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‘Flattering’: meet Clay Nelson, the Texan who Scott Morrison borrowed a catchphrase from

Clay Nelson (right) in one of his YouTube videos. Photo: YouTube Treasurer Scott Morrison at the National Press Club. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Expect ‘modest’ income tax changes: Scott MorrisonScott Morrison and the art of the economic sales pitch

Who on earth is Clay Nelson?

It’s a question that rung out across the land on Wednesday as Treasurer Scott Morrison stood up at the National Press Club to deliver his first major speech of the year.

Morrison began by referencing a conversation with a friend, Clay Nelson – an American he says he met 10 years ago in New Zealand. Nelson’s father, Morrison informed us, was the first Elvis impersonator in history; we also learnt that he and his friends used to play pranks on each other by putting alligators in each others’ hunting cabins.

“Clay had a saying that he always used to say to people,” Morrison recalled.

“He was in sales, surprisingly. Clay would sit down with a client or a mate or a friend or whatever and first thing he’d always say to you was, ‘How can I help you win today?'”

The phrase initially made Morrison recoil – “that’s a bit full on; that’s a bit much” – but he came around when he realised how much Nelson meant it. It has inspired Morrison’s own catchphrase, one we can expect to hear much more of over the election year: How can I back you in today?

“You’re out there trying to make something happen,” he explained. “How can I as Treasurer, how can the government, back you in in terms of what you’re doing and what you’re hoping to achieve?”

As Morrison was outlining his economic vision, Nelson was hard at work in Wellington, New Zealand as his young daughter played with his mobile phone. He had no idea Morrison was going to reference him in the speech and was thankful for the offer to view a transcript when Fairfax Media called.

“Oh Scott, what a great guy,” a surprised Nelson said in a thick Southern accent. He grew up in Texarkana, which borders Texas and Arkansas, before moving to the Kiwi capital.

Asked his reaction to inspiring Morrison’s economic catchphrase, he said it was “flattering” and “pretty cool”.

“I’ve been working in sales for 25 years,” he said. “Despite what people think, sales isn’t about the gift of the gab. It’s about serving people and that’s what I try to do.”

Nelson, 50, recalls that he and Morrison met through their wives while Morrison was living in New Zealand to run the country’s Ministry of Tourism and Sport. He held this job from 1998 to 2000.

“He and Judy [Morrison’s wife] are really great people,” says Nelson, who owns his own sales company, Relationship unLimited. Like Morrison, he is a practising Christian (his Linkedin page says he has been a ministry leader at the Street City Church for the past 18 years.)

“I don’t get to see him as often as I would like because he is really busy but if I’m in Australia I make an appointment and we meet up,” he says.

As for his dad being an Elvis impersonator, he confirms this is true. While waiting for Elvis to arrive at a gig in Texarkana, Nelson’s dad got up on stage to belt out some tunes. He was so good that when Elvis arrived, the crowd booed the star offstage and demanded more songs from their fellow Texarkanan.

Elvis, Nelson says, was initially mad but the two became friends and did tours together.

Which brings to mind another catchphrase summing up Morrison and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s verdict on lifting the GST to 15 per cent. Only fools rush in.

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Warren Buffett’s index bet still ahead despite miserable year for sharemarkets

Warren Buffett’s bet that investors are better off in index funds over hedge funds is still on top despite a volatile year for sharemarkets. Photo: Chris GoodneyHedge funds won the ongoing battle between passive and active investing in a volatile 2015, but famous investor Warren Buffett’s decade-long bet that investors are better off in index funds is still well in the lead.
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The 10-year Million-Dollar bet between the Berkshire Hathaway founder and Protege Partners that returns are better in low cost indexed funds than in high-fee hedge funds, is now in its eighth year.

Mr Buffett’s fund of choice is the Vanguard S&P 500 Admiral Index Fund, while Protege’s pick is five funds that bundle hedge funds.

The five hedge funds chosen by Protege came out on top in 2015, for just the second time in eight years, delivering average returns of 1.7 per cent against Mr Buffett’s index fund’s 1.36 per cent in a volatile year for global sharemarkets, Fortune Magazine reported.

That gives weight to the dearth of investors who declared the current market conditions to be a stock picker’s delight.

But in the long run, Mr Buffett’s index fund is well in the lead, up 65.67 per cent over eight years, versus the average 21.87 per cent from the hedge funds.

The bet, started in 2008, is backed by Mr Buffett’s own money, and the winner will donate at least $US1 million to a charity of their choice.

Mr Buffett is also betting on a recovery in oil from its near decade lows. Berkshire Hathaway on Tuesday disclosed a new investment in pipeline operator Kinder Morgan, Reuters reported.

Berkshire Hathaway owned $US396 million in Kinder Morgan shares at the end of last year.

Last year the investment firm built up its stake in oil refiner Phillips 66 to 14.3 per cent of the company.

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Trainer John O’Shea says Exosphere will strike in Lightning Stakes

Trainer John O’Shea has always placed great faith in stable jockey James McDonald’s ability to ride with instinct and the trainer is hoping that same unique quality will be on display when Exosphere attempts to win Saturday’s $750,000 group one Lightning Stakes at Flemington.
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O’Shea said that one of the appealing features of the former Kiwi jockey was that he never panicked in difficult situations in major races.

But O’Shea makes no secret that Exosphere faces one his toughest assignments so far in his short but successful career.

“To start with, he’s never been up the straight – which is always a challenge in itself – and he’s never competed in weight-for-age, with Saturday’s race being a first on both counts,” O’Shea said.

Exosphere has shown extraordinary talent on the way to Saturday’s Lightning Stakes but, the 1000-metre dash has attracted a small but talented field of some of Australia’s finest speedsters.

Collectively, the group of seven has won over $8 million in prizemoney inpreparations.

“I know people say it’s just a small field but they can be particularly difficult races to cope with tactically because you get one jockey who decides to give his mount a kick in the ribs and he unexpectedly goes to the front and all the pre-race plans disappear,” O’Shea said.

“That’s why I never give James instructions that will tie him down. He knows how to cope under pressure and, let’s face it, the race will be over in 60 seconds.

“That’s where jockeys like James come into their own. They manage to make the best out of a bad situation and they can put one plan aside for another. So I won’t be troubling him with other strategies.”.

This year’s Lightning Stakes is a vintage one. While Exosphere is a $2.50 favourite, his greatest challenger will naturally be Chautauqua – a winner of over $3.4 million in prizemoney – and has raced six times at Flemington for three wins and three seconds and is undefeated over the thousand metres. A form profile not lost on O’Shea.

“He’s a very, very good horse and he’s done everything. He’s won at weight-for-age, he’s won up the straight – two things that we’re attempting to do on Saturday.

“Saturday will be a yardstick considering the horses we are pitted against.

“We might come back three weeks later and run in the Newmarket or might just go to Sydney and have him ready for the TJ Smith Stakes at Randwick.

Flemington’s first group-one of the year sees Exosphere narrowly holding on to favouritism against Chautauqua.

Exosphere, like the Chris Waller-trained Japonisme and Kinglike, are all three-year-olds, an age group with an indifferent record in the Lightning Stakes.

Three-year-olds dominated the Lightning between 1986 and 2005, winning 12 of the 20 races, but since then they have not prevailed.

Fastnet Rock was the last of his age group to do it in 2005. Since then, 22 three-year-olds have tried with only God’s Own finishing second to Takeover Target in 2006.

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Greyhounds: Stewards told not to report dogs’ true injuries, inquiry told

An inquiry is being held into the greyhound racing industry. The email sent to greyhound racing stewards. Photo: Supplied
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Greyhound racing stewards were told to “desist” from providing too much detailed information about injuries and deaths of the dogs, because the industry was being plagued by “pretty bad publicity”, the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry has been told.

In an email from the chief steward of Greyhound Racing NSW Clint Bentley to all the NSW stewards in April 2013, Mr Bentley said “it has been discussed at a recent management meeting and decided that it is in the best interests of all that we desist from providing too detailed information in our Stewards Reports with regard to injuries sustained by greyhounds”.

The email was read out to the hearing by the inquiry’s commissioner, Michael McHugh QC,  while former GRNSW chief executive officer Brent Hogan was giving evidence.

The email went on to say that “in order to do this we suggest that you no longer report injuries such as fractures or breaks but rather just as injured: ie if a greyhound was to sustain a fractured hock we would report it as an injured hock …”

Commissioner McHugh had been questioning Mr Hogan about whether there was a deliberate policy to mislead the public about the number or nature of injuries and deaths of the dogs.

Mr Hogan told the hearing there were many different reasons considered for the way the injuries were reported, including for consistency and simplifying reporting.

But Commissioner McHugh told Mr Hogan: “I don’t find your explanations very convincing. It appears to me there was a deliberate policy to euphemistically describe injuries so it would not excite the interests of animal welfare groups.”

The greyhound inquiry was set up in the wake of last year’s live-baiting scandal. Mr Hogan and the board of GRNSW stepped down from their positions last year.

The special commission resumed this week to hear evidence about greyhound injuries, general welfare and governance.

The hearing was told on Wednesday the discussions about the reporting of dogs’ injuries and deaths was triggered by an event at Dapto race track in April 2013, in which one dog broke its back and had to be put down and another broke its neck and died. The deaths were reported the local newspaper.

Mr Hogan agreed with the suggestion that the incident had generated “very negative publicity”.

Mr Hogan had earlier told the hearing that injury reporting was not an issue he had given a lot of consideration. He also said there was no requirement to publicly report the injuries. “I think I had a concern that, in the absence of context, that raw data could be open to various interpretations.”

He said he did not recall taking steps to “conceal the data”.

There was evidence given of other emails from GRNSW officials commenting that euthanasia of the dogs would also no longer be reported.

Mr Hogan agreed he was of the view that it was not the type of publicity required.

The commissioner also heard that one staff member had sounded a warning about the reporting, saying that they would be “burying ourselves further” and making it a bigger issue than it already was.

It was put to Mr Hogan that the minimised reporting was being done to mislead the public. Mr Hogan said “on reflection, I can see how that conclusion could be reached.”

Mr Bentley also gave evidence and admitted to the commission that the practise of the misleading reporting of injuries had continued up until November last year, even after new management had been brought in.

He said it was common knowledge in the organisation that the misleading stewards reports were continuing but it  “never occured” to him bring it up with the new interim chief executive officer.

The public hearings at the commission will continue on Thursday.

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Melbourne Victory chiefs vow to weed out thugs

Melbourne Victory’s chairman, chief executive, coach and captain presented a united front on Wednesday afternoon, to – in chairman Anthony Di Pietro’s words – “draw a line in the sand” and warn flare ripping troublemakers that “enough is enough”.
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CEO Ian Robson spoke of a series of measures that will be put in place to tighten security, warning fans of stiffer searches at entry and potential long delays to gain access to the ground as security is stepped up for Friday night’s AAMI Park clash with Adelaide United.

Coach Kevin Muscat and captain Leigh Broxham told of the pressure playing with a potential points deduction can bring, especially if the future actions of some mindless morons mean that Victory lose three competition points and miss out on a place in the finals and the chance to defend their title.

Di Pietro also condemned the suggestions of “dinosaurs ” and those living in “Jurassic Park” who have recently argued that there is something intrinsically wrong with the sport of soccer that drives its youthful fans to rip flares and cause problems.

Robson warned that there would be tough sanctions taken against those who persisted, both inside and outside the stadium, to place the club’s good name and its future prospects in jeopardy.

“We have reached a line-in-the-sand moment. It’s a moment where we ask the true Melbourne Victory fans to stand with us to eradicate anti-social behaviour,” Di Pietro said.

“It won’t just come from match-day operational matters. It will come from a unified attitude shift. The people involving themselves in anti-social behaviour are not fans of our club or game. The true fans of our club want this to come to an end.

“We now need every single Melbourne Victory person to unite … together we must ensure that anti-social behaviour from a marginal element does not compromise everything we are trying to achieve.

“Our message today is clear and simple. No more flares, no more anti-social behaviour. Enough is enough.”

Victory have 27,000 members, so the percentage of those causing trouble is tiny – a sliver of mainly young men seeking attention for their macho posturing.

The chairman urged parents to find out what their offspring were up to.

“It’s a whole-of-club approach,” Di Pietro said. “There’s young people and some very immature older people. This is a marginal element. It’s about all of us uniting to rid ourselves of this marginal element. If that’s education, if that’s security, if that’s just tapping the young fellow or a leader of the group on the shoulder and saying ‘we have had enough’.

“I ask the parents that know they are coming to our games to just check what they are up to because some of them, when they get caught, the bravado goes away and they realise what they have done has immeasurable danger.”

Robson explained that, like Western Sydney a week earlier, the club had quickly accepted the sanction and was not going to appeal the $50,000 fine.

“We felt we needed to move quickly on this matter. I think it’s fair to say that for some specific areas of the ground there’s going to be significantly heightened protocols to get into the stadium,” he said.

“That could delay for some people access. We would ask people to bear that in mind about arrival time [for the game against Adelaide on Friday].

“We have to all collectively heighten our vigilance. If that creates some additional delays and time for fans to access the stadium, that will be a small price to pay.”

Both Robson and Di Pietro said this had little to do with soccer.

“There are individuals who seek to use football – A-League matches – as a platform for anti-social behaviour,” Robson said.

Muscat said Victory’s fans had set standards the league had yet to match for creating atmosphere. Now they had to lead the way again. “Our fans have been unbelievable, over the 11 years, they have been the flagbearers in the competition,” he said.

“But once again we need to be the flagbearers and eliminate what’s going on at the moment. It’s not only anti-social, its illegal. I plead with all our fans … it’s got to the point where it must stop.

Di Pietro added: “We built an institution in the Australian sporting landscape. Melbourne Victory is built on success, that’s what we crave. This club is a sense of belonging. we embrace everyone who wants to join the club from all backgrounds, but we will not compromise on safety. No flares, that’s it. Not negotiable.”

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Amputated legs belong to different people

DISCOVERY: A file image of the Summerhill waste management centre. An investigation is underway into the source of two amputated legs discovered at the Wallsend facility.UPDATE, 11.30am: Authorities searching for the source of two surgically removed legs found dumped at the Summerhill tip have a new dilemma –the legs belong to two different people.
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A forensic pathologist has determined that the left and right legs, both expertly amputated below the knee, were not from the same person.

But they have not been able to tell whether they belonged to a male or female.

It is understood a larger search is being carried out at the Summerhill waste management facility at Wallsend on Thursday to discover whether more body parts had been dumped at the tip.

EARLIER: Authoritieswerescrambling on Wednesdayto find the source of two surgically amputated legs discovered dumped at the Summerhill tip.

A bulldozer driver discovered the two legs on Tuesday while working a section of the Wallsend waste treatment facility where medical waste was dumped about six weeks ago.

It is understood a forensic pathologist has determined the two legs, which had both been amputated from below the knee, had been operated on bya surgeon.

Police have since determined there were no suspicious circumstances and have handed the investigation onto Newcastle City Council and the Environmental Protection Authority.

Part of the investigation will centre around where the legs came from, and whether they belonged to a living patient or a cadaver.

Strict protocols are in place in relation to the legal disposing of human body parts.

“The EPA is working with police to investigate the inappropriate disposal of clinical waste at Summerhill Waste Management Centre,’’ a spokeswoman said in a statement.

However, it remained unclear how the “inappropriate disposal” occurred or whether a larger search of the huge tip would be needed to make sure other body parts were also not buried.

The discovery had prompted police to take over the initial investigation following fears that it could be the remains of a crime victim.

However, the determination from the forensic pathologist that the amputation of thebody parts –a left and right leg cut below the knee –wasdone by a professional has lowered police involvement.

The legs were found whereother medical waste had been disposed of.

There had been little sign of decomposition despite the parts being buried for up to six weeks, suggesting they had been treated and could havecome from a cadaverrather than a patient.

It is understood that several scenarios thatwould be investigated include whether there was a mistake in placing the legs into general medical waste or whether a contractor had disposed of the body parts.

A Newcastle City Council spokesman said the council could not comment.

Hunter New England Health said in a statement: “The Environmental Protection Agency are investigating this matter. Hunter New England Health will assist in their investigations if required.”

Update: Dumped legs belong to two different people

DISCOVERY: A file image of the Summerhill waste management centre. An investigation is underway into the source of two amputated legs discovered at the Wallsend facility.UPDATE, 4.30pm: The EnvironmentProtection Authority says it was “looking into a number of possible scenarios” as it continues to source where two amputated legs found dumped at the city’s tip came from.
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The EPA said in a statement it was continuing to work with public and private health services to establish where the legs, a right and left leg from different people, had come from.

“We are looking into a number of possible scenarios at this stage of the investigation, including establishing the chain of disposal the body parts went through prior to ending up in the landfill,’’ the statement said.

“NSW law requires all producers of clinical waste to correctly label and store it in a secure bag or container.

“When the waste is ready to be disposed of, it must be transported in a safe and secure container and not left unattended.

“Importantly this type of waste, like asbestos can only be taken to certain landfills that are specially licenced to receive, store and/or dispose of clinical waste.

“Clinical waste must be sent to a special treatment facility, such as an autoclave, sterilising facility or clinical waste incinerator.

“Clinical waste is any waste that results from clinical activities such as medical, surgical, dental, nursing and pharmaceutical procedures.’’

“It can include things like:body parts and fluids, skin and tissue,plus any equipment used during a procedure that may be blood stained or have other bodily fluids on it.’’

UPDATE, 11.30am: Authorities searching for the source of two surgically removed legs found dumped at the Sumerhill tip have a new dilemma –the legs belong to two different people.

A forensic pathologist has determined that the left and right legs, both expertly amputated below the knee, were not from the same person.

But they have not been able to tell whether they belonged to a male or female.

It is understood a larger search is being carried out at the Summerhill waste management facility at Wallsend on Thursday to discover whether more body parts had been dumped at the tip.

EARLIER:

AUTHORITIES werescrambling on Wednesdayto find the source of two surgically amputated legs discovered dumped at the Summerhill tip.

A bulldozer driver discovered the two legs on Tuesday while working a section of the Wallsend waste treatment facility where medical waste was dumped about six weeks ago.

It is understood a forensic pathologist has determined the two legs, which had both been amputated from below the knee, had been operated on bya surgeon.

Police have since determined there were no suspicious circumstances and have handed the investigation onto Newcastle City Council and the Environmental Protection Authority.

Part of the investigation will centre around where the legs came from, and whether they belonged to a living patient or a cadaver.

Strict protocols are in place in relation to the legal disposing of human body parts.

“The EPA is working with police to investigate the inappropriate disposal of clinical waste at Summerhill Waste Management Centre,’’ a spokeswoman said in a statement.

However, it remained unclear how the “inappropriate disposal” occurred or whether a larger search of the huge tip would be needed to make sure other body parts were also not buried.

The discovery had prompted police to take over the initial investigation following fears that it could be the remains of a crime victim.

However, the determination from the forensic pathologist that the amputation of thebody parts –a left and right leg cut below the knee –wasdone by a professional has lowered police involvement.

The legs were found whereother medical waste had been disposed of.

There had been little sign of decomposition despite the parts being buried for up to six weeks, suggesting they had been treated and could havecome from a cadaverrather than a patient.

It is understood that several scenarios thatwould be investigated include whether there was a mistake in placing the legs into general medical waste or whether a contractor had disposed of the body parts.

A Newcastle City Council spokesman said the council could not comment.

Hunter New England Health said in a statement: “The Environmental Protection Agency are investigating this matter. Hunter New England Health will assist in their investigations if required.”

Scott Morrison and the art of the economic sales pitch

Treasurer Scott Morrison addresses the National Press Club in Canberra. Photo: Andrew Meares Treasurer Scott Morrison at the National Press Club on Wednesday. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Treasurer Scott Morrison gets animated during his Press Club speech. Photo: Andrew Meares

Income tax changes will be ‘modest’Quiz: who said that about the GST again?

Once upon a time, Scott Morrison was the head of Tourism Australia.

His most memorable accomplishment was his decision to green-light a campaign featuring another resident of the Sutherland Shire, Lara Bingle, which featured the irresistible slogan: “Where the bloody hell are you?”

His nose for a catchy phrase became handy once Mr Morrison entered federal Parliament and became synonymous with the concise summary of immigration policy now known to all Australians – “stop the boats”.

Mr Morrison’s take-no-prisoners, aggressively political approach to explaining policy was a natural fit for the Abbott years.

But it looked a bit dated with the ascendancy of Malcolm Turnbull, who declared upon rising to the top office that he wanted to respect people’s intelligence by persuading voters instead of lecturing them.

Mr Turnbull enters Parliament with a piece of advice from his father-in-law, former attorney-general Tom Hughes, which is to “treat every question, no matter how offensive, as a polite request for information”.

Not so Mr Morrison, who still favours a quick one-two punch when addressing members of the opposition.

His manner in question time and appearances in favoured media outlets such as The Daily Telegraph and Ray Hadley’s radio talk back program rely very much on a pugilistic response to criticism, derision for the opposition and a healthy smattering of sporting references.

If Mr Morrison had been treasurer for the same duration as he was immigration minister it is difficult to say whether “stop the boats” or “work, save and invest” would be the more popular catchphrase.

“Work, save and invest” did not make an appearance – quite – in Mr Morrison’s Wednesday address to the National Press Club, which marks the beginning of the race to lay the foundations for the budget that will be released on May 10.

But a new mantra popped up – “the only way to have lower taxes is to have lower taxation”.

Expect to hear that repeated ad infinitum in the coming days and weeks.

Although the aggression was dialled down, the sporting references were not.

Fixing the economy is “a Test match not a Twenty 20 Big Bash”, Mr Morrison told the audience who were left to wonder if that meant it was a job that was supposed to take just five days.

Gone was his predecessor Joe Hockey’s favourite “debt and deficit disaster” and more talk of “control” and wanting to be a government that enabled and encouraged.

“How can I help you win today,” is the question Mr Morrison wants voters to ask of him.

It is not a million miles away from another infamous political promise from another political fighter, Kevin Rudd, who used to liked to say: “I’m Kevin and I’m here to help.”

In politics, as in life, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

But it’s better than “revenue – where the bloody hell are you?”.

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EPA points finger over ammonia

SITE: Gardenland in 2015.
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AN UNAPPROVEDcomposting business that is“most likely” the source of elevated ammonia levels in the Hunter’s drinking catchment is suing Port Stephens Council for refusing its development application.

Port Stephens Gardenland, in Eagleton, has launched a case against the council and the EnvironmentProtection Authorityin the Land and Environment Court.

It comes after theNewcastle Heraldrevealed last year the company had beenoperating without consent for more than a decade,and that polluted run-off from the business had been leachinginto Seven Mile Creek, part ofthe Hunter’s drinking water catchment.

At the same time, the company hada development application before the council that would have approved its composting operations.But after theHerald’sinvestigation, the EPA refused to issue conditions of consent, and despite the plan having the support of mayor Bruce MacKenzie, the council was forced to refuse the application in August.

Now, the company is taking the council to court in a bid to have the refusal over-turned.A mediation meeting attended by officials from the council, the EPA and Hunter Water was held last week, and the case has beenadjourned until mid-March.

Meanwhile, water testing in Seven Mile Creek in the past six months hasshown elevated levels of ammonia that Hunter Water believes is probably from Gardenland.

A spokesman for the water authority said based on itscurrent knowledge,“Port Stephens Gardenland is the most likely source of elevated levels of ammonia in the catchment”.

Hesaid that there was no“baseline ornormallevel of ammonia”, but that nearby Nine Mile Creek provided a“useful comparison” because of itslocation three kilometres north.

Both creeks weretested daily during and following the heavy rainfall of the January storms, with the resultsrevealingthat SevenMile Creek had ammonia concentrations of up to 0.14 milligrams per litrewhile NineMile Creekhad zero.

Gardenland owner Laurie Bowtell has previously saidhis company had not polluted the creek. He did not wish to comment when contacted by theHerald.

None of the authorities could or would answer whether the company was still operating outside of its consent.

The environment watchdog cited the legal action.

Hunter Water’s spokesman said it “understands that Port Stephens Gardenlandis continuing to store manure products onsite”.

Harry Potter and the Riddle of RBS’s disappearing tax bill

Harry Potter and his friends helped magic away the bank’s tax liabilities. Photo: SuppliedIt’s the kind of magic worthy of a graduate of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry: Royal Bank of Scotland conjured up at least £1 billion pounds ($2 billion) in tax breaks by investing in controversial financing deals for Harry Potter films and a host of other blockbuster titles that involved no risk to the bank.
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The transactions, which RBS has never disclosed, are revealed in hundreds of public filings by at least 25 companies set up by the bank to take part in movie “sale and leaseback” arrangements a decade ago. Those companies are still active and earning income for RBS, though they’ve been shifted to a division that houses unwanted assets for the remaining lifespan of the 15 to 20-year leases. The filings show that RBS owns rights to the third and fourth Harry Potter films, Troy, Batman Begins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and at least 20 other movies, though the film titles aren’t always listed in the available paperwork. From 1998 until around 2007, RBS took advantage of the tax breaks without paying any production costs, or risking losses if the movies bombed. At least 10 of the transactions have been probed by the UK tax collection agency, according to company records. Between 2003 and 2006, RBS avoided or delayed paying about £1 billion in tax using the deals, according to calculations based on public filings and historic tax rates. Highly artificial

“These are highly artificial transactions done solely for tax avoidance reasons,” said Jolyon Maugham, a tax lawyer who has represented investors in similar plans. That doesn’t mean they were illegal or even aggressive, said Maugham, who has never worked for RBS. An RBS spokeswoman said the leases complied with rules in force at the time, and that when the law changed in 2007, the bank exited the business. It worked with authorities to ensure it paid appropriate taxes, she said. In 1997, the UK government introduced generous tax credits for companies involved in the booming film industry. Among the investments that emerged to take advantage of the rules were sale and leaseback deals. Tightening rules

Lawmakers later found the deals, while legal, benefited those seeking to avoid taxes more than they helped British filmmakers. The rules were tightened in 2007, and the revenue office began examining old cases and sending out tax bills to thousands of investors, resulting in at least a dozen court cases over arcane points of tax law. In two of the biggest trials, over partnerships called Eclipse and Samarkand owned by hundreds of individuals, judges found they weren’t real movie businesses and investors shouldn’t have gotten favourable tax treatment. Eclipse bought the rights to two Disney movies, Underdog and Enchanted, while Samarkand acquired The Queen, starring Helen Mirren. In theory, the schemes simply deferred taxes because the later lease payments were taxable, but investors liked them because they allowed them to put their capital to use immediately. And for RBS, they’ve been particularly beneficial: The bank hasn’t paid corporate taxes in recent years because it hasn’t had any profits since 2008 — when it got a £45 billion government bailout after coming close to collapse. Large-budget films

RBS typically bought a completed film, then leased it back to the studio for distribution to cinemas, on DVD, on television, and online. The studio agreed to pay a fixed annual sum to RBS over 15 to 21 years, so the bank wasn’t on the hook if the movie lost money. RBS could reduce its taxable income by the cost of buying the film, and the studio would get a share of that benefit for allowing its product to be used. The studio also got an immediate cash return for the film that could be invested in other productions. “The availability of these financing arrangements back in the early 2000s enabled us to bring large-budget films to the UK that may well not have been made here otherwise,” said Deborah Lincoln, a spokeswoman for Warner Bros. Though the RBS companies don’t identify the films they funded and the bank declined to comment on the issue, the IMDB film database lists a firm called P of A Productions among the producers of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, released in 2004 by Warner Brothers. According to P of A’s annual reports, the company is a unit of RBS and it has a 21- year “finance leasing arrangement for a film deal.” Potter and Batman

“I would say we bid against RBS on at least a dozen occasions – all for larger films, mainly with Warner Bros, Disney and Sony,” said Tim Levy, the founder of Future Capital Partners, which invested about $US10 billion in film tax structures. The movie studios got paid typically 3 to 12 per cent of the movie’s costs for allowing it to be used, according to Levy, who said that figure rose to as much as 20 per cent for big budget productions such as Harry Potter. P of A valued its movie lease at £143 million, and listed debts of £143 million in 2010, when the company said it was the subject of a British tax inquiry. The most recent company filings show that P of A was paid £5.6 million under the lease deal last year, virtually all of which went to repaying the loan used to buy the movie. Another RBS company called Patalex IV Productions is listed as a producer on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, released in 2005. Patalex III Productions was a producer on Batman Begins. The total value of movie deals made by the companies is about £3.5 billion. Those 25 companies are linked to a single team at RBS and don’t cover all the bank’s film transactions. Based on Britain’s corporate tax rate of 30 per cent for the period, RBS would have seen its tax bill cut by about £1 billion pounds over the period. Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, the UK tax collection agency, declined to comment on RBS or its investments. Tax bill

“HMRC treats all taxpayers the same: When HMRC believes a taxpayer has avoided tax, we will demand they pay the full amount due, which can include interest and penalties,” the agency said in a statement. The head of the RBS unit that did the deals, Alex Brown, left the bank in 2007 and now works at Barclays. His LinkedIn page describes his role at RBS as “leading a team in originating/executing structured tax and leveraged debt/mezz ‘film slate’ transactions. Grew embryonic business to one of the largest providers of capital globally in this sector.” He declined to comment. Bloomberg



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