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Why is government attacking family life?

If companies and corporations and businesses, big and small, could vote in elections, I would understand the government’s desire to pander to them. If it was only the wealthy who voted, I could understand the government’s desire to appease the rich.

But why don’t politicians pander to the ordinary people who vote for them in quite the same way they appease business, big and small, and the rich?

It’s become increasingly apparent that this particular government, first under Abbott and now under Turnbull, is continuing to attack Australian family life.This antagonism to all of us was clearly flagged in 2014, when failed Treasurer Joe Hockey attempted to push through parliament $8.5 billion in cuts, including a limit of Family Tax Benefit Part B to families when their youngest child turns six.But last week, many of those attempted cuts reappeared and were passed straight through the House of Representatives.

Who does that affect? About 1.5 million families will lose their Family Tax Benefit Part A supplements, which is a cut of more than $700 per child every year. And 1.3 million families will lose their Family Tax Benefit Part B supplements, a cut of more than $350 per family every year. That, combined with the abolition of the School Kids Bonus, will mean single parents with two children in high school will lose nearly $5000 a year.

So the government toys with GSTand now it looks to be canvassing a whole range of other nightmares.This includes the latest hare-brained scheme from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, released on Monday, whereby pensioners get to stay in their family home but their pension is deducted from their capital.You can imagine the number of people who’d get turfed out of their beloved family homes before their number was up.Not everyone’s capital would outlast their longevity.

The good news is that alongside the grasping nature of the ACCI’s prebudget submission, those who represent the rest of us can see what the real problems are.

The Australian Council of Social Service’s CEO Cassandra Goldie says: “Genuine tax reform is not about raising or lowering tax rates: it should begin by limiting unfair tax breaks and unintended loopholes that mainly benefit people who are on higher incomes and erode the tax base.”

She pleads for those living in poverty:”It’s time to abandon an approach that simply shifts costs to service users, people living in poverty, and state governments. Instead, we should be focused on ensuring services are delivered cost effectively, for example by relying less on subsidies for private insurance in health.”

Nick Hopwood, a researcher at the University of Technology Sydney, says it’s very important that we consider the kinds of services that support our most vulnerable. Many of those services, particularly around the area of early intervention for children, have no idea one year to the next whether they will be funded.

He says: “Belts are tightening. They are under pressure to show strong outcomes but cut costs.”

For me, the most telling yet depressing part of ACOSS’ prebudget submission is about childcare: “The relative generosity at the higher end has increased the overall costs of the [childcare] package, which the government is now seeking to pay for through cuts to family payments.”

Yes, reward those families with incomes of more than $340,000 a year. They really need it, don’t they?

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Ivory holding steady on hectic road to Rio

RANKIN Park mountain bike riderCameron Ivory almost gave “the whole cycling thing away” in his late teens.

ON TRACK: Rankin Park’s Cameron Ivory in full flight at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014. Picture: Getty Images

Now the 23-year-oldbelieves he is on course to become an Olympian.

Ivory is the second-highest ranked Australian cross-country rider in the world at No.83 and needs to only hold his position among his countrymen over the next three monthsto all but secure a Rio Games berth.

Fresh from victory in the national series round at Thredbo this month, Ivory will compete at the sixth and final event on the circuit at Toowoomba on March 4-5 then the Australian titles on March 17-20 at Bright.He will then head to theOceania championships in New Zealand on March 26-27 before the defining events in his Olympic campaign.

Rio hopefuls haveWorld Cupsin Cairns (April 23),AlbstadtinGermany (May 21-22) and La Bresse inFrance (May 28-29) to build their international points. Those points determine the number of Olympic berths given to each country and give national selectors a guide to picking their team in June.

Ivory believes Australia shouldlockin two places in the men’s competition for Rio and he was confident of taking the No.2 spot behind multiple national championDaniel McConnell.

“I think Dan has both of his feet in the door,” Ivory said.“That second spot is up for grabs and there’s a few of us aiming for that.

“One guy is pretty close, but I’m not overly worried. I tend to go better once I’m overseas. I can lift my performance to another level, so I’m just looking forward to getting over there.”

Ivory has 372 points and his nearest Australian rival,Brendan Johnston,has356.

“I should beable to hold that No.2 spot,” he said.“This is my second year as an elite. Last year was quite tough in the World Cups because I was still using my under-23 points for start positions.

“I went from the top 20 to starting in about 80that World Cups in a field of about 140 guys, so it was quite hard to move up.This year I’ve got a lot more points so my start position should be a lot better and hopefully that will set up my races better.”

In each ofthe past two years Ivory has based himself in Switzerland for four to five months of training and he will make the trip again to prepare forRio.

Although he has sponsorship from bike companySpecializedthis year, Ivory has been mostly self-funded over the past two years while working at Woolworths in Marketown and studying a TAFE diploma in mechanical engineering. He said it was hard to juggle his commitments on top of15-20 hours of work on the bike each week, as well asgym sessions,but he was inspired by his Commonwealth Games experience in 2014.

He was eighth atGlasgow in the under-23s and now wants to test himself against the best at the Olympics.

“A few years before that I was sort of thinking about giving up on the whole cycling thing,” he said of Glasgow.“I stepped back for about half a year then got back into it slowly.Everything has really picked up from there.”

“I’m lucky to have the Commonwealth Games experience under my belt as well. I know the selectors take that into account.”

ATAR charade: Bring back student caps, says NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli

The University of Sydney. Photo: Victoria Baldwin NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Panel to crack down on admission standardsBeginning of the end for university admissionsUniversities take students with low ATARs

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has urged the federal government to restrict the number of students allowed to go to university in fields such as teaching where there are limited employment opportunities and an oversupply of graduates.

The call comes after a Fairfax Media investigation revealed that the practice of admitting students with lower than the minimum ATAR into university courses was endemic. There are currently more than one million domestic students studying in Australian universities.

“Where there are a limited number of places, or jobs available, they should be capping places,” he said. “Why are we training all of these people when the majority of them won’t get jobs?”

A cap on places would see ATAR minimum entry cut-offs enforced, as students would have to compete for a limited number of taxpayer funded enrolments.

Mr Piccoli, whose comments put him at odds with his federal coalition colleagues, singled out teaching as an area where student numbers have outstripped demand and quality has suffered.

He has previously accused universities of using students as “cash cows” under the demand-driven system introduced by the Gillard government in 2012.

“I’m not sure I want someone teaching my children who got an ATAR of 35,” said Mr Piccoli. “It’s the same in nursing, there are only a certain number of places in hospitals”.

According to federal Department of Education data there has been a 55 per cent increase in the government’s university expenditure from $8.6 billion in 2009 to $13.3 billion in 2015.

Last year, the Senate rejected controversial reforms that would have seen the taxpayer bill reduced while students faced a steep rise in the cost of their degrees.

At the time former federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne warned that there were only two options left to make university funding sustainable.

“Capping the demand driven system, which is socially regressive; or reducing research funding, which has bad economic consequences,” he said in a speech to industry body Universities Australia.

In October, federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham shelved the reforms after negotiations with Senate cross benchers failed.

He has since labelled current funding arrangements, based on uncapped student places, as the sectors greatest challenge.

Last year Mr Birmingham said the opening up of the demand driven system had created an incentive to put more students in to lecture theatres at a fixed flat cost rate, putting funding pressure on taxpayers.

“This growth puts a real strain on our ability to support so many students,” he told an education summitin October, while also highlighting concerns about maintaining quality.

In January, Fairfax Media revealed that more than 60 per cent of students were being admitted to the state’s top universities to boost student numbers with marks below the minimum standard.

Belinda Robinson, CEO of Universities Australia, warned against any move away from a demand-driven system.

“The system has opened the door to university for tens of thousands more students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is no longer the province of a narrow elite,” she said. “A move back to a capped system would reduce opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

On Wednesday Mr Birmingham reiterated that there were no current plans to reinstate caps but said that he was looking closely at university admissions standards.

“Last week I requested the Higher Education Standards Panel review university admission practices and standards, particularly around how we can have greater transparency to help incoming students so they are ‘uni-ready’,” Senator Birmingham said.

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Cruise ship of memories

WHEN Gwennyth Jeans’s fatherboarded the largest passenger liner ever built, boundforWorld War II, he hada lock of his wife’s goldenbrown hair in his wallet.

Laurence and Margaret Ferris hadjust married,two days after the Royal AustralianAir Forcecalled Laurenceup to serve withthe 450 Squadron,Williamtown’s first.

In April 1941 the men of the squadronsailed from Sydney onthe Queen Elizabeth, the pride ofCunard’s transatlanticfleet, to a battleunknown in the Middle East.

Laurence Ferris was 20. Thelock of Margaret’s hair would returnwith a man who wasthinner, different, after four years of fightingin north Africa and the Mediterranean.

His first destination was Egypt.

“The men whowere married were allowed to spend time with their wives in the weekbefore they sailed out,” Mrs Jeans, of Fletcher,said.

“They’d put my mother upin a hotel in Newcastle.”

On Monday, almost exactly 75yearssince the 450 Squadron was established, Mrs Jeanswillboard the modern Queen Elizabethduringits maiden visitto Newcastle.

She will be withsurviving squadronveterans, widows and familyof the 281 men who boarded the luxury cruise liner to become, mainly, ground crew in the desert war.

The men of the 450 Squadron set sail for the Middle Easthavingspentmonths collecting rocks at Nelson Bayandplanting trees to mark theboundaries of theroads onthe new airbase.

They arrived in the heat and dust ofCairo to findthe Allied campaign against the forces of Erwin Rommel couldn’t spare them any planes.

“In time the squadron settled down with their own pilots and aircraft, becoming one of the most famous Kittyhawk fighter-bomber squadrons of WWII, serving in Campaigns in Syria, the Western Desert, Tunisia, Malta-Sicily, Italy and their final major campaign, Operation Bowler –‘the bombing of Venice Harbour’,” 450 Squadron secretarySandi Nipperess said.

“Nicknamed the ‘Desert Harassers’ by the German propaganda broadcaster Lord Haw Haw, there was no stopping the men of 450 Squadron from showing the world what Australians could achieve.”

Mrs Jeans said her fatherunderwentsurgery in a Cairo hospital for woundsresulting from a blast, then recovered and rejoined the war.

On August 20 1945 at Lavariano, Italyafter more than fouryears of continuous, nonstop service the450 Squadron was disbanded, and the men who had survivedlearnedthey wouldbe going home. Sixty-seven of their comradeshad beenkilled, two of themmurdered by the gestapo after helping to orchestratethe Great Escapefrom Stalag Luft III.

Laurence Ferrisonly ever told his family the “funny” stories –the time the officers’ quarters were blown up in Egypt, the time he had to navigatean explosives truck down a cliffside road in Italy after the brakes failed.

He lost the lock of his wife’s hair butraised afamily at Speers Point,spent most of his working life atthe Hunter Water Board and died aged 67. Margaret lived to 94.

The 294-metreQueen Elizabeth is due to arrive in Newcastle harbour at 7am Monday.

Opening eyes to the world

Global focus: Michael McPherson with son Colby, kindergarten, and daughter Kenzie, year three, pictured with Liz Thompson. “These students are not just accepting things, they are questioning everything.” Picture: Max Mason-HubersMICHAEL McPherson has no doubthis daughter Kenzie and son Colby’s future jobsmay be in fields thatdon’t exist yet, incorners of the globe he hasn’t even considered.

“My wife and I missed the opportunity to work overseas but there’s going to be more and more opportunities for the next generation in years to come,” Mr McPherson said.“Through their school we’ve noticed they’ve become more globally aware and are interested in a really broad range of things and are happy to talk about anything, instead of just sticking to their favourite things.”

The McPhersonsattend Hunter Valley Grammar School at Ashtonfield, whichis marking the start of its first full year as an authorisedInternationalBaccalaureate World School, the only one in the state outside Sydney.

Head of junior school Liz Thompson said the IB helped to make students“citizens of the world”, as well as independent, lifelonglearnersand “deeper thinkers”.

All of the school’s65 preschool students and 455 junior school students are learning under the IB primary years program, which is for students aged three to 12.

“It’s a very rigorous program that we thought was the best around the world,” Ms Thompson said.“The results we see from students in a world school program is that they are self starters, their research is deeper, more meaningful and contemporary and that itprovides them with learning for the 21stcentury.”

The school teaches Board of Studies content using IB methodology.

Students follow six lines of enquiry with each unit of study; who we are, where we are in place and time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organise ourselves andsharing the planet.

“If we were just teaching content, content gets outdated very quickly,” she said.“So we teach them concepts for understanding and unpacking and approaching learning,so they can apply those concepts anywhere.

“We have had to change the way we teach, because the way kidslearn is changing and constantly evolving.”

HVGS was accepted as a candidate IB school in mid 2013 and was authorised in August last year.

“Parents seek us out,” she said.“We have families moving here from overseas as well as those who have been in an IB school previously.It’s about being transferable –there’s a common language for all of these [4335] schools around the world.”

The school has officially registered its interest in teaching the middle yearsprogram for students aged 11 to 16.

Ms Thompson said it was “possible” that higher grades would adopt the IB diploma programin the future, as an alternative tothe Higher School Certificate.

ASX runs out of steam on avalanche of company earnings

Photo: Brendon ThorneThe Australian sharemarket finished underwater on Wednesday as a global rally fizzled out on disappointing oil developments in a topsy-turvy trading day.

One of the biggest days of reporting season so far contributed to some big swings on the index before the market settled lower.

At close of trade the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 ended 29 points, or 0.6 per cent, lower at 4882.1. The broader All Ordinaries ended 23 points, or 0.5 per cent, lower at 4938.4.

The afternoon slump came amid a weak day on the Asian region indices and falling Dow Jones futures, Katana Asset Management portfolio manager Romano Sala Tenna said.

But the day’s moves reflected the characteristics of weak market sentiment, he said.

“We’re seeing buying dissipate in dips and selling re-enter the fray in rallies.”

Overnight news that Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed to freeze oil production at its near-record January levels soured the market mood in Europe and in oil which had risen in anticipation of a cut.

But that two of the world’s biggest oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia, had even met given geopolitical tension, particularly in Syria, was a significant step forward, Mr Sala Tenna said.

“Whether it is this week or in three months time it is alluding to the fact that a definitive deal will be done.”

Significantly, the share price movement in Australian producers, including Beach Energy, Santos and Woodside Petroleum showed signs of a bottoming out, he said.

But on Wednesday the index was led down by mining and energy stocks, including Oil Search, down 3.8 per cent to $7.05, BHP Billiton, down 3.7 per cent to $15.98 and Rio Tinto, down 2.5 per cent to $42.11.

Woodside Petroleum fell 6.9 per cent to $27.49 after reporting its full year profit results, revealing writedowns on the oil slump has almost wiped profit, which fell 99 per cent to $US26 million.

Mr Sala Tenna said the results were promising, including the fact it had dropped cash break even costs to $11 a barrel or equivalent.

The big gainers for the day were the healthcare stocks, with the notable exception of CSL. CSL fell 3.7 per cent to $102.08.  Sonic Healthcare rose 3.8 per cent to $18.81.

Primary Health Care was the day’s best performing stock, up 20.5 per cent to $2.65 after its net profit rose 28.5 per cent to $68.6 million.

It was a mixed day for the bank stocks. National Australia Bank led the pack, up 2.16 per cent to $25.52, followed by Westpac Banking Corporation, up 0.7 per cent to $29.17. Commonwealth Bank of Australia lost 0.4 per cent to $72.33, while ANZ Banking Group fell 0.6 per cent to $23.14.

ANZ reported its first quarter cash profit rose 3.5 per cent to $1.85 billion on the previous corresponding period, slightly lower than analysts forecast, but said its exposure to volatile Asian markets had led to a deterioration in credit quality.

Other results included The Reject Shop, which posted its first profit growth in four years, sending its shares up 24 per cent to $2.50, and Coca-Cola Amatil which returned to profit growth for the first time in three years. Its shares rose 4.1 per cent to $8.80.

Insurer IAG’s profit fell 12 per cent to $610 million, dragged lower by poor investment market returns. Its shares fell 1.3 per cent to $5.18.

But the worst performing stock was FlexiGroup, which fell 17.8 per cent to $2.12 despite reporting a 4 per cent first-half rise in cash profit to $44.3 million.

The consumer discretionary sub-index posted the best performance of the day, up 0.3 per cent helped by strong results and a profit guidance upgrade from Domino’s Pizza Enterprises, which soared 6 per cent to $55.52.

Energy lagged the most, down 4.1 per cent for the day.

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Scott Morrison: Income tax changes will be ‘modest’ with GST off the table

Treasurer Scott Morrison at the National Press Club on Wednesday. Photo: Andrew Meares Treasurer Scott Morrison Photo: Andrew Meares

Treasurer Scott Morrison at the National Press Club on Wednesday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Quiz: Who said that about negative gearing, again?Comment: Scott Morrison and the art of the sales pitch

With GST changes off the table, Australians should expect only “modest” income tax relief in this year’s budget, Treasurer Scott Morrison says.

Delivering a wide-ranging address at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Mr Morrison described budget repair as a “Test match, not a Twenty20 Big Bash” but was short on detail about the government’s plans on tax.

Mr Morrison said he and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had seriously considered raising the GST but ultimately decided it “was not a goer”.

“The times are not right for that,” he said. “We looked at it. We considered it. We did our homework, we assessed it. We put up with all the criticism and the flack and the noise and the turmoil because we wanted to make the right decision for the country. Had it been the right decision, then we would have done it.”

And that decision “rescales and rescopes” what else is possible, he said.

“Previously, what we were looking at with $30 billion worth of income tax cuts would have delivered one of the biggest changes to income tax rates and schedules that we’d seen in 30 years or more.

“But we know that the cons of that argument impeded us from going forward with that plan.”

Seeking to manage expectations of his election-year budget, Mr Morrison said the government was now looking at “far more modest measures”.

He said the government would not even be able to deal with the “past sins” of bracket creep.

“But there is a modest potential to deal with the fact that other future sins could be committed in this area,” he said.

Mr Morrison said he was deeply troubled by the prospect that average wage earners could move into the second highest tax bracket. “We may be able to prevent that outcome going forward,” he said, although he attached a number of caveats.

The Treasurer said that, while the Coalition government had saved $80 billion, it had also committed to $70 billion in new spending.

“We have also cut taxes on the mining tax and the carbon tax, which means that after these last couple of years, we are basically in the same position that we were two years ago,” he said.

Mr Morrison also declined to reveal what the government intended to do about negative gearing.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen dismissed Mr Morrison’s speech as “46 minutes of waffle, slogans and platitudes”.

“No ideas, no vision, no policies,” he said.

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Investing in the business of death

The thought of investing in funerals services can stir an uncomfortable macabre feeling. But InvoCare provides an essential service. Photo: Fairfax”Nothing can be said to be certain,” Benjamin Franklin famously quipped, “except death and taxes.” Such certainty has seen Australia’s largest and only listed funeral services provider, InvoCare deliver compound annual returns exceeding 14 per cent for the last decade.

InvoCare — a portmanteau of “Innovation, Vocation, Care” — operates 250 funeral homes, 14 cemeteries and crematoria, and is behind 60 funeral brands including national names such as White Lady and Simplicity.

For some, the thought of investing in funerals services can stir an uncomfortable macabre feeling. However, the logical counter is that InvoCare provides an essential service — one we’ll all inevitably need one day — and the stability of the industry makes it a worthy candidate for our investment capital. Attractive economics

With the tailwind of Australia’s ageing population blowing at its back, InvoCare remains well-placed for steady growth over the long term: the Australian Bureau of Statistics projects a near doubling of annual deaths over the next 30 years.

This growth is complemented by a level of pricing power that comes with providing an essential service, particularly cemeteries and crematoria. Testament to this is InvoCare’s consistent increases in average contract values above inflation over the long term. That said, apparently new market entrants’ main angle is to compete on price.

Another attractive, and somewhat unique, industry feature is the growth in funeral insurance. Around 14 per cent of InvoCare’s Australian funerals are now prepaid. In fact, the business is sitting on over $420 million in prepaid services, adding further stability to what is an already predictable industry.

A market leader in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, 2014 saw the business venture into the $20 billion US market in search of growth. Holding around a third of the market in Australian and New Zealand means competition concerns limit expansion options at home. Opportunities and challenges of moving States-side

Case volumes in InvoCare’s US entry market of southern California have been tracking 20 per cent below plan, and the start-up losses are weighing on the performance of the company. Although performance is expected to improve with a ramp-up in marketing, InvoCare is up against some large, well-established listed funeral operators such as Service Corporation, StoneMor Partners, and Carriage Services, as well as privately-held Arbor Memorial Services.

But don’t be completely dissuaded by this hefty-sounding competition. The American industry has a number of attractive features, including higher average funeral costs and a still fragmented market. In stark contrast to Australia, the top five operators only account for around 37 per cent of the industry — around InvoCare’s own market share back home.

Most of the 19,500 funeral homes in the US are small operations, often owned by the same families for generations. Similarly, many of the 120,000 cemeteries belong to families, nonprofits, and religious institutions.

Consequently, the consolidation opportunity remains immense, albeit at increased level of risk for InvoCare being a new, foreign entrant.

A healthy dose of caution is warranted in considering the US opportunity. The company flagged an initial investment of US$8 million ($11.3 million) over three years, with annual losses running at US$2 million.

However, the recent results showed that losses are running above this and the ramp-up remains slower than forecast. Patient investors should remain wary until firm runs are on the board. Too many Australian businesses have gone offshore chasing stars of growth, only to return with dusts of shareholder capital.

Recently appointed CEO Martin Earp, however, is no rookie. His previous role as chief executive of Campus Living Villages included operating businesses in the US, and the InvoCare board had ‘US growth’ front of mind when they appointed him in May 2015. But Mr Earp has his work cut out for him to deliver the growth expectations already built into Invocare’s share price.

US peers Service Corp and Carriage Services are trading at less than 20 times earnings, while InvoCare is changing hands at closer to 25 times, putting InvoCare on the expensive side. Foolish takeaway

There’s no doubting the earnings resilience of this ‘bond-like’ business, but no company is worth an infinite price.

The current share price makes InvoCare less likely to beat the market than other investment opportunities. However, with the opportunity and challenges of its US foray to play out over the next few years, InvoCare is one company to keep firmly near the top of your watch list.

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Donny Buchanan is a Motley Fool investment analyst. You can follow The Motley Fool on Twitter @TheMotleyFoolAU. The Motley Fool’s purpose is to educate, amuse and enrich investors. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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Country charms and modern style

Country charms and modern style TweetFacebook Country charm and modern styleA 40-hectare site in Luskintyre, with uninterrupted views of the countryside.It started as a blank canvas on a picturesque rural property.

A 40-hectare site in Luskintyre, with uninterrupted views of the countryside.

For Robert and Sarah Strachan, it was the place where their dream home would be built.

Realising that vision was a task assigned to Morpeth-based Proctor Building Solutions.Company directors Daniel and Ken Proctor were commissioned to work with the Strachans every step of the way to realise their dream, from concept to design, build and finish.

“Robert and Sarah’s specification and briefing was for a new-build homestead with sophistication,” Daniel says.

“Their vision was for a modern home, yet country in style, most importantly capturing the country views of their 100-acre property in Luskintyre.

“All living areas and bedrooms were to have uninterrupted views of the neighbouring farms as well as the centrepiece – the large dam on their property.”

Daniel and Ken worked with the Strachans from the outset to determine exactly what project specifications they desired before the plans were even drawn up.A drafting service was enlisted to interpret the Strachans vision for their new home, which project manager Daniel, site supervisor Ken and their team would go on to build.

The result is a five-bedroom rendered brick homestead that manages to be modern, yet warm, inviting and charmingly country at the same time.

Daniel says “old-world” design features were added to emulate a sense of country style and grandeur.

These features include the custom-made front door with side panels, a skylight and terrazzo door tread, which leads into a wide and welcoming front entry foyer.

Inside, three-metre high ceilings with decorative cornices grace the main living areas.

Red ironbark polished timber flooring, high skirting boards, and extra-wide architraves complete the modern yet sophisticated country look.

The living and kitchen areas are open-plan, designed with the needs of a modern family in mind in allowing an easy flow between these well-frequented rooms.

In the kitchen, the Caesarstone island benchtop, with overhanging pendant lights, is a spot for the family to sit and have casual meals, or to use as a serving space when entertaining guests.

The walk-in pantry is another standout feature in the kitchen, and is in keeping with the spacious, country homestead nature of the house.

In the living room, a combustion fire sitting on a terrazzo hearth (which matches the front door tread) is a lovely feature that is characteristic of the rural style and feel of the property.

The home has energy-efficient glazing in all windows and doors as the Strachans did not wish to install air conditioning in their home.

The master bedroom features a wall of windows and French doors opening out on to a lawn, as well as a walk-in wardrobe and ensuite.In addition to the five bedrooms, the home also has a study.

The laundry is another area characteristic of its country surrounds, doubling as a “mudroom”, or a place to kick off boots and wash up after being outside on the property, before heading in to the main house.

The building team was also busy outside with groundworks that included running power to the house and installing a 160,000-litre rain water tank, a septic system and a gravel driveway into the property.

Extensive earthworks were required to ensure the house was positioned to maximise the views surrounding the property.

Daniel and Ken say they are proud that the seven-month build met with the satisfaction of the owner in terms of workmanship, ability to tailor to budget, flexibility and overall professionalism.

“The modern family home now presides over pristine surrounding countryside,” Daniel says.

The Strachans, who were first-time home builders, say the experience was also positive for them, from the quality construction work, excellent customer service and communication throughout the process.

They say they appreciated their building team’s approachability and flexibility, commitment to quality and ability to share their vision.

It’s something the Strachans are reminded of as they continue to receive compliments about the finished result when people visit their property.

“Proctor Building Solutions provided us with our dream home,” the Strachans say.

Arrium to meet lenders in effort to stay afloat as debt tops $2 billion

Bluescope Steel won government assistance, which Arrium is now seeking. Photo: Louie DouvisArrium will meet its financiers in the next few days to discuss if the South Australian steelmaker has a hope of survival.

The company, which has warned it may be forced to close its Whyalla steelworks and iron ore mines, will meet with its financiers over the next few days as net debt has topped $2 billion. It is reviewing refinancing proposals which may result in a rescheduling of some loans.

Arrium has also warned in its latest accounts of “uncertainty which may be material” in determining whether it “will continue as a going concern”.

At risk is an estimated 2500 jobs across the group’s steelworks and mines along with 1.3 million tonnes of annual steel capacity, about a quarter of the nation’s potential steel output. The threat to jobs and the South Australian economy has prompted it to form a taskforce with the state and federal governments to look at measures which could help the plant survive.

Arrium warned Wednesday that unless it can cut another $60 million in costs out of Whyalla, on top of the $100 million signalled last October, and cut iron ore mining costs by a third, then both operations will be shuttered. Plans for closing the Whyalla works, which would affect more than 1500 jobs, including contractors, are well advanced, with a decision due by midyear, it said.

Ahead of the final decision here, Arrium said it is in talks with contractors and suppliers in a bid to cut costs, as well as seeking government concessions. Last year Bluescope, which operates the Port Kembla steelworks in NSW, won payroll concessions from the state government. Arrium refused to be drawn on what government assistance may be on the table, but the federal election due later in the year could give Arrium some additional negotiating strength.

Arrium said it could offset part of any reduction to output from shutting Whyalla by ramping up output at smaller steel plants it operates in Sydney and Melbourne. These two plants are operating at around 70 per cent of capacity at present and are benefiting from both the low price of scrap metal along with the lower Australian dollar.

At the end of December Arrium had net debt of $2.07 billion and while it was compliant with debt covenants it may need relief from its lenders if cashflows remain under pressure, it warned, with speculation lenders to the company would need to “take a haircut”.

“Any recapitalisation proposal would be expensive, and take time,” one source close to the company said, indicating that some form of debt forgiveness may be on the table. “Doing a deal sooner may make sense. If you wait too long, there may be nothing left to squabble over,” the source said.

Fifteen months ago, Arrium raised $754 million from shareholders at 48¢ a share. The shares closed trading Wednesday at 5¢.

The slump in the iron ore price had hurt its iron ore mining division, forcing it to slash costs further, while any closure would result in the loss of more than 1000 jobs, which would be spread across in-house and contractor positions.

“This is currently a very challenging year,” Arrium chief executive Andrew Roberts said, describing the December half net loss of $24 million as “disappointing and unsatisfactory”, which he blamed on the fall in iron ore and steel prices.

To restore its finances, Arrium had put its Moly-Cop unit up for sale, but bids fell short of expectations, Mr Roberts said, citing the decline in prices of gold, copper and iron ore – the end markets for the output of this unit – and also the difficulty bidders had in financing their offers.

As a result, the focus has now shifted to the sale of other assets, although it conceded it has no assets of similar value to the Moly-Cop unit which could be sold, and more particularly a recapitalisation.

“We will consult our lenders,” Mr Roberts said.

“The company remains in charge of the strategic review,” the chief financial officer Robert Bakewell told analysts, denying the company’s financiers are in charge of this process.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill​ has already held talks with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about a possible bailout for the Whyalla steelworks, saying the negotiations are at an advanced stage.

“We want to make sure that any support that we give to Arrium is support which provides a long-term sustainable future for the business,” he told reporters.

Arrium’s business model needed to change to ensure the steelworks had a long-term future, he said.

“That’s the basis on which we’re having these discussions,” Mr Weatherill said.

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