Westpac accused of breaching lending laws

The corporate watchdog is taking Westpac to court for allegedly approving home loans without properly assessing whether the borrowers could meet repayments.

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The Australian Securities and Investments Commission claims the bank did not manually assess applicants’ living expenses and instead relied on a statistical benchmark for seven loans approved between December 2011 and March 2015, worth between $315,000 and $1.25 million,

The bank was required to assess applicants manually under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act, the regulator said.

In its filing with the Federal Court, ASIC says in the case of a $1.17 million loan with a 10-year interest-only period, assessment using declared living expenses rather than the benchmark would have shown a monthly shortfall of $1,128.07.

The shortfall would have been $2,570.07 after the interest-free period, ASIC alleges.

The regulator is seeking an order that Westpac contravened the Act by not assessing the loan as unsuitable.

The bank said it will defend the allegations and that all loans at the centre of ASIC’s allegations are currently meeting or ahead in repayments.

“It is not in the bank’s or customers’ interests to put people into loans that they cannot afford to repay,” Westpac’s consumer bank chief executive George Frazis said in a statement.

“It goes hand in hand that we have robust credit approval processes while helping customers purchase their home.

“Our credit policies are informed by our deep experience and understanding of the mortgage market.”

The first hearing in the case is in Sydney on March 21.

Wave of success: the Indigenous surfer helping to break down barriers

He’s just 21 years of age but already Soli Bailey is making waves inside and outside his chosen sporting career.

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He’s been the face of several marketing campaigns as a model, putting his film star good looks to use away from the surf.

Bailey says being an Indigenous role model to encourage more youngsters to take up the sport is something he loves to do.

“Yeah, you know, I just want to pave the way for everyone else to get out there and do what I’m trying to do.”

Two weeks ago he won his biggest tournament to date, the Pipe Pro in Hawaii.

But he’s not a professional yet.

This week’s event at Manly isn’t on the professional circuit, but he says his win in Hawaii has given him the belief he can make it.

“It was definitely the biggest win I’ve had to date. I’m really stoked for that but you know there’s a long year ahead and obviously the goal is to have some more big wins in this year and move onto another level of even bigger stuff.”

The event at Manly is the fifth staging of the Australian Open and it’s a tournament that gives aspiring young surfers the chance to compete against some of the bigger names.

That’s not the only benefit, says event organiser Simon Corkill.

“Here you’ve got the crowds that can cheer them on and its just a great opportunity for them to be with the best of the best, they are going to get better when they’re surfing with the best.”

Surfing makes its Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games, and for the new generation of surfers, the chance to represent your country is something Bailey wants to be part of.

“You know It’s really special to me to represent Indigenous surfing for Australia and I just want to do my country proud and I’d love to compete there in the Olympics in a couple of years time and be the first Indigenous surfer to be a part of all that stuff.”

But more immediately, the Byron Bay boy is hoping to keep winning tournaments starting with the Manly event which concludes this weekend.

“A win, the biggest thing would be great to win this event, some more points, great money, its all that stuff. I’m going to be here having fun enjoying the week but that’s what I’m here for.”

Young, talented and focused, Bailey is set to make surfing history in Tokyo.

But that might not be the end of the story.

 

 

Malaysia, Singapore in South China Sea stoush

Malaysia is challenging Singapore’s ownership of a tiny rocky island in the middle of one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

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It is the latest event in a series of South China Sea territorial disputes between Asian nations.

Last month Malaysia asked the International Court of Justice in The Hague to review a 2008 decision granting Singapore ownership of island, which lies between the South China Sea and the Singapore Strait.

The island, referred to as Pedra Branca by Singapore and Pulau Batu Puteh by Malaysia, is roughly the size of a football field and has a lighthouse and helipad on it.

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Despite the island’s size, Australian National University international law professor Donald Rothwell said its strategic location, in one of the busiest bottle-necks for maritime trade in the world, made it significant.

“Singapore in particular is very constrained by the geographical proximity of Malaysia and Indonesia, it is not entitled to assert the same maritime claims as many of the neighbouring states because it is geographically compromised,” Professor Rothwell told SBS News.

“Even though these features are very small, they are well worth contesting because of the potential maritime entitlements they generate”

The island, along with several other contest rocks, lie about 40 kilometres east of Singapore’s main island and 19 kilometres south of the Malaysian state of Johor. 

A British colonial era telegram and a navy log which make reference to the island were uncovered in the British archives last year and are the basis of Malaysia’s new claim.

Singapore became an independent nation in 1965 after it was expelled from the Malaysian Federation, a union of former British colonies.

Pedra Branca means ‘white rock’ in Portuguese and Pulau Batu Puteh the same in Malay, a reference to the bird droppings that regularly cover the rocks.

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Director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, Professor James Chin, said Malaysia’s handling of initial ICJ case was “unprofessional” and the government was keen to revisit the issue.

“There were major criticisms across the board in Malaysia about the way that the whole thing was conducted by the Malaysia delegation,” Professor Chin told SBS News.

“For example, they took a photo that later turned out to be photoshopped as evidence to the ICJ.”

Malaysia’s general election is due in the next 18 months and Professor Chin said he believed the timing of the decision to revisit the dispute was coincidental, but Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak would use it on the campaign trail.

“It’s lucky timing on Najib’s side,” he said.

“He can use this as one of the election campaign issues and say he is trying very hard to win back these islands for Malaysia.”

Director of the Lowy Institute’s international security program, Euan Graham, said Malaysia risks souring the diplomatic relationship between the neighbours, which had been improving under the current leaders of both countries.

“It is inevitably a distraction at a time when countries within ASEAN are feeling more fractured than ever, and really, they could do without this extra thorn in the side of South-East Asian cooperation,” Dr Graham said.

Malaysia has recently moved away from the United States and is forming closer military and economic ties with China. Singapore meanwhile, remains a staunch US ally.

“It suits China for Malaysia and Singapore to be arguing with each other, rather than reaching common purpose… which in the larger strategic interest is in south-east Asian countries cooperating more with each other to resist bullying from China,” Dr Graham said. 

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Caltex franchisees protest against unfair treatment

“Caltex, shame shame, Caltex, shame shame.

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..”

Around 150 men, women and children protest in Sydney’s Martin Place.

Many of them own the franchise rights for Caltex petrol stations around the city.

And they’re angry at parent company, Caltex.

Sanjeev Sharma runs a Caltex station in Parramatta.

“We are running the businesses at loss for the last eight to ten years. We have been suffering pretty badly at the hand of Caltex.”

The franchisees say the business model used by Caltex makes it hard to turn a profit – which Caltex denies.

They say money filters up the chain, but not enough flows back down.

Mr Sharma alleges this has led to a degradation in working conditions at store level.

“Six members of the family are working from six in the morning to six in the evening. what more do you want from us? And I’ve not paid my family. My father is standing, my mother is standing, my sister is standing my wife is standing.”

They say Caltex wants them to fork out for costly audits of their businesses that are part of an investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

As many as 50 Caltex sites are under the microscope over alleged wage fraud.

These business owners says it’s just creating a mountain of red tape.

“Everybody is getting audited, that is what they are claiming and everybody has to pay $10,000. As per the clause in the agreement, they should come down to the sites and do what they want to do.”

But Caltex has responded by saying it’s just looking out for vulnerable workers.

The petrol giemployant isn’t alone in having to deal with underpaid staff.

Some of Australia’s biggest companies have been caught up in similar scandals, including 7-Eleven, Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Bakers Delight.

In a statement, Caltex said it respects the right of people to protest but said there’s no excuse for wage fraud or mistreatment of workers.

It said it will continue to work with the Fair Work Ombudsman to stamp out wage fraud across its network.

The federal government has just introduced legislation to parliament making corporate giants responsible for underpaid labour by their franchisees.

But Dominique Lamb from The National Retail Association says the goverment hasn’t thought the legislation through.

“Ultimately this is additional red tape that business simply does not need right at this time and the cost of this has not been considered by the Coalition. It’s likely to be pushed on to small business that is already struggling.”

The legislation also provides more power to the workplace ombudsman and inreases up penalties for employees caught underpaying workers.

 

 

Bennett laughs off talk of losing NRL aura

According to Wayne Bennett, Brisbane won’t be at their best for a little while yet.

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But the master coach has laughed off speculation he has lost his aura ahead of Thursday night’s NRL season opener against defending premiers Cronulla.

The knives are already out for the seven-time premiership-winning coach before a ball has been kicked.

Reports have claimed Bennett has started to lose player support at Red Hill and, at 67, is in danger of “withering on the coaching vine”.

Halfback Ben Hunt’s decision to sign a lucrative five-year St George Illawarra deal from 2018 was seen by critics as a sure-fire sign Bennett had begun to lose his aura in the players’ eyes.

“I think the terminology for that these days is white noise,” Bennett said of the speculation.

Asked if he had lost his aura, Bennett joked: “I have been looking for it.

“(New captain) Darius (Boyd) lost his suit last week … I asked him if he could find it in his suit for me.

“I don’t know where it has gone.”

However, Bennett did warn fans that they would need to be patient if they wanted to see Brisbane’s best this season.

The Broncos begin life without retired skipper Corey Parker against the Sharks.

Test prop Josh McGuire will take over 347-game Parker’s No.13 jersey with former Newcastle forward Korbin Sims in the front row in a reshuffled pack.

And in a new-look backline, ex-North Queensland player Tautau Moga is at left centre, inside Corey Oates, while Kiwi international Jordan Kahu has edged out former Gold Coast outside back David Mead on the right wing.

“We have good size and speed. We are optimistic we can play some good football,” Bennett said.

“(But) we won’t be at our best for a little while yet.”

A scrappy Brisbane were defeated 27-18 last month by Warrington in the UK, becoming the first NRL club to lose a World Club Series game.

It was not a good look for the NRL glamour club who have not won a title since 2006 – their longest premiership drought.

“It was a timely reminder for us,” Bennett said of the shock pre-season result.

“But they (Broncos players) have been good since they have come home.

“And sometimes, you have to give credit to the opposition.

“It was 54 minutes before they (Warrington) made their first handling error. They were on their game – we were a little bit off.”

Writing on the wall for Durban Commonwealth Games

The writing has appeared to be on the wall for some time for what would have been Africa’s first major multi-sports event but a hammer blow was struck on Tuesday when sports minister Fikile Mbalula suggested no agreement had been reached on the budget.

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South Africa was forced to reconsider whether it could host the event due to doubts over the economic legacy of the Games and sluggish growth.

It was estimated that it would cost Durban 8.2 billion Rand ($627.11 million) to put on the Games with the government suggesting that they could deliver between 11-20 billion Rand in economic benefits.

That optimism appears to have vanished, however, and Mbalula said on Tuesday that South Africa could not “go beyond what we can afford” for fear of being unable to recoup the costs.

A decision should be made in London on March 10-11 by the Commonwealth Games Federation, who have already extended missed deadline for guarantees that South Africa failed to meet in November.

Durban was initially given a list of criteria to fulfil by Nov. 30 or face the risk of being stripped of the Games.

A CGF review team has since been assessing the city’s response and is set to present to their executive board, who recently acquired the power to choose a new host city without a formal bid process.

Liverpool are possible replacements after its mayor, Joe Anderson, wrote to the British Government last month to inform it of the city’s intention to step in if the Games were left without a host, the Daily Telegraph said on Wednesday.

Durban were awarded the event in September 2015 but have failed to sign the host city contract, establish an organising committee or make any contracted payments to the CGF.

When Durban won the right to host the event, after Edmonton in Canada withdrew as a result of falling oil prices, South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee president Gideon Sam said the Games would provide an opportunity to fast track both economic and social development.

($1 = 13.0759 rand)

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

Yet another twist in the South China Seas controversy

The Singapore Strait connects the Straits of Malacca with the South China Sea.

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It is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, with ships supplying energy heading to China and the rest of East Asia and Asian-manufactured goods heading west.

At the mouth of that bottleneck lies a tiny island about the size of a football field with a lighthouse on it.

Singapore owns the island, but Malaysia also claims it, and Malaysia is taking Singapore to the International Court of Justice over that ownership.

Australian National University law professor Donald Rothwell says, despite the island’s size, its strategic location and maritime rights like fishing and energy exploration make it significant.

“Singapore in particular, because it’s very constrained by the geographic proximity of Malaysia and, to a lesser extent, Indonesia, is not entitled to assert the same maritime claims as many of the neighboring states, just because it’s geographically compromised. Even though these features are very small, they are well worth contesting because of the potential maritime entitlements they generate.”

The island lies about 40 kilometres east of Singapore’s main island and 19 kilometres south of Malaysia.

Singaporeans refer to it as Pedra Branca, meaning “white rock” in Portuguese, a reference to the bird droppings that cover the rocks.

The Malaysians call it Pulau Batu Puteh, which, in Malay, also means “white rock island.”

The dispute goes back to Singapore’s independence after it was expelled from the Malaysian Federation in 1965, two years after the union of British colonies was formed.

The director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, James Chin, says, in 2008, when the court ruled in Singapore’s favour, the Malaysian public was furious.

Professor Chin says Malaysia had not handled the case professionally.

“There were major, major criticisms across the board in Malaysia about the way that the whole thing was conducted by the Malaysia delegation. So, for example, they took a photo that later turned out to be photoshopped as evidence to the ICJ.”

Malaysia is requesting the court review its 2008 decision on the basis of new documents recently discovered in British archives.

The new evidence was uncovered last year and includes colonial telegrams and navy logs.

Malaysia and Singapore have had a rocky relationship over the years, particularly during the 1980s and ’90s under previous leaders.

But Professor Chin says the relationship had been improving.

“The way I describe the Singapore-Malaysia relationship is, basically, they’re a divorced couple. You know, they’re still linked for historical reasons because they were married at one time, but there are lots of underlying issues that haven’t been resolved.”

Malaysian prime minister Najib Abdul Razak is facing a general election in the next 18 months.

Some political analysts suggest he is revisiting the island dispute because it is popular with the electorate.

Mr Chin says he does not believe that is the case, but he says Mr Najib will use the dispute on the campaign trail.

“I think it’s just lucky timing on Najib’s side. Of course, he can use this as one of his election-campaign issues, that he’s trying very hard to win the islands back for Malaysia.”

In Sydney, the director of the Lowy Institute’s International Security Program, Euan Graham, says the dispute risks souring the relationship between the two neighbours again.

Both are part of ASEAN, the regional union recently under strain over conflicting positions between various members on the South China Sea.

“It is inevitably a distraction at a time when countries within ASEAN are feeling more fractured than ever and when, really, they could do without this extra thorn in the side of South-East Asian cooperation.”

There is also the broader South China Sea conflict.

China has recently been improving military and economic ties with Malaysia, while Singapore remains a staunch ally of the United States.

Dr Graham says, while he is not sure if China is involved in Malaysia’s decision to revisit the case, it will benefit regardless.

“It suits China for Malaysia and Singapore to be arguing with each other, rather than reaching common purpose, which … you know, the larger strategic interest is in South-East Asian countries cooperating more with each other to resist bullying from China.”

 

 

Costings row consumes WA election campaign

Premier Colin Barnett has reduced the WA election to a costings squabble, insisting Labor submit its $5 billion in promises to Treasury and evoking disgraced former premier Brian Burke and the scandalous WA Inc era.

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Labor has for several months engaged former senior public servants to work with its costings team, David Gilchrist and Mike Wood, in a bid to Teflon-coat the price tags on its commitments.

But Mr Barnett claimed on Wednesday Mr Wood had a close connection to Mr Burke, who was jailed for rorting travel expenses.

“One of Burke’s men coming back to cost Labor’s policies – do you think that’s good?” the premier asked.

“He’s a decent guy, I know Mike quite well, but it’s not objective, is it?

“The only objective thing in costing is to actually submit it to Treasury.”

Labor announced the appointments on January 24 but Mr Barnett waited until 10 days out from the election to publicly raise his reservations about Mr Wood.

Opposition leader Mark McGowan sprang swiftly to the defence of Mr Wood and Mr Gilchrist, saying their work was credible and independent and rejecting Mr Barnett’s demand as pathetic.

“The premier is showing all sorts of desperation, dishonesty in his conduct in last few days,” Mr McGowan said.

“These are two eminent West Australians, both of them professors … I don’t think in the history of this country there would have been two more qualified people to cost an opposition’s policies.”

While oppositions have previously had accounting firms assess their pledges, Mr Barnett said that was not enough in a more accountable modern political arena.

The Liberals would submit commitments and costings to Treasury this week, Mr Barnett said, and also do so when in opposition from now on.

“Why won’t Mark McGowan simply do the same? What is he hiding?

“He’s promised over $5 billion worth of commitments and has absolutely no credible plan to fund his promises or to bring the budget back to surplus or reduce state debt.”

Mr McGowan, however, said he wasn’t going to take advice from a premier who has presided over the worst finances in the history of WA “and probably the country”.

Exactly four years ago, then-treasurer Troy Buswell said he was about to submit Liberal pledges to Treasury and admitted the now abandoned MAX light rail project was contingent on hefty federal government contributions.

At the same time, Treasury had already run the ruler over Labor’s flagship Metronet rail project, which it is pressing ahead with but has changed, and now estimate the key aspects will cost $2.5 billion, saying extra lines can be added when the state can afford it.

But Labor also expects $490 million in commonwealth funds, which it has been warned not to rely on.

Liberal promises for the current campaign amount to $2.8 billion, with the sale of Western Power central to plans.

India won’t be butterfingers at Bengaluru, says Vijay

Visiting captain Steve Smith hit the only century of the match in Pune after being spilt four times by the butter-finger hosts who were thumped by 333 runs inside three days in the spin-dominated contest.

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Smith’s 109 allowed Australia to set India an improbable target of 441 to win the first match of the four-test series and the hosts duly collapsed.

“We had a chat about it and we are working on few of the areas where we could have done much better in the last test match,” Vijay, who spilt one himself, said ahead of the second test beginning on Saturday.

“We are looking forward to this game and hopefully we can pull of those catches.”

Having conceded a 155-run first innings lead, India badly needed to restrict Australia in the second but poor catching allowed the visitors to post 285 and effectively bat the hosts out of the contest.

“The first innings lead was little more than what we expected. From there on it was always going to be tough for us to get into the game,” Vijay said.

“We had the opportunities, if we had taken those catches maybe we would have put lot more pressure on the Australians.

“But it didn’t happen and we got to take it in our chin and move forward.”

The defeat snapped India’s 19-test unbeaten run, shocking fans who expected the team to steamroll Australia.

Vijay said it was a challenge for his team to show their character and bounce back in the remainder of the series.

“We have lost the game and we have to accept that fact. We have to move forward,” Vijay said. “We are looking forward to this game and start fresh… We will look to put the pressure back on the Australians.

“It’s going to be a good challenge for us as a team and test our character. That’s why we are playing cricket and hopefully we can play the way we have to play and we have played before.”

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

Supercars rookie to feel heat in Adelaide

The heat is on high school student Alex Rullo ahead of his historic Supercars Championship debut in this weekend’s Adelaide 500 series opener.

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At 16, Rullo knew he would face a baptism of fire by becoming the youngest full-time driver in Supercars history.

But it seems nothing can prepare the Perth year 12 pupil for what awaits at the unforgiving street circuit.

Especially after a disrupted preparation.

Track-side temperatures nudging 40 degrees celsius have been forecast ahead of the weekend’s two 250km races and body temperatures inside the vehicle are expected to exceed 70 degrees celsius.

“I had my appendix out five weeks ago so I have been off the weights but I have been on the bike,” Rullo told speedcafe website.

Yet the teenager remains unfazed about entering the Adelaide cauldron.

He opted not to wear a cool suit and helmet fan at recent testing at Sydney to prepare for the brutal conditions.

Rullo will make his debut in 2017 along with Simona de Silvestro – the first female full-time Supercars driver in 32 years.

Rullo hoped they could start a “cool rivalry” in the sweltering Adelaide conditions.

Asked about his season goal, Rullo told AAP: “To be the fastest rookie this year.

“Obviously there’s Simona and she’s a confident, competent driver so it will be cool to see how she goes with Supercars labelled as one of the hardest touring car championships in the world.

“I’ve got a bit of an upper hand in Supercars experience but she has her whole career – it will be hopefully a cool rivalry.”

Last year Rullo was the youngest driver to contest the second-tier Dunlop series, grabbing sixth place at home track Barbagallo and at Sandown.

Usually drivers must be 17 or older to earn a Superlicence.

However, the Australian motorsport governing body gave Rullo a provisional Superlicence and will monitor his progress after the teenager applied for special dispensation.

Rullo will be 16 years, eight months and 17 days old when he starts on the Adelaide grid – 79 days younger than record holder Paul Dumbrell, who debuted in 1999.

Practice for the Adelaide season opener begins on Friday.