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Issues of the Week

ANSETT planes returned to the sky as Australians prepared to settle in for a weekend of football grand finals. However, Ansett Mk II, as it is now being called, limited its first services to Sydney to Melbourne flights. The new incarnation of what was once Australia’s second major domestic airline is now a no-frills service. Ticket sales were slow and resulted in the cancellation of some late-night flights. It is expected Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane will be added to the “new” carrier’s schedules next week. The airline has been able to begin flying again thanks to Federal Government assistance. The common thought appears to be that there is a better chance of selling the airline if it has planes in the air.

CHANNEL 7 gave Australian rules football an emotional send-off. Its coverage rights of Australian Football League games ended with last Saturday’s AFL Grand Final. In the lead up to, and immediately following, the game, football fans were subjected to highlights package after highlights package, including those from the West Coast Eagles’ grand final wins. That’s right, we had a side that was competitive once. For the next four years the AFL will be telecast by channels 9 and 10 on free-to-air television and on Pay TV through Foxtel.

AND in deference to the AFL and National Rugby League Grand Finals, Australian Prime Minister John Howard put off his trip to Government House to call a Federal Election. Probably just as well, given the current Governor General Dr Peter Hollingworth is number one ticket holder for the Brisbane Lions. Mr Howard said it would be “sacrilege” to announce an election on the weekend of the AFL and NRL Grand Finals. Most commentators are now predicting a November 10 election. They believe Mr Howard will go to the polls sooner rather than later, given his high rankings in recent opinion polls.

TIMBER-FOCUSED tax scheme promoters welcomed a change of heart by the Federal Government, which will provide a tax deduction for a 12-month prepayment. The beleaguered industry has taken a battering during the past 18 months.

AUSTRALIAN winemaker BRL Hardy, together with its US joint venture partner Constellation Brands, has paid $140 million for the wine business of Californian-based Blackstone. Blackstone has annual sales of more than 500,000 cases. It had sales growth of 45 per cent in the six months to June 30 and ongoing sales growth is predicted to be between 15 per cent and 25 per cent a year. The US market has been a target for Australian wine makers because it is thought to have ample room for growth.

BRL Hardy and Constellation Brands Inc have each put in half the cost of the purchase. The Australian/US split of assets and case sales for the joint venture, Pacific Wine Partners, is now also 50/50 and represents the express strategic aim of the joint venture. BRL Hardy chief executive officer Stephen Millar was particularly pleased the new buy was less than 12 times earnings before interest and tax. Investors also seemed pleased.

MORE smiles, this time from WA non-bank financial institution United Credit Union, which announced a net profit after tax of $2.056 million for the year to June 30 2001. The surplus, built on the back of a loan funding increase of 20 per cent for the year – with loans outstanding reaching a record $275 million – represented an increase of almost 13 per cent on last year’s profit and complemented a 14 per cent rise in assets and an 8 per cent rise in capital and reserves. United has 12 offices covering the Perth metropolitan area, the Pilbara and the Goldfields.

ESPERANCE graingrowers were also pleased when the weekend’s wet weather was sufficient to boost optimism they will see a yield from this year’s crops.

NEW power arrangements for the Kimberley region are once again under debate after the State Government said an agreement reached late last year between Western Power, Energy Equity and Woodside Energy had “collapsed”. The State Government has resurrected its West Kimberley tidal power proposition, which was in opposition to the original deal brokered by the previous government to deliver power via four LNG-fired power stations. Acting Premier and Energy Minister Eric Ripper announced he had requested “a clear financial commitment” from the Common-wealth Government.

Wearing his treasurer’s hat, Mr Ripper also released final financial year results for the State, including a general operating surplus of $221.6 million, and announced further concessions to the proposed premium land tax. Those deemed “asset rich-income poor” now also will be able to defer paying the tax until their property is sold or transferred.

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