Tag Archives: future

NBN boss calls for study into broadband future

Updated February 23, 2013 12:53:09

The head of the National Broadband Network (NBN) wants an industry study to determine the best way to build the high-speed internet project.

Construction has been underway on the NBN for more than two years but there is still debate over which technology should be used.

The NBN Co is using a technology called ‘fibre to the premises’, which goes all the way to a home, to build most of the network.

But the Coalition wants to use ‘fibre to the node’. It says this method is faster and cheaper, but it will come with slower speeds.

NBN boss Mike Quigley is trying to bring an end to the debate in the lead up to the federal election.

He says he supports a proposed study by the Communications Alliance into the pros and cons of a range of technologies to see which is best.

“It gives them an opportunity to have a voice and give their opinion on what is the right way forward for the NBN,” he told PM.

“There is a lot of debate at the moment about what the right way forward is. Who’s better placed than the industry itself to have a view?”

But he says his support for the study does not mean he does not fully support the NBN.

“Having an open debate can only be a good thing for the country,” he said.

Opposition communication spokesman Malcolm Turnbull says the study should have been completed before the Government embarked on the NBN project.

“Mike Quigley’s statement today is a colossal admission of failure,” he told PM.

“It is admitting that the Government has made a hash of this … that there needs to be an examination of the different options and … that should have been done four years ago.”

“The question should have been asked: ‘we want everyone in Australia to have very fast broadband, what are the options to do so, let’s rank them in terms of time of deployment, cost of deployment, service delivery outcomes’.

“That’s what we’ve been begging the Government to do for four years, but they’ve embarked on this, they’ve arrogantly dismissed every request for this and now Mike Quigley himself is saying he’d like to see it done.”

Mr Turnbull says if the Coalition wins government, it will examine all aspects of the NBN and decide whether the rollout should continue.

“We will ensure there is produced a comprehensive analysis, totally transparent analysis, of what it will take in terms of dollars and time to complete the network on the plan of the current Government,” he said.

“We will then produce a similar analysis which shows the savings in dollars and time by burying it, by making changes, along the lines of the kind that we’ve proposed, using much more fibre to the node, which is consistent with the experience and practice in most other developed markets.

“We’ll also ensure there is done a cost benefit analysis by the Productivity Commission, and we will also conduct a very rigorous inquiry into the whole process relating to the NBN.

“I think Australians need to be told the truth about this project, they need to be told how it could possible have been embarked upon with so little analysis.”

The board of the Communications Alliance, which represents the telecommunications industry, has not yet decided whether it will go ahead with the study.

But its chief executive, John Stanton, says it is the right time to look at the technologies on offer.

“I guess the point is we’re not at a late stage of the rollout of the NBN, we’re in the very early stages of a nine year or more rollout,” he said.

“The nexus of the idea here is that technologies develop, things are learnt as you start to roll out a network like this, and it is logical and inevitable that over a multi-year rollout, there will be evolution and improvement of the way that the network is deployed.

“So it could make sense to have industry, which after all designed the original reference architecture for the NBN, continue to look at what could make sense.”

Mr Stanton says the debate over high-speed internet needs to be taken out of political hands.

“We need a rational, inclusive debate that sits above politics and simply looks at what might be sensible options in the national interest,” he said.

Major telco Optus does not agree that the study by the alliance would be effective.

It has issued a statement saying it would be better for individual companies to contribute to the debate on various broadband technologies rather than a Communications Alliance review.

The ABC asked Telstra for a response to Mr Quigley’s plan for a study, but it did not reply.

Topics: telecommunications, internet-technology, computers-and-technology, government-and-politics, federal-government, australia

First posted February 22, 2013 19:49:04

Future Fund buys shares in shamed tobacco company

The Government’s multi-billion-dollar Future Fund has bought shares in a tobacco company that once commissioned a study outlining the economic benefits of premature deaths.

Documents provided to a Senate committee show the fund increased its tobacco-related shareholdings in the lead up to last October’s announcement that it was reviewing its investment strategy.

The details reveal that in May last year the fund bought shares in Philip Morris (Czech).

In 2001, Philip Morris was forced to apologise for a study commissioned by its international affiliate that found the Czech Republic benefited financially from the early deaths of smokers.

Asked whether the purchase of such shares complied with the fund’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) policy, managing director Mark Burgess told a Senate hearing: “As we’ve said for some time, our ESG policy, we believe, is world’s best practice, but we do review it on a regular basis.”

In October, Mr Burgess raised the prospect of the fund divesting itself of tobacco shareholdings following pressure from health groups and the Greens.

He said the board’s governance committee would consider the fund’s investment in cigarette and tobacco companies, including the cost implications of such a decision.

Greens senator Richard Di Natale says he is extremely disappointed the fund was buying more shares just months before that announcement.

“(These companies) are taking legal action against the Government, companies that are essentially in the business of killing people,” Senator Di Natale told ABC News Online.

“Australians are horrified when they learn that their taxpayer dollars are being invested in companies like Philip Morris (and) British American Tobacco.”

Mr Burgess says it would be wrong to pre-empt the governance committee’s recommendations because it is still considering the fund’s exclusions policy.

“Exclusions is a very clear area that you must determine in a very structured framework and policy because there are many views of that and therefore you must think it through (and) analyse it carefully.

“That’s what our governance committee is currently doing.

“The fund does exclude for example cluster munitions and landmines – it’s a very clear statement in that area.”

The current value of the fund’s shareholding in cigarette and tobacco companies is $221 million, which is down from $231.7 million in October.

It is unclear, however, whether that is due to the sale of shares or a decrease in the number of shares held by the fund.

According to the October figures, the fund was holding $57 million worth of British American Tobacco shares, $48 million in Lorilland shares, almost $46 million in Philip Morris International and $34.6 million worth of Japan Tobacco shares.

Topics: federal-government, business-economics-and-finance, tobacco, smoking

First posted February 12, 2013 12:45:12

Gas hub future unclear after native title dispute

The Kimberley gas hub is facing further uncertainty, with the State Government to face competing native title claims over the site.

For 15 years, the Jabirr Jabirr and the Goolarabooloo people have had a joint native title claim over the gas hub land, north of Broome.

Two years ago, they signed a deal to allow Woodside and the State Government to build the LNG precinct.

But the Goolarabooloo families remain fiercely opposed to the project and, after a two-day meeting in Broome, the two groups have voted to split up the claim.

The expectation is that two separate claims would then be filed: a Jabirr Jabirr Peoples Native Title Claim and a Goolarabooloo Families Native Title Claim.

The Goolarabooloo families, led by brothers Phillip and Joseph Roe, have welcomed the decision.

Joseph Roe has told the ABC he feels “very, very happy” to have the chance to put his family’s claim before the court.

“(I’ll) get my native title claim registered, protect my sites up there, burial sites, the song cycle, and everything in that country.”

The implications for the land deal already struck are not clear, but if the new claims are successfully registered, the Government would be legally required to negotiate land access with both groups.

At stake is a benefits package worth around $1.3 billion dollars, should the project get the go-ahead.

The State Government has today confirmed it will honour its portion of the package, which comprises around $30 million dollars worth of funding, housing and land.

However in a written statement, Premier Colin Barnett has warned Aboriginal people and the region would lose out should the project be jeopardised by the land dispute.

“It would be a tragedy if this economic opportunity was lost to the Kimberley,” he said.

“One of the problems of the Kimberley is high dependency on welfare. This gives the people of the Kimberley a chance to determine their own economic future and to have the pride and self-respect in having real jobs and real improvements in their living conditions.”

Kimberley Land Council chief executive Nolan Hunter says the council will prepare the court documents to seek the discontinuance of the claim, but would not be able to act for either of the two separate groups.

“It will be a decision of the Federal Court as to whether the application for discontinuance is allowed. It is open to other parties to make submissions to the court of this matter,” he said.

Mr Hunter says if the process goes smoothly, the discontinuance shouldn’t affect the benefits of the LNG project native title agreement.

“Whilst the decision made this week by Traditional Owners is about Native Title, there is a clear association with the proposed Browse LNG development at James Price Point,” he said.

“The Browse Precinct Project Agreement specifically allows for discontinuance of the Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr claim, and the Agreement remains valid and continues in full force and effect.

“Upon discontinuance of the Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr claim, any benefits which would have been payable to the Native Title party under the Agreement are to be held in an interest bearing account, subject to final determination by the Federal Court of who the Native Title holders are.”

While it’s unclear how the tussle over the land will play out in the Federal Court, it now appears increasingly unlikely the Government will be able to guarantee land access to Woodside and its joint venture partners when the deadline for a final investment decision passes at the end of June.

Topics: native-title, oil-and-gas, broome-6725, perth-6000

First posted February 07, 2013 17:58:32

Guitar wood supplier predicts sound future

A specialty timber merchant in Tasmania believes there will be no problem with supply under the forest peace deal.

Bob MacMillan has been salvaging speciality timber for decades.

With many international tone woods now endangered, his wood is in demand with international guitar makers like Fender and Martin.

Mr MacMillan says with proper selective harvesting the resource will last for generations.

“I tell people this and they say, ‘well I’m not going to be here in a couple of hundred years’ and I say ‘so what, the timber’s going to be here forever if it’s used correctly and managed correctly’,” he said.

Topics: timber, music-industry, tas

First posted February 05, 2013 05:32:19

No guarantees on railway’s future

The Tasmanian Government says it can not guarantee a future for the West Coast Wilderness Railway beyond its closure in April.

The Federal Group is closing the major tourism drawcard after a decade of operation.

About $20 million needs to be spent on the line which is owned by the State Government.

Tourism operators want taxpayers to fund the railway’s revival.

Infrastructure Minister David O’Byrne says public money may be used if it is viable, but the Government can not guarantee its future.

Mr O’Byrne says state, federal and local governments could raise the money so a new operator can step in.

“This asset was built by three tiers of government and the community and that’s how we’re going to work through with it,” he said.

“It really does depend on the business model.”

He says the Federal Group was only obliged to do general maintenance, suggesting the Government is responsible for major upgrades.

“We alone can’t fund this sort of capital expenditure.”

Mr O’Byrne says he will not speculate on why there is no penalty in the lease for early termination

The Tasmanian Opposition opposes a state taxpayer-funded bailout to revive the railway.

Liberal leader Will Hodgman says Commonwealth funding would be welcome, but the State Government should spend its money on marketing for the whole tourism industry.

“It’s not government’s business to run business, it’s government’s responsibility to support business.”

The Government says TasRail will not take over the railway because it only handles freight.

West Coast Mayor Darryl Gerrity is organising a public meeting in Queenstown on Thursday and hopes a committee will be formed to discuss options for the railway’s revival.

“But all this has got to happen very quickly because the end is drawing near and if it does cease that could be for a period of time that would make it difficult and expensive to get going again.”

The Tourism Council’s Simon Currant says it is worrying that no guarantees have been made about its future.

“That’s why we believe, and our board decided, that’s what we have to do is to convince them that we’ve got to continue to run it and help them with the solutions.”

One of the business owners relying on the attraction signed a lease to run the railway’s cafe in September.

Joy Chappell believes the State Government has an obligation to help financially.

“I want to see them put some money into their, the property that they own that belongs to all of us and take a bit of responsibility you know, just wake up to yourselves.”

Topics: tourism, rural-tourism, states-and-territories, strahan-7468

First posted February 05, 2013 15:07:31

Mills takes fight to secure future of Gove abroad

The Northern Territory Chief Minister says he expects a final decision about the future of Gove’s alumina refinery a few days after his return from high-level meetings overseas.

Terry Mills is in Canberra and will travel to Singapore and Europe in the next few days for meetings about securing gas for Rio Tinto subsidiary, Pacific Aluminium’s Gove refinery.

Mr Mills says he believes Rio Tinto is serious about saving Gove.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that they are as a corporate player,” he said.

“If they had no soul whatsoever they could just let it go. But they are in the market, they want to continue business.”

Mr Mills says it is time to develop a national gas policy that will ensure future domestic energy supply.

He says the discussions about keeping the Gove refinery open are an opportunity for the domestic gas market.

“How we achieve that, if that’s with a conventional gas reservation yet, I’m not certain yet,” he said.

“I’ve got some ideas on that but we do need to think more creatively on that space because we can’t just have the international market making use of an asset that we have and we’re left in a weaker position.”

The Chief Minister says he is in a strong position to secure a gas deal for Gove.

Topics: government-and-politics, oil-and-gas, nhulunbuy-0880, darwin-0800

First posted February 04, 2013 09:46:04

Renting and sharing: The business of the future

Two children sharing an ice cream The younger generation are leading the way and are more willing to share The earth can only provide for so much stuff before the basic materials needed to make it start to run out.

Many of us hanker after the very latest cars, TVs, computers and the like, but there’s a growing realisation that there are not enough raw materials in the world for us all to have them.

Unchecked consumerism, quite simply, is incompatible with a world of finite resources and an exploding global population.

Something has to give, and as supply cannot increase, demand must be moderated, at least in the rich industrialised countries that account for the vast majority of global consumption.

There is no one solution to this most complex of issues, but a growing number of businesses are at the forefront of a movement that may go some way to addressing the problem.

Making money

It’s a simple concept – instead of buying products, you rent or share them. The obstacles may appear entrenched, not least mankind’s seemingly innate obsession with accumulating material possessions.

But the benefits to consumers are clear – you only pay for what you need, when you need it, and you don’t have to worry about owning obsolete technology or outdated objects.

The success of some of these start-ups suggests businesses can also flourish under this model. Of course most of these companies were not set up to help tackle the problem of resource depletion, but to make money. And many of them are doing rather well.

Traffic jam Car sharing helps take cars off the road, reducing CO2 emissions and pressure on finite resources

Take Zipcar, the car-sharing service. The number of cars in the world is expected to double by 2030, with grave consequences for both resources and CO2 emissions. What better way, then, to share a car rather than buy one, reducing at a stroke demand for these energy-intensive products?

Zipcar leases cars from major manufacturers, then makes them available to its members, who pay an annual fee and an hourly rate for using the car. Compared with buying a car, maintaining, insuring and taxing it, the average member saves more than £3,000 a year, according to the company. And every car shared takes 20 vehicles off the road, it says.

The company is coy about its profitability, but it must be doing something right – more than 750,000 people have joined up. By 2030, there will 30 million members of similar schemes across the world, according to consultancy Frost & Sullivan. It is this growth potential that persuaded global car hire giant Avis to buy out Zipcar for $500m (£318m) earlier this year.

Next step

This simple business model can be applied to all manner of products, and has been embraced by a number of small companies. Girlmeetsdress.com, fashionhire.co.uk and handbagsfromheaven.co.uk, for example, offer access to designer fashions.

Not only can you can you wear a different dress every night, but you can wear a top designer you may not otherwise be able to afford. Better still, you’re not lumbered with a piece that’s outdated

Other companies have taken the concept a step further. Rather than buying products to rent out, they simply allow people to share their own possessions.

Whipcar, for example, effectively allows you to rent someone else’s car. You pay a membership fee, find someone in your local area who has put their car on the site, and agree a time for you drive it. Insurance and breakdown cover are included.

Research by Frost & Sullivan suggests there are 24 similar schemes across Europe, with more than 100,000 members. By 2020, it estimates there will be almost 750,000 people renting each other’s cars.

Parkatmyhouse takes the same principle and applies it to parking rather than driving.

Carsharing in Europe

But perhaps the most successful company to embrace this business model is Airbnb, which offers users the opportunity to rent rooms or homes in almost 200 countries across the world at a price considerably cheaper than the equivalent hotel. You simply join up, find a place to suit you and get in touch with the property owner.

And by taking a commission on the rent, Airbnb is able to generate serious amounts of cash – one US analyst recently forecast that annual revenues for the company of $1bn were perfectly possible. With very few overheads, that would translate into quite some profit.

The applications of the sharing model are almost endless. Zopa, for example, allows people to borrow money from one another, rather than the bank. The UK-based company has 500,000 members and has facilitated almost £270m in loans. It makes money by charging lenders a flat 1% annual fee on the money they lend. And it’s not alone – there are about 35 similar so-called peer-to-peer lending schemes around the world.

There are even businesses that allow you to bypass the need for the services of a professional company altogether. Odesk.com, freelancer.com and guru.com, for example, allow you to hire people to do any job you so wish or, conversely, to pitch for jobs you want to do yourself. Again, the company takes a commission on the rate paid – in the case of Odesk, 10%.

‘More attractive’ Continue reading the main story The global population is expected to grow from seven billion today to nine billion by 2050, an increase of almost 30%There could be up to three billion new middle class consumers by the same dateIf everyone in the world consumed as much as we do in the UK, we would need three planets to sustain us. If we all consumed as much as the US, we’d need 4.4 planetsHumans currently consume resources 50% faster than the earth can produce or renew themThe cost of an average oil well has doubled in the past 10 yearsNew mining discoveries have been largely flat despite a fourfold increase in exploration costsDemand for water over the next 30 years is projected to rise by almost a halfPrime agricultural land equivalent in size to Italy could be sacrificed to expanding cities in less than 20 years.

Sources: McKinsey, WWF, WSP

But it’s not just start-ups in the service sector that can benefit from a sharing or rental business model, says David Symons at consultancy WSP.

“As resources become more scarce, keeping ownership [of the resources] and leasing them out keeps costs down, while the rising price of raw materials [and production] makes renting even more attractive,” he says.

For these reasons, more companies are looking at the benefits of renting, he says, for example manufacturers of air conditioning units, lifts and various white goods.

“If you’re providing a service, then you’re aligning your own interests with those of your customers, which makes for a longer-term relationship,” says Mr Symons. Not to mention the fact that profit margins in the service industry tend to be higher than those in manufacturing.

This would inevitably lead to a more service orientated economy, but this is no bad thing, says Mr Symons – as consumers spend less on owning goods, they have more money to spend elsewhere.

“It just means money is circulating in services rather than products.”

‘Magic bullet’

It’s early days, but these companies are pioneering a move towards an entirely different way of doing business.

As Rajesh Makwana, director of Share The World’s Resources, says: “Even though the business potential of the sharing economy is significant, there are still only relatively small numbers of people participating in this emerging sector”.

If the success of Airbnb and Zipcar is anything to go by, this won’t be the case for long. Just how long depends somewhat on our willingness to give up what we have for so long been programmed to desire.

Share key on keyboard The internet and social media have been the catalyst for business models based on renting and sharing

Change is already afoot. “The younger generation are leading the way – they see sharing as a way of life and are not so keen on owning things,” says Sarwant Singh at Frost & Sullivan.

Some argue that ownership was never the real issue, but access. The internet and social media has allowed the instant communication needed to put those who want in touch with those who have, and vice versa. Without it, sharing on a grand scale would not be possible.

What is certain is that this new business model is here to stay – the physical limitations of planet Earth demand it.

“It may not be the magic bullet, but it’s one way we can use resources more efficiently,” says Mr Symons.

So as the global population, and more importantly the middle class, continues to mushroom, we all better get used to the idea of sharing a little more, or at least of owning a little less stuff.

Town on knife-edge over Rio Tinto refinery future

About 800 people have rallied at the remote Arnhem Land town of Nhulunbuy over the threat by global mining giant Rio Tinto to shut its nearby alumina refinery.

Rio Tinto is due to decide on the future of the Gove refinery, operated by subsidiary Pacific Aluminium, at a meeting in London tomorrow.

About 4,000 people live at Nhulunbuy, and the town, more than 1,000 kilometres east of Darwin, also services Aboriginal communities in the area.

If Rio Tinto decides to shut the refinery, it is believed that at least 1,200 people will lose their jobs.

Locals say more than half the town’s population would be forced to leave.

East Arnhem Regional Futures Alliance chairman Klaus Helms told the protest rally at a local sportsground that the community realises it is at crisis point.

“Most of you won’t be here if we don’t get gas, it’s as simple as that,” he said.

“We are going to lose up to 2,000 or 2,500 people from this community and the region.

“And we will lose them rapidly.

“A lot of talk is how long the shutdown will take.

“Well, I can tell you, once they turn that key off, it works damn quickly.”

Rio Tinto has been negotiating with the Territory Government and gas companies to secure a long-term gas supply to power the refinery.

It has also asked the Federal Government to underwrite the construction of a $900 million pipeline to deliver gas to the plant.

The refinery now operates on diesel power, and analysts believe Rio Tinto is losing $30 million a month on the operation.

The Territory Government offered to supply the company with 10 years worth of gas from its domestic supplies, but only if a replacement gas supply could be secured first.

Chief Minister Terry Mills says plans are in place to ensure essential services, including the local hospital, are maintained in Nhulunbuy if the refinery closes.

He says what happens now is a question for Pacific Aluminium.

“This is their town, this is their business and they have a number of contractual arrangements for the people of the Gove area,” he said.

“They are the ones who are making this decision.

“They are requiring other players to try and solve this problem and we’re doing all we can to solve it.”

Mr Mills refused to be drawn on any details about what will happen if the refinery is shut down.

“This is not the time, this is not the time and place … to discuss the details of contingency plans,” he said.

“All the contingency plans if we have some kind of disaster don’t have to be aired.

“You just need to be reassured that they are in place.”

Topics: mining-industry, regional-development, nhulunbuy-0880, darwin-0800

First posted January 30, 2013 16:32:54

Vote on Gunns future delayed

Administrators for the collapsed Tasmanian timber giant Gunns have won a court order delaying a vote on the future of the company.

Gunns creditors were due to vote today on whether to liquidate the 130-year-old company.

Late yesterday, the Victorian Supreme Court granted administrators PPB Advisory a one-month extension.

Gunns went into receivership in September with debts of more than $500 million.

Receivers Korda Mentha, representing Gunns’ biggest creditors including ANZ Bank, wanted the meeting to go ahead.

Spokesman Mike Smith says the value of Gunns’ assets, including its proposed pulp mill, would have been made clear at the meeting.

Mr Smith says Korda Mentha is keen to begin the sale process.

“The second meeting of creditors may have brought some more clarity to some of those assets and allowed a clear path to be able to set up a strategy to for selling those assets,” he said.

“But having said that, the delay is one more month, we just need to work around those new timelines.”

The administrators say the extension gives them more time to sell some of Gunns’ plantation schemes.

But contractors are frustrated.

Ulverstone haulage contractor Ross Woodhouse is one of four north-west contractors owed a total of $1 million.

“I think people just need to be able to move forward and get on with their lives,” he said.

“The more of the delays they have, the worse it is for other people to try and move on and, perhaps, for even Gunns to even sell their business and hopefully it can be sorted and settled.”

But Les Walkden, who is owed $3.7 million, says the delay could be to creditors’ advantage.

“It’s a fairly big mess I would suggest, four weeks may help them sell some assets…but I think we need to be patient.”

Tasmania’s peak farming body says farmers are stressed by the delay.

The Tasmanian Framers and Graziers Association’s Jan Davis says the delay is frustrating farmers.

“Every delay is a distressing thing for the farmers that are involved,” she said.

“Some of these farmers, their only source of income has been Gunns’ leases and the longer this gets put off, the less they can draw a line under it and move on.”

Topics: company-news, timber, tas, hobart-7000, launceston-7250

First posted January 31, 2013 08:59:20

Monti’s future uncertain as Italy heads for election

Posted December 27, 2012 09:52:13

The political turmoil has begun again in Italy, with uncertainty about whether its technocrat prime minister might continue after the election.

Mario Monti has resigned, prompting fresh elections in February, but it is still not clear whether he will put his hand up again for the top job.

He has cryptically tweeted, “Together we saved Italy from disaster. Together we return to politics.”

As a well-respected economist, Mr Monti won support from European leaders, but as a politician at home he has not been so popular.

If he does not stand, voters are wondering what options they will face, with the scandal-plagued Silvio Berlusconi and a former comedian amongst those on offer.

At his only press conference since resigning, Mario Monti refused to say whether or not he will throw his hat in the ring for the upcoming elections.

However, he went on to publish an open letter to Italians outlining his ideas – prioritising anti-corruption measures, attracting foreign investment and incentives to hire women and young workers.

Notably, the letter was backed by the powerful head of the Catholic Church in Italy.

Mr Monti has thrown the election lead-up into confusion by saying that for credible forces he would give quote, “his appreciation, encouragement and, if asked, his leadership.”

James Walston, a political analyst at the American University of Rome, says Mr Monti has made it very clear his steady-as she-goes agenda is more important than his own personal ambitions.

“This is what he repeated and he made clear in all the answers he gave as well at the press conference when people were trying to needle him into saying are you going to stand, what sort of job will you take,” Mr Walston said.

“He said, as long as the program goes through, I can do more or less anything.”

Mr Monti is the technocratic prime minister appointed a year ago to steady the Italian economy.

He replaced the controversial Silvio Berlosconi, who had supported Mr Monti’s reforms, but recently withdrew that backing, prompting the upcoming elections.

Leading the polls is the centre-left Democratic Party.

The scandal-tinged Mr Berlusconi may have re-injected himself into the process in recent weeks, but support for his People of Freedom Party has halved to about 16.5 per cent, and he is seen as having a spoiler role.

Also in the mix is comedian Beppe Grillo, who is running on an anti-sleaze ticket and beating Mr Berlusconi in the polls.

On the streets of Rome some residents are unimpressed by their range of political alternatives.

“Monti has brought us to ruin somewhat, he’s made us poorer,” said one woman on the streets of Rome.

“As long as Berlusconi doesn’t come back, otherwise Italy will end up in a mess. Unfortunately we have very few alternatives.”

However, James Walston says he expects voters to support an agenda akin to that of Mr Monti.

“The most likely scenario will be a centre-left victory with a big fight over the senate and with Monti and the centralist parties coming in in some way,” he forecast.

Topics: business-economics-and-finance, economic-trends, elections, italy

MLCs raise more forestry future fears

There are already calls for more information about each forestry area marked for protection under Tasmania’s forestry peace deal, just days after they were defined.

Tasmania’s Upper House is investigating legislation crucial for the deal to reduce native forest logging.

Just hours before the start of the public hearings, the State Government unveiled almost 160 pages of amendments to legislation needed to enforce the historic agreement.

The inquiry’s chairman Paul Harris is worried about green groups’ reactions to the amendments approved on Monday night which would let MPs exclude forest areas from protection on a case-by-case assessment.

Liberal MLC Vanessa Goodwin is already asking for more in-depth detail.

She wants to know which areas have different conservation values, such as threatened habitat, which would lead them to being split up.

Ms Goodwin says the public wants to know what is special about each of the 295 individual lots, now they have been defined.

Elwick MLC Adriana Taylor says she is worried there will not be enough wood to fill the industry’s sawlog quota of 137,000 cubic metres.

“I’m just concerned that if 137,000 is not, doesn’t provide a viable industry then the agreement is going to fall over in the end.”

Upper House MPs are criticising the Wilderness Society for not trying to rein in fringe groups which have been damaging markets.

The society is one of the key environmental signatories to the deal, but comments from its Tasmanian spokesman Vica Bayley today have come under fire.

Mr Bayley says he will not seek to control the fringe groups who are taking their protests to overseas customers.

“I’m not going to try and seek to control Jenny (Webber) or Markets for Change, that’s not my job and it is my view that they are perfectly within their right to do what they are doing, should they choose,” he said.

That has worried Launceston MLC Rosemary Armitage who wants assurances the society has not watered down its support for peace.

She says the refusal to control fringe elements differs greatly from previous promises by the national head of the Wilderness Society to actively rein in groups.

“I remember him quite clearly sitting over here and saying ‘if we have to follow them around the world, we will’.”

After being pressed on the issue Mr Bayley clarified his position to say he would pursue fringe groups in their international campaigns.

“I’ll present my view as to perhaps why they’re (the fringe groups) taking the wrong tack and why this agreement is a better approach to the one that they were advocating.”

“That’s what I would be doing, I’m not going to try and seek to squash their ability or their right or their voice but I will, and we have publicly, backed the agreement.”

But Mr Bayley says the fringe groups are within their rights to do what they choose, even if it goes against the deal he signed.

Liberal MP Peter Gutwein says it is proof there are cracks in the deal and they’re starting to show.

“What we’ve heard today, is that you simply can’t trust the Greens,” he said.

“They’re not going to demand that people stop protesting, they’re going to allow anything to occur.

“This is simply madness, it’s a farce.”

The forestry union has told the inquiry there is no real alternative to passing the legislation.

Jane Calvert from the CFMEU told the hearing timber processor Ta Ann will leave Tasmania if the deal is not passed.

“We’ll not only lose all those jobs and that will be devastating for workers and the communities they live in, but that will have a domino effect in the industry as I’m sure you area aware and have been briefed about.”

Upper House MPs have been told not to be overwhelmed by the amendments.

Environment Tasmania’s Phill Pullinger says the proposed changes are not as significant as they might appear.

“Twitter feeds in some of the media saying ‘oh there’s 160-pages of amendments to the legislation’ and my reaction to that story was ‘what’s going on there’,” he said.

“But when you actually look at the substance, it’s actually one change to table all the details of the protection order… which the Legislative Council wanted to see those details.”

One of the industry signatories says proposed amendments fundamentally alter the agreement.

The Tasmanian Forest Industry Association’s Terry Edwards has told ABC Local Radio the last-minute amendments have removed critical aspects.

“This fundamentally changes the first tranche of reserves, where now 380-odd thousand hectares of reserves can be made without there being a durability report provided to the parliament,” he said.

The Premier, Lara Giddings, has defended the timing of the release of proposed changes to the legislation.

“We had fires last week and this was the earliest that we could actually get all of that information together and we’ve released it as quickly as we possibly could,” she said.

Topics: forestry, timber, states-and-territories, tas, hobart-7000, launceston-7250

First posted January 16, 2013 12:27:01

Knitting and baking the cars of the future

Polyacrylic yarn Silky polyacrylic yarn as soft as hair is cooked to transform it into ultra-lightweight, strong carbon fibre materials Rising skywards like tinsel on a Christmas tree, the white polyacrylic yarn slowly unfolds from dozens of vast wooden crates, each containing 43 kilometres of material.

Gentle tension pulleys help keep the soft, silky material straight without snapping it as it is stretched from floor to ceiling, then through into the next room to undergo a process of oxidation.

“It’s changing colour,” says factory manager Steve Swanton. “That’s the first reaction.”

Side by side, dozens of thin threads slowly wind their way up a series of heated rollers, gradually changing from white, to silver, to gold, then copper, and finally black.

“We’re not adding anything here,” says Mr Swanton. “We’re just cooking the material.”

‘Paradigm shift’

But this not a textiles factory.

What is cooking here is carbon fibre – a strong, lightweight material widely used in industries such as Formula 1 or aerospace and defence, and one that could soon be put to good use by the automotive industry.

Continue reading the main story SGL Automotive carbon fibre plant in Moses Lake, Washington It took less than a year to build SGL Automotive’s plant in Moses Lake, Washington, which now has capacity to make 8% of the world’s carbon fibre. Polyacrylic yarn The carbon fibre is made from soft, silky polyacrylic yarn that is chemically processed to remove non-carbon molecules and to change the molecular properties of the carbon that is left. Polyacrylic yarn going through a process of oxidation This starts with an oxidation process, which makes the polyacrylic yarn change colour from white to silver, to gold, then copper and finally black. Furnaces A carbonisation process then follows in huge furnaces, where all non-carbon molecules are removed while the chemical properties of the remaining carbon molecules are changed to help them bond better, thus making the carbon strong. Polyacrylic yarn after the oxidation process but before the carbonisation process Following the oxidation process, the strips of material have changed appearance to resemble giant spools of old-fashioned audio tape Carbon fibre strips are wound onto cardboard bobbins At the end of the process, the carbon fibre strips are wound onto cardboard bobbins that are piled onto pallets and shipped to Germany Steve Swanton, head of SGL Automotive Carbon Fiber SGL Automotive’s head Steve Swanton says the Moses Lake plant is changing both the carbon fibre market and the automotive market BMW i3 cabin made from carbon fibre reinforced plastic The carbon fibre is used to create reinforced plastic, which in turn is used to make strong, lightweight car bodies BMW i3 Concept Coupe The light-weight carbon fibre car bodies are coupled with aluminium chassis to make BMW’s i3 and i8 models, which are both electric or petrol electric plug-in vehicles Continue reading the main story “All the lingo in carbon fibre is based on textiles,” grins Mr Swanton. And like the cotton mills of the past, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers’ newly built factory in Moses Lake, Washington State, could deliver an industrial revolution of its own.

The process of stabilising and making the material fire proof is done in four 50 metre long ovens, each hotter than the last one with temperatures rising from 200 to 1,100 degrees Celsius.

Continue reading the main story
The carbon fibre reinforced plastic parts are at least 30% lighter than aluminium and 50% lighter than steel”

End Quote Dennis Bauman SGL Automotive Carbon Fiber As oxidation levels increase, the strips of material change appearance. As they exit at the far end of the factory they resemble giant spools of old-fashioned audio tapes.

The strips then feed through into two furnaces, one low- and one high-temperature, each the height of a tall man and covering an area the size of a badminton court.

Here a carbonisation process chemically removes all non-carbon molecules while also changing the bonding of the carbon molecules. The result is ultra-strong carbon fibre, which is spooled onto large cardboard bobbins that are stacked onto pallets, each containing 2.7 kilometres of this hugely flexible, strong and light material.

“The way we do things here marks paradigm shifts, both in the carbon fibre market and the automotive market,” Mr Swanton says.

Cheaper solution SGL SGL Automotive uses carbon threads that are cheaper than those used by F1 and aerospace

Carbon fibre is made from thin threads that each contain a number of carbon filaments. The Aerospace industry generally uses 3K or 6K strands, which have 3,000 or 6,000 carbon filaments per thread. But this is very expensive, so to cut costs SGL Automotive uses threads with 100,000 strands.

One major difference, beyond cost, is that the 100K strands are more difficult to handle and shape. The manufacturer gets around this by laying down the carbon in just one direction rather than weaving carbon strands into cloth.

“We are not producing a woven fabric,” says Dennis Bauman, head of business development at SGL Automotive. “That’s for aeroplanes and for super-sports cars and it’s really expensive.”

Instead, the carbon fibre is shipped to SGL Automotive’s German factory in Wackersdorf, where a thermoplastic material is injected to bind them together into reinforced plastic sheets. Multi-directional strength is achieved by layering the sheets with the fibres pointing in different directions before they are moulded into shape.

German carmaker BMW – SGL Automotive’s only customer and owner of 49% of its shares – uses the material to produce body parts for the main cabins of its futuristic plug-in models i3 Megacity and i8 sports car, which will hit the road in 2013 and 2014.

The i3′s cabin will be made from just 35 carbon fibre parts, which simplifies the manufacturing a great deal when compared with similarly-sized conventional cars that would require some 500 alloy steel parts to achieve similar results.

“The carbon fibre reinforced plastic parts are at least 30% lighter than aluminium and 50% lighter than steel for identical component use, so the vehicle weighs 300kg less than an ordinary vehicle,” Mr Bauman explains.

“We are pretty convinced that this is the future of the automotive industry.

Head start BMW i3 and BMW i8 Much of BMW’s i3 and i8 are made from carbon fibre reinforced plastics

SGL Automotive’s existence is based on such a conviction. The plant was built in late 2010 and early 2011 to guarantee BMW sufficient supplies of carbon fibre at a price that would give it a competitive advantage.

Currently, the Moses Lake factory has capacity to deliver 3,000 tonnes of carbon fibre per year, which is equivalent to 8% of world production, though it could easily expand to produce twice that, according to Mr Bauman.

“We are the first to industrialise carbon fibre to mass produce cars,” he says.

“In fact, four or five players dominate about 80% of the world’s carbon fibre production, so the only way for BMW to make sure it has enough is to make it themselves – which is why they linked up with SGL to create this joint venture.”

BMW reckons as a result of its joint venture with SGL Group, it has stolen a 3-5 year march on the competition.

“We believe carbon fibre has much more use in the future, but making cars in high volume out of carbon fibre is definitely not as easy as people assume it to be,” says Ian Robertson, BMW Group’s head of sales and marketing.

“The technology that’s developed here will ultimately be available for other companies too – but we’ll have it first.”

Making electric mobility work

Getting involved in the manufacture of the carbon fibre has also made it possible for BMW to address a common concern about carbon fibre, namely that it is such an energy intensive process to make it, that any weight savings and efficiency improvements achieved are quickly cancelled out by the pollution from the manufacturing process.

Wanapum hydro power plant in Washington State, US SGL Automotive’s carbon fibre factory is powered by electricity generated at the nearby Wanapum hydro power plant

“By making the carbon in Moses Lake, we can reduce the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process by 50% when compared with buying carbon fibre in the market place,” says Manuel Sattig, a spokesman for BMW’s i-division, which focuses on new transport and automotive technologies.

“Consequently, the carbon footprint of the i3 will be a third of an equivalent, very efficient car in this segment – if it is powered by the current energy mix.

“That rises to 50% if it is powered by electricity created using only renewable energy.”

This is not because SGL Automotive’s plant uses any less energy than any other carbon fibre plant. On the contrary, “the oxidation fans draw a lot of energy so we’re a big energy consumer”, acknowledges Mr Bauman.

Instead, it results from its location, just a few miles away from a huge hydro power plant.

“The main reason why we went to Moses Lake was to get reliable energy from renewable sources,” Mr Bauman says. “But in addition, the energy costs are much, much, much, lower than in Germany. Here we pay about 2 US cents for 1KwH, whereas in Germany we pay 15 eurocents per KwH.”

In addition, BMW is making the chassis of its i3 and i8 models from recycled aluminium or aluminium produced with renewable energy, and off course the carmaker has no need for the highly energy intensive process of pressing steel for car bodies.

True, SGL’s Mr Swanton acknowledges, it is impossible to make cars without producing any pollution at all, but at least, he says, this process pollutes less than conventional methods using steel or aluminium.

“Besides,” adds BMW’s Roberson, “we need to have a way to bring down the weight to reduce the battery requirements of electric cars.

“Carbon fibre is the material that’ll really make electric mobility work.”

Palmer unfazed over golf comp’s future on Sunshine Coast

Updated December 11, 2012 09:55:45

Billionaire businessman Clive Palmer says negotiations are continuing with PGA Australia to keep next year’s golf championship on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

The 2012 Australian PGA Championship starts on Thursday at Palmer Coolum Resort.

PGA Australia says it will not be announcing the venue for next year’s championship until early next year.

PGA chief executive Brian Thorburn has confirmed it is “extremely likely” this year’s event will be the last on the Coast, after disputes over signage and commercial interests with Mr Palmer.

Mr Palmer says it is not the end of the world if the tournament changes venue.

“Golf is an important aspect of our economy, but it’s only about 5 per cent of the Australian or the South-East Asian tourist industry,” he said.

“We’ll do what we can do to keep golf, but we’ve got to get better attractions and that’s why we’re moving ahead with the dinosaur park.

“We don’t live just for the PGA.

“There’s a lot more to happen and I think the PGA’s here because it’s a good place to be.

“It’s a wonderful destination and there’s a bigger world out there.”

Sunshine Coast businesses are appealing to Mr Palmer to do all he can to keep the PGA championship at his Coolum resort.

The president of the Coolum Business and Tourism Association, Neil Mooney, says losing the tournament would be devastating for the local economy.

“Clive – let’s keep it here,” he said.

“He owns the resort and he might have his reasons why he’s doing it but I tell you he isn’t doing any favours for anyone in the town of the Sunshine Coast.

“We don’t want to lose it – too much money has gone into it … taxpayers’ money and also ratepayers’ money over the years to bring this event here.”

Topics: rural-tourism, golf, tourism, mount-coolum-4573

First posted December 11, 2012 09:50:58

Concerns about aluminium’s future in Gove

The Northern Territory Government hopes a decision will be made this week on a plan to help save a Rio Tinto alumina refinery on the Gove peninsula in remote north-east Arnhem Land.

The Territory’s Chief Minister says any closure of the refinery could devastate the nearby mining town of Nhulunbuy, which has also become a service hub for Indigenous people in the area.

The Territory and Federal Governments are discussing a plan to pipe gas to the Gove peninsula in a bid to convince the company to keep the plant running.

The Rio Tinto-owned Pacific Aluminium is reviewing its alumina refinery and bauxite mine on the Gove Peninsula.

Dave Suter from the local Chamber of Commerce says businesses are already feeling the pinch as the company cuts costs.

“Talking to shopkeepers in the town, you get the idea that possibly their figures are around the 25 per cent downturn in business at the moment,” he said.

Mr Suter says local businesses are starting to brace for an even bigger downturn if the refinery closes.

“Everyone is, whilst they’re not really worried about it, they are concerned,” he said.

“This probably is a good time for people to look at how they actually run their businesses, the costs associated with their businesses. We call it planning for the worst but hoping for the best.”

One option on the table is suspending the operation of the alumina refinery but continuing to run the mine with an increase in bauxite exports.

However, the majority of the 1,400 jobs at Gove are linked to the refinery.

Klaus Helms is the chairman of Nhulunbuy’s futures alliance, which was formed to prepare for all possibilities, including a drop in Nhulunbuy’s current population of 4,000.

“You know, you’re talking in numbers of, if this closure were to happen, a loss of around 2,500-odd people, which would be a major impact on the service delivery of this region,” he said.

Since he arrived in Nhulunbuy in the late 1960s, Klaus Helms has watched the town grow into a service hub for the region.

“If you looked at all the services that exist at the moment, a huge proportion of that service is just for the mine. But the offset of that is that it also gives the region a better selection of services,” he added.

One reason the Gove operation has been losing money is the high cost of the heavy fuel oil it uses to power the operation.

The company also supplies power to the town of Nhulunbuy and several Indigenous communities.

Klaus Helms is keeping an eye on renewed talks about piping gas from Katherine to Gove.

“We’re all working hard to get gas to Gove to make this region survive, because it’s pretty bleak if you look at the alternatives,” he said.

The Northern Territory Chief Minister, Terry Mills, says talks with the Federal Minister for Resources, Martin Ferguson, have been positive.

“I think we are at the closing stages of being able to identify how we can have an aggregated quantity of gas that would allow a pipeline to be constructed and gas to be delivered to Nhulunbuy,” he said.

The Territory Government is considering selling some of its gas and the Commonwealth has been assessing the risk of underwriting the pipeline construction and gas conversion, estimated to cost $750 million.

The Commonwealth says it is considering what it might to do to help alumina refining at Gove continue.

Terry Mills wants Wednesday to be the deadline for the talks.

Topics: business-economics-and-finance, economic-trends, bauxite, manufacturing, australia, nt, nhulunbuy-0880

Confusion on Internet future after UN treaty split

computer IT3 400WASHINGTON: The freewheeling, unregulated Internet seemed to survive a push for new rules at a UN treaty meeting, but the collapse of talks leaves unanswered questions about the Web’s future.

A total of 89 countries endorsed the global treaty on telecom regulations at the UN’s International Telecommunication Union gathering in Dubai on Friday, but the United States and dozens of others refused to sign, saying it opened the door to regulating the Internet.

ITU chief Hamadoun Toure insisted that the treaty had nothing to do with the Internet, despite what he called “a non-binding resolution which aims at fostering the development and growth of the Internet.”

“This conference was not about the Internet control or Internet governance, and indeed there are no provisions on the Internet,” the ITU secretary-general told participants at the signing ceremony.

But James Lewis, who follows Internet governance at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said backers of the treaty distorted the facts.

“They were lying,” he said. “It was totally about the Internet.”

Lewis told AFP the ITU lost credibility because “they swore up and down there wouldn’t be a vote, that a decision would be by consensus, and then they took a vote.”

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2012Copyright APP (Associated Press of Pakistan), 2012

Share sale assures future of Browse: businessman

Updated December 14, 2012 14:03:26

Prominent businessman and environmental activist Geoffrey Cousins says BHP Billiton’s decision to sell its share in the Browse gas development near Broome is the best thing to happen to the project.

Chinese company PetroChina is set to buy BHP’s interests in the east and west Browse fields.

Woodside, the consortium leader, plans to process the gas at James Price Point, north of Broome, but the escalating cost of onshore processing has seen other joint venture partners push to use floating LNG technology.

Mr Cousins says now BHP has withdrawn from the project it is more likely a processing plant will be built off shore.

“I think it’s very positive and I’ve said previously and I say again if floating technology is used here it will be a wonderful example of technology helping to solve an environmental issue instead of creating one,” he said.

Topics: oil-and-gas, perth-6000, wa, broome-6725

First posted December 14, 2012 11:45:11

Tesco to review US chain future

5 December 2012 Last updated at 08:19 GMT Retail analyst Natalie Berg: “Tesco’s Fresh and Easy lost its way”

Tesco is launching a strategic review that may lead to the sale or closure of its US-based Fresh and Easy chain, the company has confirmed.

The UK’s largest supermarket group has spent nearly £1bn ($1.6bn) on the loss-making US venture in an attempt to take on its main rival, Wal-Mart.

Tesco said that all options for its US business were under consideration.

Tesco also said in a trading statement that non-food sales in the UK had not been good enough.

While chief executive Philip Clarke said that he was “pleased” with its food business, he said the business was renewing its efforts on improving the general merchandise business.

UK like-for-like sales – which strip out the impact of new stores – excluding VAT and fuel fell 0.6% in the third quarter, Tesco said.

Buyer interest

Fresh and Easy was launched in 2007, but investors have increasingly called on Tesco to sell or close the business.

Mr Clarke said investment in the chain, which has about 200 stores in the US, would get better returns elsewhere: “While the business has many positives, its journey to scale and acceptable returns will take too long relative to other opportunities.”

He has been under pressure after announcing Tesco’s first fall in profits since 1994 at the half-year results stage in October.

Fresh and Easy stores are mainly in California and Nevada, and Tesco originally had ambitious plans for the chain.

In its statement, Tesco said that it had received a number of approaches from parties interested in all or part of the business, or in partnership with Tesco, and that it would give an update on the situation in April next year when it reports its full-year results.

The original concept for Fresh and Easy has been radically overhauled and the venture has faced opposition from trade unions.

Its launch in the US came at a bad time, coinciding with the start of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and subsequent economic downturn.

Tesco also confirmed that the chief executive of Fresh and Easy, Tim Mason, would be leaving the company after a career spanning 30 years.

International sales

In its trading update, Tesco said its international businesses had seen a mixed performance during the quarter.

Consumer spending had weakened further in Central Europe, Tesco said, with sales in Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic particularly affected by slower economic growth.

However, this was partly offset by a better performance in Asia, with sales in Thailand, Malaysia and Korea improving.

Tesco said it opened two new stores in China during the quarter, and planned a further seven in the next month.

However, underlying sales in China fell as a result of “a continued slowdown in economic growth and lower consumer spending”.

World leaders gather to assess internet’s future

Dubai: Freedom of speech on the internet will be one of the key topics to be discussed at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai from December 3-14.

Around 2,000 delegates from more than 160 countries will gather in Dubai next week to debate control of internet, organised by UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The current International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) were last negotiated in Melbourne, Australia, in 1988, and there is broad consensus that the text now needs to be updated.

“It is totally a different landscape in the 21st century. The WCIT is about putting the ICTs in the hand of the people. It is also building a block for free flow of information and continued use of broadband, smart technologies to combat climate change,” Dr Hamadoun I. Toure, Secretary-General, ITU, said at a pre-event briefing for media late on Friday.

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Several international organisations have raised warning flags over ITU’s jurisdiction over the internet. Toure told Gulf News that ITU is not taking control of the Internet. ITU and its members are revising the ITRs to serve its purpose by creating the opportunity for competition, deregulation and open the road for mobile communications.

Regarding this, Richard Hill, Counsellor to the ITU, said that ITU is not limiting the freedom of speech on the internet.

“ITU is not trying to take control of the internet and nothing in the ITRs has the power to result in a reduction of freedom to communicate,” Hill said.

Since 1988, a slew of internet innovations sparked opportunities and presented challenges to people, organisations and governments. The decades-old treaty focused mainly on basic telecommunications and not the internet.

Proposals to modify and possibly include the internet in the ITRs could have significant implications for the internet’s future.

ITU is creating a world “where everyone can access the internet to avail the extraordinary powers of the internet no matter where they are born, no matter what language they speak and what genders they are,” Toure said

“A 10 per cent increase in broadband will fuel 1.2-1.4 per cent growth in the GDP. About two-thirds of the population are not online yet. Let us keep open the internet for businesses to sustain growth,” he said.

The UAE has also officially invited CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to participate in the event.

Toure said that WCIT presents a key opportunity to increase collaboration between countries and help reach new levels of economic and social development through efficient telecom services, and help them respond to the challenges of a fast-evolving ICT environment.

Some of the main topics to be discussed will be — preventing fraud and cybercrime, promoting equipment standards, reducing the cost of mobile roaming, empowering consumers, protecting the human right of communication, improving telecommunications access for people with disabilities, improving energy efficiency, promoting the responsible disposal of electronic devices, taxation and interoperability.

Innovation drives UAE future

The main strategic goal for the Emirates Competitiveness Council (ECC) is based on a sustainable development, knowledge and innovation, said Reem Al Hashemi, Minister of State and Chairman of the ECC, at the opening remarks of the Global Federation of Competitiveness Summit GFCC, on Tuesday in Dubai.

“The ECC is working to enhance competitiveness across innovative sectors in the UAE,” she said. The priorities are to diversify the UAE’s non-oil economy, increase gross domestic product (GDP), develop value-added sectors, encourage high tech efficiencies in companies as well as boost investment in research and development, she added.

In order to achieve a highly innovative and technically savvy talent pool of Emiratis that are able to adapt and respond to an ever-changing market environment, the minister said, the UAE is working closely with national and international partners as well as academic institutions across the country to deliver high quality vocational educational system based on modern technology and innovation.

Moreover, she remarked that the government is working to increase the number of engineers and scientists in the labour force, improve the intellectual property rights and provide proper finance to innovations. “All these will define the UAE competitiveness on the medium and long term,” she added.

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Dr Gene Huang, Chief Economist and Vice President at FedEx Corporation and Chairman of the Economic Advisory Committee of the Council on Competitiveness, said that innovation is a key performance measure for competitiveness. “Innovation is not a product to be put in service but a whole process that leads to higher production, higher growth and higher prosperity,” he added.

Pointing to five pillars of innovation capabilities, he said: “There are five key capabilities that make innovation systems function effectively: accessing, anchoring, diffusing, creating and exploiting knowledge.”

Mohammad Omar Abdullah, Undersecretary of the Department of Economic Development in Abu Dhabi, remarked how the UAE has built a number of initiatives around innovation and has spread awareness on how necessary this factor is in enhancing the country’s competitiveness.

Talking about innovation readiness, he added: “The UAE boasts of a very strong capacity to access the resource it needs for innovation. This is reflected by the presence of advanced information and communication technology, infrastructure, a culture of ICT and the supportive regulatory framework that encourages international business and trade.”

The UAE has articulated Vision 2021 to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the nation. This vision serves as a blueprint for becoming a leading diversified and flexible knowledge-based economy driven by innovation and talented human capital, Abdullah said.

Rinehart’s book sets blueprint for Australia’s future

Updated November 23, 2012 12:56:06

One of the world’s richest women Gina Rinehart has published a new book setting out her blueprint for Australia’s future.

The book, called Northern Australia and Then Some, was launched in Sydney last night to an audience which included Lachlan Murdoch and climate change sceptic Professor Ian Plimer.

Ms Rinehart says Australia risks becoming an economic basket case because of bad policy decisions.

“We don’t want to see Australia continue on a course with too many heads buried in the sand,” she said.

“[We have] too few [people] understanding the problems while Australia moves towards becoming another Greece, Spain or Portugal.”

Much of the book’s 220 pages are a collection of speeches and essays originally written for journals like Australian Resources and Investment.

But Ms Rinehart says is not just backing increased mining development.

“I mention food because I see this is going to be a great need for the world,” she said.

“We need to see, for instance, pipelines or channels carrying surplus water from the Kimberleys … but this takes money and requires policies to make investment welcome.”

She also had advice for the Federal Government on what she wants money spent on.

“The investment in our mining industry has been very positive for Australia but we need to be doing more if we want – as I do – more revenue for our defence, which I think is under-resourced; our police; our elderly; our hospitals; roads; infrastructure and communication; to be able to repay our debts and enable sustainable job opportunities for existing and future generations,” she said.

Ms Reinhart will be in Melbourne to launch her book again today.

Topics: mining-industry, industry, business-economics-and-finance, human-interest, sydney-2000, australia, wa

First posted November 23, 2012 07:40:25

Dismal science faces dismal future

Updated November 06, 2012 11:21:52

They call it the dismal science, but it is the future of economics that looks dismal in Australia right now.

Sydney University’s Business School jettisoned its economics discipline into the Faculty of Arts two years ago.

That is after it earlier ejected the less orthodox Political Economy discipline into Arts, along with Government and International Relations.

Now the University of Western Sydney is looking to get rid of economics altogether.

The University has presented staff in its School of Business with a formal change proposal that would see an end to the bachelor of economics and several other programs.

In its formal change proposal, UWS says it will cut 29 full-time positions, around 10 of which will come from the discipline of economics and finance becoming simply finance.

One of those potentially in the firing line is arguably UWS’s most publicly prominent academic, economics professor Steve Keen.

“I’ve had hedge funds funding me, I’ve had the Institute for New Economic Thinking (supported by billionaire George Soros) funding me, I’ve got an international profile and I find it ridiculous that the university is simply deciding, oh well, let’s let all that go,” he said over his mobile phone from a roadside in Mexico.

“And of course a major source of decent publicity for Western Sydney has been my activities in the last five years.”

However, aside from the loss of publicity the university might suffer, Professor Keen says it will be sacrificing intellectual rigour in an area where it has been leading to this point.

“[Getting rid of the economics discipline is] doubly or triply ironic because, not only is it an economic crisis that’s dominating the world’s decision making today, but people realise there’s a need for an alternative perspective on economic theory and economics at the University of Western Sydney has prided itself on giving a broad pluralist education to students, teaching them both the mainstream and non-mainstream views for the last 15 years,” he added.

“Of course, I work there, and I’m one of the few economists acknowledged as having seen this crisis coming, so it’s bizarre that the university can ignore all that and simply propose to cut the department completely, simply as a way of coping with costs.”

Large universities like the University of Sydney and New South Wales have dramatically lowered their ATAR (Australian tertiary admission rank) cut-off entry points.

Associate Professor Brian Pinkstone

UWS has told staff the change is needed because business school enrolments have fallen markedly over the past two years, and look set to fall sharply again in 2013.

Associate Professor Brian Pinkstone also teaches economics at UWS, and he places much of the blame for falling student numbers on a change to Federal Government policy that encouraged greater competition for students between universities, and resulted in lower entry requirements.

“Large universities like the University of Sydney and New South Wales have dramatically lowered their ATAR (Australian tertiary admission rank) cut-off entry points,” he observed.

“And that, this year particularly, has had a big effect in dragging students away from making UWS as a first preference.”

Professor Pinkstone is concerned that the loss of economics from UWS may reduce career options for young people from Western Sydney.

“We take in students with relatively low ATARs and they end up with the best outcomes in the university in terms of employment prospects,” he added.

“Our best students are going to our honours program where every year, one, two or three might get into the Reserve Bank or Federal Treasury, State Treasury, etcetera.

“They move into the highest echelons of government economic policy advice, and in competition with Sydney University and the other sandstone universities.”

One of those prospective honours students is Alison Lim. She learnt about the university’s proposal second-hand.

“When I first heard about it I was quite in shock and I didn’t quite believe it, and I had to call up the honours coordinator for confirmation,” she said.

Ms Lim says she has been working towards doing an honours year since first year, and was concerned all the preparation would be wasted, after the university’s original proposal included a plan to scrap economics honours from next year on.

UWS now looks likely to keep economics honours for next year. But beyond that, there will not be much economics left according to Professor Pinkstone.

“We’d end up with a situation where there was only one economic subject, which would be introductory economic principles,” he said.

Many in the business community are worried about the long-term impact of cutting back economics in business degrees.

Andrea Staines is a non-executive director of ASX 200-listed company QR National, and several other smaller firms.

Business degrees are becoming just very focused on the here and now … and what is missing is the longer-term skill set, the broader skill set.

Andrea Staines, QR National non-executive director

She did a bachelor of economics as her undergraduate degree and says it has been “invaluable” in her career as a director and gives business leaders a broader view.

“Business degrees are becoming just very focused on the here and now, and on sort of the first or second jobs that the student would take out of university,” she observed.

“And what is missing is the longer-term skill set, the broader skill set.”

UWS management met with staff on Monday afternoon as part of formal consultation around the proposal.

People at the meeting say both the university’s deputy vice-chancellors were present and fielded questions.

The dean of the business school told the meeting the plan had been under formulation since January.

In response to the ABC’s queries, UWS said in a statement that,” no decisions will be made on courses and staffing until this formal consultation period is completed.”

You can follow Michael Janda on Twitter @mikejanda.

Topics: business-economics-and-finance, economic-trends, education, university-and-further-education, australia, nsw, parramatta-2150, campbelltown-2560

First posted November 06, 2012 10:56:52

Talks continue on future of car parts company

Updated November 02, 2012 10:52:31

Ford may have to shut down production next week if car parts manufacturer Dair cannot be saved.

It supplies bumper bars and brake parts to the big car makers.

The company indefinitely closed its sites in Victoria and Adelaide yesterday, leaving 400 workers with an uncertain future.

Parent company Autodom, through its subsidiary Dair, has more than 200 workers at Dandenong South and Gisborne in Victoria and there are more in Adelaide.

The company is blaming a downturn in the number of vehicles being built since the global financial crisis.

Ford says it has been in talks with the company and is disappointed by the decision.

Toyota is also supplied by Dair, but company spokeswoman, Beck Angel, says the carmaker is confident it will have enough parts to continue production in the medium term.

“We have been working very closely with [parent company] Autodom as it’s attempted to restructure its business,” she said.

“That does include offering financial support to assist them.

“We’ll continue to work closely with our supplier to ensure there’s as little as possible impact for Toyota.”

Autodom chief executive officer Calvin Stead is hopeful the business can be saved and says talks are continuing.

“This is not a stunt. This is a last-ditch effort to try and get to a negotiated outcome that this business has a future going forward,” he told ABC local radio.

“But I’m not going to be ofshored or sent elsewhere.”

Topics: unions, automotive, dandenong-south-3175, gisborne-3437

First posted November 02, 2012 10:50:10

Airbus looks past supplier woes to future output hike

 Image Credit: REUTERSA People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officer takes a photo of a model of the Airbus A380 passenger plane displayed on the first day of the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai November 13, 2012.

Zhuhai, China: Airbus has begun studying the feasibility of increasing production later this decade to keep up with anticipated demand, even as it keeps a check on short-term output plans due to worries over its suppliers, a senior company executive said.

The European planemaker is in the midst of lifting production of its best-selling A320 single-aisle airplanes to a record 42 a month, even as the aerospace industry adjusts to demands for fuel savings by revamping its most popular models.

Earlier this year it was forced to postpone plans to aim for 44 a month amid growing concerns over the health of its supply chain. Airbus said last week it was also increasing buffer stocks of components to head off any supply disruption.

Higher output is crucial to clearing a backlog of up to seven years of production for the world’s largest jetliner maker and its US rival, Boeing, following bumper sales of new fuel-efficient models such as the A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX.

Article continues below

“The first available delivery slots in reasonable quantities are in 2019, but none of this is set in stone,” Laurence Barron, president of Airbus China, told Reuters.

“We have talked a lot about increasing production rates to 42 [a month]. I don’t think we will go further than that for the short term because the supply chain is under pressure, but in the longer term we are thinking about what, at the end of the decade, is an appropriate production rate.”

Although the date may seem far off, the prospect of eventual increases in supply can have a bearing much sooner on sales battles between Airbus, Boeing and new entrants like Canada and China because jets are usually sold several years ahead.

Any decision to change output would need to be taken 18 months before deliveries because of industrial lead times.

The rush of demand for upgraded versions of the backbone of many airline fleets has stretched industry order backlogs to unprecedented levels, providing a stable production outlook but raising fears that customers may grow impatient or pick rivals.

“We are studying the ideal rate and then the supply chain: whether it can keep going to the same quality and standards,” Barron said in an interview at the China Airshow on Tuesday.

“I don’t have an answer to that but if, by the end of the decade, we can envisage higher production rates then that will alleviate the fact that at the moment we have sold a lot.”

“With a higher rate you can burn off the backlog more quickly and supply the market more quickly. It is something I know is being studied quite carefully,” he said.

Boeing has also expressed concerns that its undelivered order backlog of 737s needs to be whittled down more quickly.

So far, Chinese airlines have been relatively cautious in joining a buying spree, led by other Asian airlines, worth hundreds of billions of dollars for the new models.

Analysts say helping China’s airlines jump on the industry bandwagon poses particular difficulties because of its adherence to a system of 5-year plans, a timespan that is increasingly seen as mismatched with the aerospace industry’s long cycles.

China’s 12th five-year plan runs until 2015.

Leasing companies, which tend to bag early delivery slots for new models, may be needed to step into the breach to provide aircraft for rental to meet China’s short-term needs.

The dilemma was highlighted when, since it was launched in December 2010, orders for the A320neo family topped the 1,500 mark, with a 40-plane purchase from Mexico on Tuesday.

Boeing has sold more than 900 competing 737 MAX aircraft.

Only a fraction of those sales have gone to China, which faces the prospect of relying on an older generation of jets as it overtakes the United States to become the world’s busiest domestic aviation market in the next two decades.

Besides its main European assembly plants in France and Germany, EADS subsidiary Airbus has assembled A320-family aircraft in Tianjin, northern China, since 2009.

Airbus delivered its 100th plane from the Chinese assembly line last month. A contract for a total of 284 aircraft runs until the end of the first quarter of 2016.

Production there is due to peak at four aircraft a month from the end of this year or early next year, Barron said.

Asked whether the Tianjin line would continue at the same pace under a new production agreement, Barron said this had yet to be decided and negotiators aimed for agreement by mid-2013. Airbus and China signed a broad framework deal in September.

Ta Ann future in doubt

Updated November 13, 2012 13:18:09

Timber processor Ta Ann is running at a loss and may leave the state.

The executive director Evan Rolley has told ABC Local Radio the company’s future in Tasmania is dependent on an agreement from informal peace talks between industry and environment groups.

The company will make a decision about its future within the next two weeks.

“I can’t see how we can have a future if the wood supply cannot be provided that enables the operation operation to be run profitably employing Tasmanians,” he said.

“The operation is on a knife-edge as it is.”

“We have supported the peace process but the time has now come. It is costing thousands of dollars to run these operations in this environment.

“We need a resolution and we need it in the next two weeks.”

Protesters locked themselves to a conveyor belt at the company’s Smithton mill yesterday, halting operations for six hours.

Mr Rolley says the company is on a knife-edge because relations have been strained with the Asian market.

“People have told lies about the operations about the company, misinformed markets about the company when there’s no problem in the markets in Japan,” he said.

“If you talk to the people buying flooring product in Japan, they don’t perceive some market change.”

He confirmed a tree was set on fire outside the company’s Hobart office last night.

“There’s been a whole series of these sort of protest activities against the company,” he said.

“The company just simply seeks to operate with the community support in Tasmania.

“As I said before, it’s been a strong supporter of these peace talks to try and find some common ground, a resolution of moving forward.”

Police are investigating the incident which caused about $10,000 damage.

Detective Inspector Peter Powell says the pine tree was set alight about midnight and the fire spread to the buildings’ front eaves.

Topics: timber, states-and-territories, forests, hobart-7000, tas, launceston-7250

First posted November 13, 2012 09:08:07

Unconventional gas supplies key to future: Moore

Updated October 22, 2012 16:32:24

The Mines Minister Norman Moore says unconventional gas reserves in WA will become increasingly important as global energy needs continue to grow.

The minister made the comments at an oil and gas conference in Perth.

Mr Moore says WA’s unconventional gas reserves double the state’s conventional resources.

To produce such reserves, resource companies in the Perth and Canning Basins inject chemicals into the ground to release shale gas in a practice known as hydraulic fracking.

Mr Moore says industry must work with government to quell community fear associated with producing unconventional reserves to ensure the sector takes advantage of future demand for energy.

A workshop will be held in the state’s Mid West this week in an effort to supply information regarding practices such as fracking.

The Department of Mines and Petroleum will host the event in Dongara on Wednesday.

The department’s Phil Gorey says it is an opportunity for people to speak with industry experts.

“If there are any questions that people have, if there is any concerns or uncertainty or misinformation they’ve been given, they can really test that against some of the experts there, and walk away a clear understanding of what the circumstances are,” he said.

There have been concerns that fracking will contaminate groundwater sources.

Under proposed new regulations, companies will have to disclose which chemicals they inject into the ground.

Topics: oil-and-gas, geraldton-6530, perth-6000

First posted October 22, 2012 14:48:00

Future Fund invested millions in tobacco shares

Updated October 16, 2012 14:08:42

Leading health groups are calling on the Future Fund to divest itself of tobacco company shares, amid revelations it invested tens of millions of dollars in the sector as the Government was introducing plain packaging laws for cigarettes.

Information provided to a Senate committee shows the fund invested $37.8 million in tobacco shares between December 2010 and February 2012 to top up its existing holdings.

The extra investment contributed to a more than 50 per cent increase in the value of its tobacco shareholdings, taking the total to around $210 million as at June 30.

The move came despite increased Government efforts to warn people of the dangers of smoking and moves to introduce plain packaging laws for cigarettes.

What is the Future Fund?

It has prompted the Greens and major health groups to call for a rethink of the Fund’s investment strategy.

“Tobacco kills approximately 15,000 Australians every year,” Australian Medical Association vice president Geoff Dobb said.

“The Future Fund has a responsibility to invest Australian taxpayers’ money in a way consistent with the interests of Australians.

“Investing in the tobacco industry, when it is responsible for millions of dollars of costs to the Australian health system every year, is not in Australia’s interests.”

Maurice Swanson from the Heart Foundation said: “Australia’s reputation as a health leader is being dragged through the mud by continued investment of public money in the tobacco industry”.

Greens health spokesman Richard Di Natale says the fund’s actions are incredibly disappointing and he is urging the Government to restrict its investment mandate.

“You can’t have on one hand a very good public health approach through things like plain packaging and other tobacco control measures, and then on the other hand allow investments in tobacco of Australian taxpayer dollars,” Senator Di Natale told ABC News Online.

“Those two things are completely inconsistent [and] the Government could, at the stroke of a pen, change them.

“It’s a real shame that the Government is tarnishing some of the great work it’s done on tobacco control by not revising the investment mandate it gives to the Future Fund.”

The Future Fund was set up by then-treasurer Peter Costello in 2006 but its investment decisions are made by the board, independently of the Federal Government.

When appearing before a Senate committee in May, the Future Fund’s managing director Mark Burgess said the investment in tobacco shares was “in line” with the board’s policies.

This morning, he said the fund had begun selling tobacco shares in the past few months

“Over that period, (tobacco) shares have been sold by our managers,” he said.

“Just to be clear, this is all bought and sold at our managers’ discretion.”

But Mr Burgess has warned against imposing too many restrictions on what the Future Fund is allowed to invest in.

“There are lots of opinions on lots of industries on lots of issues out there in the community,” he said.

“So we have to be very careful in having a very clearly defined exclusions process.”

When confronted by Senator Di Natale with claims about how various tobacco companies behaved, Mr Burgess told the Senate hearing that the Future Fund would look at the allegations “closely” to make sure the businesses were acting in accordance with acceptable standards.

The new chairman of the Future Fund Management Agency, David Gonski, did not attend today’s Senate hearing due to prior commitments.

Instead, he has agreed to front a special hearing in the next few weeks.

“I think now, the focus will be on the new chairman, Mr Gonski, to see if he will show some leadership on this issue and ensure that we divest ourselves of our tobacco stock,” Senator Di Natale said.

The Government’s legislation to introduce plain packaging requirements for cigarettes passed Parliament late last year.

In August this year, the High Court rejected a legal challenge to the laws brought on by the tobacco companies on the basis that restricting the use of company logos would infringe on their intellectual property rights.

The court found in a six-to-one decision that there was no acquisition of intellectual property rights by the Government in its plan to impose plain olive packaging with graphic health warnings.

Set up by then-treasurer Peter Costello in 2006 to help future governments pay for rising public sector superannuation costs caused by Australia’s ageing population.It does this by delivering investment returns on contributions.The fund held $73.07 billion as of December 31, 2011.The set-up cash came from budget surpluses and proceeds from the sale of Telstra.The money is managed by the Fund’s Board of Guardians and the Future Fund Management Agency.The money can’t be withdrawn until 2020, except to meet operating costs, or if assets rise above a target asset level – set at $103.2b for 2011-12.Investment strategies are run according to rules set out in this document.David Murray was the first chairman, and his initial five-year tenure was extended by another 12 months.Then-prime minister Kevin Rudd appointed Mr Costello to the board in December 2009.Fund bosses also manage assets belonging to the Education Investment Fund ($4.69b); the Building Australia Fund ($7.61 billion); and the Health and Hospitals Fund ($4.01b).For more info visit the Future Fund website.Topics: smoking, federal-government, business-economics-and-finance, tobacco, government-and-politics, australia

First posted October 16, 2012 08:37:02

Consumers happy to buy, uncertain of future

Updated October 10, 2012 11:17:47

Consumer confidence rose only modestly in October, despite the Reserve Bank’s move to cut interest rates.

The Westpac – Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment climbed 1 per cent to 99.2 this month, but remains below the 100-point level for the eight straight month, which means pessimists still outnumber optimists.

It is also stuck below its long-term average of just under 102.

Westpac’s chief economist Bill Evans says he is surprised the Reserve Bank’s 25-basis-point official interest rate cut did not have a bigger impact.

“Unlike some moves by the bank which are fully expected by the media and therefore may not have a marked impact on confidence this move was not widely expected and therefore should have registered as a pleasant surprise for respondents,” he noted in the report.

“Instead we saw the sentiment of those folks with a mortgage hardly move, with a miniscule 0.6 per cent increase.”

Mr Evans says the actions of three of the major banks, including his own employer, in not passing on the full rate cut and delaying their rate announcements is likely to have dampened consumer enthusiasm.

“Of course a likely complication was the response of the major banks, most of which only announced their mortgage rate reductions on October 5 – five days into the seven day sample period – with reductions ranging from 0.18 per cent to 0.20 per cent,” he added.

However, the Reserve Bank’s rate cuts do not seem to have had a major impact on confidence in general, with the level of confidence down 4.1 per cent since November last year, despite a 125 basis points of official rate reductions since then.

One of the few aspects of the survey that appears to have had a sizeable bounce from the Reserve Bank’s rate cuts over recent months has been the sentiment towards buying property.

The sub-index tracking views on whether it is a good time to buy a dwelling surged 9.6 per cent to be up 17.9 per cent in just two months, and is now at its highest level in three years, when Australia was in the midst of a low-rate and stimulus fuelled post-financial crisis housing boom.

Other economists say there are some more positive aspects in the detail of the survey.

One of these was whether now is a good time to buy a major household item, which rose 3.7 per cent to a healthy 129.6 in a good sign for retailers heading into Christmas.

TD Securities Asia-Pacific macro strategist Alvin Pontoh says, promisingly, the rise in the overall index was driven by current conditions.

“October’s rise was led by current conditions (106.1 from 101.7, or +4.3 per cent), but expectations edged lower (94.5 from 95.9), despite stabilising/rising asset prices and, on balance, less negativity in [the] news flow from offshore,” he wrote in a note on the data.

“Expectations about economic conditions edged lower (1 year ahead 91.1 from 93.3, 5 years ahead 93.6 from 98.1) perhaps weighed by media chatter that ‘the mining boom is ending’.”

Topics: business-economics-and-finance, economic-trends, money-and-monetary-policy, australia

First posted October 10, 2012 10:40:34

Media’s future rests with ‘tech-savvy consumers’

Updated October 05, 2012 11:00:37

News Limited boss Kim Williams says the future of mainstream journalism in Australia rests in the hands of tech-savvy consumers.

Mr Williams delivered the prestigious annual AN Smith lecture in journalism at the University of Melbourne last night.

He told the audience much had changed in the media landscape since he took the job in November last year, and the future of newspapers hinged on digital subscriptions.

“We have a plan to see circulation stabilise. As to whether it grows at that point is something that is very much up in the lap of the public,” he said.

“The public get to anoint the winners in this process.”

He also hit back at reports News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch is facing a revolt from shareholders pushing for his removal.

Australian superannuation groups have joined a push by a British fund manager to oust Mr Murdoch as chairman of News Corporation and remove his sons James and Lachlan from the board.

But Mr Williams said his employer was here to stay.

“Rupert is obviously the chairman and chief executive of the News Corporation and I don’t think anyone seriously contemplates that he’s not going to continue as the chairman and chief executive of the News Corporation,” he said.

“He’s a very great corporate leader.”

Mr Williams also used his address to criticise the Federal Government’s stance on media regulation.

He said the best way to preserve journalism in the age of the digital revolution was for government to stop over-regulating and imposing what he termed creeping media censorship.

“It’s easy to see journalism and business as diametrically opposed cultures,” he said.

“It’s a mistake critics of media companies like mine often make.

“But the two cultures must co-exist for journalism to have a future.”

Topics: print-media, information-and-communication, media, australia, melbourne-3000

First posted October 05, 2012 10:48:49

Powering the future: Thar to provide fuel for all coal-based power plants

Existi­ng, new power projec­ts to be design­ed as per Thar coal specif­icatio­ns. The Sindh government had requested that the existing and new power plants at Jamshoro be designed according to Thar coal specifications. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: The government on Wednesday decided that Thar coal will be used for all coal-based power generation and all conversions of existing and construction of new power projects will be designed according to Thar Coal specifications in the future.

The landmark policy decision was taken by the Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, while chairing a meeting of the Thar Coal and Energy Board at the PM Secretariat. The meeting was informed that the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) – a joint venture between Government of Sindh and Engro Powergen – and the Engro Corporation were working on an integrated coal mine and a power project with an estimated cost of $1.3 billion at Block 2 of Thar coal project for mining 6.5 million tons of coal per annum and establishing a power plant of 1,200 megawatts (MW). The premier also decided in principle to provide a sovereign guarantee to the SECMC and directed the Ministry of Finance to arrange the same.

Ashraf said that in the present financial situation, there was little space for providing sovereign guarantees. However, this was a strategic decision which had to be taken for meeting the growing energy requirements of the country, he stressed. The Sindh government had requested the federal government that the conversion of existing 800MW and new 600MW power plants at Jamshoro be designed according to Thar coal specifications. He directed the Ministry of Water and Power to sign, a coal off-take agreement between power generation companies and the SECMC for the Asian Development Bank financed conversion of the thermal power projects at Jamshoro.

“Today, we have laid the foundation of an energy policy, which is based on our indigenous resources and will lead to savings of huge foreign exchange presently being spent on the import of fossil fuels to run our thermal power plants,” Ashraf said. Besides, this policy decision will ensure energy security that had been eluding us for such a long time, he added.

The premier said that God blessed Pakistan with the sixth largest coal reserves and it was now up to us to utilise the huge coal deposits for the progress and prosperity of the country by generating affordable electricity. He hoped that the decisions will herald a new beginning and lay the foundation for sustainable socio-economic development of the country. Thar coal field were estimated to have reserves of 175 billion tons, 68 times higher than Pakistan’s total gas reserves.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2012.

Thar coal to power all coal fired power plants in the future: PM Ashraf

Prime Minist­er direct­s Minist­ry of Financ­e to provid­e sovere­ign guaran­tee to SECMC. The project aims at mining 6.5 million tonnes coal per annum to generate 1200 MW power at the attached power plant. DESIGN: FAIZAN DAWOOD

ISLAMABAD: The government on Wednesday decided that in the future only Thar coal would be used for coal-based power generation and all conversions of existing and new power projects would be designed on Thar Coal specifications.

“Today we have laid the foundation of an energy policy, which is based on our indigenous resources and will lead to savings of huge foreign exchange presently being spent on the import of fossil fuels to run our thermal power plants,” Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said.

The landmark policy decision was taken during a meeting of the Thar Coal and Energy Board at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat here.

The meeting was informed that the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) and the Engro Corporation were working on an integrated coal mine and a power project at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion at Block 2 of the Thar Coal Project. The project aims at mining 6.5 million tonnes coal per annum to generate 1200 MW power at the attached power plant.

The Prime Minister also decided in principle to provide a sovereign guarantee to the SECMC, a joint venture of the Government of Sindh and the Engro Power and directed the Ministry of Finance to arrange the same. The decision for the sovereign guarantee was strange as Ashraf admitted himself that that the current financial situation allowed little space for providing sovereign guarantees, but justified it by pointed towards the growing energy requirements of the country.

The Government of Sindh had requested the Federal Government that the conversion of existing 800 MW and new 600 MW power plants at Jamshoro be designed on Thar Coal specifications.

The Prime Minister further directed the Ministry of Water and Power to sign within a week, a Coal Off-Take  agreement  between the GENCO andthe SECMC for the Asian Development Bank financed conversion of the existing 800 MW and new 600 MW  thermal power projects at Jamshoro.

“History will not excuse us if we do not take correct decision in time,” the Prime Minister said.

Thar Coal Field are estimated to have reserves of 175 billion tonnes, 68 times higher than Pakistan’s total gas reserves.

Those, who attended the meeting, included Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Finance  Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Khursheed Shah, Minister for Water and Power Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Advisor on Petroleum and Natural Resources Dr Asim Hussain, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Dr Nadeemul Haq, MNA Rubina Saadat Qaim Khani, Provincial Minister for Revenue Jam Mehtab Dahar, Provincial Minister for Irrigation Jam Saifullah Dharejo, Federal secretaries Finance, Planning Division, and Water and Power, Chief Secretary Sindh, Member Science and Technology Planning Commission Dr Samar Mubarakmand, MDTCB, CEO Genco Holding, President Engro Corporation, CEO SECMC andother senior officials.

Future of every enterprise depends upon quality of human resource: participants

LAHORE: The future of every enterprise depends upon the quality of human resource it has as technology and economic shifts need innovative, creative and knowledge-based workers, said speakers at the Pakistan-India Management Summit on Friday.

The two-day conference jointly organised by Aman ki Asha – the peace initiative of the Jang Group and the Times of India – and Nutshell Forum was aimed at establishing relations between management practitioners and professional institutions in both countries. Over 600 delegates had gathered in Lahore in order to share their management experiences and challenges with a view to learning from each other and evolving best practices.

Talking about the essentiality of quality leadership, management gurus advised the entrepreneurs to start nurturing the future workforce, in sync with contemporary trends.

Federation Asia Sourcing Network president Mark Geary said that future economic activities would be based on creativity and would be led by young generations based in Asia where countries like India and Pakistan enjoy a demographic advantage.

He said the demand for products and services would multiply in the next two decades as the population of middle-income persons would double to five billion people. By 2020, he predicted, around 45 percent of the global workforce would be from the new generation that would operate on new values of transparency, authenticity and trust. “Work would be chosen and not assigned and rewards would be intrinsic as well as tangible,” he said.

Geary said working habits are changing the world over as data is available everywhere at any time across the globe. “Fifty percent of the videos in the world are transferred through mobile today,” he said, adding that automation tools that are now available would eliminate 25 percent of the IT workforce by 2015.

According to Geary, by 2015 there would be one mobile device for every living human being. “There will be no need for physical presence at the office desk for many jobs in the future and 40 percent of the knowledge-based workforce will not be at the office desk but would operate from outside.”

Geary said that even now, many companies are hunting talent through Facebook or Twitter. “Many corporate giants have Facebook pages and candidates are acting and thinking like customers,” he said, adding that they do not directly trust what companies say about their operations because they can get authentic information from other sources.

“Before the year 2000, handwritten memos were the main source of company communications and record but these were replaced by personal computers that remained an asset till 2010. But now smart phones have taken over.

All the company’s activities and information are available to the executives in smart phones, which can be operated anywhere in the world,” he said.

Founder of Naukri.com Sanjeev Bikhchandani said the most important factor that entrepreneurs should keep in mind is to earn the trust of the workers. He said the entrepreneurs should operate in an open atmosphere where the boss is available for every employee.

“Empowering employees is another step that entrepreneurs should take; companies should share their wealth with their workers so as to motivate them to perform better,” said Bikhchandani. He said the credit of the performance of the workers should be given to them and acknowledged openly.

Rajev Dubey, member executive board, group president Corporate Services, HR and After Market of Mahindra and Mahandra, said successful enterprises challenge conventional methods of hunting for manpower.

“In order to maintain their hold on the markets, successful companies are always on the hunt for future leaders,” said Dubey. According to him, in line with recent trends, good companies create value for the market before they think of making profits.

Dubey said that in this conceptual age, the future leader should go beyond conventional wisdom. “The corporate leader can be a multiplier or diminisher; those executives that listen, enjoy debate and take the workers along with tact and transparency have better chances of success as future corporate leaders. They are multipliers that are likely to further boost company image and performance,” he stated.

According to Dubey, ‘diminishers’ are those executives that want everything done through teamwork to be credited to them. These executives, he added, are not suited for leadership duties.

Dubey said the corporate boss should have the ability to leverage innovation failure. “Innovation is not without risk; those who hesitate to take risks cannot head a progressive enterprise.”

Admitting that imprudent risk-taking can destroy an enterprise, Dubey held that prudent leaders take calculated risk and leverage it in a way that the failure causes minimum damage.

“The corporate boss should apply his mind in this age of distraction and dig out the information that benefits the company,” he said. “But if a leader has everything else but does not enjoy the trust of workers and colleagues, he will fail.”

Despite challenges: Businesses optimistic about future prospects

Energy shorta­ge not the topmos­t constr­aint faced by compan­ies. Slight improvement is expected in both the contractual and permanent employment statuses, especially in the sugar industry. DESIGN: JAHANZAIB HAQUE

ISLAMABAD: Despite the fact that businesses continue to operate in a challenging environment, they remain somewhat optimistic about their future prospects, according to Business Barometer released by Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (Pide).

According to the report, energy shortage was not the top most constraint faced by most companies as they have made alternative arrangements to sustain their production. It said that firms that performed well in terms of production, sales and exports attribute their success to strong demand for their products.

However, the firms experiencing sluggish business activity blamed shortage of utility supplies as a major bottleneck hindering their performance. Meanwhile, the companies expected the inflation to remain in single-digits as most of them have reported increases in the prices during the first half of the year 2012 and expect them to increase in the second half.

The document said that slight improvement is expected in both the contractual and permanent employment statuses, especially in the sugar industry. It added that even though almost all the firms have reported to have a policy to increase wages once a year but not every industry is planning to do so.

According to the report, the firms highlighted the need for adopting policies to improve business climate in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2012.

Despite challenges: Businesses optimistic about future prospects

Energy shorta­ge not the topmos­t constr­aint faced by compan­ies. Slight improvement is expected in both the contractual and permanent employment statuses, especially in the sugar industry. DESIGN: JAHANZAIB HAQUE

ISLAMABAD: Despite the fact that businesses continue to operate in a challenging environment, they remain somewhat optimistic about their future prospects, according to Business Barometer released by Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (Pide).

According to the report, energy shortage was not the top most constraint faced by most companies as they have made alternative arrangements to sustain their production. It said that firms that performed well in terms of production, sales and exports attribute their success to strong demand for their products.

However, the firms experiencing sluggish business activity blamed shortage of utility supplies as a major bottleneck hindering their performance. Meanwhile, the companies expected the inflation to remain in single-digits as most of them have reported increases in the prices during the first half of the year 2012 and expect them to increase in the second half.

The document said that slight improvement is expected in both the contractual and permanent employment statuses, especially in the sugar industry. It added that even though almost all the firms have reported to have a policy to increase wages once a year but not every industry is planning to do so.

According to the report, the firms highlighted the need for adopting policies to improve business climate in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2012.

View the original article here

Intel pitches future of PCs at developer forum

SAN FRANCISCO: Intel Corp showed off hybrid tablets and ultrabook laptops with voice and gesture interfaces along with an upcoming low-power chip in a bid to convince Wall Street that a slump in the personal computer industry is only temporary.

At the annual Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, the company demonstrated sleek “ultrabook” laptops with improved gesture- and voice-recognition technology, similar to features already found on some smartphones.

Intel’s upcoming processor, code-named Haswell and due to appear in a crop of laptops during next year’s holiday season, will improve on computing and graphics features and is targeted to reduce electricity consumption from 17 watts to 10 watts, according to the company.

“It was designed with mobility in mind … from sleek tablets to ultrabooks to high-performing desktops,” said David Perlmutter, general manager of Intel’s Architecture Group.

For Intel, showing off its most recent innovations at the forum this week is key to convincing investors and hardware developers that the PC industry remains innovative and still has a future.

Perlmutter pointed to tablets with extendable screens and laptops with removable keyboards as devices that he said might catch on with the upcoming release of Microsoft Corp’s Windows 8, which will feature touch capability.

The top chipmaker cut its third-quarter revenue estimate more than expected on Friday due to a decline in demand for its chips as customers reduce inventories and businesses buy fewer PCs.

Intel’s processors are used in 80 percent of the world’s PCs, but the Santa Clara, California, company has been slow to adapt its chips for smartphones and tablets. It now trails Qualcomm Inc and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, which design their chips with power-efficient technology licensed from ARM Holdings Plc.

Shares of Intel were up 1.4 percent at $23.58 in afternoon trading. (Reuters)

The future of financial services in Pakistan

To become a credib­le player, countr­y needs to introd­uce global­ly accept­ed regula­tions.  To become a credible player, country needs to introduce globally accepted regulations. PHOTO: FILE


Whilst Pakistan ‘s economy has not been heavily reliant upon the financial services sector for its economic prosperity, it has, nonetheless felt the ill effects of the recession the global economy at large is suffering from.

The impacts of the global economic downturn have manifested themselves in the shape of reduced international trade flows, reduction of foreign investment and reduced inflows of capital from the Pakistani Diaspora who feel the financial pinch in foreign economies that they are working in. All however, is not doom and gloom, whilst the rest of the world is navel gazing and assessing the way in which banks and financial services providers should conduct themselves in a bid to prevent a repeat of the current financial crisis, Pakistan has a real opportunity to make inroads into developing and strengthening its financial services industry during this global hiatus in financial services activity.

The arguments for resources being devoted to the focused growth and strengthening of Pakistan’s financial services industry are compelling as they will introduce a myriad of benefits to both Pakistan’s national and international economic standing. For example, a strong and internationally respected financial services industry in Pakistan will boost the prospect of foreign investment, both in Pakistan ‘s financial markets and the wider economy at large as international financiers put great store in having a sound and credible regulatory regime governing the markets that they invest in. An obvious example of where this has happened and continues to happen is the UK ‘s financial services sector. The introduction of the Financial Services Act in 1986 opened the floodgates of foreign financial institutions setting up offices in London. The importance of the financial services regulatory regime was emphasised by new legislation introducing a new regulatory regime in 2000 and the critical nature of financial services regulation is currently being emphasised by the Independent Commission on Banking Reform’s recommendations being wholly accepted by the UK government and resulting in another wave of regulatory reform.

It is insightful that the world’s leading financial service market has regularly and consistently overhauled its regulatory regime in a bid to enhance confidence in its markets and that this has resulted in significant economic benefit to the economy as a whole. If Pakistan is to be a credible player in the global stage of international finance, it must follow the global trend of introducing an internationally recognised set of regulations and standards that bring it on par with markets such as London , New York , Hong Kong and Singapore.

Introducing a regulated environment that meets international standards instills confidence as a commonality of approach and understanding is introduced to Pakistan’s  markets which promotes confidence for international practitioners, as whilst practitioners in financial markets often speak different languages, in financial services terms, the language spoken across all major financial services markets is very similar indeed.

The development of a comprehensive regulatory regime which allows Pakistan to operate efficiently and profitably in the global financial markets of the 21st century is no mean feat but one which is well worth it. There is a strong case for a review of the regulatory regime governing Pakistan‘s  financial services and it is hoped that this is done during the current lull in the global economy rather than deferred. One also hopes that the required changes are introduced sooner rather than later as ultimately they are needed if Pakistan is to take its place in the new world economic order by having internationally recognised financial markets that will benefit from the shift of economic power from the West to the East.

The writer has spent 10 years with the HSBC Group in global and regional roles and is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Eton Financial

Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2012.