James Hardie avoids $US50M tax bill

The decision came after the company had received a notice from the IRS on June 23, 2008, stating it did not qualify for benefits under the US-Netherlands Tax Treaty for the calendar years 2006 and 2007.Hardie subsequently announced that the IRS’s proposed tax assessment for the years 2006 and 2007 consisted of primary tax of $US37 million, penalties of approximately $US9 million and estimated interest of $US4 million.But the IRS has since concluded that, for those years, the company was entitled to reduced withholding tax rates under the treaty for certain intra-group payments from the US to The Netherlands.Hence, Hardie said these amounts relating to the years 2006 and 2007 were not owed to the IRSHardie said this outcome was not expected to have any impact on the company’s results for the 2009 or 2010 financial years as the company had not set aside any amount in relation to these proceedings.In December 2008, Hardie said it would pay $A153 million to the Australian Taxation Office after finally settling a drawn-out tax dispute over the company’s tax affairs in 2002, and between 2004 and 2006.In June 2008, the company said it could possibly have had an Australian tax liability of up to $A230 million.

New bridge boosts North Qld

The bridge, located approximately 20km south of Cairns at Gordonvale, was built by BMD Constructions in a joint venture with Brisbane-based construction company Albem Operations for the Department of Transport and Main Roads.BMD said the new bridge, which stands five metres higher than the previous crossing, was expected to improve flood immunity during the wet season.It is 30m upstream from the existing Bruce Highway on an improved road alignment.In addition to the bridge construction, the works undertaken to date by the BMD Constructions/Albem JV include 1.5km of new highway, three major banks of relief culverts, upgrades to Mayers, Griffin and Mill streets, and environmental offsets through collaboration with the Mulgrave Landcare and Catchment Group. Remaining works include a new connection from Griffin Street to the existing highway, completion of the realignment of the cane railway and improved access to the Greenpatch rest area. The entire project is expected to be completed by the end of June 2009, weather permitting.With 90% of the workforce sourced from the local area, training was a high priority for the JV, with 17,182 hours of training clocked over the project duration – over double the contractually required amount. The training program incorporated an additional initiative that saw five local indigenous workers employed as trainees.As a federally funded AusLink project, the new bridge over the Mulgrave River forms part of the $348 million accelerated upgrade package for the Bruce Highway between Cairns and Townsville.

A KEANE EYE: Stimulate this!

It makes sense for me because I work from home so I don’t get caught in the daily commute and cover relatively few kilometres – probably less than what I do interstate in modern hire cars. Best of all, it’s the most reliable car in a four-car family (the kids refuse to leave home), it gets close to 40mpg thanks to a simple after-market electronic ignition and a catalyst in the fuel tank, and what would you pay for a new, rear-wheel drive, manual car these days?So what has this got to do with construction? Well, if you want to get old cars off the road, what about the old trucks and construction equipment around the place? Arguably, the difference in economy and emissions between old and new trucks and plant is significantly greater than for cars, and this gear would normally operate for a lot more hours than most cars would, and burn a lot more fuel.So should we be getting a posse together and putting a bounty on all old trucks and earthmoving equipment – and for that matter, farm tractors, lawn mowers and so on?If I was driving to work every day or had to regularly drive long distances, there’s no doubt that the Sunny would be long gone. Part of its longevity is that it has averaged around only 10,000km per year for its 29-year life. If I had bought a new car every five years, it would have been wasteful and much more expensive. The other thing is I’ve always made sure the Sunny was roadworthy and that maintenance was done at the first sign of a problem.There are some similarities with trucks and earthmoving gear. There are some applications where a plant item is needed, but it is not required to work day in, day out. Take a look at many country contractors. They generally have more machines than operators and some machines can be parked up for weeks at a time. There isn’t a Coates Hire shop around the corner and at times the need might be only very short term, so hire isn’t a practical option and keeping an older piece of plant in the fleet is the only real answer. For really resourceful owners, there’s the possibility of converting an old piece of plant to suit another purpose, where either that item can’t be bought off the shelf or it would be prohibitively expensive. The best part is that many of the contractor solutions provide considerable savings over past methods and in many instances provide OHS benefits by reducing manual labour.It’s easy to make decisions for the urban population where you have continuity of work, a generally high level of public spending and a broad base of industry. But if you’re in a remote rural community, earthmoving is probably one of three or four businesses that you run to make ends meet, most maintenance work you have to do yourself, there is limited capacity to pay and the community is drought-affected for large periods of time, so any work is kept to a necessity.That doesn’t mean that safety issues should be compromised, but these are the people who get bugger all spent on their roads, most of which are unsealed; they have to truck water in on a regular basis and if they have sewerage treatment, it is not to tertiary standards; and they do not have the same access to telecommunications as their city cousins, but fly under the radar because statistically they are unimportant (95% coverage by population can miss an awful lot of land area). Perhaps their greatest dream is that a major resource deposit will be found near them so that roads and water become important, and the local economy might pick up and generate more regular work. And perhaps their greatest protection at the moment is that if they aren’t quite doing things by the book, they are too remote for anyone to care. But realistically, for non-safety issues, there is surely a case for concessions on equipment doing low annual hours. In the middle of nowhere, where there’s not a lot of equipment around and the greatest emissions are coming out of farm animals, what is the harm done in repairing rather than replacing, where the embedded energy in building a new machine is out of proportion to any saving that might be made in replacing an old machine doing low hours with a new one doing the same? When will we see a national leader doing a ground-level tour of the remote areas of his own country and experiencing reality first-hand, rather than getting on a jet to give world leaders a slice of Australian wisdom? Watching Australia at the movies or The Farmer Wants a Wife on the telly hardly qualifies as a substitute.

Wilcox says tough powers still needed

Justice Murray Wilcox’s report called for some minor procedural safeguards to be added to the investigative powers now available to Australian Building and Construction Commissioner John Lloyd.Unions have attacked the report, saying construction workers are treated differently to those in other industries, but Wilcox argued the stronger powers were still necessary.“The ABCC has made a significant contribution to improved conduct and harmony in the building and construction industry, but there is still some way to go,” he said in the report.Labor policy is that the ABCC will be disbanded early next year and replaced by a division of new industry regulator Fair Work Australia.Wilcox recommended the ABCC be replaced by a new Building and Construction Division attached to the new Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman and not directly controlled by FWA.“[FWA] will not have an investigative function; accordingly, it would be inappropriate for the specialist division to be part of FWA,” he said.In the report, Wilcox said that while he sympathised with union arguments that compulsory interrogation powers victimised building workers, removing the powers would be irresponsible.“I am satisfied there is still such a level of industrial unlawfulness in the building and construction industry, especially in Victoria and Western Australia, that it would be inadvisable not to empower the BCD to undertake compulsory interrogation,” he said. “The reality is that, without such a power, some types of contravention would be almost impossible to prove.”Meanwhile, the ABCC’s John Lloyd today said he remained concerned about increasing lawlessness in the Victorian building and construction industry.“In recent months a number of projects in Victoria have experienced a marked increase incoercion, intimidation, threats and violence,” Lloyd said. Lloyd singled out the “deplorable conduct” by some workers at John Holland’s Westgate Bridge Strengthening project, which had spread to other construction sites and John Holland’s Melbourne head office. He said the conduct included extreme verbal abuse, property damage, and threats of violence. “The ABCC is working with law enforcement agencies to ensure that work can proceed without threats and intimidation against workers,” he said.“There is no excuse for this type of behaviour. I call on all persons and organisations to obey the orders and injunctions of the Federal Court and cease this kind of conduct.”

A laser for inside and out

The Spectra Precision Laser HV301G horizontal and vertical laser has a green beam, which Trimble says is easier to see than the traditional red beam, making it suitable for use in extended working ranges or in bright conditions. Trimble says the HV301G laser transmitter sends a continuous, self-levelled 360-degree laser reference over an entire work area. The company said four rotation speeds and four scanning angles allowed contractors to concentrate the laser beam in their work area for maximum visibility. A simultaneous 90-degree reference beam is included and is used in layout work and point transfer. Also included is a 360-degree remote control, which allows operation of key functions over the jobsite.Electronic, automatic self-levelling in both horizontal and vertical modes assures accuracy. A height of instrument alert turns the beam off when the elevation of the laser changes or is disturbed. The laser can also be used in the manual levelling mode for slope applications, such as matching existing ceiling slopes.For vertical applications, the device can be set up on its built-in, non-slip rubber footpads or mounted vertically to a tripod with the built-in, standard-size tripod mount.The HV301G is shock resistant and can survive a 1m drop onto concrete. It is also dust and moisture resistant.

Ausenco soldiers on

The company’s 2008 financial report also revealed EBITDA rose 83% to $86.3 million. In June last year, Ausenco formed a 50/50 joint venture with Taggart Global USA to pursue coal preparation plant engineering opportunities worldwide, with Ausenco chief executive officer Zimi Meka saying significant progress had been made on a number of new coal project opportunities. “Despite the softening of the market, we will progress in our efforts to convert in excess of $US24.5 billion in study and FEED engineering opportunities to EPCM contracts and we have seen evidence that some of the previously cancelled or deferred EPCM contracts will proceed in the short to medium term,” he said. Ausenco also declared a final fully franked dividend of 13.5c, taking the total to 31.75c for 2008. Carborough’s 5 million tonne per annum capacity wash plant is expected to start up with the new longwall mine in the third quarter of this year. Carborough Downs is a joint venture of Vale (80%), Tata Steel, Nippon Steel and Posco (all 5%), and JFE Steel and JFE Shoji (2.5% each).

New rotary drill pipe tools from Sandvik

The company said the new line had been designed to handle the demanding operational requirements of drilling the hard rock and abrasive formations commonly found in surface mining, and was built to withstand extreme torsional and axial loads. Products in the range include:Drill pipe, made from premium-quality, heat-treated seamless tubing and available in ultra-premium grade (special alloy) for hard abrasive formations, and premium grade for non-abrasive formations. Outside diameters range from 3in (76.2 mm) to 13 3/8in (339.7 mm);Rotary subs and adapters, including bit (bottom) subs, top (spindle) subs, cross-over subs and thread-saver subs, manufactured to stringent heat treatment specifications;Stabilisers, available in two designs: a welded blade, featuring an integral fixed blade design with no moving parts, optimal for scraping; and a rotating roller, incorporating Sandvik’s tungsten carbide inserts for resistance to breakage and wear;Deck bushings, static or rotary, designed to run smoothly and provide extended trouble-free operation; andShock subs, designed to reduce drill string vibrations, minimising rotary head wear and damage while insuring a constant bit-on-bottom hole cutting action.

Moore to BHP: deaths are not acceptable

Moore said he would ask the company to explain just what it is doing to “remedy the situation”.“Even one fatality is too many, but this is becoming of great concern,” he said. On Thursday a 45-year-old man was killed at a construction site at Newman. The worker was a scaffolder employed by contractor John Holland.The shadow minister for mines and petroleum, Jon Ford, today said an inquiry was needed into the deaths at BHP Billiton mines, and safety standards in the WA mining industry should be overhauled in light of the deaths. Ford’s office also emailed media an image of a truck which had almost run off a road, saying the picture was a “near-miss” from BHP’s Mount Whaleback operations in the Pilbara.The Australian Workers Union has also raised its concerns over the death, saying BHP’s mines should be shut down while a full safety audit is run on its operations. Additionally, the union claimed many workers are too fearful to speak up over safety concerns in the current climate of job losses.In a statement today Moore also said his office was fully behind an independent engineering study into the safety systems at every BHP iron ore site launched late last year by the WA state mining engineer. The review is due by April 30.

Unions call for exec salary cuts, more shareholder power

The statements come after the federal government yesterday announced its policy advisory, the Productivity Commission, had been asked to conduct a public enquiry into the regulations surrounding the remuneration of directors and executives of companies that come under the Corporations Act.The comments from the ACTU come after numerous major construction and mining-focused companies axed thousands of jobs in recent weeks, despite some of those companies benefiting from government bail-out packages. However, according to Ai Group chief executive Heather Ridout, there is clear evidence that executive salary freezes and pay cuts are already taking place. “While we understand the need for strings to be attached to government bail-out packages for individual businesses – including in relation to remuneration arrangements – today’s proposed changes risk imposing a broad and permanent response to a temporary problem which in any case relates to an imported issue,” Ridout said. “Australian companies and the regulatory framework they operate under are not responsible for the current crisis,” Ridout said. “The crisis is not of their making and they shouldn’t be overregulated in response to it.”The ACTU said this week executive salaries and bonuses had been out of control and it was unacceptable that these companies were now sacking workers.”Working Australians are outraged at the pay packages awarded to executives and directors at companies like Telstra, ANZ, Pacific Brands and BHP, who have all made thousands of workers jobless in recent weeks,” said ACTU president Sharan Burrow.Burrow said shareholders needed to be given more power to reject excessive pay rises, bonuses and remuneration packages, as well as termination payments.However, Ridout said too much regulation in this area could be counterproductive.“If the government proceeds with these measures, a clear and early review mechanism would need to be put in place,” she said.

Get scaffold safety right: WorkSafe

WorkSafe Victoria executive director John Merritt said three major incidents in recent weeks have killed one person and put the safety of hundreds of other people at risk. “It is only a matter of good luck that there have not been more fatalities and serious injuries,” Merritt said. “The designers and builders of scaffolds have clear roles to maximise safety as do their employers, site managers and the people using it. “The recent problems with scaffolding are a sign that all sectors of the construction industry needed to re-double their efforts to ensuring their workplaces were as safe as practicable.”The three recent scaffolding-related incidents were:
Melbourne: A scaffold collapsed onto Commercial Road in Prahran, narrowly missing a bus on February 24. Commercial Road was blocked for more than 24 hours with trams re-routed and some replaced by buses;
Sydney: A scaffold buckled in central Sydney on February 26, closing Castlereagh St until March 4; and
Sydney: A 70-year-old man died on March 11 after falling from a hanging scaffold or swing stage while painting. His workmate hung by a harness for nearly an hour until he was rescued.
“Safety expectations begin with the chairman of the board of a large company or the owner of the business in smaller operations setting the safety agenda and insisting on high standards being applied at all times by employees and contractors,” Merritt said. “Lost productivity, impact on reputation, personal and corporate legal issues, and claims for commercial damages and breech of contract are not worth the risk,” he said.