Author: maxdbs

Gillard snub to African Union

FOR months Australian diplomats lobbied African leaders to give Julia Gillard a starring role at a top level regional summit and to spruik Australia’s security council campaign – only for the Prime Minister to knock back the invitation when it came.
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Malawi President Joyce Banda, who was to host 54 leaders of the African Union next week, had written to Ms Gillard asking her to be the only non-African leader to attend the summit.

That honour had in the past been reserved for key African partners, including China’s Wen Jiabao, and officials had sought similar access for Australia.

It was seen as a real chance to push Australia’s bid for a prized security council seat at the United Nations with a critical voting bloc.

But when the invitation came – co-signed by the Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi and veteran Gabon political leader and African Union chairman, Jean Ping – Ms Gillard decided to knock it back.

She spoke to Dr Ping and Dr Boni Yayi on the phone last month to smooth over any embarrassment. A spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said last night President Banda was travelling at the time and a call was not possible.

The spokeswoman said that the Prime Minister underlined her need to be in Australia’s during the early stages of the carbon tax and while the summit was a chance to promote Australia’s security council bid it was not the sole reason for going.

Parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs Richard Marles will now go in her place.

Australia has been reaching out to African nations in recent years in a drive to improve ties. A new embassy is set to open in Senegal, following an earlier decision to open a post in Ethiopia.

Support of African nations is also seen as crucial to Australia’s chances in a vote this October of securing the 128 votes needed from the 193 UN members to beat European rivals Finland and Luxembourg for a two-year stint on the security council.

As it turns out, Mrs Banda is unlikely to have any lingering resentment about Australia’s snub.

Soon after the knock back, Malawi took the decision not to host the African Union summit after other regional leaders insisted Sudanese president and indicted war criminal, Omar al-Bashir, also attend.

The summit will now be held at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa – a towering building, funded by China.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Driving success on Facebook

KartWorld already has over 350,000 players on FacebookDespite very little marketing, new Australian indie game developer Twiitch already has over 350,000 players enjoying their latest game.
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The success of KartWorld on Facebook has provided more validation for veteran local developers Shane Stevens and Steven Spagnolo that the game industry has changed dramatically in recent years.

After six years in the most senior technical roles inside global gaming publishing company THQ, the pair “could see the writing was on the wall” for the industry, and they had to adapt or perish.

Shane and Steven were co-owners of Blue Tongue Entertainment, which they sold to THQ in 2004. They then went on to become global directors of technology at THQ, visiting developers around the world performing technical due-diligence and solving problems.

THQ’s current financial difficulties, which led to the closure last year of Blue Tongue and more recent staff redundancies at THQ’s Australian office, are symptomatic of massive change currently transforming the interactive business.

Shane and Steven decided in early 2010 to jump ship and start afresh with a new studio and a new vision.

“The time was right,” Shane told Screen Play earlier in the year. “We watched the market very closely for the six years following our sale of Blue Tongue, basically not trusting where it was all going.

“Multi-year development cycles costing tens of millions of dollars just wasn’t sustainable for all but a few. The release of the iPhone and the explosion of Facebook caused a strategic, permanent shift towards the casual market, and that’s where we wanted to be.”

Shane and Steven self-funded a new independent studio in Melbourne called Twiitch, and earlier in the year release their first game Coco Loco.

Both Coco Loco and their latest release KartWorld adhere to the studio’s vision of creating  “original, fun, mobile and web-based social games that anyone can play”.

“After six years, we could see the writing was on the wall for US$30 million budget games,” says Shane. “(We) wanted to start a fresh new company focusing our sharp technical skill on games which could appeal to the masses, on devices everyone has in their pocket.”

Screen Play today chats with Shane about the aftermath of Coco Loco and how Twiitch hopes KartWorld could be the next big thing in Facebook gaming.

The full interview can be found below.

Have you been happy with Coco Loco’s sales?

Coco Loco has met our expectations thus far, but there is more to be done.

Would you have done anything differently?

We have a saying at Twiitch, “Ship it!”  The idea is to not get too precious, but to get your product to market as quickly as possible with the best quality you can.  We were a little precious about our first game/baby so took longer than we probably should have to launch.  This meant we launched around GDC, going head to head with “Angry Birds Space” and “DrawSomething” which obviously just dominated at the time.  All round, we’re very happy with Coco Loco, we’ve had awesome reviews and everyone can see how technically impressive and distinct it is, and the characters are much loved.  Still, we could have shipped a month earlier and it would have been pretty much the same.

Are you going to continue supporting the game?

Absolutely!  In fact since Coco Loco’s release, we’ve pushed a further 30 levels and two new theme packs.  Also they’re much harder, so you can forget about blasting through them like the earlier levels. We have also completed the Android version, which looks awesome on the Samsung Galaxy tablet. We’re just integrating the Amazon app store and Google Play store, and we’re going to ship.  We’re also going to release a free version on both platforms which will remove any initial friction. The next update after the Android release will see new characters and a cool new secret Cocoa character.  So yes, we intend to keep showing Coco Loco love.

Tell me about KartWorld.

KartWorld is our second project at Twiitch, and is hugely ambitious.  KartWorld is a free-to-play, synchronous, real-time kart racing game for Facebook.  You race online against your friends and other people on Facebook, winning money and gaining experience which you can use back at your garage to upgrade and buy new karts.  There are heaps of quests to complete, with other in-game characters in larger worlds, plus you can challenge your friends to beat your race times on different tracks.  You can even directly paint onto your karts and see your creations in real-time while you’re racing.  It’s awesome to see what the community has already created!

Technically, we’re pushing the boundaries of what is possible in a browser.  We use Flash, so our gamers don’t have to download anything to play our game.  We have written our own technology stack for both the game client and the cloud back-end.  We’ve invented an incredible new rendering technique that allows us to have karts with exquisite detail, yet can be custom painted by players, plus real kart physics giving a ‘console’ feel to the game.  We also invented a cool control mechanic, after a lot of iterations, so anyone of any skill level could pick the game and not touch the keyboard.  In can steer the karts with nothing more than the mouse cursor!  If you’re hardcore, you can still use the keyboard if you like.

Twiitch’s DNA is in the cloud, so it’s no surprise that we’ve gone all out on our back-end infrastructure.  This is where our technical background in the games business has come into its own in this new social field.  We built KartWorld from the ground up to scale, and it’s performed perfectly since the initial launch.  We’ve scaled to hundreds of thousands of users without a hitch, plus we’ve written our own analytics platform, producing nearly 20 million analytic events since launch.  It’s these analytics that we use to drive design decisions.  In other words, we know what our players do and don’t like and adjust the game day-by-day, focusing on what’s important.

I’m incredibly proud of our team, and what they’ve accomplished.

How did the game come about?

When Steven and I founded Twiitch, we saw the future of games, but there were two potential futures: premium and freemium.  We decided to put a foot in each, so Coco Loco was born as our mobile “premium” game and KartWorld was our “freemium” social, Facebook game.  Steven and I love racing games, and could see how we could bring value to this space.  In fact when it was just Steven and I programming out of our new office at the beginning, we had the prototype running of KartWorld in a couple of weeks.  We could see this was going to be a great addition to the crowded “farming” Facebook space, and so we went for it.

How important was the Film Victoria support in getting the game off the ground?

Steven and I have always managed our businesses such that we could still survive without outside help or debt.  We both equally invested into Twiitch, with a plan on how to scale over some time.  That said, being fast to market is everything in this space, and if we hadn’t had funding approved by Film Victoria, we would have only been able to make one game at a time, and it’s hard to say how that would have gone.  So Film Victoria provides an amazingly helpful service to the gaming community, and we were lucky enough to benefit with some early support.

What did you think of the Victorian Government cutting financial support to the Digital Media Fund?

I think it’s short-sighted.  The video game industry has been decimated locally, and worldwide actually, so there are a lot of talented people around now without jobs.  Or they’ve moved into other fields, because they have no choice.  The Indie industry is really important for both creativity and nurturing new talent, so this community will take a blow for sure.

Who is your target audience for KartWorld?

Anyone with a Facebook account, who is sick of farming for carrots! Seriously though, we have algorithms for matching people together, such that total noobs don’t get matched against seasoned players. We want people who are new to this genre to have fun right from the start, which is why, unlike other games, we let the player race their kart before any other sort of tutorial kicks in. It seems obvious, but it’s critical people have fun first and foremost. I don’t think that is adhered to enough in a lot of Facebook games.

Where do you think your key markets will be and why?

Without a doubt the top tier 1 market is the US, followed by the UK, Western Europe, Australia, Japan, China and others.  These are markets that know and love racing games, and are used to the freemium/micro-transactional model.

How different is it designing a game for Facebook compared to console or mobile platforms?

The number one issue you have to deal with from day zero is scale.  We are obsessed with scale at Twiitch, and it shows in everything we do.  Our game loads quickly, minimises how much data is thrown around, has no central server and uses peer-to-peer networking.  There is no single point of failure by design, so if you don’t get that sorted right at the beginning, you’re going to be in a world of hurt.  In addition, there is a much larger User Acquisition Cost.  There are really only two ways to get customers: direct marketing (ads) or viral (referrals, search, etc).  Companies like Zynga have an extensive private network that they use to significantly lower these costs, which was largely built during the earlier Facebook era.  Facebook has since plugged most of the viral hooks developers used to rely on, so it’s harder to acquire those users now.  This is why we have partnered with RockYou in the US, who are our publishing partner.

What are some of the biggest challenges?

1. Scale.

2. Analytics.

3. Making a fun game! (Actually that problem always exists)

How hard is it to release an original IP on Facebook?

It’s easier than releasing an original IP on a console, that’s for sure.  I think people are more willing to take a chance on something that’s free, and that goes for mobile/PSN/XBLA/Steam too.  When you have to cough up $80 for a game, that is a huge friction point, so publishers really want to make sure they can have reasonable projections before committing development/publishing dollars.  That’s much easier for brands and sequels.  It’s not a business we want to be in.  We own everything we do, and are passionate about our original concepts, which I think shows.

How do you get that crucial initial player interest so you can build some momentum and grow the community?

You have to spend money to make money! The nature of Facebook is that there are review/community channels, like on mobile, however there are a huge number of games/distractions that can make it hard to stand out from the crowd. So there will always be direct user acquisition costs – paid, directed ads. You just have to have a business model where your LTV (user Lifetime Value) is greater than your CPA (cost per user acquisition). We strongly believe that fun and quality are the most important selling points, which is often surprisingly overlooked. In other words, if you build something cool and fun, the community will get behind it and you’ll get more of a viral lift, driving down the user acquisition cost. Users will be truly engaged and be driven to want to spend in your game, rather than feel pressured into it.

What do you think makes KartWorld different from its competitors?

The main differentiator is that KartWorld is its synchronous kart racing gameplay. It is built around the idea of having true engagement, and a competitive community. There is nothing like playing against people live. We have gorgeous graphics and a natural player control mechanic.  There really is nothing else like this on the market.

How has the response been so far?

The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve deliberately rolled out carefully and slowly, improving the game and refining the features before opening up worldwide, which we’ve now done. With very little marketing we rocketed to more than 350,000 users in a few weeks! We have more than 17,000 likes on our official page and we’ve only just begun. The community is passionate and feedback constantly to us.  We couldn’t do it without the community.

How many concurrent players can the game support?

We don’t have any limits on concurrent users. Our architecture scales elastically, so there is nothing stopping us from having millions of concurrent users (actually playing at the same time), or tens of millions of monthly users.  We’ve spiked up to tens of thousands of concurrent users, and our server architecture hasn’t skipped a beat.  We’re justifiably proud of this.

How do you ensure players can’t cheat?

Because of our experience with the Korean online market during our time at THQ, we learnt how important cheat prevention is. A lot of Facebook games have avoided the full brunt of cheaters, and the affect they can have on a community, due to the fact that most don’t have synchronous and competitive play. Most games are really just solo experiences in their essence.  Right from the beginning we knew this, and built cheat prevention into everything, from the network packets sent from our player’s machines, to server-based pattern matching and data analysis.  We handle everything from the people messing with the clocks on their computers, all the way through man-in-the-middle data injection, network data replaying, etc.  Also, nothing important is ever done on the player’s machine, the client machines are assumed to be unreliable.  Everything is sent to the cloud for analysis.  To date, there was has only been one cheat found.  Through a hacked client, some players took advantage of a game exploit enabling them to gain coins. However, straight away our server analysis picked this up, and we reset the accounts.  We keep these users around and set their accounts to monitor, this way they can show us if there are other problems.  So in short, never underestimate cheating, it’s very important to the cohesiveness of the community.

What are your plans for the game in the next 12 months?

We are updating the game every day.  Everything from the graphics, performance, networking, new karts, skins, the economy, quests, etc. change frequently, showing our players that we’re listening.  Now that we’re live, these decisions are driven by analytics from the game, so we know what to concentrate on. We let our audience tell us what they want to see, through their actions.  We are also about to deliver a huge performance update, which we’re keeping close to our chests.  It’s awesome though.

The most importantly for us, though, is mobile.  I’m happy to announce, we’re bringing KartWorld to iOS and Android as a free app.  It’s very exciting; we can’t wait to share more on this soon.

Great, many thanks for your time Shane. All the best with the game.

Screen Play is on Twitter: @screenplayblog

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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No Djoke for Sharapova after shock Wimbledon loss

Maria Sharapova of Russia reacts during her women’s singles tennis match against Sabine Lisicki of Germany at Wimbledon. Sabine Lisicki of Germany celebrates after defeating Maria Sharapova of Russia at Wimbledon.
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Novak Djokovic of Serbia, (left) embraces friend and countryman Viktor Troicki after their Wimbledon clash.

Novak Djokovic does a famous impersonation of Maria Sharapova, but there was little about his fellow No.1 today that Djokovic wished to imitate.

While Sharapova crashed out of the tournament she had been favoured to win, Djokovic, the men’s favourite, could scarcely have advanced more emphatically.

Latest scores: click here.

On the day that Sharapova was beaten in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, by 15th seed Sabine Lisicki, Djokovic dominated his childhood friend and doubles partner Viktor Troicki 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 in a one-sided instalment of a rivalry that began back in Serbia when Troicki was nine and Djokovic one year his junior.

After Roger Federer, his main rival from the top half of the draw, had struggled with a back spasm early in his four-set win outdoors over Xavier Malisse, Djokovic waited for the centre court roof to be closed and then took just 90 minutes to join the Swiss in the last eight.

“I returned really well; I served great. The baseline game, I was patient and waiting for a chance to be aggressive.  Everything was quite compact, and I’m satisfied,” said Djokovic. “There is no secrets between us, and it is never easy to play your very good friend, someone you grew up with. But there had to be one loser.”

Still, on a rain-interrupted day, there were only three men’s winners from the round-of-16. Of the incomplete matches, Andy Murray leads Marin Cilic by a set and a break, Mardy Fish is 6-4, 1-1 against fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Richard Gasquet trails Florian Mayer, while the two remaining matches are yet to start.

The only certain quarter-final match-up is between Federer and his 13-time whipping boy, Mikhail Youhzny. “I never beat him, so it’s why I’m happy, because I will play against him.  I will have one more chance, ”

While Federer will appreciate another rest day to recover from his latest back spasm, the women will back-up immediately for a quarter-final round in which titleholder Petra Kvitova meets her predecessor Serena Williams in a rematch of the 2010 semi-final the American won 7-6 (7-5), 6-2.

Following top seed Sharapova’s ejection by Lisicki, the last two former champions in the field were both pushed to three sets in their round-of-16 appetisers, but the contrast was that Williams struggled after a great start against wildcard Yaroslava Shvedova, while Kvitova finished strongly after a sloppy opening against Francesca Schiavone.

“The last matches I played so well and so quick, and today it’s about the fight,” Kvitova said. “I’m so happy that I showed that. It’s important. Tomorrow is different day, so I hope they will be better tomorrow.

“I think it will be huge match for both of us, and I’m looking forward to play against her. Looking forward to have a challenge. She is a great champion. She won many times here. I will try my best and we will see.”

Williams claimed not be be jaded after successive three-setters. “I had a year off, so I’m good. I’m really fit. I don’t feel tired at all. I feel so fresh. This match, it was long, but it wasn’t arduous, so I feel totally fine,” she said. “I feel like I can do a lot better, which is very comforting, because if this is my best I’m in trouble.” Kvitova, she said is “obviously a great grass court player, as well as I am. I’ll be ready”.

The 13-time major winner’s other issue was with the crowd control as she was escorted on the long journey back from remote court two. “I literally was almost knocked over today. The security, was tons of security guards in there just going nuts and screaming.  I’ve never heard them scream so loud.”

Was she frightened? “No, I wasn’t scared. Nobody going to knock me over, for real. I’d like to see that happen.”

Germany is guaranteed a semi-finalist for the second consecutive year, and Kim Clijsters, who won just two games against Angelique Kerber in her Wimbledon farewell, slightly favours the eighth seed over the big-serving Lisicki.

“I definitely think she’s a better mover than Lisicki. Lisicki has a great serve, has a very good kind of first shot.  She likes to hit that 1-2 shot, a good serve, then open up the court with the serve and really hits aggressive. I think Kerber is more of an all around player, plays really well, anticipates really well, but is a great mover. I think on grass it will be close. Then the whole German situation I think will probably have an effect, too.”

The remaining quarter-finals feature the two contenders to replace Sharapova at No.1: Victoria Azarenka against world No.38 Tamira Paszek, and Agnieszka Radwanska, who is yet to reach a grand slam semi despite her ranking of No.3, against 17th seed Maria Kirilenko.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Disappearing DJs bid leaves egg on faces

IT COULD be one of the most costly April Fool’s jokes ever pulled on the Australian investment community, even if it is July, with a $1.65 billion takeover bid for the country’s second-biggest department store, David Jones, evaporating yesterday and causing its share price to dive.
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The farcical nature of the day’s corporate activity included lingerie models, noodle shops, vanishing websites, a roller-coaster share price and the sometimes shadowy world of private equity investors.

The surprise David Jones bid, made public on Friday, created more than $175 million in value in an instant as investors piled into the stock hoping a takeover war would erupt. But the offer was pulled just as quickly yesterday afternoon, stripping $140 million from DJs’ market capitalisation as the shares gave up most of their gains.

In the wake of the disappearing takeover offer – which until Sunday night was being spruiked by its mysterious backer to local media via a PR firm – there may be renewed pressure on the Australian Securities Exchange’s rigid regulations on continuous disclosure and directors’ obligations to inform investors about every letter that comes across the boardroom table.

Last night, David Jones was forced to defend its disclosure of the offer to investors in a letter responding to a series of queries from the stock exchange.

In its letter, drafted by top-tier law firm Freehills, David Jones said it disclosed the ”unusual, incomplete and uncertain” offer to the exchange on Friday morning only because news of its existence was likely to be known to market participants outside the company.

Further details, including the identity of the purported bidder,

were disclosed later that day after David Jones became aware that a mysterious UK blog had published EB Private Equity’s name.

The last few days’ shenanigans came to a head late yesterday when David Jones, the upmarket and venerable 174-year-old department store, called for a trading halt in its shares on growing concern about the credibility of the billion-dollar proposed takeover from the unknown Luxembourg-based EB Private Equity, and its just as mysterious chairman, John Edgar.

In a brief statement to the market, David Jones said it had been informed via a letter from EB Private Equity that the unsolicited and incomplete $1.65 billion offer for 100 per cent of the company had been withdrawn.

”The EB Private Equity letter states that recent publicity around its proposal has made it difficult to proceed,” David Jones said.

A Sydney PR firm engaged by Mr Edgar and EB Private Equity to feed information to some media outlets is no longer engaged to work for the client.

”What is going on?” asked Goldman Sachs analyst Richard Coppleson. ”This has many investors questioning if this was a real bid and also the timing – on the last trading day of the financial year!”

The market’s response to the announcement that the bid had been withdrawn was immediate. The shares dropped 26¢, or 10 per cent, to close at $2.33, leaving the stock only marginally above Thursday’s closing price of $2.26, before the EB Private Equity offer was made public.

It is believed no one at David Jones has ever spoken to EB Private Equity or to its reclusive chairman over the phone and that all contact between the parties, going back to late May, was via email.

It is also believed that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission is investigating the entire affair.

Among the early victims of the past few days could be hedge funds that reportedly were shorting David Jones shares last week, with 10 per cent of the retailer’s issued capital being shorted. As the stock rallied on Friday after the announcement of the offer they piled into the market to buy up David Jones shares – at ever higher prices – to close out their positions and limit losses.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Electricity customers in massive power grab

In the past 10 years, the average household’s electricity use has risen by about 30 per cent.It is your fault your electricity bill is expensive.
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That is the message from Energex and a range of data that shows 25 per cent of Australians buy a new television each year and collectively spend millions of dollars annually to charge their phones and laptops.

The data also shows, on average, households in regional Queensland have three air conditioners installed.

Energy retailer Origin last week incurred the wrath of Premier Campbell Newman after the company unveiled plans to charge about half of its customers about an extra $400 a year on their electricity bills.

Mr Newman ordered letters be sent to government departments telling them to switch electricity providers, a move that would cost Origin about $27 million in government contracts.

But Origin corporate affairs executive general manager Phil Craig said the biggest part of a customer’s bill was network costs, which were set by Energex.

An Energex spokeswoman yesterday said the network costs were driven up by the need to build more infrastructure to support Queensland’s insatiable appetite for electricity.

The latest figures show in the past 10 years, the average household’s electricity use had risen by about 30 per cent.

The network was being built to cope with “peak demand” times, which was typically a handful of summer days in which almost every household turns on the air conditioning.

In order for the network to cope on those few days, it had to be upgraded and the cost was passed on to the consumer.

But it was not just the few hot summer days that could overwhelm the network; every day there was peak energy usage between 4pm and 8pm as people turned on their flat screen televisions and charged their smart phones and laptops.

“There has been a significant surge in the number of homes across Queensland with large screen televisions which are now in 86 per cent of homes,” the Energex spokeswoman said.

“The survey also found that 41 per cent of homes now had two or more LCD, LED or plasma televisions, while many home owners identified that their TVs were on ‘all of the time’.”

The Energy Use in the Australian Residential Sector report, published by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, tracked energy use of Australian households every year since 1986 and forecast energy usage for every year up to 2020.

The report pointed to personal computers and larger televisions as the major contributors to growing electricity bills, with a whopping 25 per cent of people buying a new television every year.

The report found the amount of energy the average household was consuming through a television had quadrupled between 1986 and 2005 and was projected to triple between 2005 and 2020.

The other major driver of household energy use has been the rise in personal computers, laptops, smart phones and tablets.

In 1986, the energy consumption for these types of products was so low the report said it was too “negligible” to rate.

By 2005, Australians’ energy use through IT devices was 8 pilojules – or 2,222,222,222.224 kilowatt hours – and that was expected to almost double again by 2020.

It was not just new technologies pushing up people’s electricity bills – the use of energy for lighting doubled between 1986 and 2010, despite the introduction of energy saving light bulbs.

The report attributed the rise in the use of lights to houses becoming larger over the past couple of decades.

And then there is the serial offender when it comes to high electricity bills in Queensland – the air conditioner.

“Queenslanders’ love affair with the air-conditioner shows little signs of ending,” the Energex spokeswoman said.

“In fact survey forecasts that by 2017 there will be 2.4 million air-conditioners in southeast Queensland – up from the current 1.64 million – and 1.6 million air cons in regional Queensland, rising from the current 1.15 million.

“The data shows that while southeast Queensland homes have an average of two air-conditioners, in regional Queensland more than half of homes have three or more systems.”

The Australian Energy Regulator’s latest electricity bills benchmarks for residential customers report showed the average Queensland one-person household used 4030 kWh per year, a two person household 5331 kWh, a household of three 6633 kWh and a household of four used 7934 kWh.

The report showed the running of a swimming pool almost doubled the energy usage of any household.

Origin’s winter data for Queensland last year showed a swimming pool cost about $73 per quarter to run in peak times and $42 per quarter to run in off-peak times.

It also broke down the costs of other household appliances for the winter months with a clothes dryer used once a week costing $15 per quarter.

Origin estimated people would use a heater for a small room for 65 days out of every quarter at a cost of $164 to their bill. To heat an average lounge room for 65 days it cost $263.

A 42-inch plasma television, which was used for five hours per day, cost $34 per quarter.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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WA calls for crack down on overseas university campuses, student recruiters

The WA government has called for a regulator to be established to monitor overseas campuses of Australian universities as well as international student recruitment agents to get rid of unscrupulous operators.
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In a submission to the federal International Education Advisory Council, which is considering a national strategy for the sector, the state government said Australia had failed to properly communicate the benefits of international education to the domestic community.

That had led to negative perceptions that it was solely a profiteering industry that robbed locals of educational and job opportunities, in turn fuelling racial vilification of international students.

The government also recommended higher education students be given greater work opportunities while in Australia and activities organised to encourage engagement with local students.

About 50,000 international students who study in WA each year are highly valuable to the economy, each spending on average $11,500 during their time in the state, compared to $810 for leisure visitors, according to Tourism WA.

“This demonstrates that international students, their families and friends could be considered ‘super tourists’,” the state government submission says.

“However, the benefits of international education have been poorly communicated to the Australian community and the contribution of international education is not clearly understood by the general community.

“This is demonstrated by reports in the media of negative perceptions held by the Australian community towards international students …

“Commentators have also made reference to a public perception within Australia that international education in Australia is a commercial enterprise (making money), first and foremost.”

While present marketing strategies focused on promoting Australian education overseas, initiatives needed to focus on promoting the benefits to the Australian community to “dispel negative myths and stereotypes”.

Attacks on international students have affected Australia’s reputation as an international education destination in recent years.

University of WA vice chancellor Paul Johnson said it had been one of the university sector’s greatest failings in the past 25 years.

“While most Australians could effectively explain the benefits of mining, tourism or agriculture to our collective future, the benefits of international education (both financial and cultural) are not well understood,” Professor Johnson wrote in a submission to the advisory council.

“Lack of awareness among other vital stakeholder groups must also be tackled: for example, among some employers who may be unwilling to employ international students; taxpayers and state governments unwilling to extend transport discounts and other general services, for fear that taxpayer funds are being misused.”

Australia also had failed to educate the community about Asia “beyond a superficial level”, Professor Johnson said.

Australian students who studied overseas still preferred North American and European universities, while there were few graduates literate in our neighbours.

“… this is acutely felt in the region,” Professor Johnson wrote.

“UWA asserts that outbound mobility of Australian students is as important as inbound mobility in underpinning a sustainable strategy for international education.”

Professor Johnson called for compulsory language and cultural studies in university degrees, admission bonuses for those who completed a language to Year 12, scholarships to support Australian students to study abroad and greater research collaboration with Asia.

He also raised the need for a regulator to monitor overseas campuses and student recruitment agents.

Unscrupulous education agents working overseas have in the past exploited students with false promises about automatically getting a migrant visa.

Professor Johnson said the present model, which places the responsibility on universities was “inappropriate” and did not allow for “any effective control”.

The state government submission, signed off by the former education minister, Liz Constable, says a regulatory framework similar to that used to accredit migration agents would strengthen the industry and help protect the integrity of the education system.

“This will ensure that prospective students are recruited through education agents who operate ethically and professionally, as well as providing assistance to students in cases of disputes with the education agency,” the submission says.

“Transnational education, if not managed and monitored closely, could pose a threat to the delievery of education to onshore international students due to a potential de-valuing of Australian qualifications.”

The state government, which is developing its own strategy for international education in WA, also called for international university students to be given greater work experience and networking opportunities and job matching services.

Students in vocational courses should be given the same working rights and migration pathways as university students, it said.

“International students graduating from Australian institutions in areas of critical need are an important resource,” the government submission says.

“By completed [sic] their studies in Australia they have an understanding of studying, living and working in Australia.

“They represent a high value human capital that can assist in meeting Australia’s future skills needs.”

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Unfamiliar international hotel brands are ‘sussing out Perth’

Perth hotels – so pricey to construct, developers have been offered grants and lowered market rates.After years of inaction and escalating hotel room prices several international brands, including Hilton, are seriously considering opening or expanding in Perth.
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Hilton yesterday confirmed it was exploring options for a second hotel in Perth and the WA branch of the Australian Hotels Association said it was in talks with other big name chains.

“Some of them are well known in Europe and the US but not necessarily in Australia [and] some of them are Australian,” AHA WA chief executive Bradley Woods said.

“Over the next couple of years we expect that there will be additions to the international chain hotel names that are within the Perth market.

“We’ve had discussions with a number of chains about their interest in expanding the presence of their existing properties.

“WA is certainly on their scope.”

Hilton vice-president development Australasia Robert Scullin yesterday told an industry newsletter the international company planned to unveil more Australasian ventures during the next 12 months, including in Australia.

WA was high on the company’s sights and it was investigating existing Perth properties that could be converted into the capital city’s second Hilton hotel alongside the Parmelia on Mill Street.

“The Perth market is where every hotel would like to have more inventory,” Mr Scullin told Travel Today.

Hilton also has previously made it known it would like to build a resort in Margaret River, though it is understood issues with zoning stalled any plans.

There have been very few hotel rooms created in Perth in the past five years, causing a severe shortage that has seen capacity reach well over 80 per cent and prices to escalate.

The industry estimates 1900 new beds are needed in the city by 2020 to keep up with demand.

The situation led Minister for Tourism Kim Hames to announce groundbreaking incentives for hotel developers, including providing state land at reduced market rates, flexible floor space bonuses and infrastructure grants.

The former Fire and Emergency Services Authority headquarters on Hay Street in the CBD is the first government-owned site to be made available at a discounted rate to the hotel market.

The government is presently negotiating with potential developers.

Mr Scullin did not comment on whether Hilton was interested in the site.

Construction costs in WA – which are the highest in the nation – have made many hotel projects unviable.

But hotel developers are becoming increasingly interested in pre-fabricated techniques, allowing all or part of a project to be built in a factory and then assembled on site.

Hilton’s new 164-room hotel in Karratha, announced last week, will incorporate the technique, with the top six storeys built off-site and transported to the mining centre.

“The new model has certainly reduced the construction time and the size of the teams required to build a hotel,” Mr Scullin told Travel Today.

The new 56-room Quincy Boutique Hotel is being constructed in a factory in just seven months and will be transported to its site, a former car park behind the Perth Ambassador Hotel on Adelaide Terrace.

The ambitious Australian Pacific Hotels project was approved by the City of Perth in April.

A Tourism WA spokesman said Perth’s construction costs had stagnated hotel construction.

“In certain conditions modular construction definitely has the potential to reduce construction costs, which should impact positively on project viability,” he said.

Mr Woods said there was increasing interested in pre-fabrication of hotels but it was only suitable for certain sites that were “dead flat” and could be accessed by cranes.

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Bureau of Statistics admits blundering on jobless figures

THE Australian Bureau of Statistics has got the official employment figures wrong, and the bureau says it will not correct them because it would cost too much money.
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The figures are used by the Reserve Bank and Treasury as a key economic indicator.

Officially, employment did not grow at all last year after surging 363,500 in 2010. But yesterday the assistant statistician Paul Mahoney told a seminar that job numbers probably climbed 30,000 to 35,000 more than officially acknowledged in the first nine months last year and increased 60,000 to 70,000 less than acknowledged in 2010.

This means official figures overstated the weakness in the labour market that led the Reserve Bank to cut rates at the end of last year and overstated the strength that led it to push up rates at the end of 2010.

“We acknowledge we have problems with the way we are benchmarking the labour force at the moment,” Mr Mahoney said. “We are not hiding behind this, we are being very open about it. This is a public seminar, this is going to be repeated a few times.”

The employment figures are calculated from a door-to-door survey of about 29,000 households. To turn the results into a national number, it has to estimate the size of the population.

Usually it gets the estimate right. But at times when the rate of population growth is changing rapidly it can get it wrong.

In 2010 it overestimated the growth of the population, in turn leading to overestimate employment growth. Instead of correcting the published figure, it understated its estimate of population growth last year.

As a result the published employment figures for last year were flat, whereas the reality was continued jobs growth.

Mr Mahoney said yesterday the difference was not “statistically significant”, but acknowledged they were significant in terms of presentation, making it look as if jobs growth had stopped last year when it almost certainly had not.

“Yes, it does change the story,” he told the Herald.

To improve the bureau’s processes might cost $1.5 million and take more than a year – but it has had its capital budget cut 25 per cent.

“We are certainly considering changing our processes and looking at how we might fund it,” Mr Mahoney said. “But we are far more capital constrained than we were. This is just one system within the organisation. There are competing demands.”

The bureau will attempt to save money by moving its monthly employment survey online, posting passwords and login codes to the households that take part rather than visiting them and following up with phone calls. It will also abolish or make less frequent a number of less-important labour force surveys.

The unemployment rate, presently 5.1 per cent, is unaffected by the bureau’s problems with its measure of employment.

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Surrogacy promise a ‘mistake’: Newman

The LNP government plans to stop single people, same-sex couples and couples who have lived together for less than two years from having a child through surrogacy.Queensland Premier Campbell Newman says he supports changes to prevent single people and same-sex couples from having a baby through use of a surrogate, but won’t say why.
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In an interview with brisbanetimes南京夜网.au to mark 100 days in office, Mr Newman also defended the watering down of civil union legislation, saying his compromise was a “far more middle-road, considered outcome” than some in the Christian right thought the government would take.

Rights activists have reacted angrily to several decisions made by the Newman government in its first few months in office, including the de-funding of LGBT health group Healthy Communities and the removal of state-sanctioned ceremonies from civil partnerships, which have been renamed as registered relationships.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has also flagged legislative changes to ban singles, de facto couples of less than two years and same-sex couples from accessing altruistic surrogacy, where a woman agrees to carry a child for no payment.

This is despite Mr Newman saying before the election no changes would be made to surrogacy laws.Watch Premier Campbell Newman’s full interview here.

Asked what message the various changes sent to the LGBT community about the value the government placed on their relationships, Mr Newman focused on each decision in isolation.

He argued the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities had not shown “demonstrable improvements” in HIV/AIDS infection rates and had become an advocacy group, so HIV/AIDS prevention would be funded in a different way.

“In relation to civil unions we said very, very clearly before the election that we’d repeal the legislation as long as we didn’t leave people in legal limbo,” he said.

“I think that what we’ve achieved is a very fair and reasonable outcome and what I point to is that people at the extremes of both sides are making all sorts of wild claims.

“There are still people in the Christian lobby groups who are saying it should have been repealed; you have people at the fringes of the gay advocacy groups who are saying you’ve taken away something. I dispute both points of view.

“I think gay and lesbian people have been given security, peace of mind that these relationships can be registered and maintained in Queensland. If someone wants to have a ceremony with their friends and family they can.”

Mr Newman said he had argued “passionately” against the “unacceptable” motion by Katter’s Australian Party to revoke existing civil unions from couples who had already entered into them.

Some in the LGBT community have argued they have been hurt by the removal of state-sanctioned ceremonies and renaming of civil partnerships to registered relationships, a name they say sounds more clinical and akin to registering pets.

But Mr Newman, who has previously voiced his personal support for gay marriage, said people should look at the LNP’s pre-election comments.

He insisted nobody who was interested in the matter could say they did not know changes would be made to civil unions.

“Arguably we’ve done less than what we said we were going to do,” he said.

“We’re a democratic country, we’re a democratic state; we went to the election saying things that have been thoroughly documented and we actually have done something that is [a] far more middle road, considered outcome than perhaps what some people in the Christian right thought we were going to do and we’ve had to answer to them as well.

“I mean, we’ve actually done the very best we can by people and I think people should look at that.”

A week before the election, Mr Newman dismissed suggestions the LNP might make changes to surrogacy laws.

“We will not be making any changes to the laws on those matters,” Mr Newman said when asked about potential changes to surrogacy laws six days before the election.

Mr Newman last week refused to concede he had broken an election pledge by allowing greater surrogacy law restrictions to be drafted.

“I made a mistake,” he told brisbanetimes南京夜网.au in the interview recorded on Thursday.

“Basically there was a press conference in the dying days of the campaign.

“I was asked a question about something and frankly I was not across what my team had been pushing for back in 2010, and the background of this is it was a year before I become the leader that the whole surrogacy legislation had been dealt with in the Parliament.

“It was pointed out to me subsequently that, ‘hang on a second, that is not the view of the team, it is not the view of the party room and it’s particularly not the view of the parliamentary team right now’.”

Asked whether his LNP colleagues had pushed him into the surrogacy changes, Mr Newman said he was listening to his team.

“Again, this is a democracy,” he said.

“One minute the Labor Party are saying this guy doesn’t listen to people, this guy somehow just bosses people around; next minute I’m being criticised, am I, for listening to people? It’s a democracy.”

Mr Newman said he personally supported the planned changes to exclude singles and gay couples from surrogacy, but refused to outline his reasons.

“Well I do, and I’m not particularly going to canvass it today, but when it comes to Parliament you’ll hear the debate,” he said.

The Australian Christian Lobby, which lobbied Mr Bleijie over civil unions, welcomed the planned surrogacy law changes, arguing it was a win for the rights of children.

But Alex Greenwich, from the Australian Marriage Equality lobby group, argued the Newman government was moving Queensland backwards, saying removing rights from citizens was “one of the most un-Australian actions this government could take”.

In December, Mr Newman suggested the LNP wouldleave the recently passed civil union legislation in place if no couple had signed up by the time of a change of government, but would be unlikely to make changes if people had already registered.

However, during the formal election campaign, Mr Newman changed the emphasis such that he promised to look at repealing civil unions so long as couples were not left in “legal limbo”.

In May, Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said the state’s HIV rates had doubled over the past 10 years and he would re-direct about $2.5 million in annual funds away from the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities.

Instead, a ministerial advisory committee would be created because the figures showed a fresh approach was needed, he said.

The government’s use of figures has been disputed. QAHC argued it only received funding for HIV prevention among gay men, a group it said had decreased as a proportion of people diagnosed over the past 10 years.

In late May, about 2000 people rallied in Brisbane’s CBD and marched to Parliament House to protest the de-funding of QAHC and the potential removal of civil unions.

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Study reveals stark mental health figures for indigenous prisoners

Nearly 90 per cent of indigenous women in Queensland prisons have a diagnosed mental illness, the first systematic research into Queensland’s indigenous prisoners has revealed.
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That is four times the rate of mental illness in the general community.

And nearly half of indigenous prisoners have been imprisoned four or more times.

The Australian-first research – soon to find its way into a new Queensland government policy called Inside Out – found 73 per cent of indigenous males in prison had a diagnosed mental illness; severe depression, psychosis and severe anxiety.

It is 21 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody highlighted poor mental health was a contributing factor to why indigenous people were over-represented in Australian prisons.

It is only now that a carefully constructed research project, based on interviews with 396 indigenous prisoners in six of nine Queensland prisons, reveals the truth about mental health.

The study, produced after four years of research, has found clear evidence of the link between poor mental health and repeat offending.

“The high prevalence of diagnosed psychotic disorder, particularly among women is of concern,” the report finds.

“Psychotic disorder is associated with significant morbidity and increased risk of re-incarceration.”

Interviews were completed over eight weeks in May and June 2008, but published for the first time yesterday in the Medical Journal of Australia.

The survey, carried out by researchers from Queensland’s Forensic Mental Health Service, included assessments by culturally-trained forensic pyschiatrists.

Overall, the research finds that 73 per cent of male indigenous prisoners had a diagnosed mental illness, while 86 per cent of women suffered mental illness.

Psychiatrists Ed Heffernan and Kimina Andersen, from the QFMHS, said the research gave evidence of the problems people had assumed since 1991.

“In Queensland we didn’t have a specifically identified mental health service (for prisoners) up until 2006,” Dr Heffernan said.

“And the bit that has developed in parallel along that way has been the identification of the prevalence of mental disorder among the general prisoner population.”

The research released this week discovers the situation for indigenous prisoners in Queensland.

“While those of us who have been working in the area always suspected the prevalence of this, we didn’t have the data in a reliable and systematic way and that is what this study adds to the picture for the first time,” Dr Heffernan said.

The study found:51 per cent of indigenous women suffered severe anxiety problems, (20 per cent of men);69 per cent of indigenous women suffered substance abuse problems, (66 per cent of men);29 per cent of indigenous women suffered severe depression, (11 per cent of men); and23 per cent of indigenous women suffered psychotic disorders (8 per cent of men).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still 14 times more likely to be jailed than non-indigenous people.

They make up almost 26 per cent of Queensland’s prisoners, despite being about 3 per cent of the general community.

Dr Heffernan said the researchers used cultural experience to exclude aspects which could have exaggerated the results by reducing the “cultural bias” of the sensitive research.

“Psychotic illness is a severe brain disorder, characterised by hallucinations, delusions, disorganised thoughts and behaviour,” hen said.

“Many of the things that go towards diagnosing a psychotic brain illness are question such as ‘Do you hear voices?’.

“Whereas, for an indigenous person, it would not be uncommon for them to say ‘Well yes, I hear the voices of my relatives who are deceased who help me as guidance from elements of the spirits’, for example.

“So if you misunderstood that, as not being part of indigenous culture, you might say that was a delusion, or a hallucination.”

The project team then had the interviews overseen by forensic psychiatrists and indigenous experts, who sat on a panel to accurately assess the interviews.

Ms Andersen, an indigenous women, said community ties played a much stronger role in protecting mental health in the indigenous community.

“Health systems are, in general, about treating individuals,” she said.

“Where with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people it is about your family, your community, your system that support community members.

“It is not so much about getting treatment as an individual person.”

A five-year mental health plan for indigenous prisoners is now being developed.

Ms Andersen said there was no doubt women prisoners felt most vulnerable in prisons.

“Women were obviously quite vulnerable in this population to psychotic disorders, to substance misuse,” she said.

Alcohol and cannabis are the drugs of choice among indigenous prisoners, rather than the amphetamines and opiates found among the wider community.

Ms Andersen said the research also showed communities did not feel they had the ability to look after people with mental illness.

“There is almost a lack of comprehension of how to manage family members who have a mental disorder,” she said.

The research shows the problem, worsened by mental illness, could become a horrible self-perpetuating circle of “prison-release-prison-release-prison”.

“In our study, what we have found is that around about 50 per cent of males (indigenous prisoners) and over 40 per cent of females have been in custody more than five times,” Dr Heffernan said.

“These are people that are coming in out, in out, in out.

“So what that starts to suggest is that not only is it good enough to have services that are culturally sensitive and meets the needs of people while they are in prison, you actually have to have services that meets their needs once they get released and link them to community services.”

This period of time when an indigenous prisoner was first released was the high risk period, Dr Heffernan said.

“The data about deaths, about relapsed mental illnesses, and about re-hospitalisation, about drug overdoses and suicides, are at rates during that period – particularly in the first few weeks – that are so much higher than the general community,” he said.

“It is just extraordinary. It is such a very high risk time.”

Dr Heffernan said it made sense to invest money at this stage of treatment, because otherwise people were simply re-admitted to public hospitals, which was a major public health cost.

“So really it makes a public health dollar argument that you should invest in transitional services,” he said.

“So you should be helping people re-connect into the community.”

Ms Andersen said video links for indigenous prisoners into remote communities, sports, culture rooms in prisons plus visits from elders were making improvements.

* Diagnosed mental illness was classified as regular bouts of mental illness over the 12 month period before the 2008 interviews as assessed by forensic psychiatrists.

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