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May, 2019

Low-ball Calliden takeover in trouble as opposition mounts

Stephen Atkinson, of Adam Smith Investments, has doubts over the Calliden dealInstitutional investor opposition to the sale of insurer Calliden is hardening, with mounting indications the bid by Steadfast may be in trouble, as a shareholder vote on the proposal looms.
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Fund manager Adam Smith Asset Management has gone public with its opposition to the offer, which it deems to be too low. It joined NAOS Asset Management, which earlier expressed the view that the offer on the table for the company “arguably undervalues the company”.

Steadfast is offering 41.5¢ cash a share for insurer Calliden, with shareholders also to receive a 5¢-a-share special dividend.

The offer, via a scheme of arrangement, can be defeated if 25 per cent of the shares vote against it at a shareholder meeting on December 8.

Indicating the poor value of the bid for Calliden shareholders is the fact that Steadfast’s share price has rallied on the bid move, fund managers said.

“We feel Steadfast can  – and should – be paying more this with or without a competing bid,” Adam Smith director Stephen Atkinson said.

“At 46.5¢, the independent expert has ‘low-balled’ the bid.”

The independent expert has assessed the full underlying value of the shares to be in the range of 45.7¢ to 51.1¢, so the 46.5¢ payment per share is at the low end of the range.

However, Calliden has significant franking credits and substantial tax losses that Adam Smith feels have been undervalued. Additionally, the expert valuation has attached a low figure to the worth of Calliden’s insurance underwriting unit as well as undervaluing its insurance broking arm

“We don’t feel Steadfast is paying a very full price for the business,” Adam Smith’s Mr Atkinson said.

Others, such as activist investor Sandon Capital, are also unhappy with the bid price.

“We haven’t made a decision” whether to support the bid, Sandon’s Gabriel Radzyminski said.

“We’ll probably wait until the very end to see if there is a change to the offer.

“It’s a very good price for Steadfast.”

At its December 31 balance date, Calliden had in hand $26 million of franking credits, which will still be sizeable after paying the planned 5¢-a-share special dividend and 1¢ interim payout that will chew an estimated half of this balance.

Since the Steadfast offer was disclosed, Calliden shares have regularly traded 0.5¢ above the imputed value of the offer, although usually with only small volumes traded at the higher price.

This occurred again just over a week ago when a small parcel was traded at 47¢, slightly higher than the theoretical value of 46.5¢.

Under a scheme of arrangement, the proposal could fail if more than 25 per cent of shares vote to oppose the deal. Calliden has a handful of shareholders with large stakes.

Australian Unity holds 13 per cent, with a range of other fund managers such as First Samuel, NAOS, Greencape and Challenger holding  6 to 8 per cent.

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

Australia’s detention of refugees is forbidden by international law: UN Committee Against Torture

Sri Lanka arrests returned asylum seekersDetainee: I was raped on Nauru
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Geneva: Australia’s detention of refugees, including children, is ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’ forbidden by international law, a United Nations report has found.

The report released on Friday in Geneva by the UN Committee Against Torture called on Australia to stop putting asylum seekers into mandatory detention, and to make sure that asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru are treated more humanely, and their claims are promptly and properly assessed.

“The combination of … harsh conditions, the protracted periods of closed detention and uncertainty about the future reportedly creates serious physical and mental pain and suffering,” the report said.

In written observations the committee said Australia should repeal the laws that send all ‘irregular’ arrivals into mandatory detention.

Under the Convention Against Torture, Australia must prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when people are imprisoned or detained.

Claudio Grossman, chair of the ten-person committee and the “rapporteur” who investigated Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, told Fairfax that during his investigation Australia had not provided him with evidence of its compliance with this convention.

He said Australia had failed to show that it was not sending asylum seekers back to countries where they faced a “substantial risk of torture”.

He added it was clear that Australia had “effective control” over the detention centres in PNG and Nauru, and so it was responsible for ensuring that they complied with Australia’s obligations under the convention.

“When there is mandatory detention of undocumented immigrants and children, that runs counter to our interpretation of the convention,” he said.

The committee said it was “concerned that detention continues to be mandatory for all unauthorised arrivals, including for children,” in the report compiled after hearing evidence from human rights groups as well as the Australian government.

“Detention should be only applied as a last resort,” the report said, only when “strictly necessary” in each individual case, and should be for as short a time as possible.

It said it was concerned at Australia’s policy of transferring asylum seekers to processing centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, “despite reports on the harsh conditions prevailing in these centres, including … overcrowding, inadequate health care and even allegations of sexual abuse and ill-treatment”.

The Committee was concerned “in particular [about] the policy of intercepting and turning back boats, without due consideration of [Australia’s] obligations” under international law.

Anyone who arrives or attempts to arrive in Australia seeking asylum or protection should be guaranteed that their claims are thoroughly examined, and be able to challenge any adverse decision.

“[Australia] should continue and redouble its efforts” to find an alternative to closed immigration detention.

Mr Grossman said the committee was also concerned by the high proportion of indigenous people in jails, and the situation of women in detention facilities, particularly indigenous women.

The committee also welcomed the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, however it said it was “concerned” as to “whether the outcome of its work will result in criminal investigations, prosecutions and compensation for victims”.

It also: – criticised the treatment of inmates at Roebourne Regional Prison- recommended the Australian government consider abolishing the use of tasers- expressed its ‘concern’ over Australia’s counter-terrorism legislation, including the “broad” definition of a terrorist act, and the detention powers of ASIO.

Fairfax asked if an Australian government spokesperson was available to respond to the committee’s report, but has not yet received a reply.

In its appearance before the committee earlier this month, Australia’s delegation said it “takes its obligations under the Convention very seriously. Since ratifying the Convention in 1989, Australia has worked to ensure Australia’s laws, policies and practices are consistent with our international obligations.”

Australia’s permanent representative to the UN John Quinn told the committee that the government had “striven to improve the design and procedures of its migration programmes to enhance fairness, accountability and integrity.

“A robust returns process for dealing with those found not to be in need of protection is fundamental to the integrity of status determination processes.”

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

Well-meaning advice on weight loss does a fat lot of good

Zip it: Well-intended advice can make an obesity battle worse. Photo: Supplied
Nanjing Night Net

Zip it: Well-intended advice can make an obesity battle worse. Photo: Supplied

Zip it: Well-intended advice can make an obesity battle worse. Photo: Supplied

Tempted to tell an overweight friend, lover or family member to think twice about eating another piece of cake? New research suggests you would be doing more harm than good.

Overweight Australians regularly encounter unhelpful stigmas (often well intended) which, it is suspected, exacerbate weight gain.

A recent study of 46 overweight and obese people found that most experience negative treatment related to their weight on a daily basis, such as being laughed at or having a doctor blame an unrelated problem on their size.

The most frequent perpetrators of what has been called “the last socially acceptable form of discrimination” were strangers, spouses or partners, friends, parents and the media.

The research, led by the University of New South Wales and published in the Journal of Contextual Behavioural Science, suggests many overweight and obese people are in a negative environmental cycle that discourages them from losing weight to improve their health.

Previous studies have shown that media coverage presenting negative portrayals of obese people as lazy or overindulgent can encourage unhealthy behaviour. One study found that overweight women who watched stigmatising media portrayals in a video ate more snacks compared to overweight women who watched a control video.

Research has also shown that overweight and obese people face discrimination in the workplace, health care facilities and the dating scene.

Most participants in one survey said they would prefer to date a recovering drug addict, mentally ill person, or someone with a sexually transmitted disease than an overweight person. Another study found employers viewed overweight job candidates as less qualified, less effective, and less trustworthy than their slimmer counterparts.

Public health campaigns aimed at reducing obesity have also used stigmatising images on the premise that if it were sufficiently unpleasant to be obese, overweight people would be motivated to change their behaviour and lose weight.

But UNSW psychologist Dr Lenny Vartanian, who conducted the recent study on 46 people in Sydney, said there was growing evidence this was not the case. He said stigma could cause low self-esteem and depression, and make people feel less motivated to diet and more likely to binge eat.

If people want to help loved ones lose weight, Dr Vartanian said they could propose constructive ideas such as joint exercise or cooking healthier meals together.

“If you look at your partner across the table and say ‘Don’t you think your arse is fat enough?’ That is not going to help. If you’re trying to support people you care about, treat them with dignity and respect and be supportive and encouraging. Help them in their goals rather than thinking you will do any good by demeaning them,” he said.

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

Ferguson signifies sad end of the age of Obama

Some time before midnight on Tuesday, a peaceful but tense crowd protested before a line of police and National Guard in front of the Ferguson police station.
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It was cold, just on freezing, and the two parties had been facing off since sunset. While most in the crowd were calling for peace, some wanted confrontation, and they were getting bored.

Overhead a police chopper described lazy circles in the sky and it soon became clear its spotlight was fixed on a nearby location.

The result was predictable but grimly fascinating to watch nevertheless.

A few young men broke away and headed off to find the light. Others followed in twos and threes and then, as though drawn by surface tension, the crowd moved, its front ranks breaking from march to canter to run as they turned a corner. It was like a drop of water gathering bulk and pace as it found its way down a windowpane.

In front of the Ferguson City Hall the frontrunners joined a smaller group that had set upon a police car. They shattered its windows with thudding kicks and stones torn from the border of a garden bed. They lifted it on to its side and stepped back before it fell with a sprinkling thud on to its wheels again.

After long seconds police in squad cars and National Guard in armoured personnel carriers arrived and formed ranks marching forward, some spraying mace at those too slow to flee.

The town hall, with its Christmas dioramas silhouetted behind floor-to-ceiling windows, was saved.

This week you could rack a moment like that up as a success for police in Ferguson, but you don’t have to look hard for the metaphor.

The violence followed the police spotlight. Rallying point

It wasn’t meant to be this way. There had been hope that the United States’ election of a black president signalled the beginning of the end of the racial division that has tormented the nation since its creation.

Instead, the president’s race became a rallying point for the most extreme of his opponents, who appeared to believe it rendered him ineligible for office.

For years Barack Obama has ignored the race baiting of elements of the far right, in public referring to it only in jest.

“Let’s face it, Fox, you will miss me when I’m gone,” he said at the last White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. “It will be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.”

Laughable as they are, the birth conspiracies and the racism they reflect have cast a shadow over Obama’s presidency.

Soon after coming into office he was to realise that far from helping the US overcome racial tension, his presence had the capacity to inflame it.

This became clear to the world after the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American boy who was shot dead near his father’s home by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

Martin’s killing by Zimmerman provoked nationwide protest among African Americans, not so much for the shooting but for the fact police did not even charge Zimmerman with a crime for six weeks, presuming that under Florida’s “shoot first” self-defence laws he had committed no crime. In the end Zimmerman was charged and found not guilty, a result that prompted outrage and protest, though not riots.

When the President eventually discussed the case, he observed: “I can only imagine what these parents are going through, and when I think about this boy I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together, federal, state and local, to figure out how this tragedy happened.”

And he added: “You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

The observation infuriated many conservative Americans. In a comment typical of the tone Newt Gingrich, then a presidential candidate, thundered, “Is the President suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be okay because it wouldn’t look like him?”

Obama must have already known that his expression of empathy for the parents of a dead black child would provoke anger in some.

In the first year of his presidency race had exploded as an issue for the White House in the most unlikely of ways.

The famed African American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates jnr had just arrived home and found his front door jammed when a local police sergeant, James Crowley, came across him. Rather than helping him open the door, Crowley suspected Gates of being a burglar and arrested him.

In the ensuing controversy Obama remarked that the arrest was “stupid”. The comment became the first serious blow to his presidency. The outrage that Obama might side with an African American arrested by a white cop was so prolonged and intense that the White House finally tried to end it with a so-called “beer summit” – an excruciatingly awkward meeting between Obama, the cop and the professor at the White House over a beer.

“My hope is that as a consequence of this event this ends up being what’s called a ‘teachable moment’, where all of us, instead of pumping up the volume, spend a little more time listening to each other and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity,” Obama said.

It was a teachable moment too, though perhaps not in the way the president had hoped. Obama learnt to discuss race very rarely and very delicately – he barely touched on it again until Martin was shot dead. African Americans learnt that just because there was a black man living in the White House they should not expect rapid change.

Asked about Obama during riots in Ferguson in August, one young man on the street told Fairfax Media: “‘I ain’t got no thoughts on him. Where he at? Where he at?

“Get him the f**k out of here. I still ain’t got insurance. F**k that nigger.” Racial divide

The racial divide in the US is perhaps most easily quantifiable in the criminal justice system.

African Americans are incarcerated at six times the rate of whites and make up 1 million of the US’s 2.3 million incarcerated. Obviously the factors that can lead a person into prison are myriad, but one thing is clear – blacks are far more likely than other citizens to come into contact with police.

Over the past decade New York police pursued a strategy of “stop and frisk” to crack down on crime. The policy has been discredited and is winding down rapidly. At its height though the NYPD stopped and searched 500,000 people on the street without cause each year. About 12 per cent of them were white.

Many police forces around the country adopted similar tactics, though not always as systematically.

The impact of the policy on crime is contested, though crime rates across the country have been falling steadily since 1990.

What is clear though is that the constant searches have intensified the fear and mistrust many African Americans, particularly young black men, have for authorities.

In this toxic and hostile environment the explosion of violence after the unarmed teen Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer in Ferguson, and again after it was decided the officer would not face charges, is not surprising.

In Ferguson on Wednesday morning Tiffany and Ronald Singleton were standing in the snow across the road from a beauty supply shop that had been burnt to the ground in riots two nights before.

Police watched from the corner as the couple described what a typical stop is like.

“As soon as they get out of their cop cars they are reaching for their handcuffs and they cuff you while they question you and they don’t read you your rights,” Tiffany Singleton, 41, said. “They let you stand there, they call back to the police station and then they might let you go, depending on if you have a warrant or not, depending on if someone at the station wants you.”

Ronald, 34, estimated he was stopped twice a month and he smiled and shook his head in wonder when a reporter told him he couldn’t remember ever being stopped by a police officer as an adult.

Like many in Ferguson, Ronald does not believe Wilson had any cause to stop Brown the day the officer shot him, though evidence shows he recognised him as fitting the description of a young man who minutes earlier had stolen cigarillos from a liquor store.

And the couple believed Brown’s reaction to the stop – apparently one of aggression – was the right one.

Asked what the correct response to an officer in Ferguson was, Tiffany explained: “[You say] ‘f**k you’ and keep walking.”

Roland said: “What Mike did, he did the right motherf**king thing, cos I would have done the same motherf**king thing my damn self. Me being a black American, that’s the right thing.”

During the days of protest and violence after Brown was shot, and again after Monday’s grand jury decision, many observers tried to distinguish between “the real” protesters, who according to this line of reasoning were local and non-violent, and “the trouble-makers”, who had come to town to incite violence for the atavistic joy of it.

That distinction was not made so commonly on the streets.

On the fringe of a rally on Tuesday night Darnell Singleton, a documentary maker who lives in Ferguson and has been protesting and filming since the shooting, explained in front of the police station that everyone in the chanting crowd before us was angry, just that some were more mature than others.

“When you twist the pitch fork in their heart, some of these young men are going to lash out,” he said.

Others said the violence was spurred as much by hopelessness as anger.

“It’s one thing if he [officer Wilson] went to trial and they said he was innocent, but saying you don’t even have to have a trial for shooting a black man, that’s another thing,” student Jashyra Robinson, 22, said. “That’s what hurts me the most.”

The day after the riots and fires in Ferguson the protests spread across the nation. This was no accident. Ever since Brown was shot dozens of protest groups have been gathering and organising under various umbrella groups. Many organisers do not see the movement as simply a reaction to the shooting, but as the next chapter of the ongoing civil rights movement.

Their slogans and evolving tactics reflect that. The crowds still chant “Hands up, don’t shoot”, but as they block the roads in Ferguson they are as likely to be yelling at police, “Who shuts shit down? We shut shit down”. Across the country protesters have begun blocking roads as an act of civil disobedience.

Some see hope in the idea of a new generation taking up the civil rights movement, but that optimism is limited.

Professor Cornel West, a leading African American activist and trenchant critic of Obama, was asked his view by CNN this week.

“Ferguson signifies the end of the age of Obama,” he replied. “It’s a very sad end. We began with tremendous hope and we end with great despair.”

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

Surfing on: Little to fear from shark catches

Peter Huggins, at Bondi, sees no cause for alarm over sharks. Photo: Peter Rae Peter Huggins, at Bondi, sees no cause for alarm over sharks. Photo: Peter Rae
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Peter Huggins, at Bondi, sees no cause for alarm over sharks. Photo: Peter Rae

Peter Huggins, at Bondi, sees no cause for alarm over sharks. Photo: Peter Rae

Peter Huggins, one of only a couple of surfers braving Bondi waves early one morning this week, says he isn’t spooked by recent sightings of sharks or the discovery of a couple of great whites in nets off the popular beach.

“I’m sure there are plenty of sharks out there,” Mr Huggins, a regular surfer at Bondi, said. “If I did see one, it would probably give me a bit of a shock.”

Another remarkably warm spring has drawn beachgoers to the state’s coast earlier than usual. Sydneysiders can expect another few balmy days after Saturday’s forecast top of 25 degrees – with a trio of days of about 30 degrees to follow.

The Bureau of Meteorology says odds also favour a hotter than normal summer for virtually the whole country, with the eastern two-thirds also likely to be relatively dry.

As summer beckons, though, expect regular bouts of media frenzy stirred by images of great whites and beach-clearing episodes when a shark is spotted.

The recent discovery of two great whites in Bondi nets was “a complete coincidence”, said Vic Peddemors, a shark biologist with the Department of Primary Industries, adding, “the chance of encountering a shark is extremely slim.”

Five or six great whites are caught each year in what Dr Peddemors calls “fishery forts”, protecting parts of beaches from Stockton, north of Newcastle, down to Wollongong.

“The shark net catch is only about 100 sharks of all species per year and a commercial fisher catches that in a night,” he said. “The white shark catch this year is no higher than any other year.”

Great white sharks have been protected off NSW since the mid-1990s as numbers dived.

“You’d expect to see some recovery but the jury’s still out,” Dr Peddemors said. “These animals are long-lived, slow reproducing, so it takes a long time for shark populations to recover from over-exploitation.”

Little is known about the movements and abundance of many marine species. The use of new tagging devices, including for sharks, will give researchers a better grasp of how changing oceanic conditions, including from global warming, are affecting marine life, Dr Peddemors said.

Immediate conditions are certainly on the warm side. Almost the entire east Australian coast is at least 0.5 degrees above normal, with waters off Sydney 1-2 degrees balmier.

“At 21-22 degrees, it’s almost as warm as Sydney gets on average,” said Ed Couriel, principal engineer at Manly Hydraulics Laboratory.

Mr Couriel, as it happens, is also a regular surfer at Manly, with a keen interest in sharks of late.

Two months ago, his 13 year-old daughter Katelyn was bitten on the hand by a shark while surfing at Town Beach at Port Macquarie.

The bite, possibly by a whaler or a wobbegong, required five stitches. It hasn’t put Katelyn off surfing, even if the family is more wary than before.

“We put it down to a rare event, and she bought it,” Mr Couriel said.

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