Shareholders want power to ‘escalate’ issues

A group representing some of the nation’s biggest superannuation funds says shareholders need greater powers to ensure their concerns are heard at company AGMs – including on environmental and social issues.
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The n Council of Superannuation Investors, which represents super funds and institutions managing $1.6 trillion in assets, wants shareholders to have the ability to put non-binding, advisory resolutions on the agendas of company AGMs – a move it says would allow shareholders to “escalate” environmental, social or governance (ESG) issues when companies had otherwise failed to act on investor concerns.

It says the system governing so-called “shareholder resolutions” in is flawed, restricts shareholder rights and lags behind the regimes in Britain and the US.

Shareholder resolutions are in the spotlight this AGM season, with non-government-organisations (NGOs) like Market Forces and the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility lodging a series of social or environmental-related items at companies including Santos, Woolworths and BHP.

The bulk of resolutions put to shareholders at company meetings are proposed and endorsed by boards, but groups of 100 or more shareholders – or shareholders owning at least 5 per cent of the company – can put forward their own resolutions.

But such resolutions must not venture into areas that involve management of the company, regarded as the domain of boards, not shareholders.

To get around this, the resolutions often first propose a change to companies’ constitutions – requiring a near-impossible hurdle of 75 per cent shareholder approval. Such resolutions have proved unpopular with many investors who are reluctant to vote in favour of constitutional change, even if they support the subject of the resolution itself.

Under ACSI’s proposed reform, a non-binding, advisory resolution could be passed with just 50 per cent shareholder support, but would still require the backing of at least 100 or more shareholders – or shareholders owning at least 5 per cent of the company’s issued capital – before it could be put to other investors.

n shareholders already have the power to lodge a protest vote on director and executive pay through the two-strikes policy, which triggers a resolution on a board spill if more than 25 per cent of shareholders vote against a company’s remuneration report two years in a row.

Shareholders in Britain and the US have broader powers to propose non-binding resolutions, although in the US, at the company’s request, they can be subject to a lengthy “informal review” by the Securities and Exchange Commission. In the UK, courts have the power to block resolutions deemed “vexatious, frivolous or defamatory”. Active ownership

Shareholder resolutions are usually opposed by companies’ boards, and attract very small shareholder votes in their favour.

But they also attract attention to the issue at hand, for example with the ACCR’s resolution regarding BHP’s membership of the Minerals Council.

Some institutional investors say they find the resolutions helpful, because they make it easier to discuss ESG issues with company boards. But some directors argue that they can divert board resources, ignore efforts companies have already made on ESG issues and can push agendas that are – as stated by several companies in response to the resolutions – not in the interests of shareholders as a whole.

As part of its research, ACSI interviewed 20 big investors from and overseas, and studied the regimes governing shareholder resolutions in Britain and the US, where resolutions are much more common.

ACSI chief executive Louise Davidson said there was “clear consensus” among investors of the need for reform, with the current system “[making] it very difficult to consider a resolution on its merits, because you are having to think about whether you want to change the constitution of the company to accommodate it.”

Ms Davidson said that – rather than investors considering such changes on a company-by-company basis – “it ought to be a market-wide reform”.

Currently, she said, shareholders left unhappy about certain issues were left with the “blunt instrument” of voting against the re-election of company directors, an action which many investors were reluctant to take – especially if they were otherwise happy with the direction of the company.

She said n shareholders needed a better way to express concerns about ESG issues.

After considering other options, ACSI recommended a non-binding vote because it was considered a “good fit” with ‘s corporate culture, where – unlike in the US – boards are more willing to discuss issues directly with investors.

A spokesman for financial services minister Kelly O’Dwyer said the government was aware of ACSI’s report and would consider its recommendations in due course. This would include “whether further legislative reform of the Corporations Act is warranted”.

“Ensuring that public companies are accountable to their shareholders is crucial, and shareholders play a critical role as a check on good governance,” he said. Proxy support

Brynn O’Brien, executive director of the ACCR, backed ACSI’s proposal. “This is a missing part of the corporate governance landscape in ,” she said.

ACSI’s plan also had the measured backing of at least two of the nation’s influential proxy advice groups, who guide institutional investors on how to vote at company meetings.

Ownership Matters principal Dean Paatsch said there was merit in “tweaking” the system to allow shareholder feedback on non-financial risks, given it was “very difficult” to support constitutional amendments.

“They can bind the board in perpetuity and create an avenue for future litigation,” he said.

But he cautioned that any changes to the current system should come with “some sensible rules around what resolutions can be put to shareholders”.

Daniel Smith, general manager at CGI Glass Lewis, said his firm supported non-binding resolutions in principle, but believed an independent third party – such as the n Securities and Investments Commission – should have the power to review resolutions.

“We are also supportive of giving shareholders the right to an annual non-binding vote on a sustainability report,” he said. “Such instruments could give shareholders additional meaningful tools of communication to boards, without going down the rabbit hole of attempting to direct the company.”

This year, CGI Glass Lewis recommended in support of Market Forces’ shareholder resolution at the Santos annual meeting, which called on the company to improve its disclosure of climate change risk. The resolution attracted 5.2 per cent of votes in favour.

The n Institute of Company Directors said it was still considering the report, but said it was a “thoughtful contribution” to the debate.

“Mechanisms that can enhance governance frameworks, without diverting corporate resources into self-interested causes, are worthy of discussion,” said AICD general manager advocacy Louise Petschler.

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Xi Jinping: a man for all committees

Beijing: A beaming portrait of Comrade Xi Jinping dominated The People’s Daily front page, towering over a smaller image of China’s new leadership group of seven men.
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The communist party transfers power to a new Politburo Standing Committee twice a decade.

A Chinese president and party general secretary is usually installed just once every ten years.

So five years into the job, this week was the litmus test of Xi’s real power. Entering his second term, it was time to mould an inner circle unfettered by his predecessor, Hu Jintao, and party elder Jiang Zemin.

As the image on the front page of the party’s official mouthpiece faithfully reflected on Thursday, Xi emerged as the strong man.

Breaking with party tradition, he declined to appoint a potential successor to the Standing Committee. Would Xi stay forever?

A party congress of 2200 yes men had a day earlier changed China’s constitution to enshrine ‘Xi Jinping Thought: Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’.

Chinese state media encouraged the view this historic development had seen Xi rise to the level of Mao Zedong in the communist pantheon.

Cadres and school children alike would read the Thought as a guide to action.

Xi mapped out this ‘new era’, a 30-year plan for China’s global rise, on its own socialist terms.

US President Donald Trump, from a White House riven by Republican insurrection, congratulated Xi on his “extraordinary elevation”, telling US media “some people might call him the king of China”.

But is China really in the grip of the “cult of Xi”?

Despite predictions that Xi would stack the standing committee with his followers, he respected the faction system.

It was designed in the wake of Mao to introduce intra-party competition in a one-party state.

Two Xi loyalists rose and he dominates, but the weakened Communist Youth League and Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai Gang each kept a seat, replacing retiring faction members with new faces.

These included an economic reformer who once dabbled in grass roots village democracy in Guangdong, Wang Yang, plus the party boss of market-friendly Shanghai, Han Zheng.

(The renewal of the 25-member Politburo, the next rung down, was a bigger sweep, with two-thirds of new faces said to be Xi men).

The appearance of theorist Wang Huning to a frontline political role may hint there is more to the unprecedented rise of Xi than simply a grab for personal power.

Before he disappeared inside the party machine in 1995, to work for three leaders as a political advisor, academic Wang was best known for his theory of “new authoritarianism”.

A strong and unified central party leadership was crucial for Chinese reform, Wang argued.

Wang is Xi’s speech writer, and will oversee propaganda in his new role on the Standing Committee.

Is Xi a brand for centralised party power, easier for a population to rally behind than a collective of seven drab men?

At face value, it is all Xi.

In five years, Xi has amassed power like no other recent Chinese president. The head of the military, party and state, he also chairs myriad “leading groups” on issues ranging from deepening reform to internet security and financial affairs. Premier Li Keqiang has been sidelined.

Last year, Xi became known as “the core” of the party.

The anti-corruption campaign Xi unleashed has chased the powerful and wealthy across the globe.

The toppling of Sun Zhengcai, party boss of Chongqing and Politburo member, by corruption investigators ahead of the 19th Congress smashed the party succession system. Sun, 54, is said to have been earmarked by Jiang as a future leader.

Sun’s expulsion from the party was announced just weeks before the Congress opened, while allegations he had plotted to bring down the party were aired as it met.

The timing is illustrative of how the anti-corruption campaign, which has undoubtedly been effective in changing China’s business and political culture, has also been wielded as a political tool.

The scale of “inspections” is vast – 1.5 million Party members, including 43 members of the Central Committee

The biggest scalps, including the former security and justice ministers, are frequently cited in state media to “scare the monkeys”.

Under Xi, the voices for liberal reform in China have been severely weakened. Hundreds of human rights lawyers were detained in 2015, new curbs placed on foreign non-government organisations in 2016, and China’s decades-long high-tech battle against freedom of speech on the internet and social media continued.

Tougher media censorship was highlighted when five major British and American media outlets were barred from entering Xi’s press conference to unveil the Standing Committee.

But China watchers who examine party journals have in recent months dispelled the idea of any personality cult of Xi.

In contrast to the party organ People’s Daily, city newspaper Beijing News ran the group leadership photo on its front page.

The truth of Chinese power, where decisions are made behind closed doors, can be hard to discern from the theatre.

At congress press conferences, vice ministers and provincial party chiefs sang Xi’s praise, outlining how they would abide by his Thought.

Xi was undoubtedly delivered a mandate on key policies, including military reform. It was explicitly written into the constitution that the Communist Party held absolute leadership over the People’s Liberation Army.

Xi’s key message in his congress speech was that China could only modernise with the communist party leading it.

Internationally, the political message was don’t expect a rising China to adopt western democratic reform.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has often called for China to commit to the “rules-based international order”, diplomatic language rolled out by US allies displeased by Chinese island building in the contested South China Sea.

Xi said China wants an increasing say on how the global governance rules are set.

Xi is the party’s front man into the future.

It has been pointed out the risk of this new style of dominant leader is that should things turned pear shaped for China, it will be Xi that takes the fall.

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Packer backs the right horse: himself

The big man was back. James Packer fronted his first Crown Resorts AGM in years, and was in vintage form with a sledge for MP Andrew Wilkie over the allegations about the casino operator’s poker machine practices.
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There was also a mea culpa of sorts over the failed overseas bet – which still made the company billions.

And, most importantly, Packer single-handedly fended off a massive vote against the company’s remuneration report.

The latter is a feat he will not be able to repeat next year.

Packer was able to pull off the face-saving act this year due to a quirk in the timing of his appointment to the board: The remuneration report relates to the previous financial year, when Packer was not on the board.

He is now on the board, of course, and will not be able to vote on the remuneration report while this remains the case.

For the record, Crown reported that the vote on the remuneration report passed comfortably: 456 million shares voted for the resolution, 97 million against.

The decisive factor was Packer’s 342 million shares. Without it, Crown would have been struck with a massive first strike – 46 per cent of voting shares going against the resolution.

“There have been no material changes to the company’s remuneration policy during the year and ASA will again be opposing the resolution,” said the n Shareholders Association ahead of the meeting.

It means that unless Packer and his loyal lieutenant John Alexander – Crown’s executive chairman – make nice with their fellow shareholders on the issue of executive pay, it will be back to the “farcical” days of old.

Who can forget Packer railing in 2011 against the fact he could not vote his stake on the issue despite drawing no pay from the company.

Not that Packer’s fellow directors have to worry about two strikes that would trigger a spill of the board.

“If that happens, I will use my votes to ensure all directors are voted back in immediately,” Packer said when the company was previously hit with a strike. Mum’s the word

Packer had enough time to delve into other pet hates like political donations. He said he wished there was a zero dollar limit on political donations, “so then people couldn’t ask” him for anything.

When asked about his mum, Ros Packer’s donation to the Liberal Party, he said, “I can’t control my mother, can you control your mother?”

He’s got a point there. Pollie waffle

Speaking of politicians, the latest walloping from Packer would be no surprise to Andrew Wilkie who came to the billionaire’s attention in 2010 when he held the balance of power in government and struck a deal with Julia Gillard to tighten controls on poker machines.

The following year Packer took him on a tour of Crown Melbourne and Wilkie recounted the experience to Good Weekend.

“The point was made repeatedly about what a responsible enterprise it was,” remembers Wilkie, who felt grateful that Packer had taken the time to show him around.

The tour ended in a conference room with Packer remarking on how pleasant the visit had been.

“Then he leaned across the table, got his face quite close to mine, and said something along the lines of, ‘We wouldn’t want the next meeting to be an unpleasant meeting, would we?’???”

Wilkie commented: “I just thought it was interesting that there was this one little moment when I got to look into his heart and soul and see another James Packer – a man prepared to use his political muscle, his financial clout, to get what he wants.”

The following year, Packer lobbed his proposal to build a casino in Sydney, sweeping aside any opposition in a breathtaking manner. Medcraft, out

Retiring ASIC boss Greg Medcraft took Senate Estimates for the last time on Thursday.

And it was an affair heavy on the well wishing.

The love-in even extended to John ‘Wacka’ Williams who thanked Medcraft, and was himself thanked by Medcraft.

It was a far cry from the often icy relations between the regulator and the Nationals senator who did not always see eye to eye on its policing of our big banks.

Part of Medcraft’s swansong also included a reversal of his now famed ” is a paradise for white-collar criminals” line.

It is a line that ASIC tried to “clarify” despite the comment being made to a room of business journalists.

Now Medcraft has officially reversed the ferret.

“We want to be a hell hole for white-collar criminals – to put it the other way!,” Mr Medcraft said chuckling.

We all do, Greg, we all do.

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Developer snares Point Cook parcel for around $30m

A local housing estate developer is paying a speculated $30 million to buy into the booming suburb of Point Cook, 25 kilometres south-west of Melbourne.
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The 14-hectare farm at 400-448 Point Cook Road abuts an area known as Aviators Field, which is mooted to make way for a series of residential housing estates in the medium term.

Frasers Property controls another large parcel of land adjoining the site – its Life, Point Cook estate is set to accommodate some 1800 people in 600 dwellings. Life, Point Cook, being marketed at present, will also include 9.9 hectares of park, wetlands and reserves.

Sanctuary Lakes Golf Course, Point Cook Coastal Park, Cheetham Wetlands and numerous sports and recreation facilities are also nearby. Student-aged residents who move into this area, about four kilometres south of the Point Cook town centre, will be in the catchment for entry into Alamanda College.

According to Domain Group data, Point Cook’s median house price has risen from $450,000 in 2015 to $628,000 today (for four-bedroom dwellings).

Biggin & Scott Land directors Andrew Egan and Frank Nagle marketed 440-448 Point Cook Road. The deal comes five months after the pair sold 18 hectares of Green Wedge-zoned land in Point Cook for a speculated price of more than $9 million.

MFB lists Moonee Ponds ghost building

After seizing control of a central Moonee Ponds office seven years ago – then keeping it vacant – the Metropolitan Fire Brigade has decided to sell.

The nondescript building on a 1608-square metre plot at 579-591 Mount Alexander Road is part of a portfolio of three properties listed for individual sale this week, worth a total of about $18 million.

Another Moonee Ponds asset near to this office – a car park on 1106sq m at 325 Ascot Vale Road – is also on offer.

Any buyer wishing to re-open the three-level workplace, which was once occupied by Foxtel, would need to purchase the car park to meet dispensation requirements.

A more likely scenario, according to sources, is that these two sites, six kilometres north-west of the CBD, will sell to apartment developers.

The third MFB site offered as part of the portfolio, in Croydon, about 27 kilometres east of the CBD, covers a 1630sq m area, and includes three buildings with the potential to derive a commercial rental income.

This site is also being marketed as a premium residential development opportunity.

Knight Frank’s Danny Clark, Andrew Greenway and Tom Zhou are representing the MFB.

Carlton corner sells

A local private investor has offloaded a site at one of the most prominent corners in Melbourne’s inner-north, for a speculated $10 million.

The 1609-square metre Carlton holding at the south-west corner of Elgin and Rathdowne streets, and also with access to Pinky’s Lane, is zoned Commercial 1, and as such was targeted to developers of high-density, mixed-use projects.

Presently the site is configured with a low rise retail complex, a warehouse and car park – so it was also marketed to passive investors, too.

A kilometre from the CBD, and close to the University of Melbourne, the Melbourne Museum, Carlton Gardens and Lygon Street retail strip, the properties known as 129-135 and 137-143 Elgin Street were marketed by Hockingstuart’s Scott McElroy with CBRE’s Scott Orchard, Julian White and Jimmy Tat.

The site is not far away from the former historic Corkman pub, which developers controversially demolished without a permit last year.

Another Mercure sold

An award-winning, state-of-the-art hotel in the township of Warragul, just over 100 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, is selling for $7.8 million, a fortnight after agents closed an expressions of interest campaign.

The two-year old complex known as the Mercure Hotel Warragul, at 23 Mason Street, includes 47 four-star rated suites, numerous function, meeting and conference rooms and a two-bedroom manager’s residence.

It is part of a wider development within Warragul’s commercial precinct which includes a gym, restaurant, medical facility and car park.

Offered with a 20-year lease to Mercure, backed by the global AccorHotels chain, the asset returns annual rent of $570,028.

Mercure has five lease renewal options – each for five years – once its initial rental agreement ends.

The hotel recently won the Regional Accommodation Venue of the Year award at the 2017 Tourism Accommodation (Vic) Awards for Excellence.

Colliers International’s Guy Wells with Wilson Property Residential Commercial Industrial’s Ben Wilson, sold the asset to a Gippsland-based investment syndicate.

Last month it was reported a park-front Mercure Hotel in the city’s Spring Street is selling to developer CBus Property, which plans to replace the land with a 30-plus level apartment building.

RSPCA offloads Box Hill North site

The Victorian arm of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – more commonly known as the RSPCA – is banking a speculated $6.5 million from the sale of a suburban development site in Box Hill North.

The 4036-square metre holding at 83-87 Dorking Road, on the north-west corner of Medway Street, includes five adjoining plots, one which is configured with a period style residence.

Just a kilometre from central Box Hill, and 14 kilometres east of the CBD, the tract was marketed to developers, including ones considering a residential or aged-care complex.

The vacant site was marketed by CBRE’s David Minty, Scott Orchard and Chao Zhang.

Neighbouring businessmen offer South Yarra supersite

Two prominent Melbourne businessmen have united their small, neighbouring, but spectacularly located South Yarra holdings – to create a supersite some sources are tipping could make way for the city’s most exclusive apartment tower.

The rectangle-shaped 969-square metre plot on a street L-bend known as 49-55 Claremont Street, opposite and with unobstructed views over the Melbourne High School oval, is expected to sell for about $35 million.

Two of the sites – 49 and 51 – are investments retained by AES Cleaning director George Haritos and his partners.

The neighbouring site was purchased by high-profile South Yarra developer Michael Yates about three years ago. Mr Yates is understood to have pursued plans to build a medium-density apartment complex on his small block.

Combined with the Haritos-controlled holding, the site, also with CBD and Yarra River vistas, can make way for something taller, possibly of more than 30 storeys.

CBRE’s Julian White and Mark Wizel are the marketing agents.

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Michelle Payne to ride in first Cox Plate … and against Winx

GETTING ACQUAINTED: Michelle Payne and Kaspersky at Moonee Valley this week.Melbourne Cup winner Michelle Payne will realise another dream when she gets the chance to compete in her first Cox Plate.
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Payne shot to international prominence two years ago when she became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup on Prince Of Penzance at Flemington.

On Saturday Payne will be legged aboard the Jane Chapple-Hyam-trained Kaspersky in another of ‘s most important races – the $3 million Cox Plate at Moonee Valley.

Payne rode Kaspersky to fifth placing in the Queen Anne Stakes at the famous Royal Ascot meeting in England in June.

“The Cox Plate is one of my favourite races from growing up,” Payne said.

“I haven’t missed a year, so to be out there on Saturday would be really special.”

Champion Winx is the $1.15 favourite to win her third Cox Plate, with rival connections realistic about the task ahead.

Payne won the Melbourne Cup on a $101 chance and English horse Kaspersky is at $81 in the field of nine.

“I don’t know if I would be the most popular person in if we happened to beat Winx,” Payne said.

“But I don’t know whether we have to worry too much about that.

“You can only do your best. We’ll go out there and treat it like any other race and give it our best shot and see what happens.

“It would be pretty special (to win).

“It’s right up there with the Melbourne Cup. Obviously it’s such a unique race because the committee only let in certain horses that they think are eligible to compete in it. That’s, I think, very special because I don’t know whether there’s too many races in the world that have that.

“If we were able to be successful would be an unbelievable dream. But just to be out there is going to be great.”

Payne also holds a trainers’ licence in Victoria and has scarcely ridden in races this season.

She rode her first winner for 2017/18 at Stawell on Monday on a horse she also trains, wearing the same colours Kaspersky carries.

Illness forced her to miss riding Kaspersky when he ran 16th in the Toorak Handicap, but she rode him at trackwork at Moonee Valley on Tuesday and said the horse was in great order.

Payne’s brother Patrick won the 2002 Cox Plate on champion Northerly.

Saturday’s Cox Plate is set to jump at 5pm.

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Twitter flags first-ever profit, shares surge

Twitter said on Thursday it may become profitable for the first time next quarter after slashing expenses over the past year and ramping up deals to sell its data to other companies, which could help to break its reliance on advertising for revenue.
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Shares of Twitter soared more than 16 per cent to $US20.04 in afternoon trading. The company also said user growth resumed in the third quarter after stalling in the prior three months.

Twitter has never had a profitable quarter based on US generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), but said it “will likely be GAAP profitable” in the fourth quarter if it hits the high end of its estimates.

The social media company has struggled to convert its appeal among celebrities and public figures such as US President Donald Trump to attract users and advertisers amid fierce competition from Facebook and Snapchat. It has worked in recent months to sign live-streaming deals and make other changes to improve user experience.

Revenue from data licensing and other sources in the third quarter was $US87 million, Twitter said, up 22 per cent from a year earlier. That helped cushion an 8 per cent decrease in advertising revenue.

Twitter said it signed a “significant number” of enterprise deals in the third quarter, which would help stabilise its revenue flow. The company did not name the companies it had inked deals with.

Twitter reported quarterly revenue of $US590 million, down 4 per cent from a year earlier, attributing much of the decrease to a previously announced decision to wind down its TellApart advertising product.

Analysts on average had expected revenue of $US587 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

San Francisco-based Twitter also disclosed that it had discovered an error in how it had measured its user base since 2014 and revised its estimates downward, but said the difference amounted to less than 1 per cent.

The company reported 330 million monthly active users in the quarter ended on September 30, up 4 million from a quarter earlier, helped by email and push notifications.

In the United States, where growth had stalled earlier this year, the number of users rose to 69 million from 68 million.

Analysts on average expected 330.4 million monthly active users worldwide and 69 million in the United States, according to financial data and analytics firm FactSet.

Twitter said that in past estimates it had wrongly counted people who logged into applications associated with the company’s Fabric software platform, which Twitter sold this year to Google.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter does not disclose daily active users, but says that number is less than half the monthly figure.

The decline in quarterly revenue was the third since Twitter’s debut as a public company in 2013 and raised concerns about growth among some analysts.

“Yes, they grew 4 million MAU sequentially, which is good enough for the stock to stay at current levels, but revenue growth remains a problem,” said Michael Pachter, managing director, equity research at Wedbush Securities.

“It’s great that they are controlling expenses and generating EBITDA growth, but investors want to see faster MAU growth and some revenue growth,” Pachter said.

Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said on a conference call that the company was trying out ways to attract and engage more users.

“We’re playing a lot with better matching people with their interests and with topics they care about. This is an area of experimentation,” he said.

Also on Thursday, Twitter said it banned advertisements from accounts owned by Russian media outlets Russia Today and Sputnik, citing allegations by US intelligence agencies that the outlets tried to interfere with the 2016 US election.

The company has been under scrutiny from US lawmakers as part of a broad investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election. Cost cuts, smaller loss

Twitter’s net loss narrowed to $US21 million, or 3 US cents per share, from $US103 million, or 15 US cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding items, the company earned 10 US cents per share.

Analysts expected a profit of US 6 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Twitter cut expenses by 16 per cent from a year earlier. Stock-based compensation declined 36 per cent, but Twitter said the cuts were broad-based, covering sales and marketing and research and development.

Expenses would selectively increase moving forward, the company said.

Chief Operating Officer Anthony Noto told analysts that Twitter was still in the early stages of exploring a product around its TweetDeck interface.

“We’ve only done concept tests,” he said.

The company has stepped up efforts to keep people hooked through live-streaming deals, including for concerts, professional golf and news programs.

Twitter last month began testing tweets as long as 280 characters, double the existing cap, and has announced plans to toughen its rules on online sexual harassment.

Up to Wednesday’s close, Twitter’s stock had risen 5.2 per cent this year, compared with a 30.4 per cent gain in the S&P 500 information technology index.

Reuters

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Vale almost quadruples profit on higher iron ore prices

Brazil’s Vale saw net income jump by nearly 300 per cent in the third quarter as iron ore prices rose, the world’s largest iron ore producer said, even as earnings fell shy of analyst estimates.
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In a securities filing, Vale said net income totalled $US2.23 billion, 287 per cent above the $US575 million it posted during the same period last year. However, the figure was under an average consensus estimate of $US2.439 billion.

Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) hit $US4.192 billion, just below a consensus estimate of $US4.384 billion compiled by Thomson Reuters.

The results may have missed consensus estimates due to lower shipping volumes, as Vale held back iron ore inventories in expectation of higher prices ahead, and a weak quarter for the coal business, said Amos Fletcher, a Barclays analyst, adding that profit still beat Barclays’ forecast by 3 per cent.

Despite “frustration” that debt did not decline further, the miner is on track to meet its target debt goal of $US15 billion to $US17 billion by year end, he said. Vale posted net debt of $US21.066 billion, down from $US22.122 billion in the second quarter.

Last week, the company announced record iron ore production in the July-September quarter which was helped by a ramp-up at its S11D mine as well as an increase in output of higher quality ore.

China’s intense environmental cleanup has pushed steel producers to use higher quality material, which produces more steel for each tonne that is processed, and can reduce emissions as less coke is used in production.

“We believe management is on track to turn around non-performing assets, deleverage and deliver a commercially more prepared company to ‘fight’ the environmental challenges in China,” BTG Pactual said in a client note. “However, we believe these transformations will demand time.”

On Thursday, the company said it had sold 76.4 million tonnes of iron ore in the third quarter, up from 74.2 million tonnes in the same quarter last year. The reference price of iron ore closed at $US76.10 per tonne in the third quarter, up nearly 30 per cent from a year earlier.

Revenue in the quarter reached $US9.05 billion, just short of estimates for $US9.09 billion, but well above the $US6.726 billion posted a year earlier. Capital expenditure in the quarter was $US863 million.

Earlier this month, remaining preferred shareholders in the miner voted to accept a plan obliging them to convert their shares into a single stock class, finalising a process that is part of the miner’s bid to improve corporate governance.

Reuters

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When the most personal photos end up on Facebook

A man types on a laptop computer in an arranged photograph taken in Tiskilwa, Illinois, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015. U.S. officials are discussing whether new standards should be set for government action in response to hacks like the one suffered by Sony Pictures Entertainment, such as if a certain level of monetary damage is caused or if values such as free speech are trampled, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers said in an interview with Bloomberg News. Photographer: Daniel Acker/BloombergIt was something of a nightmare when Jane* discovered false online profiles sporting intimate nude photos she had sent to a former partner.
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With captions that said she was “up for sex straight away,” the photos encouraged unknown callers to knock on her front door every half hour through the night.

Jane is among one in 10 ns to have had nude or intimate images posted online without their consent.

For women aged 18 to 49 the figure is one in five, while for Indigenous ns it is greater still, affecting one in four.

Image-based abuse is a growing tool of harassment among adults and school-age teens alike.

In many cases it is generated by current or former partners as a result of sexual or domestic violence or “sexploitation”.

A three-part research project by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner has revealed 63 per cent of all image abuse victims knew the perpetrator, with more than half of all images shared through Facebook.

The social networking site was the chosen channel for a 13-second video shared earlier this year, depicting the sexual assault of a teenage girl at a high school party in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

The video was the subject of a sentencing hearing this week, in which a 15-year-old Rose Bay Secondary College student was found guilty of producing child abuse material and disseminating child abuse material.

He was sentenced to 18 months’ probation and ordered not to approach, contact or communicate with the teenage girl during that time, by way of apprehended violence order. He will not have his conviction recorded.

“We’re certainly very familiar with that case,” said eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.

“The terrible thing for the victim of course was that she ostensibly found out about the assault through the sharing of the video … bringing shame and humiliation.”

Ms Inman Grant said young people were particularly vulnerable to image-based abuse, as they often failed to realise the ramifications of their actions and increasingly felt pressured to send and share intimate images.

“There is a huge amount of work we need to do in terms of prevention and social and cultural change. We know there are still gendered double standards,” she said.

“But it’s equally devastating for adults. In our research talking to adults … many have had to change jobs … and it impacts relationships with partners, family members and friends.”

Ms Inman Grant said non-consensual use of intimate photos “followed victims for life, forming part of their permanent digital footprint”.

As part of its qualitative research the Office of the eSafety Commissioner conducted 38 in-depth interviews with female victims aged 18 to 44, as well as a number of frontline workers.

This followed a survey of more than 4000 ns, which revealed 76 per cent of image-based abuse victims did not take action because they were ashamed, were unsure of what to do or felt it would achieve nothing. Eighty-seven per cent of people who did take action said doing so resolved their problem.

“Technology has just added another dimension to domestic violence,” said eSafetyWomen workshops trainer Lesley Harrison, who works with frontline workers who support victims of abuse.

Ms Harrison said technology-facilitated abuse came in many forms.

“We see monitoring and stalking through devices, tracking apps, harassment through hundreds of emails or phone calls and impersonated accounts on social media, which is where image-based abuse comes in.”

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner recently launched a new portal for victims of image-based abuse to seek support, legal advice or help in having photographs taken down.

“There are many responsible social media sites that don’t want this content, like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat … and we have strong trusted relationships with them,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“It’s very painstaking, labour-intensive work to have such images taken down, but when you have the government behind you … it’s hard for websites to ignore.”

Of 360 intimate photos reported to the office this year, 140 have successfully been taken down.

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China blames Cambodia for ‘unfortunate’ champagne toast

‘s ambassador in Phnom Penh, Angela Corcoran, sings an MoU and toasts the upgrading of ties with Cambodian’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Prak Sokhonn during a ceremony in Phnom Penh on Wednesday October 18 2017The Turnbull government has distanced itself from a toasting ceremony marking the upgrading of diplomatic ties with Cambodia, blaming officials in Phnom Penh for insisting on the clinking of champagne glasses.
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Fairfax Media revealed last week that ‘s ambassador in Phnom Penh, Angela Corcoran, toasted the agreement with Cambodia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Prak Sokhonn at a time human rights groups are calling for punitive sanctions to be imposed on the regime in Phnom Penh over its ruthless dismantling of democracy.

The toasting was widely ridiculed. Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong asked during a parliamentary hearing in Canberra whether raising concerns about Cambodia’s deteriorating human rights situation and images of toasting champagne was an “unfortunate juxtaposition”.

Philip Green, the Department of Foreign Affairs’ First Secretary for South-East Asia, said Ms Corcoran was “put in an invidious situation”.

He told the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee that ‘s embassy only learnt of the champagne toasting shortly before the ceremony began and asked for it not to happen.

Mr Green said Cambodian officials insisted the toasting was an “important protocol” in the light of the attendance of the country’s foreign minister, and made clear the ceremony would not go ahead without it.

“The ambassador did not want to make an issue of the situation and proceeded with the signing ceremony arrangements,” he said.

The comments risk straining ties between and Cambodia’s autocratic Prime Minister Hun Sen three years after the Turnbull government signed a $55 million agreement with Cambodia to accept refugees from Nauru.

Only a handful of refugees have agreed to make the journey to one of Asia’s poorest countries where corruption is endemic.

‘s then immigration minister Scott Morrison was ridiculed for toasting his Cambodian counterpart over the agreement in a similar champagne sipping ceremony in 2014.

In a statement last week, the Cambodian government said the signing of a memorandum of understanding to establish senior official talks marked “a new step in enhancing the existing friendly relations and bilateral cooperation between the two countries based on the principle of equality, mutual interest and respect”.

But Mr Green told the Canberra committee he wouldn’t categorise the agreement as an upgrading of ties but more a “new, extra dimension” in the relationship.

Under the pretence of stopping a conspiracy to topple his regime, Mr Hun Sen has forced the collapse of the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party. Its leaders are now in jail or exile.

Human rights and community activists are being targeted in a campaign of harassment and many have fled the country.

A growing number of non-government organisations are facing suspension or expulsion and Cambodia’s independent media outlets have come under attack, forcing the closure of the Cambodia Daily newspaper and non-government radios.

Long-time expatriate residents, facing increasing harassment as authorities crackdown on work permits and long-stay visas, say a climate of fear pervades the capital at a level they have not seen for more than a decade.

And the arrest of n filmmaker James Ricketson on espionage charges has stoked fears that foreigners risk being falsely accused of involvement in the supposed plot to bring down the regime, and could face years in jail.

Fifty human rights and civil society groups across the world have asked for a re-opening of the 1991 Paris Peace Conference which brokered an end to Cambodia’s decades-long civil unrest.

‘s former foreign Minister Gareth Evans played a key role in forging the agreement which stipulated Cambodia must remain a democracy and, if it was sliding into a dictatorship, countries that signed it must convene a meeting to review the situation.

Asked about the move, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs did not rule out ‘s support.

” would carefully consider any request by the UN Secretary-General for consultations with members of the Paris Peace Conference,” the spokeswoman said.

“To be effective, any such discussion would require engagement by the Cambodian government.”

Mr Hun Sen, a former commander of the murderous Khmer Rouge who defected to Vietnam before being installed as Cambodia’s leader three decades ago, has warned people to stop talking about human rights and democracy guarantees that were written into the Paris agreement, saying it is now only a “ghost” of the past.

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$195,000 for bureaucrat leaving under ‘judgment’ cloud

A top NSW bureaucrat was paid nearly $200,000 after a sudden resignation that followed concerns about his “judgment” and “partiality” following his testimony before a state government inquiry, a parliamentary hearing was told on Thursday.
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Jim Longley, the former CEO of the Department of Ageing, Disabilities and Home Care, suddenly resigned in September, nearly six months after he was revealed to be caught up in a charity payments scandal.

At a budget estimates hearing on Thursday Mr Longley’s boss, Secretary of the Family and Community Services Department, Michael Coutts-Trotter, said he had discussed resigning with Mr Longley days after he testified before a state government inquiry into the scandal-plagued NSW RSL.

Mr Longley, who worked simultaneously for the public service and as a director of the NSW RSL’s nursing home charity, LifeCare, admitted to multiple failings in his charitable duties including voting to increase “consulting fees” he received as a director in violation of conflict-of-interest provisions.

Following that testimony Mr Coutts-Trotter said he had a conversation with Mr Longley that resulted in his early resignation by “mutual agreement” including 20 weeks’ severance pay or $194,000.

“There’s an expectation that people of seniority are very careful in the exercise of judgment and are very careful to identify issues of conflict [and] partiality,” he told the hearing. “I was [concerned] that Jim may have not met that test.”

Annual “consulting” payments of up to $370,000 were divided between all 10 directors of RSL LifeCare from 2010 to 2016.

State law prevents directors of a charity from being paid for regular directors’ duties unless they have approval from a minister. A preliminary review by auditors found no evidence such permission had been granted.

Mr Longley, a former Liberal MP and minister in the 1990s, and other directors of the charity routinely attended Liberal party fundraisers at RSL LifeCare’s expense, the inquiry was told.

Shadow disability services spokeswoman Sophie Cotsis accused Mr Longley of receiving a “golden parachute” from the state government.

“He should do the right thing and return the money so that it can be used for its rightful purpose – providing services for people with a disability,” she said.

Mr Coutts-Trotter said his view on Mr Longley’s conduct was only “preliminary” and he found no evidence there were grounds to dismiss Mr Longley for misconduct, which would have resulted in termination without severance.

“It was my judgment about an appropriate point to secure agreement,” he said of the severance figure. “I concluded that this presented the best position to satisfy a range of interests.”

Mr Longley had been planning to leave the department in late November as the state government transferred responsibility for disability services to the federal government’s national insurance scheme.

That planned termination of his contract would have resulted in a 40 weeks’ severance pay, Mr Coutts-Trotter said, arguing there was nothing “special about Jim’s treatment”.

Mr Longley did not return a phone call on Thursday.

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