent April 2020, 1.9733pct, from 1.965pct on Wednesday

* CGS 4.75pct April 2027, 2.685pct, from 2.6727pct

Sydney Futures Exchange prices:

* September 2017 10-year bond futures contract at 97.26 (implying a yield of 2.74pct) from 97.27 (implying a yield of 2.73pct) on Wednesday

* September 2017 3-year bond futures contract at 97.93 (2.07pct) from 97.94 (2.06pct).

(*Bond market closes taken at 1630 AEST previous local session)

Wilkinson portrait wins Packing Room Prize

Artist Peter Smeeth badgered TV personality Lisa Wilkinson for six months before she found the time to sit for a portrait which has now won the Packing Room Prize at the Archibald exhibition.

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“I have such a full-on life and my schedule is a little crazy, so it took a bit of juggling to organise,” Wilkinson told AAP on Thursday after head packer Steve Peters announced his favourite of 2017’s exhibition entries.

Peters is bidding farewell to the Art Gallery of NSW after 35 years as the top packer.

“It’s been absolutely wonderful but it’s now time for me to retire and tell my mates some home truths about their golf game – like I told some artists some home truths about their artworks,” he said at the gallery.

Wilkinson, who was nursing a broken arm at Thursday’s event, did three separate sittings to allow Smeeth to accurately capture her in a “relaxed” position.

“At one point during the sitting I fell asleep, so I’m thrilled Pete didn’t capture me asleep because that kind of captures me at two o’clock in the afternoon,” she said.

Smeeth has entered the Archibald Prize 34 times, been a finalist three times and won the Sulman prize in 2011.

The artist wasn’t at the gallery as the Packing Room Prize was announced because he was delivering a eulogy in Yass, in regional NSW, for an old school friend of 57 years.

But in a statement read out by Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand, Smeeth described winning the packing prize as “the kiss of death”.

“No winner of this prize has gone on to win the Archibald and this – along with the fact that no reclining figure has ever won – is an early tip for punters; put your money on others in the field.”

Finalists for the 96th Archibald – the longest-running art prize in Australia – include a portrait of Aboriginal actor Jack Charles by Anh Do and a painting of the outgoing packer Peters by Lucy Culliton.

Full-time jobs boost lifts recovery hopes

Continuing strength in full-time employment has strengthened hopes of a turnaround in Australia’s jobs market.

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The unemployment rate was 5.6 per cent in June, unchanged from a revised May figure, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday.

The total number of people with jobs rose by 14,000 in the June, with full-time employment up by 62,000 and part-time jobs down by 48,000.

CommSec chief economist Craig James said 115,400 full-time jobs were created in May and June combined, the biggest back-to-back gain in 29 years.

The Australian dollar spiked on the news, hitting 79.89 US cents, before easing throughout the afternoon to trade at 79.25 US cents by 1700 AEST.

UBS economists said the data showed employment remains strong and supports the Reserve Bank’s positive outlook.

“But, the onus is on jobs and wages to lift to avoid slower consumption,” a UBS research note said.

RBC analyst Michael Turner said the Reserve Bank had already noted diminishing downside risks to its labour market outlook.

“Today’s data will likely add to that confidence and points to a more upbeat set of communication in coming days,” he said.

Mr Turner said improvements in full-time jobs numbers and the number of hours worked – up 0.5 per cent for the month – contributed to “clear and growing signs that some of the spare capacity available within the pool of employed workers is being eroded”.

ThinkMarkets senior market analyst Matt Simpson said the job numbers were largely in line with economists’ expectations.

“As part-time employment weighed heavily on total jobs and full-time employment increased, markets took it as a healthy employment set,” he said.