Dec 31, 2015

The great Labor-union con job exposed

The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption began hearings 20 months ago when the Herald, like so many others, felt angry and cheated by unions and their Labor Party mates. The royal commission's damning final report released on Wednesday will only inflame that anger and entrench a sense that the broader community has been conned.
The con has been committed not just by what federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten calls "a small number" of union leaders. It has been part of what commissioner Dyson Heydon calls "an enormous iceberg" of misconduct in a movement which allows room for "louts, thugs, bullies, thieves, perjurers, those who threaten violence, errant fiduciaries and organisers of boycotts".

The con has been perpetrated, too, by those in the Labor Party who tolerate and benefit career-wise from a party structure that accepts, even supports, union misbehaviour. The justification for Labor – that unions are essential to protecting workers, social equity and the safety net – cannot justify criminal actions and breaches of basic accountability, especially when only 11 per cent of non-government workers are union members and when a more democratic political party structure could achieve the aim even more efficiently.
It is clearer than ever that the union-linked Labor Party of 2015 can never argue for fairness and good governance while the union sore festers. 

The royal commission on Wednesday predictably recommended consideration of criminal charges and administrative action against scores of unions and unionists, foremost among them the construction union, Kathy Jackson from the Health Services Union and Victorian MP Cesar ​Melhem, who was state head of Mr Shorten's Australian Workers Union.

The report makes no legal recommendations about Mr Shorten, although it outlines he was in charge of the AWU when 13 false invoices were recorded, and that he instituted talks for an agreement that eventually paid a big company for industrial peace. He also played a part in recruitment of workers whose membership was never properly recorded. He benefited from a research officer paid for by a company. The AWU has been referred to Victoria prosecutors and the Fair Work Commission for possible legal action, too.

Labor has committed to supporting legal action against those named adversely in the report. That is the bare minimum. The party has blocked legislation on union governance and increasing independence of union-linked industry superannuation funds. It is seeking government co-operation in adjusting the legislation, and asks Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull not to make the union issue the focus of the next election.

How union corruption figures in the next election depends solely on Mr Shorten. To win voter trust and survive as Labor leader, he needs to ditch the party's rhetoric that this royal commission was only a political witch-hunt. True, the conflict of interest revealed by Justice Heydon in agreeing to give a Liberal-linked speech has forever diminished the standing of his findings. And the commissioner's language at the start of the final report is remarkably strong for an otherwise reserved former High Court judge:  "You can look at any area of Australia. You can look at any unionised industry … These aberrations cannot be regarded as isolated. They are not the work of a few rogue unions, or a few rogue officials. The misconduct exhibits great variety. It is widespread. It is deep-seated."

But no amount of criticism of Justice Heydon's personal views can overcome the mountain of evidence against the labour movement. Mr Shorten or his successor must work with the government and crossbenchers to implement the workable parts of the commissioner's law reform recommendations. 
These include a single independent and powerful regulator for unions and employer bodies. Indeed, the report made adverse recommendations about numerous executives from large commercial organisations. The report also suggests bigger fines for criminal and administrative breaches; new laws to prevent the sort of deals the AWU struck with businesses; separation of election funds from members' money; and greater liability for union officials – salaried and volunteers –  who tolerate shonky union practices.

Most of all, Labor must reform party-union links, by democratising preselections and policy making, to remove the skewed, disproportionate influence of unions. Should Labor shirk those challenges, the Turnbull government will fight the forthcoming election on the same grounds that Liberal leader Barry O'Farrell fought the 2011 NSW election – and won in a landslide.  Only Mr Shorten can avoid a repeat of that outcome federally next year.

Unions royal commission: companies strife over ‘corrupt’ payments

Three companies, including construction heavyweight John Holland, have been referred by the trade union royal commission to Victorian police to be investig­ated for funnelling allegedly corrupt payments of up to $300,000 to unions.
Eleven current and former executives and managers from eight firms also have been referred to authorities for further investigation into possible offences, including corruption, false accounting and other breaches of corporate law.
Trade union royal commissioner Dyson Heydon slammed the undocumented payment of large sums of money by corporations to the Australian Workers Union and other trade bodies, saying they “reinforce a culture of unlawfulness within unions”.
“The seeking and making of corrupting benefits fosters a particular culture within the unions and their officials that seek, and the employers and their executives that confer, such benefits,’' Mr Heydon found.
“It is a culture that is antithetical to the rule of law.
“Threatening and bullying behaviour by union officials is rewarded. Genuine safety and industrial issues are ignored to the advantage of employers.”
Among the executives facing further investigation is the chief executive of industry super­annuation fund Cbus, David Atkin, who was referred to the Australian Securities & Investments Commission. The royal commission found Mr Atkin may have contravened the Corporations Act when he was involved in the leaking from Cbus to the ­Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union of confidential members’ information.
A senior executive of engineering services firm Downer EDI, Tony Sirsen, was referred to Victorian police for alleged false accounting over $25,000 paid to the AWU by the company.
The referrals came as key industry bodies and companies endorsed Mr Heydon’s findings.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the highest priority should be given to the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, as recommended by Mr Heydon.
“Essentially, the laws which the royal commission is proposing would achieve much greater transparency and disclosure, and higher penalties for those who break the law,” Mr Willox said.
Building materials giant Boral’s chief executive, Mike Kane, a long-time critic of the CFMEU, said the commission ­report was significant because it provided a clear pathway to ­reform. “In future, organisations illegally targeted can get immediate assistance from government to halt conduct designed to financially punish law-abiding businesses who get in the way of the illegal designs of rogue unions like the CFMEU’s construction division,” he said.

Dec 30, 2015

A 'Celtic Curse' Has Roots Stretching Back To The Bronze Age : Shots - Health News : NPR

A 'Celtic Curse' Has Roots Stretching Back To The Bronze Age : Shots - Health News : NPR

Ireland saw pre-historic migration from Mideast, Eastern Europe: study - Yahoo7

Ireland saw pre-historic migration from Mideast, Eastern Europe: study - Yahoo7

Open source router makes all other routers look woefully behind the times - TechRepublic

Most routers are pretty boring. They direct traffic in and out of your network (hopefully doing so with at least a modicum of security). But while they sit by idly waiting for packets to route, they do nothing. And as for updating...that's generally on the user to handle.
There's a crowd funded piece of technology that aims to change all of that. The Turris Omnia is a router of a completely different nature. Not only does it automatically update its firmware (as soon as a vulnerability is discovered and patched), it can serve as a DNLA (Digital Living Network Alliance), a backup server (you have to plug in an external drive for this), you can insert a SIM card to ensure connection failover, connect to SFP, and much more. The Omnia is based on OpenWRT and is, as you might expect, open source).
The project has already reached its goals (by 367% as of this writing) and is ready to start shipping devices in April, 2016.
Of course, this particular product won't come cheap. As of now, to get in on the fun you'll have to drop $189.00 USD. Is it worth it? At first blush, you might be thinking "no". Especially for a consumer application, a router with such a price tag seems a bit much.
Or is it?
Consider this: The need for security is at an all time high. Businesses get that. Consumers, on the other hand, do not. The average consumer still assumes "password" is too much of a password to have to remember or type. Those same users also assume that low-end router their ISP handed them two years ago is up to the task of keeping their network and data safe.
Chances are, it's not.
I'm not necessarily saying everyone should immediately drop the coin for the Turris Omnia. But the idea that some generic router is up capable of handling modern-day network security is laughable. I get it, though. The router is the last piece of equipment anyone thinks about...until their network goes down. Most users have no idea how insecure an outdated router can be. Those same users have no idea how to log onto their router and check for updates. Some routers, such as the Motorola devices used by AT&T UVERSE, don't even offerthe ability for users to update the software (they automatically update whenever the AT&T management platform rolls out an upgrade during a maintenance window, based on geolocation.
You should see the danger in that. When a vulnerability is found, that update might not hit your router for a while...leaving you unprotected. That, my friends, is why a router like the Turris Omnia is such an important upgrade to the home network. And because the Omnia is open source, vulnerabilities will be found and patched much more quickly than if it were proprietary.
And if you're still a bit concerned about the cost of this router, consider the specs:
  • CPU: 1.6 GHz dual-core ARM
  • RAM: 1 GB DDR3
  • Storage: 4 GB flash
  • LAN 5x Gbit port
  • WAN 1x Gbit port
  • USB 3.0
You'd be hard pressed to find another consumer-grade router with similar specs. So you can believe this baby will perform. And with the addition of the upgrade feature, the Omnia will be the router to have for anyone concerned about the security of their home network.
Which should be everyone.
Is it perfect? No one knows yet. It is, however, a promising piece of technology that should go a long way to show the home networking space is in much need of improvement.
Would you be willing to pay the high price for such a unique router?

Dec 29, 2015

China Broadens Campaign Against Terrorism With Sweeping New Law - Bloomberg Business

China Broadens Campaign Against Terrorism With Sweeping New Law - Bloomberg Business

Healthy food labels 'fuel obesity crisis' say Austin McCombs School of Business | Daily Mail Online

Health labels on food could be making people fatter rather than helping them to lose weight, a study has found. People eat more food than they should if it is labelled healthy because they think it is less filling than fatty options. 

Consumers tend to binge when they see nutritional signs because they automatically assume they are making a better choice. As a result they could end up consuming more calories overall, researchers said. 
The results suggest that, while eating too much is often the cause of obesity, eating too much healthy food could make you fat too.

Food labels tend to make people fat - especially if those foods are labeled as 'healthy.' That's because people tend to binge on foods they believe are healthy, and end up consuming too many calories, a new study found 
Food labels in the UK have been a source of controversy and products are supposed to have a ‘traffic light’ system which shows how much salt, fat and sugar the item contains.
But some consumers see the labels as overbearing and another example of the nanny state.
The researchers conducted three experiments; the first involved 50 participants who were tested to see how they saw the relationship between the concepts of healthy and filling.
The second test involved measuring the hunger levels of 40 people after eating a cookie that was described as either healthy or unhealthy.

In the third study 72 people were asked to measure the impact of how food was portrayed on the amount they ordered before watching a short film.

This was compared to the amount of food they actually ate during the screening.
The three studies showed that consumers hold an implicit belief that healthy foods are less filling than unhealthy foods.
In particular, when the food had a label on the front which described it as healthy, test participants were more likely to eat more than they should.
The study said: ‘The findings suggest that the recent proliferation of healthy food labels may be ironically contributing to the obesity epidemic rather than reducing it.'
The research was carried out by the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business but has implications for British consumers too.
The last overhaul of nutritional food labelling in the UK was in 2013 when the current ‘traffic light’ system was introduced.

Consumers tend to binge when they see nutritional signs because they automatically assume they are making a better choice. As a result they could end up consuming more calories overall, researchers said 

Foods with high levels of salt, sugar or fat are in labelled in red with the amount written in.
Foods with moderate levels are in yellow and low levels are in green.
The label also shows the percentage of your daily recommended allowance for each that the item contains.

However a University of Birmingham study found that many consumers experienced ‘information overload’ when looking at the labels and could not understand what they were reading.

In one test, 40 per cent of shoppers could not identify the healthier product when comparing two traffic light systems with a horizontal and circular layout.
Previous studies have claimed that food companies are not telling the truth about what their products contain, making it harder still to make an informed choice. 

Battered, bruised and jumpy — the whole world is on edge -

Daniel Pudles illustration

©Daniel Pudles

n 2015, a sense of unease and foreboding seemed to settle on all the world’s major power centres. From Beijing to Washington, Berlin to Brasília, Moscow to Tokyo — governments, media and citizens were jumpy and embattled.
This kind of globalised anxiety is unusual. For the past 30 years and more, there has been at least one world power that was bullishly optimistic. In the late 1980s the Japanese were still enjoying a decades-long boom — and confidently buying up assets all over the world. In the 1990s America basked in victory in the cold war and a long economic expansion. In the early 2000s the EU was in a buoyant mood, launching a single currency and nearly doubling its membership. And for most of the past decade, the growing political and economic power of China has inspired respect all over the world.
Yet at the moment all the big players seem uncertain — even fearful. 

The only partial exception that I came across this year was India, where the business and political elite still seemed buoyed by the reformist zeal of prime minister Narendra Modi.

By contrast, in Japan, faith is fading that the radical reforms, known as Abenomics, can truly break the country’s cycle of debt and deflation. Japanese anxiety is fed by continuing tensions with China.

 However, my main impression from a visit to China, early in the year, is that this too is a country that feels much less stable than it did even a couple of years ago. The era when the government effortlessly delivered growth of 8 per cent or more a year is over. Concerns about domestic financial stability are mounting, as the upheavals in the Shanghai stock exchange over the summer revealed.

However, the main source of anxiety is political. President Xi Jinping’s leadership is more dynamic but also less predictable than that of his predecessors. Fear is spreading among officials and business people, who are scared of being caught up in an anti-corruption drive that has led to the arrest of more than 100,000 people.

The slowing of the Chinese economy has had global ramifications. 

When China was fuelling a commodities boom, Brazil was pulled along like a water-skier attached to a speedboat. This year, though, the Brazilian economy sank beneath the waves, contracting by 4.5 per cent. President Dilma Rousseff has been caught up in a corruption scandal amid attempts to impeach her.
The mood in Europe is also bleak. The year was framed by two bloody terrorist attacks in Paris. The economic crisis that has bedevilled the continent for several years threatened to come to a head in July, as Greece teetered on the edge of expulsion from the eurozone. 

Meanwhile,Germany — which has stood out as a beacon of political and economic strength — is now struggling to cope with the arrival of more than 1m refugees, mostly fleeing conflict in the Middle East. The euro had already created divides between Germany and the nations of southern Europe, and the refugee crisis has driven a wedge between it and countries to the east. Meanwhile, Britain is threatening to leave the EU and French voters are turning to the far-right in ever greater numbers.
If you judge by the economic figures, the US should be an exception to all this gloom. The country is in the sixth year of an economic expansion. Unemployment is about 5 per cent. 

The US dominates the internet economy. And yet the public mood is sour. The prospect that the Republicans, one of America’s two great political parties, might genuinely nominate Donald Trump, a boorish demagogue, as its candidate for the presidency, does not suggest that the US is at ease with itself. Indeed, Mr Trump’s entire campaign — and that of his main rivals for the GOP nomination — is based around the idea that America is in dangerous decline. Beyond these local factors, are there common elements behind this global unease? Clearly, the world economy has not fully recovered from the financial crisis. There is also a widespread fear that, after years of highly unorthodox monetary policy, another financial or economic crisis might be building.

On the political and security front, the implosion of the Middle East continues. Outside powers have proved unable to restore order to the region and are finding that disorder is spreading to Africa and Europe, in the form of refugees and jihadi terrorism.

The biggest common factor is also the hardest to pin down — a bubbling anti-elite sentiment, combining anxiety about inequality and rage about corruption that is visible in countries as different as France, Brazil, China and the US.

In America and Europe, such complaints are often linked to a pervasive narrative of national decline. These social and economic anxieties have political side effects, fuelling a demand for “strong” leaders, such as Mr Xi, Mr Trump or Vladimir Putin of Russia, who promise (however hypocritically) to tackle the corrupt elites, fight for the little guy and stand up for the nation.

The global gloom makes the international political system feel like a patient that is still struggling to recover from a severe illness which began with the financial crisis of 2008. If there are no further bad shocks, recovery should proceed gradually and the worst political symptoms may fade. The patient is vulnerable, however. Another severe shock, such as a major terrorist attack or a serious economic downturn, could spell real trouble.

Dec 28, 2015

Chilling climate of UN control | Maurice Newman

Like ancient Druids pleading with the gods for good seasons, world leaders and their aides recently devoted a fortnight in Paris to pleading with each other to stop global temperatures from rising more than an average 2C above pre-industrial levels, when the Earth was emerging from the Little Ice Age.
Of the 196 nations represented at the COP21 conference, 154 were developing economies. Regardless of the direction of world temperatures, they left Paris happy that the UN’s Green Climate Fund, which aims to reach $US100 billion a year by 2020, will give them cash for anything they can pass off as remotely ­related to their intended national contributions to world CO2 ­reduction. They argue this is only fair. Poor countries fare worst from climate change and must be compensated for unspecified damage and their share of repairing the West’s legacy. You can bet $US100bn a year won’t do it.
Overwhelmingly, the money for the fund will come from 42 guilt-racked wealthy nations. That is their moral responsibility. They caused the warming. They threaten the planet. It’s time for them to repay their climate debts.
It matters not that there is no empirical scientific evidence to support these claims. Even the 2C target is not based on science, it was originally plucked out of thin air by the European People’s Party for election purposes. But then climate change is not about credible scientific evidence. It has its roots in Marxism, and ultimately the Green Fund is presided over by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, run by Costa Rican Marxist Christiana Figueres. The “paradigm-shifting” fund will provide employment for an army of green bureaucrats who will offer “concessional finance” for the development needs of less advanced countries.
China, the leading emitter, venting one billion tonnes of CO2 a year more than it admits to, has been adroit in dealing with the politics. It approaches its domestic air quality crisis under the banner of climate action and so turns a domestic necessity into a global virtue. From this and its lack of interest in aid for itself, China projects moral authority and, while there is no cap on its emissions and only a promise that they will peak by 2030, promotes emission restraints for others, for its own competitive advantage.
India has adopted a similar line. The world’s third largest emitter is set to overtake China. It will not accept constraints on ­development and does not spell out when emissions will peak. Like China, it will adopt cleaner energy to improve air quality and will claim UN compensation.
Having successfully captured the West, post-Paris, the noose will tighten. Despite assurances that intended nationally determined contributions, delivered before the conference, would keep temperature increases to no more than 2C, we are now told that even if fully implemented, temperatures will rise by 2.7C by 2100. So the Paris agreement will “only lay the groundwork” and all those hard-won pledges were based on a miscalculation.
How disappointing. But there is now an aspirational 1.5C ambition on the table that Figueres quickly endorsed. Should it ever be agreed to, expect more ambit claims. And without a Tony ­Abbott in Canberra or a Stephen Harper in Ottawa, no world leader utters a peep in protest.
Caught in a moral dilemma of its own making, the developed world concedes its culpability. Its representatives succumb to propaganda and bullying and credulously accept bogus science and catastrophism. They pay no heed to alternative views. They consider abandoning fossil fuels, the world’s cheapest, most ­efficient and wealth-creating power source, and baulk at ­nuclear alternatives.
Instead, they pour hundreds of billions of dollars into costly, ­­in-efficient renewable energy, robbing their industries of flexibility and competitiveness and, punishing the world’s poorest citizens.
Indeed, Western capitalist societies have given up on rational thinking. They embrace junk ­science and junk economics and adopt wealth-destroying postmodern pseudo-economics, which teaches that taxpayer subsidies can produce desirable “economic transformation” and faster growth. Pigs may also fly.
Climate change has cowed once great powers into meekly surrendering sovereignty and independent thought to unelected bureaucrats in Geneva. From the White House to the Lodge, private choice now runs a distant second to collectivist visions.
Although only an aspiration now, the 1.5C target will be relentlessly pursued until adopted. The media, in step with the Green ­Machine, will bombard us with climate alarmism to the applause of the leader of the free world, Barack Obama, who says: “My mission is to make the world aware that climate change is a bigger threat than terrorism.” ­Really? That’s serious. Clearly authority, not common sense or science, now rules the world.
While some activists such as James Hansen may criticise the Paris agreement as “worthless words”, those such as Figueres, interested in reconfiguring the world’s political and economic structure, will be pleased with progress. We are another step closer to her ideal of ‘‘centralised transformation”, with the UN at the authoritarian centre, calling the shots and doling out transfer payments from the rich to ensure poor countries remain her ­mendicants. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says: “If we really want to put an end to global poverty, if we really want to make the world healthier and planet Earth environmentally sustainable, we have first to address the climate change issue.”
The only certainty to come out of COP21 is that there will be a COP22.

Dec 24, 2015

Romancing the Sunni: A US policy tragedy in three acts; Act II – Asia Times

The young jihadists were not interested in good relations with the Sunni states, whose legitimacy they denied. For them control of territory was simply  a tool for worldwide jihad. They brought religious enthusiasm and attracted tens of thousands of Sunni recruits eager to kill infidels for Allah — Shia first, but anyone else as well. Whether they had come from Saudi Arabia or not, their theology was Wahhabi, the practical essence of which is license to declare other Muslims to be non-Muslims and hence deserving of death. Gradually, the jihadists gained ascendance over the Baathists. As this Sunni-stan became Daesh/ISIS, it troubled the entire world.

Dec 21, 2015

PM’s subtle shift of rhetoric

After The Australian’s revelation last week that ASIO Director-General Duncan Lewis had phoned Coalition MPs to urge them to use soothing language when publicly discussing Islam and terrorism, Malcolm Turnbull was unequivocal.
The Prime Minister denied he had directed Mr Lewis to talk to “anybody in particular” but confirmed he had encouraged him to speak to “as many people as possible”. What Mr Turnbull did not mention, however, is what The Sunday Telegraph in Sydney revealed yesterday. That is, Mr Turnbull personally texted Mr Lewis with the mobile phone number of Liberal MP and former SAS soldier Andrew Hastie, the recently elected member for Canning. Mr Hastie, who fought the Taliban in Afghanistan, has argued that Islamic teachings are linked to terrorism and that the religion needed to “cohere with the Australian way of life”. Rightly, he is standing by his views, which are eminently reasonable and reflect the common sense of most Australians.
At a time when Australia, like much of the world, is under pressure from Islamist extremists, Mr Lewis, 62, is well qualified for his job and has given the nation splendid service. During his 33-year military career he commanded the SAS and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was appointed National Security Adviser in 2008, served as Secretary of the Defence Department and as ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, the European Union and NATO.
But he and Mr Turnbull have miscalculated in allowing ASIO to be drawn into the political fray, including internal Coalition politics. As Paul Kelly wrote on Saturday, conservatives in the Coalition expect Mr Turnbull to be resolute on national security — which he is, mostly, — and firm in discussing the problems of Islam. Mr Lewis’s calls to two MPs irritated some in the Coalition. As West Australian Liberal senator Dean Smith said there was a risk the calls could have a “chilling effect’’ on the ability of MPs and others to ­exercise free speech. Mr Turnbull is now at the centre of the controversy after the revelation he gave Mr Lewis the number for Mr Hastie.

Dec 18, 2015

Australia ranks second-best in the world for quality of life, UN study says

Australia has been ranked as the second-best country in the world for its quality of life by a UN report that assessed economic, education and life-expectancy data.
The nation's "Human Development Index" (HDI) was measured at 0.935 out of a maximum score of one, coming second to Norway and beating Switzerland, which has held on to third place in 2015's annual report.
The top three rankings, Norway, Australia and Switzerland, are unchanged from a year ago.
The score was calculated by crunching data on what the UN says are the "three basic dimensions of human development". They are: life expectancy at birth, mean and expected years of schooling and standard of living, which is measured by gross national income per capita.
Australians can expect to live on average to about 82 1/2 years, have a mean 13 years of schooling and the gross national income per person is $58,618.
And despite Australian women living on average four years longer and spending more time hitting the books, men's average gross national income was significantly higher at $70,620 compared with the woman's average of $46,727.
In Norway, the only country ranked higher than Australia, life expectancy was lower at 81.6 years and the mean years of schooling were 12.6 but citizens enjoy a much bigger slice of the national pie.

Dec 17, 2015

Modern life causes 90 per cent of common cancers, not faulty genes

The paper, published in the journal Nature, challenges the controversial theory that a large proportion of cancers are the inevitable result of cellular mistakes in the human body. Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York examined the genetic “fingerprints” of several cancers to calculate how much of the risk was down to environmental factors.
They estimated that between 70 and 90 per cent of the most widespread cancers had extrinsic causes, which include ultraviolet radiation, pollution, stress and other factors that are within people’s control. However, other kinds such as brain cancers are much more likely to be the result of the body’s natural repair mechanisms going haywire.

Does the regulator need to step in on pension transfers? | Ben Cocks | LinkedIn

Pension transfers are central to the reforms sweeping through the pension industry. Unless customers can transfer their pensions from one provider to another easily, quickly and cheaply then competition between providers will be stifled and the new pension freedoms will not have the intended liberating effect.
Unless employees who frequently change jobs can keep track of their pensions and, without too much effort, consolidate their savings into a single manageable account then auto-enrolment will create millions of small orphan pension pots to the detriment of the employee and the pension administrator.
In recognition of this, almost every organisation involved in pensions has instigated a transfer initiative. Whilst the DWP automatic transfer policy has been shelved for the time being, HM Treasury is running a pension transfer consultation and both the FCA and tPR have run separate investigations. There are also cross-industry programmes of work for the pension dashboard, open standards, open declarations and common legal agreements.
Although each of these initiatives has a different focus there is wide agreement on the need for a common technical and legal framework. TISA has led much of the work to establish that open pension transfer framework which is built on the foundation of their very successful work on ISA transfers. The framework comprises open technical standards from the UKFMPG (UK Funds Market Practice Group) based on ISO 20022 messages, a common legal agreement from TISA Exchange to define the obligations and liabilities of each party, a common set of service levels and management information, and an open declaration to help secure clear authority from the customer.
This open standard framework allows multiple competing technology vendors to offer interoperable systems. Each segment of the disparate UK pension industry can get the best solution for their needs without imposing it on everyone else. Technology vendors are free to innovate, to provide better, quicker and cheaper systems, and to couple transfer systems with other services. The end customer benefits from a much improved service and lower costs.
Take up of the open pension transfer framework has not been as quick as it was for stock and shares ISAs. This is partly due to the more complex structure of the pension industry with two regulators and a plethora of trade bodies. This makes it harder for joined up solutions to take hold. And it may also reflect the fact that the improvement in ISA transfers was driven by regulation in the form of RDR. But every single cross-industry pension transfer initiative to date has concluded that the open standard framework is the best answer. It only remains to be seen whether the industry can get there quickly enough on its own or whether it too will require a regulatory prompt.

Slater and Gordon dumps earnings guidance, shares plunge

Beleaguered law firm Slater and Gordon has conceded it is struggling to accurately forecast its financial performance, after worse than expected results from its UK business forced it to abandon its earnings guidance. 
The company's shares plunged more than 20 per cent in early trade before recovering to be down 11.6 per cent at 95¢ in mid-morning trade. 
Slater and Gordon's shares have fallen 89 per cent in the past 12 months following a series of questions about its accounting practices and the performance of its UK legal services business, Quindell, which it acquired in March for $1.3 billion 
Slater and Gordon.
Slater and Gordon.
But chief executive Andrew Grech told investors on Thursday that "lower than expected trading results in segments of the business in the UK in November" and a review of the company's forecasting processes by new chief financial officer Bryce Houghton had forced the company to withdraw its guidance.  
"We have previously advised the market that the performance of our UK operations during the first half has not been in line with our expectations," Mr Grech said in a statement. 
"It is now clear to us that the slower rate of case resolutions in the first half has had a larger impact than previously thought, and that this may well flow through to a reduced profit for the full year.

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Baby formula shortage in Australia: Why a Woolworths docket is worth a motza | HeraldSun

THIS flimsy scrap of paper is worth $144 — but for a grey market exporter with a crack team of supermarket trawlers in tow, it represents untold millions.
We all know Chinese parents are willing to pay a premium for Australian baby formula, with milk powders flying off supermarket shelves and leaving locals scrambling to find stock.
But it’s the humble shopper docket that holds the key to the lucrative trade, with insiders revealing it serves as a “certificate of authenticity” for the sought-after goods.
Sold along with the $56 receipt, these two cans of Bellamy’s organic infant formula bought at Woolworths Redfern on Wednesday could fetch about $200 in China.
And they’re being exported by the pallet load as part of a booming grey market worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Sydney mum Victoria Downey feeds her daughter Miranda Slack Aptamil formula. Picture: Mike Dugdale
Think China Director Benjamin Sun, a marketing expert who specialises in Chinese commerce, told that exporters routinely sold baby formula into China along with proof of purchase.
This reassures buyers they are getting the real authentic “clean and green” Australian products sold at retailers like Coles, Woolworths and Chemist’s Warehouse.
Mr Sun said exporters also wrapped cans of formula in Australian newspapers while packing them for export, as further proof of their provenance.
He said it was this evidence that allowed the cans to be sold at a massively inflated prices on Chinese supermarket shelves in a grey export market worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
“In China at the moment, I can see that shops are selling infant formula for $100 a can,” Mr Sun said.
The losers in this game are the Australian families who are struggling to get their hands on the precious formula when they need it — along with creeping price increases.
Popular brand Bellamy’s recently raised its prices by up to 30 per cent; it now retails for $28.
Baby formula for sale at a Carrefour supermarket in Qingdao. Prices are in Chinese yuan.
It’s not just Chinese Australians shipping gifts of formula to their families overseas; so-called buying agents send shipping containers of the stuff to retailers in China, just like any other commercial export industry.
In telling images captured in China on Wednesday afternoon, cans of Australian-made formula line the shelves of a Carrefour supermarket in the port city of Qingdao, where they sell for three to four times the Australian retail price.
Enfapro A+ infant formula is being sold for $77.31 (RMB 360) per can, Eleva for $100.72 (RMB 469) and Nestle Nan H.A for $66.57 (RMB 310).
Most baby formula brands retail in Australia for $18 to $28. Nestle Nan H.A can be bought as cheaply as $16.70 a can at Woolworths in Sydney.