Spotless waves white flag in Downer battle

Spotless Group’s directors have backflipped and recommended shareholders accept a $1.

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3 billion takeover bid from engineering company Downer EDI.

The Spotless board had until Monday recommended shareholders reject the offer but on Tuesday said they had changed their minds, “reluctantly” recommending shareholders accept the offer.

“We continue to believe in the strong underlying fundamentals of the Spotless business, however now that Downer owns 67.279 per cent of Spotless and will control a majority of the Board from Wednesday, on balance, we reluctantly recommend that shareholders accept the Downer Offer,” Spotless chairman Garry Hounsell said in a statement.

The directors said they had changed their position because the Downer directors who will control the Spotless board from Wednesday cannot be relied upon to advance the company’s strategy to boost earnings growth.

“This reconstituted Board may not undertake the strategy reset in the manner which the current Board was confident would drive both strong earnings and cash-flow growth over the medium term,” the statement said.

Downer has nominated four directors to join the Spotless board: two of its non-executive directors, Philip Garling and Grant Thorne, its chief financial officer Michael Ferguson and former Downer non-executive director, John Humphrey.

Three current non-executive Spotless directors of Spotless – Diane Grady, Nick Sherry and Julie Coates – will retire and Mr Hounsell will continue as chairman, while Simon McKeon and Spotless chief executive and managing director Martin Sheppard will remain as directors.

Downer notified the ASX that it passed the 67 per cent mark on Monday, after launching its hostile takeover bid in March.

It is offering $1.15 for each Spotless share, valuing the facilities management firm at $1.3 billion.

Last month the Spotless board said the company had positive momentum, having reduced its operational complexity by selling a bundle of about 250 small cleaning contracts in New Zealand, and had started delivering services under a major contract at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Shares in Spotless were flat at $1.15 at 1125 AEST while Downer was also unchanged at $6.28.

South Africa crush England to level series

Defeat was Joe Root’s first as captain in his second game in charge, and England’s eighth loss in 13 matches.

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But it was the manner of their capitulation inside 45 overs and with a day and a half to spare that will trouble Root most.

Instead of mounting the required rearguard action, England collapsed to 133 all out, with the last three wickets falling without the addition of a run.

The wickets were shared among four bowlers with man-of-the-match Vernon Philander (3-24), Keshav Maharaj (3-42) and Chris Morris (2-7) taking the honors.

South Africa outplayed England in every aspect of the game, with the tourists’ first innings lasting one ball longer, at 96.2 overs, than England’s two combined.

Hopes that England might chase down a world-record 474 runs for victory were dispelled by the second over when Philander removed Keaton Jennings’ off-stump, following up soon afterwards by having Gary Ballance for lbw.

Both Jennings (3) and Ballance (4) will find their positions under pressure after contributing just 44 and 85 runs respectively in four innings this series.

With their departure, England looked to Root and former captain Alastair Cook for resistance but the excellent Morris claimed both batsmen before lunch, bowling Root (8) and bouncing out Cook (42) with a vicious lifter.

The hosts fell away alarmingly after the interval when Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali surrendered their wickets to poor shots while Philander removed the dangerous Ben Stokes with the sharpest of return catches.

The final indignity came when Stuart Broad, Mark Wood and Jimmy Anderson all fell on 133, leaving former England captain Michael Vaughan to post on Twitter, “This is absolutely terrible ……. Far too much talent in this team to play like this.”

Root offered a more diplomatic assessment, saying: “It has been a tough week. We weren’t good enough with the bat for the whole game. We prepared very well and had two good practice days.”

England have delayed selection ahead of the third test, which starts at the Oval on July 27, and could make changes.

By contrast, South Africa’s captain Faf du Plessis was delighted, dedicating the win to absent coach Russell Domingo, who missed the game following a family bereavement. “It was for Russell,” he said.

Du Plessis added he admired the way his side refused to relinquish their stranglehold once they got on top.

“It was important to get into a position of strength and not lose our momentum,” he said.

(The story fixes dropped letter in Maharaj in para 4)

(Writing by Neil Robinson; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Liberal MPs accused of defending factions

Two federal Liberal MPs have been accused of leading a factional push to “destroy reform” ahead of a party convention this weekend.

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About 1500 NSW Liberal faithful will debate reforms, which would allow more grassroots members to have a say in selecting candidates through local plebiscites, at a special convention in Sydney.

Federal NSW MPs Alex Hawke and Julian Leeser are gathering the numbers for a modest plan to change the way candidates are preselected, heading off an alternative set of broader changes being championed by former prime minister Tony Abbott.

Walter Villatora, who is president of Mr Abbott’s Warringah federal electorate conference, said in an email to “democratic reform” supporters the party’s factions are fighting a rear-guard action.

“The factions plan to see off the plebiscite push by supporting a new set of party rules that contain democratic window dressing, but will ensure what at best appears to be the smallest possible transfer of power from the state executive to the ordinary branch volunteers,” he wrote.

“The Hawke/Leeser reforms will cement-in factional domination for another generation.”

The motions being brought by Mr Hawke and Mr Leeser would exempt sitting MPs from plebiscites, impose an “eligibility test” for candidates, enforce an “activity test” for members seeking to have a vote and put minimum time limits on membership of the party before members could vote in preselections.

Mr Villatora and other democratic reformers argue the changes should go further to ensure “dud” sitting MPs could be replaced and a broader number of members – including those with no time to regularly attend meetings or are new to the party – could have a say in candidate selection.

The convention will be addressed on Saturday by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Liberal federal president Nick Greiner.

My sister is dying: Samuel Johnson

Gold Logie winning actor Samuel Johnson says his sister Connie is in palliative care and is “actively dying”.

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The sad news was posted on his Love Your Sister cancer fundraising Facebook page on Monday.

“Con’s needed a lot of quiet time lately to try and comprehend the total headf****ery that ‘actively dying’ brings,” Johnson wrote.

The actor said his sister had taken time out from phone calls and social media as she began her most difficult challenge yet.

“In true Connie style she’s been colouring in to keep the nasty thoughts at bay,” he wrote.

“She said to tell you that there’s life in the old dog yet.”

Ms Johnson’s battle with cancer began as an 11-year-old when she was diagnosed with an aggressive bone tumour in her leg.

Now 40, she has terminal breast cancer which has spread to her lungs, liver, pelvis, spine and knee.

Samuel Johnson quit acting last year to focus on fund raising for the the Love Your Sister cancer charity he set up in response to his sister’s diagnosis.

He pledged to his 380,000 Facebook followers to raise $10 million before taking another acting job.

Johnson also travelled around Australia on a unicycle to raise funds for cancer research.

More than 7000 people have commented on Johnson’s social media post, many thanking the siblings for their hard work.

“Connie, Sam you created the village. You created a community, and that community are all thinking of you. Feel our love,” Susan Munroe wrote.

“Some people are here for a little while to touch hearts and change the world. What an incredible woman she is,” added Wendy Gh.

“Damn this post just broke my heart. How does one prepare for such an ordeal? How does ones family deal with then enormity? F*** you cancer!!!!,” Melissa Felton said.

Welfare site overhaul to ease call demand

The federal government is trying to wean welfare recipients off its over-stretched telephone services with a new-look website.

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Callers trying to contact Centrelink were met with busy signals more than 42 million times between July 1 and April 30.

The figure – which breaks down to almost 140,000 blocked calls per day – has almost doubled in two years.

For those who do get through, the welfare agency’s average call wait time is about 15 minutes, with some groups of people kept on hold significantly longer.

The human services department has spent more than six months redesigning its website to make it easier and faster for people to find information.

Meanwhile, Centrelink is hiring an extra 250 phone operators to chip away at the mountain of missed calls and reduce call wait times.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge is hopeful the revamped website – rebuilt with help from the Plain English Foundation – reduces demand on call and service centres.

“Many people call Centrelink for basic information that is available online,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Simple and user-friendly online information will help them find this info online next time and the positive responses we’re receiving through early testing is very encouraging.”

Punters will be able to try out the new design and provide feedback before the website goes live in coming months.

Eugenia Grammatikakis, from the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, is among those keeping a close eye on the website rollout.

“Anything done to simplify the process of using an online channel to access government services is welcome,” she told AAP.

But many of society’s most vulnerable – including older Australians and those for whom English is not their first language – cannot access online services.

“It is critical that these vulnerable Australians can access essential services in person or by telephone,” Ms Grammatikakis said.