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The party’s over: HSU’s Mr Millions quits and cancels drinks

The invite, the bar, and the party host.It has been a busy week of cancellations for the man once known as Mr Millions. Michael Williamson has formally resigned as national president of the troubled Health Services Union. He handed in his notice via a text message to the union's acting president Chris Brown on Monday.
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Also cancelled is Mr Williamson's huge "Thank You" drinks party, which his family was throwing for him.

Invitees from across the country received an email from Mr Williamson's wife Julie and daughter Alexandra this morning notifying them that, due to "unforseen family reasons", the celebratory drinks had to be cancelled.

The Williamsons had sent out invitations last week to their vast network of friends, political figures, Labor stalwarts and union mates asking them to the "Thank You" party to be held at The Verandah Bar, in Elizabeth Street, on August 10.

One senior Labor politician who was invited expressed disbelief that the Williamsons were throwing themselves a party.

Apart from wondering who was paying for it, he said: "No one in their right mind would want to be seen associating themselves with Michael Williamson in the present climate."

The email sent out today said, "I am writing to advice [sic] you all that unfortunately that due to unforeseen family reasons, we will have to postpone the Thank You drinks that were scheduled for Friday week at 5.30pm.

"This is disappointing to us but family pressures must come first. We will be in touch in the near future with a new date.

"We look forward to having a drink with you all then and we hope this hasn't caused any inconvenience to those who would be travelling long distances to attend.

"Warm regards

"Julie and Alexandra Williamson.

Alexandra Williamson last week resigned from her position as a media officer on Prime Minister Julia Gillard's staff.

Earlier in the week, Ms Gillard had expressed dismay at the disclosures in the Temby report, which revealed that her staffer's family had received millions of dollars from the union, whose members are among the most poorly paid in the country.

The Temby report, an internal investigation into the union's finances and governance, was conducted by prominent QC Ian Temby and accountant Dennis Robertson, after the Herald last September reported on systemic corruption within the union.

Apart from revealing Mr Williamson's salary of $400,000 (plus $150,000 from union-related board positions), the report also noted companies associated with Mr Williamson and his family received more than $5 million from the union in the past few years alone.

Mention was also made of Mrs Williamson's company Canme (named after her children Christopher, Alexandra, Nicholas, Madeline and Elizabeth) which was paid almost $400,000 for Mrs Williamson to do the union's "archiving" work at home.

Like her husband, Mrs Williamson declined to be interviewed by Mr Temby and Mr Robertson. However, she did send a letter to Mr Temby in March this year.

Mrs Williamson wrote that the HSU did not have the resources to do the work and that her husband had asked her if she would mind doing it. "He also indicated it was not a pleasant job, but the Union Council wanted the job done."

She explained the task required going through archive boxes "removing staples, paper clips, bulldogs clips etc ... The task was slow, extremely boring and very time consuming.

"To suggest as you have I only worked 37.5 hours a week is completely wrong, it would be closer to 60 hours per week," Mrs Williamson wrote. "I can assure you on many occasions I felt I should have been charging $200 ph, as the work was downright disgustingly filthy."

However, family friends of the Williamsons have told the Herald that they never saw Mrs Williamson doing any such work, nor in all the years they have known her has she ever made reference to this task.

The union's acting president Chris Brown has expressed relief that Mr Williamson has quit and indicated he would have been forced to resign if he had not gone voluntarily. "I am pleased he has resigned, now we can get on with rebuilding the union," he said.

Mr Williamson and other union officials had previously lost their jobs when the union's troubled east branch was placed into administration last month. The branch, which consists of Victorian, ACT and NSW branches, will be demerged.

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We need stand-alone Origin: Bellamy

Craig Bellamy remembers the bitter disappointment he felt when Ryan Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hoffman were not chosen for New South Wales in this year's State of Origin. He hopes a day will never come when he would instead be hoping his players were overlooked.
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But that day could come for many clubs, with Bellamy claiming that fans — frustrated at seeing their teams suffer slumps in form during and after the Origin series — are already thinking that way.

While he said Origin was the pinnacle of rugby league and players were still desperate to play, there could come a time when players begin to miss Origin games with "mystery" injuries, if clubs believed it was in their better interests to keep their players from taking part in the series.

"If it's going to affect clubs especially going into semi-final series, like it has the last couple of years, then it could go down that path," Bellamy said.

"I hope it doesn't and I hope the [Australian Rugby League] Commission does something about it."

Bellamy has been a long-time advocate of playing Origin games as a stand-alone competition rather than having representative players back up for NRL games the following weekend.

The Storm have lost six of its past seven games including the past five in a row, but Bellamy does not blame all his club's woes on the physical toll of this year's Origin series.

However, he said fans' frustrations struck home after he met some Manly fans after the Storm's most recent win, in round 15 at Brookvale.

"Everyone knows what I think and I've said my piece for four or five years. It needs to be a stand-alone competition," Bellamy said.

"The last thing we need is people out there, supporters and people in clubs, not wanting their players picked in Origin because that's the pinnacle of our game so we want our supporters, we want our sponsors, we need everyone at the club, fellow players, coaches really wanting players to play Origin," he said.

"I've talked to fans, and not only Storm fans but fans of other clubs, who are hoping that their players are not in Origin and we don't want to go down that track, so I think they should look at that schedule very [seriously] and very soon and try and sought something out."

"I was coming down to breakfast after the [Manly] game the next morning and there were a couple of people [who] had Manly jumpers on and they were saying to me they would prefer that Manly players didn't get picked in Origin in the future because it affects their team.

"I had never thought of it like that ... I was very disappointed this year when Ryan Hoffman and Ryan Hinchcliffe missed out on the NSW teams and I'd hate to be sitting in my chair in two or three years time hoping that my players don't get picked for Origin."

Meanwhile, Bellamy today said he would keep faith with the Storm's established players, who led the team to nine wins in a row at the start of the season, despite the team's drastic form slump.

While he warned that chances were running out for some of the struggling players, it was not an easy choice to blood younger players who may not be fully ready for the challenge of NRL.

"I suppose we can make a whole heap of changes if we want to ... but these players have done a wonderful job early in the year and we've given them some chances to find that again and slowly but surely that time is running out but we'd like to think we'd find some consistency in the things we need to do," Bellamy said.

"I suppose there is a little bit of a loyalty factor ... I don't want to be throwing some young blokes in who are not ready for it. That's not going to help us but it's certainly not going to help that young guy either."

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Woolworths…The Movie?

Bridging the age gap ... retailers need to be able to appeal to all generations.Some retailers resonate so well with multiple generations of shoppers that they can appeal to grandmas and at the same time have musicals made in the their honour by high school performing arts groups.
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Other retailers can be successful with one generation but connect so poorly with the next that they are sliding into irrelevance.  What’s the secret to being in the first group and not the second?  The fate of all retailers ultimately hangs on the answer, including Australia’s department stores, discount department stores and scores of brands that were important to Gen X and baby boomers.

One of the commonalities that consumer experts believe they know about Millenials is that they are readier than any prior consumer group to reward and reject companies on the basis of their social and environmental values.

And you can’t just cook up a corporate marketing spiel about your solid values, insert it in your marketing collateral and then forget about it.  You need to mean it and you need to deliver on it.  False pretence will be punished harder than anything.

Wegmans, a family-owned supermarket chain with about 80 stores in the northeastern US generating more than $6 billion in annual sales, may be among the best examples of how companies can prosper if they “get” this.

Few retail chains in history can boast such a multi-generational cult following.  Alec Baldwin told David Letterman on the Late Show that his mum refused to move from Rochester, New York, to another city because the new city didn’t have a Wegmans.  And when the newest Wegmans store opened in Columbia, Maryland, on a recent Sunday, more than 2,000 people were waiting in line to get in by opening time at 7am. Three women in their fifties near the front of the queue were attending their sixth Wegmans opening.

At the same time the supermarket chain is so hip among Millenials that a high school drama group in Massachusetts has produced a musical celebrating the company.  It's called "Wegmans. . .The Musical."

Wegmans employs 42,000 people and has never had layoffs. All profits are reinvested or shared with employees.  But getting hired there is a highly competitive process because so many people want to work there and staff screening is exhaustive.  So is after-hire training.  For example, cashiers have 40 hours of compulsory training before they are permitted to have any contact with customers.

Part of Wegmans’ appeal to the emerging generation of shoppers is that it delivers on a corporate philosophy which, in its simplest terms, says a company can only be truly customer-focused if it is genuinely employee-focused.  Employees drive the brand by driving the customer experience.  They will only be willing and able to do that if they are happy and well-trained.

Many retailers do not understand this, confusing service with the hiring of a few or a few hundred more warm bodies.  This is a recipe for declining relevance.

The failure to remain relevant with a new generation is referred to as the "Oldsmobile effect."  It was named for the once hugely successful but ultimately ill-fated American motor car, which went out of production in 2004 after more than a century.  The phrase means that the children of people who drive Oldsmobiles do not want to drive Oldsmobiles.  More broadly, it means that each generation liberates itself from the last by buying different brands, shopping at different retailers, preferring different shopping formats and practicing different shopping habits.

As a result, retailers that were successful with one generation face a battle for relevance with the next.

In Australia, the Oldsmobile effect is evidenced by lackluster sales growth, store closures and slow technology adoption  among mainstream retailers.  E-commerce pure plays and international fast fashion brands entering the Australian market arouse excitement in the social media forums; the staples of Australian shopping centres do not.  When Costco announces a new store opening or even a site acquisition it creates a buzz; a new Coles or Woolworths opening doesn’t register.

Operators like Wegmans do not exist yet in Big Retail in Australia.  However, as retailers increasingly wonder how they will connect with the next generation, the Wegmans model is worth studying.

Who knows, one day we might see “Woolworths. . .The Movie” on Youtube.

Michael Baker is principal of Baker Consulting and can be reached at [email protected]南京夜网 and www.mbaker-retail南京夜网.

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Brutal comedy hits international jackpot

Jo Nesbo'sJackpot is black comedy about a supervisor and former inmates who succumb to greed and brutality after a syndicate win.A FILM'S director has the majority of creative power, but that control doesn't always translate to a public profile. In the case of a new Norwegian movie, writer-director Magnus Martens might have penned the script and filmed the material, but it's the author who gets credit for Jo Nesbo's Jackpot.
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Martens' black comedy is about a group of former prison inmates, and their supervisor, who succumb to murderous greed when their betting syndicate wins about 1.8 million Norwegian kroner ($2.83 million) - and begins to shed members. Released in Norway last December as Arme Riddere, it was retitled Jackpot for international film festivals this year, and is now Jo Nesbo's Jackpot for tomorrow's Australian release.

"I'm perfectly happy with that," says 39-year-old Martens. "If it hadn't been for Jo Nesbo, the film wouldn't have happened, to be brutally honest. He's got a very familiar name that can help get financing and then people into cinemas."

Aside from Stephen King, few authors get their names attached to adaptations of their work, but Nesbo has garnered strong sales over the past few years. His crime novels have sold more than 9 million copies worldwide, but he has rarely granted screen rights to his works, and held onto his signature character, flawed Oslo police detective Harry Hole, until Martin Scorsese agreed to direct the screen version of his 2007 novel The Snowman.

"I'm happy to set things up for Martin Scorsese," jokes Martens, who took on Jackpot after spending a decade concentrating on television and commercials following his first feature, 2003's United. Another stand-alone Nesbo novel Headhunters, was adapted and released this year, earning more than $600,000 at the Australian box-office, an impressive amount for a Norwegian-language release.

Martens says the author was hardly dictatorial. "His comments were always suggestions," Martens says, and over the writing process he kept the premise but reworked the plot and introduced a new structure. The film opens in the aftermath of a strip club shootout where the lone survivor is Oscar (Kyrre Hellum), a factory supervisor and sole syndicate member without a history of incarceration.

As Oscar recounts the course of events, which play out in flashback, to an idiosyncratic police detective named Solor (Henrik Mestad), Jackpot reveals a mordant sense of humour. Each time the protagonists try to improve their share of the take they worsen their situation, which acquires an avalanche-like momentum as body parts and poor alibis accumulate.

"It's the kind of film where a lot of comedy comes from the characters and their problems, and how people react after they make a wrong decision," Martens explains.

''There's a lot of comedy in trying to fix something that doesn't really have a solution.''

When the picture screened outside Scandinavia, Martens was fearful that cultural specifics wouldn't be clear to international audiences. But in retrospect, he concedes, there was little to worry about. "Translation and subtitling is really difficult to get right - it's an artform in itself," Martens says, "but now it appears that audiences abroad really enjoy the film and understand it. There's something universal about it."

Part of that narrative ease stems from the film's cinematic lineage.

"You have a generation of European filmmakers who are born and bred with American movies and their genres, and now we're adding to them," says Martens. "The Americans really like the film because the genre is very familiar to them, but at the same time there's a polite craziness on top of that which is Norwegian."

Jo Nesbo's Jackpot opens on Thursday at Cinema Nova, Sun Theatre, Palace Como, and Palace Brighton Bay.

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Genworth posts profit but payouts still bite

Genworth Financial has swung back into profit in Australia, but the mortgage insurer continues to be pressured by a high level of payouts.
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US-based Genworth shelved the partial stockmarket listing of its Australian arm earlier this year after a surge in payouts against soured Australian mortgages pulled the insurer into a loss during the March quarter.

But latest accounts lodged by its US parent show Genworth's Australian arm returned a profit of $US44 million for the June quarter. This was a rebound from a $US21 million loss in the March quarter.

Still, profit was down 18.5 per cent from the June quarter last year due higher claims, Genworth said. Sales were up 8 per cent on the first quarter helped by refinancing activity among borrowers, Genworth said.

The loss ratio in Australia during the second quarter was 54 per cent, suggesting Genworth was paying out a little less than $1 for every $2 it generates from sales.

Genworth's entire global operations - including the flagship US business - posted a profit of $US76 million for the second quarter. This rebounded from a loss of $US136 million a year earlier.

Lenders' mortgage insurance is designed to protect banks or other lenders against a loss should the borrower default on their loan. Insurance is paid out if there is a shortfall in funds from the forced sale of a property.

Genworth is Australia's largest player in the mortgage insurance market. It and second-placed QBE Lenders' Mortgage Insurance hold a combined 75 per cent share of the market.

While Genworth has declined to discuss its troubled March quarter in detail, it is believed the insurer's exposure to tourism hot spots in Queensland caused a hike in payouts. Some banks, including regional lender Bank of Queensland, also took a more aggressive accounting stance against some if its Gold Coast exposures.

Earlier this year Genworth said it would delay the planned sale of a 40 per cent stake in its Australian offshoot until 2013. At the time it was estimated that the sharemarket listing of a 40 per cent stake in Genworth Australia could have raised between $700 million and $800 million.

Last calendar year Genworth's main Australian business posted a profit of $250.9 million. This was up from $182.6 million a year earlier.

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