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.
SuZhou Night Recruitment

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.

???

Continue reading »

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.
SuZhou Night Recruitment

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.

Continue reading »

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.
SuZhou Night Recruitment

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.

Follow CBD on Twitter. Got a tip? [email protected]苏州夜总会招聘.au

Continue reading »

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.
SuZhou Night Recruitment

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.

Continue reading »

$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.
SuZhou Night Recruitment

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.

Continue reading »

What the Harvey Weinstein case taught women

The culture of sexual harassment – perpetrated by some of the most powerful men in America – is no longer whispered about.
SuZhou Night Recruitment

A torrent of high-profile men – from Silicon Valley’s most well-known entrepreneurs to American film producer Harvey Weinstein – have in recent months been forced to either publicly defend, or apologise for, sexual harassment and/or discrimination against women.

“It’s been a complete shit-show,” is how American VC fund manager and entrepreneur Renee LaBran frankly describes it in an interview with Fairfax Media.

LaBran, who is in Melbourne as part of an -wide speaking tour this week, knows first-hand the challenges faced by women. In her very first job after graduating, her male boss asked her to stop being so “colourful” in the way she dressed and to try “blend in” more.

But LaBran has made a point of not blending in. She later held a number of executive positions with the Los Angeles Times before becoming a founding partner at Rustic Canyon-Fontis Partners, a private equity firm based in Pasadena, and advisor and mentor to start-up CEOs at Idealab, a 21 year-old tech incubator.

She also sits on the board of the Women Founders Network – a virtual accelerator that connects female start-ups with mentoring and potential funding.

Despite spending the past two decades working to helping women better pitch themselves for VC funding, one of the running themes during her talks has been sexual harassment in her industry.

She says until overarching misogyny and gender discrimination is stamped out, women’s progress in corporate America and entrepreneurship will stall. Speak up and be heard

When asked about the Harvey Weinstein case she says, “it’s horrible”, but the one thing it has done is make women speak up and be heard.

“We are focused on statistics and all these reasons why there’s not women in venture capital – things like implicit bias used against women,” she says.

“But on top of that, there’s this whole layer of blatant sexual discrimination and harassment that people just don’t want to hear about.

“Now all of a sudden it’s right in front of everyone’s face. All this stuff is coming out. We’ve talked about this for years but now it’s out there. And that forces people to take action.”

“I think it was all swept under the rug before, but at least, for the moment, you can’t sweep it under the rug.”

The Weinstein Company fired Harvey Weinstein. Photo: Chris Pizzello

The Harvey Weinstein scandal follows a trail of similar cases plaguing Silicon Valley over the past two years, most of which have surfaced in the past 12 months. Silicon Valley discrimination

To recap some of the major cases making media headlines:

Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, who in 2015 lost her historic gender discrimination lawsuit against former employer and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, told the New York Times this year that it she’s not done fighting – her case had put “Silicon Valley on notice” and paved the way for women to come forward.

Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao lost her historic gender discrimination lawsuit against former employer and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers Photo: Bloomberg

In February Susan Fowler, in a blog post accused Uber of fostering a toxic culture of sexism and harassment, after which Uber’s former CEO, Travis Kalanick resigned, and some 20 other employees were ousted.

By July allegations against Binary Capital co-founder Justin Caldbeck and 500 Startups founder Dave McClure surfaced and both stepped down from their roles. (Before the New York Times published the expose on McClure, he apologised in a blog “I’m a Creep. I’m Sorry”).

In August Google engineer James Damore was fired after sharing his anti-diversity memo in which he argued that women are less biologically suited to coding jobs.

In September, CEO of $4 billion lending start-up Social Finance, Mike Cagney, announced that he was stepping down as its executive chairman and planned to depart by year’s end.

This month Amazon’s TV and film studios CEO, Roy Price, was suspended following accusations from producer Isa Hackett accused of making unwanted sexual remarks towards her (reportedly Price told her “You will love my dick” as the two shared a taxi in San Diego in 2015).

And this week, Silicon Valley heavyweight Robert Scoble responded in a blog to accusations of sexual assault and harassment. He says he didn’t sexually harass anyone.

LaBran says had not all these allegations surfaced, the whispers would have gone on.

Silicon Valley heavyweight Robert Scoble responded in a blog to accusations of sexual assault and harassment. He says he didn’t sexually harass anyone. Photo: Louise KennerleyWomen judged harshly by VCs

While more female-focused VC funds have sprung up, she says women are often still judged in ways that men are not.

In the United States female entrepreneurs get about 2 per cent of all venture capital funding, despite owning 38 per cent of businesses in the country.

The vast majority of seed investors are men, and successful angels tend to invest in entrepreneurs they know – other men. This creates a “vicious circle rather than a virtuous cycle” she says.

LaBran notes a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review that found male and female entrepreneurs get asked different questions by VCs ??? and it impacts how much funding they get.

The study’s authors found that investors tended to ask men questions about the potential for gains, and women about the potential for losses. For example, men were asked questions like, “how do you intend to monetise this” whereas females were asked “how long will it take you to break even?”.

She says despite those biases she encourages and mentors women not to give up, but work even harder to break through. “When women come in and pitch they have to know their [business] numbers inside out, they have to know their market inside out. You have to be able to take it.”

It’s not necessarily fair, but she says aspiring female entrepreneurs have to be realistic about the barriers, since “the guys with the money” still hold the power.

Follow Nassim Khadem on Facebook and Twitter.

Continue reading »

Councils need to find space for 200,000 more homes for Sydney by 2021

Sydney councils will be required to develop strategies to boost housing supply within their districts over the next five years, as the Greater Sydney Commission reaffirms its ambitious housing targets in revised plans.
SuZhou Night Recruitment

The updated draft district plans, released by the commission on Thursday, hold firm on mandating Sydney councils find a way to provide almost 200,000 more dwellings by 2021, despite concerns about housing density and the provision of more transport and infrastructure featuring prominently in the consultation process.

Commission chief Lucy Turnbull described the report as a “landmark” blueprint. Photo: AAP

The plans divide the city into five districts – East, Central, West, North and South – each with specific planning and development priorities, and are intended to provide the framework for achieving the commission’s vision of Sydney as comprised of three connected cities, where homes, jobs and services can be accessed within 30 minutes.

The plans will shape the size and scale of development across Sydney, as councils will be required to update their local environmental plan to give effect to the district plan once they are finalised.

Over the next five years, the central city district, which pivots around the Parramatta and Blacktown centres, will absorb the largest number of new homes of the five districts with a target of an additional 53,500 homes by 2021. Of these, 21,650 must be provided in the Parramatta area.

Under the eastern city district plan, which covers a stretch of the city from the inner west to the eastern beaches including the CBD, the City of Sydney will have to accommodate 18,300 of the 46,550-dwellings target.

The plans also affirm the 5 to 10 per cent affordable housing target on new residential developments, which had been supported by the community housing sector but resisted by the property development industry.

Magnus Linder, chairman of the Sydney Alliance, a coalition of community groups that have advocated for a higher target, said the “debate has progressed [since the draft plans] but the number hasn’t”.

“It is way below what is needed,” he said.

The revised district plans follow the release of the commission’s Greater Sydney Region Plan on Sunday, which detailed a 40-year strategy to reshape Sydney from a CBD-centred city into three economic hubs: a western parkland city, a central river city, and an eastern harbour city

Commission chief Lucy Turnbull described the report as a “landmark” blueprint designed to dovetail with “a once-in-a-century period of Sydney’s infrastructure boom”, as Sydney expanded from its current population of 4.6 million to 6 million in 20 years, to 8 million in 2056, with most of the growth taking place in the west.

One of the key changes since the draft stage is the merger of the west and south-west districts into a single western Sydney district to better reflect the expected growth around the future western Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek.

The commission was established in 2015 as an independent body to shape long-term planning strategy for Sydney and has estimated the city will need about 725,000 extra homes over the next 20 years.

Ms Turnbull said the revised strategies incorporated the feedback from the first draft plans, released last year, which were criticised by some councils for the lacking detail and imposing unreasonable housing targets.

In a submission this month to a parliamentary inquiry on housing supply in NSW, the Inner West council said the draft plans had failed to provide “the anticipated level of guidance” while the plan’s objectives were “indirect, ambiguous and in most cases identify opportunities without clear metrics or targets”.

Sydney’s largest council, the City of Canterbury-Bankstown council, which was given a target of 13,250 new dwellings in the next five years, criticised the methodology behind the target as “unclear” and said it would not support it without upfront infrastructure support from the state government.

“Without demonstrating the planning work required to arrive at the short-term target, council is concerned the housing target is unfeasible at best,” it stated in its submission to the draft plans.

Steve Mann, the chief executive of the Urban Development Institute of NSW, welcomed the commission’s long-term vision, but said that “without co-operation, these plans will gather dust”.

“One of the largest inhibitors of new supply are disputes between government agencies. The GSC has the opportunity to be the ‘knight in shining armour’ which can solve the issue.”

Eastern City district: 46,550 new dwellings, including 18,300 in the City of Sydney and 5900 in the Inner West

Central City district: 53,500 new dwelling, including 21,650 in Parramatta

Western City district: 39,850 new dwellings, including 11,800 in Camden

North district: 25,950 new dwellings, including 7600 in Ryde

South district: 23,250 new dwellings, including 13,250 in Canterbury-Bankstown

Continue reading »

A. S. Patric

It was a Saturday morning in May that A.S. Patric – Alec Patric – put the final touches to the final scene of his new novel, Atlantic Black. He was buzzing. I know because we encountered each other over breakfast at a hotel by the water in Sydney.
SuZhou Night Recruitment

He was a guest at the writers festival and I was there for an in-conversation with the British Libyan writer Hisham Matar. Patric was excited and relieved to have finished his second novel, anticipating much interest, no doubt, given that his first, Black Rock White City, won the Miles Franklin last year.

I asked him to tell me about it so he set the scene: an ocean liner heading across the Atlantic towards Europe on the cusp of 1939. Uncertain times. I said it made me think of the great Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, specifically his marvellous novella, The Royal Game.

Fast forward a few months and Atlantic Black is about to be published. This time, as befits a winner of ‘s most significant literary prize, his name on the cover is in a bigger type size.

Zweig, Patric says when we meet again to discuss Atlantic Black, was fundamental to the new book. What got to him was the set-up in that novella: the ocean liner and the psychological disintegration of a particular character as a consequence of the Second World War.

On board Patric’s vessel are Katerina Klova and her mother Anne, who has had some sort of breakdown. Katerina’s father, Audrius, is a Soviet diplomat who has served in Mexico – Trotsky was in exile there, remember – but is now somewhere in Europe. Her brother, Kornel, is there too, at a military academy.

“I liked the idea of life on an ocean liner and those people forced together creates a situation in which they’ve got to continue relationships and those relationships can be compressed or exploded because of that compression. And that’s what happens to Katerina and her mother.

“Her mother has a breakdown because of that. And for the first time in Katerina’s life – she’s a 17-year-old girl – she’s now alone.”

During her on-board wanderings in the space of 24 hours as the watershed year 1939 dawns, Katerina meets some strange people, has dramatic encounters, and learns more about the truth of her mother, father and brother and, of course, herself. It would be a shame to reveal the ending and its ambiguities, but the last line is significant. Not “The End” rather a date “??? January 1, 1939”.

That liner steaming across the ocean towards Europe as the continent is about to explode was the starting point for the book. But it would be wrong to think of Atlantic Black as a historical novel.

Patric was not interested in the impending war per se, more the immense social catastrophe that was about to erupt. And that, for him, makes it more contemporary in feel. After all, he says, writers are always responding to the crises of their times; what generates a whole novel is your sense of crisis.

“That’s where we are right now. When we look at the world now, just the kind of precarious balances that we see with Brexit, and the kind of disruption that’s been happening in Europe because of that and also before that with the refugees coming in and Trump’s America and North Korea and the seemingly inescapable nuclear war that’s on the horizon.”

The appeal of the time was also determined by his view of the Second World War, which he sees – rather than the First – as the fulcrum of the modern era.

“It feels almost like the epicentre of an earthquake and to be on the verge of that and at the point of that eruption was what appealed to me about setting it in 1939. Anytime I hear that date for me it’s shorthand for catastrophe, for cataclysm.”

Patric is fascinated by trauma. It is a kind of individual or national wound that forces a process of reiteration, forcing it to be enacted again. That for him explains World War II. “Most of our conflicts are a kind of re-enactment of trauma as if it is some way to resolve or deal with it. Yet, in the end it just deepens the trauma.”

So the nature of trauma is at the heart of his work – just think of the plight of the Bosnian refugees Jovan and Suzana exiled geographically and emotionally in suburban Melbourne in Black Rock White City. “How do we understand the way we’ve been traumatised, how do we understand the conflict that rises from that trauma. For me it’s not a question of the First World War or the Second World War, but a history of our species.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the epigraph of Atlantic Black comes from David Malouf: “We inhabit a world of unfinished stories, and echoes, the repetition of age-old horrors and miseries.”

If Zweig inspired the setting of Atlantic Black, the twin influences Patric acknowledges are surprising and disparate. One is the work of Bill Henson; the other that of the filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.

What he appreciates in Henson’s photographs is not the moment of sexual maturing in his subjects that seems to attract so much attention but “a kind of melancholy in those characters as they emerge into a world that seems broken, that seems about to crush the fearful perspective that we find in those characters”. That seems to echo in the experiences of Katerina.

But Kubrick, he says, was the major influence. He cites The Shining for its sense of compression in the grand old hotel in which it is set and the way the director deals with the vast space.

“An ocean liner is huge but there’s also a way it compresses everything within it, into corridors, rooms, chambers. That aesthetic Kubrick created showed us movement in that world. I particularly remember seeing the little boy (in The Shining) on the tricycle going up the corridors. And I had that idea of constant motion, that Katerina would be moving all the time.”

And Dr Strangelove dovetails with his view of 1939 in that he sees the film as being not about the war but more about the world being on the precipice of a cataclysm, “that sense of we’re about to go over the waterfall and there’s no coming back from that.

“I feel like Kubrick’s aesthetic was an American perspective that had become really European and I have found a lot of people telling me that Atlantic Black feels really European to them. But I think it’s not a wholehearted European perspective, more an internationalist perspective that Kubrick might have had.”

Winning the Miles Franklin came at the right time for Patric, who wonders whether had it come much earlier – he’s 44 now – it might have inflated his ego and actually disrupted his writing. “If it comes at the right time it can be immensely encouraging. There’s a sense that your literature has found a place in n culture.”

Given his background – Patric’s parents migrated from former Yugoslavia in the `70s when he was nearly two – that is particularly gratifying; they moved to give their children a better life and, as he said at the time, “for me to win the Miles Franklin that’s certainly coming to fruition”.

More than a year later and with a more recent winner, Josephine Wilson, on the Miles honour board, he finds his win even more satisfying, he says, because his book is now part of a significant history.

Patric was born in Zemun, on the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. He didn’t think he remembered much about his time there but found writing to be almost archaeological. “If you start writing about a set of experiences you find there are these trace memories.”

He has previously published two collections of short stories, The Rattler and Other Stories in 2011 and, a year later, Las Vegas for Vegans, plus a novella, Bruno Kramzer: A Long Story, in 2013. Although it’s not long since he finally finished work on Atlantic Black, he says it feels as if it is receding into the past. He has already started work on a new collection of stories and having got back the rights to his first collection wondered about including some among the new lot.

“But those stories and Vegans, the novella and Black Rock White City are starting to feel that is the past and now I’m moving onto something else. The new stories I’m working on have a different feel to them, a different kind of cohesion, a different perspective.”

So it’s full steam ahead then.

Atlantic Black is published by Transit Lounge at $29.99.

Continue reading »

‘Oh my gosh, it’s 25 mil’: The surprise discovery in woman’s bank account

Clare Wainwright (right) has unsuccessfully tried to get the National Bank to fix a mistake that saw $25.1 million paid into her bank account. Photo: Clare Wainwright When Clare Wainwright checked her bank account on Thursday, she did not expect to find herself $24.5 million richer and her mortgage paid off.
SuZhou Night Recruitment

Ms Wainwright said she felt “quite great actually” when she saw $25.1 million had been transferred to her account at the National Bank.

“I’m a lawyer, which is why I haven’t spent the money,” she said. “Mostly because I figured it wouldn’t play out that well trying to play dumb on that.”

Yet Ms Wainwright’s efforts to alert the NAB to the mistake appear to have been ignored.

The saga of Ms Wainwright’s unexpected riches began in September when NAB sent a letter confirming a direct debit for loan repayments had been set up.

The letter stated Ms Wainwright’s monthly repayments would be $25,102,107 – not $2500 – with the next repayment due on October 25.

“I saw it and I thought ‘Oh my gosh, it’s 25 mil’ and I laughed,” she said. “I showed my broker and he said ‘Oh god, I’ll get them to fix it’.”

But the bank did not rectify the mistake.

Ms Wainwright said NAB appeared to have requested $25.1 million from her account at St George Bank, which transferred the money on October 25 without a second thought as to why their customer was dramatically overdrawn on her account.

“Both banks have messed up,” she said.

Ms Wainwright asked her mortgage broker to contact NAB again. Their response? “Someone will be in contact with me within three business days about my query,” she said. “So they obviously don’t understand I could just skip the country.”

Ms Wainwright said the bank finally contacted her mortgage broker on Thursday night, but the money remains in her account.

“It’s still literally just sitting there,” she said. “I’ve just checked my account.”

An NAB spokeswoman said the mistake had been rectified and an investigation into the cause was underway.

“The error has been fixed and the payment has been reversed,” she said.

“We are looking into how it occurred.”

St George Bank has been contacted for comment.

Ms Wainwright is not the first bank customer to find untold wealth in an account. Fairfax Media reported in 2016 that chemical engineering student Christine Jia Xin Lee spent millions of dollars on handbags and luxury goods after Westpac gave her $4.6 million overdraft by mistake.

Melbourne man Matthew Pearce had $123 million mistaken put in his Commonwealth Bank account, according to The Telegraph.

“You should not spend or withdraw the money transferred into your account by mistake because it is not legally yours and you have to pay it back,” according to the Financial Ombudsman Service .

Asked how she would spend $25 million, Ms Wainwright said: “Well, if I was allowed to use it, I’d pay off my mortgage and buy another place. Or an island.”

Continue reading »

Happily ever after: How to find your forever home

Finding a “forever home” in Melbourne’s hotly contested real estate market is no easy feat. Prospective buyers are faced with stiff competition, a seemingly endless parade of “expert” advice, plus the added pressure of today’s ever-increasing prices.
SuZhou Night Recruitment

A forever home is property that will serve your family for the decades to come – potentially from your child’s first steps right through to retirement. With that in mind, agents say the most important consideration is to find a property with a flexible floor plan capable of adapting over time.

“The advice I give a buyer when they are looking at a forever home is to begin with the end in mind,” says Robert Sheahan, director and auctioneer at Fletchers.

“Why not plan ahead and buy a home with a floor plan that you can grow into? I’m not talking about being exuberant, I’m referring to being practical.”

Sheahan says location and land size are the most important factors to consider, more so than whether a property suits your taste.

“The biggest mistake I see is buyers passing up properties that have a dated feel,” he says. “If it’s a good location, the floor plan is practical, and there are fewer buyers competing for it because it’s not as flash, that makes sense to pursue it.”

Forever home buyers generally look for properties that tick as much of their checklist as possible. This is understandable, but agents say the likelihood of finding something that meets every criterion is near impossible. There is a distinction between a “dream home” and a “forever home” and it is unlikely the former already magically exists within your ideal budget.

If you’re searching for more than 12 months, it is possible your expectations are too high. “There will always be a compromise,” says Tim Longmore, director and auctioneer at Noel Jones. Related: Don’t hold your breath waiting to buy hereRelated: How to perfect open-plan livingRelated: Inside the ‘forever home’ of designer Kersti Wiedermann

“Even when we chat to clients who have built their dream home they would always change something.”

If it is a toss-up between location and accommodation, Longmore recommends compromising on the latter. “The building can always be altered, added and improved once the value goes up and more equity is established in the home – the location cannot,” he says.

To avoid experiencing buyer’s remorse down the track, senior sales consultant at Kay & Burton, Rebecca Edwards, advises clients to break down their wish list into two categories – wants and needs – with the aim of finding a balance between the two.

“When signing the contract, the goal should be to tick seven out of 10 boxes with the knowledge that you can check off another two with some changes or improvements to the home over time,” she says.

When the right property does come along, don’t negotiate yourself out of the sale with a low offer.

“Don’t get too cute or clever – simply find out what the vendor is hoping for,” Sheahan says. 228 Edward Street, Brunswick EastPhoto: Jellis Craig

$1.95 million-$2,145,0003 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 1 car space

The modest weatherboard facade of this Victorian-era worker’s cottage is complemented by a bluestone path, turned verandah posts and dainty iron lacework. Inside, local architects Multiplicity have created a striking modern abode, over two levels, with the double-height ceiling in itself a feature. The interior has an urban industrial kick, courtesy of polished concrete floors, a bank of roller storage in the kitchen, coffered timber ceiling, exposed steelwork wrought on-site and a glazed pop-out staircase that catches the sun. The living areas have a native garden outlook.

Auction: 2.30pm, October 28Agent:Jellis Craig, Rob Elsom 0411 889 660

Continue reading »