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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