Leilua v Jennings in Origin showdown

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Samoa coach Matt Parish has challenged centre Joey Leilua to use his personal duel with Australia’s Michael Jennings in Sunday’s Four Nations Test at WIN Stadium to prove he is ready for State of Origin next season.
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Leilua, whose departure from Sydney Roosters at the start of last year paved the way for Jennings to join the club, has been in devastating form in his opening two appearances of the tournament against England and New Zealand.

So dominant was the Newcastle star in Samoa’s first-up 32-26 loss to England, in which he produced a try assist, five line breaks and an offload, that opposite centre Michael Shenton was dropped afterwards.

He also terrorised former Roosters team-mate Shaun Kenny-Dowall in last Saturday’s 14-12 loss to the Kiwis to finish with nine tackle breaks, an off-load and a line-break.

Kangaroos players were calling Leilua’s name in defence during a training drill on Thursday and Parish said that the 22-year-old could demonstrate he was ready for Origin with another strong performance opposite Jennings.

“It should be a good contest,” Parish said. “Joey has been in terrific form but to be an Origin player you need to be consistent and he needs to play well again this week to cement that consistency, which is one of those things that hasn’t really been one of his strong points.

“But he is certainly a good player, and playing against Australia is a great springboard for him to prove that he can play Origin.”

Leilua has been in the Blues’ sights since starring in the 2012 City-Country fixture, but he insisted his main focus this week was on playng well for Samoa, who he also represented in last year’s World Cup.

“Obviously I want to play Origin but I am not looking to get ahead of myself,” Leilua said. “I just need to put my head down, work hard and play consistent footy,

“That is what I need to work on. We didn’t have a great season at the Knights, so I have just got to keep working hard and keep playing good footy and hopefully it pays off.

“I just want to play good for my country, play for the boys and play for my family. We just want to play with pride, that is the main thing, and show people what Samoa is all about.”

However, both Leilua and Jennings indicated they had already done plenty of homework on each other.

“It will be a good match-up, he has got good footwork and a lot of speed so I have got to watch out and make sure I am on my game for the whole 80 minutes,” Leilua said.

Jennings said of Leilua: “He is really playing some quality football and it is going to be a massive task for myself but [that] obviously just motivates me more.

“He is big, strong and fast, so you just need to be on your game for the full 80 minutes to stop him. He is a big boy so you have to concentrate on your own performance”.

Jennings has also been in good form for the Kangaroos, scoring a try and making a line break and 17 tackle busts in the Kangaroos’ 30-12 loss to New Zealand and 16-12 triumph over England.

After being overlooked for Greg Inglis at last year’s World Cup, Jennings said the Four Nations was a good chance for him to prove he deserved the Australian left centre spot.

“This is just a great chance for myself to really just knuckle down and show the coaches and the staff that I belong in this arena,” Jennings said.

New MH17 remains to be flown to the Netherlands

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Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Dutch PM jets in for two days

New remains found at the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 will be flown to the Netherlands on Saturday for identification, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has revealed in Canberra.

Mr Rutte confirmed on Thursday that the remains found at the crash site of MH17 in eastern Ukraine last week had undergone an initial examination and would now be transferred.

The development came as Prime Minister Tony Abbott vowed to seek a meeting with President Putin “one way or another” at upcoming world summits but conceded the perpetrators might never be brought to justice.

298 people, including 193 Dutch citizens and 38 Australian citizens or residents were killed when the flight was shot down in July.

Mr Rutte said on Monday he had recently spoken with Mr Putin and pressured him to ensure the Russian-backed separatists operating in eastern Ukraine would allow recovery teams further access to the site.

He said a team had managed to access the site last week and the found remains would be flown to the Netherlands on the weekend.

“There’s still a lot to be done in terms of bringing those who did this to justice,” Mr Rutte told reporters at Parliament House.

Australia believes Russian-backed rebels shot down the passenger plane but Mr Abbott has played down the prospects of those responsible being held to account.

“I have no 100 per cent guarantee but I do have 100 per cent guarantee that we will do everything we can to bring them to justice,” he said.

Mr Abbott, who threatened to “shirtfront” Mr Putin over MH17, said he expected to speak to the Russian President “one way or another” at either the APEC or G20 summit in coming weeks.

“What I’ll be saying to him is that Australia expects full Russian cooperation with the investigation,” he said.

“We don’t want the investigation ridiculed, we don’t want the investigation compromised or sabotaged, we want full co-operation with the investigation,” he said.

Mr Abbott said Australia and Holland had been “thrown together” by MH17 as both countries responded to the disaster.

He borrowed the words of his Dutch counterpart to describe the Australia-Netherlands relationship.

“Physically we are many thousands of miles apart but emotionally and spiritually we’re next-door neighbours,” he said.

The pair also discussed the issue of foreign fighters joining Islamic State (also known as ISIL) extremists in Iraq.

The Netherlands and Australia are both committing resources to help try and degrade and destroy Islamic State’s advances across Syria and Iraq.

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Secret Toy Bizness does the business on Oaks Day

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Wizard of Odds: Live Odds, Form and Alerts for all Racing
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The Wangaratta family that put the finishing touches on Lankan Rupee for Mick Price shone bright on centre stage themselves at Flemington on Thursday.

The Ledgers may not boast the pedigree of a Hawkes or Snowden father-son training partnership, but it did not matter to them when Secret Toy Bizness won one of the most popular events of the year in the Greys Challenge on Oaks Day.

“Young Chris broke in Lankan Rupee and looked after him for his first couple of years,” co-trainer John Ledger said.

“We do a lot for Mick [Price] and Mick has been a great supporter and teacher of Chris. [Chris] comes to Caulfield and spends a couple of weeks a year here. On the other side of it, we have about 20-25 racehorses of our own.”

Of those, Secret Toy Bizness is one of just three the Ledgers are regularly racing in Melbourne at the moment. The rest are well travelled on the Victorian country scene.

It is a far cry from the famous Flemington straight Lankan Rupee will scorch down on Saturday in search of a fifth group 1 success – and second in a row after his controversial Manikato Stakes success – in the Darley Classic.

But Secret Toy Bizness’ connections, clad in their black and white outfits, celebrated like they had won a group 1 themselves when Damian Lane brought the mare with a beautifully timed run.

The horse only ended up in the Ledgers’ care after a nephew of one of the syndicate members – set to marry John’s daughter – only agreed to buy into the horse on the condition it went to his soon-to-be in-laws.

“They’re a very passionate group of over 20 people and everyone dresses in black and white, whether it’s a non-TAB at Wodonga or here on [Thursday],” Ledger said.

“They stand on the seats and cheer like they did today. They are horse racing freaks. They love it and are so passionate.

“In my world and my first carnival with my son Chris … it’s pretty special. It’s the world stage and it might be restricted grade, but you’ve still got to win them.

“The second horse comes from Brisbane and the third horse comes from Flemington, and you can’t win on a bigger stage than this.”

The ultimate racing guide with the latest information on fields, form, tips, market fluctuations and odds, available on mobile, tablet and desktop.

Big four audit firms behind global profit shifting

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“Get ready to do some dancing,” warned PwC partner Thomas F Quinn. “Get ready to do some dancing,” warned PwC partner Thomas F Quinn.
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“Get ready to do some dancing,” warned PwC partner Thomas F Quinn.

“Get ready to do some dancing,” warned PwC partner Thomas F Quinn.

For more than a decade, tax gurus at PricewaterhouseCoopers helped Caterpillar, the American heavy equipment maker, move profits produced by its lucrative spare-parts business from the United States to a tiny subsidiary in Switzerland.

Little changed except the bookkeeping. Parts were still shipped from suppliers to a warehouse in Morton, Illinois, then shipped from the warehouse to independent dealers. But the profits were booked by the Swiss subsidiary, which paid corporate taxes of less than 6 per cent a year, far lower than Caterpillar’s 29 per cent rate in the US.

By 2008, partners at the “big four” accounting firm worried the strategy might be threatened by Caterpillar’s decision to move some managers from Switzerland to the US, a shift that would underline the parts business’s small footprint in the mountain-peaked tax haven.

Thomas F. Quinn, a PricewaterhouseCoopers partner who helped design the tax savings plan, wrote to a PwC colleague that if they wanted to keep the strategy alive, they needed to “create a story” that “put some distance” between the managers and the spare-parts business.

“Get ready to do some dancing,” Quinn said.

The colleague, managing director Steven Williams, replied: “What the heck. We’ll all be retired when this . . . comes up on audit. Baby boomers have their fun and leave it to the kids to pay for it.”

In a congressional hearing this spring, US Senator Carl Levin blasted the email exchange and the profit-shifting strategy as exercises in the art of creating “unreality”. An investigation led by Levin revealed that the accounting firm exploited legal loopholes to help Caterpillar shuffle $US8 billion ($9.3 billion) in paper profits from the United States to Switzerland, reducing the equipment maker’s US tax bill by $US2.4 billion.

The flare-up over the Swiss strategy that PwC orchestrated for Caterpillar is among the latest in a series of investigations and legal clashes that shine a light on the murky role that the world’s four largest audit firms – PwC, KPMG, Ernst & Young and Deloitte – play in the offshore financial system.

A review of court cases, government records and secret offshore files unearthed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reveals that the big four firms are central architects of the offshore system – and key players in an array of cross-border transactions that raise legal and ethical questions.

In Luxembourg, internal company documents reviewed by ICIJ show, PwC helped Pepsi, IKEA and other corporate giants from around the world embrace inventive profit-shifting strategies that allowed them to collectively slash their tax bills by billions of dollars.

In the US, authorities charged, KPMG peddled offshore tax shelters that created billions of dollars in fake losses for rich clients, then misled the Internal Revenue Service about how the shelters worked.

In Dubai, anti-corruption advocates claim, EY’s helped the Middle East’s largest gold refiner obscure practices that may violate international standards aimed at combatting trafficking in “conflict gold”, which comes from regions where competition for the mineral breeds bloodshed.

In New York, authorities charged, Deloitte helped a British bank violate sanctions against Iran, submitting a “watered down” report to regulators that omitted information about how the bank might be evading money-laundering controls.

“These firms are supposed to be built on honour and integrity and being a watchdog, but they’re so big now it’s all about making money,” says Francine McKenna, an accountant who has worked for PwC and KMPG and now writes a blog, re: The Auditors, about big accounting firms’ misbehaviour. “They’re not worried about reputation, because all of this stuff has not affected their ability to get bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Big four firms deny their practices are skewed by bottom-line considerations. EY told ICIJ that it “operates strictly within the law and has exhaustive controls” that ensure it follows legal and regulatory rules. KPMG and PwC said they had strict codes of conduct for everyone working under their banners worldwide. Deloitte didn’t answer questions for this story but has laid out its views in various public statements.

In cases when they’ve run into trouble, the big four have generally blamed rogue employees or said that their actions have been misunderstood or taken out of context. During April’s Senate hearing on PwC’s work for Caterpillar, for example, Quinn said he’d made “a very poor choice of words” in his email exchange with Williams, and Williams said he’d made an inappropriate “attempt at humour”. A top PwC executive told Levin that the Swiss strategy designed by the firm was simply intended “to eliminate the unnecessary middleman”.

“We do not invent artificial business structures,” the executive testified. GLOBAL CLOUT

The big four are worldwide operations. Among them they employ more than 700,000 people and pull in revenues of more than $US100 billion a year, more than the annual economic output of Ecuador.

The accounting giants have their roots mostly in alliances formed in late 19th and early 20th centuries by US and UK accounting firms. Their continuing Anglo-American flavour and their global clout is a reflection of Wall Street and London’s dominance within the world’s financial system. The firms are structured as decentralised alliances of local partnerships in different countries, but much of their top leadership is based in the United ­States and Britain.

Legal battles over the past decade have raised questions about whether governments see the major accounting firms, like major banks, as “too big to fail”. This unwritten policy, anti-corruption campaigners say, has discouraged real reform at the big audit firms because they know authorities will only go so far in punishing bad behaviour.

The big four have also gained clout and inside knowledge by helping governments write the laws that establish the offshore system’s rules of engagement, and by lobbying heavily to keep the rules to their liking. Austin Mitchell, a member of the UK Parliament, has gone so far as to call the big four “more powerful than government”.

As the flow of money into tax havens has become an increasingly hot issue, financial transparency advocates fear the big audit firms will use their expertise and influence to undermine efforts to reform the offshore system. The firms have lobbied, for example, against proposals that would give national tax authorities more power to demand information on global corporations’ activities around the world.

Critics say big four accountants shuttle back and forth between the accounting industry and government so often in Europe and other regions that it undermines authorities’ efforts to police the industry and enforce tax laws.

“You have got this revolving doors thing, where gamekeepers – if they are any good – get bought by poachers,” UK House of Lords member Trevor Smith said during a parliamentary debate in 2013. OFFSHORE PLAYERS

Big four partners are embedded throughout the offshore world. A 2011 study by the Financial Mailfound that between them the big four operate 81 offices in offshore havens.

Deloitte, for example, employs roughly 150 people in the tiny English Channel islands of Jersey and Guernsey, two of the world’s busiest offshore havens.

Confidential documents obtained through ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks investigation show that big four firms had a close relationship with Portcullis TrustNet, a Singapore-based offshore services firm that sets up hard-to-trace offshore companies for clients around the world. PwC, for example, helped incorporate more than 400 offshore entities through TrustNet for clients from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, the records show.

Another stash of confidential documents reviewed by ICIJ show that between 2002 and 2010 PwC helped hundreds of global companies obtain confidential tax deals from authorities in Luxembourg, allowing Amazon, Abbott Laboratories and others to book profits in the tiny European duchy and shrink their taxes at the expense of national treasuries around the world.

The documents reveal, for example, that PwC helped three major Latin American banks use Luxembourg’s accommodating tax regime to claim write-offs for “intangible assets” that allowed them to sidestep nearly €70 million ($102 million) in taxes between them in Brazil, an analysis by ICIJ’s reporting partner, Brazilian daily Folha de S.Paulo, calculated.

Luxembourg’s tax deals are legal in Luxembourg, but may be subject to challenges by tax authorities in other countries who view them as allowing companies to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

US Tax Court cases show that big accounting firms are aware that the offshore profit-shifting and tax-savings arrangements they create can be at risk of being labelled illegal by courts or tax authorities.

In one instance documented by a US Senate investigation, a senior KPMG professional urged the firm to ignore IRS rules on registering tax shelters. He “coldly calculated”, a Senate report said, that the penalties for violating the law would be no greater than $US14,000 per $US100,000 in fees that KMPG would collect.

“For example,” he wrote, “our average . . . deal would result in KPMG fees of $US360,000 with a maximum penalty exposure of only $US31,000.” DEATH IN THE FAMILY

Before there was a big four, there was a big five, a big six, even a big eight.

Membership in the elite club began shrinking in the 1980s and 1990s as the mega-firms began swallowing each other through mergers.

In 2002, Arthur Andersen, the largest of what was by then known as the big five, came under fire after investigators found evidence that high-level firm executives had ordered underlings to shred sensitive internal documents at Texas-based Enron, the energy and trading conglomerate that blew up amid reports of massive fraud. Andersen had been Enron’s auditor as Enron had used offshore vehicles in the Channel Islands to hide its debts and book fake profits.

US authorities indicted the accounting firm on obstruction of justice charges. Private lawsuits also targeted Andersen’s links to accounting frauds at Worldcom and other US companies. Many analysts concluded that rapid growth had changed a firm once known as a beacon of integrity. “Over time, greed corrupted Andersen,” the Chicago Tribune said in an editorial. “Its leaders became more devoted to collecting hefty fees than keeping books straight.”

A jury convicted Andersen, ensuring the death of the 89-year-old firm. By the time the US Supreme Court threw out the conviction – ruling that the trial judge had improperly instructed jurors – it was too late. The firm was out of business. KPMG, Deloitte and EY bought up the remains of much of Andersen’s American operations.

The big five was now the big four. The legacy of Andersen’s death would have ramifications that continue today. QUICK HITS

For much of their lives, the biggest accounting firms operated with an aura of sobriety. They didn’t solicit business. They waited for clients to come to them for help. By the turn of the new century, that had changed. Big four accountants were expected to be more than accountants. They had to be salesmen.

At KMPG, partners and other professionals were pressured to sell wealthy clients an alphabet soup of tax shelters with acronyms like FLIP, BLIPS, TEMPEST and OTHELLO. The shelters were designed to generate paper losses that would slash clients’ tax bills. For example, OPIS – short for offshore portfolio investment strategy – relied on transactions routed through the Cayman Islands and other offshore locales.

The effort had all the trappings of a mass marketing campaign usually associated with stock brokerages and other ventures that rely on aggressive sales pitches. KMPG had a call centre in Indiana stocked with telemarketers who cold-called prospective clients to try to sell them the firm’s tax products.

Internal emails trumpeted the firm’s new “sales opportunity centre”, invited partners to a meeting to “discuss our ‘quick hit’ strategies and targeting criteria” and talked up “tax minimisation opportunities for individuals” that would produce “a quick revenue hit for us”.

“We are dealing with ruthless execution – hand-to-hand combat – blocking and tackling,” one executive explained to his colleagues.

Employees were instructed to use sales psychology and “misleading statements” to pitch KPMG’s products, according to a 2003 US Senate report. The firm distributed sales scripts that employees could use to bring around reluctant customers – suggesting a variety of mind games and bluffs, such as a “get-even approach” (pitching to clients just after the deadlines for tax payments to the government) and a “Beanie Baby approach” (playing on clients’ fear of missing out on a big thing by pretending the firm would soon put a cap on its shelter sales).

KPMG’s salesmanship won it thousands of clients and millions of dollars in fees. It also made it a target for the US Department of Justice. TOO BIG TO FAIL

In June 2005, top KPMG executives and their lawyers met with a gaggle of prosecutors to discuss the Justice Department’s criminal probe into the firm’s tax shelter business. The government claimed KPMG had lied to the IRS about how its shelters were put together and that OPIS and other KPMG shelters were shams which used shell companies and bogus loans to generate at least $US11 billion in paper losses that cost the US Treasury $US2.5 billion.

As the meeting began, a top prosecutor noted that the government hadn’t ruled out filing criminal charges against the firm. But the discussion quickly turned to mutual agreement, according to a memo written by one of KPMG’s lawyers. Neither the government nor KPMG wanted to see a criminal prosecution that might put the accounting firm out of business. What had happened to Arthur Andersen three years before was on everyone’s minds.

Robert Bennett, the powerful Washington lawyer who represented President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, did most of the talking for KMPG. He said the firm understood it would have to pay “a lot” and suffer “a lot of pain”. It could probably survive a tax fraud charge, but an obstruction charge “would kill us”, Bennett said.

In the end, the government charged the company with a single count of tax fraud, then quickly dismissed the charge under a “deferred prosecution” agreement that allowed KPMG to put the criminal case behind it by paying $US456 million in penalties.

The case made it clear, anti-corruption activists say, that a “too big to fail” philosophy discourages authorities from getting too tough with big audit firms.

Similar questions arose in the Netherlands after KPMG partners were accused of helping a Dutch construction firm hide bribes used to help the builder win billions of dollars in contracts in Saudi Arabia. In December 2013, KPMG agreed to pay a settlement of almost $US10 million to head off criminal charges against the audit firm.

Officials with KPMG’s member firm in the Netherlands placed the blame on three partners who now face criminal prosecution, saying they were “shocked by the facts that have emerged from this case”.

Some legislators complained the case should have been taken into court so the public could learn the full story of the accounting firm’s conduct.

“There is no word about the guilt of KPMG in this affair,” Jan de Wit, a member of the Netherlands’ Parliament, said. “It seems to be a cover-up.”

The Netherlands’ justice ministry defended the deal, saying that the bribes and cover up had taken place many years ago, and that the KPMG had co-operated with prosecutors and taken steps to prevent similar problems. As a result of the case, KPMG officials say, they’ve put in new procedures that “focus on quality and integrity as absolute priorities”. ‘WHITEWASH’

In recent years the big four have expanded their reach and revenues beyond corporate audits and tax shelters by marketing themselves as jack-of-all-trades watchdogs that can help companies discourage bribery and other misconduct.

Through their consulting businesses, they act as anti-money-laundering experts, internal investigators and stand in for government as monitors in regulatory actions.

Early this year, an EY partner quit his job and went public with claims the firm had helped a gold refiner in Dubai downplay the buying and selling of “conflict gold”.

According to a report by the anti-corruption group Global Witness, records provided by the ex-partner indicated the firm had toned down an audit report submitted to Dubai regulators, cutting explicit findings that the refiner failed to report billions of dollars in suspect transactions.

EY’s member firm in Dubai said it had acted properly, telling ICIJ that it “refutes entirely the suggestion that we did anything but highly professional work” in the matter. All examples of rule violations by its client were reported to regulators, and there was no evidence that conflict gold moved through the client’s refinery, the firm said.

Two other big four firms have also been accused of softening reports to regulators, as a result of the work with banks doing business in New York.

New York state regulators concluded that Deloitte helped UK-headquartered Standard Chartered cover its tracks by yielding to pressure from bank officials to keep quiet about suspect money transfers. A Deloitte partner explained in an email to a colleague that the transactions were “too politically sensitive” to include in a report to regulators. “That is why I drafted the watered-down version,” he said.

Deloitte denied wrongdoing. It called the reference to a watered-down report “an unfortunate choice of words that was pulled out of context”.

US authorities eventually concluded Standard Chartered had hidden thousands of transactions totaling more than $US250 billion by banks controlled by the government of Iran, which is under US and international sanctions related to its nuclear program and support for terrorist groups.

In 2013, New York’s banking superintendent, Benjamin Lawsky, punished Deloitte for its role in the Standard Chartered affair by fining the firm $US10 million and suspending it for one year from doing consulting work for banks overseen by New York regulators.

In August of this year, in a case involving questionable transfers of cash through the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Lawsky hit PwC with a $US25 million penalty and a two-year suspension from taking consulting engagements with banks regulated by his agency. He said PwC had given in to pressure from the bank to “whitewash” a report to regulators.

For example, Lawsky said, PwC deleted a section revealing the bank had used hashtags and other “special characters” to prevent automatic filters from flagging wire transfers involving sanctioned nations.

SUDAN, for instance, became SUD#AN.

In a statement, PwC said its report “disclosed the relevant facts” and that the firm was “proud of its long history of contributing to the safety and soundness of the financial system”. PAPER DRAGONS

Questions about how far big four firms will go to help their clients avoid government oversight have also come up as they have pushed into a new market: China.

China is emerging as an important mover in the offshore world, with most offshore professionals predicting it will become the greatest source of new business over the next five years, according a recent industry survey.

Over the past decade, the big four have gained a foothold in China by auditing Chinese firms that hope to sell shares in the US. In order to roll out a US public offering, Chinese businesses need the approval of the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The big four provided the gloss of respectability that Chinese executives needed to win over American regulators and investors.

In many cases, the seal of approval from big accounting firms didn’t mean the companies were safe bets for investors. In 2012, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review found that dozens of Chinese companies peddling their shares in US have been accused of fraud by investors or the SEC.

As the SEC began investigating suspect Chinese firms, the big four’s member firms in China refused to turn over documents to the agency. The firms argue that if they provide documents to US law enforcers, they’ll run afoul of Chinese corporate secrecy laws.

It should be up to the US and Chinese governments to resolve the standoff, the firms say. “We’re just piggy in the middle,” the partner in charge of compliance for PwC in Greater China, told Reuters.

In January, US Administrative Law Judge Cameron Elliot sided with the government, suspending the big four’s Chinese units for six months from auditing US-regulated companies.

If the big accounting firms “found themselves between a rock and a hard place”, the judge said in his ruling, it was “because they wanted to be there. A good faith effort to obey the law means a good faith effort to obey all law, not just the law one wishes to follow.”

Additional reporting by Stefan Candea and Fernando Rodrigues

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TPG Telecom buys into Amcom and Vocus merger talks

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TPG has bought into Amcom. TPG has bought into Amcom.
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TPG has bought into Amcom.

TPG has bought into Amcom.

TPG Telecom has dramatically dealt itself a seat at the table in merger talks between Amcom and Vocus by becoming a substantial shareholder in one of the players.

Vocus approached Amcom about merging the businesses last week in a move that would create a $1.1 billion telco that owns a national fibre cable network and sells phone and internet services to corporate customers around the country.

It is understood an agreement on the ideal merger terms between Amcom and Vocus is imminent and that an announcement was due as early as Friday, in line with Amcom chief executive Clive Stein’s comments that a decision could be made this week.

But TPG on Thursday afternoon made the surprise decision to ramp up its holding in Amcom to over 5.43 per cent – a move that could potentially throw a spanner in the works and force Vocus to offer more value.

Where Amcom was trading at around $2.20 per share on October 31 when TPG began its buying spree, at close of trading on Thursday it was selling for $2.51 per share. Its market capitalisation has also surpassed that of Vocus.

Documents lodged by TPG show it used Bell Potter Securities to gradually purchase 3.9 million Amcom shares worth $8.9 million from October 31 onwards, which added to its existing holding of around 10.46 million shares.

This makes TPG one of the largest shareholders in Amcom and gives them a substantial say in the future of the company.

CIMB research analyst Ian Martin said TPG’s offer would make it harder for Vocus and Amcom to find common ground.

TPG is one of the three companies Mr Martin had pegged as potential rival bidders for Amcom.

“It’ll now be harder for the two to find common ground,” he said. “These discussions always hinge on who provides what value to the entity.

“But I can’t see [TPG executive chairman] David Teoh given his well-established desire to give value for money engaging in a bidding war with Vocus for Amcom so [the increased stake] is probably just a safety mechanism.”

TPG itself was characteristically quiet, issuing a short two-paragraph statement to the market.

“TPG currently has no specific intention regarding Amcom other than to own shares as a strategic investment,” TPG said.

Corbett: Fairfax doesn’t need to merge to survive

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“”The legislation simply does not meet the current needs of the industry or the community,” Fairfax chair Roger Corbett. “”The legislation simply does not meet the current needs of the industry or the community,” Fairfax chair Roger Corbett.
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“”The legislation simply does not meet the current needs of the industry or the community,” Fairfax chair Roger Corbett.

“”The legislation simply does not meet the current needs of the industry or the community,” Fairfax chair Roger Corbett.

Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett says the company doesn’t need to merge with another media business to ensure its survival, despite blasting existing media ownership laws for “restricting” the industry and “failing” Australians.

Mr Corbett called on the Abbott government to show “decisive leadership” and scrap laws that limit the reach of media companies and ban them from owning newspaper, radio and television assets in the one market.

“The legislation simply does not meet the current needs of the industry or the community. I will go further and say it restricts a modern media industry and fails the Australian consumer,” Mr Corbett said at the company’s annual meeting in Melbourne on Thursday.

“Media companies like Fairfax need to have the flexibility to operate all available media platforms in an environment of intense competition from global media and technology giants for advertising revenue and audiences.”

But Mr Corbett said that didn’t mean Fairfax – which has posted a 2 and 3 per cent drop in revenue since July 1 – needed merge with another media company to survive.

“I wouldn’t wish to imply that,” Mr Corbett said after the annual meeting.

“Fairfax has taken under [chief executive Greg Hywood’s] leadership the actions that it needs to take to readjust its business

“The point that we are making is … technology is moving the news over all those channels simultaneously in real time, and news agencies and papers and radio stations need to be able to merge that whole process because the consumer is consuming the news as they want to consume it.”

Mr Corbett said “people across government” had privately conceded to him “the “legislation’s irrelevance”, which he said was frustrating.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has indicated that he would considering altering the laws if a consensus was reached in the media industry.

Mr Corbett was tight-lipped on what media partnerships could emerge from a change in legislation, saying only that “talks are always going on and we would never comment on those”.

“But clearly if they whole market is opened, all the media companies will adjust to the space and get more efficient and a more effective distribution.”

Fairfax confirmed last month that it had met with free-to-air broadcaster Ten to discuss merger options but said that meeting had no more status than other meetings it was having with other media companies.

Mr Hywood said Fairfax would continue to cut costs in the business. The company as slashed staff numbers from more than 12,000 to just below 8000 in past years and is now turning looking for savings in its regional arm, which includes 150 newspapers and websites.

Mr Hywood said the regional cuts weren’t about closing newspapers, but creating hubs in major centres in an attempt to deliver annualised savings of $40 million by 2016.

“The cost cutting is something which is part of every business 27/7,” Mr Hywood said.

“The interesting thing is having gone through this exercise at Fairfax, is that there was perception of ‘that’s the cost of producing newspapers’. In fact that was not the cost of producing newspapers.

“We have found new, innovative ways of reducing the cost while maintaining the quality and that’s a never ending pursuit. What we do is we get capabilities within the business to be able to do that.”

Such measures have included closing down the metropolitan printing presses in Melbourne and Sydney in favour of regional centres, outsourcing subediting, increasing newspaper cover prices and cutting circulation for the printed products.

Mr Hywood said he believed the company, which reported a turnaround annual profit of $224.4 million in the 12 months to June 30, was close to delivering revenue growth.

“We’re not far away I believe as we continue to get organic growth. We do have potential with a strong balance sheet for potential acquisitions and we have made a few in the [real estate] Domain space to build our revenues up over time.”

Domain’s overall revenue has jumped 21 per cent since July 1, with its total digital business up 35 per cent. Publishing revenue meanwhile has fallen 4 per cent, and Australian Community Media dived 9 per cent.

Radio revenue was down 2 and 3 per cent, but Mr Hywood said that was “improving”.

Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival program released

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A scene from the movie ‘From What is Before’.From a 34-second Japanese animated short to a five-and-a-half hour epic about the Philippines under the Marcos regime, organisers of the first Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival are confident their program will have something for everyone.
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The full program for BAPFF – the phoenix which has arisen from the ashes of the Brisbane International Film Festival – was released on Thursday.

Eighty-five films from more than 30 countries will screen at six locations across the city between November 29 and December 16.

The festival will incorporate the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards at City Hall.

Executive chairman Michael Hawkins said he was confident the tie-in would draw crowds.

“The message we got loud and clear from APSA last year was from people who attended that and saw just a morsel of the films wanted to know where they could see the whole thing,” he said.

“That gave us great encouragement to undertake this.”

Head programmer Kiki Fung moved to Brisbane Marketing to work on BAPFF after Screen Queensland handed over control of the festival to the City Council (along with $700,000 in funding).

“It’s an opportunity for us to look at films from this region in depth,” she said.

“If you’re open-minded and curious, come and join us.”

She said one of her favourite films on the program was From What is Before, by Filipino long-form master Lav Diaz – an exercise in endurance at 338 minutes.

“You would never, ever see this film in a commercial cinema,” she said.

“But if you sit through it, he has a fascinating sense of time and space, and he takes you on a journey into history…and the effect of the Marcos regime on ordinary people in a village.”

By contrast, Japanese animated tale Let Out gets its story across in a mere 34 seconds.

“We have a special program of 14 animated shorts from across the reason, China, Japan, Russia,” she said.

Ms Fung said other highlights included a screening of Crossroads of Youth, Korea’s oldest silent film, presented by a traditional live narrator, a section devoted to women in film, the Palme d’Or winner from Cannes 2014, Winter Sleep, and the world premiere of Blood Links, the story of Australian artist William Yang’s search for his Chinese ancestors.

BAPFF executive chairman Michael Hawkins admitted another event had disrupted the festival’s marketing preparation.

“The timelines have gotten entwined with G20,” he said.

But Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said the BAPFF push would begin soon enough.

“Once G20 has gone, I think there’ll be an immediate switch of focus,” he said.

“There’ll be a sort of anti-climax when G20 finishes when people ask ‘What’s next?’ Well, this is it.”

Cr Quirk said it might take some time for people to get used to BAPFF, after 22 years of BIFF.

“I think people will warm to it, but I think whatever happens this year it will grow,” he said.

The full BAPFF program and timetable is now available online.

TOPICS: Australian Reptile Park’s tips on catching funnel webs for venom milking

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Funnel webs can be milked of their venom, which can be used to make anti-venom to stop bite related deaths.FOR anyone the sane side of Mark Holden, the news that you’re running low on funnel webs might sound just fine.
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Not so Stacey Denovan. Part of the Australian Reptile Park keeper’s job is to ‘‘milk’’ the spiders of their venom, and she’s down to her last 10. It’s getting desperate.

‘‘At our highest point last year we had three or four hundred males,’’ she told Topics.

‘‘And the males don’t live long once they’re on the shelf.’’

The park is the sole supplier of funnel web venom in Australia. It’s used to make anti-venom which, since being developed 33 years ago, has put a stop to bite-related deaths.

Where are we going with this? Look, we’ll come clean. Your help is needed.

Next time you find a funnel web in the yard, the house or the depths of your gumboot, Denovan, Topics and society need you to trap it, scoop it up and drop it off for milking.

‘‘It’s the only way we get them,’’ say Denovan.

‘‘The people who bring them in are gardeners, builders and contractors who find them digging.’’

As shown in this demonstration video, the idea is to find a jar, punch holes in the lid and corral your funnel web with a ruler. It’ll need soil in there for moisture, or some damp cotton.

‘‘They’re easier to deal with than people might think,’’ says Denovan, brightly.

‘‘They don’t jump, can’t climb smooth surfaces and can’t run very quickly.’’

Excellent. It’s a male you’re after. In the matriarchal world of funnel webs they live half as long, are routinely eaten and, with venom six times stronger than females, are in demand for milking. On the upside, they don’t have to tidy the burrow.

John Hunter Hospital and Belmont Hospital are the drop-off points for funnel webs – in a jar. We can’t stress that enough.

ONE of Newcastle’s behind-the-scenes movers and shakers has a gig tonight at the Lass O’Gowrie.

Rod Smith, the legal mind who underpinned Renew Newcastle, will front his four-piece North Arm at the Wickham live music institution. The band just released its EP Life Cycles, and is making a buzz in independent circles.

Smith is a City of Newcastle Service Award-winner for his pro bono work for Renew. With colleagues Alex McInnes and Danielle Larkin, he managed the group’s corporate compliance, tax office endorsements and lease arrangements.

And we’re told his band is worth checking out.

TOPICS finds ourselves in furious agreement with John Safran. It’s about cake.

‘‘There’s a lot of pressure to eat cake in society,’’ the filmmaker wrote this week on Facebook.

‘‘Easily more pressure than taking drugs I’ve found. You’re always insulting someone by not accepting cake. Either you’re rejecting their kindness, or insulting their baking, or implying they’re fat and greedy for gobbling cake and you’re better than them for showing restraint.’’

Exactly. Be it a school fete, wedding, funeral, end of the HSC, our birthday, your birthday, Jesus’ birthday, the latest round of redundancies, people can’t get enough of cake.

This column once shuffled to the side of our own farewell as colleagues busied themselves with a flan. A lady made it her mission that we take some home in tupperware. Why?

The thing is, some of us prefer something savoury – seafood, perhaps. Imagine debating the finer points of whatever with a mate, cracking into a crab, waving a claw for emphasis.

But that’s one idea. Who’s with us? Which food could end the rein of cake?

International film producer is a Canberra boy at heart

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Talented: Former Canberran and film-maker Matthew Metcalfe’s latest film “The Dead Lands” will be screening as part of the Canberra International Film Festival. Photo: Melissa AdamsHe grew up in Canberra and planned to join the navy after finishing university, but Matthew Metcalfe found himself sidetracked by a long-time love of movies.
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Today, the New Zealand-born producer has nine feature films, 10 television features and several music videos under his belt, and spends half his time flying to meetings all over the world.

But he says he’s never forgotten his formative years in Canberra, which is why he chose the capital for the Australian premiere of his new feature film, The Dead Lands.

Set in pre-colonial New Zealand, the film is shot entirely in te reo Maori and is the first feature film to showcase the ancient Maori martial art mau rakau.

“It’s a great action thriller, it’s that classic hero’s journey – the unwitting hero who gets sucked into events beyond his control and who has the choice to either wither away and die or to become strong and face their adversaries down,” he told Fairfax Media this week.

He had been handed the script by writer Glen Standring, optioned it straight away and then sat on it for a couple years.

“I often do that with the films I make, I think about them and wait until I feel right, and then what I did is I took it to a long-time collaborator of mine, Toa Fraser, who directed it, and who I’ve done two previous films with, and he loved it as well. So we decided together that we were going to make the film, and we both felt strongly that we would keep it in te reo, which is the Maori language, for authenticity’s sake.”

Modelled on the ’80s action thrillers he and director Fraser grew up watching, he said it was in many ways a traditional story but one that showed New Zealand history in a new light.

“I’m very proud to say that we had our opening weekend in New Zealand just this weekend gone, and it hands down beat Fury, the Brad Pitt film – we were the number one film in the New Zealand box office,” he said.

“Everyone’s really delighted about such a strong opening and such a strong response. And I think that’s just because it’s a good ride, an off-the-bat, straight-up-and-down action thriller with traditional elements, great action, great fights and a lot of heart.”

Mr Metcalfe said he had fond memories of growing up in the northern suburb of Spence, and studying at Dickson College.

“Canberra is where I went to school, it’s where I grew up, it’s where I learnt to ride a motorbike, where I learnt to drive, where I used to go out to Belconnen Mall on a Friday night,” he said.

“It’s a really nostalgic place for me that I really enjoy and have really fond memories of. People love to hassle Canberra but I really like it.”

He studied at the University of Auckland as a foreign student, and had planned to return to Australia and join the navy.

But  while he was waiting for the course to begin he discovered a mutual love of film with a friend – he had worked part-time as an usher throughout his studies – and started making films, postponing the course before giving it up completely.

The Dead Lands is due for official worldwide release early next year, but Canberrans will get the chance to see it this week as part of the Canberra International Film Festival.

“When this came up, I said absolutely, I’m a Canberra boy and I’d love to take this to Canberra, and I won’t say who but some other festivals lost out because Canberra got it first,” he said.

The Dead Lands screens at Dendy Cinemas on Thursday November 6 at 6.30pm, and on Saturday November 8 at 4pm, and producer Matthew Metcalfe will be introducing both screenings. For a full CIFF program, visit canberrafilmfestival上海龙凤论坛m.au.

Sydney Kings import Josh Childress shouldn’t expect any favours from referees

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It’s an unwritten rule in the NBA that the big names get the superstar calls. Should Josh Childress expect the same treatment in the NBL? On the basis of evidence presented in the early rounds of the season, there’ll be no special treatment for the former NBA forward. On the floor.
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Let’s be honest, the Sydney Kings’ marquee import got off lightly off the court at the tribunal for his hit on Perth forward Jesse Wagstaff. A one-game ban and another match suspended plus a $7500 fine which will hardly break his bank considering he is receiving $7 million from the Phoenix Suns this season not to play for them.

On the court, the NBL referees have not given any extra leeway to Childress, or any of the several other NBA fringe players in the NBL this season.

It’s an impossibly fine line for the refs. They can’t be seen to be handing out preferential treatment to anyone, however the NBL won’t want the likes of Childress, Perth’s Toronto Raptors draftee DeAndre Daniels or Philadelphia 76ers’ Melbourne United loaner Jordan McRae, to be roughed up by some of the more physical teams in the league. That kind of word spreads. The NBL doesn’t want NBA team officials to think there’s an increased risk of injury if they go the Down Under option for players they’ve invested in.

And Childress was definitely targeted by the Wildcats in Perth. It looked like the Kings were dished up a hefty serve of home cooking in that game. It would be hard for refs not to be swayed by the fans at Perth Arena. It’s easily the most hostile NBL arena, with an intimidating crowd upwards of 12,000 fans for most games.

The Perth players know they can get away with more on their home floor. Who could blame them? It truly is a home-court advantage in every sense of the term and the other seven sides would kill to have that kind of atmosphere in their own building.

Childress was clearly frustrated after being pinged for an iffy offensive foul called when Wildcats veteran Damian Martin slipped in front of him at mid-court but it’s highly dubious that he had position before the Sydney star made contact. Then when Wagstaff flattened him while setting a screen and the refs swallowed their whistle, he sought retribution.

His act of revenge did two things – it showed the refs and opponents in the NBL that he would not be pushed around but it also showed rival teams he can be put off his game if confronted with physical play.

Ironically, the referees this season seem to have been doing a much better job of limiting rough play and allowing matches to flow. If Childress was in the NBL a few years ago he could have expected a far rougher time of things.

Points totals have been better than last season and the extra spacing has allowed the likes of Daniels, Breakers guard Cedric Jackson and Cairns hot shot Scottie Wilbekin to display their extraordinary athleticism, a crucial factor in the NBL’s attempts to boost crowds.

Childress, who it must be said has handled the adverse publicity like a seasoned professional and unfortunately had to put up with some cowardly attacks on social media, makes his return in Wollongong on Friday night against a desperate Hawks team which has slumped to a 1-7 record and last place on the ladder.

The Hawks racked up four wins from as many meetings with the Kings last season by employing a robust style of play which got under the skin of Sydney’s previous big-name NBA signing, Sam Young.

With the back-court combination of Kendrick Perry and Ben Madgen yet to click into top gear and a young front-court which wilted in crunch time last weekend in Cairns, the 1-3 Kings need their biggest name to get the job done against the Hawks and then back it up in Sunday’s home clash with Adelaide.

All eyes will be on Childress to see if he contains or maintains his rage.

Taking it to the poll … 

The NBA Eastern Conference poll  attracted more than 1000 votes with 35% of votes for Cleveland, ahead of Chicago at 32% with Miami a distant third with 9%.

The Western Conference poll had 1808 votes and delivered resounding confidence in San Antonio (36%) to win again with the LA Clippers at 14% the next best.