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GG stands firm as heat intensifies

THE pressure on John Howard concerning the “children overboard” scandal has taken a back seat for the moment as Governor General Dr Peter Hollingworth faces a wave of criticism about his handling of sexual abuse claims during his time as Archbishop of Brisbane

Faced with what looks like a no-win situation, Mr Howard for the moment is sticking by his appointee, in what has the potential to become a constitutional crisis. Opposition leader Simon Crean is leading the charge against the Governor General in a campaign Dr Hollingworth’s few remaining supporters are referring to as a witch hunt.

Healthy increase

INTENSE lobbying from Australia’s health funds has finally been rewarded, with the Federal Government backing a larger-than-expected premium increase of 7 per cent. Health Minister Senator Kay Patterson, who is expected to formally announce the Government’s support for the increase later this week, was upstaged by the impatient health funds. The three million members of Australia’s largest health insurer, Medibank Private, are expected to be the worst hit, with a 9 per cent jump in fees.

The largest WA health insurer, HBF, has warned its 850,000 policyholders to expect increases of about $150 a year.

The most expensive hospital cover will increase by about $210 per year, or $4 per week. HBF cited a 25 per cent increase in claims over the past year as the reason behind the increase.

The Police & Nurses Credit Society has indicated that it would not be increasing its premiums for members.

Button off

JUSTICE was finally served after almost 40 years with the acquittal this week of John Button, who was sentenced in 1963 for the manslaughter of his 17-year-old girlfriend Rosemary Anderson.

Mr Button has been appealing his innocence ever since, losing his first appeal just one year in to his five-year jail term. The Court of Criminal Appeal attributed the death to serial killer Eric Cooke, who confessed to the crime before being WA’s last man to hang in 1964.

Port upgraded

ESPERANCE hosted an official opening of new facilities at its port during the week, with officials declaring it “an investment in infrastructure that will serve the State for centuries”. A $54 million upgrade, in response to growth in regional grain and ore production, has included 23 hectares of land reclamation for a breakwater, harbour dredging to allow access to Cape-class vessels, construction of a new iron ore storage and handling facility, and a third berth and ship loading facility.

Annual port trade is expected to reach nine million tonnes in 2005.

Nickel plan

STILL in the region, the Ravensthorpe/Esperance Blueprint for the Future project was launched this week to identify the long-term economic, social and environmental needs of local communities in light of BHP Billiton’s proposed $950 million Ravensthorpe nickel project. BHP Billiton subsidiary Ravensthorpe Nickel Operations is conducting a feasibility study, with an announcement regarding the future of the project expected in the second quarter next year.

Up, up and …

THE backers for the relaunched Ansett Airlines have hit a brick wall after they failed to reach an agreement with Virgin Blue to merge the two airlines.

The snag in negotiations puts a cloud over the possible takeover of Ansett by Tesna and its directors, Lindsay Fox and Solomon Lew.

They still need to secure aircraft and terminal access. Virgin Blue walked away from the talks after both parties were unwilling to give over control of the merged entity. Virgin Blue said that it felt it was on a winning, low-cost formula that would be threatened by the merger. Ansett’s failure to secure the merger means they now face a tough fight to regain market share from Qantas and Virgin Blue. Ansett’s market share has fallen to just 10 per cent.

Vision splendid

WMC CEO Hugh Morgan’s vision to break the mining giant into two entities has been dealt a blow, with major shareholder AMP indicating it would not back such a move. AMP, as the largest Australian shareholder with a 3 per cent stake, has showed signs that it is unhappy with Mr Morgan’s direction.

Mr Morgan fuelled the de-merger talks in an effort to head off a takeover threat by WMC’s alum-inium joint venture partner Alcoa of the US, which was made late last year.

Mr Morgan believed that, if the aluminium assets had been spun off from WMC’s other mineral assets, it would add shareholder value and price the assets above the $10.20 offer price put forward by Alcoa.

Results hit

HALFWAY through the 2001 full-year reporting season, the figures coming in are, in most cases, matching analysts’ forecasts. Western Mining Corporation has reported an after-tax equity profit of 47 per cent lower than that of 2000. WMC chief executive officer Hugh Morgan said the result reflected heavily depressed commodity prices – in particular 10-year lows for copper – and reduced nickel and alumina production. A fire at Olympic Dam, fertiliser operation commissioning difficulties and asset write-downs by Alcoa World Alumina and Chemicals also influenced to the reduced result.

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