Confidence lacking sustained strength

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reckons his long-awaited national energy plan is a “game changer” that will see household power bills cut by up to an average $115 a year.

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Whether the prospect of a cut of just two dollars a week between 2020 and 2030 will be enough to provide a sustained lift in consumer confidence seems unlikely.

The issue of rising energy costs has been a constant niggle among Australians for some time.

But Treasurer Scott Morrison is confident the government’s new national energy guarantee will give Australians what they are asking for.

“Reliable energy at a lower cost that keeps our environmental obligations,” he told parliament.

The latest ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index – calculated before the government’s energy package was announced on Tuesday – dropped 1.2 per cent in the past week to its lowest level in level in just over a month.

The index provides a pointer to future household spending.

ANZ head of Australian economic David Plank said the index had ebbed and flowed around its long-run average for some months.

“There is no doubt that current household conditions remain stretched due to high debt levels and slow wage growth,” he said.

One hurdle to confidence in the immediate future will be Thursday’s labour force figures, which Mr Plank believes risks being a weak result after the sustained strength of recent months.

“Negative media headlines may dampen consumer sentiment somewhat,” he said.

However, the Reserve Bank is confident of above-average employment growth over the remainder of 2017 based on job advertisements, vacancies and hiring intentions data.

The minutes of the central bank’s October 3 board meeting say the prospective strength in employment growth was expected to support household spending in the period ahead.

“Although slow growth in real wages and high levels of household debt were likely to be constraining influences,” the minutes say.

Wage growth was expected to increase gradually as spare capacity in the labour market diminished and in turn expected to contribute to a gradual rise in inflation over time.

However, the appreciation of the Australian dollar since mid-2017, partly reflecting a lower US dollar, was expected to contribute to ongoing subdued price pressures.

“A material further appreciation of the exchange rate would be expected to result in a slower pick-up in economic activity and inflation than currently forecast,” the minutes warn.

Commonwealth Bank economist Gareth Aird said the tone of the minutes suggest a rise in the official cash rate is still some way off.

“We continue to see the RBA on hold until well into 2018 despite the ongoing improvement in the labour market,” he said.

Gravitational waves: Australian scientists first to confirm radio signals from two colliding stars

A scientist at the University of Sydney used an advanced CSIRO telescope to confirm radio signals were emitted from the collision of two neutron stars, providing crucial evidence for a global scientific announcement in the field of gravitational waves.

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An international team of scientists and astronomers announced they discovered ripples in time and space, known as gravitational waves, on August 17. 

The waves were caused by two neutron stars colliding in a galaxy 130 million light-years from Earth, according to the researchers. 

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Following the initial discovery, international teams scrambled to find light, X-ray and radio signals from the same event. 

Visual confirmation came 11 hours after the event and was detected by a number of groups around the world. X-ray emissions were found nine days later. 

Then the Australian team at the University of Sydney, led by Associate Professor Tara Murphy, confirmed the first radio signals after 15 days. 

0:00 The neutron collision timeline explained Share The neutron collision timeline explained

Ms Murphy said she was in the United States with her colleague David Kaplan when they saw the gravitational wave discovery announced on a private email list. 

“We immediately rang our team in Australia and told them to get onto the CSIRO telescope as soon as possible, then started planning our observations,” she said. 

“We were lucky in a sense in that it was perfect timing but you have to be at the top of your game to play in this space. It is intense, time-critical science.”

The combined results were published on Tuesday in the journal Science, in a paper co-authored by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Oxford University. 

Scientists around the world are continuing their research into the event. Sydney University said the discovery would usher in a “second epoch in gravitational waves discovery”. 

Gravitational waves were discovered in 2015, confirming a prediction developed by Albert Einstein in 1916. The discovery was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics this year. 

ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Waves (OzGrav) director Professor Matthew Bailes said the discovery of a clearly located wave event was significant. 

“Never before have we seen where in the Universe gravitational waves came from; the subsequent avalanche of science was virtually unparalleled in modern astrophysics,” Mr Bailes said.  

The discovery is also the first recorded instance of two neutron stars colliding. Neutron stars are the densest stars in the Universe, with a radius of about 10 kilometres, according to information from the Australian National University. 

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Wilkinson feels ‘great’ after Nine decision

Less than 24 hours after her shock departure from Nine’s Today show, Lisa Wilkinson says she’s feeling “great”.

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The 57-year-old stunned the media industry on Monday night with news she had quit Nine after 10 years co-hosting its high-profile breakfast show and would be joining Network Ten’s The Project next year.

“My phone has gone into complete meltdown, but I’m going off to see my mum,” Wilkinson told The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday as she left her home in Sydney’s north.

“She’s very worried and I’m just going to go and let her know I’m okay, in fact I’m more than okay, I’m great.”

Wilkinson reportedly walked away from Nine following a breakdown in pay negotiations after the station declined to match her salary to Today co-host Karl Stefanovic’s.

She declined to comment on speculation her decision was driven by the discrepancy between her $1.1 million annual pay packet compared to the estimated $2 million Stefanovic takes home each year for his combined roles on Today, 60 Minutes and Nine news.

Nine reportedly had offered Wilkinson $1.8 million to stay.

Wilkinson said she was proud of her work.

“I feel very privileged with all the opportunities I’ve been afforded over the years,” she said.

Earlier on Tuesday Stefanovic paid tribute to Wilkinson, telling viewers she’d handled a decade’s worth of brutal 3.30am starts with grace, intelligence and “a wicked sense of humour”.

“It is safe to say we are all a little shocked and it will take time to sink in. So for now, this: Thank you,” he said.

“Mostly you go with my love, lots of love, all my love. We will see you soon, maybe after midday. Enjoy the sleep.”

Don’t worry, I won’t be joining @TheTodayShow. If they can’t afford Lisa, then they sure as hell can’t afford me.

— Lee Lin Chin (@LeeLinChinSBS) October 16, 2017

Today news presenter Sylvia Jeffreys, long-time music guru Richard Wilkins, sports presenter Tim Gilbert and Wilkinson’s last-minute fill-in Deb Knight joined in.

“It is a start of a brilliant and exciting new chapter and I will be cheering her on as I always do as she takes on this next challenge,” an emotional Jeffreys said.

“Seeing is believing for young girls and for young women and what they see in Lisa is a strong, influential, fun and compassionate woman at the very, very top of her game and that is a very powerful thing.”

Nine was disappointed Wilkinson didn’t sign another contract and said it would now take the Today show “in another direction”.

Meanwhile, Wilkinson’s husband Peter FitzSimons told reporters his wife had enjoyed “the best sleep-in she’s had in 10 years”.

Her decision also attracted praise from several of high-profile media colleagues, including 730 host Leigh Sales, author Nikki Gemmell, and former ABC boss Mark Scott.

In a cheeky tweet, veteran SBS presenter Lee Lin Chin joked about her chances of being poached by Nine.

“Don’t worry, I won’t be joining the Today show. If they can’t afford Lisa, then they sure as hell can’t afford me,” Chin said.

Myer appoints ex-Bulgari MD to board

Myer says it is refreshing its board by appointing an experienced retail manager who already oversees its struggling sass & bide brand.

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Former managing director of Bulgari in the UK and in Australia, Julie Ann Morrison, will join the board as a non-executive director as part of a leadership overhaul in response to complaints from major shareholder Solomon Lew about the group’s lack of progress in lifting profit and sales.

Ms Morrison has been involved with trying to turn sass & bide’s fortunes around since February, 2016.

Sass & bide’s sluggish sales weighed heavily on Myer during the 2017 financial year and led to a $38.8 million writedown in the brand’s value.

Chairman-elect Garry Hounsell said Ms Morrison has extensive retail industry experience.

“The board believes that as a result of her wide experience in fashion and retail Julie Ann is well placed to make a valuable contribution,” Mr Hounsell said in a statement to the ASX on Tuesday.

Ms Morrison was the managing director of Bulgari in the UK during 2012 to 2014 and MD of Bulgari in Australia during 2007 to 2014.

She is also the former managing director of FJB Australia, which held distribution rights for Gucci and Guess in Australia.

Myer said her appointment to the board was part of its “renewal process” that started with the announcement on October 11 that Paul McClintock will step down as chairman at the company’s annual general meeting in November.

He will be replaced by Mr Hounsell, a former Qantas director.

Solomon Lew’s Premier Investments owns an almost 11 per cent stake in Myer and has been agitating for change in recent months after the department store chain unveiled a significant fall in annual profit.

Myer’s statutory net profit dropped 80 per cent to $11.94 million during the year to July 29, due to sliding sales and writedowns in the group’s stake in Topshop and in sass & bide.

Ms Morrison was appointed as a non-executive director of the Myer subsidiary operating sass & bide in February, 2016.

In July this year, she became non-executive chair of the subsidiary when it changed to include oversight of Myer’s recently acquired Marcs and David Lawrence brands.

Ms Morrison is also currently an advisory board member and consultant to fashion designer Carla Zampatti.

Premier Investment, which on Monday called on Myer to reveal its first quarter sales at its upcoming strategy day so investors can determine any progress in improving sales, declined to comment on the board changes.

Asthmatics relying too much on puffers for quick relief: study

Thousands of Australians with asthma are relying too much on reliever puffers as a quick fix for their wheezing, putting themselves at risk of having a major attack and needing hospital treatment.

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A survey of more than 2600 people aged over 16 with asthma found 39 per cent only used reliever puffers to treat their symptoms instead of taking regular preventer medication.

The study, led by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and published recently in the journal BMJ Open, also found a quarter of those who only used a reliever puffer ended up needing urgent medical treatment after suffering a dangerous flare-up.

The findings have sparked warnings for people with asthma to check with their GPs about whether they need to take preventative medication, and for doctors and pharmacists to better explain the benefits of those treatments.

The study’s lead author Professor Helen Reddel said national guidelines suggest that anyone over five years old who experiences asthma symptoms twice a month or more, as well as those at risk of asthma flare-ups, should use a preventer puffer every day even if they have no symptoms.

“It doesn’t have to be a high dose, it can be just a very low dose of a preventer, and what that does is reduce their risk of having a flare-up or even dying of asthma, and also reduces symptoms,” Prof Reddel told AAP.

Australia has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world, with about one in nine people affected.

About 400 Australians die from asthma each year, and while most are older patients the majority of the deaths among young people would likely have been preventable.

The Woolcock study found that those most likely to only use reliever medication were young men.

Nearly a quarter of them had needed urgent medical treatment in the past year, and nearly three quarters had symptoms consistent with poorly-controlled asthma.

Asthma Australia chief executive Michele Goldman said with so many different medications available it was up doctors, pharmacists and her organisation to better explain their roles in treating asthma and preventing flare-ups.

“People are using reliever medications and getting instantaneous relief, so that’s very tempting versus taking a preventer as well,” she said

“But it’s a bandaid solution because relievers don’t address the underlying inflammation in the airways so you are going to continue having symptoms and needing a reliever and ultimately putting yourself at risk.”

Prof Reddel said part of the problem was based on the “bad PR image” preventer puffers had because they are a corticosteroid-based treatment.

Many people, she said, confused the corticosteroids in preventers with the steroids used by some athletes and which can cause dangerous side effects.

“In most people if they take a low dose inhaled corticosteroid regularly and take it correctly the potential side effects are absolutely minimal and certainly less than the risk of having a flare-up,” Prof Reddel said.