Phelps factor exciting for Aussies

Australian sprint queen Cate Campbell says the return of Michael Phelps is only adding to the excitement ahead of this month’s Pan Pacific Swimming Championships.

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The American legend successfully booked his berth at the four-day event on the Gold Coast over the weekend, finishing second in the 100m butterfly at the US National Championships in California.

Campbell, fresh from her 100m freestyle win at the Commonwealth Games, says there’s a buzz in the Australian team following Phelps’ successful qualification.

“Phelps is a superstar,” Campbell said.

“He’ll get bums on seats … he’s a true legend of the sport and we’re so excited to have him.”

Phelps has been far from his best at the US championships as the 18-time Olympic gold medallist attempts a comeback after his retirement at the 2012 London Games.

Campbell’s sister Bronte said while the 29-year-old’s results haven’t been spectacular, she feels he’s swimming well for someone who’s taken so much time out.

“What Phelps has done is amazing,” Bronte said.

“If I take two weeks off I feel terrible after that so for him, coming back after two years and coming back in such form … it just goes to show what a world-class athlete he is.

“He’s definitely shown his resilience and endurance as well.”

Phelps aside, the Campbell sisters say the Americans will have been paying close attention to Australia’s performance during the recent Glasgow Games.

“They’ve been watching us over at the Commonwealth Games, there’s no mistaking they’ve been watching,” Bronte said.

“Now they’re going to come and see what we can do.”

Domestic violence taskforce panel for Qld

Two government MPs and an independent are expected to join former governor-general Quentin Bryce on a task force to tackle domestic violence in Queensland.

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The Liberal National Party (LNP) announced Dame Quentin would chair the bipartisan taskforce on Sunday.

Greenslopes MP Ian Kaye and also Sandgate MP Kerry Millard will sit on the panel, as will independent Gladstone MP Liz Cunningham.

“She sees it as being very important that we go hard after this issue,” Premier Campbell Newman told reporters in Brisbane on Monday.

The panel will also include several representatives from non-government organisations.

It will review current support services available to victims and identify ways to address the growing number of abuse cases.

Mr Newman agreed the problem was often hidden under a “shroud of secrecy”.

“That is always a recipe for bad things to flourish and I simply make that as a general point” he said.

But he also warned that if the issue was to be made more transparent, there was a need for balance.

“It is one for the taskforce to examine, and come up with recommendations that find the right balance between protecting, for example, children who are involved sometimes, and also the need for us to send a message to the perpetrators.”

Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk on Sunday accused the LNP of ignoring the problem of domestic violence, after the Labor party introduced a private member’s bill into state parliament in May.

Mr Newman said he had been collecting his thoughts on the issue for two to three months, long before the weekend announcement.

The premier also rejected the suggestion that there was a correlation between increased domestic violence rates and social pressures, such as unemployment.

“I don’t know if I see it in those terms. I would see other factors at work, I’ve got to say. There’s been periods of far higher unemployment in this country” he said.

Queensland’s unemployment rate has soared to an 11-year high of 6.8-per cent for July, up from 6.3-per cent in June.

Lawyers seek MH17 compo fund

Australia is being urged to work with other countries affected by the MH17 disaster to set up an international compensation fund.

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The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 is believed to have been downed over eastern Ukraine on July 17 by pro-Russian separatists firing a surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 people on board including 38 Australians.

The aircraft had been flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in airspace considered by many airlines to be too risky.

Shine Lawyers senior solicitor Joseph Wheeler has been working in the law firm’s aviation department on options for compensation for families of victims.

Mr Wheeler told AAP one of the best options would be for a multi-country fund to be set up to help the families.

This would avoid a “long and drawn-out combination of politics and diplomacy”, seen after previous disasters such as the Lockerbie bombing.

“We will be lobbying the government of all the nationalities affected to set up some sort of victims fund to compensate them earlier,” Mr Wheeler said.

“That would be the most expedient, because if there are pressures like sanctions to get a certain government who is responsible to come to the negotiating table it is going to take time.

“During this time families have needs.”

At the time of the downing of MH17, international aviation authorities had been working to limit the air safety threat caused by the fighting in the Ukraine.

The jetliner had been flying at 33,000 feet, which was technically out of restricted airspace.

Since April the area had been subject to various NOTAMs (notices to airmen) warning pilots of the risks of flying in the region.

A UK NOTAM issued on June 30 said: “Potentially hazardous situation Ukraine airspace … UK aircraft operators are strongly advised to avoid until further notice.”

Mr Wheeler said Malaysia Airlines had offered families $US50,000 ($A54,100) but anyone signing up to this needed to be careful they were not also signing away their legal rights.

“This is a woefully low amount of money,” he said.

Victims’ families have a range of avenues and jurisdictions in which to seek compensation under international conventions, which could potentially be in the millions of dollars.

Claims could be lodged in Malaysia where the aircraft was registered, or in Australia if a passenger was a permanent resident, or in the final place of destination for any of the passengers regardless of nationality.

Settling out of court is another possibility.

British lawyers have been examining a class action against the Russian President Vladimir Putin through US courts but this is considered unlikely to succeed.

Woodside teams up for new African project

Woodside Petroleum is teaming up with US energy giant Noble to explore a deep water prospect off West Africa, just months after walking away from a joint deal in Israel.

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The oil and gas company has bought a 40 per cent stake in an exploration, exploitation and production acreage off the coast of Gabon.

Woodside did not disclose the value of the deal, in which Noble Energy will hold a 60 per cent interest, and will be the operator.

But an analyst has questioned whether Woodside is under too much pressure to produce a major growth project, and whether it should rather return cash to shareholders.

Woodside chief executive Peter Coleman said the deal was an opportunity for his company to secure significant acreage in an emerging oil-prone province with a “like-minded and experienced partner”.

“This is yet another exciting opportunity for us in Africa, building on recent acquisitions in Tanzania and Morocco,” Mr Coleman said.

In May, Woodside abandoned its $US2.7 billion Leviathan joint venture gas deal in Israel after negotiations with Noble Energy and other partners broke down.

The Leviathan project was one of only two major long-term growth prospects for the company, with the other being Browse in Western Australia.

An analyst who did not wish to be named said Woodside was adopting a risky strategy of looking abroad for growth, rather than making their West Australian assets more efficient and reaping the rewards.

“If there’s nothing doing in Australia, just buy back shares and if you have to wait for the gas price to come down then so be it,” the analyst said.

“Going off around the world doesn’t play to their strengths at all.”

Woodside shares gained nine cents to $41.69.

Bendigo Bank’s profit gain impresses

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank has delivered a better than expected profit in the face of growing competition and customers getting ahead on loan repayments.

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The regional bank’s full year cash earnings rose by 10 per cent to $382.3 million, above the $376 million expected by analysts.

But it was the company’s profit margin on its loans, which grew by five basis points to 2.14 per cent – that really impressed the market.

The increased margin was surprising, given strong competition among the big four banks for new customers was expected to push margins lower across the banking sector, IG market strategist Evan Lucas said.

“They’ve managed to somehow keep their noses clean with regards to the fist fight that’s going on in that space and that’s quite impressive,” he said.

Shares in Bendigo climbed 28 cents, or 2.3 per cent, to $12.46.

Managing director Mike Hirst said competition in the financial sector was increasing, especially with new entrants into the payments market, but the bank was focused on sustainable growth.

“We don’t see that the market is going to get any less competitive on the asset side, we’ll stick to our knitting and make sure we are growing the balance sheet at profitable prices,” he said.

New loan approvals grew by 16 per cent during the year, but Bendigo’s performance was impacted by customers taking advantage of low interest rates to pay down debt on their home faster than necessary.

“The issue for us is that the repayments our customers have been making over and above what they need to do under their schedule has also been pretty strong,” he said.

“It does make it more difficult for our branches to achieve their growth targets but it’s a fantastic result for our customers if they can build that excess capability into their loans.”

Mr Hirst said the bank’s long term prospects could be boosted by the outcomes of the federal government’s inquiry into the financial system, which he expects will include a call for lower amounts of capital required to be held by smaller lenders, in order to increase their competitiveness.

“We will see, I think, a levelling of the playing field and we are very well positioned to take advantage of that,” he said.

BENDIGO BANKS ANOTHER SOLID PROFIT

* Net profit of $372.3m, up six pct from $352.3m in 2012/13

* Cash profit of $382.3m, up 10 pct from $337.6m

* Final dividend of 33 cents, up two cents