Archive for January 2019

Gambling lobbyist to head Libs

Chris Downy … the favourite to become president of the NSW Liberal Party.A GAMBLING industry lobbyist, Chris Downy, is the favourite to become president of the NSW Liberal Party as the O’Farrell government considers granting a second Sydney casino licence to James Packer at Barangaroo.
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Mr Downy, pictured, a former NSW minister for sport and racing, is the outgoing chief executive of the Australasian Casino Association.

The casino association’s president is Rowen Craigie, the chief executive of Mr Packer’s company, Crown Ltd, which is urging the government to grant it the Sydney casino licence.

Last month Mr Downy left to join another gambling industry lobby group, the Australian Wagering Council, which represents online gambling companies.

Its inaugural members include the online betting agency Betfair, a company in which Crown has an interest.

Last Friday Mr Downy, who is backed by the moderate faction, nominated to replace Senator Arthur Sinodinos as president of the NSW Liberals in a vote in December. He is expected to easily defeat his challenger, mortgage broker John Ruddick, who is backed by the hard right faction.

As NSW Liberal president, Mr Downy would take a seat on the party’s powerful state executive alongside the Premier, Barry O’Farrell. Mr O’Farrell announced on October 25 that Mr Packer’s six-star hotel and casino project for Barangaroo had received cabinet approval to proceed to stage two of a three-stage ”unsolicited proposals” assessment process.

Mr Packer wants to include VIP-only gambling rooms in the proposed hotel to make the project profitable. He needs the government to issue a second Sydney casino licence when the monopoly licence held by the Star casino expires in 2019.

The government has said the casino licence would not go to tender, arguing that Crown was uniquely placed to carry out the project.

A former senator, Helen Coonan, ruled herself out of the running to become NSW Liberal president just days after the government announced initial approval for Mr Packer’s plan.

Ms Coonan, who is a director of Mr Packer’s company, Crown Ltd, had been approached by senior party figures in the right faction and had been considering her options.

She said the decision to give the green light to progress Crown’s proposal to stage two had ”no direct bearing on my decision”.

Former Future Fund chairman David Murray has been appointed to oversee the panel undertaking stage two of the process, which will examine the benefit to NSW of a second licence. It is expected to report early next year. Mr Downy did not respond to a request for comment.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

New trailer for Grand Theft Auto V

The new GTA V trailer give insight into the u;coming game’s three playable protagonists.After months of near-silence, Rockstar has released a new Grand Theft Auto V trailer, and it’s packed with the kind of details that are guaranteed to get long-term fans excited.
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We don’t normally cover game trailers here on Screen Play, but GTA is a special case. Love it or hate it, every new GTA release is a major event, and when notoriously tight-lipped Rockstar finally releases a pile of new game information in the form of a new trailer, people take notice. The new trailer has coincided with a suite of interviews and previews in Game Informer magazine.

The first thing I took note of in the trailer was the humour. While GTA IV had its share of laughs, it was criticised by many for being too grim and bleak. Niko was just too serious for many fans of the series, and his tale of loss and redemption was regarded as too heavy-handed. The good news is that this new trailer is laugh-out-loud funny, and seems to have a lighter touch.

We finally get our first really good look at GTA V’s three playable characters. Inspired by the success of the interconnecting stories in GTA IV and its two DLC episodes, Rockstar decided to build that feature right into the base game, with their stories interconnecting, and the three of them sometimes going on missions together.

The trailer gives us peeks at these three men. Michael is an aging former bank robber, dissatisfied with his life, and finally running out of money. His old friend Trevor never left the life of crime, and is a violent drug-addicted career criminal, running drugs and guns. Franklin is a young, ambitious black man, who gets involved with Michael and Trevor in an effort to improve his position.

I was hoping that we might finally get a playable female character in a GTA game, but it’s not happening this time.

We also get a look at the gigantic world of Los Santos. Rockstar has said that the game area is bigger than Red Dead Redemption, GTA: San Andreas, and GTA IV combined, and a wide variety of terrain is visible in the trailer – LA-like urban areas, lush suburbs, arid highways, and scorched deserts. Those who complained about GTA IV’s lack of planes will be pleased to see a fighter jet make an appearance.

The game also looks stunning. I always felt that GTA IV looked somewhat primitive, with characters and animation that were never quite as good as the quality of the scripts and voice acting. The new world isn’t just huge, but also looks great, and promises to be the most realist-looking GTA setting.

Apart from these revelations, the trailer is packed with the expected gunfights, chases, crime, sportscars, brawls, and explosions. You can watch the trailer below, or if that doesn’t work in your browser you can watch it on the Rockstar site here.

– James “DexX” Dominguez

DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

24 questions from the lord mayor

QUESTIONS
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1.Why was interest and investment income so far above budget, yet closely aligned to last year?

2.Why did employee benefits and on-costs exceed budget by $3 million (3.5%)?

3. What was the $400 million adjustment to depreciation on the adjusted asset revaluation last year? Did this occur during the year or at year end? (page 2)

4.The Statement of Cash Flows appears to be incomplete. No payments have been included as yet.

5.Note 2(a) – Page 21

Why are there such wide variations in expenses between this year, the budget and last year for the “City Assets” division and “City Engagement” division? Can you please provide this summaryexcludingthe depreciation applied to each division as this will have a distorting effect.

6. Note 3(b) – Page 24

Please explain how income from RTA works is derived, and how such works are commissioned.

7.Note 3(c) – Page 25

Is Interest charged on overdue rates and charges recognised when levied or collected? If when levied, how much of it is actually collected and who determines when to levy and when to write off?

8.Note 3(d) – Page 25

Parking fines have risen by 15% in the year. Are parking Rangers paid on any form of “commission” or bonus basis, or are they straight wages staff?

‘Investment Recoupment’ of $1 million – was this related to the Lehman Brothers investments?

9.Note 3(e) – Grants – Page 26

How do we earn Financial Assistance grants? Was the additional grant money received this year applicable to anything specific? Is the “financial assistance in advance” sum of $6.789 million monies that are allocated for expenditure in 2012/13, and why was it paid in advance?

10.Note 3(f) – Contributions – Page 27

Please explain Employee’s Corporate Fitness/entitlements of $1.004 million. Is it offset by a cost?

11.Note 3(g) – Restrictions Relating to Grants – Page 28

Does this table highlight that the net operating result for the year has in essence been enhanced by $4.39 million in the current year for grant monies not yet spent? What is the process for recognising grant monies? Is it based on “receipt of cash”?

Note that Grant “receivables” increased by $2.3 million in the current year (page 36).

12.Note 4 – Expenses from Continuing Operations – Page 29

(a)Total Employee costs are net of any capitalised costs. When added back Total Employee Costs have risen by 3.8% on last year. Capitalised Wages Costs were $3.516million against $1.7million last year. What is the test for capitalisation of wages, and what assets was this allocated to, and why has the capitalisation value doubled this year?

(c) Materials and Contracts – is there any internal accounting that matches the Variation in materials and contracts to grant related expenditure?

Is there an internal break-up of fees paid to external contractors and is this matched against projects?

Is there accountability and a reconciliation of individual projects?

(d) Depreciation, Amortisation – Page 30

The amortisation of library looks doubled this year to $1.146 million. What is the value of library books and why the accelerated write-down?

e) Other Expenses

Street Lighting costs increased by $700K. Is this linked to electricity costs?

Electricity costs rose by $400K (23%). Do we have a long term deal with a retailer?

Telephone costs rose by 14%. Do we have a contract plan for all phones? Is personal use accounted for?

‘Other Expenses’ of $541K this year against a zero comparison last year. What are these costs related to?

13.Note 5 – Gain or Loss on Disposal of Assets – Page 31

A loss of $1.388million was incurred on the sale of Infrastructure, Plant & Equipment. What was the detail behind this?

14.Note 6(a) – Cash & Cash Equivalents – Page 32

Why was an additional $18million moved to Deposits on Call at the end of the Year?

15.Notes 6(b) and 6(c) – Page 33 and 34

The level of ‘unrestricted cash’ has decreased by around $2.5 million, leaving just $4.7 million. Are Council’s cash flows separated by expenditure of ‘unrestricted’ and ‘restricted‘ cash?

How and when is the determination made to transfer monies to “restrictions”? is this part of the budget process?

16.Note 10(a) & (b) – Payables, Borrowings & Provisions – Page 40 & 41

Employee provisions total $35.3 million this year compared to $33.6 million last year, an increase of 5%. Is there an active program to ensure staff leave is taken and backlogs are not accrued? It is noted that provision increases exceeded payments in all three leave categories.

17. Note 16 – Material Budget Variations – Page 51

Is this a serious attempt to explain budget variations? What is the materiality test in reference to this note?

18.Note 17 – Statement of Developer Contributions – Page 52

The Note highlights $11.247 million held in s94A Plan Contributions. Is there an expenditure plan for these monies?

The Note highlights a shortfall of $16.1million in “Project costs of works still outstanding”, which represents almost two-thirds of the amount. How will this shortfall be addressed and over what time frame? Most of it relates to “Open Space” (page 54). What does this mean?

19. Note 18 – Contingencies – Page 55

– Superannuation – is there likely to be any further increases required in Employer Contributions in the short term?

– Lehman Bros Debt – are the auditors comfortable with the level of provision against non-recovery?

– Other Contingencies – what steps have been taken to ensure any/all contingencies have been disclosed?

20. Note 21 – Non-current assets classified as held for sale – Page 64

What are the parcels of land that have been classified totalling $17.962 million, and what is the time frame for sale? Do we havecurrentvaluations supporting the values?

21.Note 22 – Events Occurring afterBalance Date – Page 65

What formal steps have been taken to determine any material events that should be included in this disclosure?

Should the sale of the parking stations be included here?

22.Special Schedule No. 1 – Net Cost of Services – Page 68

– Governance Costs increased by $1.7M or 36%. Is this real or a reallocation issue?

– Administration costs decreased significantly. Is this real or a reallocation issue?

– Beach control net costs increased from $3.3M to $4.3M, an increase of 31%. Is this real or a reallocation issue?

– How much of the increased costs of the ‘Recreation & Culture’ category relates to depreciation? What are the real increases for pools, art galleries and libraries?

23.Special Schedule No. 8 – Financial Projections – Page 72

The projections show a forecast operating loss over the next four years of $56M, with the capital program of $209M over the same period funded by $150M in reserves, $46M in asset sales, $29M in grants and contributions and $40M from new borrowings.

Does this allow for Council to make a serious inroad into the backlog of capital works required to bring assets up to an acceptable level?

Are we confident of the asset figures?

Where will the funding come from if there are shortfalls in asset sales or grants?

24.Special Schedule No. 7 – Page 71

The Estimated Cost to bring assets to a satisfactory standard hasincreasedfrom $112.7 million last year to $117.3 million this year, as only $27.6 million was spent on maintenance, against $34.7 million last year. As such the required annual maintenance expenses required has increased to $46.1 million.

Had not the Council decided to allocate more money to the maintenance program to ensure the backlog was caught up, and wasn’t this part of the reason behind the Special Rate Variation in 2008?

How are decisions made in relation to new capital projects versus backlog maintenance?

Do we have a sound long term financial plan?

Bond’s publicity parade sweeps into town

HAVING taken in nine cities around the world, from London to Madrid in just over a fortnight and endured a seemingly interminable number of photo and media opportunities, James Bond actor Daniel Craig could be forgiven for being a little shaken, if not quite stirred, by the time he walks the red carpet in Sydney on Friday night.
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Sydney is the final stop in a gruelling promotional campaign for the cast of the latest Bond film Skyfall.

With so much riding on the commercial success of the film, the cast has been contractually obliged to undertake an exhausting international travelling sideshow, led by Craig, which began in London on October 23 with a world premiere attended by the royal family.

By the time they have reached Sydney, the actors will have clocked up about 20,000 kilometres each – jetting around aboard private jets with stylists, hairdressers, make-up artists and publicists preparing for each premiere with military-like precision.

But not even Bond could beat nature. Craig had to pull out of New York because of superstorm Sandy which meant he was unable to attend the premiere there on November 5.

Instead he sent a video message in which he told New Yorkers: ”I know it’s Monday night but I beg you, please, get drunk.”

In true secret service fashion, the cast’s movements in Sydney are classified information. But Craig, along with Bond girls Berenice Marlohe and Naomie Harris have been scheduled for media interviews on Friday before the premiere at the State Theatre.

This week, flags featuring the actor in character were hung around the city’s streets while local outposts of the film’s multinational corporate marketing partners are planning an array of events across the city. They include the champagne house Bollinger, Bond’s bubbly of choice, which is hosting a pre-premiere soiree on Friday.

It is estimated that product placement deals are worth about $45 million, about a third of the film’s budget.

Billboards promoting watchmaker Omega’s titanium Seamaster Planet Ocean model, which Bond wears in the film, have sprung up and ads for Heineken, featuring Craig in his character, have started to saturate network television.

And just in time for Christmas stockings, a range of 007 fragrances is about to go on sale in department stores.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

$20 million boost for Aussie game makers

Australia’s troubled video game development sector is set to receive a badly-needed shot in the arm within six months, with Federal Arts Minister Simon Crean announcing a $20 million fund to assist local studios.
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It’s been a tough few years for local game creators, with major changes in the industry occurring alongside an unprecedented increase in the value of the Australian dollar, and of course the global financial crisis causing a slow-down in retail spending.

The first to suffer were the studios who had traditionally taken advantage of our low-value dollar to provide contract work for overseas publishers, typically working on film tie-ins, licensed family games, and ports to get the bills paid. Our greatly inflated dollar suddenly made Australia a less attractive place to get contract work done, so publishers went elsewhere.

For a while, the conventional wisdom was that Aussies needed to move away from contract work on licensed properties and create their own IPs, but those who followed this advice began to suffer too, and Australia lost many of its great old studios in quick succession.

The Australian games industry is now primarily made up of small independent studios making smaller, more casual games, most frequently for touch devices such as the iPhone and iPad. Hardly anyone is making so-called triple-A retail titles in this country any more.

Amidst all of this, many of the creatives and business people working in video games have been asking the Australian government for help. There have been requests for tax incentives to encourage long-term investment in technology and direct funding to assist with production, marketing, and expansion.

Yesterday, the government delivered. The new fund, officially titled the Australia Interactive Games Fund, will provide $20 million in direct financial assistance, and Mr Crean committed to having it up and running before the end of this financial year, a little over seven months away.

The precise form this fund will take is yet to be decided. Apart from the announced timeline, the only other element set into stone is that the fund will be administered by Screen Australia. As to how the funds will be divided up, what kind of things should be funded, and how decisions should be made, Mr Crean announced an upcoming consultation period that will allow the games industry itself to determine the exact nature of the fund.

Anthony Reed, head of the Game Developers Association of Australia, the peak body that represents those who create video games in Australia, was optimistic about the news. He drew particular attention to Mr Crean referring to the new fund as a “down payment”, suggesting that this choice of language indicates that this is just the first fund of its type, a “proof of concept” perhaps, and should it be successful it may pave the way for similar funding models in future.

Speaking with Screen Play, Mr Crean drew attention to the unique challenges faced by game studios. “You see the amount of investment that’s made, and it’s an up-front cost,” he said. “I think that’s an issue we need to address, the start-up component.”

Mr Crean also stressed the importance of the consultative period. While he said that he would like to see the fund “be rewarding of something that’s innovative, something that’s new, that sort of excellence criteria,” he said he is “not going to impose that criteria; this is something we advise the sector in all of its forms to advise us on, how to measure excellence.

“I don’t want to pre-empt that way this fund is spent, but at this stage I want some good input,” he added, “but you will only get good input if people think you’re serious, so that’s why we’re putting the money out there first.”

Considering Australians spend $1.5 billion on video games last year, $20 million might not seem like a lot, but for a small studio, even a few hundred thousand could mean the difference between staying open or shutting down. I hope the government receives a large amount of positive feedback from Australia’s game makers, and this helps to maximise the good this new fund will do.

– James “DexX” Dominguez

DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.