Author Archives: Maxdbs

Hastie asset sale hopes dim, creditors told

The administrator of the collapsed Hastie Group engineering empire has dashed lingering hopes of substantial returns for creditors, signalling that few businesses will find new owners following the company’s collapse.
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Speaking after a creditors’ meeting in Melbourne, Ian Carson of PPB Advisory said Hastie’s enormous debt bill included $100 million owed to “many thousands of creditors”, with rural and regional suppliers particularly hard hit. This amount is in addition to the half a billion dollars owed to banks that funded Hastie’s acquisition binge.

Many creditors had travelled from regional Australia for the “sombre” meeting, Mr Carson said. These included labour hire firms, and suppliers of plastic fittings and guns for fastening.

“They’re really normal, ordinary businesses…and a lot of them are locals. You know, Albury and Shepparton, regional areas,” Mr Carson told a media conference after the meeting.

Mr Carson said of the 44 businesses under its control, just five had been sold for a combined sum of less than $30 million, and another one or two might be sold for modest amounts.

Receivers and managers McGrathNicol, appointed by Hastie’s banks, have taken charge of Hastie’s better-performing assets, but Mr Carson was downbeat on the prospect of substantial returns from the sale of those companies.

“It’s hard to imagine there’ll be a material return even after McGrathNicol,” Mr Carson told BusinessDay.

Asked whether he had greater insight into the cause of Hastie’s collapse, Mr Carson said: “There have obviously been some failures. Whether it’s corporate governance or other things.”

He estimated that about 1,200 jobs had been saved across Hastie’s local workforce now under PPB’s remit, of the 2700 stood down at its collapse. This tally excludes the 1800-odd workers employed by companies taken over by McGrathNichol.

The stood-down workers are being urged to apply for the federal government’s GEERS program, which provides payments to people who are owed entitlements by their bankrupt or insolvent employer.

Mr Carson said it was difficult to determine exact numbers of job losses as some workers had simply taken on work with rival contractors.

Collapse

Hastie had about 7,000 workers across the globe when it collapsed in late May, after the discovery of a long-standing accounting “irregularity” scared off a recapitalisation plan.

Its investors included Lazard Private Equity and Thorney Holdings, the Pratt family’s investment fund, which had supported an equity raising for the Sydney-based company last year.

Hastie’s chief executive Bill Wild said after the collapse that Hastie had a culture of “no bad news” and told staff members they had been let down by management. The collapse has also been blamed on overpriced acquisitions before the financial crisis that the company had failed to integrate.

On the prospect of legal action related to the collapse, Mr Carson said this course had not been his focus so far but he would be meeting with directors and shareholders in the months ahead.

Listed litigation funder IMF (Australia) and law firm Slater & Gordon have confirmed they are following developments closely.

There’s also been a 150-day extension period sought for the convening period before the second creditors meeting, Mr Carson said.

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Marine reserve compensation ‘a drop in the ocean’

Commercial fishermen are set to receive compensation of about $100 million to help them adjust to the establishment of the world’s largest network of marine reserves around Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said this morning.
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But the industry has swiftly poured scorn on the figure. Brian Jeffriess of the Commonwealth Fisheries Association told the National Times the government ”were kidding themselves” if they though that was enough.

Ms Gillard told ABC radio that the 44 marine reserves, covering more than 3 million square kilometres of Australian waters, would affect only about 1 per cent of commercial fishing.

She added: ”There will be assistance available in the vicinity of $100 million.”

Environment Minister Tony Burke announced the massive expansion of marine protection – the world’s most comprehensive – in Sydney this morning, ahead of next week’s Rio+20 summit on global sustainability.

The plan offers differing levels of protection, ranging from full-blown national parks that prohibit mining and most types of fishing, to multi-use zones, which will still allow oil and gas exploration as well as some types of commercial fishing.

Conservationists welcomed the announcement, though many expressed concern that more of the areas should have been marked as national parks.

But the plan puts the Gillard government on a collision course with the fishing industry.

Mr Jeffriess said the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park – a relatively small area compared with today’s announcement – alone had cost $250 million and rising in adjustment assistance.

While praising Mr Burke’s lengthy and close consultation with the industry, he criticised the fact the government had revealed the plan without announcing compensation at the same time.

”If you’re sitting there as a small business in a regional area dependent on the fishing industry, what are you supposed to do? For those who don’t know whether they can stay in business at all, their staff will desert in droves. We’re bitterly disappointed.”

Imogen Zethoven, a Coral Sea campaigner from the Pew Environment Group, said the announcement was a ”historic moment” in protecting the unique tropic waters beyond the Great Barrier Reef, which are home to sharks, tunas, and marlin, as well as healthy coral reefs, atolls, cays and islands.

Wilderness Society marine campaign manager Felicity Wishart said the announcement was a ”welcome first step” but included ”some major omissions that undermine the effectiveness of the overall system”.

Mr Burke said the plan would take the success of Australia’s national parks on land and apply them to the sea.

”Our oceans have been such a missing piece of that jigsaw and this now allows us to fill that in,” he said.

”For generations, Australians have understood the need to preserve precious areas on land as national parks. Our oceans contain unique marine life which needs protection too.”

 

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MPs call on Fairfax to abandon NZ plan

The NSW upper house has passed a motion calling on Fairfax management to abandon plans to outsource local production jobs to New Zealand.
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Fairfax – the publisher of this website – on Tuesday confirmed plans to move regional editorial production jobs, including page design, layout and sub-editing roles, to Fairfax Editorial Services in New Zealand.

On Thursday, the NSW upper house unanimously backed a motion of support for Fairfax workers.

“Fairfax’s proposed changes will undermine the quality of news and current affairs reporting in the Hunter, the Illawarra and the rest of NSW,” Greens MP John Kaye said in a statement.

Mr Kaye, who moved the motion, accused Fairfax of “stubbornly pushing ahead with these changes”.

“The NSW upper house calls on Fairfax management to put quality news and current affairs reporting in this state ahead of budget considerations and to abandon its outsourcing plans,” he said in a statement.

Paul Murphy, director of media at the journalists’ union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), will meet Fairfax representatives at 1pm (AEST) on Thursday.

The meeting has been described as a fact-finding mission.

It follows the passing of a no-confidence motion in Fairfax Media CEO Greg Hywood on Wednesday by staff at The Newcastle Herald and The Illawarra Mercury.

Mr Hywood has maintained the New Zealand plans won’t have any negative impact on the quality of the affected dailies or associated community titles.

Comment is being sought from Fairfax on the NSW upper house motion.

– AAP

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Rinehart tipped to be raising Fairfax stake

More than 45 million Fairfax Media shares, or nearly 2 per cent of the company, changed hands by lunchtime today, raising speculation that the company’s major investor, Gina Rinehart, may be upping her stake.
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Most of the shares were traded at lunchtime, at around 60.5-61 cents, by Southern Cross Equities. Shares are currently unchanged at 61 cents.

Funds management group Allan Gray Australia has also bought more shares in the Sydney-based publishing house in recent days, lifting its stake to more than 9 per cent, according to media reports.

There has been speculation about whether Mrs Rinehart, the media company’s largest investor, would buy more as she ratchets up the pressure on the board for two board positions. She recently confirmed to BusinessDay that she owned more than 13 per cent of the group.

Neither Mr Marais nor a spokesman for Mrs Rinehart were available yet for comment.

But both have been outspoken criticis of the board and management of the company in recent weeks, along with Mrs Rinehart’s close advisor Jack Cowin, who has been considered as Mrs Rinehart’s choice for the second board position.

Mrs Rinehart has refused to speculate on whether she would lift her stake as the company’s shareprice wallows close to record lows, saying late last month: “It is too early to say if [Hancock Prospecting – the company through which Ms Rinehart owns her stake] will hold its more than 13 per cent shares in Fairfax or sell them or find some other satisfactory resolution.”

It also follows remarks from Hancock Prospecting chief development officer John Klepec this week that the board should demonstrate their commitment to the company by buying more shares.

“If the chairman and board are true believers in the strategy to assist the company, surely they would have a reasonable percentage of their net worth in Fairfax and be taking opportunities to add to this when the opportunity arises. We understand for instance that the chairman only has 99,206 shares and has not added to his shareholding,” he said.

“You may have noticed, that major shareholders including shareholder directors at Ten, have all chosen to commit more funds to that company recently, given belief in management and board strategy. Shareholder directors with “skin in the game” logically have the greatest motivation.”

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Economic conditions a ‘tale of woe’: Myer chief

The current economic conditions are a “tale of woe” and the worst he has ever seen, Myer chief executive Bernie Brookes says.
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Speaking today at a business lunch in Melbourne, Mr Brookes said the easy moves of cutting costs have gone and that businesses were struggling to stay ahead of the broader economic downturn.

“It’s a very different market,” Mr Brookes told a Deloitte lunch today at noon.

He reiterated pervious forecasts saying he expected Myer’s full year profit to be down as much as 15 per cent this year, with the department store owner hitting some tough trading conditions this year.

Online remained a vigorous competitor for all retailers, including Myer, while electronics was facing such huge price deflation that he joked one day you would be able to “buy a frock and get a free television”.

Good retailers had to provide excellent customer service as well as the cheapest price across other bricks and mortar competitors and online retailers. Due to this Myer had invested $25 million in customer service.

Mr Brookes said he believed Australian retailers had been slow to invest in the internet but that the strength of the Australian dollar had helped push the sector to move into the sector as shoppers shift their purchase to online stores.

Australia has some of the best shopping centres in the world, making shopping a family day out and therefore Australians had been relatively slow in going on the web and shop.

He said online sales could eventually become 10 per cent of Myer’s total business. Last week online sales for Myer were up 400 per cent, he said.

Price harmonisation would be the next key trend in Australia where the prices of fashion and other items would be the same in Australia as it is all over the world, and this would help with price deflation.

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Rebekah Brooks appears in court

Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie Brooks leave Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London.THE curtains opened on the biggest media show in town as Rebekah Brooks – along with husband Charlie Brooks, her long time PA, the chauffeur and two security men – fronted a London court to answer charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
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The former News International CEO was forced to stand in the stark, glass-walled dock in the near-new Westminster Magistrates’ Court before Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle just 24 hours before her old friend, British Prime Minister David Cameron, was due to give evidence to Lord Justice Leveson.

Brooks, 44, trademark red mane tamed into carefully coiffed waves, wore a tailored dark suit and green scarf, casting aside the demure black shift with Peter Pan collar so pilloried by the British media when she appeared before the Leveson inquiry.

A phalanx of lawyers and QCs attended the court with the group of six but the Crown Prosecutor, Nigel Pilkington, told Judge Riddle that no changes to bail conditions would be requested and that a date for a trial beginning on June 22 at Southwark Court, near Tower Bridge, had been agreed.

Judge Riddle warned the defendants that they are banned from any direct contact between each other — apart from Mr and Mrs Brooks – and that any breach would result in loss of bail.

“If you are late or don’t turn up on time, you can lose your bail,” he said.

Mrs Brooks has been quarry in the lens of the British capital’s paparazzi since being charged with three counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on May 15. Police allege that she and the other five removed material, documents and computers to hide them at the height of the Scotland Yard investigation into phone hacking at the now defunct News of the World.

The others, each accused of one charge, include husband Charlie Brooks, 49, a Daily Telegraph columnist and racehorse trainer, Brooks’ longtime Personal Assistant, Cheryl Carter, 48, her chauffeur, Paul Edwards, 48, and two News International staff, Mark Hanna, 49, company head of security, and a colleague, Daryl Jorsling, 39.

Brooks is accused in one charge of conspiring with Carter to “remove seven boxes of material from the archives of News International”. In a separate charge she is accused of conspiring with her husband, Hanna, her chauffeur and a security consultant to conceal “documents and computers” from the investigating detectives. All the offences are alleged to have taken place in July last year.

Metal barriers were being placed outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court well before 7am as TV trucks and photographers jostled for a spot to snap this most photogenic of protagonists in the escalating media and political disaster that has become known as the hacking scandal.

Across the city, in the House of Commons, Mr Cameron and his Conservative colleagues were bracing for a gruelling parliamentary session after the Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg signalled that his party would not support the embattled Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

In charge of overseeing the now abandoned News International bid for control of BSkyB, Mr Hunt – who once described himself as a “cheerleader for News International” – has been forced to publicly explain a string of emails and text messages between him, a senior ministerial staffer and News International executives that appeared to suggest an intimate relationship between them. The staffer resigned in the wake of the revelations.

Brooks, a former editor of both The Sun and News of the World, was one of London’s most high profile and visible newspaper executives until a few months ago.

Alison Levitt QC, the principal legal adviser to Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said in May that the decision to charge six of the seven individuals arrested over the allegations came after prosecutors applied the two-stage test required of them when making charging decisions: “I have concluded that in relation to all suspects except the seventh there is sufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction,” she said.

“I then considered the second stage of the test and I have concluded that a prosecution is required in the public interest in relation to each of the other six.”

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Teams stumble on road to Shangri-La

Watch this whole episode of Masterchef right here, right now!
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Every episode of this season of Masterchef available on demand.

After the feelgood vibes of last night, when nutrition enthusiast Jamie Oliver excited the amateurs so much the MCG super-soppers were called in to dry out the kitchen floor, tonight it’s back to what MasterChef does best: ferocious competition, intense psychological stress, and multiple nervous breakdowns.

We begin, in what has become a MasterChef trademark, in the morning, with the contestants coming downstairs to discover a gang of home invaders have broken into the house to torment them with Funny Games-style physical and mental abuse. Or to put it another way, the judges are here to take them to their next challenge. George begins by informing Deb that she will need her hand, which only adds to the sense of mystery – what sort of cooking task requires the use of a hand? Hmm.

The suspense doesn’t last long, as Preston informs them that they will be running the food service for guests and staff at the Shangri-La Hotel for 24 hours. Moran then informs them that he is still there, pretending to be a real judge. The winning team will win a private master class from Neil Perry on the art of ponytail maintenance, while the losing team will be pelted with rancid fruit in Martin Place.

Because viewers have been complaining that MasterChef episodes are far too short, we then watch the teams get selected via the ancient method of spoon withdrawal. We then watch Alice do a little song-and-dance thing that may get her into trouble with the International Criminal Court. Alice follows this atrocity by claiming she didn’t pick Emma on her team due to her immaturity, which seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle ludicrously bespectacled.

And on it goes, the spoons being pulled and names being called and teams being assigned and Andy showing off his biceps and a gradual weary sense of the circular nature of time overwhelming us all. The end result is that all the rubbish cooks are on the red team.

Kylie knows that the challenge is going to be massive because the Shangri-La is one of the tallest buildings in the city, having somehow gotten the impression that their job is to cook an edible scale model of the hotel.

In the actual hotel kitchen, the Shangri-La chef advises the teams to keep it fresh, keep it simple, and keep it “nice and homely” – although that might have been a reference to Mario. In any event, George’s advice is “start cooking”, which maintains his perfect record of never giving useful advice to anyone in his entire life.

Start cooking they do, Beau immediately hurling random ingredients into a trough, and Ben deciding to make a red green curry. Over on the red team, there is curry and salad and pasta and things and it’s all intensely boring. Has anyone ever noticed how much of this show is just shots of people chopping carrots? It’s seriously a lot. But it’s OK because it’s time for an ad break and we’re promised that after the break people are going to start screwing up royally.

Speaking of which, what’s the deal with that NIB ad where John Paul Young starts singing and then it just stops? Did someone assassinate him? It’s really weird. Maybe it’s a metaphor for the way that NIB customers could have their lives abruptly snuffed out at any moment.

As indeed could MasterChef contestants, and this is looking more and more likely at the Shangri-La, which was named after a legendary mountain paradise, but seems to have been designed more to replicate Dante’s Inferno. “You’re in 5-star hotel cooking for 5-star employees!” yells George, dishonestly – we know that probably a lot of their employees are crap. Ben has made a curry, but has not made enough, believing that the Shangri-La is staffed exclusively by midgets on a diet.

George discovers that Kylie, on the red team, is making cold pasta, and takes great delight in publicly mocking her, because he is one of nature’s bullies. “I’m coming over to your house for dinner,” he says, and Kylie almost faints with relief on realising he’s just posing a hypothetical, and not making a threat. Meanwhile, the rest of the red team is either burning their food, or failing to make their food hot, in a splendid continuance of the tradition of total and utter incompetence we’ve come to associate with the red team. Apart from the poorly cooked food and failure to finish it in time, though, they’re doing OK.

The blue team is doing a little better though, getting their food ready in advance of noon, which is when the ravening hordes of the Shangri-La descend upon the staff mess hall. Andy is out the back, “pumping up the Greek salad”, which is probably as disgusting as it sounds.

The red team rallies, as ten minutes late Julia presents her vegetarian curry and fails to notice Kylie’s awkward attempts to flirt with her. Conversely, the blue team is struggling slightly, with drying bolognaise and the sudden disappearance of their team members. Early signs indicate that Beau has killed them and hidden their bodies in his bolognaise sauce. Ben thinks the blue team is ahead in the competition, but where he is when saying this, nobody knows.

With lunch over, the next task is what George calls “a canopy function”, in which the teams must cook an interweaving network of jungle treetops in which tropical birds and monkeys will dwell. Strangely enough, despite George’s instructions to make a canopy, the teams set to work on making delicate little hors d’oeuvres for some reason.

As is traditional in canapé preparation, the amateurs on both sides are making some fairly revolting things, such as “zucchini flowers”, which is a foodstuff that pops up a lot on MasterChef despite having originated as a prophet’s fever dream in the Book of Revelation. George meets with the hotel chef, who expresses his doubts about these amateurs’ ability to do his job perfectly without any experience – losers. He then emits a massive ball of fire in George’s face.

Having earlier suffered NIB’s warning that we may be murdered at any time, the next round of health insurance bullying features iSelect’s promise that if we don’t buy insurance this very second they will bend us over and make us carry a fish tank on our backs. When did the insurance industry get so sadistic?

No time to ponder this question, because quickly we are back to the old-fashioned type of sadism on MasterChef. The cocktail party has begun, and the teams must redouble their efforts to make their canopies – but they’re still making the finger-food and confusion reigns supreme. Beau is candying his radicchio, which seems an unwise thing to do in what is supposed to be a hygienic workplace. Cut to Andy, who regales us with tales of body-horror from his basketball career, and then back to George and the angry Canadian chef, who reflect once more on just how awful the red team is.

It’s possible the red team’s struggles are due to the fact Kylie seems to have to do everything – AND pop out every thirty seconds to record a piece to camera. “They’re getting peckish,” calls George, but these pathetic little baubles of mouse-food aren’t going to solve that problem.

Sweaty Sam steps out of the kitchen and immediately begins dripping his bodily fluids all over the international jet set, while Kylie, who only sweats via her personality, is last out and begins thrusting some enormous scallop-slabs at a bunch of fashion models. “The canapé challenge couldn’t have gone better.” asserts Sam, the camera cutting away before he can add, “unless I’d have worn some Lynx or something”.

Anyway that unpleasantness is over and we’re moving into the second shift, which unfortunately for the guests at the Shangri-La means Filippo prowling around the hotel in the middle of the night. He begins by setting the hotel on fire.

If YOU have to work through the night in a 500-room hotel, you should try slamming down a Red Bull – the energy drink that gives zebras the ability to slaughter crocodiles.

Back at the hotel, Tregan seems nervous about doing room service, possibly because of the difficulties of moving between floors on roller skates. But the red team begins with a sense of energy and purpose, as their night shift has replaced the day shift’s sweat and panic with the strong, decisive leadership of Skipper Amina.

Almost immediately, orders begin coming in to the kitchen, which comes as quite a surprise to the amateurs. “We don’t serve crap here,” says head chef Steve to Filippo, forcing the red team to rethink its strategy. He then calls, “It doesn’t matter what team you’re on”. forcing the entire MasterChef production crew to rethink its strategy. Steve, in fact, is becoming quite resentful of the entire exercise and looks about five seconds away from slapping Gary’s face and demanding his real staff back.

This part of the show involves a lot of steam and shouting things like “Prawns up!” and “Dumplings two minutes!” and other weird phrases that don’t really mean anything. Meanwhile Jules is roaming the corridors, infiltrating strangers’ rooms and snooping through their personal effects. Tregan is trying to do the same, but the trolley is too heavy and she begins to bitch about not being trained to do the job, a common occupational hazard for those who skip the training process and attempt to take reality TV shortcuts to their chosen career.

It’s 11pm and a roomful of women are drinking heavily and squawking like cockatoos in their hotel room, which inexplicably contains several television cameras. Downstairs, Steve relays their order to the amateurs, and Tregan realises she’s not trained to remember things that people say to her either.

One of the hazards of watching a show like MasterChef is that the delicious food on display can really stoke the appetite, causing the viewer to overeat. So it’s lucky they include commercials in which the words “light bladder leakage” are used, to ensure that appetite is stopped in its tracks.

Back at the hotel, the oddly subdued hens’ night, in which nobody is wearing anything inappropriate on their head, continues, while Tregan burns her burger buns and tries to cover them with mayonnaise. “How much do you like getting yelled at?” asks Steve upon seeing this, and the answer is apparently “quite a lot”, judging by her demented giggling immediately thereafter.

It is time for both teams to deliver their room service to the hens, and for Filippo to quietly hide under a table so he can watch the ladies eat. For their part, the hens quite like the food, but apparently the portions are a bit too big. This is the second time tonight that someone has complained about getting too much food, which makes one wonder if the Shangri-La is a special hotel catering exclusively to the mentally disadvantaged. This impression is reinforced by Steve, who declares, “Our guests don’t sleep” – this sounds a bit unlikely.

Mindy is disturbed by a huge midnight room service order which she clearly suspects is the work of a secret torture club, and she rebels by cracking an egg on a filthy stovetop, for which Steve berates her, at which she laughs. What is it with these people? How about they show a bit of contrition for their horrible crimes against cookery?

Anyway the room service order was for Matt Preston surprise surprise, who is staying in the Presidential Suite in the company of some truly incandescent pyjamas and the remains of the original guests.

The long dark night of the soul over, the night shift stagger deliriously out, and the morning shift shuffles in to boil eggs and toast muffins and in Deb’s case probably cut her finger clean off this time. Deb is working with “Andrew” on the blue team, so it’s fairly clear just how high a priority breakfast is in this challenge.

“I need to crack SIXTY DOZEN EGGS!” cries Alice, sprinkling invisible pixie dust in the air to emphasise just what an outrage this is. Meanwhile Mario, who has thus far defied all known laws of physics by still being on the show, is on bacon detail, lugging about the mortal remains of several generations of unhappy pigs.

Steve notes that the breakfast detail seems a little nervous, which is probably a result of them representing the most inept people in the competition. Speaking of which, Alice is drowning a wok in soy sauce as she explains the intricacies of Asian culture for the audience. Meanwhile, Deb is crying for help. “There’s a lot going on!” she yelps as, in the grip of terror-flushed dementia, she begins slopping dobs of yellow mush on a stove to no obvious useful purpose.

“Is this bacon acceptable?” Mario asks, as if he doesn’t know the answer. So far from being acceptable, it is ground zero at a piggery bombing, and Steve is visibly restraining himself from strangling him. But this is as nothing compared to the story of “Andrew” and the hash browns …

Not sure anything on this show looks as delicious as a bag of Jelly Joiners, to be honest.

A quick and much-appreciated “MasterChef Extra Taste” pokes its head around the door to show us Alice unnerving breakfasters in the hotel dining room …

And we’re back to Sydney, the city where cars run freakishly fast over the Harbour Bridge, and amateur chefs disgrace themselves with soggy hash browns. It’s “Andrew’s” turn to feel the sharp sting of Degrassi refugee Steve’s vicious tongue, as his soggy browns are hurled into the bin, because the Shangri-La is nothing if not dedicated to wasting food. “I feel like jumping in the deep fryer,” says “Andrew”, finally achieving a point of exquisite empathy with the viewers at home.

The contest is neck-and-neck, though, as Mario sees “Andrew’s” revolting hash browns, and raises him a plate of hideously mishandled omelette. The stakes just keep getting higher in these two men’s fiercely-fought battle of incompetence.

In the kitchen, Preston speaks to the head of PR for the Shangri-La about the hotel’s generous offer to allow some plucky aspiring chefs to gain experience in their kitchen purely out of the goodness of its kind corporate heart. While they do so, Alice serves up eggs to customers, making sure nobody gets anything to eat without engaging in an intensely unwanted conversation that will cause them to develop a lifelong phobia of enormous glasses. Back in the kitchen, “Andrew” is still struggling to master the intricate mysteries of the hash brown, stack after stack being hurled into the rubbish and Steve continuing his Full Metal Jacket act in the amateur hash brownist’s ear.

Emma is also there, apparently, but she doesn’t have her beanie on, so it’s a bit hard to take her seriously. Anyway she’s overcooked some scrambled eggs, because that’s just how this challenge is going.

Time is up! The challenge is finished, and Alice says everything went “eggsactly to plan”, because she literally does not care what anyone on earth thinks of her.

And of course it is time for the most important part of any challenge – the random shots of Sydney landmarks. Once that’s out of the way we can get to the judging. Gary asks the amateurs how they went, and Ben enthuses about how great it is to look at ladies. For her part, Emma says that Steve asked her if she still wanted to be a chef, but she has seemingly not taken the hint.

George takes over proceedings, and tells the contestants what they did last night, in case they hit their heads on something in the elevator. The first red shift did well in the kitchen, while the blue team made good food but forgot the crucial step of being present to give it to the diners – rookie mistake. Everyone has a bit more of a chuckle about how attractive young men find young women to be. On the night shift, the blue team fell down by forgetting to make their food hot – rookie mistake.

And finally, we move on to the breakfast shift, and to everyone’s lasting sorrow, Matt Moran is going to talk. He runs through a list of the horrible mistakes everyone made in the morning, reminding Mario of his terrible bacon and “Andrew” of his terrible hash browns and Mario of his terrible omelettes and “Andrew” of some more terrible hash browns. Yet, despite those hash browns, the blue team won breakfast, proving that Mario really does go the extra mile when it comes to stuffing up.

But then, the red team won the dinner shift! Meaning that it’s 1-1! And the final shift will be the decider! Nobody saw that coming! It’s amazing!

So the lunch shift is the crucial one, and the winner of that crucial shift was…

The BLUE team! So “Andrew” once more dodges a metaphorical bullet, and is well on his way to dodging some literal ones, and yet again red goes down, sparking suspicions that the judges are at this stage just awarding points based on their favourite colour.

And so, with 24 hours of passionate toil reduced to hollow judgment, the amateurs learn a valuable lesson about the pettiness of modern pop culture and the ephemeral nature of their chosen profession, and we move on, to tomorrow, when the blue team will feast and laugh at the pathetic losers slaving away in elimination. It is a cruel world, and MasterChef continues to emphasise that every night.

For there is blood in the water, and we can all appreciate its bouquet.

Ben is the author of Superchef – A Parody, published by Allen and Unwin.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Ten endures a slow start to morning

Andrew Rochford, Paul Henry and Kathryn Robinson are attempting to get the right chemistry on Channel Ten’s Breakfast.IN A business governed by numbers, you would figure Channel Ten is rather worried about Breakfast. While its direct rivals slug it out for No.1 and No.2, the show’s ratings are in the toilet.
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Ten’s foray* into the morning news market began on February 23 with a modest 51,000 viewers. By March its audience appeared to have settled around the mid-40,000 mark, but it has since regularly dipped below 30,000 – twice in May bottoming out at a mere 22,000 viewers. Compared with the 300,000-plus who regularly watch Today on Channel Nine and Sunrise on Channel Seven, Breakfast looks to be in trouble.

Not so, says Anthony Flannery, Ten’s director of news and current affairs and the man charged with helping the show find its feet.

Ten has ”no target” in mind in terms of audience size, he insists. When the network decided to ditch its early-morning line-up of children’s cartoons for its foray into the breakfast news space, ”We just said, ‘Let’s get in there and join the crowd and see where we can go.”’

Getting it right will take time, Flannery says, but Breakfast doesn’t have the clear air in which to experiment that its rivals enjoyed in their early days. ”Sunrise [launched in 2002] worked under the radar for three to four years, Today [launched 1982] was the only program in that space for a couple of decades, so they were able to get their act together. We’ve come in to what is probably the most congested, fragmented and competitive part of the schedule. It’s up to us to keep massaging our program until we get it right.”

To date it’s been more a case of the light rub-down than the deep pummel as Ron Wilson has taken over newsreading duties from Kathryn Robinson in a bid to allow her ”to develop the relationship” with her co-hosts, Paul Henry and Andrew Rochford. ”She was always prepping and marking up scripts and researching for those newsbreaks, and it’s very difficult to get out of that and come in and be part of a wider conversation,” Flannery says. ”Now we’re allowing her to develop as a presenter.”

Flannery says Breakfast is structured around the needs of a viewership that typically spends no more than 20 minutes with the show while preparing for the day ahead. ”We have to engage with people in those cycles so they can get their news, their weather, their sport and their topics they can discuss at work or school.”

Flannery is determined that Breakfast not merely imitate its competitors. ”We want to have our own voice, our own personality. I keep telling our hosts they’re dance partners. They’ve got to learn their steps without treading on each other’s toes and that takes a while to work.”

There’s little doubt the lord of this particular dance is Henry. The effervescent New Zealander is not to everyone’s liking, but Flannery has no doubt he’s an asset. ”There was all this talk, a lot of it unfounded and uneducated, about him being a shock jock, but Paul’s one of the best interviewers you’ll come across.

”He says it as he sees it, he’ll say the things that people are thinking, but he’ll also ask the hard questions when he needs to.”

One of the keys to the show succeeding, Flannery says, is ”giving Paul Henry more time to be himself”.

Another, he says, is getting much-needed marketing support. ”There’s huge numbers of people [who] still don’t recognise there’s a breakfast news program on Ten.”

Ah, numbers. Surely the ratings are cause for concern? ”It’s a low sample at that time of day, they’re bouncing around a lot,” Flannery says, pointing to the fact that the OzTam sample works out at about one survey viewer for every 5000 potential viewers. Not that he’s making excuses, he adds. ”We all play by the same rules so I’m not going to blame those numbers, but you get one meter turned off and that’s thousands of viewers.”

Besides, he says, the audience is up on what it was – admittedly from a low base – and ad revenue has more than doubled (boosted by the fact that Ten is no longer limited to the ads that can be shown during a C-rated slot).

In the end, he insists, these things can’t be rushed. ”I’ve said all along it’s going to take time. It’s going to take us months to get our format working and once that’s working you’re continuously reassessing it. It could take a couple of years to get it up there in a really strong ratings position.”

That’s a long time to ask management to hold its nerve, isn’t it? ”Well it is, but if you look at what happened with Sunrise, it took them close to five years.”

Only time will tell if Ten truly has the legs for such a marathon.

* As some readers have kindly reminded us, Ten was in the breakfast space previously with Good Morning Australia.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Morning TV triggers alarm bells

Channel Seven’s The Morning Show hosts Larry Emdur and Kylie Gillies.IT STARTED out as a dare, as these things so often do. I drunkenly thought it would be an interesting experiment to compare – during the course of a week – The Morning Show on Channel Seven with Mornings on Channel Nine. I know, who was I kidding? I was seduced by the allure of cheap bravado and self-hatred. Naturally, the challenge was too great. After watching four consecutive hours, a little bit of spirit escaped my body, perhaps never to return. Maybe they should call it mourning television.
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Both programs have almost identical names, start at 9am, are hosted by a male and female and designed to be on in the background of what constitutes your life.

The Morning Show has been around for five years and stretches for 2½ hours. Its colour scheme of yellow with bubbles is supposed to be sunny and fun but reminds me more of carbonated urine. The backdrop has the benefit of windows out to the street, so you can at least imagine what it would be like to be outside.

Mornings on Channel Nine runs for a meagre two hours and used to be called Mornings with Kerri-Anne, until Kerri-Anne Kennerley and Sonia Kruger got their keys mixed up at a party.

Similarities between the shows are predictably uncanny. As with most mirrored programming, ideas seem to be plucked from the cloud of trans-network groupthink. Emphasis is given to the same celebrity gossip, movie trailers, overseas interviews and even infomercials. I swear it wasn’t mere cabin fever when I spotted a spruiker on the two channels at the same time. He loves two-for-one offers so much he became one.

Together with ads, infomercials make up exactly half of each show. The products peg the audience as terrified of being fat, ugly and dying. Constant discussions of funeral plans successfully took away my will to live. The vacuum cleaner salesman squarks over the noise of a vacuum. They also flog stylish pyjama jeans that you can wear to the door when the delivery man arrives with your hand-held infra-red anti-ageing LED light. Be one of the first 200 callers and we’ll indulge your festering sense of inadequacy absolutely free.

Producers obviously have a handle on what viewers expect: ”Coming up, the latest fingernail trends”; ”Live psychic readings from Australia’s favourite medium”; ”Shed the kilos and still feel full”; ”Plus! We show you how to pull off double denim”. I was actually interested in the last one.

Celebrity gossip is central to discussing social issues: ”At 19 and 22, respectively, are Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth too young to tie the knot?” I dunno, what does Lady Gaga think?

There’s also the expected mix of cooking segments, cross-promotion, viral videos and ”experts” who give advice on everything. The shows blatantly appeal to parents who don’t seem to mind getting only the occasional adult discussion or promotion of an important cause.

I’m not blowing any minds by saying it’s mostly mind-numbing. These programs are existentially despicable, though of course culturally inevitable and commercially necessary. My concern is that the tenor of morning television has seeped into so much of the rest of the media. Entertainment news avoids entertainment to talk about entertainers, just as hard news avoids policy to talk about politics. Audiences are broadly thought to be easily distracted, suckers for the trivial and most likely to absorb information that is delivered with a smile. (My face hurts from watching their faces hurt.)

Relief comes from observing the hosts grind through a show I expect they wouldn’t watch themselves – sometimes pretending to be deranged in order to keep sane. Mornings’ David Campbell was dressed as a sailor and asked a similarly suited New York ”expert”: ”Is the Meatpacking District full of hot seamen like us?” David is the bloke who gets dragged along to his girlfriend’s book club and makes the most of it. Meanwhile, Sonia Kruger pointed at what looked like her 9am coffee and said, ”We have Sambuca shots.” Part of me thinks she wishes it was.

The Morning Show’s Larry Emdur is a class act who plays to the fan, the crew and the viewer in the doctors’ waiting room who wouldn’t normally watch. He asked a health expert who advised having sex three times a week if she could write him a prescription. His co-host, Kylie Gillies, has the gravitas to carry the odd hard news item and the warmth to banter without affectation.

Both duos have fun when they can but nowhere near enough to keep me home in my pyjama jeans.

Follow Daniel Burt on Twitter: @trubnad

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Yellow Submarine still poses questions

The Beatles only signed off on the film to fulfil a contractual obligation.When the Beatles-inspired Yellow Submarine was released in 1968, its promoters linked it to classical myths and landmark tales of fantastic voyages such as the Odyssey and Alice In Wonderland. In the intervening decades, the iconic movie has inspired waves of analysis and dreamy philosophising. Who do the Blue Meanies represent? What does the voyage of the Yellow Submarine symbolise? What drugs were the animators taking?
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But Yellow Submarine is also simply what it seems – a free-spirited creative effort by hundreds of people that expresses the joyful, humane spirit of the Beatles’ music. The film, which has been out of print for years, was re-released last week on DVD and Blu-ray in a meticulously hand-restored version.

Animation director Robert Balser, now 85, says Yellow Submarine was the result of an uninhibited creative effort that was improbable at the time and would be impossible in today’s corporate entertainment world. (He swears his team was fuelled by nothing more than whisky and imagination.)

“No matter what money you had, you could never get the freedom we had,” Balser says.

The movie tells the story of Pepperland, an “unearthly paradise” that’s invaded by the Blue Meanies, monsters led by a bulbous and sinister falsetto-voiced chief. They turn Pepperland’s people into petrified gray statues and crush all joy and music.

One Pepperlander escapes in the title vehicle to England (a drab place rather like his ruined home) and convinces the Beatles to help. They voyage through a wondrous ocean, where they travel back and forth in time, encounter impossible monsters and meet the Nowhere Man. Together they bring music and life back to Pepperland, even winning over the Meanies. The film ends in a triumphant explosion of colour and motion set to All You Need is Love.

Yellow Submarine was the first non-Disney movie I saw as a child, and I was awed and exhilarated that something so extraordinary could even exist.

I am not the only one for whom Yellow Submarine was a revelation. Colin Foord, 30, a marine biologist and artist whose Coral Morphologic laboratory and multimedia studio in Miami produces live coral and surreal-looking aquatic films, says childhood viewings of Yellow Submarine helped fire his imagination and inspire his career.

“I was simply enamoured with the idea of living underwater in a Yellow Submarine spending my days discovering magical, colourful creatures,” Foord says.

When Balser and a group that would swell to 40 writers and 200 artists began gathering in London’s tiny TVC animation studios in the summer of 1967, they had no script, only a vague directive to work off the Beatles’ songs.

The band, at the height of its popularity, wanted nothing to do with the movie. The group hated a Beatles cartoon series that TVC and King Features (which produced Yellow Submarine) had done for American television, and signed off on the film only to fulfil a contractual obligation. Actors voiced their parts. The Beatles contributed four new songs, but stayed away from the studios until Submarine was nearly finished, when they dropped in to film a promo for the movie’s ending.

“When I came onto the film on the first day I said, ‘OK, what do we do?'” Balser recalls. “They didn’t know what to do. I said at least we know we have to use the songs and take a trip on a Yellow Submarine.”

Czechoslovakian artist Heinz Edelman came up with the Blue Meanies and the idea of good battling evil. The writers included Yale classics professor Erich Segal, who would go on to write the blockbuster novel Love Story, and an uncredited young unknown named Roger McGough, who went on to become one of England’s most celebrated poets.

Students swelled the team (“We emptied out the art schools of London to work all night painting animation cels,” says Balser) as they worked frantically to finish the film in 11 months – a breakneck pace for an animated feature made in an era when everything was done by hand.

“It was really by the seat of the pants,” says Balser. “The fact it worked was one in a million.”

But it did work. And the vivid colours, the wildly morphing shapes, the visual expression of mind-bending concepts (the vacuum-mouthed monster that sucks up the world; the dimension-folding Sea of Holes) and the exuberant message of freedom and non-conformity made Yellow Submarine unlike any film before or since.

Film historian and retired Miami-Dade film librarian Don Chauncey had just finished college when the movie came out. “I don’t know if transcendent is the right word, but it brought everything to a halt,” says Chauncey, who recalls looking at the projection booth and thinking that “the bands of colour shining at me were so intense you could almost walk on them”.

Yellow Submarine continues to inspire dreamlike reactions. When O Cinema co-founder and co-director Kareem Tabsch, 32, saw the movie about a decade ago, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, he was overwhelmed.

“It was unlike anything I’d ever seen,” Tabsch says. “It was like this modern-day Fantasia. It felt very contemporary to me – with this odd quality of being old but new.”

Yet the film’s creators were aiming only to unleash their imaginations and make something original.

“We didn’t say we’re going to do this because of this or that – it just happened,” Balser says. “I see how it works with little kids, with teenagers, how it’s engraved in the memory of older people. I think it resonates today, but I don’t know why.”

When Balser saw his handiwork years after finishing it, he noticed many things he could have done better. But he also saw that the mistakes didn’t matter.

“I thought, ‘This is a real fun film.’ That’s the thing I think will keep it going for a long time. It’s a really, really fun film.”

MCT

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.