Judith Whelan appointed editor of the Sydney Morning Herald as masthead achieves record readership

Judith Whelan has been appointed editor of The Sydney Morning Herald as part of a wide-ranging editorial restructure on the eve of the masthead’s 185th birthday.

Ms Whelan’s appointment was confirmed as the Herald achieved a record 1.2 million lead over its nearest rival as the most widely read publication in Australia.

The Herald grew its total monthly audience by 9 per cent to 5.3 million according to the latest Enhanced Media Metrics Australia report. The figures, which record readership across print publications and web devices, push the Herald further ahead of The Daily Telegraph, which saw its total audience decline 4.3 per cent to 4.2 million.

The Herald’s editor-in-chief, Darren Goodsir, said Ms Whelan was the clear choice for the editor’s role. She would oversee the implementation of the restructure, aimed at strengthening the Herald’s significant advances in digital journalism.

Ms Whelan is currently the Herald’s news director, where she leads all editorial operations.

However, as editor, her role will expand to take on an added digital focus, on top of extra responsibility for the masthead’s direction and its audience goals.

“Judith is an inspirational and driven newsroom leader who understands implicitly the Herald’s core mission to provide quality, independent and original journalism to an increasingly digital audience,” Mr Goodsir said. “I am thrilled with this appointment”.

A former editor of Good Weekend magazine, Ms Whelan has edited the Saturday edition as well as being a features editor, and a health and transport reporter.  Next month, the Herald will celebrate 185 years in newspaper publishing.

During the past 12 months, the Herald grew its web audience by 17.3 per cent to 3.5 million, while driving mobile and tablet 16.3 per cent higher to 1.4 million. Its print audience slipped 8.6 per cent to 2.1 million over the same period.

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Green slip insurance shake-up on the cards for UberX drivers

CTP: Authorities want to create a level playing field in NSW. Photo: Fairfax Victor Dominello: “It is important that CTP rules and prices … better reflect the changing dynamics of this sector.” Photo: Orlando Chiodo

Drivers using their cars for ride-sharing services such as UberX could be forced to declare it to authorities and be charged higher insurance premiums under options being considered to regulate the emerging industry.

Having legalised services such as UberX and Lyft, the NSW government is set to shake up the compulsory third party (CTP) insurance scheme to create a level playing field with taxis and hire cars.

Minister for Better Regulation Victor Dominello will on Thursday unveil six options being considered.

They include: creating a new CTP class for ride-share vehicles; bringing them into the same class as taxis and hire cars; and deregulating the area to allow insurers to determine premiums based on risk.

The options paper says it could be a challenge to enforce disclosure by ride-share vehicles if they were brought into a new class. Deregulation could deter operators from working in high-risk areas or at high-risk times of the day, it says.

Also under consideration is bringing all taxis, hire cars and ride-share vehicles into the same basic passenger vehicle class.

Taxis pay about $7000 a year for CTP insurance, compared with $600-$700 for private passenger vehicles.

The paper says this option would bring a big reduction in taxi premiums – and potentially lower fares – but an annual premium increase of “at least” $18 for private cars in metropolitan Sydney.

The government will also look at imposing a new levy on all point-to-point vehicles based on the risks associated with the time of day and where the car is hired, to fund extra insurer costs.

It will also contemplate not changing vehicle classes but allowing insurers more flexibility to set premiums based on risk.

Common to the options is that owners of ride-share cars would for the first time have to declare the vehicles are being used for that purpose at the point of registration or insurance application.

Mr Dominello told Fairfax Media the review would “clarify the CTP price and regulatory disparities that currently exist between taxis, hire cars and ride-share services”.

“It is important that CTP rules and prices are fair and better reflect the changing dynamics of this sector.”

NSW Taxi Council chief executive Roy Wakelin-King welcomed the review.

“We would be looking to a solution that has point-to-point vehicles in the same class and incentives for operators to perform better by reducing risk of accident and thus attract a better premium as a consequence,” he said.

An Uber spokeswoman said the company looked forward to seeing the detail but it was “important to remember that the primary use of these vehicles is still for personal use”.

“Recognising the different ways people use ride sharing to earn a flexible income will be key as we move through these discussions,” she said.

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DEXUS and ICPF slug it out over Investa Office

Deutsche Bank Place is one of the towers owned by Investa Office Fund. Photo: Michele Mossop The battle for control of the Investa Office Fund has intensified with the independent directors and experts endorsing the $2.5 billion DEXUS​ offer, while the current manager has rejected the valuations contained in the offer documents.

The two-pronged situation for IOF unitholders of accepting the DEXUS offer or staying with Investa Commercial Property Fund, as the current manager, was further muddied with suggestions that rival Mirvac is working on a counter-offer with at least two parties, including the Chinese Investment Corporation.

IOF unitholders will vote on the DEXUS proposal on Friday, April 8, in Sydney. Morgan Stanley has a direct stake of 8.9 per cent and it is still unclear if it can vote on the deal.

The speculation of a new bid had IOF units rise yesterday 12¢ to $4.11, and DEXUS rose 0.8¢ to $7.76.

After a long year since Morgan Stanley kicked off the sale of the Investa platform, the listed IOF released its 344-page explanatory memorandum on Tuesday, in which its independent board committee unanimously recommended the cash-and-scrip DEXUS offer.

Peter Rowe, an IOF independent director, said the process to sell IOF has been “thorough and exhausting and the DEXUS offer was considered in the best interests of IOF unitholders”.

“Since this all started, we have had one thing on our minds, which is to get the best outcome for IOF unitholders,” Mr Rowe said.

The proposed DEXUS deal was also given the tick of approval from KPMG, the independent experts to IOF. “KPMG Corporate Finance has concluded the DEXUS proposal is fair and reasonable to, and in best interests of, IOF unitholders in the absence of a superior proposal,” the report says.

Rival DEXUS launched a $0.8229 cash and 0.424 DEXUS securities per IOF unit offer for the listed Investa Office in late December as the third tranche in the sale of the whole Investa platform by Morgan Stanley.

The other parts of the Morgan Stanley sale saw the Chinese Investment Corp pay $2.5 billion for the portfolio of IOF buildings, Proprium Capital Partners bought Investa Land for $340 million, while the unlisted ICPF is now the manager of IOF.

If successful, the merged DEXUS-IOF entity will create a $24 billion office-focused real estate investment trust that will dwarf its peers.

DEXUS will increase its share of the national office market to about 7.4 per cent from 2.6 per cent in 2009, or about $17.5 billion, and will own assets such as Deutsche Bank Place at 126 Philip Street, Sydney, and 567 Collins Street, Melbourne.

In Sydney it would command about 11 per cent of the premium-grade office skyscrapers.

ICPF chief executive Jonathan Callaghan said: “We have reviewed the EM outlining the Dexus Proposal”.

“It reaffirms our view that the Dexus proposal is not compelling and undervalues IOF, with minimal premium for control. In the coming days Investa will present a choice for IOF unitholders to consider ahead of the vote on 8 April that will support a strong case for unitholders to vote ‘no’ to the Dexus proposal,” Mr Callaghan said.

According to the offer documents, the DEXUS proposal delivers IOF unitholders annualised 2016 funds from operations earnings accretion of 17.5 per cent per IOF unit as well as significant diversification and scale benefits, and exposure to additional revenue streams with enhanced growth opportunities within the DEXUS business.

But institutional investors, some of whom have been lukewarm on the DEXUS deal, have disputed this, saying that in the independent expert report it states because the DEXUS share price was influenced by the security buyback program, which was suspended on December 7 last year before the offer was proposed, “our valuation analysis has focused on post-announcement market prices of DEXUS securities”.

The investors said that based on this statement, the premium to net tangible assets was a negative 0.2 per cent.

In response to the document release,  DEXUS chief executive Darren Steinberg said it was an attractive transaction for DEXUS security holders and a “compelling proposition for IOF unitholders, both financially and strategically”.

“It brings together two complementary portfolios and provides the opportunity for IOF unitholders to participate in the immediate benefits associated with an investment in DEXUS,” Mr Steinberg said.

“In addition to ownership of a quality Australian property portfolio, IOF unitholders will benefit from our established third-party funds management and trading businesses.

“The merger also enables IOF to achieve an internalised management structure, benefiting from an experienced and stable team with a proven track record and established, efficient systems and processes.”

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APA lashes out at tougher controls as gas supply gap looms

ACCC chief Rod Sims plans to closely monitor the pipeline industry. Photo: Michele MossopPipeline major APA has roundly rejected criticism from the competition watchdog it is wielding undue market power, as it emerged the collapse in the oil price has slashed exploration activity with a warning of a possible lack of gas supplies in less than three years.

Additional gas reserves will need to be developed by 2019 to “maintain long-term gas supply adequacy” in eastern and south-eastern Australia, the managing director of the Australian Energy Markets Operator, Matt Zema, warned.

“This means that currently undeveloped gas reserves, including those reported as contingent resources and possible reserves, will be required to ‘come online’ to meet forecast demand as early as 2019.”

The slump in the oil price has resulted in a collapse in oil and gas exploration, according to a survey by EnergyQuest, while the start-up of gas export projects in Queensland could lead to a “supply gap” of about 80 petajoules of gas in 2020, rising to about 170 petajoules by 2025. Australia’s annual gas demand is near 700 petajoules.

On Wednesday, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission head Rod Sims warned the concentration of power in the gas pipeline industry may be adversely affecting gas supplies, foreshadowing tighter regulation of gas pipeline operations.

“We’re big, there’s no question about that,” APA boss Mick McCormack said in response to criticism from the ACCC. “No claim of market power has ever been made against us. The claim of market power is a very serious matter.

“I run a commercial enterprise There is no profit for me in not selling capacity” in APA pipelines.

“The test here isn’t whether the price should be lower, but whether the price is ‘fair and reasonable’ and how it was arrived at.”

But Mr Sims said the lack of competition means “this is a market where market power can be exercised and where the potential impact of monopoly pricing can be significant.”

The ACCC estimates APA controls 50 per cent of the industry. Regulation of natural monopolies such as pipelines is accepted in other areas of the economy and in many other countries “even in the most free-market-supportive ones like the United States”, Mr Sims said.

“To argue regulation is the panacea is ridiculous,” Mr McCormack said. “We structure our tariffs on a commercial basis.”

After the industry has spent $30 billion developing a national gas grid for the past two decades, “the proposal the ACCC seems to be putting is to recommend regulation”.

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Dominant dingoes keep their bite despite cross-breeding

A 3D skull reconstructed from a CT scan superimposed on an image of a dingo. Photo: Karen Black/modified by Will Parr/UNSW Can you tell the difference? The pink skull is the dingo, the purple skull is the hybrid and the green skull is the wild dog breed. Photo: UNSW

Dingoes keep the distinctive shape of their heads despite crossbreeding and this is good news for native ecosystems and animal diversity.

That’s a conclusion drawn from a new study published today in Evolutionary Biology.

Led by Will Parr at the University of NSW, the study concludes that the dingo skull shape is dominant compared with imported species.

Dr Parr told Fairfax Media that “the dingo has a morphological dominance and likely that’s there because of an underlying genetic dominance”.

Further, the study shows the hybrid offspring of dingoes and imported dogs quickly revert to “dingo cranial morphology”.

In other words, the dingo keeps its bite even as it breeds with imports.

This is probably good news for native species and ecosystems, Dr Parr said.

One of Dr Parr’s co-authors, Associate Professor Mike Letnic, also of UNSW, said: “What dingoes do in the wild is they help to keep numbers of foxes, feral cats and kangaroos down. That has benefits for smaller native mammals in the ecosystem such as bandicoots, bilbies and native rodents.”

By keeping their distinctive head shapes while interbreeding, they are more likely to do this successfully, maintaining their distinctive ecological role as primary predator.

Dr Parr said: “If crossbreeding had affected the shape of the dingo skull, it would have changed what it could eat and this would have knock-on effects for other species.”

He said imported species have recessive structural traits. “This is the result of selective breeding to maintain breed standards,” he said.

Just as well for the dingo and other species such as the bilby and bandicoot.

“Cranial morphology has evolved to suit [the dingo] environment. So if you crossbreed it with domesticated dogs with very different shapes, you could change the shape of the dingo’s skull, and therefore change what it is able to eat,” Dr Parr said.

“This could in turn change its ecological role and how it affects the environment around it.”

By having a dominant skull shape, the impact of crossbreeding on the food chain is minimised.

Dr Letnic’s early study on the ecological role of the dingo in 2013 won a Eureka Prize for science.

At the time of that study his co-author, Euan Ritchie of Deakin University, wrote: “Our research shows that dingoes are key elements in the struggle to reduce damage caused by foxes, feral cats and even kangaroos.

“Ecosystems with dingoes have better vegetation and more diverse and abundant populations of small native mammals. In fact, a good dose of our native dog can sustain biodiversity and help land managers control invasive species.”

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