PRESS DIGEST-Australian General News - Oct 14

Tue Oct 13, 2009 4:07pm EDT

Compiled for Reuters by Media Monitors. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.

THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW (www.afr.com)

The New South Wales (NSW) Government faces challenges in creating a competitive bidding process for electricity privatisation reforms that could raise up to A$8 billion. There has been growing concern in the industry that any sale would be a "two-horse race" between AGL Energy AGL.AX and Origin Energy (ORG.AX), and growing scepticism about a fallback option to float a combined company. NSW Minister for Finance and Infrastructure Joe Tripodi has defended the float, saying that assets are "attractive with strategic market positions." Page 1.

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Business confidence and the trading environment declined in September by four points to 14, a National Australia Bank survey found. The measure of business conditions was down by one point to three points. By comparison, private sector activity has risen since the Reserve Bank of Australia lifted interest rates by 0.25 percentage points. The survey's profitability index dropped by seven points to four points – a common trend after interest rate rises, says TD Securities senior strategist Annette Beacher. Page 3.

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West Australia's (WA) Labor Party has blocked a controversial move from the state's Premier, Colin Barnett, to extend weeknight trading hours to 8pm. Treasurer Troy Buswell has criticised the Labor Party as "flat earthers" and "Luddities," but not fellow Nationals who refused to vote in favour of the push. Mr Barnett has responded to the rejection by calling WA a "laughing stock" that would remain in the "dark ages." Opposition Leader Eric Ripper said yesterday that Labor would support a 7pm closing time. Page 3.

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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has written to members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, and other world leaders, to support an Australian-sponsored conference on the Asia Pacific Community initiative. The proposed event would be in Sydney during December. Mr Rudd and former diplomat Richard Woolcott will address the East Asia Summit in Thailand on reforming regional architecture, before visiting the November Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum annual summit, where they will argue their case. Page 5.

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THE AUSTRALIAN (www.theaustralian.news.com.au)

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has had no choice but to expand the Christmas Island immigration detention centre in order to avoid moving asylum-seekers to the mainland. Since entering office, Labor has dismantled the Pacific Solution of offshore processing, and replaced it with a risk-based approach to mandatory detention. A Lowy Institute poll shows that 76 percent of Australians are concerned about unauthorised asylum-seekers. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull accuses Mr Rudd of losing "control of our borders." Page 1.

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Federal Human Services Minister Chris Bowen has announced plans to boost incentives for low income earners in order to encourage superannuation investment. At a Super Ratings conference in Melbourne, Mr Bowen called for a national debate on lifting compulsory employer super contribution, which the Henry tax review recommended to create "adequate" retire incomes. However, former Treasurer Peter Costello says that Labor should avoid "tinkering with the system" because the sector needs stability. Page 2.

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A technique called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) could save more swine flu patients whose lungs have been severely damaged by the deadly virus. According to a Melbourne study, the death rate of patients recently treated with EMCO, which is often used for heart failure or heart-lung transplant patients, was 21 percent – much less than the usual death rate of up to 48 percent for EMCO-treated acute respiratory disease patients. The findings were published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Page 3.

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Royal Hospital of Brisbane and Women's Hospital Addiction Psychology Director Mark Daglish has warned Australian drinkers to beware of brain damage. Mr Daglish says that excessive alcohol consumption can bring damage and memory loss linked to vitamin B1 deficiency. Regular "heavy" drinking or daily drinking can increase the chance of serious brain damage. "[Magnetic resonance imaging] pictures…show a shrunken brain with extra fluid about it that we generally nickname the picked walnut," Mr Daglish says. Page 3.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (www.smh.com.au)

Key Chinese Adviser Jiang Kejun, who leads a climate change modelling team affiliated with China's National Development and Reform Commission, says the communist-ruled country recognises that it can be a clean energy leader. Mr Jiang told Federal Climate Change Minister Penny Wong that it would not be hard for Australia to create a positive signal with "ambitious" targets, even though the country uses a "lot of coal." Ms Wong will meet with China's Reform Commission vice-chairman Xie Zhenhua tomorrow. Page 1.

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Administrative charges are higher than the Federal Government had first declared for its A$14.7 billion school building program. According to documents the Opposition obtained, West Pymble Primary School costs include a 5.5 percent management fee of A$259,042, while Annangrove Public School has a management fee of A$29,864, with an extra A$18,045 coordination fee. The New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education and Training, and the NSW Education director-general have defended the costs. Page 1.

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Driver Penelope Woodbridge was driving under the influence of alcohol, when she collided with an on-coming car in Sydney's northern suburbs, a District Court trial has found. Ms Woodbridge initially refused to be breath-tested after a collision left Maher Haddad seriously injured, and killed his wife, Evette. However, a sample taken later revealed that Ms Woodbridge's blood alcohol level was up to 0.332 during the crash. Defence barrister Eugene Wasilenia says the defendant was in a "dissociative state" before the crash. Page 2.

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Former Premier Bob Carr has denounced the New South Wales Labor Government for cutting club poker machine taxes, calling it a "waste of public money" that has only made clubs more "lavish." Mr Carr says there was no reason for the following Premier, Morris Iemma, to abandon plans to increase the taxes. "One member of the Labor caucus was in and out of the headquarters of ClubsNSW so often that in my view…he may have warranted an ICAC [Independent Commission Against Corruption] inquiry," Mr Carr said. Page 2.

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THE AGE (www.theage.com.au)

The Victorian Government is believed to be considering a proposal to allow for the export of 12 million tonnes of brown coal a year to Indian power stations. Government documents are thought to concede that the export of brown coal, which emits far more greenhouse gases when burned to generate power than most alternative fuels, could cause a community backlash. The proposal would see fuel company Exergen dry the coal before export, with Exergen also exploring technology to reduce the fuel's emissions. Page 1.

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The Reserve Bank of Australia has been called upon to explain a number of multi-million dollar payments to off-shore tax havens by its bank-note firm, Securency. The request came from the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, after revelations that more than A$10 million has been paid to middlemen hired to help Securency win banknote deals in African countries. "I think the [the Reserve Bank] should explain. I think that corruption is a two-way street: there are those who give and those who take," Mr Sanusi said. Page 1.

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A member of Melbourne's Stonnington City Council who ran an anti-violence campaign prior to his appointment to the council around a year ago, was arrested, handcuffed and capsicum-sprayed by police on Saturday night. Cr Nicholls' Facebook site says "Council must work in partnership with the State Government and police to both deter violent and anti-social behaviour locally and do our bit to solve the broader problems." Cr Nicholls has not commented on the incident. Page 3.

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Federal judges have received their second pay rise in a month after the Remuneration Tribunal awarded a 1.5 percent increase yesterday and indicated it is likely to award three further 1.5 percent increases over the next two years. The increase comes after a separate 3 percent increase last month. The tribunal said its decision was based on consideration of the judge's increased workload and legal complexity. However, the tribunal rejected a claim that Federal judges are paid too little relative to High Court judges. Page 5. --

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