Month: September, 2018

Embattled business Little Masterpiece Studio leaves customers angry

Ayla, 5, and Bria, 7, pose in a photo taken by Little Masterpiece Studio Pty Ltd. Photo: Supplied Little Masterpiece Studio commonly set up in shopping centres around Australia. Photo: Little Masterpiece Studio website
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Little Masterpiece Studio Pty Ltd used props to style photos of young kids, taken in studios set-up in shopping centres. Photo: Supplied

Cessnock mum Kylie Whitfield is still waiting for photo goods she ordered four years ago. Photo: Supplied

Every fortnight since April 2012, Kylie Whitfield has made a payment of $60: a contribution towards a $3500 package of photos and memorabilia she ordered after the birth of her first daughter Chloe.

Chloe is now four years old and Ms Whitfield is yet to receive more than half of the goods she ordered.

“The package included photos, a photo disc, four canvases, three photo books and three [acrylic] photos. I made my final payment in August last year.”

Ms Whitfield, from Cessnock, is one of many parents to have experienced difficulty in receiving goods from baby photography business Little Masterpiece Studio Pty Ltd.

The company, which promises to capture “your child’s innocent charm…for a lifetime,” has been the subject in a peak in complaints made to the Department of Fair Trading.

Little Masterpiece Studio Pty Ltd provides photography shoots for babies and children in shopping centres around Australia, offering photo packages worth up to $3500, including everything from photo prints to iPads.

But recent customers of the 30-year-old company are claiming they have been “scammed” and “ripped off” by the business, after many failed to receive photo packages and goods ordered and paid for on lay-by.

Martin Comer, who stepped in to manage Little Masterpiece Studio when it began experiencing financial difficulties, said there is a simple reason for the recent customer dissatisfaction.

“There is no money,” he said. “We’ve gone broke.”

He said around five years ago the company was in “dire straits,” and the founder and then-owner Rita Winkler asked him to assist in winding up the company.

“I said, it’s not quite as simple as that, because you’ve got all these [customers] on lay-by. You’ve got employees with long term superannuation, long service leave. You can’t just close it down like that.”

Ms Whitfield said when she called Little Masterpiece Studio to seek out her order, she was told the company had had “staffing issues, lots of issues.”

“I’ve used them three times previously, but then I only ever ordered photos. Now I’m feeling a little bit silly…to pay and get nothing at the end [except] the photos…which aren’t worth $3500,” she said, adding, “I’m my child’s biggest fan, but the photos aren’t worth $3500.”

Another customer, Keeli, said she had used the company four times previously to her most recent $500 order last year, photographing her three children Ayla, 5, Bria, 7, and Leland 2.

“Aside from their prices, which are a rip-off, it’s always been fine.”

She said she waited up to seven weeks for her goods with little information, but said they finally arrived last week.

Wollongong mum Alexis Amour recently received her photo prints, at which point she said she was “happy with results so far,” but later found that the CD she ordered was missing.

“[This] is extremely disappointing because the photos they did in black and white look dreadful. I’m really pissed about this entire situation…Yes I’m happy that I received part of what I paid for, but I will not be satisfied until [all customers] receive all their items.”

The customers are among almost 120 parents who have joined a Facebook group called “Scammed By Little Master Piece[sic] Studio.”

A number of parents joined the group after it was set up by two customers following a television report which revealed customers had experienced difficulty contacting the company in search of their orders.

Mr Comer said he had spent the last few weeks “trying to do the best to look after people,” despite it being “seven months since I drew a salary.”

He said he had no “obligation to the business” but was helping to make sure all customers received any products or refunds they were owed before liquidators were appointed and the business shut down.

Amid the many complaints, the Facebook page also reveals a number of parents who have been reassured after speaking with the company and receiving products owed.

“I just spoke to [someone] in the studio. She was very helpful and a lovely lady to speak to and was happy to resolve any issues. It may take a while to get through tho [sic] so be patient,” said one mother.

A spokesperson for NSW Fair Trading said it was able to confirm Little Masterpiece Studio Pty. Limited ceased trading in December last year and LMS Studios Pty Ltd had taken over.

“A representative from LMS has advised Fair Trading they will be honouring outstanding orders placed with Little Masterpiece Studio Pty. Limited,” she said.

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Cardinal George Pell uninterested in Ridsdale sex claims, Royal Commission hears

Cardinal George Pell gives evidence to the royal commission. Photo: SuppliedComplaints about a paedophile priest were “common knowledge” in the Catholic community and among two senior clergy members but Cardinal George Pell did not have “much interest” in them, he told a royal commission.
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In his second day of questioning about what he knew of sexual offending by priests when he was in Victoria, Cardinal Pell’s admission drew an audible gasp from those listening to his testimony.

Giving his evidence via video-link from Rome, Australia’s most senior Catholic agreed that some people knew there had been complaints about Gerald Ridsdale in the 1970s, a former priest now serving a prison sentence for multiple child sex offences.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard a police investigation into Ridsdale found his alleged offending at Victorian parishes was “common knowledge” among the Catholic congregation.

Cardinal Pell has repeatedly denied knowledge of Ridsdale’s offending in the 1970s.

“I didn’t know whether it was common knowledge or whether it wasn’t,” he said. “It’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me.”

When asked by counsel assisting the royal commission Gail Furness SC why Ridsdale’s case was not of interest he replied: “The suffering, of course, was real and I very much regret that but I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evil that Ridsdale had perpetrated.”

The commission heard the then Bishop of Ballarat Ronald Mulkearns​ was aware of allegations against Ridsdale, as was another senior member of the diocese, in the 1970s.

Cardinal Pell said it was a “gross deception” that they did not inform him of the claims in his then role as a consulter to the Diocese of Ballarat.

He told the commission that the first time Ridsdale’s offences came to his attention was when he was jailed over his crimes in 1993.

When asked by commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan​ why Bishop Mulkearns, now receiving palliative care at a Ballarat nursing home, deceived him, Cardinal Pell told the commission: “He might not have wanted me to share in his culpability.”

“If we were to come to the view that you did know (about Ridsdale), you would be culpable too,” Justice McClellan said.

Cardinal Pell replied: “That’s correct.”

The hearing continues.

For help or information call Lifeline 13 11 14; MensLine 1300 789 978 or the Royal Commission 1800 099 340.

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Sydney courier Ahmad Saiyer Naizmand charged with accessing terrorist material online

Ahmad Saiyer Naizmand, pictured at Sydney Airport, attempted to leave Australia using his brother’s passport to travel to the Middle East. Photo: Supplied Naizmand was given a suspended sentence for travelling on his brother’s passport. Photo: Supplied
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Ahmed Saiyer Naizmand is taken away from Burwood Local Court on March 1 Photo: Peter Rae

A Sydney courier suspected of being at the centre of a group of dangerous radicals has been arrested after he accessed extremist material online.

Ahmad Saiyer Naizmand, 21, was subjected to a terrorism control order last year after his home was raided during Operation Appleby in 2014 and he was convicted of using his brother’s passport to travel to the Middle East.

The order was due to expire on Sunday, one year after it was implemented.

He was charged on Monday night with breaching the terms of the order at least five times between January 11 and February 24 by accessing extremist material online, including propaganda or promotional material for Islamic State and electronic media depicting beheadings, explosives, suicide attacks or bombings.

The control order placed heavy restrictions on Naizmand’s movements and communications, preventing him from contacting 18 other alleged extremists who were all targeted in Operation Appleby.

Dubbed the Naizmand Group, the extremists, which includes a 12-year-old boy, are believed to be supporters of Islamic State who are “willing and able” to carry out terrorist attacks on home soil, the Australian Federal Police said in court documents.

Several of them have been charged over the murder of police accountant Curtis Cheng while others are in Goulburn’s SuperMax prison for other terror-related offences.

As part of the control order placed on him, Naizmand was prevented from accessing electronic material depicting or describing executions, beheadings, suicide attacks, bombings, terrorist attacks, promotional material from terrorist groups or any activities by Islamic State.

He was also ordered to participate in at least one hour of counselling each week with respected youth worker Sheikh Wessam Charkawi, to improve on his “spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing”.

Naizmand was arrested at his Auburn home by the NSW Joint Counter-Terrorism Team on Monday night.

He opted not to appear before Burwood Local Court on Tuesday and his lawyer, Hisham Karnib, said he would make a bail application on Monday.

Naizmand was given a suspended jail sentence in February 2015 for using his brother’s passport in an attempt to travel to the Middle East via Malaysia.

His family’s Kellyville home was raided in a pre-dawn operation in September 2014, a few weeks after Naizmand had been escorted back to Sydney from Dubai.

The 21-year-old was also implicated in the alleged terror plot uncovered in intercepted phone calls between Omarjan Azari and Islamic State recruiter Mohammed Baryalei in September 2014.

Baryalei allegedly instructed Azari to pick a random person off the streets, kill them and drape an Islamic State flag over them.

Referring to Naizmand by his Kunya name Abu Moussa, they identified him as one of those who had “the heart” to carry out such an attack.

There are only a handful of Australians on terrorism control orders. Last year, the government was considering extending the orders to suspects as young as 14.

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FIFA: New head Gianni Infantino starts work with friendly kickabout

Match ready: New FIFA president Gianni Infantino arrives with a ball for a friendly n Zurich. Photo: Ennio LeanzaGianni Infantino began his new job as the boss of soccer’s governing body FIFA with a friendly football match on Monday, leaving matters such as his own salary for another day.
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“I know you can’t believe it, but it’s not (for the) money that I was candidate to become FIFA president,” he told reporters after a match with employees and guests.

The Swiss said he expected the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup, delayed by the wide-reaching corruption scandal that engulfed the organisation last year, to begin before FIFA holds its next congress in Mexico City in May.

The 2018 and 2022 tournaments to be staged in Russia and Qatar must be the “best in history”, he said.

Monday’s kickabout, played in freezing mist at FIFA headquarters, featured two seven-a-side matches involving employees and former professionals.

“Team Infantino” included former Portugal forward Luis Figo and former Italy defender Fabio Cannavaro.

Infantino, 45, wearing a No. 9 shirt, ran around enthusiastically, but barely touched the ball.

“The hard work starts now, but I wanted to organise a football match with those who make the game what it is,” Infantino said.

He said he had not discussed his salary following his election on Friday. The pay of his predecessor Sepp Blatter, suspended from soccer for six years, has never been made public.

The reforms voted in by FIFA last week to help it put the corruption scandal behind it included one on salaries being open to scrutiny.

Infantino appeared keen to get the ball rolling to pick a host for the 2026 World Cup. The process was supposed to have begun last year with a decision due in Kuala Lumpur next year.

“Definitely I think we need to launch the bidding process in the next couple of months, probably before the next Congress in May,” Infantino said.

Under FIFA statutes that prevent the same continent from hosting the tournament twice in a row, it will not be staged in Asia.

“Concerning Qatar and Russia, the decisions were taken in 2010 by the executive committee, but since 2010 there has been speculation and allegations and noise.

“It’s now necessary to organise the best World Cup in history in Russia in 2018 and in 2022 in Qatar,” he said.

FIFA has been forced to investigate the decisions on the two tournaments, and an investigation is also under way by the Swiss attorney general’s office.

The reforms passed on Friday include a separation of powers at FIFA, with a new council due to replace the old executive committee and decide solely on strategic matters.

A separate general secretariat will run day-to-day operations and, crucially, make commercial decisions.

Infantino rejected the suggestion that he would enjoy less power than his predecessor, however.

“I wouldn’t say I have limited powers,” he said. “I was elected on Friday to be the leader of FIFA. The leader is setting the tone, the leader will have to do some convincing work of course. It’s not a dictatorship – it’s a democracy, it’s a participation.”

Infantino’s first major decision will be to appoint a secretary general, effectively a chief executive, to run day-to-day operations.

Since FIFA was founded in 1904, it has had 10 secretaries general, all from Europe, the game’s strongest continent.


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Gold still a buy, says Deutche Bank

As leading banks began looking shaky in the US, Britain and Europe, investors have been switching to gold. Photo: Jim RiceGold remains a buy even though it has it has rallied over 16 per cent since the start of the year, according to a note from Deutsche Bank, with global central bank misfires making a strong case for bullion’s safe-haven status.
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And in Australian dollars, gold has come within shooting distance of all-time highs, prompting Macquarie Bank to call Western Australia’s gold fields the “golden west”, whose operators were in a “purple patch”.

However, while Macquarie predicts Australian dollar gold will break those record highs later this year, it is too late to be buying most gold shares, the bank warned.

Gold was trading at $US1061 per ounce at the start of the year but prices have since shot up to $US1238 per ounce as widespread market turmoil has fuelled demand. This makes it the best-performing safe-haven asset of the year so far, with Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts calling gold “the new black”.

Even after the price jumps, gold is only back to early-2015 levels. It remains a long way below 2012 highs of over $US1770 per ounce.

“We think the risks in the global financial system have risen, such that a central bank mis-step is now more likely,” said the Deutsche Bank paper, “Rising financial risks underpin gold”.

“The adoption of negative deposit rates in Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark the Eurozone and Japan increases gold’s attractiveness, reducing its holding costs.”

However, Deutsche suggested that investors might want to wait a bit before jumping into the market. The first quarter of the year was “seasonally strong” for gold and bullion was now expensive versus other commodities and versus historical levels.

“In our view, the second quarter and third quarter will provide better opportunities.”

In particular, Deutsche believe that gold will drop to $US1150 in the second quarter of 2016 and $US1170 in the third quarter before bouncing back to current levels in the fourth quarter.

Gold will continue to trade around the $US1200-$US1300 mark until 2019, the bank said.

In Australian dollar terms, however, it’s a far rosier picture for the precious metal and the depreciating local currency has given local producers a shot in the arm.

From $US1456 per ounce at the start of the year, bullion has since increased to $US1717 per ounce – just shy of an 18 per cent rise – after peaking in early February at $US1758 per ounce.

These prices are within range of the all-time highs of $US1800 achieved in 2011.

A recent paper from Macquarie, “The Golden West”, noted that Western Australia’s gold sector was particularly strong with operators enjoying a purple patch.

“As well as featuring some of Australia’s most profitable gold mines (WA) also hosts the country’s two most significant development plays at Gruyere and Mr Morgans,” said the paper.

“The WA gold sector is in a strong position.”

While the gold price would come off a little in US dollar terms in 2016, the bank said, in Australian dollar terms bullion was headed for record highs – $US1841 per ounce in the fourth quarter of 2016, rising to $US2018 in 2019.

Nevertheless – those wanting to buy shares in Australian gold companies have probably left things too late, said Macquarie.

Of the pureplay gold producers in its coverage, Macquarie gave outperform ratings to only two – Gold Road and Dacian Gold.

“The strength of the sector is, however, more than reflected in current share prices,” said Macquarie. “Upside is already factored in.”

In addition to the gold price rally, “equities have enjoyed an even stronger rally with out gold coverage universe seeing an average share price increase of 43 per cent in the year to date.

“While we believe the sector’s operation performance will continue we remain cautious with all the producers trading at a premium to our valuations.”

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