QBE on track to reach $US250 million in savings

Insurer QBE is on track to meet its savings targets.QBE says it is on track to hit its target to cut costs by “at least” $US250 million by 2015, as it replaces hundreds of jobs in western countries with staff in Manila.
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The global insurer also affirmed its full-year guidance on Tuesday, as it benefits from relatively few natural disasters and the recent fall in the Aussie dollar.

At midday its shares had risen 2.6 per cent, or 39.5c, to $15.70.

QBE, which is looking to rationalise its operations after a spate of acquisition-led growth under former boss Frank O’Halloran, earlier this year unveiled a plan to save $US250 million a year by 2015 by sending about 700 positions to the Philippines.

As the changes are rolled out across its Australian division, chief executive John Neal today stressed that he expected expenses would be cut by “at least” $US250 million as a result of the program.

The cost-cutting push will also result in changes to its operations in North America and Europe – where the company may also look to carry-out cuts in its European business slightly earlier than expected.

“This is very much the start, the first wave if you like, and there will be more activity that will follow,” Mr Neal said.

So far, 521 positions in Australia have been affected by the offshoring changes.

Most of these staff are set to be redeployed within the group, while 39 have been made redundant, and 52 contractor positions have not been renewed.

The chief executive of its Australian arm, Colin Fagen, said QBE was “extremely confident” it would save more than the original $85 million in costs that it had planned to trim from its Australian operations by 2015 through the offshoring changes.

This was likely to occur because the company’s redundancy costs had been lower than expected, while the volume of work being carried out in Manila had exceeded expectations.

Mr Neal also said he was confident the company expected to hit its full-year forecast for premiums to increase by about 5 per cent, and indicated it had benefited from several one-off factors.

He said conditions were “very positive” in Australia and North America but tougher in Europe, where rates were flat.

“It’s still very very early days in the year but we are quite relaxed about where we see ourselves for the half year.”

QBE, which reports its profits on a calendar year basis, will present its half-year results in August.

Insurers have benefited relatively few natural disasters in recent months, while QBE has extensive US operations, so it tends to benefit from a falling Australian dollar.

“Overall, the weakening in the Australian dollar is good news for us, but it does bring some complications,” Mr Neal said.

Deutsche Bank analyst Kieran Chidgey said the progress on cost-cutting and positive one-off factors should cause the “market’s conviction in QBE’s turnaround” to increase.

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Spencer rules breakfast, but Nova’s share explodes

He’s done it again; 612 ABC Brisbane announcer Spencer Howson has retained his crown as king of the lucrative breakfast radio session.
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Despite a 0.1 per cent drop, Mr Howson’s 13.1 per cent market share is still firmly in front of his commercial rivals, ratings agency Nielson confirmed on Tuesday.

But DMG’s Nova106.9 breakfast team of Ash Bradnam, David ‘Luttsy’ Lutteral and Kip Wightman closed in on Aunty’s star, gaining 1.1 per cent to steal the number two spot from Robin Bailey, Terry Hansen and Bob Gallaghar on ARN’s 97.3FM.

Nova also overtook 97.3 as the station with the largest overall audience through the week – a coup that rounds out its standing dominance of the weekend market.

Fairfax Radio 4BC, owned by the publishers of this website, also improved its overall market share, growing its audience by 0.9 per cent to beat 4KQ, 4BH, and the ABC’s Radio National and Triple J for the number six spot.

The station’s breakfast team also recorded a 0.4 per cent audience boost to maintain its sixth-place ranking.

Meanwhile the Triple M Grill Team – Pete Timbs, Michelle Anderson and Greg ‘Marto’ Martin – moved from fifth to fourth place, changing places with their Austereo cousins at B105 – Jason ‘Labby’ Hawkins, Stav Davidson and Abby Coleman.

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What a relief; now let’s get on with it, says Horwill

Now we can all get some sleep: Wallabies captain James Horwill, left, fronts the media with coach Robbie Deans after the judicial hearing. Photo: James BrickwoodWallabies captain James Horwill says he feels ‘‘vindicated’’ by an International Rugby Board ruling that a stamping allegation against him be dismissed for the second time in nine days.
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The Test second-rower is free to play in the series decider against the British and Irish Lions in Sydney after 12 hours of deliberation overnight on Monday produced the same result as the first hearing on June 23.

Horwill said he was ‘‘very relieved’’ to be told the news during a gym session on Tuesday morning after enduring a sleepless night in limbo.

‘‘I feel very vindicated by the way it’s gone,’’ he said. ‘‘I love what I do and it means a hell of a lot to represent my country and not only to represent it but the opportunity to lead in what is probably the biggest game in this country since the 2003 World Cup final. I’m very excited and now we can focus on the game and that’s what is important.’’

The decision was handed down by Canadian judicial officer Graeme Mew  at about 10am on Tuesday, 12 hours after he took final submissions from Horwill, his legal counsel and the Australian Rugby Union.

Mew found there was no cause to overturn the original ruling of judicial officer Nigel Hampton QC, who said on June 23 that he could not find an intentional or deliberate action of stamping or trampling on the head of Lions second rower Alun Wyn Jones.

‘‘For the appeal to succeed the IRB would have to establish that there was some misapprehension of law or principle by the judicial officer or that his decision was so clearly wrong or manifestly unreasonable that no judicial officer could have reached the conclusion that he did,’’ Mew noted in his judgement.

‘‘There was sufficient evidence upon which a reasonable judicial officer could have reached the decision that was made.

‘‘Accordingly, it could not be said that the judicial officer was manifestly wrong or that the interests of justice otherwise required his decision be overturned.’’

Horwill accepted the decision calmly on Tuesday but was obviously pleased to have the uncertainty behind him.

‘‘I can’t complain. It’s been a very fair process both times; as I said before, the hearings have been very fair and the process is what it is,’’ he said, after  thanking the public for their support.

‘‘My family and the team have been very overwhelmed by the amount of support we’ve received so I thank you very much and it’s now time to get on with football.’’

The original incident occurred in the third minute of the Lions’ 23-21 victory over the Wallabies in the first Test.

Horwill struck Jones in the head during a ruck. The Lions second-rower played out most of the match and required stitches to his eye after the full-time bell.

The Lions referred the matter to the citing commissioner after the game, but a four-hour hearing in front of IRB-appointed judicial officer Hampton last Sunday night found there was enough merit in Horwill’s explanation that he was ‘‘spun off balance’’ by Lions players entering the ruck from the other side.

The decision was controversially overturned by the IRB on Thursday night and while the board did not provide a clear reason,  they cited the ‘‘preservation of player welfare’’.

‘‘It is important for the IRB to ensure amongst all stakeholders in the game that there is full confidence that priority is given to player welfare and the values of the game,’’ the IRB said at the time.

Horwill said he had been unaware of the incident until he was cited and had a chance to view footage from the game.

Rugby Union Players’ Association chief executive Greg Harris congratulated Horwill on being cleared to play.

‘‘James Horwill was initially cleared of the stamping charge as per the IRB’s established judicial process.

“RUPA, like the ARU, was both surprised and disappointed that the finding of the IRB appointed judicial officer, Nigel Hampton QC, from New Zealand was deemed to be ‘erroneous’.

‘‘The fact that the verdict was not delivered until midday on Tuesday added significant disruption to the preparation of the Wallabies team for the third, and deciding Test.

‘‘RUPA still remains sufficiently concerned with the perceived inconsistencies with the processes and as such has raised the matter with the International Rugby Players’ Association and requested that IRPA raise the matter formally with the IRB.’’

Harris said the case set a dangerous precedent by the IRB and that not only the RUPA membership, but the broader rugby community in Australia, were concerned about the motives behind the decision to refer the matter again.

‘‘James is the Australian captain and is a sportsman of impeccable character who in 130 professional games had never been cited.

“He always had the full support of RUPA and his fellow players no matter what the outcome of the IRB’s judicial processes were to be,’’ Harris said.

The IRB released a statement a short time ago accepting Mew’s decision.

‘‘While ultimately not proving successful in its appeal, the IRB is satisfied that it took the right approach,’’ the statement said.

‘‘The IRB would like to acknowledge the professional manner in which the Australian Rugby Union managed the process as host union of the tour.’’

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Hancock Prospecting to face trial

Billionaire Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting must face trial in a mine ownership dispute with the family of her father’s former partner, a judge has ruled.
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Supreme Court of Western Australia Justice Rene Le Miere in Perth today rejected Hancock’s request to dismiss without trial the lawsuit claiming ownership of half of the company’s stake in a mine being built in Western Australia.

‘‘I am unable to reach the required level of certainty that the defense will succeed,’’ Le Miere wrote in his decision.

Wright Prospecting is seeking 50 per cent of Hancock Prospecting’s stake in three tenements, known as Hope Downs 4, 5 and 6, according to a copy of the writ filed September 24 in Perth.

Hancock Prospecting and Rio Tinto, the world’s second- largest exporter of iron ore, jointly own the Hope Downs assets under a 2005 agreement.

‘‘Wright Prospecting welcomes the judge’s decision,’’ the company said today in a statement. ‘‘Wright Prospecting now intends to resume proceedings in this matter.’’

Hancock Prospecting chief financial officer Jay Newby didn’t immediately respond to a  request for comment today.

The $US1.6 billion Hope Downs 4 project, owned 50 per cent by Rio, will have annual capacity of 15 million metric tonnes when it starts production this year, according to an August statement from Rio.

It’ll be Rinehart’s second operating mine after the $US1 billion Hope Downs 1.

Wright Prospecting was founded by Peter Wright, who discovered the iron ore deposits with Rinehart’s father, Lang Hancock. Rinehart inherited the mining assets and is chairman of the company Hancock founded.

Wright Prospecting’s lawsuit is ‘‘curious’’ as Rinehart, Asia’s richest woman, announced a mining partnership for the properties with Rio Tinto more than seven years ago, Newby said after the lawsuit was filed.

Wright Prospecting ‘‘waited until now, when construction of the Hope 4 mine is nearing completion, and has provided none of the significant funding required for such, to lodge such an unusual bid for unearned late participation,’’ Newby had said.

Wright Prospecting, in its lawsuit over Hope Downs 4, 5 and 6, accused Hancock Prospecting of breach of trust for selling the property without its consent and breaches of fiduciary obligations, according to the writ.

Wright Prospecting sought an accounting of all profits earned by Hancock Prospecting from those assets and compensation for the breaches. It also asked the court to declare Hancock Prospecting held half the property in trust for Wright Prospecting, and to award it any proceeds from the sale and royalties Hancock Prospecting received.


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Regulator warns on annual reports

The corporate regulator has warned Australia’s biggest companies about its areas of focus for financial year reports.
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A review of 150 annual reports from late last year found deficiencies in key areas, including: the impairment of goodwill, non-consolidation of controlled entities, and key disclosures about “going concern” and the assumptions underlying asset valuations.

Some companies had to make “material adjustments” to their annual reports as a consequence.

These were the areas that would come under scrutiny this reporting season, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission warned.

Companies with shadow banking activities, such as unlisted debenture issuers, will also be heavily scrutinised.

This comes after a string of high-profile collapses in the troubled sector in recent years – and quick fire sales to avoid a collapse – involving companies such as Banksia Securities and Southern Finance.

It also follows a warning from the International Monetary Fund in November that Australia needed to tighten its rules allowing non-bank lenders to offer banking services without any oversight from the banking regulator.

ASIC said annual reports needed to be clearer about basic information.

“We found instances where disclosures about the ability of entities to continue as a going concern were inadequate,” the ASIC report says.

“In some cases entities were reliant on financial support from their parent but this fact had not been disclosed, even though such information can be important to users of the financial report.”

ASIC has also reminded directors that they ought to focus on the operating and financial review (OFR) section of their annual reports this season, following changes introduced in March.

These sections must provide “meaningful” and “useful” information about the “underlying drivers” of the financial performance of companies, with a focus on the quality rather than the quantity of information, ASIC says.

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Davis back to bolster Giants

He’s back: Phil Davis, right, has recovered from a stress fracture in time to face the Bulldogs. Photo: Jeffrey ChanA gaping hole in the porous Greater Western Sydney defence could be plugged by the selection of co-captain Phil Davis for the critical clash with the Western Bulldogs on Saturday.
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Davis, out injured since round five with a stress-related back fracture, declared himself available on Tuesday after playing a half in the Giants’ reserves’ win over Queanbeyan in the NEAFL on Sunday.

Despite the limited minutes, there may be little use holding Davis back, as the Giants try to seize on a Bulldogs side that just went down to the Demons.

If he trains well on Wednesday, he could be named in the team announcement on Thursday.

“It’s not up to me, but I feel as though I could run out an AFL match and contribute,” said Davis, whose absence at the back, added to that of Chad Cornes, has been a factor in the Giants’ blowout losses.

“We’ve been pretty conservative so far [with team selection], so I’m not sure what avenue they’ll go down. But I’ll do everything in my power to play because it’s hard to be out for so long. I’ve missed the last eight AFL matches. I want to get out there as soon as I can.”

As much he’d like it, Davis’s availability may not prevent the Giants from finishing last, with chief executive Dave Matthews confirming the No. 1 draft pick would be up for grabs.

The club is stepping up its search for experience, with list manager Stephen Silvagni on the hunt for, among others, a ruckman, key defender and key forward, including, Matthews confirmed, approaches to Hawthorn star Lance Franklin.

“We would have liked to have been a bit further up the ladder,” Matthews told Melbourne radio on Tuesday. “But if we’re going to get picks 1, 2 or 3, we’re prepared to trade that.”

The trade talk is fixed on Franklin, but Davis believes the Giants’ attack has matured in its second season – only to cost them at the other end.

So far in 2013 they are averaging 10.3 goals per game, compared with 8.3 across last season.

“A lot of our offensive stuff’s been better; we’ve been playing more aggressively,” Davis said. “Last year we played more conservative football, kicking long down the line, a real stoppage-related game plan.

“This year we’ve played a much more attacking style, going through the middle.

“But if you’re going to play the way the great teams play, you’ve got to have a large fitness base. In the last quarters of games we’ve faded a bit.

“Still, we’ve had our chances to win – Geelong, Melbourne, Gold Coast, even Sydney in round one. Yes, we might be 0-13 but I think we’ve taken steps forward.”

They can prove it against the Bulldogs, though Davis warned that treating the game as a grand final would be “very disrespectful” to their opponents.

“They’ve got some great players – [Daniel] Giansiracusa, Robert Murphy, Will Minson’s probably the All Australian ruckman this year, [Tom] Liberatore’s one of the top clearance players in the competition, Ryan Griffen’s had a great year as well. We understand they might be close to us on the ladder but it still means we have go out and play our best football so that they play below their best. If we do that, we’re a chance to win, just like any other week.”

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Cowan eager to find new home

Evicted from the opening position where he has played all his Tests and all but 17 of his first-class innings, Ed Cowan began his search for a new home convinced he can fit in somewhere else.
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Chris Rogers is moving into Cowan’s old place, and the deposed opener had no choice but to swallow his disappointment and get his head around the need to scrap for one of the three other batting spots up for grabs for the Ashes.

The most natural of those would be No. 3, where he was expected to bat against Worcestershire in the tour game starting on Tuesday, but Cowan felt confident after toughing out a gruelling series against India’s spinners that he could combat England’s charismatic off-spinner Graeme Swann if he was moved further down the order.

Phillip Hughes, Usman Khawaja, David Warner and Steve Smith are all competing for batting spots.

”I’ve always said if you can open the batting you can bat anywhere. And particularly now, having been through four Tests in India, if I was to come in in the middle order against spin then I really feel comfortable doing that,” Cowan said. ”So if you can open the batting against the new ball, you can certainly come in against the older ball. It’s hard to go the other way.”

Cowan started his career for NSW at No. 5 but has not been anything other than an opener in the Sheffield Shield since 2008-09. Still, he bats at three in one-day cricket for Tasmania and shuffled down to five when Ricky Ponting was in town last summer.

”So I’ve had some experience if selected and I’m not opening,” Cowan said. ”That will be the biggest challenge, finding a way to distract yourself until it’s time to bat, because one thing about opening the batting is you start preparing when they’re eight or nine down. You’ve got 10 minutes to put your pads on and away you go.

”If it’s in the middle order, do you relax, do you stay up, don’t waste too much energy? All those little things. It’s something I’m just going to have to deal with.”

In 17 matches as Australia’s Test opener, Cowan averages 32 and has not been able to shrug off the impression that he was squatting in the position rather than owning it. He could not have predicted he would lose it to a 35-year-old who has toiled for even longer than he.

Cowan was grateful, at least, to be told where he stood, in keeping with new coach Darren Lehmann’s honesty policy. ”All sportsmen can deal with honest information. Whether that impacts on you negatively or positively, you know where you stand, you know what you have to do even if it’s not what you want to hear.”

Since his breakthrough hundred against South Africa in Brisbane last November, Cowan has made three half-centuries, but by his own admission has not kicked on from promising starts.

Rogers has made a double century and 184 for Middlesex this season. Cowan squandered a start against Somerset, slashing at a wide ball on 46.

He has one last chance to book an Ashes spot, even if it is not the one he craved most.

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Light and cheesy choux

Versatile choux pastry delightfully completes these gougeres (cheese puffs).Italian food packaging always seduces me. It was the packaging that caught my eye as I browsed the cheese counter, and thought I will have to take this home. Taleggio was not a bad choice. Usually I eat taleggio with some quince paste and a bowl of walnuts, but today we need some food to have with drinks and, being winter, I am going to fill the small warm cheese puffs with a bechamel sauce made using the taleggio.
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Choux pastry is such a quick and easy pastry to make, and if you have not made it before it is useful to have in your repertoire. It is the most versatile of all doughs, as choux can be served savoury, sweet, baked or fried.

The recipe above for the savoury cheese puffs can be varied. You can swap taleggio for tasty cheddar, or a firm blue cheese such as Stilton.

Profiteroles are the sweet version of a choux pastry ball. They can be filled with whipped cream, pastry cream or ice-cream. The puffs may be left plain or served with a chocolate or caramel sauce.

I have made a quiche using choux pastry, and churros are simply choux pastry fried in oil. Churros are a specialty from Spain, traditionally eaten for breakfast and dipped into hot chocolate.Cheese puffs – gougeresChoux pastry

Makes about 50 puffs

100g soft unsalted butter

125ml water

125ml milk

5g caster sugar

3g salt

150g plain flour

4 eggs

1 egg for egg wash

bechamel sauce for filling

grated Parmesan for dusting

Have the electric mixer ready with bowl and paddle attachment.

Place the butter, water, milk, sugar and salt into a saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Add the flour all at once into the boiling liquid and, using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture just enough to bring the paste away from the sides of the pan, which indicates that the flour is cooked. If beating is continued beyond this point the paste will fail to rise properly and become cake-like in consistency.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl on the electric mixer and mix at medium speed. When there is no more steam rising from the dough – about a minute – gradually add the eggs one by one. Continue mixing until all the eggs have been incorporated and then mix for a minute.

Transfer the dough to a plate and cover with plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic wrap is in direct contact with the surface of the dough otherwise it will form a skin. Refrigerate for 20 minutes until it becomes firm.

Line a baking tray with baking paper. Put the choux pastry in a piping bag and pipe on to the tray in 2.5-centimetre balls, or use a teaspoon. Dip a fork in the egg wash and gently press into the top of the choux – making a criss-cross pattern on the top.

Preheat the oven to 175C. Bake the puffs for 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven only when the choux are quite firm to touch and then cool. Piece the bottom of each puff with a wooden stick and twist to make a cavity.

Place bechamel sauce in a piping bag and fill each puff. Pipe a little more bechamel on the top of each puff and sprinkle with Parmesan. They can be set aside at room temperature for up to an hour. Reheat the puffs at 175C for five minutes and serve warm.Bechamel filling

30g unsalted butter

70g plain flour

300ml milk

100g Taleggio cheese

2 egg yolks

4 pinches salt

3 pinches pepper

Melt the butter in a saucepan on the stove top over medium heat and boil until it reaches a golden brown. Add the flour and whisk for a minute, this will cook out the flour (the mixture should look like a crumble). Add half the milk while whisking. Once the mixture is smooth, remove from the heat and whisk in the rest of the milk and the cheese, yolks and seasonings, then remove from the heat and stir until well combined.

Bechamel can be stored in a container – with plastic wrap directly in contact with the surface to prevent a skin forming – in the fridge for up to three days. It cannot be frozen.

>> Robbie Howard is co-owner of Lynwood Preserves.

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The magic of truffle time

Kipflers are perfect mashed in an impressive truffle dish. Photo: David ReistThe frost is tingling the toes – freezing them actually – as you dance around at 4am trying to round up your pig that is trying to get into the house, and you have that feeling that her time is about up.
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Yep, it’s truffle time. You can almost hear them form underground, pure flavour, a microbial gift found at the feet of oaks and hazels. Their coming gets your adrenalin pumping and it’s time to get the usual suspects ready – eggs, butter and pasta.

With the first dark gem I had under my supervision this year, I made a simple fondue. For the event, I found some slacks and a turtle-necked jumper, metaphorically at least. It’s a bit too weird eating fondue in skinny jeans and a man scarf.

Fondue is made by reducing white wine and slowly melting in cheeses that might come from an alpine region – emmental, gruyere, Swiss cheese even, although I’m pretty sure they don’t eat Swiss cheese in Switzerland.

Into this little cauldron of molten curd you grate a good amount of truffle. It’s hard to be exact; truffles are expensive, so as much as you can spare.

Dip little pieces of bread on skewers, wrap the stringy, melted cheese around, making sure you have plenty of truffle grits, then down it. You’ll probably remove the layer of skin on the roof of your mouth but there’s no question the flavour of truffle is piercing.

But as I eat this, I’m thinking it’s a little too strong. For me, truffles should be about enhancing the food they’re cooked with; otherwise, all you get is that sweaty, earthy character and you might as well just eat the damn thing neat, a la Paul Bocuse.

So if you want to try it with cheese, buy a Clarines or Epoisses cheese. Both are expensive French washed rinds. Remove the plastic cover but leave the cheese in the bamboo basket it comes in. Chop up the truffle and wedge the pieces into the cheese, pour over a glass of riesling, place on a barbecue or in a heavy-based fry pan and cook until the cheese starts to bubble. Now you can spread this on to sourdough and have one of the world’s greatest food experiences.

Or just grate the truffle on to scrambled, just-laid farm eggs, with salt and pepper. These are simple foods that gods would eat.

But I’m looking for a new way to express the truffle, a recipe that doesn’t require a food lab handy and a week free. Now I have a pig, I have neither spare time nor cash. I’m looking to the brilliant books by chefs Rene Redzepi and Mark Best for inspiration. In Redzepi’s Noma I find what I’m looking for. It doesn’t require too much truffle but gives you a pretty intense expression of the flavour. What makes this special is a secret ingredient, smoked pork fat.

It’s a little like lardo or the Spanish tocino. It’s the back fat, cured and smoked. It’s not easy to find but you can buy a piece of smoked speck and just use the fatty part. You cook it down, freeze it, then shave it over warm food and it’s just a beautiful garnish. It dissolves, leaving just a shimmer of fat and a whiff of smoke.

This gives a lot of bang for your buck, adding a smoky bacon character to the earthy truffle flavour and it’s all bound together with mashed kipfler potato. We’ve got a lot of kipflers at the moment. They’re a full-flavoured, buttery spud and with the milk, cream and butter that you whip into it, there’s plenty of dairy fat to carry the truffle flavour through the starch.

So a potato dish using kipflers, topped with a truffle puree, smoked speck fat and the piece de resistance, a buttery whey sauce. At first glance, it didn’t look like much, but, wow, it worked a treat at a recent wine dinner to say goodbye to our vintage workers. Simple but complex in flavour, an elegant dish that shows you how interesting truffles can be. I used truffle oil to augment the flavour, as the recipe suggests, since the early truffles tend to be light on flavour. But by mid-July the real gems will start to arrive at the markets and you could back off on the oil if the truffle really stinks. You be the judge.

Now to the pig.Truffled kipflers with smoked lardo and whey

200g speck fat or tocino or smoked lardo

250g plain, unsweetened yoghurt

700g kipflers, peeled


150g milk

150g cream

75g butter, diced

25g truffle, smashed

2 tbsp reduced stock or jus

20ml truffle oil

30ml grapeseed oil


30g butter, diced

Cover the smoked fat with water and simmer for two hours. Drain, place between two plates and weigh down in the fridge to set, for about an hour. Wrap and freeze.

Set the yoghurt in a colander lined with cheesecloth and collect the whey over 24 hours. You should have about 120 millilitres of whey at the end. Keep the drained yoghurt for another use.

Cover the potatoes with salted water and boil until soft, then drain and remove. Put the milk, cream and butter in the hot pot, bring to a boil and return the spuds. Whisk to form a very loose mash, pass through a fine sieve to remove lumps and season. Add more milk if needed. It should be a soft puree that holds its shape. Keep warm. (Note: a Thermomix makes the most amazing whipped potatoes, just saying.)

Crush the truffle in a mortar and pestle and mix in the stock. As if you were making a mayonnaise, slowly drizzle in the oils, whisking well to form a black emulsion. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat the whey until it’s hot enough to dissolve the butter in, being careful not to boil it. You will have a milky-looking liquid.

Take the speck out of the freezer when everything is hot and ready to serve. Shave this into curls with a sharp knife.

In the centre of each plate, place a good spoonful of potato. Top with the truffle emulsion and a few shavings of speck fat, and drizzle with whey.

That’s it! If you’re looking for something special to serve with this, look to burgundy. We enjoyed an 11-year-old red Corton, with its own slightly smoky flavour.

>> Bryan Martin is winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, bryanmartin南京夜网.au.

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Teen shot McGurk says the ‘new guy’

Shot dead … Michael McGurk. Maintains his innocence … businessman Ron Medich. Photo: Ben Rushton
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Haissam Safetli, pictured during his arrest in 2010, has pleaded guilty to the murder of Michael McGurk. Photo: Vanda Carson

In a dramatic development in the murder case of businessman Michael McGurk, a Sydney court has heard a teenager fired the fatal shot.

Christopher Estephan was 19 on the night McGurk was killed outside his house on September 3, 2009.

The revelation is contained in the agreed statement of facts for Haissam Safetli, 47, who has pleaded guilty to the murder of McGurk.

Safetli also pleaded guilty to taking part in the subsequent stalking and intimidation of McGurk’s widow, Kimberley, Central Local Court heard on Tuesday.

Police allege millionaire property tycoon Ron Medich wanted McGurk dead because the two were embroiled in a series of lawsuits over a soured business venture. When Mrs McGurk did not drop the lawsuits after her husband’s murder, Mr Medich is alleged to have paid thousands of dollars to have her threatened.

Two months before the shooting, Mr Medich’s right-hand man Lucky Gattellari introduced Safetli to Mr Medich as ”the new guy” who would carry out the hit.

The police facts allege that Mr Estephan, who was a friend of Safetli’s nephew Adam Chahine, ”was keen to become involved” and he was to be paid $30,000 plus expenses for his role in the killing. Safetli allegedly received $250,000 for ‘‘the job’’.

At 6.25 on the night of the murder,  McGurk and his nine-year-old son pulled up outside the family’s Cremorne home in a dark blue Mercedes-Benz.

‘‘[Safetli] maintains that Estephan, upon seeing the deceased arrive home, grabbed the modified rifle, got out of the utility and walked quickly over to the deceased’s side of the Mercedes. He then shot the deceased behind his right ear, fatally wounding him,’’ said the police statement.

‘‘The Crown cannot disprove the offender’s assertion that Estephan was the shooter beyond reasonable doubt,’’ the  statement continued.

Within months of the shooting, the court heard, the police were closing in on Mr Medich, Gattellari, his driver Senad Kaminic, Safetli and Mr Estephan.

Police bugged their phones and installed surveillance devices in Safetli’s home in mid-June 2010. They listened as Safetli told his family about his  involvement in the murder and the subsequent intimidation of Mrs McGurk.

Once Safetli learnt   his nephew Mr Chahine had been summonsed to appear at the highly secretive NSW Crime Commission and that Mr Estephan and his girlfriend, Serena Rodrigues, were providing ‘‘induced statements’’ to police, Safetli rolled over and agreed to co-operate.

For a month leading up to the  arrests in October 2010, Safetli co-operated with police. He pointed them to the murder weapon and wore a listening device to secretly record Gattellari and Kaminic.

The pair tried to convince Safetli to ‘‘take the rap’’ for all of them. In return, they would fund his defence and also look after his family.

Last month, former boxing champion Gattellari was sentenced to a non-parole period of seven years over his role in  McGurk’s murder.

Kaminic, 45, received a two-year jail term. The  reductions on their sentences was for agreeing to give evidence against Mr Medich.

Outside the court, Safetli’s solicitor Dennis Miralis said that negotiations between his client and the Director of Public Prosecutions had been under way for some time.

‘‘As a result of those negotiations he has accepted full responsibility for his involvement and has agreed to give evidence against Mr Medich and Mr Estephan,’’ he said.

‘‘This has been an extremely stressful time for him as well as for his family. It’s clearly the most serious charge you can plead guilty to.’’

Mr Medich will face a six-week committal hearing in August.

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

Japanese husbands’ pocket money at 30-year low

The average Japanese husband’s monthly allowance slumped to the lowest level since 1982 at the start of the country’s financial year as workers await the dividends promised by Abenomics.
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Salarymen’s spending money, typically set by wives managing family budgets, was 38,457 yen ($418), down 3 per cent from last year and less than half the 1990 peak, according to Shinsei Bank.

The survey of 2000 people was done April 20th and 22nd via the internet, the report published June 28 showed.

With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledging to revive the world’s third-largest economy through unprecedented monetary expansion, fiscal stimulus and business deregulation, salarymen allotted more of their budget to going out drinking.

They went out an average 2.2 times a month, spending 3474 yen a time, up 21 per cent from last year, the Shinsei report showed.

“Husband’s allowance is the most lagging indicator of Japan’s economy, while female spending is the first to increase,” said Hiroshi Miyazaki, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities in Tokyo, who says his own ration has been unchanged for a while.

“Japanese salary men don’t have to be pessimistic. Their pocket money should gradually increase to reflect Japan’s recovery.”

Stagnant wages

In a sign that the benefits of a growing economy and rising company profits aren’t yet flowing through to workers, salaries were unchanged in May from a year earlier, the Labor Ministry said in Tokyo today. The average monthly wage for a Japanese worker was 314,127 yen last year, according to the ministry.

The government will create a panel to encourage companies to raise wages, Yuzuru Takeuchi, parliamentary secretary for finance, said in an interview last month.

Wages fell or were unchanged in 11 of 12 months through May even as Japanese companies’ stockpile of cash rose to a record, exceeding the size of Italy’s economy, Bank of Japan data for the first quarter showed last month.

Abe’s three-pronged strategy of ending deflation and stoking growth has helped household’s net worth, by propelling gains in the country’s stock market.

Household assets climbed even as salaries have dropped, rising 4.7 per cent to 1207 trillion yen in the first three months of this year, the highest since 2007, before the global financial crisis.


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

Dollar dive coaxed RBA to hold

“Bottom line? The Central bank can cut again” Photo: Louie DouvisRBA holds fire on interest rates
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The Australian dollar’s descent since the Reserve Bank last met on June 4 probably tipped the scales in favour of its decision this afternoon to leave the cash rate on hold at 2.75 per cent.

In its 2.30pm announcement the central bank notes that since the June 4 meeting, markets have been more volatile in reaction to the US Federal Reserve’s announcement of a provisional timetable for the withdrawal of its $US85 billion a month quantitative easing cash crutch for the US economy.

The QE cash spreads around the world, so its withdrawal has implications for money supply and has pushed up debt yields everywhere, including here.

The Reserve goes on to say however that the Australian dollar has depreciated by about 10 per cent since April. The currency is still strong by historical standards, the Reserve says, but ‘‘it is possible that the exchange rate will depreciate further over time, which would help to foster a rebalancing of growth in the economy.’’

The Reserve may sit on the sidelines until that possibility of further falls in the dollar is confirmed or disproved, because the dollar’s descent adds another layer of stimulus to the economy, supplementing the boost the cash rate delivers as it feeds into lending rates generally.

The cash rate was at 4.75 per cent in October 2011 before the Reserve began to lower it. It has been at 2.75 per cent since May this year, but in Tuesday’s statement the Reserve says. as it has in previous months, that it could go lower.

Inflation is within its medium-term target range of between 2 per cent and 3 per cent and likely to remain so for at least a year and perhaps two years ‘‘notwithstanding the effects of the recent depreciation of the exchange rate,’’ it says, and as a result there is ‘‘some scope for further easing, should that be required to support demand.’’

The national accounts for the March quarter that came out just after the Reserve’s June 4 meeting confirmed that economic growth is slightly below par, at 2.5 per cent in the year to March.

The Reserve has been saying consistently however that it expects signs that low rates are boosting activity to grow, and is sticking to its guns with the latest decision to keep the cash rate on hold.

Rate cuts over the past year and half have ‘‘supported interest-sensitive spending and asset values,’’ it says, ‘‘and further effects can be expected over time,’’ a view that it held before, but one that is buttressed now by the stimulus a lower dollar is delivering.

Bottom line? The Central bank can cut again, but wants a clearer picture of how much stimulus the rate cuts it has already announced  and the more recent fall in the Australian dollar’s value deliver before it either pulls the trigger or puts the rate-cut gun back in its holster.

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

Double-edged dollar doing it for the RBA

“Some of the higher imported costs that are passed can act as a brake on consumers” Photo: Glen HuntRBA holds fire on interest ratesMalcolm Maiden: Dollar dive coaxed RBA to hold
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The Reserve Bank doves are a bit quieter today as the weaker Australian dollar starts to do its part, helping “to foster a rebalancing of growth in the economy”. Another official rate cut remains a possibility, but is a perhaps little less likely given the tone of Governor Glenn Stevens brief announcement.

Not that there’s much difference between last month’s statement and today’s. Indeed, the final paragraph is exactly the same:

“At today’s meeting the Board judged that the easier financial conditions now in place will contribute to a strengthening of growth over time, consistent with achieving the inflation target. It decided that the stance of monetary policy remained appropriate for the time being. The Board also judged that the inflation outlook, as currently assessed, may provide some scope for further easing, should that be required to support demand.”

The RBA ready and able to lend a hand with a touch more monetary stimulation, but the present low interest rates are already at work, supporting “interest-sensitive spending and asset values and further effects can be expected over time”. Sure, borrowing remains “relatively subdued”, but “there are signs of increased demand for finance by households”.

Importantly, the Reserve Bank isn’t looking for or expecting a quick fix to growth being below trend in the March quarter. After all, the year-to GDP growth of 2.5 per cent is about what the central bankers were already predicting for the rest of this year as the economy adjusts to lower levels of mining investment. Now, though, the dollar is helping and might yet help a bit more:

“The Australian dollar has depreciated by around 10 per cent since early April, although it remains at a high level. It is possible that the exchange rate will depreciate further over time…”

And the 10 per cent depreciation hasn’t changed the RBA’s view that inflation isn’t a problem for the next year or two while the labour market remains soft.

Whether that stays the case if the dollar takes another leg down remains to be seen. The post-meeting announcement is very brief, but there are opportunities tomorrow and on Thursday to flesh it out when the government and deputy-governor deliver speeches and, presumably, take questions.  Those doing the asking could do well to pursue the bank’s attitude to the Federal Reserve’s announced hope of winding down its printing presses and just how double-edged a falling currency could be.

Yesterday’s RBA June commodity price index illustrated how the weaker Aussie is already cushioning the economy. In special drawing rights terms, Australia’s weighted commodities index fell 4.1 per cent in the month and was down 10.5 per cent over the year. In Australian dollars, the index rose 1.8 per cent last month and is only down 5.5 per cent from a year ago.

Many Australian businesses that were barely hanging on with a dollar worth US$1.05 are suddenly doing nicely at around 92 US cents. That’s most obvious for our exporters, especially the straight price takers in primary industries, but also in parts of our manufacturing industry – arguably a factor in yesterday’s improved Australian Industry Group manufacturing index .

But the weaker dollar is indeed a double-edged sword, cutting both ways and sometimes in ways that are less than obvious. The miners and farmers like what the Aussie does for their export prices, but much of their machinery and the price of fuel is imported. Many of our manufacturers use imported parts in what they make – more expensive parts added to local labour costs don’t suddenly result in particularly more affordable end products.

A cheaper currency will encourage foreigners to spend a little more when they visit, but it’s by no means clear that a 10 per cent depreciation is going to keep us locals down on the farm now that we’ve seen Paree, or at least Bali. That’s a point that the hard and knowledgeable heads at Flight Centre have already made.

There also might be more to be discovered about assumptions behind the governor’s statement that the dollar’s depreciation will leave the core inflation rate within its target band for the next “one or two years”. Some of the depreciation will be absorbed by the supply chain and the extremely competitive nature of global manufacturing in the present climate of over-capacity. It becomes more interesting if various forecasts come true of global growth improving next year.

And, in the meantime, some of the higher imported costs that are passed can act as a brake on consumers. There are already squeals of pain to be heard about petrol prices rising.

There’s no doubting that the net impact of a weaker currency is a positive for the economy, but some sectors of it might heed the warning of being careful in what you wish for.

Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor.

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