Month: September 2019

Rebel bikie $20m drug syndicate busted

Brazen Rebels bikies ordered another $10 million worth of speed from the United Kingdom, even though two earlier imports were intercepted.

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The Tasmanian Eastern Shore Chapter were banking on becoming millionaires for a $194,000 outlay.

Drugs imported from overseas come at a cut price to those manufactured in Australia and the bikies tried to circumvent customs by using an international parcel courier and what they thought were untraceable payments.

Little did they know they had been monitored since April by a high-level task force led by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC).

The Rebels’ alleged supplier, from Liverpool in the United Kingdom, sent two packages but were confiscated in Hobart before delivery on June 23 and 24.

The drugs were barely concealed in the packages which weighed two kilograms each and were collectively worth about $10 million.

Undeterred, and in a bid to outsmart customs, the gang then allegedly ordered another two packages to be delivered to Gold Coast members of the chapter who’d relocated to Robina and Benowa in late 2013.

“I think confidence is (the) right (word), but the detections in customs in particular were seen as business as usual,” ACC Queensland manager Carey Stent said.

“They did expect that there would be a cost of doing their business and losing those packages didn’t have an overarching impact on the syndicate.

“It was seen as the cost of doing business.”

A package destined for Queensland was seized on Friday and authorities delivered another to a Carrara caravan park on the Gold Coast on Monday afternoon.

Two alleged Rebels, aged 25 and 28, were arrested, one of whom police will allege organised the delivery.

Three other men were taken into custody in Tasmania, two are alleged bikies.

United Kingdom police in Liverpool arrested a 27-year-old man from Kidderminster.

It will be alleged all drugs delivered to Queensland would be posted to Tasmania, to be distribution through the Rebels criminal network.

“We allege they were going to import a constant of drugs, so we’ve stopped that from occurring,” acting detective superintendent Peter Bodel, from the Australian Federal Police’s national anti-gang squad said.

“We’ve broken the source, the people organising it and the people who were going to traffic down in Tasmania, so I think it was an important success.”

A total of eight kilograms of amphetamines were seized as part of the operation, taking tens of thousands hits of speed off the streets.

The joint investigation was led by the ACC’s Eligo Task Force, which targets serious organised crime, and also involved Australia’s National Anti-Gangs Squad, the financial intelligence organisation Austrac, Australian Federal Police, and Customs authorities.

Since the Eligo Task Force was set up in 2012, it has seized more than $665 million worth of drugs and assets, including $38.5 million in cash.

The five men arrested in Australia were charged under commonwealth law and are facing life in prison.

They were due to face court on Tuesday on drug trafficking, possession and importation charges.

The man arrested in the UK has been released on police bail pending further inquiries.

Carbon tax savings must be passed on: ACCC

What goes up, must come down.

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That’s the message the consumer watchdog is sending to every company that increased prices when the carbon tax was introduced two years ago.

Now the impost is gone, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will check all entities – including airlines, energy companies and local governments – to ensure their prices drop.

Excuses will not be tolerated and ditherers will be aggressively pursued.

“We’re going to be extremely tough,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

“We’re going to adopt a very cynical approach when people give us reasons why they can’t be lowering their prices.”

This puts the watchdog on a collision course with big companies such as Qantas, which claims it absorbed the cost of the carbon tax and has nowhere to move on prices.

Mr Sims is sceptical of this explanation, saying the airline introduced a specific surcharge when the carbon tax took effect in 2012.

Consumers could reasonably expect fares to fall if the surcharge was no longer needed, he said.

Qantas will have to provide evidence justifying why it should not lower fares, and talks between the airline and the ACCC will continue.

The airline is not the only entity in the ACCC’s sights.

About 20 councils signalled their rates would rise with the introduction of the carbon tax.

However, with waste and electricity prices set to drop, Mr Sims said local government rates should fall in line.

“We’ll be knocking on their door to make sure that those rates come down,” he said.

Electricity companies will have 30 days to explain why they think prices will fall.

The ACCC says it will watch this sector very closely, and legislation to repeal the carbon tax gives the agency powers to ensure savings from energy companies are passed on in full.

Electricity retailers have promised to adjust prices quickly and backdate those savings to July 1.

The Abbott government claims the average Australian household can expect to save $550 a year from the repeal of the carbon tax, though some consumer groups have challenged this figure.

Consumers get their groove back

Consumers have got their groove back, having shaken off their woes about the federal government’s planned budget cuts.

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The latest weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan survey shows consumer confidence levels at a seven-month high, rebounding from a slump in April and May sparked by news of spending cuts.

Confidence levels rose 2.4 per cent in the past week, adding to recent gains and giving more weight to the theory that the recent falls were related to temporary shock from the budget.

ANZ chief economist Warren Hogan said confidence levels were now back in line with business confidence.

“Consumer confidence is now back to pre-budget levels and consistent with moderate growth in consumption and economic activity,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The good news is that the headline impact of the budget appears to be temporary and the more enduring features of the economy, such as rising share and house prices, job creation and a stable world economy are now driving consumer attitudes to spending and finances.”

Economists believe that with consumers feeling more confident, retail sales should pick up.

Meanwhile, a separate survey found that business confidence also appeared to be improving, with the number of new company startups rising more than a fifth in the June quarter.

The Dun and Bradstreet survey also found that nearly two thirds of respondents were more positive about the economy than a year ago.

Dun and Bradstreet chief executive Gareth Jones said low borrowing costs were helping improve business confidence.

“Confidence is critical for entrepreneurship and these numbers on business startups indicate there is a building mood of positivity about opportunities in the economy,” he said.

Business failures – those that seek legal relief from creditors or cease operations without paying creditors in full – fell 11 per cent in the June quarter but were up nine per cent for the year.

More than half of the business failures recorded in the June quarter were in the services and the manufacturing sectors.

QBE profit downgrade a ‘one off’

QBE boss John Neal insists the insurer remains on the mend, despite disappointing investors with yet another profit downgrade.

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The insurance giant has been a perpetual disappointment to shareholders in recent years, delivering a string of profit downgrades and weak results that have seen QBE’s share price fall from more than $25 to around $10.

It stayed true to form on Tuesday, flagging a $US87 million profit slide on the back of problems with its Latin American business.

The company expects its net profit to fall by about 18 per cent to $US390 million in its half year results in August.

Investors punished QBE, pushing its shares down more than 11 per cent to a seven-month low of $10.57.

But Mr Neal said the rest of QBE, including the troubled US business, was improving and urged shareholders to see the latest announcement as a one-off.

“I think when people get the chance to see the detail that sits behind the results for the half year they will take confidence that the underlying businesses are doing what we set out to achieve this year,” he told AAP.

But Mr Neal said QBE was facing tough competition, particularly in Australia, which meant insurance premiums are likely to more or less flatline in the next six months, after several years of rises.

“You’re certainly not seeing rates reducing on average but our assessment is that by the end of this year pricing will be flat,” he said

That’s great news for customers but less so for QBE, which has also lowered its guidance for group gross written premium, which is effectively the company’s revenue.

QBE expects gross written premium for the first half to fall by about four per cent to $US8.5 billion in response to competition pressures and changes to the US and European businesses.

Meanwhile, QBE expects its group profit margin to be between seven and eight per cent, which is below the 10 per cent the market had expected.

It has also forecast a combined operating ratio, a measure of the difference between the premiums the company receives and the claims it pays out, of between 96 and 97 per cent – above the 93 per cent that had been expected.

The profit downgrade is the result of a $170 million cash injection into the Latin American business.

The extra cash was needed to strengthen claims reserves and cover costs related to its Argentine workers’ compensation business, and higher-than-expected individual risk and catastrophe claims.

Analysts weren’t buying Mr Neal’s assertions about the underlying strength of the business, with 100 Doors managing partner Peter Esho rating QBE as a firm “sell”, given the lack of stability in its earnings and poor recent track record.

“At the end of the day its the track record that earns trust and the track record is not there,” he said.

“It’s not what they say its what they do and what they have been doing is downgrading consistently.”

Nat Fyfe not moping over Brownlow hurt

Nat Fyfe appears set to suffer the pain of watching a Brownlow medal slip through his fingers this year, but the star midfielder won’t care one bit as long as Fremantle take home the ultimate prize – an AFL flag.

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Gary Ablett’s season-ending shoulder injury has thrown the Brownlow medal race wide open, with Sydney’s Josh Kennedy, Collingwood’s Scott Pendlebury, Geelong’s Joel Selwood, and Port Adelaide’s Travis Boak among the contenders.

Fyfe would have been the outright favourite had he not been suspended in round two for a shoulder-to-shoulder bump that resulted in an accidental clash of heads with Gold Coast’s Michael Rischitelli.

Most AFL experts felt Fyfe was unlucky to be banned, with some calling on the AFL to review its policy of ruling suspended players out of the Brownlow race.

Only two players in VFL/AFL history have been robbed of the Brownlow medal due to suspension.

North Melbourne’s Corey McKernan was ineligible to win despite tying with Brisbane’s Michael Voss and Essendon’s James Hird in 1996,

One year later, Bulldogs star Chris Grant topped the voting but had to step aside for St Kilda’s Robert Harvey.

Fyfe has been in the hottest of form this season, averaging 27 possessions and a goal per game.

But individual glory isn’t on the mind of the 22-year-old, who would much rather guide Fremantle to a maiden premiership.

“That incident happened all of the way back in round two – it is what it is,” Fyfe said of his controversial suspension.

“There are only a couple (of players) who have topped the poll and been ineligible, but there are other prizes I have on my mind.

“The biggest challenge I usually have is keeping my body together and getting through the year. So touch wood, I am going pretty well in that area and been able to stack some consistent footy (together).

“But the crunch time starts now.”

Fremantle slipped to fourth spot on the table following their shock 58-point loss against St Kilda a fortnight ago.

Dockers players had the bye week to “stew” over that inept performance, and Fyfe is confident they’ll rebound strongly in Thursday night’s clash with Carlton at Patersons Stadium.

Fremantle will welcome back ruckman Aaron Sandilands (back), midfielder Stephen Hill (leg) and goalsneak Hayden Ballantyne (suspension), while Garrick Ibbotson, Hayden Crozier and Tom Sheridan are also in line for recalls.

“I’m sure the guys who feel they’re on the edge are certainly aware of the pressure that’s coming from underneath, which is really healthy,” Fyfe said.