Trans-Tasman roaming charges set to fall

Mobile phone bills are set to fall on both sides of the Tasman after the Australian and New Zealand governments indicated they will honour a deal to crack down on exorbitant roaming charges.

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Former prime minister Julia Gillard announced the trans-Tasman roaming agreement with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key in February, with both leaders warning telcos to slash the sky-high charges faced by millions of travellers between the countries or face greater regulation.

The Australian Labor Party failed to legislate the changes before losing office in September’s election.

While stopping short of fully committing to the deal, newly installed Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull indicated the Australian government will honour the proposals – which include mandatory price caps on calls and data.

“The Minister for Communications is consulting with his colleagues on the proposed arrangements with New Zealand,” Mr Turnbull’s spokesman told AAP.

“While this consultation is still ongoing, the government is viewing the proposed arrangements positively.”

The New Zealand government remains fully committed to the crackdown, which comes as a new report in Australia revealed the “extraordinary” and “confusing” array of roaming charges consumers now face.

“Legislation is being drafted for introduction early next year,” a spokesman for New Zealand Communications Minister Amy Adams told AAP.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) welcomed Mr Turnbull’s apparent willingness to honour the deal and said it would like to see similar crackdowns arranged with other countries.

ACCAN published research showing that Australian consumers face wildly varying roaming charges, ranging from $3.50 for a text message down to 38 cents.

Data costs range from a whopping $51.20/MB down to 50 cents/MB.

ACCAN says buying and using a local SIM card is still the best option for many travellers.

Australia’s largest telco, Telstra, says its charges have fallen since a joint Aussie-Kiwi report into roaming costs was published in February.

Telstra has also introduced new SMS alerts giving customers specific pricing details for each country they roam in and alerts for every 20MB of data they use.

Iran, powers pledge new nuclear talks

Both Washington and Tehran were upbeat after Iran agreed to hold fresh nuclear talks with world powers next month and made a “breakthrough” proposal to allow spot checks on its nuclear sites.

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After the talks deal on Wednesday, Iran said it was hopeful for a “new phase in our relations” with the international community.

The White House said Iran had shown a greater level of “seriousness and substance” than ever before at the two days of talks in Geneva.

Germany was also positive, saying the latest talks had boosted hopes for a diplomatic solution but a wary Russia warned there was “no reason to break into applause”.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters the next meeting would convene in Geneva on November 7 and 8.

She read from what she underlined was an unprecedented joint statement agreed with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and herself as chair of the international negotiating team.

The EU is at the helm of the so-called P5+1 group – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany – which has spent years trying to reach a deal with Iran amid fears that it is developing nuclear weapons.

The Islamic republic vehemently denies that and insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

The statement described this week’s Geneva talks as “substantive and forward-looking”, calling Iran’s plan a “proposed basis for negotiation”.

The talks were the first between all parties’ nuclear negotiators since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, seen as a relative moderate, succeeded conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August.

They ended a six-month freeze over Iran’s refusal to curb uranium enrichment in exchange for easing the international sanctions battering its economy.

Amid signs of a thaw with the international community, Rouhani has pledged transparency on the nuclear program and engagement with major powers to try to remove the sanctions.

“We hope that this a beginning of a new phase in our relations,” Zarif told reporters.

While the details remain under wraps, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said its proposal involved “proportionate and reciprocal steps by both sides”.

He said the proposal had the “capacity to make a breakthrough”.

Iran’s plan contains three steps that could settle the nuclear dispute “within a year”, Araqchi has said, the first achievable “within a month or two, or even less”.

He said that snap inspections of Iran’s atomic facilities were part of the last step.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Iran’s presentation at the talks was “useful”, showing a “level of seriousness and substance that we have not seen before”.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki cautioned however that “a great deal more work that needs to be done”.

But Russian negotiator Sergei Ryabkov was less than upbeat.

“The talks were difficult, sometimes intense, and sometimes unpredictable. One of the reasons is the extremely low level of mutual trust – practically the absence of the required level of trust,” he said.

“There is no reason to break into applause. Things could have worked out better,” he said.

Iran has already drawn red lines, saying it will not accept demands to suspend uranium enrichment or ship stockpiles of purified material abroad.

“We will not back down on our rights,” Zarif said.

Israel’s International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz said Wednesday the country was watching the talks “with hope and with concern”.

“We see the worrying signs and we don’t want Geneva 2013 to turn into Munich 1938,” he said on Israel’s army radio, referring to Britain and France’s failed bid to avert war by agreeing to Nazi Germany’s annexation of swathes of Czechoslovakia.

Israel has not ruled out a military strike to halt Iran’s nuclear drive.

We’ll assess Senate carbon options: Milne

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne has left open the possibility of flicking the government’s carbon tax repeal legislation to a Senate committee, delaying a vote until well into 2014.

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The government will introduce a package of eight bills to parliament in November hoping the Senate will consider them before Christmas.

However, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has acknowledged an unsympathetic upper house may stymie that timetable.

Asked if the Greens and Labor would use their controlling numbers in the Senate to send the bill to a committee, potentially delaying the vote for months, Senator Milne told reporters in Canberra on Thursday: “We’ll look at all the parliamentary options that we have when the legislation is introduced.

“Rest assured, given the opportunity to vote on it we will vote on it and vote against any repeal.”

How the Greens would deal with the parliamentary process depended on “how things come through”.

Both the Greens and Labor have said they will block the repeal of the carbon tax, prompting threats from Mr Abbott of a double-dissolution election.

But Senator Milne said the prime minister would “run a mile” from going to the polls next year.

“I don’t think Tony Abbott will have the courage to face the people,” she said, adding the Greens “absolutely” did not think it was in the national interest to rush to an election.

There has been speculation that Mr Abbott may wait for the half-Senate changeover in July, which will transfer the balance of power to the more like-minded mix of the Palmer United Party bloc and conservative independents.

Long term, short term view keeps All Blacks on top

Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock’s decision to commit to four-year contracts were indications of the New Zealand Rugby Union’s early planning for the arrival of the 2017 Lions, according to the body’s head of player services Chris Lendrum.

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The Canterbury Crusaders duo, whose agreements were announced last weekend, became the second and third players contracted through until the tour after Otago Highlanders utility Ben Smith signed a four-year contract earlier this year.

The trio join 15 other players considered to be likely to be in coach Steve Hansen’s plans for the All Blacks side he hopes will defend the World Cup in England in 2015, while at least 10 others in that bracket are signed through until 2014.

“We have cyclical factors and pinnacle events within that cycle and clearly rugby World Cups are obvious (targets),” Lendrum told Reuters at NZRU headquarters in Wellington.

“We are focused on 2015 but also thinking about who are the players who will be core players who can then take us through to the Lions in 2017.

“We are starting to turn that page now but four to five years in rugby is a lot of seasons.

“The guys in high impact positions, there is a lot of rugby to go through but for the guys like Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock we are confident they can get there.”

The NZRU operates a policy of not picking overseas-based players for the national team, which is seen as a major tool in their battle to retain talent in the country.

Of the players signed through until 2014, focus would now likely turn to securing young forwards Owen Franks, Charlie Faumuina and Luke Romano as well as backs Aaron Smith, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Israel Dagg until 2015 and beyond.

Players like Conrad Smith (32) and Cory Jane (30) however fall into a second category – likely to be in Hansen’s plans for England but with 2017 probably a step too far.

A similar approach was applied prior to the 2011 World Cup, Lendrum said, where short-term the All Blacks aimed to be ‘the best defenders of the Webb Ellis trophy’ in 2012 while longer term, younger players were locked up with an eye on 2015.

“If there was a player we weren’t quite certain about and were important for the first goal for 2012 and then they thought, or we thought, they weren’t going to get through to 2015 then those players were important to the here and now of winning All Blacks games,” Lendrum said.

That decision as to when it might be time for a player to leave New Zealand rugby, he added, was normally driven by the All Blacks management with input from the Super Rugby franchise coaches and the organisation’s talent identification programmes.

“The hard conversations are often delivered by the coaches, (who) are critical. They provide constant feedback on the way the team is performing,” Lendrum said.

“At the end of the day it’s what’s best for (the player) and sometimes for their legacy it is best to let them go so they’re not just flailing around at the end of their career. That’s a horrible, lasting memory to have of a player.

“A lot of times you just know. It might be physical reasons, or just that you look at a player who can see that there are a bunch of young kids coming through.”

Lendrum’s biggest concern at the top end of the market was always money, with French and Japanese clubs providing the biggest challenges to keeping players in New Zealand.

Rival codes like rugby league, and to a lesser extent Australian Rules, were targeting younger development players he said, while rival Super Rugby franchises from Australia were also looking at provincial or age-grade players.

“The focus is on not keeping all players. You can’t,” he added. “You have to keep as many of the right players as you can.

“We can’t compete on money so we want them to look at us and think we provide the best environment, best coaches, best pathway to the All Blacks and say ‘I want to stay here because it can make me the best player I can be’.”

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

CBA unveils tap-and-go smartphone payments

Commonwealth Bank customers may soon be able to ditch their wallets.

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The bank has announced a plan to roll out small stickers which customers can attach to the back of their smartphone and tap on counters and checkouts to make payments under $100.

The stickers, which are about one-third the size of a regular credit card, will be activated and controlled via a revamped online banking app and will work with Android phones and iPhones.

Some Android phones have in-built contactless payment technology, meaning they will not need the sticker, but the bank did not specify which models have the appropriate technology.

The strategy reflects an increasing hunger among Australians for mobile banking and tap-and-go payments, Commonwealth Bank said.

Three years ago, 88 per cent of the bank’s online banking logons were via a desktop computer. Today, 56 per cent log on via a mobile device.

Meanwhile, Commonwealth Bank said contactless payments by their customers have risen six-fold in the last 12 months.

The Thursday unveiling came as retailer Coles announced a trial of 5000 of its own smartphone stickers, which use the same technology.

Contactless payments in Coles stores increased by 70 per cent in the last year, the company said.

A recent report from MasterCard, who helped pioneer the technology, said Australia was among a handful of “nearly cashless” countries.

It said just 14 per cent of the total value of consumer payments in the country are now made using cash.

But Matt Barr, the head of Australasian innovation at MasterCard, told AAP cash still dominated small value payments.

He predicted tap-and-go smartphone technology would “keep Australia at the forefront of the evolution of electronic payments”.

Commonwealth Bank said it will begin rolling out the stickers in the coming months.

Marquez’s world title to lose: Doohan

Only a mechanical mishap or uncharacteristic mistake will stop Marc Marquez from becoming the youngest ever MotoGP world champion at Phillip Island on Sunday, according to five-time title winner Mick Doohan.

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The 20-year-old Spanish rookie only needs to finish eighth or better to clinch the 2013 crown at the Australian Grand Prix, provided Yamaha rival Jorge Lorenzo fairs worse.

Marquez holds a commanding 43-point series lead over countryman Lorenzo, whom he pipped for second place at last Sunday’s Malaysian GP in Sepang.

If he outscores Lorenzo by seven points in Sunday’s race, he will be become the first rider in 35 years to win the championship in his debut season in the top category.

“The championship is his to give up at the moment – although the likelihood of that is very, very remote,” Doohan told AAP on Thursday.

“Marquez really needs to have some sort of mechanical problem or some other mishap for Lorenzo to have any chance going forward from here.

“Marquez has been very, very consistent. If he doesn’t win, he’s generally on the next step of the podium and he only really needs to be in the top three or four to win the championship this weekend.

“He knows he just needs to keep it together. The pressure is really to not do anything too crazy.”

Doohan said he had been blown away by Marquez’ performance this season – posting six wins and 14 podiums in just 15 races – but he also noted his dramatic rise owed something to Australian two-time world champion Casey Stoner’s retirement.

“I’ve seen plenty come and go through the ranks and he’s up there with the best of them, without a shadow of a doubt,” said Doohan.

“But let’s not lose sight of the fact what he’s jumped on to. He’s jumped on to the factory Honda machine which Casey Stoner was on.

“He’s still got to perform but … I think you would’ve seen a different Marquez had he gone into a tier-two team.

“He was pretty much given the magic carpet to ride, he just had to stay on the thing – and he did that superbly.”

Doohan, victorious at Phillip Island in 1998, said Marquez would still have to fend off a very hungry Lorenzo, who has nothing to lose in trying to defend his title at the famed Victorian circuit.

“Without a doubt he (Lorenzo) is going to give it his all,” he said.

“Whether or not that means taking extra risk – I don’t think he needs to. That extra risk is probably more likely to turn into tragedy than victory.

“If he just keeps it together, remains focused on what he’s trying to do and pushes as hard as he can to try to pressure Marquez into making some type of mistake, that’s really the only option he has.”

Newcrest delivers some good news

Embattled Newcrest Mining has given its investors some much-needed good news by beating its own expectations on quarterly gold production and costs.

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However the positive numbers were offset by the news that Australia’s largest gold producer had conceded ground to the tax office and will take a $120 million hit to resolve a dispute.

The 586,573 ounces of gold it produced in the three months to the end of September puts it on target to beat guidance of 2.0 million to 2.3 million ounces, with the miner also predicting a stronger fiscal second half.

The report follows a tumultuous two weeks in which proxy advisers criticised the company’s failures to meet production targets for several years and advised against re-electing some directors at next week’s AGM.

The events culminated in Newcrest announcing departure dates for chief executive Greg Robinson and chairman Don Mercer.

The gold production was 10 per cent above some analysts’ expectations, nine per cent below the previous June quarter as forecast but 27 per cent above a year ago.

The overall cost of producing gold in the quarter of $A1,093 an ounce was below its 2013 financial year average of $1,283.

It sold the gold at an average $1,442 an ounce and said it could afford the price to be below the $1,450 floor it previously said it needed to break even due to cost and operational improvements.

Mr Robinson said all of the company’s gold mines had performed better than expected during the quarter, excluding Hidden Valley in PNG where costs of $1,889 an ounce remained high.

Morningstar analyst Mathew Hodge said it had been a long time since Newcrest had delivered a good quarterly report and both cost cutting and production were positive.

He also praised it for securing a new $US450 million ($A472.47 million) debt facility for providing more liquidity headroom.

Newcrest said it would voluntarily amend some R&D claims made from 2009 to 2011 in relation to its tax office dispute related to 2005 to 2011.

Ian Smith was the company’s chief executive at the time – which included the controversial $9.5 billion takeover of Lihir Gold – and was replaced by Greg Robinson in 2011.

The full year net tax impact will be $70 million, due to some tax losses and comes on top of its standard tax rate.

Newcrest’s share price was four cents down at $10.16 at 1530 AEDT.

Siddle to benefit from McDermott return

Peter Siddle will be the first beneficiary of Craig McDermott’s return to the Test fold, with the fast bowling coach planning to lift Australia’s pace leader back to his inspirational best.

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Siddle was brilliant in the first Ashes Test at Nottingham but, from then on, he appeared to tire as the series went on, with Ryan Harris taking the reins as Australia’s leading wicket-taker.

But newly appointed Test bowling coach McDermott says the attack will need to be firing on all cylinders if they’re to steal the urn back from England this summer, and reinvigorating Siddle is one of the first items on his agenda.

After quitting his post as a national assistant in May last year, McDermott returns in a more specialised role as Test bowling coach, with incumbent Ali de Winter shifted across to oversee Australia’s limited-overs bowlers.

McDermott has just over a month to work his magic before the first Test starts in Brisbane, with the 48-year-old’s goal to get four-to-six quicks, including Siddle, hitting their peak at the same time.

“I would like to get him (Siddle) up just a little bit higher with his consistency,” said McDermott.

“We’ve got to have four-to-six guys bowling well from a fast bowling point of view to bowl in conjunction with our spinners … we’ve got to make sure they’re all firing.

“I’d just like to talk to (Siddle) about a few things I’ve noticed over the last couple of months, and the same with a number of the other bowlers I’ve been watching on TV around the place.”

Siddle took 17 wickets at 31.58 in the Ashes, the fifth best from either team for the series, and he’s still ranked sixth in the world.

However, he took just one wicket in the final two Tests.

Siddle’s rise to premier fast bowler a couple of years ago was heavily influenced by McDermott, and the former Australian tearaway is confident of once again making an impact.

McDermott has also been impressed with the transformation of Mitchell Johnson, and is eager to see how the left-arm quick adjusts to the red ball when he returns from Australia’s one-day tour of India.

With fellow lefty Mitchell Starc, as well as James Pattinson, Pat Cummins and Jackson Bird all injured, Johnson has a big opportunity to re-establish himself in the Test team.

“He’s changed his run up, he’s well balanced … he’s getting through the crease and his arm is higher than what it used to be,” McDermott said.

“He’s bowling anywhere between 145 and 153km/h over the last couple of months … and, if you’re up around those figures and moving the ball a little bit either way, it’s a handful and certainly his bouncer will be a handful as well.

“We’ve got some good young guys in behind the scenes, who have been on some tours of late in Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Coulter-Nile.

“Obviously there’s Ben Hilfenhaus who is back in the fray, fully fit.”

Cricket Australia will have a pool of eight quicks they use for the duration of the series, but McDermott said he won’t be excluding other bowlers who show good form in Sheffield Shield cricket.

McKenzie challenges Wallabies to back up

Coach Ewen McKenzie has challenged the Wallabies team to reproduce the sort of form that spanked Argentina against the All Blacks in Dunedin on Saturday.

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Overcoming the world champions, unbeaten on their home turf in 29 Tests since mid-2009, sounds a near-impossible task for a Wallabies team that has won just three of nine Tests this year.

But McKenzie is having none of that.

“You’ve got to fancy your chances,” McKenzie said on Thursday.

“Hopefully we’ve bottomed out and are now climbing.”

McKenzie stressed the importance of backing up the vastly-improved performance the Wallabies gave in their 54-17 win over Argentina in Rosario two weeks ago – their highest-ever scoreline against the Pumas.

While they’ve already lost the Bledisloe Cup for an 11th straight year, the Wallabies will march out under the roof of Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night wanting to prove they’ve closed the gap after being well beaten in the first two Cup games and also twice by South Africa.

“You need to back up, play consistently and find solutions to win every game, which has been a large focus for us heading into this match,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie has promoted Matt Toomua from the bench to inside centre following an injury to his Brumbies teammate Christian Lealiifano.

Toomua started at five eighth in the first two Bledisloe defeats at the start of the Rugby Championship but will line up outside Quade Cooper, who has reclaimed that role since.

A big question will be whether they can maintain the free-flowing attack Cooper orchestrated in Rosario against stronger opposition in New Zealand – especially with the booing that will echo around the closed in stadium every time he touches the ball.

Having fellow five-eighth Toomua outside of him will ease some of that pressure.

“(Toomua’s) got all the attributes to play (centre), and we’ve already made it quite clear that we’re playing a first and second five-eighth arrangement,” McKenzie said.

“He’ll have a good chance to impose himself in the game in defence and attack.”

Whilst known for his stout defence, Toomua admits he’ll have his hands full against New Zealand centres Ma’a Nonu and Ben Smith.

“They are brilliant runners, and they also bring in (winger Julian) Savea to the attack,” Toomua said.

NSW Waratahs flyer Betham, who was struggling just to earn a Super Rugby contract 12 months ago, will play his first Test following the unavailability of eight other specialist wingers.

NSW skipper Dave Dennis pipped fellow loose forward Liam Gill for the final forwards spot on the bench, while utility back Mike Harris has earned a recall to the bench.

The Test will also be Will Genia’s 50th, just the third Wallabies scrumhalf to reach that milestone behind George Gregan and Nick Farr-Jones.

“It’s obviously very humbling. But to be honest, I’m concentrating on more getting a result,” Genia said.

Wallabies: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Peter Betham, Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen (vc), James Horwill (capt), Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Res: Saia Fainga’a, Benn Robinson, Sepoke Kepu, Sitaleki Timani, Dave Dennis, Nic White, Mike Harris, Bernard Foley.

Oliver in search of fifth Caulfield Cup

Damien Oliver’s Cox Plate hopes were dashed in the stewards room on Wednesday but his chances of Cups success this spring remain alive.

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The top jockey is due to start a careless riding suspension after Saturday’s Caulfield meeting which rules him out of the Cox Plate.

He was to have ridden second favourite Fiorente who he hopes to reunite with in the Melbourne Cup.

But on Saturday, Oliver’s hopes are for a fifth win in the $2.5 million Caulfield Cup (2400m) in which he rides the David Hayes-trained Jet Away.

The import showed he was back on track with a game first-up seventh in the Group One Turnbull Stakes (2000m) after an interrupted preparation.

“Hopefully he can repeat his Turnbull performance and he’ll be right in the race,” Oliver said.

Oliver believes Jet Away’s performance in the Turnbull, in which he was beaten less than two lengths, showed he had not been affected by the setback which forced him to miss a lead-up run in the Underwood Stakes.

Jet Away has firmed from $11 to $9.50 with TAB fixed odds since the barrier draw and Hayes believes the stayer is fit enough to run a big race.

“Daniel Moor rode him on Tuesday morning and said he felt better than he did the week before the Turnbull, so in other words if trackwork and the way he’s feeling is any guide he’s better this week than he was last week,” Hayes said.

Jet Away drew barrier 13 which Hayes said was the owner’s lucky number.

“You never want to draw out but that’s a perfect barrier because you can just get on the back of something, not get knocked down and give him a clear run for the last half mile,” he said.

“And he’ll stay all day.”

The Chris Waller-trained pair of Hawkspur ($4.50) and Royal Descent ($6.50) remain at the head of betting while fellow Sydney trainer Gai Waterhouse won’t discount the chances of her two runners, Julienas and Glencadam Gold.

She rates Julienas as “your long-shot in the Caulfield Cup”.

“He’s flying,” Waterhouse said of The Metropolitan runner-up.

Craig Williams is aiming for his third Caulfield Cup in succession and like last year on Dunaden he will have to plot a winning course from a wide barrier aboard Dandino.

But he believes it can be done.

“I did flinch when draw 19 came up, so it just means he is going to need a lot more luck in the early part of the race,” Williams said.

“But he gives me great confidence going into the race even from the wide draw.”