Dec 31, 2010

Experts scathing of 'scatter-gun approach' to mental health

Dec 29, 2010

'Warts-and-all' review of myki

PREMIER Ted Baillieu has not ruled out scrapping the myki ticket system as the government awaits the findings of an independent audit of the beleaguered smartcard.

''Scrapping it would be a serious step, but we need to take some serious measures to deal with what has been a financial disaster, and a functional disaster for commuters,'' Mr Baillieu said yesterday.

''It has been unsuccessful and we need to now make a judgment, based on facts and based on information we will elicit from this review, that is in the best interest of all Victorians.''

The private operators of the state's public transport system, including Metro trains and Yarra Trams, have made submissions to the government review of myki.

During the election the Coalition was highly critical of myki's failures and has wasted little time since taking office in establishing a review.

The review called on operators to give a ''warts-and-all'' opinion of the $1.3 billion myki system, less than a year after it was introduced on Melbourne's public transport network.

The smartcard system began operating on Melbourne trains on December 29 last year, and on trams and buses on July 25.

The Premier said the review would help determine the cost of scaling back myki, scrapping it, or continuing myki in its current form.

Mr Baillieu said he hoped the review would be completed in the next couple of months.

He also confirmed the expansion of the myki to V/Line services had been deferred and plans to switch off the Metcard system by Easter had been pushed back.

The Premier said he had only had 1½ briefings from the Transport Department on the ticket system and that he had not spoken to the operator of myki about a potential abandonment of the program.

John Ferguson, a spokesman for Kamco, the company that runs myki, said the company had made a submission to the review.

Mr Ferguson said the company was ''looking forward'' to myki continuing to oper- ate on the state's public transport network.

Opposition public transport spokeswoman Fiona Richardson said Mr Baillieu needed to explain how he was going to deliver a state-of-the-art ticket system.

''If Mr Baillieu intends to scrap myki, he needs to forget the spin and tell Victorians what they will replace it with and how much it will cost,'' Ms Richardson said.

Transport Minister Terry Mulder told 3AW the government would not cancel Metcard until it was confident myki was the right choice for commuters in Melbourne.

''We don't believe we want to go down that pathway until we understand that we've got a system that functions correctly and doesn't have inherent problems that are going to cause difficulties for the state and for commuters,'' he said.

''We went to the election and we said to the public: 'no one would expect us to pay for something that didn't work because it's taxpayers' money', and that's why we're conducting the review.''

About $700 million has been invested in myki, but Mr Mulder said there was little chance of recovering any of it if the system was scrapped.

The news came as Transport Ticketing Authority research found only 75,000 of the 800,000 myki cards in circulation are used on a typical weekday.

Dec 28, 2010

Fishing the lake gets stunning results - Local News - News - General - The Canberra Times

Stunning fish with electricity doesn't sound like a conservation measure, but the unusual approach is helping scientists protect native fish populations in the ACT.
ACT fisheries officers have been shocking fish in Lake Ginninderra, with samples helping a Murray-Darling Basin Authority study into the epizootic haematopoietic necrosis (EHN) virus.

Their boat resembles a jellyfish, with long metal tentacles protruding from the bow to deliver a 1000-volt current into the depths, stunning nearby fish.

The fish are then collected and measured, with most revived and then released back into the water.

A small number of fish are kept for further scientific study, to check age, diet, disease load and growth rates.

ACT Parks, Conservation and Lands aquatic ecologist Matt Beitzel said the annual exercise helped measure the success of the territory's fish stocking programs.

Thousands of native species, such as Murray cod and golden perch, are stocked in ACT waterways each year, providing recreational fishing and environmental benefits.

The ACT Government has released more than one million fish into lakes and dams since the mid-1990s.

Mr Beitzel said the work would also aid the $640,000 study, funded by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and carried out by the University of Sydney, into the spread and effects of the EHN virus in local waterways.

Blogger: Notes on Civil Society - Publish Status

A federal farm chemical survey has detected higher than acceptable levels of growth-promoting hormones in livestock bred for human consumption.
Growth-enhancers banned 30 years ago in Europe after being linked to health risks including breast cancer, kidney disease and birth defects are still being used in Australia, and classified as safe by federal authorities.

The latest National Residue Survey, tabled just weeks ago in Federal Parliament, detected synthetic hormones in the urine, faeces and livers of cattle, sheep and commercially farmed deer.

These are the same hormones Coles is proposing to ban from its national supermarket chain in response to rising consumer demand for organic produce.

Last month, Coles began phasing out beef from cattle treated with hormone growth-promotants, including testosterone, progesterone and other steroids known collectively as HGPs. In 2011, it will become Australia's first national food retailer to sell exclusively hormone-free beef.

The move has angered peak livestock groups, who say there is no scientific evidence linking the use of growth hormones to health risks.

The $11 million National Residue Survey, which tests animal and plant products for environmental contaminants and pesticide and veterinary medicine residues, reveals no maximum Australian standards for urine and faecal traces are set for at least 15 growth hormones used by the cattle industry.

Dec 24, 2010

Giants of retail count their losses as the web threat comes of age | The Australian

MORE than 10 years after internet retailing was touted as the next big thing, traditional merchants are finally beginning to feel the pinch.  The strong dollar and tax exemptions are driving consumers online in search of bargains.   Gerry Harvey, who for years held a sceptical view about the threat posed by internet-based competitors, is now in the vanguard of retailers pushing for an end to tax exemptions on foreign internet purchases of less than $1000 -- a measure they say unfairly favours online operators.

However, even without these advantages -- at least one of which is likely to be temporary -- analysts say online retailing has now achieved the critical mass necessary to pose a threat to the status quo. In a report commissioned by the federal government, Access Economics estimates that online purchases totalled between $19 billion and $24bn in 2009, or around 3 per cent of total retail sales. That may not sound like much in relative terms, but it's growing, and fast.

Forrester Research has estimated that Australian online spending grew by 12 per cent, compared with just 2.2 per cent overall retail growth over the 12 months to the end of October, the most recent figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

While Mr Harvey and fellow retailers at Myer, Target and Just Group have focused their anger on tax breaks that favour foreign internet operators, Access said between 50 and 80 per cent of Australian online purchases were made with locally based businesses.

By that estimate, Australians are sending anywhere between $3.8bn and $12bn to foreign retailers every year -- money that local retailers would prefer was spent at their shops.

The campaign being led by Myer and Harvey Norman is also highlighting the level of tax revenue the government is missing out on by allowing most of these purchases to be made free of GST and import duty -- estimated at $2.5bn a year.

And the figures will only get bigger, with data from market researcher Experian showing website traffic to offshore retailers rising by 79 per cent over the past 12 months for clothing, 32 per cent for appliances and 29 per cent for health and beauty.

"The threat of internet retailing to in-store retail has been around for more than 10 years, but we think the threat is now becoming real," said Morgan Stanley analyst Thomas Kierath.

Citigroup estimates online shopping accounts for 9 per cent of book purchases by Australian shoppers, 8 per cent of CD and DVD sales, 6 per cent of apparel and accessories, and 5 per cent of both electronics and health and beauty.

But Mr Kierath said that if Australian internet shopping rates rose over the next five years to the level prevalent in the US, online purchasing could account for 22 per cent of overall retail sales growth.

The impact would not be evenly spread, with retailers of newspapers and books likely to suffer most as 117 per cent of sales growth was captured by the internet, indicating a decline in sales via traditional channels.

Meanwhile, 48 per cent of sales growth in the electrical and electronic sector was likely to go to internet retailers, 41 per cent of department stores, and 34 per cent of clothing and footwear.

These trends can already be seen at the Australian arm of online auction site eBay, which reports women's shoes, handbags, music CDs and electronic games as its biggest sellers -- most of which are sold brand new by businesses, despite the common perception of the site as an online garage sale. Chief among the attractions for shoppers is price -- shoppers buying from offshore retailers based in countries with no sales tax on exports can save 15 per cent.

Citigroup notes that for two of the most popular categories for online shopping -- and the ones that have prompted the most vocal protests from Myer et al -- sales are dominated by clearance outlets, providing further cost savings for shoppers.

"We see the online channel as a natural success in clearance products as particular value-conscious shoppers can be targeted," said Citi analysts Andy Bowley and Craig Woolford.

In the Australian market, bargain-based website DealsDirect has annual sales of $100m and Catch of the Day has $60m, while Myer has just $32m and JB Hi-Fi $20m. "The challenge with clearance sales is that supply of product is limited -- a brand owner doesn't plan to grow outlet sales at the expense of full-price stores; clearance sales primarily arise because inventory has been mismanaged."

Accordingly, the future growth of online clearance outlets would find a natural ceiling at about 5 per cent of relevant categories and pose only a limited threat to full-price department stores and speciality retailers, they said.

However, Morgan Stanley expects Australian retailers to "sharpen up" their online businesses, as the National Broadband Network and increasing use of smartphones make shopping as ubiquitous as reading a newspaper.

David Jones has already thrown its hat into the ring, relaunching its shopping website last month after an earlier attempt was abandoned in 2003.

Meanwhile, shopping centre group Westfield has created an "online mall" portal for more than 50 tenant retailers to sell their wares and gift cards.

Big W and Kmart also launched transaction sites this year.

But a threatened innovation from Myer and Harvey Norman -- offering tax-free shopping by shipping directly from offshore distribution hubs -- may never see the light of day. In response to retailer complaints of unfair taxation, the government this month commissioned the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry into the the future of the retail sector, the results of which will be handed to parliament next September.

Add in the usual delays to straighten out policy and enact legislation, and Premier Investments boss Solomon Lew says it will be years before retailers can hope for any relief.

But Myer chief Bernie Brookes has said he could begin selling tax free as early as February, with Chinese-made clothing ordered from the company's website to be shipped from Shenzhen.

Gerry Harvey, who has flagged similar plans, believes the federal government would not allow the retailers to evade tax so openly.  "The day we do it they'll probably shut it down," he said.  If that's what it takes to hold back the tide of internet competition, his colleagues will probably think it was worth it.

Dec 23, 2010

People of the E-Book? Observant Jews Struggle With Sabbath in a Digital Age - Uri Friedman - Technology - The Atlantic

The migration of print media to the web and digital devices has stirred society to ponder many Big Questions: Is Google making us stupid? Has technology short-circuited our children's attention spans? Are we frittering away our lives gaping at smartphone screens? All this while the most obvious question goes unanswered: what will Jews read on the Sabbath?

Many observant Jews do not operate lights, computers, mobile phones, or other electrical appliances from sundown on Friday until three stars appear in the night sky on Saturday. They abstain from these activities because, over the last century, rabbinic authorities have compared electricity use to various forms of work prohibited on the Sabbath by the Bible and post-biblical rabbinic literature, including lighting a fire and building. The difficulty of interpreting the Bible's original intent and applying it to modern technology has rendered electricity use on the Sabbath one of the more contentious topics in Jewish law.

E-readers are problematic not only because they are electronic but also because some rabbis consider turning pages on the device - which causes words to dissolve and then resurface - an act of writing, also forbidden on the Sabbath.

When they're not praying, studying, eating, socializing, or sleeping, observant Jews often devote a substantial portion of the Sabbath's 25 hours to reading - in print. As former New York Times religion reporter Ari Goldman explains in his book Being Jewish, it's thanks to the Sabbath that the "simple pleasure of reading is alive at least one night a week in our house." He recounts how "children who find every excuse all week not to read happily pick up a book on Friday night" and how he and his wife clip newspaper articles during the week to share with their children at the Sabbath table.

E-readers are problematic because some rabbis consider turning pages on the device - which causes words to dissolve and then resurface - an act of writing, also forbidden on the Sabbath.
Yet industry trends suggest digital media will eclipse print in a matter of decades. U.S. News & World Report is printing its last issue for subscribers this month, adopting a "digital-first" strategy already embraced by news outlets like the Christian Science Monitor. A Forrester Research analyst argued last month that book publishers must prepare "for a day in which physical book publishing is an adjunct activity that supports the digital publishing business."

So how are Jews responding? Some are thinking of ways to accommodate emerging technology within the structure of traditional Sabbath observance while others wrestle with the implications of the shifting media landscape for Jewish law and observance. A number stress that, regardless of legal considerations, the Sabbath's rules and spirit have never been more important they are today, when technology saturates our lives.

The discussion arises at a moment when all religions are exploring what the digital revolution means for their communities, whether it's the Amish deciding which devices to adopt, Muslims experimenting with online worship, or Roman Catholic clergy wondering whether social networks represent a new form of pastoral ministry.

Perhaps the simplest way to engage with digital media on the Sabbath is to plan ahead and print reading materials out during the week. But others are floating more high-tech solutions. The blogger Morris Rosenthal, for example, imagines a special Kindle that can bypass Sabbath prohibitions by disabling its buttons, turning itself on at a preset time, and flipping through a book at a predetermined clip.

Jeffrey Fox, a Modern Orthodox rabbi and the head of Yeshivat Maharat, an institution in Riverdale, NY that trains women to be religious leaders, doubts this type of device will catch on. Unlike popular Sabbath-compliant electronic appliances such as the Shabbat Elevator or the Shabbat Amigo scooter, he explains, there is no burning need to read a Kindle on the Sabbath, absent print materials vanishing entirely.

Fox believes that e-readers - like other electrical appliances that don't generate light and heat - are technically permissible on the Sabbath but should not be used because they are a step away from forbidden activity and because, in epitomizing our weekday existence, aren't appropriate for the Sabbath.

Rabbi Daniel Nevins, dean of the rabbinical school at the Conservative Movement's Jewish Theological Seminary, says that even if an e-reader is invented that adheres to Jewish law, he worries such a device could undermine the Sabbath's values.

"The Torah says you shouldn't leave your place on the seventh day," Nevins explains. "You can say Judaism is creating a local ideal that you experience Shabbat in a place with people and don't go out of those boundaries ... The problem with virtual experiences is they distract our attention from our local environment and break all boundaries of space and time. Shabbat is about reinforcing boundaries of space and time so we can have a specific experience."

Nevins is writing a legal opinion on using electronic devices on the Sabbath in which he supports the use of appliances like electrical wheelchairs that help disabled individuals participate in communal life but not devices like e-readers that could disturb the Sabbath's tranquility. He plans to submit the opinion for discussion and eventually a vote to the Conservative movement's law-making body in May.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism in New York, explains that since the Reform movement doesn't consider Jewish law binding, "The key for us [on the Sabbath] is abstaining from work that we do to earn a living and using the time to reflect and enjoy and sanctify, which is ultimately what the day is about. To the extent to which technology can contribute to that, then by all means make use of it."

Fox thinks that if the Orthodox community comes to reevaluate its stance on electricity use on the Sabbath, it won't be a reaction to e-readers alone but rather a result of our homes, in the next 50 to 75 years, becoming so thoroughly wired that Jews will be left with no choice but to use electronic devices.

Nevins sees parallels between contemporary discussions about electronic devices and the Conservative movement's decision in the 1950s (when the automobile and television were the new technologies) to permit driving to synagogue on the Sabbath.

"As Jews were moving to the suburbs ... we said we're going to lose everyone if we don't let them drive to synagogue," he says. "To some extent it was true because people would drive one way or the other but, on the other hand, making peace with [driving to synagogue] formally undermined an ideal we have, which was the neighborhood community. There is a similar danger here. If we become too relaxed about this we could lose the distinctive flavor of Shabbat."

Nevins' message about shielding the Sabbath's spirit against the gale of digital transformation echoes among Jews of different levels of observance.

In a trend that probably hasn't dealt too severe a blow to the e-reader market, some observant Jews are refraining from buying e-readers altogether, reasoning that they do the majority of their reading on the Sabbath (see here, here, and here). One such e-reader holdout, an Orthodox Jew named Renee Beyda, explained in the Forward that she wouldn't want it any other way:

There is a saying in Judaism that one should be flexible like a reed, but that doesn't mean that my family will be buying e-readers anytime soon. After dinner [on the Sabbath], all five of us crawl under the fluffy down comforter of my king-size bed, each holding a book, vying for a spot close enough to the sole lit lamp in the room. These are the times I marvel at how only something as bizarre as keeping Shabbat could create this scene, which holding a screen could never replicate.

This past March, Reboot, a New York-based nonprofit led by Jewish artistic types, launched its first annual National Day of Unplugging to underscore the group's "Sabbath Manifesto," an attempt to recast the ancient Jewish day of rest for the modern age. Jews of various backgrounds joined non-Jews in experimenting with the Manifesto's principles, the first of which declared, "Avoid Technology."

The blogger Menachem Wecker framed the digital dilemma confronting Jews succinctly in an article in the Forward back in 2007: "Will Shabbat observance ultimately dwindle as people choose electronic entertainment over media-free rest, or will technology-addicted folks flock to Shabbat to escape their electronics-obsession of the rest of the week?"

Detox denied

Tis the season to be jolly. And for those of us who wind up being too jolly, to shamble into the new year feeling scuzzy and in need of a spot of detox.

If by detox you mean laying off the grog, eating some fruit and salad and drinking plenty of water, go right ahead — your body will thank you. But if you mean buying up a bunch of pills and potions, adhesive patches and foot baths, following some sort of ‘‘cleansing’’ diet and paying someone to stick a hose up your backside, you’d be much better off saving your money.

You see, our bodies are perfectly capable of dealing with the occasional excess of food and drink. We carry our liver and kidneys around with us everywhere we go, and in most people they work just fine.

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The notion of detox is a strange and fuzzy thing. In the wider sense it’s based on the idea that we’re all constantly being poisoned by everything we eat and drink and by the very air that we breathe, but the evidence for this never seems to be produced. And when it comes to any particular detox product or service, the claims about what it actually does tend to be so vague as to be untestable and essentially meaningless.

A mere assertion that a pill or potion ‘‘supports liver function’’ is worth nothing in the absence of evidence to back it up. It’s just as true to say that a sausage roll with tomato sauce supports liver function. After all, your liver doesn’t work when you’re dead, you need food to live and sausage rolls are a kind of food. Hell, a single sausage roll can easily support your immune system, your nervous system and your circulatory system, all while underpinning your entire libido. Move over, acai berries — nature has a new super-food!

Unlike sausage rolls, however, some detox products are transparently bunk. Ben Goldacre and Brian Dunning are among those who have written about things such as the electric detox foot bath that turns water brown with rust (not with foot toxins) and the adhesive foot patches that turn brown and sticky because they’re made with wood vinegar (not because they’re sucking toxins out of your feet).

Another is the rubbery, unnatural-looking stools that people pass after undergoing colonic irrigation. This mucoid plaque, the irrigators never seem to realise, is actually just the solidified clay and/or fibre that was squirted up there during the procedure.

Sense about Science has a pithy little takedown of end-of-year detox, Detox Dossier, in which real scientists get detox merchants to explain what their products are supposed to do.

Amusing as it can be, though, there’s still a very serious side to all this. Colonic irrigation can be deadly, and an obsession with toxins is sometimes a sign that you’re dealing with a germ theory denier — of which there is no shortage in the world of alternative medicine.

By all means give your liver a rest, but you might as well give your wallet a rest too.

Around the science webs:

The Sceptics’ Book of Pooh-Pooh looks at the year in science and scepticism.

Tetrapod Zoology looks at carnivorous cows and deer.

Eight-year-old schoolkids publish a scientific paper.

Dec 22, 2010

Byron Shire Council red tape threatens Bob Dylan's appearance at Bluesfest Bob Dylan Bob Dylan's appearance at Byron Bay's Bluesfest is under a cloud

A BYRON Bay music festival risks having a 2011 encore performance by music legend Bob Dylan strangled by local government red tape.

Bluesfest director Peter Noble has threatened Byron Shire Council with court action over its decision to delay planning approval for the proposed April 26 concert until February.

Mr Noble said this amounted to a "quasi denial" of Bluesfest's application for an extra day. Representatives for Dylan and fellow performer Elvis Costello had agreed to an extra show following Dylan's April 25 sell-out gig, but needed confirmation by mid-January, Mr Noble said.

Council is trying to meet by New Year's Eve to approve the extra day.

Greece faces risks of junk credit rating, warns Fitch

FITCH Ratings became the third major credit rating agency this month to put struggling Greece's ratings on review for a possible downgrade.

A downgrade by Fitch would push the country's ratings into junk territory as they currently cling to a BBB- rating, the lowest investment-grade level.

The move sent the euro modestly lower versus the US dollar.

Fitch said it will assess Greece's fiscal sustainability in the wake of measures authorities have taken earlier this year, as well as the outlook for the Greek economy and the political will and capacity of the country to carry out measures required by the International Monetary Fund and European Union.

Greece -- a snapshot of the debt crisis that has swept Europe -- has been working on slashing its final 2011 budget as it stumbles through a second year of a grinding recession and amid a grim outlook for next year.

Terror plot aimed at UK landmarks

RITISH security officials say a large-scale terror attack was aimed at landmarks and public spaces, as more details of the plot emerged and police searched the homes of 12 British suspects being held for questioning.

The men were arrested yesterday in the largest counterterrorism raid in nearly two years. At least five were of Bangladeshi origin.

Lord Carlile, the government's independent reviewer of terror legislation, said overnight the alleged plot appeared significant and involved several UK cities. Police have up to 28 days to either charge the men or release them.

Possible targets included the Houses of Parliament and shopping areas, according to a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Airbus warning on speed sensors

AIRBUS is warning pilots about a dangerous potential malfunction of speed sensors on aircraft like the Air France A330 that crashed into the Atlantic last year killing all 228 people aboard.

The European jet maker has sent the warning over Pitot tubes to the roughly 100 operators of its A330 and A340-200 and A340-300 long-range, widebody aircraft.

Airbus spokesman Justin Dubon said overnight the warning advises pilots not to re-engage automatic pilot following false readings from airspeed indicators until they have double-checked the readings.

Airbus has discovered that in some cases two Pitots can give matching, incorrect speed data, which could lead pilots to re-engage autopilot prematurely.

Pitots are suspected of a role in the June 2009 Rio to Paris crash.javascript:void(0)

Dec 21, 2010

NBN no cheaper than existing internet plans, says Malcolm Turnbull | The Australian

The National Broadband Network will not deliver cheaper internet services, the Opposition Communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull has said.

Mr Turnbull also told The Australian Online that the NBN business case, released by the government yesterday, confirmed the Government was still not prepared to publish the complete business plan.

“This is just a 160-page summary of a 400-page document,” he said.

It also utilised “incredibly optimistic assumptions” that would “give [the government] a good result”.

“On any view, sadly life doesn’t always work out in line with optimistic assumptions and we know that.”

Mr Turnbull said that the business case confirmed that the “retail price for their basic service, 12 megabits service, is actually no cheaper than, and in some cases dearer, than existing plans.”

Mr Turnbull said he was sent a host of emails from people who were receiving their internet access at prices that were already much cheaper than the projected cost of the basic 12 megabits service offered under the NBN of between $53 and $58.

He cited in particular emails from individuals on “naked DSL plans of $30 dollars a month” which means they receive a broadband service without a phoneline service.

“For many Australians, this is not going to give them anything more than what they have now,” Mr Turnbull told The Australian Online.

He said the brunt of efforts should be dedicated to fixing problems in the existing broadband coverage, saying “you don’t need to build a completely new network to do that”.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who forced the government to release a 36-page summary of the NBN business plan back in November, told The Australian Online that although he usually read for leisure over the Christmas period, he would be going over the 160-page NBN business case with a “fine tooth comb”.

He identified a number of areas which he would pay particular attention to including the “take up rate, the potential impact of wireless and also the whole issue of the cherry picking provisions, what impact it will have getting new entrants into the market place”.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy conducted a media blitz this morning, hitting the airwaves to sell the business case, which revealed the network will be taken up by an expected 70 per cent of households.

Senator Conroy defended the expected 70 per cent take-up rate, telling ABC radio this was the projected figure after “you take out vacant homes, you take out wireless-only homes and you take out the 4 to 5 per cent of Optus HFC customers”.

He said the government would deliver a “world-class broadband service no matter where you live”.

“There’s often a lot of criticism that we should leave it to the market… but the vast majority of Australians are struggling to get decent internet speeds, they are struggling to get competitive prices.”

He argued that the copper network was outmoded in the 21st century and was incapable of delivering “the capacity into the future that a fibre network can”.

But communications expert Peter Cox cast doubt on the business case this morning, telling The Australian Online it was the “scariest plan I’ve ever seen in my life”.

“Normally, in doing a business plan we make them three year projections plus a further two years which are really estimates for the fourth and fifth years,” Mr Cox said.

“This plan is a 30-year plan. After the first 10 years of the plan their capex (capital expenditure) and their opex (operational expenditure) are $57.7 billion and their revenue is $20.8 billion. So, after 10 years, they are $37 billion down.

“You wouldn’t build a mine, you wouldn’t build port infrastructure, nothing like that where [the return on your investment was] 20 to 30 years out,” he told The Australian Online.

Mr Cox also said the nine and a half year build seemed “very long” suggesting it could be subject to problems because of labour shortages in a period of close to full employment.

“The potential for cost increase and labour cost over the period of the contract could have a serious impact on the business plan,” he said.

The long build also meant that more people could switch to wireless in the meantime, with Mr Cox questioning the assumption in the business case that wireless usage would only grow to 16.4 per cent in the next 20 years.

He also warned against preparing for the future by gambling on a new technology like fibre.

Mr Cox argued the comparison made by the Gillard Government between the NBN and the Snowy Mountains Scheme was the “greatest fallacy that Malcolm Turnbull never bothered to respond to”.

He said the Snowy Hydro scheme contributed only 3 per cent towards Australia’s power generation needs and that it underlined the “danger of trying to select technologies for the future”.

Dec 20, 2010

Lawyers cry foul over leak of Julian Assange sex-case papers | The Australian

LAWYERS for Julian Assange have expressed anger about an alleged smear campaign against the Australian WikiLeaks founder.

Incriminating police files were published in the British newspaper that has used him as its source for hundreds of leaked US embassy cables.

In a move that surprised many of Mr Assange's closest supporters on Saturday, The Guardian newspaper published previously unseen police documents that accused Mr Assange in graphic detail of sexually assaulting two Swedish women. One witness is said to have stated: "Not only had it been the world's worst screw, it had also been violent."

Bjorn Hurtig, Mr Assange's Swedish lawyer, said he would lodge a formal complaint to the authorities and ask them to investigate how such sensitive police material leaked into the public domain. "It is with great concern that I hear about this because it puts Julian and his defence in a bad position," he told a colleague.

"I do not like the idea that Julian may be forced into a trial in the media. And I feel especially concerned that he will be presented with the evidence in his own language for the first time when reading the newspaper. I do not know who has given these documents to the media, but the purpose can only be one thing - trying to make Julian look bad."

Mr Assange is facing criminal allegations in Sweden over claims by two women that he sexually assaulted them while he was in the country earlier this year.

Another supporter close to the WikiLeaks founder said the leak appeared designed by the authorities in Sweden to jeopardise Mr Assange's defence. "There has been a selective smear through the disclosure of material. That material, in Swedish, was passed to a journalist at The Guardian," a source said. "The timing appears to have been cynically calculated to have the material published in the middle of the bail application and the appeal."

Mr Assange, 39, was arrested and held in custody at Wandsworth prison in south London after Sweden issued an extradition request. He was released on bail last week after a High Court judge dismissed an appeal by the British authorities, on behalf of the Swedes, to overturn an earlier decision to free him.

The Australian was told that he could walk free on a surety of £275,000 ($432,305). The money came from nine celebrity backers including Jemima Khan and Bianca Jagger.

In an editorial, The Guardian defended its decision to report on the incriminating police files. It said having been given access to the official papers, it had a duty to present a "brief summary" of the sex allegations against Mr Assange, together with his response.

Others were less enthused by The Guardian's treatment of its top source, pointing out that this is someone whom the newspaper has elevated into hero status as a campaigner for freedom of information. Some commentators point to the apparent hypocrisy of some of Mr Assange's supporters, such as the journalist John Pilger, bemoaning the Swedish police leaks, given their campaign for a man whose life is devoted to publishing confidential material. "Hoist by his own petard," said one observer.

Ever since the sex assault claims surfaced, Mr Assange has claimed that they are part of a conspiracy by the Swedes and the Americans to punish him for having masterminded the leak of the US cables. His lawyers, including Mark Stephens, are confident they can stop Mr Assange's extradition on both legal and human rights grounds. They point out that the offence of "minor rape", with which he may be charged, has no equivalent in British law because the accused can be guilty even if a woman consents.

A spokesman for The Guardian said: "Julian is not a confidential source. The argument that the papers involved with the WikiLeaks cables should not report criticism of him is one all journalists would find ridiculous."

Gold price to continue rising in 2011 | The Australian

GOLD mining companies expect the current gold rush to continue as gold prices are forecast to continue rising in 2011.

The positive run on gold is expected to continue because of the financial concerns about the state of the global economy, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) said in a survey published today.

PWC interviewed executives at 44 companies and found that nearly 75 per cent of all the gold mining companies expect gold prices to continue rising until the fourth quarter of 2011 and about 82 per cent of those surveyed expect their forecasted gold production to increase.

Gold companies predict gold will peak between $US1400 an ounce and $US3000/oz with 40 per cent believing the price will peak around $US1500 when the survey was conducted in November 2010, PWC said.

Dec 1, 2010

Keeping data under lock and keyboard

Unwitting employees are being used to steal sensitive corporate information, writes Cynthia Karena.

Don't think you can rely on advances in technology to take care of online security threats to your business. You and your employees are the biggest threat, according to a cyber-crime lecturer at Macquarie University, Milton Baar.

The smart attackers ''don't hack software and hardware, they hack people'' to plant malware in organisations, Baar says.

''At the corporate level [we can expect to see] more emails, more web links and more enticements to link that appear to come from legitimate sites.''

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A frequent refrain from small-to-medium businesses is that there is nothing of value on their machines, says a security analyst at Gartner, Rob McMillan.

''Information about the business could be used to generate loans in the name of the business and information about staff [such as banking details] could be used to obtain fraudulent loans or break into a bank account,'' he says.

Rather than helping secure your system, advances in technology are also creating a new wave of online security threats for businesses.

Malware on mobile phones is going to take off in the next year or two, says Gernot Heiser, a senior researcher at NICTA, an Australian ICT research organisation. ''Mobile phones used to access business systems make them an increasing target for malware,'' says Heiser, a co-founder of mobile phone software company Open Kernel Labs.

Mobile phones are the ''new weakest links'', says the chief technology officer at internet security company Pure Hacking, Ty Miller.

''If a mobile device is brought into an organisation, there is a risk of transferring malicious content on the phone to a laptop, [which means] an attacker could have access to corporate data,'' Miller says. Mobile phones are typically off the radar for regular software and security updates, he says. ''Smart phones and tablets - even though they are computers - are considered as appliances and are not included in the patch management process.''

Open Kernel Labs and AVG Technologies (with its recent acquisition of mobile-security company DroidSecurity) are working on technology to protect mobile phones.

''Meanwhile, the best short-term defence is to be very careful what you allow on your phone,'' Heiser says. ''App [stores] screen apps but it is unfeasible to keep doing that with the proliferation of apps being developed.'' Finally, Heiser says it pays to make sure employees are aware of the dangers of using personal phones to access a business system.

Another weak link in security is the cloud. Businesses thinking of saving on operating costs by moving systems into a cloud need to remember that the cloud is an unknown environment. Are the savings worth the effort of assessing the security risk of the host provider?

''A host provider has full access to your data,'' Miller says. ''There was [the case] two months ago where a Gmail employee started going through people's email accounts.

''If you have nothing private or sensitive, then you can put it on the cloud.'' Also, as businesses are placing more and more data on the cloud, they are not aware of where it ends up, says Anna Liu, the cloud computing research leader at NICTA and an associate professor at the University of NSW.

''Is it still in Australia?'' she asks. ''Is it in the US? Can the online service provider use that data [in another context]? Different countries have different laws for privacy data. The US can examine your data if they suspect national security issues. Is that consistent with your business conduct?

''We put great trust in online service providers. The cloud is an environment where many different businesses share the same environment. This increases the potential for a side-channel attack, where one business attacks another in the cloud. They may get inappropriate control of the underlying platform and, therefore, potentially of other business users' data and applications running on the same shared environment.''

Web browsers are another concern, Miller says. ''Web browser companies are constantly trying to improve features but as browsers become more complex, more security vulnerabilities are introduced.''

This means internal corporate networks could be compromised through phishing attacks as well as targeting smartphones and tablet PCs, he says.

It is even more important that businesses maintain vigilance in making sure all the usual security tasks are done. ''Keep all software up-to-date and make sure patching is done,'' Miller says.