Monthly Archives:August 2018

Air-freight cartel penalties near $100m ( admin posted on August 24th, 2018 )

Thai Airways has been fined $7.5 million for its part in a global air-freight cartel, taking the amount airlines including Qantas have been penalised for in Australia for the illegal activity to almost $100 million.

The Asian airline is the 13th airline to have copped fines in Australia after admitting to have taken part in the cartel which involved fixing rates for air freight on international routes.

A Federal Court judge described Thai Airways’ actions as ‘‘deliberate, systematic conduct involving senior staff’’ at its operations in Indonesia.

As part of the settlement in the Federal Court in Sydney, the airline admitted to reaching deals to fix prices for fuel and security surcharges, and a customs fee, for air freight between Indonesia and Australia.

On top of the $7.5 million fine, Thai Airways has been ordered to pay $500,000 in court costs.

Earlier this month Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific were fined $11.75 million and $11.25 million respectively for their part in the cartel.

The penalty imposed on Thai Airways takes the total amount airlines have been fined in Australia for taking part in the cartel to $98.5 million. It is the highest amount in fines from a single investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

In October, Emirates was fined $10 million for fixing fuel prices, a security surcharge and a customs fee on freight carried from Indonesia to Australia and other countries between October 2001 and May 2006.

The ACCC chairman, Rod Sims, said the latest judgment sent a ‘‘strong signal to the business community that cartel conduct will not be tolerated’’.

The biggest scalp from the competition regulator’s four-year investigation and subsequent legal pursuit has been Qantas, which was fined $20 million in 2008.

The amount of fines Qantas has copped worldwide has totalled more than $105 million, which included $US61 million in the US in 2007 after it pleaded guilty to fixing air-cargo rates.

The Australian regulator still has legal action under way in the Federal Court against Air New Zealand and Garuda Indonesia.

The global cartel originated in 1996, when at least 17 airlines, including Qantas, introduced freight levies on air cargo to counter rising jet fuel costs.

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US Republicans open door to tax hikes ( admin posted on August 24th, 2018 )

US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner’s offer to accept a tax rate increase for the wealthiest Americans knocks down a key Republican road block to a deal resolving the year-end “fiscal cliff”.

The question now boils down to what President Barack Obama offers in return. Such major questions, still unanswered so close to the end of the year suggest, however, that no spending and tax agreement is imminent.

A source familiar with the Obama-Boehner talks confirmed that Boehner proposed extending low tax rates for everyone who has less than $1 million in net annual income, meaning tax rates would rise on all above that line.

Under current law, the 35 per cent top tax rate is scheduled to expire on January 1, and would automatically go to 39.6 per cent. Mr Boehner’s proposal would allow that rate to rise as scheduled at a threshold of $US1 million – putting it back to where it was during the Clinton administration.

The White House has not accepted the proposal and the source could not confirm any additional talks were held on Sunday between Mr Obama and Mr Boehner.

With just over two weeks before the fiscal cliff’s $US600 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts are triggered, threatening a new recession, there is little time to craft a comprehensive deal that will satisfy both Democrats and Republicans.

Until the latest Republican offer, made on Friday, Mr Boehner had insisted on extending all of the Bush era’s lower tax rates, resisting Mr Obama’s demand to let the marginal rates rise on income above $US250,000. A rising chorus of business executives also had urged Republicans to agree to this.

Some lawmakers and congressional aides had predicted that Republicans, once serious negotiations began, might try to raise the $US250,000 threshold, say to $US500,000 or $US1 million. They also speculated that Republicans, if forced into a tax rate hike on the upper-income groups, might seek a smaller increase, say to around 37 per cent.

Although the White House has not accepted Mr Boehner’s gambit, it could push negotiations away from entrenched, ideological positions.

“Boehner has now accepted the premise of higher rates. So now we’re just arguing over details. I think it’s a significant step,” said Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Potomac Research Group.

A framework deal spelling out tax revenue and spending cut targets to be finalized in the new year could be possible, Mr Valliere said.

“Boehner’s offer to allow tax rates to go up for taxpayers earning over $US1 million fundamentally transforms fiscal cliff negotiations,” added Sean West, US policy analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy.

In a note to clients, Mr West wrote that it signals, significantly, that Mr Boehner ultimately believes a deal to avoid the cliff is still possible.

“The political burden is now shifted back to the President, who must be willing to take on his party in order to get a deal Boehner can ultimately pass. We do not think the president will overreach: Obama will work with Boehner to get to a deal.”

There are still several critical elements to a deal besides a tax rate increase on the wealthy, including Republican demands to cut spending on social programs.

Changes to the expensive Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and the poor could be central to any deal, which must also include an increase in the federal debt limit needed by the end of February.

Mr Boehner conditioned his tax rate increase offer on Mr Obama’s agreement to cuts in social program spending, often called entitlements.

Many Republican lawmakers want to raise the eligibility age for Medicare to 67 from 65. They also want to link Medicare to the income of recipients, making wealthier retirees pay more for their care.

Currently, Medicare does have some means testing, charging higher premiums for coverage of doctors visits and prescription drugs to individuals earning more than $US85,000 and married couples earning more than $US170,000. Only about 5 per cent of recipients pay these higher premiums.

Thus far, Mr Obama has offered only about $US400 billion in 10-year entitlement savings, mostly through small adjustments in reining in health care costs – not fundamental changes such as raising the eligibility age.

And just as Mr Boehner faces opposition in his own party to raising any tax rates, Mr Obama faces opposition to cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from Democrats, who pledged in election campaigns they would protect these programs.

A major bloc of congressional Democrats has already signaled they will not accept major cutbacks in Medicare as part of any fiscal cliff deal.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland are among the high ranking Democrats in the House who have come out forcefully in recent days against raising the age for eligibility for Medicare to 67 years of age.

“Given the level of savings that is being talked about from Medicare, you can’t get it all from providers and drug makers,” said Paul Heldman, an analyst at Potomac Research, which tracks Washington policy for investors.

“So opponents of raising the eligibility age have reason to believe beneficiaries will take some sort of hit if a mega-deal is cut,” he said.

If Republicans are not successful in securing entitlement program cuts in exchange for a tax-rate increase on the wealthy, they are adamant about using a debt-limit increase as leverage to overhaul Social Security and Medicare.

The US Treasury expects to reach its $US16.4 trillion statutory debt cap by year-end, and will exhaust its remaining borrowing capacity around mid-February, risking a potential default.

Louisiana Republican Representative John Fleming, a member of the conservative Tea Party caucus who has never voted to increase the debt ceiling, said he would support a debt limit hike if it were part of a deal to make Medicare and Social Security sustainable.

The pace of activity could pick up the coming week.

House Republicans were told to prepare for a possible weekend session next week, potentially interrupting travel plans for the long Christmas holiday weekend.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor scheduled “possible legislation related to expiring provisions of law,” a reference to the expiring tax cuts, for the end of the week, portending a weekend session. Mr Cantor has said the House would meet through the Christmas holidays and beyond.


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Our citizen of 2013 ( admin posted on August 24th, 2018 )

Wellington Shire’s citizen of the year Jim Feltis at his Sale Foodworks store. Mr Feltis was recognised for his dedication to the community through fundraising drives and generous support to local charitable organisations over the years.NOMINATION of nine people for Wellington Shire Council’s 2013 Citizen of the Year was celebrated with a 2013 Australia Day awards luncheon in Sale on Tuesday.

Usually announced on Australia Day the council’s annual awards were made last week, although titled Australia Day Awards.

Mayor Scott Rossetti explained council had decided to conduct the awards ceremony, ahead of the official awards day, to recognise all those nominated, as well as their nominators, and to ensure the winners were available on the big day.

The Australia Day awards are an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the work of volunteers across the community,” he said.

“I wish we could give an award to every nominee – their work across our community is vital to the wellbeing and liveability of our shire.

“Some have been volunteering, fundraising and supporting community groups and activities for over thirty years. Collectively they represent thousands of hours of community investment,” Cr Rossetti said.

“The efforts of every nominee make ours a happier, brighter and more compassionate community.

“I love these awards and the generous spirit that imbues them, be it the kindness and admiration that has driven an individual to nominate someone for an award; or the genuine humility of those who are nominated.

“Of course in recognising the work of our nominees we as a community can do more than recognise and celebrate their achievements – we can emulate them,” Cr Rossetti said.

“We can choose to follow their example and embrace the power of volunteerism as a tool of positive and compassionate change in our community.”

Wellington shire’s Citizen of the Year for 2013 is Jim Feltis of Sale.

Mr Feltis was noted for his generous support of charitable organisations over many years.He is a member and sponsor of the Sale Ambulance Association, a supporter of the Five Star Project and a co-initiator and supporter of the Monday Tucker Program.

Mr Feltis is also a sponsor and supporter of Sale City junior and senior netball teams.

He has been a sponsor and mentor for an Airly family who recently lost everything in a house fire, he fundraises with the Sale Ambulance Auxiliary and is a supporter of the Sale Autism Support and Awareness Group.

In accepting his award Mr Feltis gave particular thanks to his fellow volunteers on the Monday Tucker program particularly his wife Robyn, saying they did most of the work of preparing the free community meals he provided.

Wellington Shire citizen of the year Jim Feltis with his Monday Tucker helpers and nominators, Kirsten Collins, Carmel Allman, mayor Scott Rossetti, Yvonne Clavarino and wife Robyn Feltis.

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Seeing red at Christmas ( admin posted on August 24th, 2018 )

Maffra optometrist John Cronin has seen four cases of the excruciatingly painful condition Christmas Eye in recent weeks. He is pictured in his rooms with a model of an eye.AT least four cases of the debilitating condition Christmas Eye have been diagnosed in the local area.

Two cases of the mysterious eye condition have been reported in Briagolong, one in Maffra and one in Llowalong, one sufferer describing bouts of excruciating pain.

Mick Gotts of Briagolong said he experienced the condition when it surfaced about a month ago.

He said he went to bed about 9.30pm and awoke a couple of hours later feeling as if he had a grain of rice in one eye.

Mr Gotts said he tried to flush it out, but the condition worsened until it became so painful, he ended up in casualty at Central Gippsland Health Service in Sale.

Mystified by his condition, hospital doctors suggested he go to Melbourne’s Eye and Ear Hospital for assessment.

In severe pain, Mr Gotts went to Melbourne, but despite three visits to the hospital, and doctors initially thinking he must have had a chemical splashed in his eye, they were unable to figure out what was wrong.

Desperate to find relief, he finally visited Maffra optometrist John Cronin, who diagnosed Christmas Eye.

“John Cronin was the only one who knew it was Christmas Eye,” Mr Gotts said.

Mr Gotts said he was in severe pain for about four days and had fully recovered after two weeks.

Creams and eye drops were no help, anaesthetic drops providing relief for just 10 to 20 seconds.

“I wouldn’t wish it on a small child or elderly person,” he said.

“I don’t think they would cope with it.”

“For a small child it would be hell, really.”

Mr Gotts suffers severe back pain which can hospitalise him for up to four days.

“I’d put it on a par with that (level of pain),” he said.

Christmas Eye is generally not associated with this area, more often appearing in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales, but Maffra optometrist John Cronin said he had seen four cases locally just this year.

The first three presented within a week of each other, and he had another case last week.

“It seems to start in November,” Mr Cronin said.

“We often find some cases get reported in Bairnsdale first, and then, sure enough, one week later, we see them here too.”

Mr Cronin said he had seen a trend of two cases presenting each year for the past four or so years, always at the same time of year.

The condition appears to affect all age groups, although this year the patients he had seen were in their 40s and 50s.

He said patients typically awoke in extreme pain in one eye, many likening the pain to a razor blade in the eye.

“The eye is usually very blurry and watery and red,” he said.

“They can hardly open the eye.

“By the time we get to see them, a large patch of the outer layer (epithelium) of the cornea (clear tissue at front of eye), has seemingly been ripped away.

“From our end it looks like a large ulcer, but without the other factors that are usually associated with an infection for example.”

While the cause of the condition is not well understood, Mr Cronin said there was a theory it was triggered by toxins released from a beetle, however he had never seen a beetle near the eyes of any patients he has treated.

Mr Cronin said anyone suffering Christmas Eye should see their optometrist or doctor.

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Cruel thieves ( admin posted on August 24th, 2018 )

POLICE are searching for a couple who stole a charity box from a shopping centre in Blacktown last Wednesday.

Police said a man and a woman pushed a pram with a baby to the counter of a fast food restaurant at about 10.45am on December 12.

The man then cut the security cord, took the charity box and placed it at the bottom of the pram. The woman then pushed the pram away, followed by the man.

The man is described as Caucasian, in his late 30s or early 40s, slim build and medium length brown hair.

He was wearing a black polo shirt, dark blue denim shorts and joggers.

The woman was described as a Caucasian in her 30s, of medium to large build with long brown hair and wearing a blue hooded jumper with white writing on the front and black board shorts.

Anyone with information can contact Blacktown police on 96719199 or Crime Stoppers on 1800333000.

Ear severed

A MAN had his left ear severed in a brawl with several men of African appearance in Blacktown last Friday.

Police found the Quakers Hill man, 24, pressing a bloody jumper to the left side of his head outside Bowman Hall on Flushcombe Road when they arrived at midnight.

On discovering his ear was severed, police called for an ambulance and the man was sent to Westmead Hospital for surgery.

Police would like to speak to anyone who has information on the matter.

Face slashed

A MOUNT Warrigal man had his face slashed after he was confronted by three men of African appearance in Blacktown last Monday.

Police said the man, 22, was walking on the footpath at the corner of Keyworth Drive and Blacktown Road when three men jumped out from behind some bushes at 11.30pm.

They did not say anything but one of them cut the man’s face with a sharp object before running away.

Police were informed after the man was taken to Blacktown Hospital for treatment.

Roof collapse

The gyprock ceiling of a Blacktown unit collapsed on six residents last Thursday at about 8.50pm.

Police said three of those hit by the falling ceiling in the two-storey Clifton Street unit were taken to Westmead Hospital with minor injuries.

Pedestrian hit

Police are seeking the driver of a car that hit a pedestrian and didn’t stop in Blacktown last Tuesday.

Police said a Marayong man, 22, was crossing Third Avenue from Richmond Road when he was hit by a white utility van at 5.45am on December 4.

The victim was thrown on to the bonnet before rolling onto the road.

When he stood up he found the van had driven off without stopping and he reported the incident to the police.

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