Antonis named in Socceroos’ squad

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Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou admits he is facing a race against the clock to get the right mix for January’s Asian Cup, naming another largely experimental squad for their final friendly against Japan on November 18.
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Postecoglou had suggested he would use the match in Osaka as a dry run for his best 23 given there is no opportunity for another friendly before he names his tournament squad. However, the coach has conceded he needs to give a final trial to fringe players to force their way into his reckoning. Among those given a chance to impress include A-League players Matt McKay, Mitch Nichols, Terry Antonis and Aaron Mooy after starring for their respective clubs, with Adam Federici, Bernie Ibini, Tomi Juric and Brad Smith making way.

Also back is German-based forward Robbie Kruse, who returns after having to leave the last squad with injury. Only two goalkeepers have been selected, with Asian Champions League MVP Ante Covic overlooked because, at 39 he doesn’t fit Postecoglou’s preferred age bracket.

“You’ve got to deal with realities. The realities are that we need to expand our playing pool. It’s as simple as that. You can’t just manufacture that overnight,” Postecoglou said at the squad’s unveiling in Sydney on Wednesday. “I don’t want to be caught short by injuries on the eve of the Asian Cup. From that point of view, everything we’ve been doing has been working exactly as I want it.”

Lamenting what happened at the World Cup, where the Socceroos were left to field heavily-weakened teams because of injury, Postecoglou said he feared the same thing happening in January and therefore needed to experiment further.

“Should our national team ever be settled? I’ve got question marks against that. I’ve said from day one that nobody should think being part of the national team is guaranteed,” he said. “What we’re going through at the moment has to happen, we need to go into the Asian Cup with a bigger playing pool to chose from. I don’t want to get caught short by injuries as we were before the World Cup.”

Postecoglou said he was impressed with the A-League over the opening month, saying the standard had improved and he could see the day when most of the squad was picked from the domestic competition. “We want to play a certain style of football and are looking for footballers who will fit in to that. I’ve been really impressed with the A-League the first few weeks,” he said. “I think the standard’s gone up another level.”

Antonis’ blazing start to the season with Sydney FC has catapulted him into contention for the Asian Cup and Postecoglou will be tempted to give the youngster a run-out against the Samurai Blue, who feature arguably Asia’s best midfield – headlined by Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa, AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Makoto Hasebe and Hertha Berlin’s Hajime Hosogai. Postecoglou has also thrown international lifelines to Nichols and Mooy, who have found themselves overlooked for national duty in recent times. Nichols has been shining on loan at Perth Glory while Mooy has slotted in effortlessly to Melbourne City’s midfield.

“I’ve known Mitch for a very long time, I think he has some of the attributes that’ll fit in to our style of play. Whether that can happen at international level will be his test,” Postecoglou said. “The same with young Aaron. I think he’s had a solid start to his season at Melbourne City and again, has some of the attributes we’re looking for, for the game we want to play.”

The coach said the door was hardly shut on those who weren’t named, provided they were playing regularly for their club sides. “Guys like Matthew Spiranovic or even Tomi Juric [remain in contention], I had a good chat with Popa [Wanderers coach Tony Popovic] and it makes sense to leave them here and play games, because they need games,” he said. “Would Matthew Spiranovic be in this squad if he was fully fit? Absolutely, he was our best defender at the World Cup.”

However, Postecoglou said two of his would-be defensive options, Rhys Williams and Curtis Good, would face a difficult task to work their way back into contention as they battled to overcome long-term injuries. They appear to be on the verge of joining Tom Rogic on the sidelines, with the mercurial midfielder already ruled out as he seeks to overcome a debilitating groin injury.

Squad: Terry Antonis, Aziz Behich, Mark Bresciano, Joshua Brillante, Tim Cahill, Jason Davidson, Ivan Franjic, Chris Herd, James Holland, Mile Jedinak, Robbie Kruse, Mitch Langerak, Mathew Leckie, Massimo Luongo, Matt McKay, Mark Milligan, Mitch Nichols, Aaron Mooy, Mat Ryan, Trent Sainsbury, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, James Troisi, Alex Wilkinson.

Renting property? Don’t hold your breath for a long lease

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Renters get a pretty bad run in Australia. Not only must they contend with precarious tenure and skyrocketing rents, but they battle a national psyche that promotes home ownership as obligatory and denigrates leasing as unmitigated failure.
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Would it be this way if the system were fairer on tenants? The majority of Australian renters are on fixed short-term leases of six or 12 months, and one in seven are on periodic tenancy, liable to be evicted within four weeks. Might the stigma subside if we could access longer-term leases, the kind on offer in European countries such as Germany?

“Of course,” says Bill Randolph, director of the City Futures Research Centreat UNSW. He points out Australia already has a large cohort of long-term renters. A third of lessees have rented for more than 10 years, up from about a quarter in 1994. This group might lack security, but by circumstance or revealed preference, they remain renters.

“In the UK it’s called Generation Rent and that’s basically everybody under 35,” Randolph says. Countless reports show the same phenomena here – housing is less affordable, Gen Y is less obsessed with property ownership and 40 per cent of renters now have dependent children.

Yet the home ownership rate in Australia remains stable at 65 to 70 per cent.

Earlier this year, the Tenancy Union of NSW asked 580 tenants “why do you rent?” More than half said it was because they could not afford to buy, and a further 10 per cent said they were saving for a home.

People are buying later and mortgages are taking longer to pay off, but the appeal of the so-called Great Australian Dream appears largely undiminished.

It’s a very different scenario in Germany, where more than 60 per cent of households rent and the standard lease is indefinite.

German laws are roundly described as pro-tenant – “depressingly” so, according to one investor website – because it is relatively difficult for a landlord to terminate a lease without cause, and tenants can demand continuation. On the other hand, a tenant can generally give three months notice without justification.

German laws also stop landlords increasing rent by more than 20 per cent nominally over three years, and the quality of private rental stock is very high.

There are structural explanations for this, as well as historical and cultural ones.Germany and other European countries have a higher proportion of large institutional investors who are more likely to cede capital gains for cash flow.

Australia has very few institutional investors in the private rental market. Our rental yields aren’t attractive enough to big institutions, says Angie Zigomanis,senior manager of residential property at BIS Shrapnel.

“In many other countries rental yields are often close to interest rates, if not above the local interest rates, whereas in Australia they’re well below,” he says.

“[For] an institutional fund, who would like to just be a passive investor in residential property, they’re just not getting big enough returns to justify it.”

Rental yields fluctuate over time and differ between cities – they are higher in Brisbane than Sydney or Melbourne, for example. But data shows yields have declined, on average, since the 1990s.

In light of that, the benevolent institutional investor prepared to offer long-term leases at a lenient price seems more a mirage than genuine possibility.

But here’s the rub: yields in Germany are about the same as Australia. And though there are more institutional investors, the majority of German landlords are still “small-scale” – mums-and-dads, retirees and other individuals.

As Kath Hulseand Vivienne Milliganwrote in a 2011 paper, Germany demonstrates that “small-scale landlordism is not incompatible with a high level of secure occupancy for tenants”.

So could Australia turn German?Hulse, professor of housing studies at Swinburne University of Technology, says change is possible but unlikely.

An ageing population and a lack of adequate superannuation mean older Australians may increasingly come to rely on steady rent as a retirement income, rather than just chasing capital gains, she says.

More flexible leasing arrangements would also help – in particular, a system to moderate intra-tenancy rent increases, and greater freedom for tenants to modify and personalise their home, such as keeping pets or redecorating.

But Professor Hulse says the Australian desire for home ownership is “fairly ingrained”.

Ned Cutcher, policy officer at the Tenants’ Union of NSW, agrees. He says we could make some simple, immediate changes to the law to better protect renters from capricious landlords. But he is not convinced there can be a significant shift towards long-term leases until attitudes to renting change.

“I think that’s putting the cart before the horse,” he says.

Kate Shaw, urban geographer at the University of Melbourne, says decreasing or abolishing negative gearing, and increasing capital gains tax on investment properties, would be the first steps to dismantling Australia’s view of housing as a commodity.

“You’re not going to get support from property owners for long-term leases the way our taxation system encourages fast capital gains on property turnover,” Dr Shaw says.

“Other countries don’t have anything like the incentives Australia does to invest in property as a commodity rather than as a source of housing.”

Transfield ups guidance in wake of rejected Ferrovial takeover bid

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“Positive start”: Transfield chair Diane Smith-Gander. Photo: Rob Homer “Positive start”: Transfield chair Diane Smith-Gander. Photo: Rob Homer
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“Positive start”: Transfield chair Diane Smith-Gander. Photo: Rob Homer

“Positive start”: Transfield chair Diane Smith-Gander. Photo: Rob Homer

Nothing obstructionist: Transfield chief Graeme Hunt and Diane Smith-Gander. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Resolute: Transfield’s Graeme Hunt and Diane Gander-Smith. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Nothing obstructionist: Transfield chief Graeme Hunt and Diane Smith-Gander. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Resolute: Transfield’s Graeme Hunt and Diane Gander-Smith. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Nothing obstructionist: Transfield chief Graeme Hunt and Diane Smith-Gander. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Resolute: Transfield’s Graeme Hunt and Diane Gander-Smith. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Nothing obstructionist: Transfield chief Graeme Hunt and Diane Smith-Gander. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Transfield Services chief executive Graeme Hunt has denied the company is under pressure to start negotiations with takeover suitor Ferrovial as the Spanish company resists demands that it make no moves towards a hostile bid.

“We’re not feeling any pressure from the shareholders to be sitting down dealing with these people,” Mr Hunt said after Transfield’s annual general meeting in Sydney.

“Ferrovial are a credible player, they understand the businesses we’re in, but their price is too low.”

Transfield wants Ferrovial – which made an indicative $1 billion takeover bid in October worth $1.95 per share – to commit to a three-month standstill agreement before giving it access to due diligence so that it can consider making a higher offer.

A standstill agreement would preclude the Spanish group from trading in Transfield shares.

Transfield also wants Ferrovial to refrain from taking a bid directly to investors without a board recommendation during the due diligence period.

Ferrovial is understood to be happy to abide by the standstill agreement, but does not want to waive its rights to go directly to shareholders, which would amount to a hostile bid, amid concerns Transfield’s board is trying to retain too much power.

Mr Hunt claimed there was “nothing obstructionist” about Transfield’s requests, indicating that the company’s board did not want shareholders to be presented with an offer that the board did not believe represented fair value.

“It’s in the best interests of shareholders is to give them the opportunity with the appropriate confidentiality restraints to understand our business a little better to determine whether they can offer an appropriate price.”

Transfield plans to provide Ferrovial with 200 pages of data on the company, including information on contracts and its debt structure, if it agrees to its requests.

Transfield chairman Diane Smith-Gander declined to comment on what price the board would accept from Ferrovial and said the board would not open its books for due diligence until it was “comfortable” the Spanish group would not misuse the information it received.

“This company is a current and future competitor, just because it asks, we can’t provide it with commercially sensitive information,” she said.

Ferrovial plans to discuss its concerns with Transfield in the next few days and try to negotiate access to the Australian company’s books.

Transfield’s biggest institutional investor, Allan Gray, has backed the company’s decision to reject the initial takeover bid, arguing the group is worth more than $2 a share.

Transfield’s shares rose 4¢ to close at $1.90 after raising its full-year profits guidance at the AGM.

It now expects to deliver underlying earnings before interest taxation deprecation and amortisation (EBITDA) of between $260 million and $280 million for fiscal 2015, up from previous guidance of between $240 million and $260 million given at its annual results in August.

Ms Smith-Gander said Transfield was experiencing a “positive” start to the year with earnings in the fiscal year to date “well ahead” of the previous corresponding period.

Transfield, which did not pay dividends in fiscal 2014, will consider resuming dividend payments at the end of fiscal 2015.

Rival contractor Downer EDI also held its AGM on Wednesday with all resolutions passing easily, including its remuneration report and the re-election of chairman Michael Harding.

Cabcharge chairman Russell Balding attacks shareholders’ association spill threat

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Little has changed with Cabcharge’s board conduct since the death of company founder Reg Kermode, the ASA says. Photo: Louie Douvis Little has changed with Cabcharge’s board conduct since the death of company founder Reg Kermode, the ASA says. Photo: Louie Douvis
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Little has changed with Cabcharge’s board conduct since the death of company founder Reg Kermode, the ASA says. Photo: Louie Douvis

Little has changed with Cabcharge’s board conduct since the death of company founder Reg Kermode, the ASA says. Photo: Louie Douvis

Cabcharge chairman Russell Balding has hit back at the Australian Shareholders’ Association’s plan to vote to spill the taxi network’s board at its annual general meeting, arguing it will “serve no useful purpose”.

In an unprecedented move, the ASA has decided it will call for the whole board to stand for re-election if Cabcharge gets a fourth strike against its remuneration report at its November 26 meeting.

The ASA claimed Cabcharge had given no “real details” about short-term bonuses, except that they “will not align with shareholders interest, as it will all be in cash”.

It also disagrees with a “hurdle rate” of 9 per cent total shareholder return, leading to 50 per cent of long-term incentives vesting, rising to 100 per cent once 11 per cent TSR is reached.

Other complaints were that the board still lacked independence.

It said Cabcharge was effectively “a one-man board” before founder Reg Kermode died in April, and despite the subsequent splitting of CEO and chairman roles little had changed.

“We have been in a situation that Reg promised us things for many years and it never happened,” said the ASA’s chairman of NSW monitors Allan Goldin. “Bonuses used to be handed out at random just because Reg wanted to do it.

“Reg dies and everyone says it is going to be a new leaf – what we see is that nothing has really changed.”

As well as appointing a new CEO, Andrew Skelton, board member Mr Balding became chairman in May. Two independent directors, Rick Millen and Rod Gilmour, have since been appointed, but Mr Goldin said Mr Gilmour could not be considered independent.

“He was employed by Cabcharge until April, then all of a sudden they say we will put you on the board,” Mr Goldin said. “They say that they’re going to have a new board, but they aren’t.”

Mr Gilmour was a corporate affairs consultant to Cabcharge from July 2012 to April 2014, and has held government roles with policy and regulatory oversight of taxis.

Mr Balding countered that the Cabcharge board and management had addressed many of the concerns expressed by shareholders about the previous years’ remuneration reports, and he called on other shareholders not to support the ASA’s plans.

“The board believes it would not be in shareholders’ interest to support the voting intentions of the Australian Shareholders’ Association in relation to the company’s remuneration report,” he said.

Mr Goldin said the ASA almost never voted for a spill of the board because it was too disruptive to the company. After a company received two strikes against its executive pay, he said it hoped this would be enough to prompt change.

“Usually we would never recommend a spill if a strike happens but in this case you don’t really have a board and there are two directors who have been there for 18 years,” he said.

Once a spill motion is voted down, a company must get two more consecutive votes above 25 per cent against its remuneration report for another spill vote to be triggered.

Mr Goldin said he knew of no other ASX 200 company that had faced the prospect of its board being voted out twice.