Regis Healthcare and Japara Healthcare give confidence for future aged-care provider IPOs

The successes of Regis Healthcare and Japara Healthcare may lure more to the market. Photo: Nic WalkerA strong sharemarket debut from Regis Healthcare and Japara Healthcare’s resilient start to public ownership will lure more aged-care providers down the initial public offering route, analysts and experts have said.

Patrick Reid, the chief executive of industry lobby group Leading Age Services Australia, said a boom in the section of the population aged over 65 years made the sector attractive to investors.

“In terms of demand, we need to build around 80,000 beds in the next 10 years,” he said. “One of the challenges is the cost to build those beds is about $21 billion. The Commonwealth isn’t in a position to fund that itself.”

Although the rising demand from the ageing population is underpinning a need to build beds, it is not the main reason that companies are raising capital from equity markets.

An analyst who declined to be named said the rush of aged-care operators to the market was based on the high prices they were able to get. Regis shares closed at $4.02, a 10 per cent rise from the $3.65 offer price. At that price the $1.1 billion company is valued at about 25 times its net earnings in 2015-16.

In comparison, Japara’s forward price-to-earnings multiple, a measure used to show how expensive a company is compared to its peers, is 22 times. Healthcare companies in the S&P/ASX200 index are trading on a forward multiple of 18 times.

The analyst said more aged-care IPOs are “highly likely, just given the multiple that Regis got away on”.

In terms of potential IPO candidates, Mr Reid said: “There is a few lining up.”

The float of New Zealand operator Oceania Living was recently pulled in favour of a trade sale. However the Quadrant Private Equity-backed operator Estia Health is progressing towards an IPO early next year, a source familiar with the sale process said.

However Mr Reid urged potential investors to consider the risks posed by changes to subsidy and regulation.

Recent policy changes have led to the removal of the payroll tax supplement and dementia supplement for aged-care providers. “We saw the outflow of $700 million of funding in May and June this year,” Mr Reid said.

“That’s the sovereign risk that I think investors need to weigh carefully.”

Japara’s share price has been jolted by the policy changes. The stock closed down 0.8 per cent on Tuesday at $2.37.

After listing at $2 a share in the $525 million float, Japara has traded above its offer price, but is languishing below a high of $2.72 hit in May.

The analyst said floats coming to the market now, such as Regis, may prove to be better timed. “Given the fact you’ve had a couple of reforms come through … moving forward I think there’s less relative risk,” the analyst said.

But expectations of a ramp up of takeover activity may need to be scaled back. Unlike Japara, which has been buying up smaller operators, Regis has a greater focus on expanding its network by building new homes, as well as adding capacity to existing homes.

In a note to clients, CLSA analysts David Stanton and Zara Lyons said Regis deserved to trade at a premium to Japara because it has higher earnings per place, has more urban places and excess capacity to take in clients

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Bears bite but banks expected to post hefty profits

The banks are expected to post big annual profits again for 2014 despite investors dumping them ahead of the Reserve Bank’s decision to keep the cash rate at 2.5 per cent on Tuesday afternoon.

There could be some long-term justifications for the sell-off. Goldman Sachs is forecasting that the recovery in lending growth, up 5.4 per cent compared to a year ago, will “stall” in the next 12 months.

Higher capital imposts are also more likely for the bigger banks in the years ahead.

Bank of Queensland will kick off the main round of bank annual reports on October 9, with analyst forecasts tipping a 20 per cent rise in cash profit for the year to about $300 million and a 13 per cent rise in earnings and dividends a share.

Australian Prudential Regulation Authority figures show BoQ’s mortgage lending grew about 2 per cent between August last year and August this year. This is well behind system housing growth of 6.7 per cent. But BoQ will get a big boost from $440 million in business loans and deposits it bought with its acquisition of Investec Bank (Australia), completed in late July.

According to APRA figures, BoQ’s business loan book has grown about 5.8 per cent in the year to August, compared to total business lending growth of 3.2 per cent.

This was also aided by new customer wins outside Queensland. The company is also expected to give an update on the search for a replacement for chief executive Stuart Grimshaw, who is expected to take up a new job at pay day lender EZCorp in Texas at the end of October.

But the focus will be on the slower growing big banks, three of which – ANZ Bank, NAB and Westpac – report in late October and early November, and whether they can continue their big shareholder returns of recent years.

Investors are worried the end is nigh for big profits and dividends at the big banks, with the Murray financial system inquiry expected to recommend the majors raise more capital against their mortgages.

There is also the spectre of moves by the Reserve Bank and APRA to dampen soaring house prices in Sydney and Melbourne with targeted measures against investors. However, Deutsche Bank analysts James Freeman and Andrew Triggs expect the impact of any such measures on the big banks to be “limited”.

Goldman Sachs analysts Andrew Lyons and Jien Goh expect NAB to lift its common equity tier one capital level to the top of its target range of between 8.75 and 9.25 per cent due to woes in its British division. But it’s likely too early for any real impact from these possibilities. Once again, the investment bank expects rock bottom arrears rates will continue to keep a lid on impairments, which in turn bolsters earnings.

Consensus estimates have NAB as the worst performer, with about 6 per cent growth in cash profits for 2014 to about $6.2 billion and earnings per share up about 2.7 per cent to $2.60. Its British business continues to be a drag, with provisions likely to hit earnings. New chief executive Andrew Thorburn is expected to give an update on the listing of its US business Great Western Bancorp and a possible sale of MLC’s life insurance arm.

NAB has been gaining ground in mortgages in Australia, but has been losing business borrowers to Westpac and ANZ. But Goldman Sachs believes NAB is beginning to claw those back, with its total lending growth expected to be about 3.5 per cent for the second half of 2014, ahead of ANZ on about 2.5 per cent.

ANZ is expected to report better earnings, however, with a 9 per cent rise in cash profits to just over $7 billion for 2014, according to consensus estimates. Westpac is expected to report a similar rise in cash profit after tax of about 8 per cent to $7.6 billion. Westpac is expected to pay out about $2.42 a share in dividends for the year and ANZ about $2.53.

Investors should also be happy with Macquarie Group, which has achieved huge mortgage growth in the year to August of 66 per cent, according to APRA, and has indicated better than expected fee revenue. On October 31, Goldman Sachs expects it to report a 28 per cent rise in its cash profit for its first half 2015 result to $642 million and a 37 per cent rise in dividends a share to $1.35.

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No bubble in RBA lexicon

Bursting the bubble: The Reserve Bank has refused to use the word ‘bubble’ to describe house prices in Sydney, which have risen by 15 per cent in the past year. Photo: Graham Tidy Bursting the bubble: The Reserve Bank have refused to use the word ‘bubble’ to describe house prices in Sydney, which have risen by 15 per cent in the past year.

Bursting the bubble: The Reserve Bank have refused to use the word ‘bubble’ to describe house prices in Sydney, which have risen by 15 per cent in the past year.

Bursting the bubble: The Reserve Bank have refused to use the word ‘bubble’ to describe house prices in Sydney, which have risen by 15 per cent in the past year.

When it comes to housing bubbles, our Reserve Bank prefers not to use the word ‘bubble’ at all. It doesn’t even want us to think about it.

Luci Ellis, the RBA’s head of financial stability, appeared before a senate committee in Canberra last week to talk about housing affordability.

Thanks to that meeting we now know that the central bank will soon announce how it plans to clamp down on speculative investor activity in the runaway property markets in Sydney and Melbourne.

Ellis said the RBA was very concerned about the rate at which house prices were growing. But she refused to use the word ‘bubble’ to describe house prices in Sydney, which have risen by 15 per cent in the past year.

“I don’t think that’s a particularly helpful way to frame the problem,” Ellis told senators.

“What matters is how much speculation there is in the market and what that might mean for a subsequent price cycle, and at the moment there is more speculative activity than we are comfortable with.” But given her dislike of the word, it was still surprising to learn that the RBA doesn’t spend much time trying to identify housing bubbles.

Ellis admitted so. And her reasoning does make sense. As she put it, when you try to pinpoint bubbles, “you end up with a debate about whose model is best, and people who confidently announce that prices have deviated X amount from fundamentals are usually using some pretty simple metrics to devise that, and they usually turn out to be quite misleading,” she said.

“People will confidently proclaim that they can identify bubbles but usually they end up identifying 18 of the last three [property] crashes.”

Ellis said some models may look only at the run-up in house prices, but “that is often not helpful”. “The run-up in prices in the United States was not big compared to some of the markets that didn’t have the same kind of crash,” she said.

“You have to look at the whole picture, including whether there’s been overbuilding — which there was in the US and in places like Ireland. You have to look at what lending standards were and what the resilience of the household sector is, to who can afford house prices.”

She said that’s what the RBA and the Australian Prudential and Regulation Authority have been doing — looking at the bigger housing sector picture.

But having taken that look, they’ve decided to do something about it.

Clancy Yeates is on leave.

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Renewables group defends aluminium exemption from RET

The peak body for wind and solar power has defended a plan to exempt the aluminium industry from the federal renewable energy target, saying it would come at only a trivial cost to consumers.

The Clean Energy Council (CEC) believes that by offering up some concessions to industry, it might salvage bipartisan support for the target.

The council has published figures that show a full exemption for the aluminium industry would cause household power bills to rise by just $2 to $4.50 a year, after it had ROAM consulting examine the impact on prices year by year up to 2030.

It comes as a government backbencher leading a charge by 25 Coalition MPs for a full exemption for the sector described a possible bipartisan deal on the proposal as a “game changer”.

The CEC’s report argues that an increase in household bills of $2 to $4.50 per year is “a very low cost for other electricity consumers” if the proposal can restore bipartisan support for the scheme.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said on Tuesday that Labor had agreed to discussions that would see the aluminium industry viewed as a “special case” on the condition that “the government does not try to wreck the renewable energy target”.

It is Labor’s first concession in the RET talks which have seen it at loggerheads with the government since the release of the Warburton review of the target in August.

The review, which has been widely criticised within both government and industry, recommended Australia’s target be either closed to new projects or scaled back dramatically on the basis of yearly reviews.

The Australian Financial Review is reporting on Wednesday that cabinet formally rejected the review’s recommendations on Tuesday.

About 70 per cent of the aluminium sector’s electricity use is already exempt from Australia’s renewable energy target of 41,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy production annually by 2020.

A deal would see a full exemption for the industry, but Fairfax Media understands that Labor does not favour a reduction in the overall gigawatt hour target to account for the removal of the sector’s liability under the scheme.

Dan Tehan, the Liberal Party backbencher who has been a key agitator for the exemption, said the opposition’s signal it was open to the proposal was “a potential game changer” in terms of both parties being able to negotiate a bipartisan outcome.

But he said it was “logical” to lower the overall renewable energy target if the proposal was adopted so that the burden of exempting the sector “doesn’t fall heavily on other electricity users”.

“Most sensible people would question whether 41,000 GwH is a realistic target,” Mr Tehan said.

The CEC’s report argues against reducing the target because multiple studies, including the government’s own modelling, had shown that reducing the RET would eventually increase power prices.

Meanwhile, figures published by Pitt & Sherry have shown that emissions from electricity generation have risen since the repeal of the carbon tax.

The latest carbon emissions index figures found emissions were 1.3 per cent higher in September than they were in June, before the axing of the carbon price.

Principal consultant Hugh Saddler said this was partly because of the carbon tax repeal, but also due to reduced gas generation in NSW, Victoria and South Australia and less wind power generation than usual.

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AFP asked to investigate Immigration Minister Scott Morrison over alleged leak

Under investigation: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Under investigation: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Sarah Hanson-Young: The Greens senator said that immigration information was being leaked at “suspiciously convenient times”. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Under investigation: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Under investigation: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The Australian Federal Police has been asked to investigate Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and his staff for leaking details of a confidential internal security report from Nauru to a journalist.

It was reported in News Corp publications on Friday that internal Transfield security documents from the offshore processing centre in Nauru revealed that it was “probable” that Save the Children staff were encouraging asylum seekers to self harm.

Fairfax Media understands that select paragraphs from the confidential report were provided to the journalist.

The article also reported Mr Morrison had ordered 10 Save the Children staff to be removed from the island under Section 70 of the Crimes Act for alleged misuse of privileged information. This prohibits any person employed by the Commonwealth to send information to a non-government officer.

Greens senator and immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young has written to the AFP to say Mr Morrison’s staff may have contravened the same section of the Crimes Act by providing select confidential information to a journalist.

The AFP confirmed it had received the complaint. “We will evaluate this referral as per usual process,” an AFP spokeswoman said. “While this process is ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

The News Corp article “Truth Overboard” and a subsequent media conference on Friday by Mr Morrison came only days after serious allegations of sexual abuse against women and children were made by asylum seekers on the small island.

Mr Morrison used the news conference to launch an independent investigation into both issues, saying he did not want the public to be “played by mugs with allegations being used as some sort of political tactic”.

But the director of policy and public affairs of Save the Children, Mat Tinkler, said the non-government organisation still had not been provided with the report alleging staff were “coaching and encouraging” asylum seekers to protest and self harm, questioning why the media have been.

“Our staff are on Nauru because they care and deeply concerned when they then have their integrity questioned through the media. They are upset and anxious,” he said.

“As with all of the allegations, we have very little information, we have no information about the report.”

Mr Tinkler said four staff members had alreadyleft the island when the allegations were made and that the NGO was standing by all accused staff.

“I am concerned about the way this information has come to light, from a so-called intelligence report that has been provided to another media outlet which has clouded reality,” he said.

Mr Tinkler also said he was “not surprised” by the allegations of abuse.

“Instances of self harm have been documented on Nauru. The allegations have been substantiated,” he said.

In a letter to the AFP, Ms Hanson-Young has requested an investigation into the immigration department where “information has been published and communicated to non-commonwealth officers without authorisation”.

“Information seems to be leaking from the office of the minister and his department at suspiciously convenient times,” Ms Hanson-Young told Fairfax Media. “Disclosing privileged information is a serious breach of the Crimes Act and I’ve asked the AFP to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

“If the minister’s office has been involved in a breach of the Crimes Act, I expect the full force of the law to be applied.”

A spokeswoman for Mr Morrison said: “I will refer you to the AFP.”

But in an interview with Ray Hadley on Tuesday, Mr Morrison described the allegations of coaching asylum seekers to self harm and the sexual abuse of children and adults as “abhorrent”.

To which Mr Hadley replied: “The sexual assault of children in any circumstances is abhorrent but people making false allegations against security men is not quite equally abhorrent but, by gee, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.”

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More sex offenders claiming ‘sexsomnia’

Most children affected by sleepwalking grow out of the condition by adulthood. Of those still affected, a small proportion will also experience sexsomnia. Photo: Simon SchluterA growing number of people charged with sex offences are claiming to be affected by “sexsomnia”, where they initiated sexual contact while asleep and cannot recall the event.

The Australasian Sleep Association is concerned that some sex offenders are feigning the affliction, and want to ensure the doctors called to give expert testimony in court are well versed in its symptoms.

Woolcock Institute of Medical Research medical director Dev Banerjee is giving a presentation to colleagues at an Australasian Sleep Association conference in Perth on Thursday on how to conduct themselves in court if they are called to give evidence in such cases.

“It’s a wake-up call that there are a lot more of these cases in the public media and therefore it’s highly likely that this sort of defence – of sexsomnia and automatism – will be coming their way,” Dr Banerjee said.

Automatism is a criminal defence under which the defendant claims that he or she did not consciously perform the guilty act.

Sleepwalking is the classic example and is used in various driving, murder and assault cases.

Dr Banerjee said it was important that sleep clinicians called to give expert testimony in sexsomnia cases were able to identify true manifestations of the condition.

“We’re seeing a few clinicians out there who think they’re experts in sleep who aren’t trained to give expert advice,” he said.

“I’ve been involved in cases where I thought the defendant probably could have got away with it, and at the end of the day we’re trying to protect society.

“I’ve done a lot of cases where the Crown and police are staggered that the jury has acquitted the defendant.”

Sleepwalking affects about one in 25 children, but two thirds of them outgrow the condition by adulthood.

Only a very small proportion of sleepwalkers – usually men – will also experience sexsomnia, which includes masturbating, sexual vocalisation, fondling another person or intercourse while sleeping.

But researchers believe it is under-reported because people are embarrassed to admit to it.

Sleep clinician Peter Buchanan said he has provided his expert opinion in about 12 sexsomnia cases in the past decade, including three in the past 18 months, although he has been asked to do so on many more occasions.

All of the victims were known to the perpetrators and asleep in the same house when the assaults took place.

Recently he was asked to give his opinion in the case of a man who allowed his stepdaughter, a young teenager, to share his bed while her mother was away.

During the night he performed two sexual acts on the girl.

“These cases are distressing,” Dr Buchanan said.

“Whether the perpetrator is exonerated or not there is still a victim. The victims are almost always minors.

“They’re usually flummoxed.

“In this particular case [the victim] had no sexual experience whatsoever.”

The man was found convicted of indecent assault and is awaiting sentence.

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GP co-payment would crush NSW emergency departments: report

John Robertson says the GP co-payment will “smash the health system”. Photo: Max MasonEXCLUSIVE

An extra 500,000 people a year would choke NSW emergency departments at a cost of $80 million if the federal government proceeds with its GP co-payment, internal health department documents show.

The analysis by NSW Health has been backed by doctors and health groups who say a$7 Medicare fee for GP visits would be a disaster forthe state’s health system, blowing out emergency department waiting times and hurting society’s sickest and poorest.

Scenarios prepared for the NSW government in May, obtained by NSW Labor, assumed a $6 co-payment, lower than the $7 fee later proposed by the federal government.

It found a potential increase in emergency department attendances “in the vicinity of 500,000”, leading to increased costs of about $80 million a year.

There were 2.6 million presentations to NSW emergency departments in 2012-13; that figure would have jumped by 27 per cent under a $6 co-payment, the analysis found.

NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson said the figures showed the co-payment would “smash the health system” and hurt families.

“Thousands of people will be forced to turn up in emergency departments to avoid paying the fee to their local GP,” he said.

NSW opposition health spokesman Walt Secord said it was time the state government “stopped defending their federal counterparts and stood up to Tony Abbott and his GP tax”.

Following the budget in May, NSW Premier Mike Baird expressed concern about the $7 payment to visit a GP, saying “if it leads to long queues in emergency departments, well, that’s not something that’s sustainable”.

The co-payment is among a host of budget measures whose passage through the Senate has been delayed due to a lack of support from Labor, the Greens and the Palmer United Party.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has previously signalled a compromise deal could be offered to ease the burden on pensioners.

The government says $5 of the $7 co-payment will go towards establishing a $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund. Health Minister Peter Dutton has said the government will push through a smaller version of the fund if the GP co-payment fails.

Australian Medical Association Federal President Brian Owler said hospitals have worked hard to improve emergency department waiting times.

“Putting another 500,000 people into that system is going to mean all of those gains are going to be lost, and we are probably going to end up in a worse position than when we started,” he said.

Dr Owler said the policy was “driven by a fiscal and economic outlook, there is no consideration of … the health care needs of the Australian community.”

The Consumers Health Forum of Australia chief executive Adam Stankevicius said the findings “show what a disaster the co-payment would be for primary health care in Australia, pushing so many patients toward belated emergency treatment”.

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said the “rudimentary scenarios” for a GP co-payment were developed after the National Commission of Audit proposed the measure.

Ms Skinner said she had written to Mr Dutton regarding the policy, but she did not detail what was said.

A spokesman for Mr Dutton said his government had given states the option of charging co-payments at emergency departments for GP-type presentations. Ms Skinner has previously ruled out that option.

“The simple facts are that Commonwealth spending on health is increasing each and every year. If action isn’t taken Medicare will collapse under its own weight,” Mr Dutton’s spokesman said.

As Fairfax Media reported last month, federal government spending on health has grown at an average annual rate of 5.5 per cent over the past two decades, compared with 8.8 per cent growth for public order and safety, 23.5 per cent for communications, and 2 per cent for scientific research.

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Australia well prepared to deal with Ebola virus

Tracey-Lee Osling, Nurse Unit Manager of Westmead Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, prepares protective equipment for the Ultra Isolation Rooms, designed specifically to manage patients with highly infectious diseases. Photo: NSW Health/Carlos FurtadoSydney’s Westmead Hospital has been conducting drills to prepare for a potential outbreak of Ebola, while the nation’s health departments say they are well equipped to deal with possible cases of the deadly virus.

The federal health department says the risk of an outbreak in Australia remains very low, and “our infection control mechanisms in hospitals are first rate”.

Staff at Westmead Hospital have done live training exercises and information about how to manage suspected cases has been sent to emergency departments, clinicians, GPs and diagnostic laboratories across the state.

Westmead Hospital is the designated hospital for the treatment of Ebola in NSW because it is equipped with isolation rooms and a highly secure laboratory, where doctors can test for the virus.

The isolation areas have low air pressure to stop air flowing outside, as well as a double air lock. Staff who would care for Ebola patients have received special training.

“While Ebola is a very serious disease, it is not highly contagious. Ebola is not like influenza. It is not caught through coughing or sneezing. It is only caught through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person or animal,” said Vicky Sheppeard, director of the NSW Health communicable diseases branch.

Ebola has killed more than 3400 people mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Recent UNICEF figures estimated at least 3700 children in those countries have lost one or both parents, and many have been shunned by relatives who fear being infected.

Sierra Leone recorded 121 deaths in one of the single deadliest days since the disease appeared there more than four months ago, government health statistics showed on Sunday.

A Spanish nurse is the first person to contract the virus outside of west Africa, after treating an infected priest repatriated to Madrid. A Liberian man with the virus is in hospital in Dallas after travelling to the US from the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

In Australia, Customs and Border Protection and Department of Agriculture biosecurity officers are alert to the possibility of Ebola when identifying sick passengers.

Dr Grant Hill-Cawthorne, of the University of Sydney’s Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, said Australia’s preparedness goes back to the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, when many countries bolstered their plans for emerging infections.

An Ebola outbreak in Australia remains a low possibility in part because there are no direct flights from west Africa, he said.

“The UK is at high risk and that’s simply because of the traditional relationship the UK has with Sierra Leone. In the same way, we weren’t really surprised that the first case exported was Liberia through the US because they have traditional relationships,” Dr Hill-Cawthorne said.

“Australia doesn’t really have traditional relationships with west African countries. Overall, Australia is at pretty low risk.”

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Warrnambool’s Arie Eddy still searching for job as politicians promise action

Hard at work: Arie Eddy works harder than most unemployed to find work, despite going for almost three years without luck. Photo: Vicky HughsonWarrnambool teenager Arie Eddy has been searching for a job for almost three years without luck. Until Fairfax Media interviewed Mr Eddy in August, he had received only one interview despite applying for more than 780 jobs. 

Mr Eddy was left disappointed by some potential employers, a restaurant and local radio station, who offered him cadetships or job interviews, but when he contacted them they said they’d already filled the positions.

“It upset me that they filled the positions straightaway and didn’t even give me a chance to get in touch,” he said.

Two months later he’s still jobless, but now he’s optimistic.

“I’ve had an interview with Warrnambool Toyota and Clinton Baulch’s Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealership. Five or six months ago I was applying for jobs and I’d just never hear back,” he said.

“At the moment I’ve been looking in the paper for jobs rather than just handing out resumes everywhere, so I’ve changed my strategy and now I’m applying for jobs I know are available.”

On Monday and Tuesday this week the state Liberal and Labor parties announced a number of new measures aimed at creating jobs. 

The Labor Party has pledged $100 million to reduce payroll tax by $1000 for each long-term unemployed person a business hires and Mr Eddy said this strategy would be the most affective.

“This to me sounds like the best incentive for business to employ someone who has been unemployed for 12 months or 12 years. With lower tax, the business doesn’t have to pay as much to employ someone,” he said.

Like Mr Eddy, Geelong resident Rod Barratt, 53, is also unemployed. A machinery operator, Mr Barratt had worked for K&S Freighters for 11 years but was made redundant six weeks ago.

He’s optimistic he’ll find work quickly when he begins his hunt in the New Year but is aware some businesses will look past him because of his age.

“Some employers do discriminate secretly against mature-age workers, you can’t really blame them for that but it doesn’t help when you’re looking for secure employment,” he said.

“But I have good confidence in myself that I’ll find work. It’s all in the way you speak and present yourself.”

Mr Barratt said the Liberal and Labor party job creation strategies sounded the same.

“I suppose it’s great they’re doing something,” he said.

“But what we don’t want to see is another $40 million being given to a business like Alcoa, which closes anyway … there needs to be value for money in the long term, not just the short term.”

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Ebola crisis in west Africa sees cocoa prices soar

Fears the price of cocoa beans will soar as the deadly Ebola virus crosses into the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Photo: Kennet Havgaard Fears the price of cocoa beans will soar as the deadly Ebola virus crosses into the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Photo: Kennet Havgaard

Fears the price of cocoa beans will soar as the deadly Ebola virus crosses into the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Photo: Kennet Havgaard

Fears the price of cocoa beans will soar as the deadly Ebola virus crosses into the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Photo: Kennet Havgaard

West Africa’s Ebola crisis has generated fear in the cocoa industry that the deadly virus will cross into the Ivory Coast and Ghana and swipe half the world’s cocoa supply – sending bean prices soaring.

The two countries, so far free of Ebola, produce 60 per cent of the world’s cocoa. Experts say if an outbreak occurs, bean prices will surge beyond the 3.5-year high reached in September and affect retail chocolate prices.

“If prices rise at a greater rate, chocolate manufacturers will pass the increase onto consumers,” said Andrew Rolle of Juremont, a major Australian importer of chocolate ingredients.

“It’s a fragile market there at the best of times. There will be labour issues with the cocoa farmers in the fields, political issues, transport issues with accessing stock through ports.”

Australian chocolate makers typically have six to 12 months’ of cocoa supply in storage, so any price rises after an outbreak won’t be immediately seen, he added.

The commodity price was heading for a sixth straight monthly gain, the longest streak in 12 years, the International Cocoa Organisation said.

Boutique chocolatier Haigh’s raised prices by 3 per cent earlier this year, expecting bean prices to remain rising because of the growing popularity of dark chocolate and Asia’s booming middle class.

Chief executive Alister Haigh said the outbreak was at the forefront of his mind, as a third of Haigh’s cocoa was sourced from Ghana.

“The prices we’ve set will suffice for the near future. That’s not to say there’s been a huge increase, but we’re well covered for the next six months.”

Nearly two-thirds of the 3000 deaths have occurred in Guinea and Liberia, which share a porous and poorly policed border with the Ivory Coast, a vital source for chocolate giants Cadbury and Nestle.

“It’s a long border. It’s vulnerable and hard to control. It’s a serious threat,” an exporter in the port city of Abidjan told Reuters.

The US health authorities have predicted another 1.4 million people could be infected in West Africa by January without extra intervention. If the virus spreads into the Ivory Coast, transport restrictions may be enforced, swaths of farming land quarantined, and migrant workers stopped in their tracks.

The economy-sustaining cocoa industry could be brought to its knees, hitting the incomes of millions of farmers, buyers and exporters.

“What we fear is that under a quarantine nothing will move, that farmers will flee, that trucks won’t go in and that the cocoa will rot on the trees,” an exporter told Reuters. Another market strategist said that would be “pandemonium”.

Both Mondelez, owner of Cadbury, and Nestle did not respond to questions about possible impacts on retail prices.

Mondelez said it was monitoring the epidemic closely and none of its supply was under any immediate threat. A spokesman said: “However, as a matter of normal practice we do have contingency plans in place to address potential supply risks.”

Nestle, maker of KitKat and Milo, said: “It is too early for predictions on the possible effects on our business.”

Higher prices, though, are unlikely to suppress Australia’s insatiable appetite for chocolate, with IBISWorld figures showing we are on track to spend $1.98 billion on the mood-lifter this financial year.

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