Archive for August 2018

There are fears BHP will not renew its tugboat contract with Teekay.Port Hedland tugboat workers may give up some of the concessions they won just four months ago, amid fears tugboat operator Teekay may not have its contract to operate in the nation’s biggest iron ore port renewed by BHP Billiton later this year.

Despite striking a new four-year workplace agreement in November, Teekay and the tugboat unions are back in negotiations over workplace conditions in a bid to help the company retain its contract beyond its expiry around September.

Teekay has written to unions informing them of an urgent need to reduce costs ahead of the expiry, with sources suggesting the tugboat operator may be the latest contractor to feel the force of BHP’s drive to reduce contracting costs.

BHP has recently invited Teekay and rival tugboat operators to tender for the contract, and sources have suggested BHP has given an outline of the terms under which it would ideally like to award the next contract.

There is a belief that BHP will favour bidders whose workforce is employed on an “even time roster”; such as where workers are rostered on for four weeks, then have four weeks off.

The tugboat workers were living under such an “even time” roster prior to November’s workplace deal, which gave them an extra four weeks of annual leave.

BHP has been pushing its entire contractor base for savings over the past three years in a bid to offset the impact of falling commodity prices, and has shown a willingness to change contractors in pursuit of savings and better results, as seen by the installation of mining contractor HSE on Queensland coal mines in place of Thiess and Leightons.

BHP sent a clear message to Teekay and the tug workers in December when it introduced a second tugboat contractor, Rivtow, to run four tugs at Port Hedland.

Teekay declined to comment on the sudden resumption of negotiations with the tugboat unions, while BHP confirmed Teekay’s contract would expire later this year.

“BHP Billiton has contracted Teekay Marine to provide towage services in the Port Hedland Port for more than ten years. BHP Billiton’s contract with Teekay will expire this year, and in anticipation of this, a competitive tender process is currently being conducted. Teekay Marine was invited to tender as part of this process,” said a spokesman for BHP.

BHP would not comment publicly on whether it had indicated the workplace terms it would like to see under the next contract.

Port Hedland is the epicentre of Australia’s iron ore export industry, and the tugboats are crucial to the operation of the port because the ships carrying the iron ore to Asia cannot enter or leave port without the assistance of tugs.

Australian Maritime Officers Union spokesman Robert Coombs, who represents one of the three classes of workers on the tugs, said tug workers may be willing to give up the extra annual leave if Teekay were successful in the tender.

“The best conditions are not worth anything if you don’t have a workplace,” he said.

“If Teekay wins the contract we may have to consider a variation [to the workplace deal struck in November].”

The Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers, which represents a different class of tug workers, has indicated it is willing to negotiate with Teekay, and would potentially be willing to part with the extra annual leave entitlements won last year.

“We stand prepared to engage in discussions aimed at retaining your current business case in Port Hedland,” the union said in a letter to Teekay this week.

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The Reserve Bank fears the economy is even weaker than when it met one month ago.

Tuesday’s board meeting considered new data released since its last meeting showing much lower than expected investment intentions for the third quarter of this year.

After the bank cut rates in February, it published a forecast for economic growth centred on 2.75 per cent for 2015-16.

The investment data casts doubt on that forecast and suggests it will be revised down when the bank updates it in May.

While deciding to keep its cash rate steady in March, the bank issued guidance that “further easing of policy may be appropriate over the period ahead”.

The guidance is understood to be the clearest about the future direction of interest rates for about two years.

The governor’s statement said “the available information suggests that growth is continuing at a below-trend pace, with domestic demand growth overall quite weak”.

The bank is concerned that in the past month investment has slipped more sharply than expected, unemployment has climbed to a 13-year high and that the December quarter economic growth figures (due on Wednesday) are likely to be weak.

Its forecasts already factor in a further rate cut by May. After digesting Tuesday’s statement, the futures market factored in a near certain rate cut by May followed by the certainty of another cut by November.

Those two cuts would take the bank’s cash rate from 2.25 per cent to 1.75 per cent.

Former Reserve Bank economist Paul Bloxham said Tuesday’s meeting was “a nail-biter”.

“In the days leading up to the decision, the market had been pricing a 50:50 chance of a cut, so it was a close call,” the HSBC economist said.

“The post-meeting statement was fairly short, downbeat, and continued to note that the Australian dollar was overvalued on most measures of fundamental value. Working in the other direction, the statement noted that dwelling prices continue to rise strongly in Sydney.”

The only things that could stand in the way of a further cut in interest rates in April or May would be inflated lending to real estate investors or a sharp drop in the dollar.

The bank was “working with other regulators to assess and contain risks that may arise from the housing market”.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority has warned banks not to lower their standards for investment loans in order to chase business.

A sharp drop in the value of the dollar would boost the economy, making a further cut in interest rates less necessary.

The Australian dollar jumped more than half a cent after the Reserve Bank’s decision to leave interest rates on hold. It closed near US78¢.

Peter Martin is economics editor of The Age.

Twitter: @1petermartin

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GAI WATERHOUSE has not had a win in the Newcastle Newmarket, but may be represented this year by Woodbine, part owned by Racing NSW chairman John Messara. THE time-honoured Newcastle Newmarket is the highlight of Newcastle Jockey Club’s autumn racing, and the 2015 $125,000 group 3 event on March 18 will be the 60th anniversary of the race.

The legendary TJ Smith trained the first winner of the Newmarket, Seacraft, in 1955, and his daughter, Gai Waterhouse, has won the race three times, with Secret Savings (1997), Hey Pronto (2002) and Platinum Scissors (2004).

The closest Waterhouse has come to winning the Newmarket in the past decade was in 2013 when the talented Laser Hawk was beaten by a long head.

Waterhouse may be represented by four-year-old Woodbine, which is part-owned by Racing NSW chairman John Messara.

Woodbine has had only two runs from a spell and indicated he was close to a win when beaten three-quarters of a length at Rosehill recently.

The late Max Lees won the Newcastle Newmarket three times, and his son Kris will be chasing his first win in the group3 event on March 18.

Kris Lees got a good sight in last year’s Newmarket when his imported galloper Slow Pace flew home for third behind Mercir.

Lees is yet to decide on his Newmarket starters.

Chris Waller’s foreman, Liam Prior, said the stable expected to have runners in the Newmarket, but Waller is a week away from deciding on his nominations.

The $100,000 Provincial Championship Qualifier is also on the March 18 program

Thermomix demonstrator Lauren McKinnon puts a Thermomix to the test at a presentation at the field days. Picture: PAUL CARRACHERWIMMERA FARMER

A TRENDY cooking appliance made quick work of a traditionally tricky dish at the Wimmera Machinery Field Days this week.

Thermomix demonstrator Lauren McKinnon showed the crowd how easy it was to make a mushroom risotto with the multi-skilled device.

“It’s so hard to make but the Thermomix makes it so simple,” she said.

MEGA GALLERY: Day one at the Wimmera Machinery Field Days

Mrs McKinnon said the aim of the demonstration was to show people how versatile and handy the appliance was.

“People judge the Thermomix on the price tag,” she said.

A Thermomix costs about $2000.

Mrs McKinnon said one of the best features about the appliance was the recipe chip feature which displayed instructions on the Thermomix screen.

She said the interactive session was well received by the crowd.

“A lot of people were interested to see it,” she said.

More than 50 people attended the presentation.

Mrs McKinnon will hostThermomix presentations in the auditorium of the Country Gourmet Pavilion every day.

The final show is at 11.30am onThursday.

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Sussan LeyMILDURA GPs have welcomed the Federal Government’s decision to scrap its controversial Medicareco-p­ayment­ proposal.

Health Minister Sussan Ley yesterday confirmed the government had “hit the pause button” on changes to the public healthcare system.

During Question Time in Parliament, Prime Minister Tony Abbott reiterated the hugely unpopular proposal to charge patients a $5 co-payment when they visited their GP was “dead, buried and cremated”.

Tristar Medical Group GP Afshan Shariff said the arrangement would have put an “unnecessary burden” on people who were already struggling to cover daily living expenses.

“For patients who come in on a regular basis, with chronic disease or disability, it was too much for them to pay every visit,” she said.

“I think most of GPs would be happy that’s been axed.

“I have some patients on Centrelink payments who are taking medication and can’t afford it – they say, ‘I can’t be taking it until my next (Centrelink) payment’.

“That is really sad to see. So if there was a co-payment, I fear they won’t even be coming to see us.”

The co-payment proposal was part of the government’s budget measures introduced last year to reduce the nation’s debt and deficit.

It was contested by the Opposition,­ the Greens and cross-benchers­ in the Senate, leading to the original $7 co-payment being reduced to $5.

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