New tax commissioner Michael D’Ascenzo has promised a tough
response to cases of blatant abuse, while defending the ATO’s
decision not to lay charges against former Reserve Bank board member Robert
Gerard, reports the Financial Review
(not online). In his first public speech as the head of the ATO,
D’Ascenzo also foreshadowed a more consultative approach, better
technology and slashed red tape for businesses.

A former high-flying Seven Network executive who fell to
earth in a dotcom-era crash has been appointed the first chief of the nation’s
powerful media and communications watchdog, ending a frustrating year-long
search, reportsThe Australian. Chris Chapman, 51,
presently heading up specialist funds management activities at
Babcock & Brown, will take the reins of the newly formed Australian Communications
and Media Authority (ACMA) on February 27, just days after Communications
Minister Helen Coonan unveils her blueprint for media reforms.

People who’ve worked with Chapman describe him as pragmatic
and a quick learner, says Neil Shoebridge in the Financial Review (not online). Which is a good thing, because he’s
going to need both skills in abundance when he steps into the role of Australia’s
media regulator at a time of massive change in the $12 billion sector.

Shell, Exxon Mobil and BP aren’t too impressed at Caltex
being granted special allowances on fuel standards that were known some years
in advance, says John Durie in the Fin‘s
Chanticleer (not online). Having last year gained a three-month extension to comply with the
latest clean-fuel rules, pleading a plant stuff-up, Reeves is now seeking until
as late as July.
And while shareholders should join competitors in crying foul, they won’t, says
Durie, because profits are booming.

National Australia Bank has poured cold water on hopes for a
multi-billion-dollar return to shareholders this year, admitting yesterday that
reforms imposed on it by the financial sector watchdog over a $360million foreign
exchange scandal would take another 12 months reportsThe Australian. NAB
chief John Stewart said the bank “would have liked” to have finished the
reforms by now “but they got more complicated and we’re doing the job
properly.”

It was Michael Chaney’s first annual meeting as chairman of
National Australia Bank, says Anneli Knight in The Sydney Morning Herald. And it
was the first time in several years the chairman was not confronted by a
seething band of angry shareholders. Chaney, brought in to repair the bank’s
tarnished image, stood under the glare of the spotlights for almost three hours
answering questions and listening to comments. And for once, there were no
surprises and a general sense that the worst was behind the bank.

But this is no time for NAB
to rest on its laurels, HBOS-owned Bankwest’s launch of the lowest rate credit card in the
market at the weekend is the latest shot in a gathering assault on the major
banks’ lucrative stranglehold on the credit card segment, says Stephen
Bartholomeusz
in The Smage.

“Myer’s suitors shrink as bid deadline looms,” says The Age, the paper reporting that former Myer managing director Peter Wilkinson – who spent nearly 20 years at
Coles Myer and is well respected in the retail community – is joining the bid
team of the Newbridge Capital and Myer family consortium.

It’s possible to separate surgically businesses that are
joined at the hip, but it’s a complicated operation, says Malcolm Maiden in The Age, and for that reason the
list of possible Myer purchasers was always going to shorten as time passed. Selling
Myer’s freehold property separately makes good sense for Coles, but it also
means anyone buying the Myer business needs to stage an operational recovery in
a market where retail demand is softening.

There’s no doubting the ambition of Lakshmi Mittal, says The Economist.
Since his family took to the steel
business in 1975, the Indian-born, London-based tycoon has built Mittal Steel
into the world’s biggest producer – over 65m tonnes of steel a year – and has become one of the richest men on the
planet. Now, Mittal has launched an unexpected and audacious bid
to become a near-unassailable giant, making an unsolicited
offer of €18.6 billion in cash and shares for Arcelor, the world’s
second-biggest steel firm, last Friday. If successful, Mittal will forge a vast steelmaker
nearly four times bigger than its nearest rival. But Arcelor doesn’t seem keen to become part of a
steelmaking behemoth, says The Economist.
Guy Dollé, Arcelor’s chief executive, described the bid as “150%” hostile after
his firm’s board rejected the offer on Sunday.

On Wall Street, US
stocks closed mixed overnight as caution ahead of a Federal Reserve
meeting on
interest rates kept a lid on the major indexes. The Dow Jones closed
down 7.29 points at 10,899, after trading in positive territory
for most of the session. MarketWatch has the full report here.

Peter Fray

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