One of the state’s worst rapists and paedophiles could be released from jail next week, nine years after he sexually abused a four-year-old girl at a Lake Macquarie caravan park.

The State of NSW has lodged an 11th-hour application to have Kevin Howard, 62, subjected to strict supervision should he be released on parole on September 3.

Even if he is not released on parole next week, Howard’s sentence for filming himself performing a series of sex acts on the girl at Teralba in 2006 expires on October 7.

Howard has spent 17 years of his adult life behind bars, the Supreme Court heard on Monday.

His sex offences date back to 1977 when, as a 24-year-old, he groped and propositioned a woman for sex while he was drunk.

Five months later, he raped a woman at knifepoint in a car park and was jailed for nine years with a non-parole period of four years.

Four months after his release in 1982, Howard and a friend went to “find a woman” in suburban Sydney when they came across a teenage couple walking along a street.

They scared off the boy and kidnapped the 17-year-old partially blind girl before repeatedly raping her in an isolated area.

Howard was jailed for 10 years with a non-parole period of five years, but ended up serving less than four years.

In 1989, while on parole, he approached three girls aged four, five and six in a Newcastle playground.

He pulled down the underwear of two of them and tried to perform a sex act on one of the girls before inviting them to go for a drive with him.

The girls said no and Howard was reported. He received 18 months’ periodic detention.

Howard was then able to abstain from his offending for more than 15 years, until he ended up living in a caravan park at Teralba.

In 2006, he lent his mobile phone to a friend who found photos of a man having sex with a child.

Howard was charged with possessing child pornography before it was discovered that the photos were of him performing sex acts on a four-year-old girl.

He was later jailed for nine years with a non-parole period of eight years.

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Howard will be subjected to an interim supervision order regardless of when he is released before a hearing in November to determine whether he should be subjected to further supervision.

In the meantime, he will be assessed by two psychiatrists.

Howard has expressed a desire to live with family in Goulburn or Coffs Harbour, Justice Richard Button noted.

He has been a well-behaved prisoner and is a talented artist who has had little contact with the outside world, the court heard.

“Regrettably, the life history of the defendant demonstrates that he has an entrenched proclivity to commit very grave sexual offences against women and girls,” Justice Button said.

Newcastle Herald

Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. Photo: Justin Bieber/Instagram Selena Gomez has opened up about her relationship with Justin Bieber, her friendship with Taylor Swift and her decision to take off her purity ring.

“It’s difficult for people to separate us,” the 23-year-old singer told Britain’s Sunday Times about her relationship with Bieber. “The internet wants to freeze this moment in time and constantly repeat it.”

The pair began dating in 2010 when Gomez was 18 and Bieber was just 16. Their relationship ended last year under the intense scrutiny of the public eye.

“I didn’t think I was doing anything bad by falling in love,” she said. “There’s such an emphasis on people being the perfect thing and then destroying them because it’s good press. Throw in the fact that you’re a teenager­­­­ – it makes it more difficult.”

It was made even more difficult by the fact that, while dating Bieber she removed her purity ring, which symbolises the decision to remain a virgin until marriage.

The Heart Wants What it Wants singer asked her father for the ring when she was 13.

“I said, ‘Dad, I want a promise ring’,” she recalled. “He went to the church and got it blessed. He actually used me as an example for other kids. I’m going to keep my promise to myself, to my family and to God.”

As she grew up and then met Bieber, she changed her mind.

“I’m not embarrassed to say that,” Gomez said. “I’m also not embarrassed to say that the ring has come off. I got it when was I was 13 and I respect so much what it represented, but it isn’t for everyone.”

Although she was comfortable with her decision, she was not comfortable with the public backlash.

“Sometimes you have to lie to yourself to get through the criticism, and then you’re in your closet crying,” Gomez revealed. “It’s been like that for me a couple of times, but I only want to learn from those things.”

As she tried to navigate growing up in the public eye, the support of close friends, such as Taylor Swift, helped.

“I can count on one hand the people I could call and who would be there for me. Taylor is one of the greatest people,” Gomez said. “When I split with my first boyfriend [Nick Jonas] and I was really sad about it, she flew into town with homemade cookies and a bunch of junk food.”

Now, Gomez says she’s ready to love again and is coming to terms with that love being public.

“The next relationship will be something dear to me,” she said. “There is no way I will ever hide my life.”

Fairfax Media

Sylvia Jeffreys addresses her fashion crime. Photo: NineSylvia Jeffreys to replace Georgie GardnerKarl Stefanovic to appear in Independence Day

Today host Sylvia Jeffreys has smacked down the Daily Mail live on air after a report the site published about an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction she suffered earlier this week.

The journalist’s white underwear was clearly visible underneath a sheer turtleneck as she posed for photos at an Ovarian Cancer Research Fund morning tea on Tuesday.

The Daily Mail wrote about the malfunction and went so far as to suggest the 29-year-old journalist was in on the act.

“She’s know [sic] for her elegant sense of style, but Sylvia Jeffreys went for more of an eye-popping look than she had perhaps planned when attending a high tea on Tuesday,” the article read.

“But the 29 year-old blonde appeared to take the minor wardrobe malfunction in her stride, shooting photographers a good-natured grin along with a look of surprise.”

Jeffreys defended herself on air on Wednesday morning with the support of her colleagues, saying she didn’t know she was flashing her underwear.

“I just want to clear up, in their report they said that I flashed a look of surprise when I realised what was going on – I had no idea what was going on. That’s just my weird resting face.”

Jeffreys’ shut down the report by pointing out she was a working woman who was clearly too busy to change.

“I was running between many commitments yesterday and didn’t have time obviously to change what was underneath every outfit.”

“It wasn’t visible to the naked eye, it was just under the photographers’ flash that that was visible, so apologies for any offence caused but I wont make the same mistake twice.”

“Thank you Daily Mail for pointing that out,” Jeffreys added sarcastically. Errrr whoops! Anything to draw attention to a good cause, I guess. Right @helenmccabe? #brafail#crazyeyes#10Hourspic.twitter杭州夜网m/hfrrWd7fOn— Sylvia Jeffreys (@SylviaJeffreys) August 25, 2015Great to join @mccabehelen for the #10Hours High Tea today. Thank you @womensweeklymag and #Loreal for inviting me to join this important campaign for ovarian cancer research.A photo posted by sylviajeffreys (@sylviajeffreys) on Aug 24, 2015 at 11:25pm PDT

Jim Parsons’ made $US29 million, while his male co-stars took home $US20 million.Two and a Half Men actors John Cryer and Ashton Kutcher took home a combined $US35 million.

Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson was paid $US500,000 more than his on-screen husband Eric Stonestreet.

Jennifer Lawrence ranked highest-paid actressRobert Downey Jr. is highest-paid actor

Movie actors are notoriously well-paid for their work, but a new Forbes list shows television actors can also make a killing on the small screen.

On Wednesday, Forbes revealed 2015’s highest paid television actors, and the top 15 is a mix of anything from hunky doctors to geeky mathematicians.

Some of the highest-paid male television stars belong to sitcom The Big Bang Theory, with Jim Parsons – famous for his Sheldon Cooper alterego – coming in first place.

Parsons’ salary this year was a whopping $US29 million, putting him on par with movie actors like Leonardo Dicaprio ($29 million) and Johnny Depp ($30 miliion).

Television salaries appears to be on the rise. In 2013, Ashton Kutcher was the highest paid thanks to a salary of $US24 million.

This year, fellow Big Bang Theory actor Johnny Galecki came second with a salary of $27 million, while Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar made $20 million.

NCIS star Mark Harmon also made $20 million this year, tying in third place with Helberg and Nayyar.

Two and a Half Men – which finished in February – also boasted some of the highest-paid stars.

Ashton Kutcher and John Cryer made $20 million and $15 million respectively.

Everybody Loves Raymond star Ray Romano and Grey’s Anatomy dreamboat Patrick Dempsey both made a handsome $15 million each, while Aussie Simon Baker was paid $12 million for The Mentalist.

Rounding off the list was Modern Family actors Ty Burrell ($11.5 million), Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ed O’Neill ($11 million each) and Eric Stonestreet ($10.5 million).

In last place was Netflix stablemate and House of Cards star Kevin Spacey on $9.5 million, a generous amount which indicates streaming networks are becoming major players in television.

The list included no women in the top fifteen this year.

World’s highest-paid television actors in 2015

1. Jim Parsons – $US29 million

2. Johnny Galecki – $US27 million

3. Mark Harmon – $US20 million

4. Simon Helberg – $US20 million

5. Kunal Nayyar – $US20 million

6. Ashton Kutcher – $US20 million

7. Jon Cryer – $US15 million

8. Ray Romano – $US15 million

9. Patrick Dempsey – $US12 million

10. Simon Baker – $US12 million

11. Ty Burrell – $US11.5 million

12. Jesse Tyler Ferguson – $US11 million

13. Ed O’Neill – $US10.5 million

14. Eric Stonestreet – $US10.5 million

15. Kevin Spacey – $US9.5 million

The Blue Mountains National Park. Photo: iStock The spectacular Jenolan Caves, near Oberon. Photo: Peter Rae

The Blue Mountains National Park. Photo: iStock

The Blue Mountains National Park. Photo: iStock

The Blue Mountains National Park. Photo: iStock

The spectacular Jenolan Caves, near Oberon. Photo: Peter Rae

The spectacular Jenolan Caves, near Oberon. Photo: Peter Rae

The spectacular Jenolan Caves, near Oberon. Photo: Peter Rae


It may be a friendly B&B or secluded cottage accommodation, top-end restaurant or funky cafe, scenic lookout or picnic spot. It may an adventure activity, gorgeous garden or antiques hub, like the incomparable Victory Theatre in Blackheath.

Whatever you’re looking for in the vast heritage-listed Blue Mountains region, the new Volvo XC90 will take you there in effortlessness style. From the remote key tag in a leather fob to the six-way power-adjustable seats with memory – and beyond – the more I drive the seven-seat prestige SUV around this picturesque part of the world, the more I like it. I am up here looking for “hidden gems” but nothing is hidden in the XC90.

For a start, there are no blind spots. It’s part of what they call IntelliSafe​ – a range of intuitive car safety technologies designed to protect passengers from more contingencies than you would even consider. Think Road Sign Information, Lane Departure Warning and Electronic Stability Control, just for starters. All of these – and a lot more – make this sojourn around the Blue Mountains a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

I ask the locals to share their hidden gems and many name a favourite scenic outlook or attraction off the beaten track. Some of the roads up here are pretty narrow and visibility can be poor but I find the XC90 offers peace-of-mind and I can relax and hunt down the recommendations without concern.

There are dozens of spectacular walks and bush hiking tracks of varying length and difficulty in the Blue Mountains and any trip up here should include at least one. The Valley of the Waters trails near Wentworth Falls offer a range of walks and memory card-sapping scenery and you could do a lot worse than spend the night at the eponymous B&B. The mountains also have plenty of rock climbing and abseiling adventures available.

But if you are driving the XC90 and can’t wait to get back in the driver’s seat – and I wouldn’t blame you – just set the on-board GPS to somewhere that interests you and sit back and enjoy the ride. You should definitely check out Leura Mall for its funky restaurants, cafes, galleries and specialty shops. Josophan’s​ Fine Chocolates is here, as are Cat’s Meow Interiors and Inner Space Furniture. Megalong Books, Serai Living and the tres​ chic French Shoppe​ are also all worth a look. And don’t miss the Toy and Railway Museum, just a short stroll from the Mall.

Another hidden gem lies within the most recognisable building in the mountains: the Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath. This magnificent edifice on the edge of a sheer cliff overlooking the Megalong Valley runs guided History Tours every day so you can really explore it and enjoy the whole heritage story. Stay on for High Tea or dinner in the Wintergarden restaurant, which are more events than meals.

From an enticing list of possibilities, the XC90 and I choose to make our way to Mount Piddington​ Lookout, overlooking Kanimbla Valley and the reward is total serenity. For half an hour I am alone with the stillness and the dazzling view. One Tree Hill, the highest point in the Blue Mountains Plateau is nearby. When others arrive I climb back into the luxury SUV and head down the road through Hartley and turn off toward Oberon. As I luxuriate in the leathery comfort and interactive simplicity, it becomes clear why Volvo is the market leader in motoring safety and comfort.

Oberon is best known as the nearest town to the Jenolan Caves, a “hidden” gem in the way underground caves tend to be. But I have come to see Mayfield Garden, a self-proclaimed “folly” set on a working farm. It’s an amazing endeavour, highlighted by the stunning Water Garden and backed up by an 80 metre cascade, walled kitchen garden, aviary, chapel, rose garden, Islamic-style pond and the Kitchen Cafe. Bravo Hawkins family.

My trip nearing its end, I decide to put the XC90 through its paces by taking the winding Bells Line of Road back to Sydney. As rain – and indeed snow – set in, I find the communication between driver and car is the key to its success. All the instinctive excellence Volvo is renowned for is at my fingertips, the visibility and air-con are superb and I don’t have to take my eyes off the road. I try out the four distinct drive modes – Dynamic, Comfort, Eco and Off-Road – that adjust the gearbox, steering and braking. The control is outstanding and the pick-up more than adequate to pass less confident vehicles with total safety. This Volvo SUV handles like a much smaller road car: sharp, efficient and totally at ease in these tricky conditions.

Along the way I drop into The Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens. This is not strictly a “hidden gem”, showcasing, as it does, 28 hectares of cool climate plants from around the world. But I can tell you the Tomah Gardens Restaurant is wonderful should certainly be better known than it is.

This article brought to you by Volvo Cars Australia. Explore the All-New Volvo XC90.

Supermarket private label products out-shone their branded counterparts in a study of salt content. Photo: Louie Douvis Excess salt in foods contributes to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Supermarket home brand foods, long derided as cheap and inferior, contain “consistently and substantially” less salt than pricier, branded rivals, new research shows.

A study of 15,680 products from the shelves of Woolworths, Coles, Aldi and IGA found home brand foods have 17 per cent less salt than their branded counterparts.

The researchers from George Institute for Global Health were surprised to find salt content was an average 27 per cent lower in desserts, 24 per cent in biscuits, 22 per cent in processed meats, and 7 per cent in breads.

But the breakfast cereal category bucked the trend. Salt content in private label cereals was 37 per cent higher.

Professor Bruce Neal, co-author of the study and head of food policy at the institute, said the study showed supermarkets could help lead the way in getting Australians to cut their salt intake.

“Excess salt in food leads to high blood pressure and greatly increased risks of stroke and heart attack,” he said.

“Reducing salt in line with WHO recommendations could save thousands of lives every year and hundreds of millions of dollars in healthcare costs.”

The global health body has set a voluntary target of cutting salt consumption by 30 per cent by 2025.

The average Australian adult consumes nine grams of salt a day – more than twice the recommended amount.

Professor Neal warned that the study, conducted between 2011 and 2013 and published in the journal Nutrients this month, focused on salt and did not assess overall nutritional value.

Lead author Helen Trevena, also from the institute which is affiliated with the University of Sydney, said she hoped the study would shift consumer perception that private labels were inferior.

“This research shows that is not always the case in regard to salt,” she said.

“This is good news, especially for families shopping on tight budgets who are more likely to buy private label products, but are also most likely to suffer from health problems caused by high blood pressure.”

Coles, Woolworths and Aldi have each made voluntary commitments to reduce sodium content across nine food categories as part of the Australian Food and Health Dialogue initiative, launched in 2009.

The study is good news for the supermarket giants seeking to expand their private label offerings despite some customer disillusionment.

In May, Roy Morgan data revealed nearly half of Australia’s 14 million regular grocery shoppers were trying to reduce their grocery bills. But nearly three-quarters said they preferred sticking with their favourite brands.

Grace Harris’ full-time job is in admin, yet she is not one for the minutiae of life. That was why she screwed up her face and replied in the negative during off-season training for Queensland’s women’s team when her coach, Andy Richards, asked her if she had checked her email.

“Truthfully, I’m pretty slack with my emails,” she said.

The reason for her coach’s insistence was the urgent notification from the Southern Stars’ chief selector, Shawn Flegler, that her state teammate – and fellow Twenty20 thrasher – Delissa Kimmince had suffered a back injury that was set to rule her out of the Southern Stars’ women’s Ashes squad, and that she would be the beneficiary.

“It was kind of a bad situation, a bit bittersweet for me, because I’m really good friends with ‘DK’,” said Harris, 21.

In the past two seasons of the Women’s Twenty20 competition, which will transform this summer to the Women’s Big Bash League, the right-hander has hit 16 sixes, more than even the world’s top Twenty20 batter and her new captain, Meg Lanning.

“We both probably prefer to play a bit more exciting brand of cricket. We both have short attention spans, so if we’re out there too long then we can nod off. That’s kind of when we get out,” Harris said.

“If we’re in the game, it’s like ‘Look out people on the boundary, because you’re gonna get some action’,” Harris said.

“I’m still yet to hit the 36 off six balls. That’s the goal. That’d be awesome!” she said with a smile.

Harris made her international debut in last week’s three-match series against Ireland that served as a way for the Southern Stars to transition from the longest format of the game, the Test, to the shortest, the Twenty20 component of the women’s Ashes series.

In her first match she “burned” Ellyse Perry in a run-out mix-up and then fell for a duck herself – hardly an auspicious start – but by the last match she crunched 39 not out from 21 balls, including two sixes, to win player of the series.

Even more impressive for her teammates, however, was the way she has coped with her hazing. This involved wearing a bum bag, stocking it with lollies and being available on a whim to supply them to her teammates. Her preference of Percy Pig lollies has been almost universally popular.

“Everyone is a fan, except ‘Ossie’ [Erin Osborne]. She likes licorice, but who the hell likes licorice? My nan likes licorice, 80-year-olds like licorice – but no one else I know,” she said.

Harris said she had no expectations of being guaranteed to play in any of the three Twenty20s against England, let alone all three, and was stoked just to be part of the Australian squad.

“I got the easy part. I got here at the end of the tour and we’ve almost won the Ashes. We just need to win one more Twenty20 match and we’re there,” she said. “They’ve done most of the hard work. I just get to show up and have the fun!”

Jesse Hogan is covering the Women’s Ashes with the support of Cricket Australia

Chin music: Will Skelton and Kane Douglas during the testy encounter at training. Photo: Brendan Esposito Hair and a facial: Skelton and Douglas were locked in combat before being ‘yellow carded’ by coach Michael Cheika. Photo: Brendan Esposito

D-day for Sam Burgess

Wallabies second rowers Will Skelton and Kane Douglas were sent to the sidelines during training on Wednesday by coach Michael Cheika after a heated and physical exchange as opponents in a driving maul after a lineout.

The unofficial yellow carding of the pair would be costly and earn Cheika’s ire in the locker room afterwards were it a game, but the Wallabies coach was brimming with delight behind the duelling duo as they walked off.

The physicality of the Wallabies forwards at Kippax Oval at Moore Park in the morning session was just what Cheika was wanting of his two packs in the squad of 31 that leaves on their World Cup campaign on Saturday.

Just as happy as Cheika was his set-piece coach, Argentinian Mario Ledesma, the former Pumas hooker who played in four World Cups.

Was the aggression showed on the training paddock asked of the players, or did it come naturally?

“No,” Ledesma said. “That’s something Cheika really likes, not only in the scrum sessions or the driving mauls, but every training is really intense.

“[There] is this change in mindset of the whole team and getting the forwards to work even harder. I think it is really a good thing.

“We won’t be training like this the whole World Cup. We don’t have any games on the weekend. This is the time to do it.”

The Wallabies depart from Sydney on Saturday for the US. They will play the US Eagles in a one-off Test match at Soldier Field in Chicago on September 5, before heading to England for the World Cup.

Ledesma said that Wallabies squad had ramped up its training across-the-board and not just in the forwards over the last days since the selection was announced last Friday.

“The boys are working really hard this last week, harder than what we have been doing the last couple of weeks, so they are struggling a little bit. But that’s the way it should go,” Ledesma said.

However, Ledesma said that even before the squad announcement and during the Rugby Championship the intensity at training had increased incrementally.

“They have been really training really hard, from the beginning – [over] the last six weeks,” Ledesma.

“Some weren’t used to train[ing] like that, especially [in] the contact area; but everybody got used to it really quick. And the attitude and the intent was really good fro the start.”

Rolling Stone recently released its “greatest songwriters of all time”. What did they get right and how do you even measure a songwriter’s talent?

Leave us a comment below andclick here to subscribe to the podcastin iTunes.

Past episodesThe latest Star Wars news and controversy20 years later –The music of 1995‘I was wrong’ –pop culture confessionsMusic’s best rivalries –which side are you on?Movies that ruined your childhoodDead movie genresDescribe a movie you’ve never seen | Episode 50 extravaganzaHow to build a TV stationDoes product placement actually work?E3 predictions – what’s the future of gaming?Jurassic PodAre the best movies of 2015 still to come?The most 2000s thing of the 2000sCinema etiquette – is it OK to talk during movies?Mad Max: Fury Road visual effects artist talks new film and Justice League movieBest sports movies10 years later – The best albums of 2005Avengers: Age of Ultron spoilercastDigital vs physical media10 years later – The films of 2005Movies that should be TV showsWhen life imitates artEverything new rips off something oldKids don’t care about rockLiving in the future is awesome (and scary)Online piracy: Where do you draw the line?Super Oscars / Grammys / SNL 40 specialMovies to watch on Valentine’s Day (rom-coms vs chick flicks)Can plotholes ruin a movie or are we just nitpicking?Coming to terms with the reboot eratriple j Hottest 100 predictionsWhy we get excited for belated sequelsThe best of BondThe best of 201416 pop culture predictions for 2015Christmas songs that don’t suckWhat’s the best Christmas movie?The beginning of the endCall it a comebackBook versus movieHow to fix a movieThe internet: good or bad?Have we reached peak superhero?Summer music festival guideThe best trilogy everHow to pitch a movieThe most ’90s thing of the ’90sThe most underratedBest and worst fictional journalistsSix ways to ruin a songTo remake or not to remake?TV shows that should be moviesThe most overratedReality TV has ruined televisionThe Simpsons should’ve ended 15 years agoAll Australian movies are terrible

The ASX dove at the open after Wall Street’s wild finish but has since steadied. Photo: Brendon ThorneAustralian shares endured another volatile day of trading but ultimately ended the day higher, amid continued worries about the state of China’s economy and despite a poor Wall Street lead.

The Dow Jones fell another 1.3 per cent on Tuesday night, despite climbing 2.8 per cent higher in intraday trading. The index has fallen 10.5 per cent over the past five sessions, marking its biggest five-day fall since August 2011.

That late sell-off in US equities spilled over on to the ASX at the start of Wednesday trade, and the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index dived 1.6 per cent in the half-hour after opening, led by the big banks, only to rebound just as strongly as bargain hunters moved in.

Investors were also buoyed by an end to the rout in Chinese shares. Although the Hangzhou Composite index was down 1.6 per cent by early afternoon trade, it was up 1.8 per cent by the time the Australian market closed, helping to finally drive the ASX into positive territory.

The ASX 200 finished 36 points, or 0.7 per cent, higher at 5172.8, while the All Ordinaries added 35 points to 5178.9.

Shares rallied “because people realise the market’s been trashed down”, Equity Trustees head of asset management Paul Kasian said. “If you compare dividend yields to the cash yield it’s bloody cheap. It’s never been as cheap as this. You have to go back to the worst days of the GFC.

“Even on a price-to-earnings basis, the market doesn’t look expensive.” Real buying interest

Wall Street’s finish overnight was “disturbing”, CMC chief markets analyst Ric Spooner said, “but we appear to have withstood the unsettlingly weak close from US markets last night. And I think that shows there’s some real buying interest in our market at the moment despite the ongoing volatility.

“People are sensing value and don’t want to miss this opportunity, even at the risk of getting in too early,” Mr Spooner said.

The reasons for the sharp bounce shortly after opening were unclear, he said.

“I’m not aware of any news event that’s triggered that, it’s just the way market tactics work. People like to see the open, they like to see how low it’s getting, get a sense of whether that selling will really continue and then you might find the bigger orders start coming into the market.”

Auscap Asset Management portfolio manager Tim Carleton described the market as “amazingly volatile” and “pretty oversold”.

“We’ve added to some positions selectively over the course of the move down in the market, but we’re not going crazy buying things,” he said.

All banks stocks were up: ANZ by 0.3 per cent to $28.07, Commonwealth Bank by 1.4 per cent to $76.13, National Australia Bank by 1 per cent to $31.39, and Westpac by 1.2 per cent to $31.28. Generous dividend 

BHP’s earnings report, released late on Tuesday, and the generous dividend in particular pushed the big miner’s shares up 2.6 per cent to $23.94, while Rio Tinto increased 0.9 per cent to $48.89. Telstra was 0.5 per cent higher to $5.86.

Sydney-based vitamins maker Blackmores became the second stock in recent times to break the century barrier, soaring 10.6 per cent to $100, after revealing on Tuesday that net profit after tax for 2014-15 had jumped 83 per cent to $46.6 million.

Among Wednesday’s earnings results, plastic packaging manufacturer Pact Group enjoyed a 17 per cent leap in net profit to $67 million, with total revenue for the 12 months to June 30 jumping 9.3 per cent to $1.25 billion. But However, shares were down 3.2 per cent to $4.25.

WorleyParsons was up 6.3 per cent to $8.13 despite warning its markets had “deteriorated” since May. The engineering group halved its final dividend and reported an annual net loss of $54.9 million because of project writedowns and dispute settlements.

Kerry Stokes-controlled Seven Group Holdings has swung to a full-year net loss of $359.1 million, after its earnings fell $621.6 million, from its $262.5 million profit a year earlier. Shares lifted 0.2 per cent to $4.67.

Listed vet and pet group Greencross was the day’s worst performer, after news it had appointed its finance chief Martin Nicholas as its new chief executive after the resignation of boss Jeffrey David. Investors were caught off guard by the announcement, with Greencross’s shares slashed 13.5 per cent to $6.08.

Confident: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the World Economic Forum in January. Photo: RUBEN SPRICH”When the wind of change blows, some build walls while others build windmills.”

In late January, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang shared that proverb with global leaders in a keynote speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos. China was in windmill mode, committed to structural reform “no matter how difficult.” The “new normal” called for more moderate, consumer-led growth. The financial system would be modernised and the country aimed to shift away from its excessive reliance on debt-fueled, infrastructure-powered growth that had led to industrial overcapacity and an epic credit bubble. Better still, the makeover would be pulled off smoothly: “What I want to emphasise is that regional or systemic financial crisis will not happen in China, and the Chinese economy will not head for a hard landing,” Li said. Roughly seven months later, China finds itself at the epicentre of a global stock market rout that has vaporised $US8 trillion ($11.2 trillion) in wealth. Nobody is quite sure whether the world’s No. 2 economy is really growing at 7 per cent, as official figures suggest, or 6 per cent — or actually careening toward a hard landing.

Authorities are now quietly rolling out China’s biggest stimulus effort since the 2008 global financial crisis in an effort to put a floor under a weakening economy. Interest rates have been cut to record lows, banks are being encouraged to lend and new infrastructure spending is being rolled out. The confidence Li exuded in January has given way to policy zig-zags and mixed messages about the commitment of President Xi Jinping’s government to reform. The tale of how Chinese leaders have dealt with decelerating growth, debt pressures, a stock market crash and its sudden currency shift is instructive for investors, executives and policy makers puzzled by the trajectory of this all-important, $US10 trillion economy. It didn’t take long for economic trouble to surface. In April, Li met a group of local government officials in Changchun, the capital city of Jilin province that shares a border with North Korea. Li, 60, wanted to take the pulse of the region’s economy — and the news wasn’t encouraging. Known as China’s rust belt due to its state-dominated heavy industry and manufacturing sector, Jilin was among the worst performing economies in the country. It grew at 5.8 per cent during the year’s first three months compared with 7 per cent for the national economy. Neighbouring Heilongjiang province grew by 4.8 per cent and Liaoning by 1.9 per cent. Li’s response

But if the regional governments had hoped for a fiscal rescue mission from Beijing, they were set for disappointment. When one official said the wider region needed help from the central government, Li’s response flashed anger. “If you rely on the central government for everything, why on earth do we need local officials like you,” Li said, according to one of those present at the meeting who asked not to be identified. In a personal aside to what had become a tense meeting, Li noted that he once worked in Liaoning and considered himself a half “north east native,” and that he was “heartbroken” by the region’s economic performance. The pain being felt in places like Jilin was all part of a plan to rebalance China’s economy away from debt-fueled investment and exports to one spurred by consumers, services and innovation. Officials knew the economy would need some help and hoped interest-rate cuts and targeted public spending would do the trick rather than a massive stimulus program like the one rolled out in response to the 2008 crisis.

RBA governor Glenn Stevens and Treasurer Joe Hockey at the National Reform Summit on Wednesday. Photo: Louie Douvis Treasurer Joe Hockey, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and RBA governor Glenn Stevens and others at the National Reform Summit. Photo: Louie Douvis

RBA governor Glenn Stevens, Martin Parkinson and Peter Harris, Productivity Commission chairman, at the National Reform Summit. Photo: Louie Douvis

Former Treasury boss sounds recession warningBill Shorten calls on business, community workers to work together on emissions

Ordinary Australians don’t relate to calls for reform emanating from politicians but they do want economic growth to create new jobs, grow prosperity, and provide long-term financial security for their families, Glenn Stevens has told policy makers in Sydney.

However the Reserve Bank governor acknowledged that focusing on growth was no populist option and would mean squaring up to the kind of hard political challenges that both the current government and the opposition have shown no appetite for.

The call for growth came as Mr Stevens repeated his concerns that the Australian economy had entered a long-term plateau, in which trend growth is significantly lower than Treasury and therefore government forecasts assume.

In arguably the most significant contribution to the National Reform Summit, which has brought together business, union, community, and policy leaders, from around the country, the central banker said for economic restructuring to be embraced by voters it needed to be framed in terms of its end-stream benefits for people.

To that end, he told the high-powered gathering that “the general public is much more likely to grasp, intuitively, a conversation about growth”.

“Growth in jobs, in incomes, in their standard of living, wealth and prosperity. Better allocative efficiency [productivity], if we could secure it, would doubtless add to growth. That growth is worth having.”

Productivity enhancement – generally regarded as doing more with less – was a recurrent theme from contributors at the day-long summit that was billed as an attempt to revive the much-vaunted policy and political consensus of economic summits of the the 1980s under then prime minister Bob Hawke.

But with Australian politics and public discourse now more polarised than any time in living memory, rivalling the spirit and outcomes of the 1980s affair was always a high bar to clear.

Mr Stevens said industrial relations reform could not be ignored forever.

“There is no avoiding the need to have the right labour market arrangements. The question is how to have suitable rules that offer basic fairness, but with minimum adverse effects on enterprise, employment, and the scope for free agents to come together in ways that mutually suit them – and that grow the economy. Whether we have that balance right is a question you might address,” he told delegates.

While the Abbott government continues to talk up the economy’s prospects, and the prospects of deficit reduction, Mr Stevens’ contribution provided a sobering reality check, sounding the alarm again about the limits of monetary policy – altering interest rates – to support confidence and spark stronger economic expansion.

“Growth is important and for a while now there has not been quite enough growth,” he said bluntly.

“Growth rates have mostly started with a ‘two’ for a while now, despite the lowest interest rates in our lifetimes, banks able and willing to lend, and measures of consumer and business confidence generally about average – notwithstanding what we keep reading in the media.

In a gentle rebuke to those advocating for a bigger slice of a shrinking pie for the disadvantaged, Mr Stevens said the best answer was to unshackle the economy “because distributional issues surely get easier with growth but much, much harder in its absence”.

“Reasonable people get this. They also know, intuitively, that the kind of growth we want won’t be delivered just by central bank adjustments to interest rates or short-term fiscal initiatives that bring forward demand from next year, only to have to give it back then. They are looking for more sustainable sources of growth. They want to see more genuine dynamism in the economy and to feel more confidence about their own future income.”

He called on business and think-tank policy developers to address themselves more directly at sustainable growth.

“How do we craft a credible, confidence-enhancing, narrative about growth? That’s actually what ‘reform’ is about: making things work better for higher income and wellbeing. If there are some things of substance that you could agree on, it would be a step forward.”

But if consensus was the goal, it seemed elusive with speakers from each side of the political spectrum largely arguing their standard positions.

Speaking on a session on fiscal policy, and what many delegates acknowledge is a “structural” deficit where high permanent spending cannot be paid for by permanent revenue, Australian Financial Review editor Michael Stutchbury called for greater ambition to address a deficit that will not be erased until 2020 at the earliest and probably not even then.

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Newcastle: home to the world’s biggest coal export port. Photo: Darren Pateman Newcastle’s council voted to curb its links to banks that back the fossil fuel industry. Photo: Simone De Peak

‘Birthplace of Queensland’s coal calls an end to industry

Newcastle, home to the world’s biggest coal export port, has voted to curb its links to banks backing the fossil fuel industry in a move described by a dissenting councillor as taking the city “back to the Stone Age”.

Newcastle City Council on Tuesday voted 6-5 to alter its policies to steer its $270 million in funds into banks involved in “environmentally and socially responsible investments” and avoid those in “harmful activities”, such as greenhouse gas pollution.

Preferred activities included renewable energy, social housing, resource efficiency and recycling.

Declan Clausen, a Labor councillor who brought the motion to council, said the move would send a signal that it was time for the city to diversify away from coal.

“It’s foolish to believe Newcastle can ride off coal far into the future,” Cr Clausen said. Coal exports from Newcastle rose 6 per cent to a record 159 million tonnes in 2014, and comprised 97 per cent of the port’s volume, according to Port of Newcastle data.

The council stopped short of immediately dumping term deposits and other transaction activity with the big four banks – ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac.

However, when deposits come up for renewal, council staff will be instructed to switch funds away from the large banks – all active funders of the coal industry – provided rates of return and the ratings of the alternative banks or credit agencies are similar.

Brad Luke, a Liberal councillor, described the move as “incredible”, and one that “would punish the biggest employer in the region” and the unions.

“It sends a signal that Newcastle Council does not support the creation of jobs in this area,” Cr Luke said. “It will take Newcastle back to the Stone Age.”

Therese Doyle, a Greens councillor, dismissed the criticism.

“It is coal that will send us back to the Stone Age,” Ms Doyle said. “It’s very clear that we need to get out of fossil fuels.”

The city had seen “very little social and economic benefit” from the coal industry and instead had to suffer from the health impacts of coal dust, noise and traffic disruption from coal trains.

“Coal production is increasingly automated,” Cr Doyle said. “The way of the future is away from coal.”

Stephen Galilee, chief executive of the NSW Minerals Council, said it was up to the city council “to decide how they invest ratepayers’ funds, and to explain why, and the ratepayers of Newcastle will make their own judgement on whether it’s really the right way to go”.

Newcastle’s move was echoed by Ipswich City Council in Queensland. Despite coal being mined in the region since 1843, the council has called on the state government to block new mines and expansions as well as coal seam gas operations.

‘Robust’ policy

“Westpac has a robust Sustainability Risk Management Framework and all transactions are subject to an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) credit risk assessment process as part of our normal credit risk procedure,” a spokesman for the bank said.

A spokesman for NAB, meanwhile, said: “NAB has a long and strong relationship with the Newcastle City Council and we regularly meet to discuss their banking requirements.”

A spokeswoman for the Commonwealth Bank declined to comment and the ANZ is yet to respond.

Cr Clausen, who is a member of the Labor Environment Action Network, said unions including the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union recognised that the coal industry in the Hunter Valley would likely shrink in the future.

“There will be far more jobs in sustainable industries than in the traditional fossil-fuel ones,” he said, noting the CFMEU had seconded Labor’s target for Australia to reach 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030 at last month’s ALP conference.

Tim Crakanthorp, another Labor councillor and also the member for Newcastle, welcomed the city’s decision”

“Newcastle is a diversified economy with increasing clean technology including a CSIRO energy centre and the Newcastle Institute of Energy Research,” Mr Crakanthorp said. “This only builds on this base.”

With Melissa Grant