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Subcontinent showdown a threat to all

AS India and Pakistan continued to face off across the line of control in Kashmir, and Pakistan tested a few missiles, the Australian Government was quick to seek assurances and the Opposition at pains to demand more be done. Concern for Australians and Australian interests in the region was not the only motivating factor. Numerous governments and communities throughout the world sought to counsel the neighbouring nuclear powers, as Britain sent its foreign secretary to Islamabad.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant-General Peter Cosgrove, who came to prominence during Australia’s initial operations in East Timor, will be the next head of Australia’s Defence Force, to succeed Admiral Chris Barrie, who is due to retire.

Gold meltdown

THE Australian dollar moved positively as gold reached a 27-month high and Placer Dome grabbed an opportunity to position itself among the top five gold producers.

The Canadian heavyweight put up a $2 billion bid for AurionGold, just months into Aurion’s new existence as the merged Delta Gold and Goldfields merger.

The offer, a 30 per cent premium on AurionGold’s price at the close of trading last week – which sent its stock even higher – was of little surprise to industry watchers.

AurionGold and Placer share Granny Smith on a 40/60 basis and are both in the PNG Porgera mine on a 25/50 footing, but Placer is the operator in each case.

AurionGold also owns the Kanowna Bell mine near Kalgoorlie and has two other regional interests.

South African 9.8 per cent AurionGold shareholder Harmony Gold was quick to say it would accept Placer’s offer.

Perilya comes up trumps

HOT on the heels of deals to ensure its proposed acquisition of Pasminco’s Broken Hill mine, Perilya trumped Revesco this week, making a rival bid for Ranger Minerals. Ranger favours the merger with Perilya – except for director Ian Trahar, who is leading the Revesco bid as its chairman.

Meanwhile, Orbital Engine Corp has cut its board to five, and will reduce its workforce by 20 per cent in moves to reflect a new commercial focus. Gone are former chief executive Kim Schlunke and two other long-serving board members, Alan Castleman and Robin Forbes.

More changes loom

FORMER Andersen Australia partners settled in with former competitors Ernst & Young this week, but this cannot be viewed as an end to change in the taxation consultancy and business advisory scene in WA.

The past two months have been an intense time. While all Andersen Australia partners were united to execute the integration with Ernst & Young, further tremors and change in the wider industry are expected as many digest a new market climate and proposed new standards and regulations in the clamour for greater independence. A new WA consultancy – Keith Jones hanging up his shingle in West Perth this week – is regarded as a sign of the times locally.

Medical indemnity fever lingers

EUTHANASIA was not the only emotive issue this week, as the Australian Medical Association re-elected Kerryn Phelps as its national president for a third term. Australia’s medical professionals remain uncertain of their future in the wake of the UMP collapse. The Federal Government has offered to underwrite any claims against the medical insurer until June 30, but its mail-out appears cold comfort to Australia’s doctors in the absence of legislation.

A claim against a Queensland psychiatrist continues to fuel the uncertainty.

The Federal Government also continued to take flak from the AMA for excising $1 billion from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, as it urged consumers not to demand antibiotics as treatment for colds and flu. Dr Phelps was swift to accuse the Government of using doctors as scapegoats in its attempts to shrink the health budget, challenging it to come up with a “definition of the correct rate of prescribing”.

ALP Telstra paper

THE ALP itself made a splash in the headlines with its so-called “Aunty Jack” proposal to split Telstra’s retail and wholesale arms. (See page 16 for reaction among WA’s Internet community.) Shadow communi-cations minister Lindsay Tanner released a discussion paper on the future of Australia’s largest telecommunications company, in which he canvassed a number of possibilities for its future.

Neither Telstra nor the Government was impressed by Labor’s suggestions, and some members of the ALP’s own union base were concerned the plan could lead to more job losses at the company.

In responding to Mr Tanner’s paper, and also defending Telstra from what he perceives to be attacks from its competitors, Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski said: “It would be easier to divide a spider’s web than (to) separate Telstra’s retail and wholesale intercarrier layers”. Investment house Credit Suisse First Boston said the ALP’s proposal would reduce the value of Telstra shares by one dollar, which translates to $13 billion in total market value.

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