DINING REVIEW: MEET

People chatter, loudly,as plates crashonto stained timber tables ready for serrated knives and silver forks to scratch and clang against fine white porcelain. The floor staff carry around long shafts of meat from four types of beast, which they carve up at your table. Soon, my clean white plate is stained with crimson red drops of blood from a slice of picanha, then charred brown from a chunk of peito defumado, and oily yellow from a piece of sobrecoxa. The muddy colour of the black bean feijão can’t keep the plate from staying clean for long either, even when the bright white arroz rice or the salada de batata com ovo is added to the mix.

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GATHER: MEET’s black and white dining room features splashes of colour and loads of atmosphere. Pictures: Max Mason-Hubers

SIZZLE: Some of the meat selection being cooked over the flame grill.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me explain.MEET is the latest addition to Newcastle’s ever expanding and diverse dining scene. Inspired by the traditional Brazilian barbecue, known as churrascaria, MEET is a protein lover’s paradise, a carnival for carnivores, and a horror for herbivores… althoughthey do offer vegetarian options for the iron averse.

Inside, nearly everything is painted black, or white, which makes the brightly coloured Brazilian artwork hanging on the wall look even more brilliant than it already is. The kitchen can been seen through a black rectangle, cut out of the wall, where busy bodies scuttle back and forth amid the glow of fluorescent lights and stainless steel, and the occasional orange flare up from the churrasco BBQ. Above the kitchen cut out is a glowing white neon sign that says, MEET.

TAKE A STAB: Waitstaff carry around giant skewers of barbecued meat to the tables.

You pay a fixed price, which doesn’t include drinks, and just like the chaos of yumcha, staff roam around the room with all sorts of barbecued treats, stopping at each table to offer you a slice of something that’s just been rubbed, marinated, or smoked, and then slowly spitroasted over wood and charcoal to produceincredibly flavoursome food.

For instance, the sobrecoxa (chicken thigh) is bursting with tonnes of smoky, sweet and savoury flavours courtesy of a thousand rubbed spices, a mustard marinade and the charcoal smoke that’s all infused within white flesh. The pernil (lamb leg) is sliced off in thin rashers of savoury flavour featuring garlic and tomato, salt and pepper, while the picanha (rump cap) is a medium rare treat of simple flavours made complex by the accompanying sides (tip: sprinkle a pinch of the farofa manioc flour over all the meats).

The table is graced with a wooden chopping board loaded with fresh sides and sauces. There’s white rice (arroz), potato and egg salad (salada de batata com ovo), and smoky black beans (feijão) to accompany the plethora of protein. Plus three pots of condiments: chimichurri (herb sauce), vinagrete (Brazillian salsa), and the molho barbecue de casa (home-made barbecue sauce), which goes with everything on the plate, including the sweet stuff.

When the banana empanada (crumbed and deep fried banana) and the abacaxi grelhado (BBQ pineapple) arrive you could be forgiven for thinking that dessert is served, but that’s a whole other menu. The banana is a sweet digression from all the savoury we’ve been eating;so too is the pineapple with a dusting of cinnamon. If you want to transition back to savoury, order a serve of queijo qualho (grilled haloumi) and aipim frito (fried cassava).

It’s hard to keep up with exactly what’s on your plate, but I think that’s half the fun.Everything that comes out from the kitchen tastes wonderful, even the coração (chicken heart), so just embrace it and try as much of the food as you can. Don’t worry if you don’t get to try it all the first time around, because, speaking from experience, it won’t be long before you get the MEET sweats and you’ll want to go back again.

Tony McEnally dedicates much of his week to keeping Belmont Wetlands State Park beautiful

Tony McEnallyBelmont Wetlands State Park treasurer and volunteerWHEN Tony McEnally retired, the Redhead localfound himself hitting the beach to fish, surf or walk his dogs most days.

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He was also doing some Landcare work in the neighbourhood when the Belmont Wetlands State Park advertised for a new board.

“I thought, well, this is my back yard and I use it every day, so Imay as well get involved and be part of running the place,” he said.

“It was nice to be able to have a say in what happens, and help it improve and recover from all the bad things that have happened to it over the years, like the sand mining, and thesand extraction –there is a whole lot of our sand that now makes up Waikiki beach in Hawaii.”

He has since helped plant about 50,000 trees in the 549 hectare state park.

Mr McEnally’sretirement hobby has becomemore like a full time job, but it gave him immense satisfaction.

“It is such abeautiful, untouched space –afantastic areathat needs helpbecauseit has been brutalised with the sand mining and the sand extraction,” he said.

“But with a little bit of help, it actually cleans itself up really well. You get the chance to see something that has gone from being covered in bitou and various other nasty weedsand turns out at the end of the day to be a beautiful area with eucalyptus trees and banksias and various coastal plants.”

The Belmont Wetlands State Park Trust introduced a permit system and employed a ranger to help controlfour-wheel drives on Nine Mile Beach, between Redhead and Belmont in November.

“It’s changing the face of the place,” he said.

“I work with the ranger as a volunteer and I cover the days he’s not there. I run aroundthebeach and just make sure we don’t have too many people doing the wrong thing,because we want the place to be there for families, not for people who just want to go nuts.”

The damage caused byrecentwild weather had kept them busy.

“We lost a lot of maturetrees in the April storms,and we spent a fair amountof time cleaning that up. But we are blessed with somereally good volunteers,” he said.

“Wealways welcome more volunteers. We’re down there every Tuesday from February throughto December clearing and putting in new treesand mulching.”

Mr McEnally also helpsa Work For The Dole participant, and the Green Army –a federal government initiative thatsupportslocal environment as well asheritage conservation projects.

“They are a fantastic team ofkids, I’ve been working with them doing dune restoration,” Mr McEnally said. “They will also beplanting 3,300 plants for usin March.”

Chipping in: Redhead’s Tony McEnally and the Green Army are doing their bit to bring the Belmont Wetlands State Park back to its former glory. Picture: Marina Neil.

Wonder Woman: sneak peek at her first ever film

Gal Gadot in a still from Wonder Woman. Photo: YouTube Gal Gadot battling Nazis in a still from Wonder Woman. Photo: YouTube

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Dawn of Justice trailer sees superheroes at war with each otherWonder Woman joins fight for gay marriage thanks to Australian illustratorWonder Woman, Jessica Jones and Supergirl mark return of screen superheroine

It’s taken 75 long years to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen, but the first trickle of footage from her movie debut suggests a film rich enough to forgive the mother of all delays.

Electrifying footage from the World War II-era film shows Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, beating up a bunch of Nazis with her famous shield, leading an expedition of 1940s normies in immaculate costume, and then letting her hair down by galloping about on horseback while swinging her lethal sword.

It’s not the first look at Gadot’s Wonder Woman per se, she unexpectedly appears in the trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer, right when the two more established superheroes are wondering how to battle their foe. But these are the first scenes from her headline movie.

DC Films took the unusual step of releasing a promo clip for Wonder Woman anchored by its Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns, talking about the character to director Kevin Smith.

From a purely action standpoint, Johns succeeds in whetting the appetite: “She’s an Amazon warrior, she’s the best fighter in the DC universe. She has strength and speed and she’s been training her whole life for war.”

“Wonder Woman is one of the greatest superheroes out there but people don’t know her origin like they know Superman’s origin or Batman’s origin and so what we want to do in the film is tell people who she is where she comes from and why she does what she does.

“She comes from a Greek mythology, she comes from this island of Amazons, it’s called Themyscira.”

Gadot, the Israeli actor/model who plays Wonder Woman (and her alter ego Diana Prince) gets to speak, briefly: “We’re gonna see her coming of age, the entire history, what’s her mission.”

Then it’s back to Johns: “These Amazons were once created to protect man’s world but they since abandoned it. And Diana is asking constantly ‘why don’t we go do what we were created to do and protect man?’ and they say ‘because they’re not worth it’.”

The original story of how Wonder Woman – who was created by polygraphy inventor William Marston in 1951 – comes into the human world is that she leads a wounded pilot back to civilisation after he crash-lands on Themyscira, and goes forth with a grand mission of bringing peace to the world.

The film’s director Patty Jenkins (who directed Charlize Theron in Monster) also gets a word in: “The greatest thing about Wonder Woman is how good and kind and loving she is, yet none of that negates any of her power.”

Some might add her lasso – which forces its captives to tell the truth – was pretty great too, although it wasn’t sighted in the first-look clip. Neither was the somewhat ridiculous invisible plane which TV Wonder Woman star, Lynda Carter flew with commendable dedication in the 1970s.

Christopher Pine (who plays Steve Trevor, the fortunate pilot) nails the reason why Wonder Woman should be a huge box office smash when it finally drops – after 14 years stop-start years of development: “Telling a story like this now is pivotal and important: the story of a very powerful woman.”

Wonder Woman is due for release in June 2017.

Spotlight: a brilliant film with such explosive subject matter it died several deaths before being made

Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll, in a scene from the film, “Spotlight.” Photo: Kerry Hayes Spotlight director, Tom McCarthy on set with Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo. Photo: Supplied

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Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) in a scene from Spotlight. Photo: Supplied

They don’t make films like Spotlight any more, so people say. Perhaps they never really did. Spotlight is about a real-life team of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe who worked for months to document and finally reveal the cover-up by the local Catholic church of the sexual abuse of children by priests. What Spotlight is not about: star performances (even though its ensemble cast includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdam); the reporters’ personal lives; plot twists or emotional peaks and troughs; reporters as heroes. There is just work: the painstaking, paper-shuffling, probing work of accumulating facts and corroborating them to the point where a newspaper – that hulking, old-fashioned, barely lamented old warhorse of the Fourth Estate – can speak authoritative truth to power. And, as signposted by its six Oscar nominations, it is absolutely gripping.

The Spotlight team’s investigation came relatively late in the saga of sex-abuse scandals within the church; the series, which would eventually top 600 articles as more people came forward with stories and more priests were exposed, won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 2003. One thing Tom McCarthy’s film makes clear, however, is that Boston is a staunchly Catholic city where the Church, schools, sport and government are clubbily intertwined.  Fifty-five per cent of their readers were practising Catholics. “The church had such power,” says Walter “Robbie” Robinson, the real head of the Spotlight unit, played by Michael Keaton in the film, “that if legislation it didn’t like was before the Massachusetts Legislature, they could get it killed.”

Not that the Globe felt compromised. Successive metro-section editors had run stories for years about accused and convicted priests in the normal run of its news coverage, earning a rebuke and an invocation of heavenly punishment from the local cardinal in the process. Even so, it took the arrival of an editor from outside Boston – Marty Barron, who came from the Miami Herald and would go on to become executive editor of the Washington Post – to lift the lid on the whole can of worms. “Don’t go after the man; go after the system,” he tells the team early in Josh Singer’s script, which has reportedly cleaved as closely as possible to the facts even down to what was said. So they do.

Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll, in a scene from the film, Spotlight. Photo: AP

When they start, they think they have identified “as many as seven” abusive priests, who had simply been moved to other parishes when anguished parents complained. Then, in consultation with a psychologist and former priest who has made abusive priests his life’s study, they take a punt on the statistical likelihood that the numbers are much higher: maybe as many as 90 in Boston alone. By checking year-on-year church records, court reports and victims’ testimony, they find 87. By the end of their investigation, they have found 250.

Many of these priests’ victims had reported their attackers to the Church hierarchy and to the law. Some won small pay-outs in exchange for non-disclosure agreements. Apart from the cases the Globe had already reported, all were swept under the rug one way or another. Their investigations led back to the cardinal, who is shown in the film to have presided over the cover-up and resigned at the end of 2002; he is now Cardinal Priest of Santa Susanna, Rome’s American Catholic Church.

Producers Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust thought they had identified one of America’s great untold stories in 2008, the year they had the idea for Spotlight. They were thus confounded to find it was difficult even to find a screenwriter willing to tackle it. “People were not responding to the story the way we thought they would,” Faust said later. “They were a little bit scared.” Financing was even more problematic: McCarthy says that after he signed on to direct it in 2011 – fortunately bringing screenwriter Josh Singer with him – he saw the project die decisively three times. 

Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) in a scene from Spotlight. Photo: Supplied

Most dramatically, their major backer Dreamworks pulled out while McCarthy and Singer were working on the screenplay. “We never knew why,” says Rocklin in an on-set story from the Hollywood Reporter. “They never told us. But I can speculate. It’s a movie about paedophilia in the Catholic Church.” The Washington Post later said that Dreamworks dropped it after The Fifth Estate – about Julian Assange and Wikileaks, scripted by Singer – failed at the box office. Whatever the real reasons, the production went on hold and McCarthy took another job directing the disastrously bad Adam Sandler indie The Cobbler. This was Spotlight’s most decisive death so far.

In the end, Participant Media picked up Dreamworks’ share, but the same spirit of resistance emerged in dealings with the next tier of businesses involved in getting a film to the audience: the distributors. By that time Mark Ruffalo had signed up, but even the Hulk didn’t convince them. McCarthy says they would tell him that “even though it’s a great read, it doesn’t scream box office”.

The American release of the film in November was accordingly limited, the press coverage scant. This last point is particularly surprising for a film that actually lionises the press.

I love all the lionising, of course. To see a bustling, fully staffed newsroom on screen is actually thrilling. Recreated in a former Sears warehouse – the Sears catalogue being another victim of the online age – the Boston Globe of the turn of the millennium is furnished with cubicles coincidentally sold off by the downsizing Toronto Globe and Mail. These are our times. Back in 2001, however, the journalists spend weeks ploughing through archives in the basement while librarians bring down sheafs of files; the switchboard’s phones run hot. If they don’t make movies like this any more, they don’t make newspaper offices like this any more either. 

Spotlight director Tom McCarthy on set with Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo. Photo: Supplied

“I don’t think the general public really has any sense of what’s happened to the journalism industry in the last 10, 15 years,” McCarthy told the Washington Post. “People say there’s so much media out there, with the internet and new media, but I don’t think they really understand what professional journalism, institutionally supported journalism, is. And I think it’s in the great interest of many of the other big institutions to make sure that they don’t.”

Mark Ruffalo, who plays dogged, abrasive reporter Michael Rezendes, described journalists to the Hollywood Reporter as “our last defence against tyranny, our last defence against atrocity.” That may not be true very often, but McCarthy’s point is that this work, involving court hearings and doorstepping, expenses and huge swathes of time, is not the sort of work that can be done by a lone blogger.

But something similar could be said of audiences and films, few of which deal with anything difficult or dangerous or dare to step beyond the narrow expectations of soaring emotional arcs and loveable characters. This one does, which was why Michael Keaton wanted his role as soon as he read it. “I went to college in the ’70s. I went to anti-war demonstrations. We were aware of the civil rights movements,” he said at the time. “To think that someday you’d be doing what you love, and it could have an effect on society: that’s pretty great. In this movie, it’s stuff that people have been talking about a long time. But then when you see it this way, you realise that it’s shocking this hasn’t been addressed before on film. In that regard, it kind of feels bold.”

Warlords wield axes in Wills contest

Wills is a plum Labor seat once held by Bob Hawke.Labor’s internal battle for the heartland seat of Wills has tightened, with a former security adviser to the Rudd government strengthening his claim after winning over key ethnic voting blocks.

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As candidates prepared for  a town hall debate in Coburg on Wednesday night, the field of realistic contenders had narrowed, with one formal withdrawal and at least one other candidate accepting defeat.

A plum Labor seat once held by Bob Hawke, Wills is a key test of the party’s internal democracy and gender policy under Bill Shorten.

It comes at a difficult time, with Malcolm Turnbull continuing to ride high in the polls, and the Victorian party in turmoil over over branch-stacking.

Bill Shorten is believed to be comfortable with two candidates – his own staffer Anna Maria Arabia, and Peter Khalil, a Victorian multicultural commissioner and former security adviser.

Mr Khalil, of Egyptian background, also has the support of Right-faction heavyweight and neighbouring Batman MP, David Feeney.

An important development in the preselection is that local Kurdish and Lebanese groups are close to a deal to back Mr Khalil, a non-local but a candidate with an understanding of Middle Eastern issues and the plight of the Kurds.

Mr Khalil has firmed as a favourite along with Ms Arabia and Mehmet Tillem, a former senator, local numbers man and adviser in the Andrews government.

Increasingly, the contest appears to be down to these three – out of a field of seven – with Mr Shorten and Mr Feeney determined to block Turkish-born Mr Tillem. He is viewed by many as archetypal Labor warlord and, therefore, the wrong type of candidate for such a high profile seat.

But Mr Tillem has the full backing of the defence shadow minister, and formidable factional hard man, Stephen Conroy.

Although not well known in the party, Ms Arabia ticks many boxes important to Labor’s push for wider community relevance, including her gender, age (”40ish”), her Italian background and her qualifications as a scientist (therefore not a union leader or lawyer). Nor is she known as a factional player, having also worked for Mr Shorten’s leadership rival in 2013, NSW Left-faction leader Anthony Albanese.

Preselection is a two-stage process, the first stage a ballot of local members, the second a vote by a central panel elected by state conference and unions.

An important factor – especially for Ms Arabia and Mr Khalil – will be the choice of candidate by the shrinking but still powerful Australian Workers Union, Mr Shorten’s former union. AWU support will be especially important at the second, central vote.

Campaigning hard is funds manager and former Yarra councillor Josh Funder. But without a strong local vote or factional and union base, he will struggle.

Melanie Raymond, a candidate earlier backed by the Feeney camp, has withdrawn from the Wills race, which was triggered by the resignation of long-time maverick member, Kelvin Thomson.

The Age understands that candidate Lambros Tapinos – a Moreland councillor also linked to the Feeney group – has all but given up hope of winning after losing the support he expected from the Kurdish and Lebanese groups.

Under a stability deal between the party’s two dominant factions, the right wing ShortCons (named after Shorten and Conroy) and the left group led by veteran party boss Kim Carr, Wills is a Right-faction seat

If the Labor right delivers a crony numbers man as the candidate for Wills, it will be gift to the Greens who increasingly view the seat as winnable.

Preselection battle grows for Hughes as media war, split threatened

Craig Kelly may run as an independent if he loses. Sources are hopeful that Alan Jones will begin commenting on the preselection challenge next week. Photo: Jessica Hromas

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The threatened fallout from a potential preselection challenge in Sydney’s south-west is growing, with the first indications that sitting Liberal MP Craig Kelly may start a media war and run as an independent if he loses.

Fairfax Media revealed earlier this month that Mr Kelly would face a challenge from the party’s Left for the seat of Hughes.

Mr Kelly has publicly stated he will contest any challenge.

But a source close to the MP has foreshadowed a potentially radical response if he lost a preselection ballot.

“Craig’s an ex-front row forward; he may appear like a jovial bloke but he’s literally kicked heads in the past,” the source said. “The question [for challengers] is what will he do if [ousted].

“He’ll be out for revenge and there’s a lot of support for him in the electorate.”

Kent Johns, a powerbroker from the party’s left wing, is considered the most likely challenger and also recused himself from a recent state executive vote laying down preselection timetables, seemingly confirming his intentions.

The party is also alive with rumours that Mr Kelly and other conservatives are preparing to make an appeal to conservative heavyweights in the media to drum up support.

Sources on the right say are hopeful that talkback radio king Alan Jones will begin commenting on the preselection challenge next week.

Mr Kelly, who has been outspoken in his scepticism on issues such as climate change, has made at least eight appearances on Mr Jones’ top-rating program in the past two years.

Only adding to the sense of chaos is a looming court date for Mr Johns, who will be asked to testify as a witness in a court case next month while preselections are occurring.

The case relates to the long and tortured battle for control of the party’s Moorebank branch, which recently spilled over into an alleged threat of violence. (The branch could yet play a key role in determining the outcome of a preselection.)

A member of the branch was heard to say: “I’ll kill you” in a remark believed to be directed towards Mr Johns’ political ally Melanie Gibbons MP. Ms Gibbons has applied for an AVO, which the branch member is contesting.

ABC election analyst Antony Green said MPs who split from their parties tend to do “very poorly” in urban areas.

“You’re going back 20 years to Perth to find the last [successful examples of a disendorsed Liberal MP challenging],” he said. “Most federal MPs simply don’t have that big a profile.”

In 2004, sitting MP Peter King ran as an independent against Malcolm Turnbull after being deposed in a pre-selection challenge for the seat of Wentworth.

Mr King polled about 18 per cent of the vote and drove a slight swing against Mr Turnbull.

Other seats understood to be in the sights of challengers from the party’s left and centre-right wings include Berowra (Philip Ruddock), Hume (Angus Taylor), Bennelong (John Alexander) and Senate spots occupied currently by Bill Heffernan and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

The number of challenges eventually mounted hangs to a large degree on whether Prime Minister Turnbull exercises his authority to back sitting MPs.

The Prime Minister is currently overseas, but his representative on the NSW state executive, Paul Fletcher this week said MPs were not entitled to jobs for life and that preselections were a time-honoured part of the party’s democratic processes

“That’s how the system works, it’s how the system should work,” he said. “It’s the democratic process that every parliamentarian in the Liberal Party is exposed to.”

Mr Turnbull is understood to have not yet intervened  to lend Mr Kelly support or discourage challengers in the seat of Hughes.

Nominations have one month to run.

Market turmoil not enough to spur RBA rate cut, top economists say

Markets are pricing in another rate cut but economists think the RBA will hold off for most of the year. Photo: Nicholas RiderA rate cut is unlikely when the Reserve Bank of Australia meets next month and rates will possibly remain on hold for the rest of this year despite the global market turmoil, according to top market economists, who point instead to encouraging signs in the local economy

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A survey of the nation’s most prominent market economists by The Australian Financial Review found 13 out of 14 expect rates to remain on hold at the first board meeting of the year, despite the market turmoil which has wiped nearly $120 billion from the Australian sharemarket, battering consumer confidence.

Just AMP’s Shane Oliver believes the rout, spurred by concerns about global growth, particularly from China, and weakening commodity prices would prompt the central bank to cut in February to a new record low 1.75 per cent.

“But I doubt that it is convinced to move just yet,” he said.

“A much lower than anticipated December quarter inflation release next week could tip the balance though in favour of a February cut as it would make two quarters in a row of lower than expected inflation.”

Inflation will be watched closely next week and is tipped to have expanded 0.5 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2015, a total of 1.5 per cent for the year, according to a Bloomberg survey.

On Tuesday inflation figures in New Zealand revealed growth had fallen to 0.1 per cent, pushing it towards annual deflation for the first time since 1999, and adding pressure on its central bank to lower rates.

At home, economists including HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham, have retreated on their expectations of a February cut. The bank pushed back an expected cut on the back of recent positive economic data.

“We shifted our view for a cut from Q1 to Q2 on the back of recent strength in the labour market,” he said.

Last week Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed the unemployment rate had steadied in December at 5.8 per cent, posting better-than-expected numbers following a quarter which boasted more than 126,000 new jobs.

A cut in the second quarter may not be necessary should a tangible fall in the Australian dollar precede it, Mr Bloxham said. The dollar has fallen 5 per cent this year alone to near 2009 levels, and 30 per cent in 18 months buying US69¢.

“The RBA would be reasonably happy with the decline of the Australian dollar of late as it has caught up with the decline in commodity prices,” BetaShares chief economist David Bassanese said.

Brent oil is trading at 12-year lows, buying under $US28 a barrel.

Overnight, the Bank of Canada opted to leave interest rates on hold, despite the impact of the oil price on the major exporter. Last year, a surprise January rate cut by the BoC – also in the wake of a tumbling oil price – triggered speculation the RBA may follow suit. Only one bank tips a cut in 2016

Of the big four banks, just one – ANZ Banking Group – is bracing for a cut this year.

“Some clouds are gathering over the economic outlook which we believe will result in lower rates in Australia over the second half of the year,” ANZ chief economist Warren Hogan said, anticipating cuts in May and August.

“Recent international financial market instability could be a harbinger of a more difficult world economy.”

The feeling is that if a rate cut is coming, it will be by June. Markets are pricing in an 88 per cent chance of a cut by mid-year.

RBC Capital Markets chief economist Su-Lin Ong suggested a more likely scenario was a rate cut in March, adding that while the Australian dollar had slid to seven-year lows at US68¢, the currency needed to fall further to support the economy.

“A lower currency is helping the economic transition [post-mining boom] but the reality is that Australia needs both lower rates and further currency depreciation,” she said.

Ms Ong expects the cash rate to sit at 1.5 per cent by year’s end.

But former Merrill Lynch chief economist Saul Eslake said a rate cut would only serve to prompt individuals and businesses to borrow more.

“It’s not at all clear that encouraging households to add to what is already a high level of household debt, merely in order to push up property prices even further, would do much good,” he said. “[It] could do some harm.”

Economists suggest the market turmoil, most intense in equity markets, has little correlation to the economy and therefore the RBA’s decision making.

But concerns around a hard landing in China have raised questions about the flow on effect from one of Australia’s key trading partners.

“We watch China like a hawk. Do we think it will fall over? No,” Alan Oster, National Australia Bank’s chief economist said.

Most economists expect Australia’s GDP to track around 2.5 per cent.

Nestle loses court battle to trademark KitKat shape

Have a break, have a KitKat… the chocolate bar’s four-fingered shape is as well known as its slogan. But not distinctive enough to warrant its own trademark, a court ruled. Photo: Jason AdlenNestle has lost a long-running court battle to trademark the four-finger shape of its KitKat chocolate bar in Britain.

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The Swiss food giant first tried to register the trademark in 2010, but the application was opposed by rival chocolate maker Cadbury, the biggest UK chocolate maker.

The case was previously dismissed by other courts including the European Court of Justice. Britain’s High Court on Wednesday upheld those decisions, ruling that the shape of a KitKat bar has not “acquired a distinctive character” enough to satisfy trademark requirements.

Nestle said it was disappointed by the ruling and planned to appeal the decision.

It argued that the shape of the four-finger snack has been used in Britain for more than 80 years and is well-known to consumers.

“We believe that the shape deserves to be protected as a trademark in the UK and are disappointed that the court did not agree on this occasion,” the company said.

It’s not the first time Cadbury and Nestle have tussled over confectionery in a British court. In 2013, Nestle won a court battle over Cadbury’s attempt to register the purple shade of its chocolate wrappers as a trademark.

The four-fingered KitKat bar has brought in 40 million pounds ($82.2 million) a year between 2008 and 2010 in the UK alone. It’s the world’s third-biggest chocolate brand.

The KitKat was first sold in Britain in 1935 by Rowntree & Co., with the shape changing very little since then. Nestle, the world’s biggest food company, bought Rowntree in 1998.

The UK Trade Marks Registry turned down the application to protect the shape of the chocolate bar in 2013 following the opposition from Cadbury.

aap/Bloomberg

The railway that made Canada

TALK of light rail is very topical today, but what about building triumphs in the 19th century heavy railways era?

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RAILWAY MAN: William Van Horne was Canadian Pacific’s man of ideas to make his railway profitable. He helped shape modern Canada.

PLUMB LOCO: The ingenious Spiral Tunnels were opened near Lake Louise, Canada, in 1909 to reduce a steep mountain rail incline and prevent train crashes.

Who, for example, remembers the navvies toiling away more than 160 years ago at Hexham, building a railway in a swamp to link Newcastle with Maitland?

But instead, let’s turn our attention to a major railway project in the age of British Empire, in another Commonwealth country on the other side of the globe.

With more Australians each year visiting Canada as tourists, especially to the stunning Rocky Mountains, let’s look at Canada’s then largest construction project, later involving people on maintenance duties being buried alive by snow.

Canada’s transcontinental railway scheme would finally link sea to sea, from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. This ribbon of steel almost 3000 miles long united the country physically at a time when the Canadian Government itself was only 18 years old.

Crossing vast prairies, bridging a thousand streams, snaking through canyons and conquering jagged, snow-capped mountain passes, well, it was a tall order.

When the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Company began its main scheme from the eastern end in 1882, many thought it impossible. But it was achieved, against the odds, at huge cost and in only a few years –record time – turning a vast wilderness of isolated communities into the nation today. Make no mistake, this railway created modern Canada, even though freight, not passengers, is its lifeblood these days.

Of interest to me, having ridden on part of the same route late last year, was the recent British documentary, Extreme Railway Journeys on SBS TV, which paid tribute to this extraordinary rail-building feat.

Take the initial problems Canadian Pacific Rail faced in the wild west, out of Vancouver, British Columbia (B.C.) from May 1880. Up to 17,000 cheap Chinese workers were imported for the task. Here, theyhad to carve a railway line on a ledge in the steep gorges above the whitewater rapids of the raging Fraser River at the infamous Hell’s Gate.

Hanging on rope ladders lowered down into deep ravines, workers were expected to chisel a hole in which to place a stick of dynamite, light the fuse then scurry back up to safety – all for the sum of $1 a day.It’s now claimed hundreds of workers died, one for every mile of track built.

Meanwhile, the enterprising William Cornelius Van Horne, the CPR’s new general manager, started moving things along from the eastern end in 1882. He soon had 5000 workers with 1700 teams of horses laying 52,300 tonnes of steel rail that same year.

Despite loud public protests about CP Rail’s likely monopoly over freight and passengers and the company running out of money towards the end, the last spike of the momentous project was finally driven into the tracks at Craigellachie, near Revelstoke, B.C. on November 7, 1885.

The completed scheme probably cost more than a billion dollars today and was finished in 54 months, or almost six years ahead of its original schedule.But how could future revenues be generated to repay the huge debt and make profits? The wily Van Horne had a plan. Years earlier, hot springs had been discovered at what is now the popular ski resort of Banff.

“If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll have to import the tourists,” Van Horne said.

The original Banff Springs Hotel opened in 1888 as the main attraction in a future chain of luxury railway hotels from coast-to-coast along the CPR line. The present, huge Chateau-style hotel with its opulent interior has twice been re-built.

Back in 1885, with encouragement from the CPR, the Canadian government reserved 10 square miles of wilderness around the hot springs. While stimulating a tourism economy, the move also marked the beginning of Canada’s national park system.The surrounding Banff National Park is now part of a United Nations World Heritage site.

North east of Banff at Kicking Horse Pass today is probably the most vital section of the CPR line, a reminder again of how difficult rail construction was.

For here are the famous ‘Spiral Tunnels’ built between 1907 and 1909 through the Rocky Mountains. Before that, steam locomotives would grunt going up the notorious Big Hill here.No surveyor initially wanted to use Kicking Horse Pass as a major transport line, especially in winter, but it was 122-kilometres shorter than an alternative, gentler route way north at Yellowhead Pass, near Jasper township.

The steep Big Hill line was used for 24 years from 1885, being blasted out of solid rock by 1000 workers hired at $2.25 per 10-hour day while braving spring snow avalanches. Balancing on trestle timbers over a raging river, blasting cliffs with unpredictable nitroglycerine and dodging rocks rolled loose by workers above, deaths averaged one a week.

When the rail cutting was made, steam engines chugged up a treacherously steep track, but coming down was a nightmare. Wrecks of runaway trains soon littered the ‘temporary’ Big Hill route.

Finally in 1907, thundering explosions again echoed in the Kicking Horse Valley. Some 1000 men using 75 rail carloads of dynamite built two, so-called Spiral Tunnels. A new figure eight track spiraled into the mountains requiring narrow gauge steam engines to haul away more than 600,000 cubic metres of rock debris.

Based on a Swiss idea, the loop lines ingeniously reduced the steepness of the Big Hill by half, so that the front of a 3-kilometrefreight train can be seen today while its end disappears into a tunnel beneath itself (pictured).The Big Hill rail route was soon abandoned. Part of it has become part of the Trans-Canada Highway.

And all this is without the story of the tragedy of heavy snowslides further along the CPR line at Rogers Pass in early 1910.That’s when an avalanche suddenly smothered 182 metres of just-excavated track to a depth of nine metres. A locomotivewas buried and 58 workers died. Some 600 men using shovels dug frantically to help. Rescuers found many of the dead still standing up.The force of the avalanche even ripped off the train’s 62-tonne snow plough, hurling it 18 metres away up a slope.

For when we think of rail building in Canada, and elsewhere, we never seem to recall thegreat human cost of doing it, do we?

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The Motley Fool: Up 700% in 5 years – where to next?

Integrated Research’s client list reads like a ‘who’s who’ of international commerce: a quarter of Fortune 500 companies, 4 of the world’s 10 largest companies and 6 of the 10 biggest stock exchanges. Photo: iStockAustralian tech-wreck survivor, Integrated Research (ASX: IRI), has taken on the world in IP telephony services and returned investors more than 700% over the last five years.

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The company’s enterprise software has infiltrated over 1,000 businesses globally, and its resume of customers reads like a ‘who’s who’ of international commerce: a quarter of Fortune 500 companies, 4 of the world’s 10 largest companies, 9 of the top 10 US banks, 7 of the 10 biggest telcos, 4 out of 10 biggest oil and gas companies, and 6 of the 10 biggest stock exchanges.

With a market cap sitting a touch under $350 million, Integrated Research lives outside the ASX300, and under the radar of many investors. But what, exactly, does this little-known Aussie do?

Integrated Research is the leading global provider of performance monitoring and diagnostics software for business-critical computing and VoIP (voice over internet protocol) networks. Its flagship product PROGNOSIS is an integrated suite of applications that monitors and manages distributed IT infrastructure, payments systems, unified communications, and Web applications. Put more simplistically, a health monitor for business technology systems.

Communication and payments are two cornerstones of everyday life that keep rapidly evolving. Integrated Research remains brilliantly positioned to profit handsomely from both the migration to Internet Protocol Telephony networks — IPT or VoIP as it is commonly called — and the massive long-term growth in real-time payment processing.

Integrated has had a seat at the IP telephony table since the technology’s infancy in 2000. It began by monitoring Cisco’s IP systems but now supports other key VoIP providers such as Avaya, Nortel and Microsoft’s Lync and Skype.

Sales are supported by a large installed base of major customers, a strong partnership network, and a three-fold revenue model: customers pay upfront license fees to use the software (just over half of revenue), plus they pay annual maintenance fees, (typically around 20% of the license fee), for the lifetime of the customer relationship (one-third of revenue), and consulting services make up the balance. Boring, boring software

Enterprise software slips into the ‘too boring’ basket for many investors, but Integrated’s thick 40% gross margins and 20% net profit margins are attention-grabbing. And the appeal doesn’t stop there.

Maintenance retention rates into the mid-90% range means the average life of those customers is nudging 20-plus years, so it’s easy to know where the next meal is coming from. During difficult economic times, this recurring revenue provides a safety cushion: businesses may delay a new purchase, but they’re less likely to cut maintenance expenditures.

There’s more that’ll really get your CPU racing.

The 39% return on equity is high enough to give you a nose bleed, and zero-debt balance sheet strong enough to keep you there. In fact, the company was sitting on over $15 million cash when it last reported.

And with a global A-list of customers, it should come as little surprise that 95% of revenue is earned offshore, providing easy international diversification for Australian-dominated portfolios.

The company has been on a growth tear in recent years. Last year revenue increased 32%, while profit soared 68% — thanks in part to a falling Australian dollar — but driven by the underlying strength of the business. But there may be some trouble afoot. A recent stumble

The company’s recent half year guidance pointed to a slowing of growth, with revenue set to gain a modest 17% and net profit to disappointingly slide by a similar proportion.

Full details won’t be revealed until the company reports, but determining whether the first half of 2016 is a permanent change, or just a bump in the road, could be very rewarding.

It’s unlikely the growth will stop here. The company is sensibly reinvesting around a fifth of revenue into research and development — the pipeline for future growth. Add to that the July 2015 acquisition of US-based IQ Services, which provides a platform for next generation testing capabilities and extends the existing product line.

Shares have nosedived 25% since reaching a high of $2.80 at the three-quarter mark last year, to less than $2.00 in early 2016. Things could get particularly choppy when the company reveals the full details on 18 February. Foolish takeaway

Combining a strong reputation and loyal customers, several of whom are among the world’s largest, with forward-thinking new solutions, is a proven model for increasing profits and margins.

Integrated Research stands to continue profiting from the VoIP tidal wave and surging real time transactions. Its high customer retention delivers solid recurring revenue, with strong and improving margins.

The company’s 3.6% partly-franked dividend yield is well supported by a rock solid balance sheet, though the mid-20s price to earnings multiple may look high to some market participants in light of recent disappointing growth guidance.

If things get rough, that may provide added opportunity for level-headed long-term investors.

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Donny Buchanan is a Motley Fool investment analyst. You can follow The Motley Fool on Twitter @TheMotleyFoolAu. The Motley Fool’s purpose is to educate, amuse and enrich investors. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson