No wallets spared in hunt for savings

It’s hard to find a hip pocket spared by the Abbott government’s first budget.
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Every motorist will pay more at the petrol bowser. More than two million families will be affected by a major overhaul of the family tax benefits system. High income earners will pay more tax. New charges will apply to GP visits and the purchase of medicines.

The government will raise an extra $2.2 billion over four years by re-introducing the biannual indexation of fuel excise. That will push up bowser prices by about 1 cent a litre next financial year, adding about $16 to the average annual fuel bill. If inflation rises in line with the official target for the next five years, motoring groups estimate that fuel excise will rise from its current rate of 38.143 cents a litre to 43.684 cents a litre, increasing the average annual fuel bill by about $81.

Expenditure surveys show filling up the car with fuel is the single biggest weekly purchase made by Australian households. Residents of outer suburbs will be hit harder than most because they tend to use much more. Then Prime Minister John Howard dumped fuel excise indexation in a bid to revive his political fortunes prior to the 2001 election.

Tighter eligibility requirements for the $19 billion a year family tax benefits system will hit millions of household budgets and exclude many upper-middle income families from the system altogether.

“Families who can support themselves will receive less assistance from the government,” the budget papers say.

The rates for family support payments will be unchanged until mid-2016 and the thresholds that determine the level of Family Tax Benefit Part A will be frozen until mid-2017. That means many families will receive lower payments as their incomes rise. Families with a single earner with an income over $100,000 will no longer be eligible for Family Tax Benefit Part B and it will no longer apply when the family’s youngest child turns six.

The effect on families from these changes depends on a household’s income and number of children but a Deloitte Access Economics budget specialist, Chris Richardson, said the reforms target middle Australia.

“Most of the heavy lifting is in the middle income range – that is families on about $100,000 to $150,000 a year,” he said.

“They have tried to protect the bottom end.”

The government has made a point of targeting high income earners with a “Temporary Budget Repair Levy”. That will lift the top marginal tax rate by 2 percentage points for the next three financial years. Those with annual earnings of $190,000 will pay an extra $200 a year, those on $250,000 will pay an extra $1400 and those earning $500,000 a year will pay an extra $6400.

Families will also have to find more money to fund their own health care. A new $7 co-payment for GP visits from July next year will cost a typical family of four $140 a year if each member visits the doctor five times.

Patients will also pay an extra $5 towards the cost of each prescription under the Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme from January 1 (or 80 cents if they are on a concession card).

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States face huge shortfall in funding

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The federal government will rip $80 billion from schools and public hospitals in the next decade, as Commonwealth spending earmarked for the states and territories is slashed due to the rejigging of indexation arrangements and the abandonment of guarantees for public hospital funding.

Likely to enrage state and territory leaders, the massive hit on funding to the second tier of government runs counter to the Coalition’s pre-election promise that health and education would be quarantined from cuts, although the new indexation measures won’t begin to take effect until 2017, after the next federal election.

It also sets the scene for a potentially radical realignment of federal-state financial relations, with the states and territories under immense pressure to make up for the funding shortfall by increasing their own taxes and levies, or introducing new ones.

If they don’t, they may be forced to close schools and hospitals to make up the difference.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said the changes were necessary because the previous Labor government had ”built in massive growth in structural spending” that was simply unsustainable.

Moreover, the government believes that federal spending on schools and hospitals – which it does not manage – is not only unaffordable but ”blurs accountabilities”.

Up until 2024-2025, the cuts will amount to a cumulative $80 billion.

Based on population size, NSW schools and hospitals can expect to suffer a cumulative $25.5 billion reduction in funding over the next decade.

In Victoria, the cut will be $19.9 billion over the same period.

By 2024-25, the federal government will spend $25 billion a year on schools, as opposed to $30 billion if the existing arrangements had remained in place.

For hospitals, the difference is even larger – $25 billion versus $40 billion.

Underpinning the cuts is the change to indexation, which will see funding rise only to reflect the growth in population and inflation, rather than the previous formula which based federal funding on the growth in ”activity” in the health and education systems.

The government promised to maintain health and education funding before the election, although it reserved the right to re-allocate money within the overall funding ”envelope”.

But Treasury officials in the budget lock-up said none of the cuts to schools were being re-allocated elsewhere in the education portfolio.

For hospitals, savings will be redirected to the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund that will finance investment in new medical technologies and techniques, but only until 2019/2020.

Moreover, the states and territories will lose another $569 million in health funding from the states in the next four years, with the federal government to pull out of national partnership agreements on improving hospital services and preventative health.

In a terse statement, the federal government said: ”The states will be expected to continue contributing to these arrangements at their expense.”

One final hit to state and territory finances came with the termination of the agreement where the federal government financed some of the benefits received by seniors card holders, such as cheaper public transport fares.

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China’s financial reform process will take time, economists warn

China’s latest blueprint for widespread financial market reforms by 2020 has boosted equities and supported commodity prices this week, but fund managers predict the rally is over for now, and economists warn the implementation of the ambitious plan will be a long and difficult process.
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Among the proposed reforms is the intention to streamline the approval process for new issues and open Chinese companies to foreign investors. This will help companies sourcing funds in China’s shadow banking sector to refinance their existing debt with equity capital.

The reforms are an important step towards a more innovative and creative private sector in China, Westpac senior economist Huw McKay said.

“Attracting more foreign investors will help Chinese companies dig themselves out of a rapid growth in debt, by exchanging that debt for equity, in a market-based transaction,” Mr McKay said.

Deltec chief investment officer Atul Lele agreed the reforms should reduce the risk of corporate defaults and help China in the long term, but cautioned that they did not address near-term risks.

”Indebtedness within the corporate landscape, the potential impact of contagion across the financial system from trust products, the types of assets that they allow to be used as collateral for financing, such as commodities – there’s a long list of reforms that need to take place,” Mr Lele said.

Commodity markets heavily linked to China’s finance sector, such as iron ore and copper, were mostly higher on Tuesday as traders digested the news that China would develop commodity trading tools and also relax its capital market restrictions. Nickel surged 5.1 per cent to $US20,898 per mega tonne, but analysts said a supply shortage – following an export ban in Indonesia and Vale suspending production in New Caledonia – was the main driver.

China’s Shanghai Composite Index and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng both broke above their 50-day moving average this week after China’s State Council released updated guidelines on Friday for developing open capital markets.

The Shanghai Composite has lost 8.4 per cent over the past one year, and the Hang Seng is down 3.2 per cent amid a slowdown in growth and fears about how the Chinese economy will cope with a raft of ambitious policy reforms. Shanghai shares eased on Tuesday following disappointing industrial production and retail sales numbers. “Typically, Chinese stocks get an immediate boost when the state announces any progress with its program of financial market reforms, but this tends to be very short-lived,” Kevin Bertoli, portfolio manager at PM Capital, said.

Friday’s announcement builds on ideas posited by the state in November and plans unveiled last month to create greater links between the mainland and Hong Kong markets, and has been warmly received by economists.

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Pension whittled away, but super untouched

Many people will be going back to their drawing boards when it comes to planning retirement.
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That is because the age pension may not be part of the retirement plans of a larger slice of people younger than their mid-50s.

In his budget speech, Joe Hockey said: “Currently, an individual with a home and almost $800,000 in assets still qualifies for the age pension; a couple with a home and almost $1.1 million in assets also qualify for the age pension.”

The government believes access to the age pension is too generous. Mr Hockey said the age pension needs to be better placed to meet the “challenge of a significant increase in demand”.

The family home is safe, and remains outside of the age pension assets test.

While the government has moved decisively to bring the growth of age pension outlays under control, it is leaving reform of superannuation tax concessions, which are growing more quickly than outlays to the age pension, to another time.

Not only will most of us have to wait beyond our 65th birthdays to qualify for the age pension and pensioner discounts, but access to the pension will be tightened and the rate at which pension payment is indexed will be slowed.

As already signalled, the pension age will rise to 70 from July 1, 2053, from 65 now. That means a pension age of 70 for everyone born after 1965.

But the change will be phased in. Those born between July 1, 1952, and December 31, 1953, will have an age pension age of 65.5. The wait rises progressively until hitting age 70 in 2053.

Rather than tighten the ”taper” rate that the pension falls with each additional dollar of income, from September 2017, the thresholds for deemed income will be lowered. This is where income from investments is deemed to earn a certain amount of interest, regardless of the actual income.

A home-owning pensioner couple, for example, is deemed to have earned 2 per cent on the first $77,400 of assets and 3.5 per cent on the rest. From September 2017, the 2 per cent will apply only on the first $50,000 and 3.5 per cent on the rest.

The government estimates that more than 500,000 age pensioners will be affected by the change, with most losing only a few dollars of the age pension each fortnight.

The government is planning to allow bracket creep to eat away at the numbers of people who can qualify for the age pension.

From July 1, 2017, all pension assets test and income test thresholds will be frozen for three years, instead of adjusted for inflation.

Finally, the way that the age pension is indexed will change. At present, the age pension rises in line with average male earnings, which grow about 1.5 percentage points a year faster than inflation. From September 1, 2017, the age pension will be in indexed to inflation.

The change will also affect the disability support pension (DSP). In several years’ time, after the change starts, the amount of the age pension and the DSP could be expected to be more than $100 a fortnight less than it would have otherwise been under current indexing.

In last year’s budget, the Gillard government doubled the 15 per cent tax on salary sacrificed into super to 30 per cent for those earning more than $300,000 a year.

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The ABC of investing

Laura Henschke, 28, has different aspirations to her father Mark when it comes to buying a home. Photo: Tamara DeanYou didn’t need the budget to tell you that you are on your own, although a reminder every now and then never goes astray.
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To get ahead, you must invest, especially while interest rates are low, where they are destined to remain for some time.

An online saving account is not going to hack it. The return is low, it is taxed and it is eroded by inflation.

Where and how should you invest? The cardinal rule is know thyself. If the thought of shares jumping up and down willy-nilly worries you, consider property.

If you don’t want to tie your money up in something that is always requiring attention or repairs, then the sharemarket might be a better fit. If neither appeals, read on. You might surprise yourself.

Oh, and if you want to borrow, the interest component of your repayments is tax deductible whether you buy shares or property.

However, remember, just as using other people’s money can boost your returns because there is more on the line, it will exaggerate any losses.

And don’t negatively gear. Paying out more than you earn in rent is for fools. It is a losing strategy that will bring you undone more quickly than it will the Tax Office.


Registering with a broker – CommSec is the most popular by a country mile – is easier than opening a bank account. It will only take a few minutes and you can buy shares straight away.

However, don’t rush it. The best way for beginners to get used to the sharemarket is to do some pretend or paper trading for a few months.

The ASX also has an online simulated share game that teaches you about the market.

Brokerage is payable on buying and selling and is based on the value of the trade. It costs as little as $11 a trade at CMC Markets, the cheapest broker.

One of the biggest beginners’ mistakes is in thinking a 50-cent stock is better value than a $50 one, says Dale Gillham, chief investment analyst at Wealth Within, which runs the only accredited diploma in share trading.

”They believe they get more shares and, as such, are more likely to get a better return, which is simply untrue,” he says.

Another is not having a selling price in mind when you buy. If nothing else, this concentrates the mind wonderfully, because it will force you to put a value on the stock, which in turn will mean doing some homework.

”Your exit price is more critical than the buying price,” Gillham says.

So where do you start?

Go for any of the stocks in the top 20. They will be blue chip and have stood the test of time.

”Anybody can throw a dart and pick shares, but managing risk is the most important aspect of investing.

”Preserving your capital and your profits from downturns in the market is critical to long-term success. If you don’t lose on a stock, then you don’t have to find a way to make up for it,” Gillham says.

Top blue chips are less volatile and always fare better, which is not to say they are immune from any market bad-hair day.

However, there are other ways to get into the sharemarket without having to pore over annual reports yourself.

One shortcut is a managed fund, usually bought through a financial adviser, where it is all done for you. Since it does not trade on the ASX, you will not know how it is faring day to day unless you specifically ask. This might not be such a bad thing.

You can get the same thing in listed investment companies, or LICs, which also manage a share portfolio. You will know what the LIC is worth every second of the day, like any other share, and they are easy to get into and out of.

Their annual fee is also cheaper than a managed fund’s.

But cheapest of all is an exchange-traded fund (ETF), a sort of cross between the two. LICs and managed funds are actively managed, whereas an ETF follows a predetermined index such as the ASX top 20.

One other thing is that managed funds and ETFs are always valued at what their portfolios are worth, but LICs can stray, and do most of the time, from their real value.

Sometimes that is an advantage – you can buy them for less than their portfolios are worth – but at the moment many are trading at a premium to their underlying value.

Speaking of which, are shares reasonably priced at the moment?

Only just, going by the price-to-earnings (p/e) ratio.

The market’s p/e is about 15, which means shares trade on 15 times companies’ earnings for the financial year. That is right on its long-term average.

Over time, you can expect the market to average a 10 per cent-a-year return including dividends.

Average is the operative word: it is hardly ever that in any particular year.

And here is a sobering thought. A 50 per cent drop in price requires a 100 per cent increase just to get back to where you were.

Fixed interest

Investing in bonds, debentures or anything else that pays interest for a set term is not going to make you wealthy, but it might stop you from becoming poor.

They are the safe ground between shares and cash – not high risk, a better yield, and the chance of a capital gain. As it turns out, some listed companies also issue bonds, although it is hard for ordinary investors to get their hands on them and even then you need to go to a fixed-interest dealer.

Fixed-interest investing also requires a slightly different mindset.

”You’re looking for survivability of a company. With shares, you look at growth,” says Elizabeth Moran, director of education and fixed income research at FIIG Securities, a bond dealer which offers $10,000 parcels of bonds as part of a $50,000 investment.

Qantas is a classic example. You wouldn’t want to buy its shares, but there is no question of it meeting its financial commitments. Its bonds with a face value of $100 mature in 2020 and have an interest yield of 6.5 per cent a year.

A bond yield is the fixed-interest version of dividend yields: in this case the interest divided by the price you paid. So the more the bond costs, the lower the yield.

If you think rates are going to drop you would want a bond, because its price will rise.

A rate rise would lower the price but all is not lost. Some bonds have a floating rate tied to the money market and are usually adjusted quarterly. When rates rise, so does your return, without hurting the bond’s price. It might even rise, because the bond will be paying more.

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s floating bond is yielding about 5.6 per cent, Moran says.


With rates so low, property has never had it so good. Perhaps too good, because by any stretch it’s expensive. The average rental yield is 4.7 per cent, the equivalent of the sharemarket’s p/e or payback period of 21 years.

Even for owner occupiers, mortgage repayments are approaching the highest proportion of income ever, according to the Reserve Bank. Then again, the unique thing about property is that every home is its own separate market.

But there are some things a good investment property needs. It should match the demographic of the area. In the inner city or close to a university, for example, a unit will be more in demand from tenants than a house.

And you want to buy in an area with a rapidly rising population.

The more sought-after units are close to transport, shops and parks or beaches. For houses, you could add proximity to a high-rating NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) school.

Look beyond your own backyard. The ideal investment property might not be in your street, city or even state.

It will be where there is ”a population growing faster than the national average, a median household income growing faster than inflation, strong infrastructure plans designed to provide extended and appropriate services to the growing population [such as transport, schools, roads and shopping precincts] and a local government with progressive town plans and money to commit to the area,” property expert and author Margaret Lomas says.

”There is still a little bit of life left in Western Sydney. After that, I really like Brisbane suburbs. Nundah, Albion, Runcorn, Upper Mount Gravatt and the Logan shire, to name a few. In Melbourne: Narre Warren, Epping and Meadow Heights.”


The best investment you can make is salary sacrificing into superannuation. Not that super is an investment as such. It is a tax dodge for things you would invest in anyway.

Most super funds have more in shares than anything else, and for good reason. Your super has to provide a nest egg for you at the end of your working life and then, hopefully, many years of retirement. Earning interest alone is just not going to cut it.

Also, blue-chip shares come with franked dividends and, because super earnings are taxed at 15 per cent, whereas franking has a 30 per cent credit, it means more money flowing in courtesy of the Tax Office.

By the same token, you need diversity, because the sharemarket may not be there when you need it. Just ask all those baby boomers who had to postpone retirement because they were hit by the global financial crisis.

The typical balanced fund, which is what you are in unless you told your boss otherwise, has shares, fixed interest, some cash, international investments and probably some property.

It is like a one-stop shop for an investment portfolio, but with tax breaks. These include 15 per cent taxes on salary-sacrificed contributions and the fund’s earnings – in both cases instead of your marginal rate.

Even so, it doesn’t suit everybody. If you are under 40, you are probably better off in a growth option which will stick more in shares, but if you are over 50, something more conservative might be better.

Or you can always run your own fund along with more than half a million others, but you need to have at least $200,000 in it for it to be worth the accounting, auditing and government levy fees.

There are also strict limits to how much you can salary sacrifice a year, which is not helped by the fact that your boss’s 9.25 per cent contribution counts towards the ceiling as well.The generation gap

Most baby boomers think the younger generation will do it tougher financially than them – but the Henschke family suggests perhaps not.

The two generations have quite different aspirations about buying a home. According to a survey of ”affluent investors” by asset management firm Legg Mason, 70 per cent feel ”investment prospects would be worse for future generations”. And fewer than half of them are convinced they’re saving enough for retirement.

Legg Mason’s Matt Schiffman’s advice is to ”invest early in life and make sure you understand what you’re investing in”.

At 28, Laura Henschke, says: ”Time is getting on. I’ve worked hard to pay off my debts and am now able to consider investing.”

Although she and her partner, Michael, will invest in property, they aren’t keen to buy a place to live in. Yet, at her age, baby boomers were typically already buying their dream home.

Her retired dad, Mark, who runs his own super fund, says: ”For my generation it was ‘buy a home’, and that was it.”

But Laura, a laywer, says the couple prefers ”to invest at this stage. I don’t have a desire for a big house. We’d rather invest wisely. Eventually in our late 30s or early 40s we might get a house.”

Mark says if he had his time over again he’s not sure he would have bought a home first. ”Maybe there would be different choices,” he says.

Read David Potts in Weekend Money, in the paper each Sunday.


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New cost discipline part of the wider corporate environment

One of the key features of the US economic recovery from the financial crisis has been the divergent performances of the business sector and labour market.
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Although the unemployment rate of 6.3 per cent is well below its peak, the US economy is still a long way off full employment. Long-term unemployment – those out of work for more than 12 months – remains stubbornly high while the slow recovery in the participation rate points to still far too many discouraged workers.

Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, recently reiterated that monetary policy will remain accommodative for as long as it takes to restore full employment to the US economy.

A flipside of considerable slack in the labour market has been a rapid recovery in the corporate sector. Profit margins and the profit share of GDP have continued to increase to reach record highs as has the S&P500, which is 20 per cent above its pre-GFC peak. The boom in profitability stems largely from near-zero interest rates and corporate America’s aggressive approach to trimming costs in the face of a weak domestic economy and anaemic revenue growth.

More recently, the penny has dropped for Australian firms that low nominal GDP growth and an anaemic revenue environment is the new normal. The economy has been stuck in a nominal recession for two years now, with nominal GDP growing by less than 4 per cent per annum in 2012 and 2013, the weakest consecutive years since the recession of the early 1990s.

Faced with the headwind of weak top-line growth, companies have sought to boost profitability by deferring capex, shedding non-core businesses, trimming costs and lifting efficiency. BHP and Rio Tinto have divested underperforming assets; Telstra, ANZ and QBE are just some companies that continue to offshore IT and other back-office operations, while the big banks have cut back on staff in areas burdened by excess capacity, notably business lending.

The relentless focus on cost control is now being reflected in generational change among senior management and boards. CEOs and chairmen who have a demonstrated track record of delivering strong acquisition-led growth during the boom years no longer command a premium in the managerial market, and are being replaced by more cost-conscious CEOs.

The new cost discipline is a welcome development following decades where CEOs focused on growing revenues and empire building, at the expense of profitability and shareholder value. The more ruthless approach is starting to pay dividends; gross operating surplus – the key economy-wide measure of profits – grew by almost 10 per cent in 2013.

From its quarterly statement of monetary policy released last week, it is clear the RBA expects nominal GDP growth to remain weak, due to further falls in the terms of trade and the view that the economy still has a fair degree of spare capacity.

The prospect that revenue conditions will remain soft for a while will therefore continue to focus the minds of CEOs on what they can control rather than chasing the pipedream of double-digit revenue growth and market share gains that destroy shareholder wealth.

Any risk that corporate Australia’s focus on cost control could lead to a shortfall in aggregate demand should give the RBA plenty of scope to keep interest rates lower for longer than many expect. Ultimately, the new cost discipline promises to be good news for investors, less so for workers and job-seekers.

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Picking mushrooms the safest way

Don’t risk it: Death cap mushrooms which are found in the ACT region. Photo: Jay Cronan
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There are some foods that really speak of the changing seasons – soon as you see them, bam, a recipe pops straight into mind. Like in early spring, a box of asparagus has you thinking of the warming weather, of new growth and longer days. This time of year, a box filled with wild mushrooms plus a bag of freshly picked chestnuts has me thinking of frosty mornings, achingly clear cold days and late autumn food.

The mushrooms come from Tumbarumba and came with freshly dug onions, garlic, fennel seeds and oregano. Autumn in a box. The couple who supply this have a Scandinavian connection so knew a lot about foraging, saunas and pickling before it all became trendy. Every year they scour the pine plantations for saffron milk caps, aka the pine mushroom. Risky stuff: we have been told repeatedly not to pick wild mushrooms unless you have something like a PhD in microflora. Why? Because every year there are poisonings from death caps, so just buy packaged dried mushrooms if in doubt.

There are many great things that came out of Europe: our wine industry, clogs and Eurovision to name just a few. However we also got things we didn’t count on, such as Portuguese food, soccer and these death cap mushrooms. They grow around European oaks and can look similar to some edible mushrooms but they are nothing like pine mushrooms which, as their names suggests, grow around pine trees. Anyway, I trust my Nordic friends fully and welcome their autumnal gifts along with a half kilo of fresh killed venison. They directed me to make a meat loaf or a pie out of all this, which is exactly what I did, with an Italian twist.

The pasticcio pre-dates the pie by a few hundred years. A very thin, buttery, pasta-like pastry is filled with all sorts of meats and vegetables, baked and served with a bitter greens salad.Venison, wild mushroom and chestnut pasticcio pie

70g unsalted butter plus 50g butter (for bechamel)

12 roasted chestnuts, peeled

2 small onions, diced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tbsp fennel seeds

1½ cup marsala

100g prosciutto fat, diced (lardo or even pork fat works too)

2 large chicken livers, chopped to a puree

3 tbsp tomato extract or paste

olive oil

500g venison shoulder, minced

300g pork belly, minced

100g dried pine mushrooms (or 20g dried porcini mushroom) soaked in a little hot water to soften

½ bunch parsley, leaves chopped

4 sprigs oregano, chopped

⅓ cup plain flour

1 cup milk

chicken or veal stock, as needed

3 eggs plus 1 yolk

200g finely sliced prosciutto

pasticcio pastry (see recipe above)

salt and pepper

Chop the chestnuts and saute in a little butter. Put them aside. Remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid, saving the liquid for later, and saute in more butter on a low heat.

Remove the mushrooms and reserve with the chestnuts.

Add more butter to the pan and saute the onions and garlic until soft. Add fennel seeds and cook for another minute. Increase the heat and add the wine plus the soaking liquid for the mushrooms. Cook this down to a thick sauce, about ¼ of a cup. Stir in chicken livers, tomato paste and prosciutto fat, mix them together. remove and reserve. Clean the pan or, if you are like me, just keep using them until you have dirty pots and pans piled up.

Get the pan hot and add oil to just coat the bottom. Quickly sear the venison and pork in small batches. Add this to the onion mixture along with the herbs. Combine the two mixtures and season.

Make the bechamel. Heat the butter and cook until it stops sizzling. Add flour and mix with a wooden spoon to remove lumps. Cook for a few minutes until it turns a sandy colour. Add milk and whisk until smooth. Cook over a low heat for 20 minutes adding stock if it looks stodgy – it should be quite thick and creamy. Mix this alongside the eggs and egg yolk into the pie filling.

Roll two balls of the pastry out into thin discs just slightly larger than the 22cm spring form pan you have ready, buttered and lined. Roll the other ball into a 4cm wide strip that will go around the circumference on the pan.

Lay one disc on the bottom, press the strip of pastry around the edge of the pan so that it just folds over the top, sealing the edges and joins. Lay half the prosciutto across the bottom in one layer, cover with the filling, lay the rest of the prosciutto on top.

Cover with other round of pastry, fold and pinch the edges and poke a few air holes in the top. Whisk the egg yolk and brush all over the top.

Bake at 180C for an hour or until it is golden brown and tests at 65C internally. Serve with a green salad.Pasticcio pastry

3 cups strong flour (Petra 3 or high protein)

100g butter, melted

2 tbsp vodka or other white spirit

8 drops of lemon juice, no more, no less

2 egg yolks (extra large or 3 small)

1 tsp salt

It’s best to do this by hand. Make a pile of flour and scoop out the centre, mix everything else in a bowl and pour it into the flour. Take a fork and mix it all gradually into the flour, working in just enough to make a dough ball.

Knead this for 15 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. You can use a mixer but be careful not to add too much flour. Divide into three equal balls, chill for a few hours. Now it’s ready to use.

>> Bryan Martin is winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla.

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Growing pecans in Canberra isn’t nutty

Stately: Pecans have been grown in Australia for more than 150 years. Photo: Supplied
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Last Saturday I had a visitor asking me what nut trees could he plant in Canberra. Well, he came to someone who has tried to plant every possible nut tree, with mixed success. Almonds flower too early and the frosts seem to always nip the buds, so we have not gathered any crops and our early plantings of walnut trees have died.

However, one of the loveliest nut trees that can be grown is the pecan tree. It will grow into a large spreading tree, quite shapely in appearance with long, willowy branches and finely shaped leaves.

We did not plant pecans initially, preferring to plant an avenue of walnut trees along our driveway. Walnuts have a very deep tap root system and alas, we did not deep-rip our shaley soil alongside our driveway. So the 12 walnut trees struggled to grow and finally died.

Walnut trees need good drainage and the opportunity to penetrate deeply into the soil below. The best walnut tree I have seen growing in Canberra is near Bert Hauptmann’s house at his Pialligo orchard in Beltana Road, growing in the alluvial soils close to the Molongo River.

We can see the difference in growing conditions when we visit our son Stephen and his family in Leeton. The newly established walnut grove on the eastern outskirts of Leeton is doing very well where the soil structure of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area is so different from our highlands-based soils.

Pecan trees are native to North America. Coming from the hot and dry parts of the continent they are suitable for our land. They have been grown in Australia for more than 150 years. They need to be able to send their roots down deep into the soil, so if you decide to plant a pecan tree you will need to allow plenty of space, remove any rocky substrata, ensure good drainage and show plenty of patience in the coming years. They can take up to 10 years to begin producing a reasonable crop of nuts. And when the crop is on the tree, it will need regular summer watering to fill out the nuts. In addition, remember that they are typically biennial, so you can only expect a big crop every second year – and that is only when we have a long hot summer. However, they are long lasting trees, very graceful in appearance and they will probably outlive your grandchildren.

As with most other nut trees, pecan trees produce both male and female flowers on the same tree. However, there is just a small window of reception with the female flower so effective fertilisation really needs two or three varieties where the male flower is available at the right time. This is a very similar story to that of cherry trees, so that a single tree will look beautiful but not yield much of a crop.

The male pecan flowers are produced on the previous year’s wood, in the form of long stalky catkins. Female flowers are produced at the end of small shoots that have grown in the most recent season. And with the pollination being windborne, it is best to plant the primary pollinator on the north western side of the group of pecan trees, as that is the prevailing wind direction for Canberra.

Pecan trees need long warm to hot summers but also need some 600 plus chill hours during winter to properly set the flowers. From the last spring frost they need between 180 to 220 days of frost free weather to produce a mature nut (the time difference relates to the variety). The nut matures in late April and through the month of May, so you will have the case of leaves falling and nuts still hanging on the trees.

There are few problems with growing pecans, but their long growing season means that they are an easy target for birds, especially cockatoos. The biggest plantation of pecans is located in Moree and they have even resorted to using helicopters to chase the birds away.

Western Schley is the main variety planted in the commercial plantations to our north but this has a long maturing period, of around 230 days so is not really suitable for Canberra. Cheyenne is a high yielding variety with only 180-200 days for its growing season. It is a smaller tree than most pecans and it produces good quality, smallish sized nuts. It does require very regular waterings to fill out the nuts in late summer and autumn.

Cherokee is another high-producing variety with under 200 days in its growing season. Cherokee does produce large quantities of medium-sized nuts. If it is growing on fertile soils, it does require regular pruning. Shoshoni is another early maturing variety, producing a large nut. Tejas is the fourth suitable variety, with a short growing season. Its nuts are small in size but normally well filled. It acts as a good pollinator for Cherokee and Cheyenne.Pecan pie

20g ground pecans

200g shortcrust pastry

75g pecan nuts, shelled

2 large free range eggs

100g brown sugar

50g maple syrup

250g golden syrup

½ tsp vanilla essence

Mix the ground pecans into the shortcrust pastry then roll it out. Line a shallow pie dish. Blind bake for 20 minutes at 190C, making sure to weigh the pastry down with rice.

Remove and allow to cool. Layer the shelled pecans onto the pastry. Beat the eggs and add in the brown sugar. When well mixed, add in the maple syrup, golden syrup and vanilla essence. Then carefully pour the mixture over the pecan nuts.

Bake at 220C for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 180C and bake for another 30 minutes. Cool and place in the refrigerator for one hour before serving with thick cream.> Owen Pidgeon runs the Loriendale Organic Orchard near Hall.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


Federal budget 2014: Young to wait until 25 to get dole

Federal budget 2014: Full coverageFederal budget 2014: Interactive data explorerFederal budget 2014: Where will your tax dollars go?
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Young people wishing to sign onto the dole will be forced to wait six months before they receive a cent of government money, after which they will have to work for the dole for another six months before either getting a job, or getting cut off again for another six months.

From January 1 next year, all under-30s who want to sign onto the dole (Newstart) or Youth Allowance ”Other” (the present, lesser payment for unemployed people up to 22) will be subject to the new system, which will save the budget $1.2 billion over four years and which is aimed at getting the young ”earning or learning”.

In addition to the six-month waiting period, the eligibility age for Newstart will rise from 22 to 25 years. Newstart is worth about $45 more a week for a single person living apart from their parents than the Young Allowance ”Other” payment.

During the mandatory six-month waiting period the young unemployed person will be required to participate in a government-funded ”job search and employment services activities”. If he or she has previously been employed, the six-month waiting period will be discounted – for every year of previous employment, a month will be taken off the waiting period.

Once the six-month waiting period is over, the unemployed youngster will have to do at least 25 hours a week in Work for the Dole activities for another six months, before either getting a job or going back through the whole cycle again, meaning another six months of no government money whatsoever.

Employers who pick workers off the dole queue will be eligible for a wage subsidy – meaning the young person’s dole payment would be re-directed to his or her employer for six months.

In addition to these changes, threshold tests for the dole will remain frozen for three years from July 1, as opposed to rising in line with the CPI. The actual rates of Newstart and Youth Allowance will also be frozen.

Some jobless under-30s will be exempt from the tough new scheme, including those unable to work more than 30 hours a week, carers and parents, part-time apprentices and Disability Employment Service clients.

Young people on the Disability Support Pension also face a crack-down. All DSP recipients under 35 who signed onto their pension between 2008 and 2011 (when tougher eligibility criteria were introduced by the previous Labor government) will be reassessed under the new, tighter system.

People with a ”severe or manifest” disability will not have to re-apply, which appears to leave the way open for recipients with a mental illness to be reassessed. Those recipients under 35 who are assessed as being able to work for at least eight hours a week will also be given a ”participation plan”, meaning they will have to engage in labour market activities of some sort, such as Work for the Dole, work experience or education and training. People who do not comply will be sanctioned, although the budget papers do not specify how.

Disability Support Pension recipients will not be able to leave Australia for more then four weeks and keep collecting their pension overseas. This will save the budget $12.3 million over five years.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


Federal budget 2014: Greatest family tax benefit sting in threshold for part B

Family tax payments will be tightened from 2015, with families on sole incomes – those who currently receive family tax benefit part B – to be hit hardest.
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The new income threshold test for recipients of FTB part B will be reduced to $100,000 and these families will be cut off from the payment when their youngest child turns six, a drastic change from the current situation where it stops when the youngest child turns 16.

This change reflects the government’s view that assistance should be limited once a child is in school, and will save the government $18 million over two years.

FTB part B was a pet policy of the Howard government and targets families with stay-at-home mothers. ”Staying at home should be a parents’ choice but there are limits to how much support the taxpayer can give,” the Treasurer Joe Hockey said in his budget speech.

The policy changes were designed to help boost female workforce participation, he said.

The effect of this measure is softened for the poorest single parents by a supplementary payment of $750 per year for each child aged between six and 12 years old.

The reduction in the FTB B income threshold will save the government $4 million in 2014-15.

Recipients of family tax benefit A have also been slugged, with the income threshold for eligible families reduced from a maximum of about $150,000 to a new maximum of $94,316. The FTB A and FTB B end-of-year supplements will be reduced to $600 and $300 respectively, a measure which will save the government $3 million over the next two years.

Although these changes will not be implemented until July 2015, the payment rates of the two benefits will be frozen for the next two years.

There are two million families currently receiving family tax benefit A or B, and most families who receive one of the FTBs receive the other as well, a fact Mr Hockey said on Tuesday was a surprise to him when he began the Expenditure Review Committee process.

Family tax benefit payments account for well over half the family assistance budget, and will cost $19 billion in the 2014-15 budget year.

Families and those wishing to start them will still be able to access a range of other payments, from the large-family supplement of up to $314 for the fourth child and subsequent children, and a newborn supplement and upfront payment of up to $2,001 per child.

The government was also keen to advertise its ”genuine” paid parental leave scheme, which budget papers confirm will be reduced from a maximum income threshold cap of $150,000 to a threshold cap of $100,000.

The scheme will be introduced from July 1, 2015 and will include superannuation. It provides up recipients up to 26 weeks pay at their replacement wage at no less than the minimum wage.

With Matt Wade

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.