Court throws out Willmott forestry scheme class-action settlement

VicForests has been left without a market for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of residual timber. Photo: Andrew QuiltyThe Federal Court has refused to approve a piecemeal class-action settlement for victims in the Willmott Forests managed investment schemes after finding it was not fair and that returns to investors did not match the millions they had paid to fund the law firm running the case.
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More than 3500 investors were caught up in the collapse of Willmott Forests which went under in 2010 owing its banks, most notably the Commonwealth Bank, about $200 million. Investors had ploughed $400 million into Willmott Forests schemes.

The settlement offer was put forward by Macpherson and Kelley Lawyers (also known as M+K), which were representing some of the investors in the four separate class actions. The four class actions were heard together by Federal Court judge Bernard Murphy.

The court’s refusal of the Willmott settlement comes after the court approved a highly controversial deal put forward by M+K in 2014 in relation to the Great Southern schemes, which saw the law firm take $20 million of the $23 million compensation in legal fees.

M+K was recently criticised over its handling of the Great Southern class action in a recent Senate Inquiry report on the failure of managed investments schemes that focused on the 2009 collapses of Timbercorp and Great Southern.

On Monday, Justice Murphy found the Willmott settlement gave preference to M+K clients over those who had chosen not to be represented by the law firm in the matter.

“The Court will not approve a settlement unless it is satisfied that the settlement is fair and reasonable having regard to the interests of the class members who will be bound to it, including by not preferring one group of class members over another,” Justice Murphy said.

Justice Murphy also found the settlement offer put forward by M+K gave preference to investors who had participated in M+K and even then the payout dwarfed the legal fees paid by investors to M+K Lawyers.

“Class members who are or were M+K’s clients in the proceedings paid costs and disbursements to the firm totalling approximately $7.835 million. The applications (M+K Lawyers) seek orders that $4.1 million to be paid by the respondents in the proceedings be expended on the pro rata reimbursement of class members who are or were M+K’s clients and paid legal costs,” Justice Murphy said.

Justice Murphy said that for some of M+K’s clients, the payout represented 51 per cent of the money they had stumped up to fund the case and for other investors 57 per cent.

Justice Murphy also raised concerns about the settlement agreement put forward by M+K included an admission by investors the loan agreements with lenders were valid and enforceable.

Like the Timbercorp and Great Southern schemes, investors took on large loans on top of their investments based on the provision returns would be sufficient and the schemes would provide a tax break for investors.

However, many investors disputed whether the loans were enforceable and such an admission could have had an effect on other investors also in dispute with their lenders over the loans.

M+K have been contacted for comment.

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First novels and other surprises on the Miles Franklin Award longlist

Author Lucy Treloar’s first novel Salt Creek is longlisted for the 2016 Miles Franklin Literary Award. Photo: Joe ArmaoOne day at the Melbourne bookshop he works in, a reader came up to A.S. Patric to talk to him about his first published novel, Black Rock White City. He had loved the book, he said, but it would never win the Miles Franklin Literary Award.
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“When I asked why it couldn’t win the prize, the man said because it’s not about Australia,” Patric says. “But it is. So much of our literature is about the privileged, middle class. But Black Rock White City is a working-class book about refugees in Melbourne. This is Australia as well.”

Black Rock White City is longlisted for the 2016 Miles Franklin, the prestigious $60,000 prize for “the novel which is of the highest literary merit and which must present Australian life in any of its phases”.

Patric’s novel tells the story of a poet and his wife, refugees from the former Yugoslavia, and their physical and emotional exile. Fairfax’s review described Patric as a writer who “deliberately or not, continues Patrick White’s mission to bring European modernism to the Australian suburbs”.

Patric has previously published two collections of short stories and a novella. But the first book he completed was a 175,000-word philosophical novel in which he could get no interest from publishers. “I couldn’t even get it read.”

The longlist is full of new names, small publishers and other surprises, including the omission of respected writers who might have been expected to appear.

After the prize went to second novels by Evie Wyld and Sofie Laguna in the past two years, it seems the Miles Franklin is broadening its range in many ways.

The gender balance is not a concern this year, as it was when the Stella Prize was set up to counter a perceived male bias. Perhaps the predominance of five Melbourne writers is the only one to cause concern in some parts of the country.

Melbourne-based Lucy Treloar’s Salt Creek is another impressive debut, which is also a finalist for Britain’s Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, in which she is the only woman among respected authors such as William Boyd, Patrick Gale and Allan Massie.

Salt Creek is a very “Australian” story, which follows a colonial family’s descent into poverty, despair and conflict with Indigenous residents as they try to build a home in the remote and beautiful country of South Australia’s Coorong region.

Treloar had lived around the world, raised four children and published three children’s books before she felt she felt the need to express herself in literary fiction.

“The fever caught me,” she says.

She won an award for an unpublished manuscript set in Cambodia but publishers thought it wouldn’t sell. When Alex Craig at Picador asked what else she had, Treloar showed her 5000 words of Salt Creek.

“That’s the one,” said Craig, and Treloar wrote it in a year. “It feels like a second novel to me,” she says, as she embarks on her third.

Most predictable among the nine longlist books (chosen from almost 60 entries) is Charlotte Wood’s fifth novel, The Natural Way of Things, one of last year’s most lauded, and recently book of the year at the Indie Book Awards. Mireille Juchau’s The World Without Us, is also a critical success and won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for fiction.

Both are dystopian novels set in near-future rural environments afflicted by corporate control, climate change, misogyny and other human pain.

Rural stories – dystopian and pastoral, historical and contemporary – feature strongly on the list. As Treloar says, “Even though most Australians live in an urban environment, there is something about rural Australia that speaks to all of us. The great unknown interior has great metaphorical power as we cling to the edges of the country and of civilisation. It’s an ongoing concern.”

One of the judges, the State Library of NSW librarian Richard Neville, notes another common theme: “the impact of grief and loss –complex families, unstable relationships, accidents, European war crimes, suicide, – and how the experience of these issues deeply determine the narrative and direction of lives.

“These powerful stories, underpinned by distinct physical environments and each with a unique register and tone, range from the colonial past into the near-future,” Neville says. “All possess a quality of writing that indicates Australian literature is strong and thriving.”

2016 MILES FRANKLIN LONGLIST

Tony Birch for Ghost River (UQP)

Stephen Daisley for Coming Rain (Text)

Peggy Frew for Hope Farm (Scribe)

Myfanwy Jones for Leap (Allen & Unwin)

Mireille Juchau for The World Without Us (Bloomsbury)

Stephen Orr for The Hands: an Australian pastoral (Wakefield Press)

A.S. Patric for Black Rock White City (Transit Lounge)

Lucy Treloar for Salt Creek (Pan Macmillan)

Charlotte Wood for The Natural Way of Things (Allen & Unwin).

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Soccer mums and dads need to be aware of child abuse risk, royal commission hears

A girl was attacked by her soccer coach, a royal commission has heard.Girl, 8, ‘raped and infected with HIV’, inquiry told
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Soccer mums and dads need more education on how to recognise the signs of sexual abuse to help protect their children from predators, a royal commission has heard.

Football NSW head of child protection Michelle Hanley told the royal commission that all sports officials should be legally obliged to report child abuse and every volunteer should undergo a background check.

Ms Hanley made the recommendations on the second day of the inquiry into paedophilia at sports clubs by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The commission has previously heard testimony from a woman who was allegedly raped by her soccer coach when she was eight and was later diagnosed with HIV.

Ms Hanley told the commission that Football NSW would consider broadening its child protection policies by making more information about child abuse available to parents, including displaying posters at clubs.

She also agreed that it would be an “excellent idea” to give children information about where to raise allegations, even if doing so anonymously.

There are 127,000 children registered with Football NSW, and many of their parents volunteer as coaches and referees.

At present parents who volunteer for a school or sports club where their child is directly involved are exempt from undergoing background checks.

Ms Hanley told the commission this exemption should be removed but conceded that may not stop predators.

“I would like to see the Working with Children Check applied to everybody,” she said.

“It is a check for previous charges and convictions. It’s no guarantee but it certainly would identify people in the sport that have a previous charge and conviction who aren’t appropriate to work with children or volunteer with children.”

In her testimony she called for all sports officials to be mandatory reporters, making them legally obliged to inform authorities of child abuse.

The commission heard that the soccer coach accused of raping the eight-year-old in 1996 continued to coach children in south-western Sydney for years after being charged over the assault.

Ms Hanley told the commission that neither the NSW Police nor the Department of Family and Community Services informed Football NSW that the coach was facing charges over the alleged rape.

The coach, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was found not guilty of raping the eight-year-old but was later convicted of sex offences involving other young children and sentenced to five years’ jail.

The hearing, before Justice Peter McClellan​, continues.

Lifeline: 13 11 14; Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800; Royal commission: 1800 099 340

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Aussie cricket team slaughters Nine Network

$315 million wiped off value at NineNine shares slump after ad market warningComment: Nine searches for a multi-night hit to corral viewers
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The Australian cricket team are serial killers. Not only did they slaughter the weaker West Indies, they murdered  Nine Network ratings and inflicted injury to its profit prospects.

The third victim was the Nine share price, which has now been crushed more than 20 per cent.

One would think the Australian team would have been more considerate than to beat the West Indies in quick time rather than take the five days allocated by the Nine Network over which they sold advertisements.

Yes, the super sporting ability of captain Steve Smith and Co, is primarily responsible for Nine’s disappointing ratings performance.

Nine says that the weather and the standard of the competition (read Aussies too good and West Indies not good enough) meant that a third of the scheduled days were lost.

In a generally good advertising market, a shorter-than-expected cricket game and a rain downpour would be disappointing but not a disclosable event.

But it’s a soft advertising market in an industry that is increasingly falling victim to rapid structural change.

In the free-to-air television industry everything needs to be going right for an operator – just in order to stand still. All the leverage is to the downside.

There is no room for an outperforming cricket team to upset a television company’s over optimistic forecasts.

Nine said Television revenues were down 11 per cent in the third quarter to March 2016 against the same period last year. That is a massive drop by any measure.

The only chance of treading water for the three players is to see ratings improvements.

And that is not going to happen at Nine, which on Tuesday noted it expected the ratings for calendar 2016 would be about 37 per cent. It had previously expected ratings to be 38 per cent.

Nine says the revenue performance was also hit by the absence of the Cricket World Cup event (which it had in 2015) and the early timing of Easter.

But is wasn’t all about cricket. Like most television networks Nine had its flops and during this period the poor performance of Reno Rumble didn’t help.

The pressure is now on Nine to get its costs down sufficiently to compensate for the worse-than-expected revenue result.

Certainly media analysts will be working on their corporate models – downgrading their expectations for Nine’s full-year result.

Two and a half years ago Nine listed on the ASX at $2.05 and has been a lousy investment for those who acquired shares in the IPO. At lunch on Tuesday it was trading at $1.20.

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Hertz to refund hundreds of customers it falsely accused of damaging rental cars

Hertz conceded it overcharged customers for pre-existing damages to its rental cars. Photo: Graham TidyRental car giant Hertz has been forced to refund hundreds of aggrieved customers amounts totalling $395,000 because it had charged them for damage they did not cause.
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Following an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission investigation, Hertz admitted that between November 2013 and August last year it had incorrectly charged customers for causing damage to a rental car that was in fact pre-existing.

From January 2014 and August last year, Hertz refunded 283 customers about $243,000 in total.

Hertz also conceded that between January 2013 and August last year it had charged customers for repair costs it falsely claimed was the cost borne by the company.

In fact, Hertz received spare parts at a discount and did not pass on any savings. In cases involving windscreen or tyre repairs or replacements, the cost to Hertz was much lower than the amount charged to customers.

Hertz is refunding, or has refunded, $152,000 to more than 700 customers. Many of these customers are yet to be identified and contacted about the refund.

“This case serves as a message to vehicle rental companies that they must have robust compliance procedures in place to ensure they do not contravene the Australian Consumer Law by incorrectly charging customers for damage they are not responsible for,” said ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper.

“Vehicle rental companies must also ensure that they are transparent and accurate in communicating with their customers about the charges they are applying for vehicle rentals and repairs.”

Hertz has acknowledged its conduct was likely to have breached the Australian Consumer Law prohibitions on misleading or deceptive conduct and false or misleading representations.

Hertz has taken voluntary steps to improve its damage charging and assessment practices, and has also provided a court-enforceable undertaking to the ACCC which says it will contact and refund all affected customers.

The undertaking follows recent ACCC court action against car hire company Europcar Australia, in respect of alleged unfair contract terms and misleading advertising of its “extra cover” products. The parties are awaiting judgment.

A statement from Hertz said the company has invested significant resources to address the concerns about its “historical procedures” for vehicle damage charges.

“Steps already implemented by Hertz include proactively contacting customers who were incorrectly charged for pre-existing vehicle damage, as well as the ongoing review of records to identify any other customers who have potentially been impacted by its historical processes,” the company said.

“Customers affected by this error will be refunded where appropriate and necessary.”



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Kane Constructions claims its sites were targeted by CFMEU officials

Another major builder claims it was targeted by the militant construction union and its senior officials, who allegedly incited unlawful strikes and temporarily shut down key projects across Melbourne and Geelong.
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Kane Constructions says 100 workers in both cities walked off the job after the union converged on eight sites – including multimillion-dollar hospitals and council developments – over two days in 2014.

The walk-outs were allegedly in retaliation to the company calling in police to arrest union organiser Mick Powell for trespassing – a charge that was later withdrawn.

Kane is the latest employer in the building industry to allege an illegal campaign orchestrated by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.

The allegations come as the federal government focuses heavily on the CFMEU’s alleged lawlessness to press for the need to resurrect the hardline Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has threatened a rare double-dissolution election if the Senate does not agree to bring back the controversial Howard-era regulator.

The CFMEU is strongly opposed to the ABCC’s reinstatement and, on Tuesday, claimed Mr Turnbull’s “politically motivated” attack on unions had backfired, after a Newspoll showed the Coalition has fallen behind Labor, 51-49.

“Attacking workers’ rights and unions hasn’t worked for Malcolm Turnbull because it’s about self-interest, not what’s best for Australia, for working people and their families,” national secretary Michael O’Connor said.

In new legal proceedings, the existing construction watchdog – Fair Work Building and Construction – outlines the alleged details of the CFMEU’s “co-ordinated industrial campaign” against Kane Constructions.

Federal Court documents claim Kane managers told the watchdog that CFMEU officials organised simultaneous visits across Kane sites on April 2, hours after Mr Powell was arrested for failing to show a right-of-entry permit at the gates to a construction project in Ringwood.

Ten union officials are accused of a range of industrial law violations, including unlawful industrial action, entering work sites without right-of-entry permits and failing to provide 24 hours’ notice.

Responding to the allegations, union state secretary John Setka condemned the “ludicrously political” nature of the Fair Work Building and Construction agency, whose prosecutions should be an “embarrassment for the government”.

“CFMEU safety officers and organisers spend their days preventing, or worse, rectifying appalling safety breaches,” he said. “FWBC however, remains fixated on chasing paperwork and filling the swear jar.”

FWBC director Nigel Hadgkiss​ said the rule of law must be obeyed in all workplaces.

“In this case, it is alleged that a contractor has been deliberately victimised for simply trying to ensure that the law is followed on its sites,” he said.

“This lack of respect and disregard for our nation’s workplace laws is completely unacceptable.”

Among the Kane sites allegedly affected were Richmond’s Epworth Hospital, the Geelong Hospital, Sandringham’s Mercy Hospital, and the St John of God Hospital in Geelong, an aged care facility in Templestowe, a library, an aquatic centre, an office building and an apartment tower.

In one instance detailed in the court documents, Kane’s site manager is said to have stopped union organiser Bill Beattie at the gates of the Emporia apartment complex in Prahran on May 22 to ask the reason for his visit.

“I’m not f—–g giving you any reasons for anything today,” Beattie is alleged to have said. “You f—-g do what you’ve got to do, I’m having a meeting with the boys.”

At a BUPA aged care construction site in Templestowe, where up to 30 workers attended a meeting and walked off the job, the site occupier allegedly told CFMEU officer Lee McKenzie, “What you have done is Illegal, l am going to have to report you”.

Mr McKenzie allegedly responded: “I know it is illegal but I had to do it.”

The case follows other allegations that the CFMEU organised an industry-wide boycott of concrete giant Boral that locked the company out of most central Melbourne work sites after it refused to cede to union demands. The union’s two top Victorian branch officials are currently facing court on charges of blackmailing Boral.

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New lead in Heddon Greta Hotel armed robbery investigation

FRIGHTENING: Heddon Greta Hotel manager Daniel Flanagan.On Mother’s Day last year a masked bandit held-up theHeddon Greta Hotel while40 people sat enjoying dinner in the adjacent restaurant.
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Almost one year on, police believe they have a strong lead in the case and have called for public assistance.

The armed robbery occurred on Sunday May 10, 2015.Hotel manager Daniel Flanaganwas going about his nightly duties when a man wearing a white bandanna across his face and gardening gloves approached him. Hepulled out a sawed-off shotgun and demanded cash.

It was 8pm and there were about 40 people in the hotel’s dining room in the middle of their dinner. The offender fled with a small amount of cash and left MrFlanagan shocked at the brazen hold-up.

Witnesses saw a man get into a vehicle that was parked on Young Street, near the intersection of Trenchard Street.The vehicle was last seen heading north toward Cliftleigh.

The offender wasdescribed as being of Caucasian appearance, in his early 20s, skinny build, about 178 centimetres tall and dark eyes.He was last seen wearing a dark, hooded jumper and long, dark pants.

Police have renewed the call for information about the robbery afternew information came to light.

The call also follows the arrest of a Gillieston Heights man onSunday April 3, 2016. Central Hunter police attended the home of a man on an unrelated matter, he was arrested and taken to Maitland Police Station where he was questioned over the 2015 robbery.

The Gillieston Heights man was released pending further enquiries.Central Hunter acting crime manager Acting Detective InspectorMitch Dubojskisaid investigators were extremely confident of a result on the investigation but needed the community’s help to provide further information.

Anyone with information is encouraged to contact Central Hunter detectives on 49340280 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

RELATED CONTENTArmed hold-up at Heddon Greta Hotel

Gun-wielding bandit robs Heddon Greta pub

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Gender plays no part in a strong flair for the dramatic

Think women are more dramatic than men? A US study has found gender plays no role in whether or not a person has a need for drama in their life, although some people definitely do need more drama than others.
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In a paper published inPersonality and Individual Differences, researchers from the University of Texas have determined that men and women are equally likely to have a “need for drama”.

The study involved 500 volunteers, sourced from the student body and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk forum, who were asked to rate how closely they identified with statements including “people often talk about me behind my back” and “I feel like there are people in my life who are out to get me”.

One of the study’s lead authors Scott Frankowski said he decided to investigate dramatic tendencies after he realised a certain co-worker’s life seemed to continually be in crisis (which the co-worker continually needed to talk about).

“She was really cool, and fun to chat with, but I was like, how is your life just this cycle of crisis?” Frankowski toldScience of Us.”It was minor stuff, but it was just taken to a whole other level.”

While gender did not play a role in how highly someone scored on the study’s “need for drama” scale, there were some traits which indicated that a person might be overly dramatic.

The analysis showed a correlationbetween a high score on the “need for drama” scale and impulsiveness, suggesting that people with high drama lives are opinionated and act without thinking.They also tended to see themselves as the victim in any situation.

“High NFD individuals seem to see the world as happening to them,” the paper reads, “which likely makes them reactive to perceived slights.”

– Fairfax Media

Gender plays no part in a strong flair for the dramatic

Think women are more dramatic than men? A US study has found gender plays no role in whether or not a person has a need for drama in their life, although some people definitely do need more drama than others.
Nanjing Night Net

In a paper published inPersonality and Individual Differences, researchers from the University of Texas have determined that men and women are equally likely to have a “need for drama”.

The study involved 500 volunteers, sourced from the student body and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk forum, who were asked to rate how closely they identified with statements including “people often talk about me behind my back” and “I feel like there are people in my life who are out to get me”.

One of the study’s lead authors Scott Frankowski said he decided to investigate dramatic tendencies after he realised a certain co-worker’s life seemed to continually be in crisis (which the co-worker continually needed to talk about).

“She was really cool, and fun to chat with, but I was like, how is your life just this cycle of crisis?” Frankowski toldScience of Us.”It was minor stuff, but it was just taken to a whole other level.”

While gender did not play a role in how highly someone scored on the study’s “need for drama” scale, there were some traits which indicated that a person might be overly dramatic.

The analysis showed a correlationbetween a high score on the “need for drama” scale and impulsiveness, suggesting that people with high drama lives are opinionated and act without thinking.They also tended to see themselves as the victim in any situation.

“High NFD individuals seem to see the world as happening to them,” the paper reads, “which likely makes them reactive to perceived slights.”

– Fairfax Media

Sims ready to rumble

PUMPED: Second-rower Tariq Sims returns from suspension for the Knights against the Wests-Tigers at Hunter Stadium on Sunday. Picture: Jonathan CarrollLOOKout – Tariq Simsis back, and out to make up for lost time.
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The longest pre-season in Sims’ career ends on Sunday when theKnights tackle Wests Tigers at Hunter Stadium.

The barnstorming second-rower and co-captain missedthe opening five rounds on suspension for a shoulder charge on Penrith hookerJames Segeyaro in the in the final round last season.

“Put me out there and leave me,” Sims said half joking.

“I had an extended pre-season which only finished on Monday. It has been frustrating but I have gone through a lot harder and a lot worse stuff than this. I’m just very excited topull the jersey back on. I’m itching to get back out there and rumble it up with the boys.”

It is the second consecutiveseason the 25-year-old Origin hopeful has missed the opening month.He was outed for five weeks for a shot on Justin Hodges when playing for the Cowboysin the 2014 elimination semi-final.Another shoulder charge will result in a 100 per cent loading and doubleany base penalty.

“It’s no secret I’m on a tightrope for the rest of the year,” Sims said.

“If Ilook at a referee wrong I will get in trouble.I have to make sure that I am a squeaky clean …if I’m sitting on the sideline I’m not only letting the club down but my teammates down.”

Sims, who is expected to come into the starting side for teenager Jacob Saifiti, spent the summer working onhis tackling technique and decision making.

“After a big conditioning session that is when I do the most defensive work,” he said. “That is when I am at my most fatigued. During fatigue is when I make silly decisions. As long as I can stay on top of that, I can move forward.”

Monsteredin the opening two losses, the Knights have since competed hard despite being yet to record a win.

“I am going to try and bring as much controlled aggression as I can,” Sims said. “Try and lead the boys attitude-wiseand compete for the full 80 minutes. As long as the boys are all keen and ready to rip in, I’ll do as much as Iphysically can.”