Dopff Pinot Blanc 2013

Dopff Pinot BlancInspired by a recent trip to France and Germany, I couldn’t resist reaching for the Dopff Au Moulin Pinot Blanc 2013 when I recently spotted it on the shelf at a major retailer.  The Alsace region from where the wine hails, is near the French/German border and is responsible for producing some of Europe’s best white wines.  And they’re not always as expensive as you might expect.  The Dopff Pinot Blanc retails in Australia at only about $13 a bottle, so it certainly won’t break the bank.

Like a lot of the very popular Sauvignon Blanc styles, this Pinot Blanc’s youthful fruit characters are sweet and lively and make for a vivacious style of apéritif.  It’s certainly not like many of the typical French styles which are far more subdued and could be described as elegant, rather than opulent.  When the Dopff Pinot Blanc is only lightly chilled, the rose petal nose is an attractive invitation to rapidly imbibe the contents of the glass, while the nashi pears present themselves across the palate and meet some Granny Smith apple skins at the back end.

There’s just enough acidity to constrain the fruit on the finish and give it a touch of respectability as a recognisable Alsatian white.  There may be better French whites available in Australia, but at its sub $15 price point, the Dopff offers excellent value.

Our wine reviewer, Travis Schultz, is a practice group leader of Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, part of the Slater and Gordon group, and lover of fine food and wine

Chinese mother charged for human trafficking

BabyA mother in China has been charged for human trafficking for trying to sell her baby for more than AU$8000.

A report said she he had told her relatives that the child had died shortly after birth.

The mother has been charge and her obstetrician has been prosecuted for assisting with trying to find buyers for the baby.

The country has had a long history of trafficking children, largely due to the ‘one child policy” which limits the number of children parents can have and the preference of male children.

Did Lacey Spears kill her own son?

Shocking death ... an image of Lacey and Garnett-Paul she posted on Facebook.

Image Source/Credit: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/world/trial-of-lacey-spears-accused-of-killing-son-garnett-paul-with-salt-underway-in-new-york/story-fnihsmjt-1227198220212

The trial has begun in New York after mother ‘Lacey Spears’ was accused of killing her five year old son, Garnett-Paul with salt over a year ago.

The murder case alleges that Ms Spears purposely poisoned her son with salt and document his decline in health on social media.

The prosecutor has said that the mother was feeding her child with toxic amounts of salt, causing his sodium levels to increase to dangerous levels. This resulted in Garnett- Paul’s brain to swell, cause seizures and then death.

The charge against Lacey allege Garnett was killed “under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life” rather than with intent.

It carries a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

Are you aware of Drone regulations?

DroneA man in Townsville has received a hefty fine from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) after they were made aware of videos he had recorded from his drown uploaded to Youtube.

Regulations by CASA state that “that hobbyists who fly for no commercial gain cannot fly their drones:

• Within 3 nautical miles of an airport;

• Above 400 feet in controlled airspace (large towns and cities);

• Over populous areas;

• Within 30 meters of people;

• At night”.

The gentleman was issued with a $850 infringement for “operating a model aircraft over a populous area at a height less than the height from which, if any of its components fails, it would be able to clear the area.”

Since receiving his fine, the pilot of the drone has listed his drown for sale on Gumtree.

It always pays to ensure you know the regulations when operating any type of electronic device.

Meet Maggie Pinder

maggie-pinderMaggie joined the Schultz Toomey O’Brien team in late 2014. Here’s a little about Maggie.

Position: Legal Secretary

What do you enjoy about working here? I appreciate how everyone pulls together to achieve the best outcome for our clients.  I enjoy the friendly and supportive atmosphere too.  And the coffee’s good.

How do you spend your time outside of work? Getting out into the open and exploring southeast Queensland.  I enjoy camping, four wheel driving and bush walking. I’m obsessed with tennis.  On the home front, I make my own bread and cheese and various preserves (with varying success).  I also like words and how they fall on the page, so I read a lot, write a bit, and edit other people’s stories.

What is your favourite type of music? Anything except hip hop.  Anything with bagpipes in it (Acca Dacca win in that respect). Anything with beautiful lyrics (Leonard Cohen is the man of choice there). Anything annoyingly upbeat and catchy. I spent six years in Ireland, so I love traditional Irish music.

ARE AUSTRALIAN DISCRIMINATION LAWS UNBALANCED?

DiscriminationThere is little doubt that Australia should be proud of its intolerance of racism and discrimination and our strong belief in gender equality, but at times, I wonder whether our discrimination laws go a little too far.

Recently, the tragic situation in France over the publication of a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, has lead to intense debate about whether a right to free speech should include a right to publish a satirical view about a religious belief. Some commentators have suggested that outlawing comment on political, sexual, racial or religious beliefs is largely inconsistent with a right to free speech.

But for me, the most needed debate surrounds the definition of “discrimination”, particularly in so far as it applies in the business world.

Take, for example, the recent decision in Willmott v. Woolworths in which the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal found that Woolworths had breached discrimination legislation by requiring him to insert his date of birth and gender in an online employment application. What the applicant in that case successfully argued that it was unnecessary for Woolworths to ask questions about age and gender in an online application and he claimed that he was “sickened beyond belief” at Woolworths’ disregard for Australian Discrimination Laws. In the end result, he was awarded $5,000.00 in compensation. The award would have been much higher if QCAT had evidence before it that Mr Willmott had suffered actual economic loss as a result of not continuing with the employment application.

But don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting for one moment that discrimination on the basis of age should not be illegal. My point rather, is that at a practical level, the age or approximate age of any prospective employees is going to become known as soon as they attend a face to face interview. If they are offered a job, far greater personal information than their full name and date of birth will be required, because of the need to comply with taxation legislation. Why should a budget conscious employer who is looking to hire a junior staff member for a junior role (so as to keep their wages costs within defined budgets) be unable to ask for a date of birth so as to ascertain whether the likely wage cost will fit within budget?

The tribunal accepted that Mr Willmott was embarrassed and humiliated in being compelled to provide his gender and date of birth. Really? Are we Australians no longer the easy going knockabout type that we’ve considered to be our National stereotype for years?

I could understand Mr Willmott’s concern if Woolworths had told him he was too old to be employed by them as that would clearly be offensive and a breach of the discrimination legislation, but for me, any legislation of this type needs to be applied with a good dose of common sense. But that’s just my view; and we believe in free speech, right?

Travis Schultz
Practice Group Leader
Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, Part of the Slater & Gordon Group
Ph: (07) 5413 8900
Fax: (07) 5413 8958

EXPENSIVE HOUSING MARKET NEEDS RELIEF

Sydney A major ratings company, Fitch, has recently released a report which confirms what we already know; that housing in Australia is expensive. Very!

According to the Global Housing and Mortgage Outlook report, Australia has the third most expensive property market of the 22 countries surveyed and despite this, the agency forecasts 4% growth this year. The same agency predicts that with record low interest rates and stable unemployment, Australian property prices will remain high and affordability will slightly worsen in the short term.

But when other economists are tipping rising unemployment, lower inflation, turbulent economic conditions and declining growth of our major trading partners, it is hard to see the appetite for investment in property increasing. What is of greatest concern is the trend away from home ownership. Where Australian home ownership rates sat at 70.7% in 2000, they have now fallen to 67.5%. If that continues, it is only likely to increase the number of Australians being subjected to the vagaries and uncertainty of the rental market. But with lower growth, insanely high property taxes (in the form of land tax, stamp duty and then federal taxes if you are lucky enough to make any profit after paying all the State taxes), it is hard to see investors continuing to put their hard earned into residential property. In the past we have seen the significant effect that supply and demand has on rental prices and when that occurs, it will further disadvantage those who are already struggling to keep food on the table and the kids in school.

Surely it’s time we have a re-think of our taxation system and to take a big picture approach? For now at least, it seems, that State Governments are focused on a cash grab to balance budgets because the housing affordability issue considered to be more of a Federal Government concern.

Travis Schultz
Practice Group Leader
Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, Part of the Slater & Gordon Group
Ph: (07) 5413 8900
Fax: (07) 5413 8958

The Niche Regional Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012

The Niche Regional Reserve Sauv BlancI am not normally an advocate of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, but if the style floats your boat, you may as well drink one that is made by Australians and in a palate friendly form.

The Niche Regional Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is made by a boutique winery based in Tanunda in South Australia’s Barossa Valley but is, in fact, made from fruit sourced across the ditch.  The 2012 vintage is not the current release (because the 2014 has recently hit the shelves) but is still drinking well enough for next time the silverware comes out.

It’s straw coloured in the glass and has a fragrant cut peach and frangipani nose.  Where many of the Marlborough Sav Blancs I’ve tried can become somewhat candied with overripe passion fruit flavours that dominate across the top palate, The Niche has enough minerality and natural acidity to give a degree of crispness to the finish and some definition to the citric and guava characters.  The texture is delightful as there is just a hint of creaminess which puts some meat on the bones of its tropical fruit skeleton.

It’s undoubtedly fashioned by the winemaker to be enjoyed as an aperitif, rather than splashed into a Riedel glass next to your dinner plate.  But at less than $25 a bottle, it’s as good a buy as any Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and at least with The Niche, you’ll be supporting an Australian winemaker.

Our wine reviewer, Travis Schultz, is a practice group leader of Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, part of the Slater and Gordon group, and lover of fine food and wine

INSURANCE COMMISSIONS AND FEES – A POTENTIAL FOR CONFLICT

shutterstock_150643835The recent decision by the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) to both investigate and regulate the Suncorp owned company Guardian Advice highlights the difficulties faced by the Financial Services sector in ensuring that the interests of advisers are put behind those of their clients.

In what is a rather damning statistic, ASIC described finding an “unacceptable level of failure” by the industry to comply with the laws relating to the appropriateness of advice for clients and in prioritising consumers’ needs.  ASIC found that some 37% of advice given was inappropriate and by any measure, that’s more than an isolated episode of non-compliance!

In the case of Guardian, ASIC has required that they appoint an independent consultant approved by ASIC, to monitor the company over the next two years to ensure that it complies with its statutory obligations.

The industry is one which is already highly regulated but seemingly, not policed. Rules are in place to protect the interests of consumers but if the results of the ASIC investigation are to be believed, compliance by the industry is poor.

And to me a critical issue is that of commissions.  I personally have no difficulty with the concept that brokers should be paid a commission, after all, that’s what brokers do.  But a tension is created when a broker has at their disposal a range of different policies that are generally suitable to the client but which might pay a differing rate of commission from the insurer.  If the policies are identical, then no issue arises if there is a difference in the rate of commission paid from two different insurers.  But where an insurer offers a policy which is, in a client’s individual circumstances, largely suitable but arguably inferior to another one which is available, it must at the very least create the appearance of a potential for a conflict of interest to arise between the interests of the broker and that of their client.

When it comes to financial advice and insurance, consumers will rarely take the time to independently read, review and compare lengthy policy wordings but instead, tend to rely on the advice from their broker.

There is no easy answer to the dilemma but a good starting point would be to arm the Regulator with powers and fund the necessary resources, to ensure that consumers’ interests are protected.

Travis Schultz
Practice Group Leader
Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, Part of the Slater & Gordon Group
Ph: (07) 5413 8900
Fax: (07) 5413 8958

CENSORSHIP AND THOUGHT CONTROL

The abhorrent mis-deeds of minority extremists have recently shocked the World and dominated newspaper headlines across the globe.  They may be relatively few in number but their callous crimes have torn at the very fabric of our civilization.

So often it seems, the perpetrators of these crimes have been ideologically brainwashed into an extreme point of view and have then acted out of an irrational hatred or contempt for a particular belief, idea or societal value.  We may never convince these extremists of the irrationality of their perspective but we must collectively be prepared to shun their evil ideologies.  We must not just facilitate, but encourage sound and rational debate on sensitive topics like religion, politics and race issues.

Censorship is an important tool in the armory of the guiding minds of many of these extremist organisations. Controlling thought processes often requires the regulation of inbound information.  Perception becomes reality.

In a civilized world there is room for different points of view.  We are free to form different opinions of the same facts.  But surely we should each have access to all relevant facts and information before that opinion is formed.

In many countries, governments severely limit and restrict access to the internet, publications, journals or any form of media that puts forward a view inconsistent with that of the government. For example, in November last year, China hosted the World Internet Conference in Zhejiang Province. It was attended by top executives from a range of international technology firms yet those attending found that access to their own services was blocked.  Seemingly, none of them complained!  Perhaps their reluctance was derived out of fear of upsetting a government who might otherwise be a fruitful source of commercial opportunities in the future? While we, as a society remain afraid to speak out, express views and share facts and information, we are creating the ideal petrie dish for extremists to germinate and grow their anti-social ideologies. Perhaps it’s time for diplomacy to move aside for integrity.  Sensitivities might necessarily be bruised by free speech, but societies’ values must be respected for the sake of a civilized world.

Travis Schultz
Practice Group Leader
Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers, Part of the Slater & Gordon Group
Ph: (07) 5413 8900
Fax: (07) 5413 8958