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Newly discovered director dissolves into sparkling sea

Jean Epstein.LAUNCHING his career in Paris in the 1920s, Jean Epstein approached the new art of cinema from a position of rare intellectual freedom. Few filmmakers have worked so fruitfully in the zone where fictional narrative meets the avant-garde, and few have shown such wholehearted enthusiasm for using the camera to transform our vision of the world.
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It has taken a while for English-language film culture to discover Epstein. A retrospective at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival gives an indication of what we have been missing.

Epstein is a ''flashy'' filmmaker, in a literal sense. He is attracted to elemental forms of movement - whatever sparkles, flows, or drifts like smoke. He loves reflections, veils, superimpositions, close-ups, blurred focus, and anything involving rivers or the sea.

His favourite device is the slow dissolve, especially when dissolving between the rippling surface of water and the face of a character in thought.

Often developing his visual ideas through conventional melodramatic stories, Epstein rarely delves into psychology as commonly understood.

Instead, he invites us to relish the faces, bodies and gestures of his performers: one sequence of The Beauty from Nivernais (1923) is devoted to a small boy doing a giddy dance, with little relevance to the plot.

There's a playfully eerie side to Epstein's work, linked to a use of slow motion that puts human activity and the inanimate on equal footing.

In his 1928 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of The House of Usher, candle flames and curtains acquire wills of their own, while hands and faces move as clouds.

Covering a fraction of Epstein's output, the retrospective concentrates on his 1920s silent films. Still, the new documentary Jean Epstein, Young Oceans Of Cinema covers his later, quasi-ethnographic shorts and features.

In the 1947 short Le tempestaire the obvious camera tricks have mostly gone: what remains is a spare yet intricate game with a handful of elements of image and sound. The rhythmic flashing of a lighthouse lamp is set against the whistle of the wind, the roar of the waves, and a plaintive melody sung by a fisherman's bride-to-be as she awaits her lover's return to land.

Asked why he so often depicted the sea, Epstein said it was out of a fear that ''obliges us to do what we are afraid to do''. That might be a clue to the true nature of this mysterious filmmaker, whose works seem lucid almost to the point of abstraction, yet deeply personal in their mingled ecstasy and fright.

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Regulator takes tougher stance with telcos

The communications regulator is warning of "more investigations [and] more court cases" against telcos that breach new customer service rules starting in four weeks.
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The new rules will stop telcos using the word "cap" and force them to offer clear pricing information, usage alerts and better complaint handling services. It also set up Communications Compliance - an industry funded body that will monitor breaches.

General manager of content, consumer and citizen at the Australian Communications and Media Authority, Jennifer McNeill, said it will have little patience for telcos that flaunt the new Telecommunications Consumer Protection code.

The ACMA previously used a gentle 'engage and educate' method to help telcos comply, but this attitude would be replaced with a tougher stance, she said.

"You will see more investigations, more directions and more court cases," she told a room full of telco industry representatives at a briefing.

"We expect immediate compliance with the obligations that have been substantially carried over from the old code."

Ms McNeill said the ACMA would no longer tolerate "good natured incompetence" as an excuse for breaches and would also ask telcos to substantiate any unbelievable service offers. Staff had been shifted around within the ACMA to bulk up its ability to enforce compliance, she added.

When the code starts on September 1, it will be the first time all Australian telcos are bound by a customer service code enforceable through fines of up to $250,000. The old code was voluntary and impossible to enforce.

The industry body that drafted the code, Communications Alliance, is conducting briefings and training sessions around the country to help companies prepare for the changes.

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Nufarm to settle class action for $43.5 million

A group of Nufarm shareholders, super funds and banks, who launched two class actions over the company’s alleged failure to disclose company weaknesses three years ago, are expected to share $43.5 million as part of a proposed settlement.
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In a statement released this morning, the law firms Maurice Blackburn and Slater & Gordon said an in-principle settlement had been reached with the agricultural supplies company after a mediation which was held yesterday.

The deal is subject to certain conditions, which at this stage have not been disclosed publicly. The deal must secure the approval of the Federal Court.

The class actions claimants accused Nufarm of failing the tell the stock exchange how worsening conditions in the market for herbicide glyphosate had affected its business and therefore its profitability and debt position.

Nufarm had denied the allegations.

The company’s chaiman, Donald McGauchie, said the board had considered the likely risks and potential costs of pursuing a defence at trial as well as the distraction it might cause to management.

“We are pleased to put this behind us and have the company fully focused on continuing to improve the operating performance of the business,” Mr McGauchie said.

In a statement to the stock exchange, Nufarm said the proposed settlement, which covers investors who bought shares between September 2009 to August 2010, encompasses claims made by the plaintiffs, accrued interest, the sums that will be paid to litigation funders for each of the class actions plus legal costs.

The class actions had been rolled into a single case and were due to be heard next year before Justice John Middleton in the Federal Court.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Jason Geisker said the proposed settlement “represents a very positive and expeditious outcome for shareholders”.

Slater & Gordon’s Ben Phi said participants in the case included retail and institutional funds, individual shareholders and banks. Clients would be told about the deal in the next few weeks.

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Ten banking on Olympics defectors to boost Breakfast ratings

Struggling ... Breakfast.The Ten Network's hopes of a last-ditch ratings revival for its ailing breakfast show are riding on the possibility that Nine viewers might sample and defect to it while Today is off air during the Olympics, according to sources within the number-three network.
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A cut in Breakfast's budget of around $2 million is also being made to the show, which was the brainchild of Ten's chairman Lachlan Murdoch.

At $7 million Breakfast's budget is already half that of competitors Sunrise and Today and the dwindling support will inevitably be read as a sign of a lack of confidence in the show by senior management.

Ten sources say that senior executives believe that Today's absence from TV sets during the Olympics is the best - some say last - chance the network has of lifting its figures, which have dipped to an average audience of just 38,000 - roughly a tenth of Sunrise or Today's audience.

If there is not a lift the clock is ticking for the program, say the sources.

Ten denies the program is for the chop.

A spokesman said: "We remain committed to Breakfast and the strategy of providing our viewers with news coverage from breakfast to bedtime, something no other commercial free to air TV network offers. There is, of course, a lot of talk about Breakfast, the vast majority of which is completely ill-informed. Breakfast's ratings are not what we want them to be, but clearly we are not abandoning the program."

There is now speculation within Ten's Sydney headquarters that if the show is axed then Breakfast's anchor host, the Kiwi shock jock Paul Henry, will be used across its light entertainment shows rather than pay him out of his three-year contract, which Mr Henry crowed was at least $1 million.

"Why would you spend $7 million producing a show that no one wants to watch in order to save his [Paul Henry's] $330,000 a year salary. It just doesn't make sense," said one person familiar with the plan.

On Monday Ten announced the show would be tweaked with a new set, a stronger news focus and new newsreaders in Matt Doran and Natarsha Belling. The announcement came as it announced it was axing its mid-morning show The Circle to keep costs down.

From Monday Breakfast will run a half hour shorter from 6am to 8.30am.

Ever since its launch in February Breakfast - which replaced a mix of news and cartoons that brought in just $3 million - had failed to attract audiences above 50,000.

Contrast this with Nine's Today and Seven's Sunrise which attract an average audience of between 350,000 and 370,000 in the key 7am to 9am prime time slot and that the average viewing audiences for breakfast television is actually growing.

And with up to $130 million in advertising and sponsorship up for grabs, breakfast is a lucrative market but one that to dale has eluded Ten. Ten executives insist Breakfast is making more money than the mix of news and cartoons that preceded it.

A Ten spokesman said it did not discuss budgets and that the speculation about Mr Henry's future was "rubbish".

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Genesis fitness fined for pumping up carbon tax claims

A fitness gym has become the first company to be fined for making false claims about the impact of the carbon tax.
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Genesis Fitness Club Berwick, in Melbourne, has paid an infringement notice of $6600 relating to claims made about the cost of membership fees, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has confirmed.

Genesis has gyms all around Australia and describes itself as "one of Australia's premier fitness organisations".

In April, the Berwick club sent a letter to more than 2100 members promoting a "rate freeze". The letter offered a range of contract extensions at current or reduced rates, suggesting that by taking up this offer, members could avoid a fee increase of 9-15 per cent due to the carbon price.

It is understood that more than 200 people took up the offer and extended their gym contracts.

Today, ACCC chairman Rod Sims said that the ACCC believed GFC Berwick did not have a reasonable basis for their carbon tax claim.

"We are concerned that the false claims about the carbon price may have encouraged these people to sign lengthy contract extensions they otherwise would not have."

Mr Sims said that businesses were free to set their prices as they saw fit, but said carbon tax claims needed to be truthful and "have a reasonable basis".

The company that manages the GFC franchise network has already written to affected members and offered to break their contract extensions at no cost.

Last month, the parent company of the Brumby's Bakery franchise apologised for "foolish and ill-considered" advice that encouraged bakeries to put up prices and "let the carbon tax take the blame".

The consumer watchdog looked into Brumby's about potentially misleading claims about the tax – but then accepted a court-enforceable undertaking from Retail Food Group, owner of Brumby's, that it would not engage in similar conduct in the future.

If the ACCC finds there has been wrongdoing, it can issue warning letters, infringement notices of $6600, or take court action with fines up to $1.1 million.

Before it was implemented on July 1, the government warned businesses not to make misleading claims about the carbon tax.

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Love and eight: women’s rowing drama continues

THE EXCLUSION of reserve rower Emma McCarthy from the competition’s  headquarters outside London has emerged as another bone of contention for the Australian women’s eight on the eve of its Olympic final on Thursday.
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As the eight’s impressive fast-tracked campaign to the London Games reaches its climax, the women’s underlying resentment with rowing officialdom has been publicly put to one side but crew remains disenchanted that five male reserves have been accredited in the rowing village with McCarthy left out.

The 25-year-old Bundaberg rower is rooming in a bed and breakfast near the course at Eton Dorney with the team’s boatman, a physiotherapist and two soft tissue therapists. She cannot train on the water with the Australian team nor enter the athletes area at the course. When the Olympic regatta is completed on Saturday the rest of the team will prepare to move to the Games village in London but McCarthy will be expected to fly home or fund her own accomodation.

Rowing’s section manager Ray Ebert conceded McCarthy was ‘‘very disappointed’’ when she learned at the Games training camp in Italy that she had been excluded from the team. ‘‘It’s a terrible numbers game,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s about prioritising how crews are going to go and where the biggest risk of injuries are and those lay with the lightweight men and the other male crews.

‘‘It was a decision taken after meetings with all the coaches and the chief executive. The unlucky sixth person was Emma. We have been bringing her down to the house where the rowers meet up for some training sessions and we’ve got her tickets in the grandstand every day. To put it in perspective the Germans also have five alternates but they have nine reserves living outside the village.’’

The 2012 Games mark the first Olympics where ‘alternates’ have been granted village accreditation on a pro rata basis. The Australian rowing team had prepared for four reserves places but gained an extra accreditation for a reserve when the eight qualified in Lucerne. That the place was given to a fifth male has angered some members of the crew and its supporters.

Ebert conceded he had had a number of ‘‘lengthy discussions’’ with McCarthy’s father Bruce.

‘‘He wasn’t happy about his daughter’s circumstances and we spoke about it three nights ago and again last night,’’ Ebert said. ‘‘I think he’s more comfortable with the situation now.’’

Ebert said he remained hopeful the squad would not need to call upon any reserves.The only official women reserves in the team are already rowing with Sally Kehoe and Pheobe Stanley from the women’s eight selected as stand-ins for the sweep and scull events respectively. In that event McCarthy, primarily a bowside oarswoman, would be called up into the eight.

‘‘It’s unfortunate for Emma,’’ conceded Rowing Australia boss Andrew Dee.  ‘‘But you have to have athletes who can cover off several positions. So she doesn’t have any accreditation and she’s just on call if there’s an injury. It’s very cutthroat.’’

On the Rowing Australia official website McCarthy lists her career highlight as winning selection into the Australian eight squad for the London games.

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Property prices post surprise gain

Property prices unexpectedly rose in the June quarter despite buyers receiving conflicting signals about the outlook for the property market.
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House prices rose 0.5 per cent in the June quarter, following an upwardly revised 0.1 per cent drop in the March quarter, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said. Economists polled by Bloomberg tipped a 0.5 per cent fall.

Over the year to June, house prices fell 2.1 per cent, after an upwardly revised 3.5 per cent fall in the year to March, the ABS said. The drop was the fifth consecutive quarterly fall on a year-on-year basis in the ABS series which began in 2003.

Analysts had forecast a 4.2 per cent drop in the year to June.

Values on residential property have drifted lower through much of the year, as consumers show caution about borrowing for properties and the outlook for the economy remains unclear.

The Reserve Bank, responding to a broader slowdown in the domestic sector, has cut rates four times since November, helping to buoy prices in June and July, according to RP Data figures released today.

ANZ property economist David Cannington said the June-quarter data was stronger than expected but it did not suggest a recovery in house prices.

"It's still too early to call a turnaround in house prices because of the weak sentiment and weak sales activity in the market," said Mr Cannington.

The property market continues to be dogged by poor confidence, said Mr Cannington, with the European debt crisis and uncertainty about the health of the global economy likely to continue to weigh on market sentiment in the near-term.

The 75 basis points in RBA rate cuts in May and June should help prices in the September quarter, said Mr Cannington.

‘‘But on their own I don’t think the rate cuts are enough to trigger a turnaround in house prices given the weakness of sentiment.’’

Sydney house prices increased 1.4 per cent in the quarter, while Melbourne prices slipped 0.4 per cent, the ABS said.

Brisbane house prices edged up 0.1 per cent and Perth's increased 0.6 per cent. Canberra's fell 1.3 per cent, outpacing Hobart's 0.4 per cent drop in that time.

House prices in Adelaide rose 0.5 per cent, the ABS said.

Westpac senior economist Matthew Hassan said the surprising strength in the index may have been driven by the end of first-home buyers’ incentives in New South Wales and Victoria.

‘‘I suspect that’s having an impact in some way on how the measures are picking up activity,’’ he said.

Mr Hassan said the ABS data and earlier figures from RP Data showed the market may stabilising.

RP Data-Rismark's capital city home price index rose 0.6 per cent in July, after a 1 per cent rise in June.

‘‘With rates where they are at the moment, it should be enough to stabilise the market,’’ said Mr Hassan. ‘‘I don’t know if it will be enough to generate an upturn,’’ he said.

Market sentiment remains quite fragile and susceptible to shocks from offshore, which could trigger the need for more rate cuts, he said.Source: BusinessDay

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Transgender prisoner fails to get lower jail term

A woman jailed for at least 14 years for the execution-style shooting of her grandfather has failed in her attempt to have her sentence reduced on the grounds that her transgender status made prison more onerous.
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Ben Richard Clark has been known as Stephanie Elizabeth Clark since September last year, resulting in her being placed in protective custody in jail.

Clark sought leave to appeal against her conviction and sentence in the Court of Criminal Appeal. In a judgment handed down today, both applications were dismissed.

In August 2007, Clark was convicted and sentenced to a maximum 20 years' jail after pleading guilty to the murder of her grandfather, Ernest Richard "Dick" Clark two and a half years earlier.

Her father Michael Rex Clark was also convicted of murder after a jury trial.

During the sentencing hearing, Clark said she shot her grandfather in the head at his Bexley home in anger after suffering physical, verbal and sexual abuse as a teenager.

The Crown alleged she was motivated by money, and committed the crime to enable her and her father to inherit their share of her grandfather's estate.

The three appeal judges found the sentencing judge made no error in deciding the sentence and the sentence did not need to be redetermined.

Because the court was not resentencing Clark, the transgender issue would not be taken into account, as Clark became known as a woman long after she was originally sentenced.

The court heard evidence of how transgender inmates are managed in jail, including being placed on a non-association order for protection. As well as increasing isolation, protective custody reduces access to services, programs, employment and educational facilities, the court heard.

In appealing against her conviction, Clark claimed there had been a breakdown in communications between her and her legal team in deciding to enter a plea of guilty to murder.

Rather than pleading guilty to murder, she could have gone to trial seeking a verdict of manslaughter on the partial defence of provocation, she said.

Her legal team had advised her that provocation was unlikely to be successful and her allegations surrounding her grandfather's abuse could be used to mitigate her sentence.

The appeal judges found no miscarriage of justice arose from her plea of guilty to murder. There was no realistic basis upon which provocation could be raised, they said.

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Suncorp’s NZ quake tab keeps growing

Weeks after Suncorp completed its reinsurance renewal program for the next 12 months, speculation out of London is that the general insurer will have to add as much as $400 million to a reinsurance claim for the second New Zealand earthquake.
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The rumours first appeared in the online insurance bible, Insurance Insider yesterday and were confirmed by a well-placed reinsurance broker in London overnight. They effectively lift Suncorp's claim to $2.6 billion from a previous $2.2 billion for that second Christchurch temblor.

While the increased cost will not make a big dent on Suncorp, it begs the question why are its claims still increasing in New Zealand. The rest of the market has been largely static and rivals haven't moved their reserves for 12 months.

The upshot is while the cost will be borne 100 per cent by Suncorp's reinsurers, it might have a long-term impact on their negotiations, with some suggestions that reinsurers might decide to load Suncorp with an added cost for any potential unknown factors.

It is not hard to understand why given Suncorp made a similar discovery last year when it completed its reinsurance renewals and then 12 days later revealed that the loss was worse than expected by $400 million. The reinsurers were not impressed.

This time around, it is believed that Suncorp handled the process differently by giving prospective reinsurers the heads up that the second New Zealand earthquake claim would be higher than previously expected.

Cover reduced

Suncorp recently announced it had reduced its top-layer reinsurance cover by $500 million after entering a "quota sharing" arrangement to reduce its exposure in flood-prone Queensland.

Under the arrangement, Suncorp will hand over 30 per cent of the home insurance premiums it collects in Queensland to a third-party insurer owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. The billionaire's company has agreed to cover 30 per cent of Suncorp's claims and handling expenses.

According to Insurance Insider, Berkshire Hathaway's intervention in Suncorp's July renewal transformed the reinsurance renewal process.

It said Berkshire's deals “sucked $1.5 billion of event limit out of the open market, taking the heat out of a renewal that was initially expected to be both difficult and expensive.”

Sources said that the placement had resulted in a program-wide rate rise of 20 per cent, which is well below initial estimates of as much as 50 per cent.

Berkshire Hathaway role

Berkshire Hathaway intervened in the renewal in a number of ways.

Firstly, it agreed a multi-year deal to write a 30 per cent quota share of Suncorp's loss-hit Queensland homeowners' book, with London underwriting sources putting the annual premium at roughly $300 million.

The overall reinsurance season worked out well for general insurers, after so many calamities hit the insurance industry in 2010-11 - including earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, floods in Queensland, storms in Victoria and eight big tornadoes in the US.

This year has been relatively benign but any insurers with exposure to crop programs in the US will be exposed given so much of midwest is in the grip of the region's worst droughtsince the Great Depression.

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Riewoldt’s knee treatment a success

A medical treatment on his troublesome knee that's designed for osteo-arthritis is helping St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt find his best form in years.
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Ahead of their clash with Collingwood at the MCG on Saturday night, the in-form 29-year-old bristled when asked if he was starting to feel like the Riewoldt of old.

"I'm still the good side of the 30, so I'm not sure how well that sits with me," he said.

Riewoldt revealed that he has undergone therapy called Orthokine, devised by German doctor Peter Wehling, which has also proved a great success with US basketballer Kobe Bryant and baseballer Alex Rodriguez.

It involves injecting proteins from the patient's own blood back into the joint.

"We've managed it really well this year. We've tried a few different things over the last couple of months medically so we'll continue to do those and hopefully it will be problem free for the rest of the season," said the All-Australian forward.

"I'm sure there's a few players in the competition that are doing it and it's given me a bit of a lift in the second half of the year.

"I don't think I've had some of the highs I've had in the past but I haven't had too many quiet games so hopefully I can keep that consistency going."

He said that he was now able to train more than he had in recent years, which was key to his revival, particularly in the second halves of games.

"It plays such a big part, if you're able to get out Monday to Friday and have a run around you're able to stay pretty fit and you go into a game with a level of confidence.

"If you haven't trained during the week and you do that for two or three months on end it can have a hit on your confidence."

St Kilda had a crushing 76-point win over the Western Bulldogs last round to remain in touch with the top eight, in 10th position.

Riewoldt said he felt it was a good time to meet the fourth-placed Magpies because a win could be a springboard into the finals.

"This time of year if you want to be contending you've got to be beating or at least being competitive against those sorts of sides," he said.

"Clearly it's a big challenge, Collingwood are a great team but so are we at times."

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