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Zimbabwe election sparks concern

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held over the weekend at Coolum QLD focused the spotlight on Zimbabwe’s election to be held next week.

A portion of countries attending the meeting, including Australia, raised concerns over the running of the election and some countries called for sanctions against Zimbabwe and suspension from the Commonwealth.

CHOGM has agreed to review the issue after Zimbabwe’s election on March 9 and 10. A three-person committee is made up of the two Zimbabwe supporters, the Presidents of Nigeria and South Africa, and by Australia’s PM.

While John Howard deflected questions about Zimbabwe during his chairing of the meeting, his Foreign Minister spelled out Australia’s apprehension.

Alexander Downer said that Zimbabwe had been in breach of the Harare principles and that Zimbabwe should have been suspended from the Commonwealth.

Pakistan is currently suspended from the Commonwealth, since the military took over the country last year. New Zealand has declared it will not support a bid for readmission.

Other topics discussed over the weekend included the events of September 11. The Commonwealth issued a declaration to expel any nation aiding, supporting, instigating, financing, or harbouring terrorists. CHOGM has received criticism of being somewhat archaic, but a report from the Commonwealth Secretariat about how to modernise CHOGM was not available.

Unhealthy business

HEALTH insurance policy holders are feeling a little bitter after the Federal Government allowed insurers to hike up their rates. They argue they were forced into private health by the 30 per cent rebate the Government was offering and now they will have to pay more for it. From April Fool’s Day, health insurance premiums will rise an average 7 per cent. WA’s dominant fund HBF is lifting its premiums by 18 per cent.

Anaconda goes to New York

Anaconda Nickel Limited chief executive Peter Johnston and chief financial officer Paul Chapman will be continuing their hard work this month, not reviewing and restructuring company operations at home, but seeking assistance in New York.

Mr Johnston’s and Mr Chapman’s most pressing task is now to persuade 50 US bondholders to help prevent Anaconda from defaulting on a September US$15.9 million interest payment.

Anaconda is able to fund day-to-day operations at its Murrin Murrin nickel cobalt project, but needs to replenish its debt service reserve account for the amount of the September payment within 30 days of making an interest payment this month. The US$75 million principal is due in 2005.

Football hopes

THE WA Football Commission is hoping for a better performance both on and off the field from the West Coast Eagles and the Fremantle Dockers after posting a $1.1 million loss.

The commission revealed it was budgeting for a further $471,000 loss in 2002, despite cutting back severely on funding and development of local football. Last year, the Dockers incurred a $1.7 million loss and the Eagles’ contribution to WAFC coffers fell about $750,000 to $2.4 million.

However, WA football fans are hopeful that the on-field performance of their two teams will improve. Both clubs have proved worthy competitors in the Wizard pre-season competition – finishing second in both of their round robin groups. The Dockers capped their pre-season campaign with an impressive 33-point win over last year’s premiership runner-up Essendon, while the Eagles fell just short of a semi finals berth with their 14-point win over Geelong.

Goon gone

THE last living Goon, Spike Milligan, has died aged 83. He outlived his Goon counterparts Peter Sellers, Michael Bentine and Harry Secombe. Milligan was lauded as the father of absurdist comedy. The Goon Show paved the way for future comedy acts such as Monty Python.

Milligan was granted an honorary knighthood by Prince Charles – even though he once branded the Queen’s eldest son “a grovelling little bastard”. He was also a self-proclaimed total environmentalist who rallied tirelessly against whaling, battery hens and nuclear power.

Mixed reaction

Two of WA’s leading stars, BankWest and Sons of Gwalia, announced strong profit results last week, but received different react-ions from shareholders. The record $34.5 million profit for gold miner Sons of Gwalia was met with disdain by shareholders, which immediately wiped off 60 cents to close down at $7.35.

BankWest shareholders facing a 23.5 per cent increase in profits, based on an operating 10-month profit after tax of 4140.4 million, were less brutal, pegging the share price, which is hovering around 12 month highs, back just one cent to $4.45.

BankWest MD Terry Budge, with only positive news to spout, said the growth came on the back of strong mortgage lending, growth in retail deposits and improved efficiency.

The continued unveiling of the bank’s Neighbourhood Banks network was also proving a winner, he said.

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