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Newcastle, so hot and cold right now

DEMAND: Dave Crane says winter clothes are already selling off the shelves.WHAT the heck is going on with this weather? And what is it doing to Newcastle’s fashion scene?
Nanjing Night Net

Everywhere Topics goesaround the city, it seems no one has a cluewhat to make of Mother Nature’s state of mind. Is it hot, or cold? Jacket on, or off? Should I really be wearing those thongs, oris it time to dust off the scarf?

Topics tried to answer these important life questions as we took our jacket off, before promptly putting it back on, for the third time in 15 minutes at the weekend.

We eventually resolved that it wasn’t cold enough for a jacket – but before long a friend had us stumped again.

“I just saw someone pay $800 for a fur coat,” she thundered as she sat down for lunch. “Where would you even wear it –it’s not like it’s that cold.”

A frustrated Topics decided to further investigate, so we hit the capital of the Hunter’s high fashion scene –The Junction –to find out if there was a winter rush.

SUMMER CITY: Lindsay Otto finds that Newcastle tends to buck winter fads.

Dave Crane, the co-owner of Seraph women’s clothingstore on Kenrick Street, confirmed that winter had definitely come early.

“Winter is here,” he said.“I’m finding that people are preparing a lot earlier this year. We’re selling a lot of scarves, a lot of knitwear. It’s a relief, to be honest, becauselast year was just too hot. People just want to be ready.”

Lindsay Otto, of Otto’s women’s clothing, observed that some in the city were in “winter denial” (think: shorts and ugg boots)–but there was no cause for concern because “Newcastle doesn’t really embrace winter, anyway”.

“It’s something to do with our beach lifestyle,” she said. “You never really need much to keep warm. Something light will do.”

Whatever havocthis “in between” weather might be wreaking on tough as nails Newcastle, at least we’re not as bad as Sydney.

KEEPING IT REAL: John Nelson in his shorts and thongs at The Junction.

As one Topics correspondent noted this week of Sydney fashion on Facebook: “Man scarves. Man scarves everywhere. Sadly. Mostly wound around the neck three times and tucked into the breast of a Ted Baker tweed coat. The walk is one of purpose, hands in coat pockets, an expressionless face staring outward through heavy-rimmed Tom Fords.”

It prompted the reply: “This Northern town glances at what the big smoke is doing then ignores it.”

Merewether’s John Nelson is one proud Novocastrian thumbing his nose at the fashion elites of Sydney.

Resplendent in shorts,thongs and a polo shirt as he walked down Kenrick Street on Monday afternoon, John said simply of his fashion choice:“I’m comfortable.”

Hard to argue with that.

“I do rug up from time to time, but not now,” John explained. “It’s just not one of those days.”

Newcastle can expect a top of 21 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday. Ask yourself, WWJD – What Would John Do?

Go behind the barsTHINK it’s cold? Spare a thought for the inmates ofMaitland Gaol. Or just seefor yourself.

Maitland council has announced the return of its popular night tours at the historic penitentiary, giving visitors another perspective of the former prison.

Visitors will experiencehow the prisoners counted down the time until their release, as well as an inside look into the many escape attempts at thejail.

A children’s tour called “Snitch’s Gaol Exploration” –narrated by “Snitch the rat” –is also promised.

The next night tours will take place between 6pm and 9.30pm on June 9 and July 14. Last entry at 8.30pm.

It pays dividends to check

This column was written on the night of the federal budget, so matters pertaining to the economy were to the fore.
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Or ‘ecomomy’ as it was published on the front page of a metropolitan newspaper recently

I don’t highlight the mistake to poke fun at someone else’s mistake.

Regular readers of this column, or my sister at least, would be aware a central theme is the importance of self-editing copy, or if possible getting another pair of eyes to check.

The typo appeared in an edition that may not have been sub-edited.

It’s the future of newspapers we are told, especially online.

But it’s not just media consumers who suffer from unedited copy.

A week before that newspaper’s mistake, reports were published of a Centrelink letter to Melbourne’s Ben Klein, a TAFE Advanced Diploma of Music Industry student.

In an effort to advise him of Austudy payments, the unsigned letter contained typographic, grammatical, spelling and factual errors.

It was so poor, on first viewing Mr Klein actually thought it a scam.

At least a dozen mistakes lined up for the honour of document doozy including the agency misspelling its own name “Cedntrelink”, and citing an irrelevant law.

Despite being about Austudy, the letter said the notice was given under “paid parental leave law”.

Music obviously soothes the soul and Mr Klein good-naturedly “marked” the letter, but gave it an F.

Department of Human Services General Manager Hank Jongensaid the letter had not been automatically generated by a computer but was in fact from a manual template and the mistakes were the result of human error.

How reassuring.

I wonder if any budget money is going to literacy programs?

Darrell Croker is senior coach at Write For Impact. CLOSER LOOK: It is important to have a second set of eyes read over your work to pick up any mistakes.

Izzy’s reaching for the starsVIDEO

HARD WORKER: Izzy Roughan dreams of one day becoming an astronaut.IZZY Roughan has her mind set –she is going to be an astronaut.
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For as long as she can remember, the St Joseph’s High School student has wanted to visit outer space.

Inspired by her late grandfather’s love of astronomy, she has actively pursued her goal since she was a young child.

She regularly flies planes at Scone Aero Club to build her skills as a pilot.

Her latest goal is to raise enough money to take her to anAdvanced Space Academy Program at the United States Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama.

“Recently I was made aware of the 2017 iSTEM Space Camp Tour that enables selected Year 9-to-12 students from NSW, accompanied by teachers, to participate in the space academy program,” she said.

“By attending this iSTEM space camp, I will have a marvellous opportunity to feel what it’s really liketo be an astronaut.”

Her interest in leaving Earthhas grown over the years, particularly since she began studying physics and chemistry.

“It all kind of got bigger when I got to learn about it more,” she said.

“Not many people get the opportunity –it’s like one in a million that actually get to become an astronaut.

“It’s very demanding and it’s really hard to get to.

“And, by the time you become one, you’re well into your thirties or forties.

“There are a lot of people out there who want the same role, but there are only a few people that actually get it.”

Izzy has never met an astronaut before, but she is looking forward to the activities inthe US program, including meeting with like-minded students.

“I think it will be interesting to share our common interests and be able to speak to each other about it,” she said.

“The whole week [we will be] doing things that astronauts would do –being flipped upside down in those really cool machines,actually putting the space suit on,going underwater in the space suit, and just learning what it’s like to be an astronaut.”

The 17-year-old often reflects on how much work is required to make her dream a reality.

But, it never changes her aspirationto one day view the planet from a distance.

She would liketo thank Professor Tim Robertsfrom The Tom Farrell Institute, and business development manager atUmwelt Australia Julie Wicks for their assistance.

To donate, visithttps://梧桐夜网gofundme南京夜网/izzy-roughan-istem-space-camp

LIFELONG DREAM: Even when she was a baby, Izzy had space pyjamas.

To keep updated with the program, findhttps://梧桐夜网facebook南京夜网/SJAspacecamp/on Facebook.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Is this Europe’s most underrated city for expat living?

Why young Australians moving to Berlin The family who live in an old gaolGrace Brown’s new life in Mongolia
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Starting over in a new country is never simple, but for project manager Martin Frost, it was easy to see the benefits.

Frost, 35, originally came to Maastricht, the southernmost city in the Netherlands, as a Sydney University undergraduate in 2004. Undertaking a six-month exchange program in the field of brain imaging, he stayed for postgraduate studies – and met a Swiss girl who was also on exchange at the time.

Thirteen years later, they are still in Maastricht, now married with a daughter – and another baby on the way.

“The location, right in the heart of Europe, was really appealing,” says Frost. “We can go for weekend trips to Paris, Rome, London or Berlin really easily. And if it’s just for a day, Amsterdam, Brussels, Antwerp, Cologne and Dusseldorf are a short drive or train trip away.”

With just over 120,000 people, Maastricht isn’t a big city, but it has a lot going for it. Beyond its centrality, Maastricht has been lauded as one of Europe’s most underrated destinations – culturally exciting yet with a relaxed pace of life. The dynamic university town attracts a mix of local and international students and boasts arthouse cinemas, alternative shops, concerts and a world-renowned fine art fair.

“Growing up in Sydney, I would still love the buzz and possibilities of a big city but I really appreciate living in a smaller city now. Nothing is more than a 15-minute bike ride away and traffic jams just don’t exist here – not on the scale of Sydney.”

Frost lives with his wife Aude and their 17-month-old daughter Ella, just a 15-minute stroll from the main square – in amongst a mix of Dutch locals and expats. They’ve bought in a residential, tree-lined neighbourhood where every street name is somehow related to The Three Musketeers. “Comte d’Artagnan famously died not too far away from here,” says Frost.

All the houses in their street look the same – built in the 1970s and distinctly modernist in style. The strict building regulations in the area require every house to be painted white, which creates a charming uniformity.

“We have a carport and small terrace out the front, large open-plan living downstairs and a family bathroom and three bedrooms upstairs. The living room opens out to a lovely garden at the back, easily big enough for a modest game of backyard cricket.”

Buying is much more prevalent in the Netherlands than in Australia. “There’s a broad spectrum of houses on the market, so even fresh graduates can easily find something in their budget,” says Frost. “Banks are very willing to loan, no deposit is required and it is quite ingrained in the culture to buy early and often. We once heard that the average Dutch person buys (and sells) seven houses in their lifetime.”

For expats like the Frosts, it’s not uncommon to stay in the city for two to three years before making the transition from renting to buying.

That’s not to say rent isn’t affordable. “A two-bedroom apartment in the city centre costs about 1200 euros per month ($AUD1760). A small house further out of the centre costs about the same.”

Frost has considered moving back, at least for a few years, but is afraid he would be priced out of Sydney. “Having been earning euros (salaries here are substantially lower to coincide with the cost of living) and having been out of the housing market for so long, that’s definitely something to keep in mind.”

A few observations when home-hunting in the Netherlands:”When renting, be aware that places can be ‘kaal’ (Dutch for ‘bald’, meaning unfurnished) which means they don’t have floor coverings, light fixtures, curtains or any other furnishing. When I was a financially constrained masters student, I had no proper flooring nor light fixtures in my room for a year!””If you want to buy, consider using the services of a mortgage broker accustomed to assisting expats.””Most Dutch houses are built straight on the street, with big front windows that can make privacy a bit of an issue.””Most Dutch stairs are extremely steep and narrow – an architect friend of ours from Switzerland said most of them would be illegal there. This makes moving quite difficult!””Pretty much every house in the Netherlands is a terrace house. It’s a pretty big deal to have a freestanding or semi-detached home. Even a corner house gets special mention.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

‘I told you the rules’: Dirty dishes sharehouse stoush taken to tribunal

Domain. Suburb profile of Footcray. Hopkins street Footscray. 9th March 2016. Photo by Jason South Photo: Jason South An ugly stoush which started with dirty dishes in a sharehouse has wound up in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
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A Footscray tenant made a claim for compensation against his landlord, after a wrangle began over housekeeping, like a smudge on a plate, and escalated to mutual intervention orders.

But the tenant lost the claim after explaining seven weeks of bitter cohabitation to the state’s independent dispute tribunal.

After assessing a long list of allegations made by both men, tribunal member Kylea Campana concluded: “Living with someone is never easy. Even harder is learning to live with people you have never met before.”

The university student applicant claimed the landlord breached a duty under the Residential Tenancies Act to take all reasonable steps to provide quiet enjoyment.

He complained he was constantly harassed over many issues, including access and damage to whitegoods, the use of other tenants’ shampoo and laundry powder and everyday household chores.

He contended that scare tactics were used to get him out.

The landlord lived in a bungalow at the back of the house shared by the applicant and two others.

The tenant moved in last November. Within 10 days the landlord came to his bedroom door and yelled at him to clean up the kitchen. The tenant told him he had an exam, but after the landlord cleaned up, he returned to tell the newcomer he was annoyed.

Two days later the landlord was back at the bedroom door to say “I f—ing told you the rules.”

Ms Campana heard the tenant then locked the door and climbed out the bedroom window.

The tenant texted that morning: “I’ve just moved in and I’m already getting alarm bells. Don’t scream at me like that again and if you need to tell me anything again like that please put it in writing.”

The landlord replied: “The dishes NEED to be washed properly and the sink cleaned afterwards ??? I spent over an hour last night cleaning up your mess and removing the rubbish from that cupboard that you had hidden in there. This is unacceptable.”

Tenant: “The dishes and the kitchen were all reasonably cleaned. If this is going to become a recurring issue I will buy my own stuff so that I can clean it how I usually clean dishes. I really don’t have time for this petty stuff … some of the dishes you pointed out haven’t been used by me. As for the garbage bag, I won’t do that again.”

Landlord: “Hell if you had just listened for a couple of seconds I would not have raised my voice.”

Tenant: “Yes I know and I’m sorry if I rubbed off the wrong way but I was literally late for a board meeting and I looked like shit and I just wanted to avoid conflict.”

Over pizza, they put aside their differences but cleanliness continued to be a sore point.

Animosity escalated to intervention orders and accusations of assault and cruelty to a pet dog.

The tenant gave the landlord a breach of duty notice, explaining he was unable to work at the house and was fearful of harassment when he returned home.

He said the landlord complained about a smear of tomato on a bowl, dirty dishes lying around and food on the bench.

The renter described the house as “like a dictatorship.”

The landlord told the tribunal he was totally and utterly sick of reminding the tenant to clean up and that the tenant knew what was expected before he moved in.

Ms Campana sided with the landlord, saying he must be able to raise the issue with the tenant, especially when it affected other occupants.

The tenant also made a claim for pain and suffering as a result of the impact on his mental health, but that was struck off because it was outside VCAT’s jurisdiction.

After the tenant told the landlord he would report him to police, a friend of the landlord said to him “I pissed in your food and pissed in your products.” Another friend invited him outside for a fight.

But the landlord denied putting the friend up to it, instead discouraging interaction because “this man will twist anything.”

The applicant also claimed the landlord made his Maori guest uncomfortable by discussing her heritage and cannibalism. She left, not wanting to return.

The landlord called the RSPCA alleging the tenant hurt his dog. The tenant claimed while he was being prevented from using the washing machine, he was punched, causing a blood nose. The landlord said he punched himself.

Police advised the tenant to stay with a friend and the $77 cost of transport, two days of food and rent were part of his VCAT claim.

The tit-for-tat continued with accusations of damaging a cactus collection with a broom and internet disconnection.

The tenant claimed the landlord turned on the cold water while he was having a shower.

He also explained a car horn was blasted five times outside his bedroom window and that he was locked out of the laundry when he went to check on a load of washing.

He also claimed he was stared at while he brushed his teeth, and that he was hit in the leg with a beer bottle.

A five-day trip to Queensland to spend time with family was used to escape the stress, and the tenant tried to bill the landlord for the cost of flights.

The landlord issued notice to vacate on January 2.

It read: “The lease has been terminated due to your inability to comply with house rules???, and your misuse of other peoples properties.[sic]”

The tenant called it an illegal eviction and texted: “I’m not prepared to uproot my life because you have OCD issues. If you drag me through the mud, I will do the same ten-fold.”

At the first VCAT hearing on January 25, heard in the absence of the landlord, the tenant was granted $790 in compensation.

But the landlord sought a review and attended a rehearing, where Ms Campana dismissed the tenant’s claim, saying he had unreasonable expectations of life in a sharehouse.

“It is clear ??? that this is not a harmonious household. However, animosity and tension in a share-house does not mean that the landlord has failed to take steps to ensure the tenant has quiet enjoyment of the tenant’s bedroom.

“Being in a share house means you’re going to have some level of interruption that you wouldn’t expect if you had exclusive occupation of an entire home.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

The real reason banks are so angry

The extra $6.2 billion that Scott Morrison plans to extract from the banks over the next four years sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But here’s the thing.
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Regardless of change in government policy, the affected banks often face far bigger swings in their funding costs than the 0.06 percentage points a year the taxman will be skimming off their borrowings.

Any number of events, from all corners of the financial world, can cause funding costs to blow out by a similar amount to the tax hit.

It could be credit market jitters about the eurozone, the loss of a credit rating, or rule changes requiring banks hold more deposits. That is the nature of banking.

Remember, the $1.5 billion a year is being levied on a massive $2.6 trillion in bank liabilities.

“That’s material, but it’s well within the range of recent variability in banks’ funding costs,” says Clime Asset Management portfolio manager David Walker of the levy’s impact.

“When that happens, banks just eventually pass that on, which is what they’ve been doing.” Why go to war?

Why then, are banks squealing so loudly about the latest tax?

Why go to war with the government and risk further backlash over something that is undoubtedly big, but not out of whack with changes in funding costs that often sweep through the banking system?

Well, there’s the fact the banks feel they were blindsided, and that chief executives see shareholders returns as their top priority.

But I think there’s more going on here.

Unlike most other hikes in the banks’ costs, this measure comes amid a concerted attack on something that is far more important to their profitability than a tax: their pricing power.

That is probably one reason why bank shares have arguably overreacted to the levy, with $14.5 billion wiped off combined market capitalisation of the big four and Macquarie in the past week.

Pricing power is something shareholders crave.

It refers to a firm’s ability to set prices for the goods and services in the market – to be a “price maker” – rather than to have them dictated by the forces of competition (being a “price taker”). Pricing power

Stockbroking analysts believe Westpac, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and ANZ Bank have pricing power most companies could only dream of.

They have an 80 per cent share of the mortgage market, and we all know it is time-consuming and a bore to take your entire bank account to a rival lender in order to get a lower interest rate.

That consumer inertia has allowed the lenders to repeatedly deal with deep-seated challenges in global banking by “re-pricing”, or raising interest rates on loans, most importantly mortgages.

CLSA analyst Brian Johnson says they’ve had “unfettered” pricing power, which they’ve used to maintain profitability when the regulators introduced tougher capital rules, which lower returns.

“Post the Global Financial Crisis the Australian banks have seemingly enjoyed unfettered pricing power to increase variable housing rates to offset structural NIM / ROE pressures,” Johnson says.

But now, the banks’ pricing power looks set to be tested, on many fronts. That should make it harder – but not impossible – to pass on the levy to customers.

For one, there is the fact that only the big four banks and Macquarie Group are being hit with this tax, unlike rises in the cost of money, which affect their competitors, too. Smaller banks bite

Since Bank of Queensland, ING Direct or Bendigo Bank won’t pay the tax, these banks won’t experience the increase in their funding costs from the levy, and they should in theory be able to compete more keenly on price with their larger rivals.

There is also the fact the government will fund the competition watchdog to run a year-long investigation into how banks price their mortgages, alongside a broader-reaching Productivity Commission inquiry into competition in banking.

Yet the forces undermining the big four’s pricing power also run deeper than a new tax and a couple of inquiries.

Over the longer-term, technology could prove an even bigger challenge to big bank power, and ScoMo has made it clear he’d welcome this.

The digital revolution has the potential to unleash competition in financial services from all manner of “fintech” or financial technology businesses that want to compete with banks.

Britain and Europe are moving closer to this future through new “open banking” regimes, which basically force banks to securely share with rivals the vast amounts of data they have on customers. That should make it much easier for customers to vote with their feet if they don’t like the deal from their bank.

It’s likely to happen here, too. The budget included funding for a review of how we should go about implementing “open data” in banking here, a move welcomed by local fintech businesses.

There is also evidence that for all their pricing power, banks get less of a boost from raising prices on mortgages these days than they did in the past.

Banks’ net interest margins still declined in the latest half, to an average of 2.01 per cent from 2.08 per cent a year earlier, despite lenders re-pricing mortgages during the period.

All up, these forces and the hostile political environment are making it harder for the banks to do what they have traditionally done, and protect their returns by acting as “price-makers”.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

1-Page saga closes last chapter and ousts co-founder

It’s looking nearly certain that one-time tech darling 1-Page has gone the way of so many CVs in recent times – in the bin.
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On Monday, the shareholders of the company, which had licensed technology to create one-page resumes, voted to boot the company’s co founder, Joanna Riley, from the board and close the operating side of the business.

1-Page will now be a shell company with a multimillion-dollar whack of cash that can be used on all manner of things – like the back-door listing of an equally spurious tech start-up? A speculative miner? The options are endless.

Riley, a former elite college rower and no Lay Down Sally in this tumultuous affair, will now have to pursue other ventures in Silicon Valley where she is based.

Riley, who was for a time CEO of 1-Page, and her ally Peter Kent (who was CEO after Riley but only for a heartbeat), had offered to buy the American operating portion of the business (ie, all and sundry except for its ASX shell) for $US1. That offer, unsurprisingly, was rejected by the board and shareholders.

Instead, shareholders have opted for an alternative wind up proposal put forward by shareholder Andrew Chapman from Merchant Funds Management. Not a junket

Hold shares in some of the listed investment companies? If you do, it may be worth making a mental note to ask at the next AGM whether they spent shareholder money going to the annual Warren Buffet gabfest, the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting that is better known among some as the Woodstock for capitalists.

On Monday, BKI Investment Co’s Will Culbert and Tom Millner, duly reported to shareholders the “great insights” they received from attending the meeting.

“Warren Buffett is the greatest investor of all time,” they gushed, in a report to shareholders on their trip, titled “Be Rational and be a life ong learner”.

“He is humble, he has strong business ethics and is shareholder orientated,” was one takeaway that left your diarist scratching his head to understand how this translates to being a better stock picker Down Under.

Thankfully, their trip was “self-funded and no cost is borne by the BKI Investment Co”, the duo pointed out. But given the meeting is webcast, could it have made more sense to monitor proceedings from afar? Prince in bricks

How do you get a group of year 10 schoolgirls interested about a career in property? Talk about Frederik, the Crown Prince of Denmark.

That was the strategy deployed by AMP Capital chief operating officer for property Louise Mason when she spoke at the opening day of the Property Council’s Girls in Property Week, a program aimed to encourage greater female participation in the property sector.

“He’s very handsome and he’s very smooth,” explained Mason about the heir to the Danish throne who she once met at the Royal Palace in Copenhagen courtesy of the Australia-Danish student exchange program sponsored by AMP Capital.

“Very easy to look at,” she said in her presentation, which included images of her with the Danish royals and where she did manage to weave in some career tips and plugs for her sector.

“There are lots of fun people in property,” she added while also showcasing AMP’s Danish-designed Quay Quarter project in Sydney.

Yesterday’s event also had Property Council chief Ken Morrison tell the gathering of 120 girls from five high schools why property was such a great industry to work in.

NSW Minister for Finance, Services and Property Victor Dominello took a different tangent, starting his presentation with some archaeological fun facts.

“Around 10,000 years ago there was a revolution that took place. I don’t know if many of you know about it but it was the Neolithic revolution,” explained the minister, who went on to talk a little about property.

If that weren’t enough to excite girls about property, the Property Council as part of the week has arranged Greater Sydney Commission head honcho Lucy Turnbull to speak on Thursday backed up by Lendlease’s head bean-counter for property Courtenay Smith. On Friday, the week will be wrapped up with some talks from Investa Property chief Jonathan Callaghan and entrepreneur Catherine Ball.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Dutton’s department given go-ahead for $250m office upgrade

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton addresses the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 18 April 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Photo: Alex EllinghausenThe Coalition is set to use its numbers on a powerful parliamentary committee to approve the Immigration Department’s controversial plan to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on an office upgrade.
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Despite concerns about the value of the $256 million office fit-out – believed to be the most expensive in federal government history – the Public Works Committee is poised to approve it next week.

While the committee is yet to finalise its report on the “Headquarters Project”, it is understood the five government members will recommend the proposal – backed by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton – goes ahead. However the four Labor members of the committee will take what is a rare step for a public works project and submit a dissenting report spelling out their concerns, Fairfax Media understands.

Under the proposal, the number of buildings the department inhabits in the national capital would shrink from 12 to five, with the main office located in a new state-of-the-art building next to Canberra Airport.

The price tag for the 85,700 square metre multi-building fit-out suggests the renovations will cost close to $3000 per square metre – well above the $1200 to $1800 per square metre target for such projects.

The government has budgeted $22.6 million for the fit-out, and another $20.5 million will come from the department’s operating budget. The department says the remaining $212m will come from landlord “lease incentives”.

Immigration boss Mike Pezzullo says the consolidation – which has been linked to Mr Dutton’s desire to create a supercharged Department of Homeland Security – will ultimately deliver $200 million in savings to the taxpayer over 30 years.

But members of the committee – both Liberal and Labor – have publicly criticised the complexity of the proposal and the department’s handling of it.

In Parliament in February, Labor senator Alex Gallacher said he believed taxpayers would end up paying much more through hidden costs in the lease deal.

He also pointed to the department’s “unenviable record” of poor contract management and cost blowouts.

At a subsequent public hearing, Liberal committee chair Scott Buchholz said the committee was “deeply unimpressed” with the department, accusing it of poor preparation and failing to provide vital information about the mega-proposal. He even went so far as to liken Immigration bosses to “unco-operative witnesses”.

The Public Works Committee usually comes to consensus decisions, although it did split last year over an expensive Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade proposal to upgrade its diplomatic mission in Doha.

Senator Gallacher was furious last year when the Department of Finance told the committee a lease on its new state-of-the-art offices would cost $194 million but the true cost was later revealed to be $376 million.

The Immigration fit-out is due to begin in August this year and be completed by February 2021. The upgraded buildings would accommodate 6000 staff. There will also be security upgrades worth $12 million.

The fit-out will include “a unified watch floor, situation rooms, briefing rooms, incident rooms, operation planning rooms, associated intelligence support rooms, and surge rooms”. The new building would include an armoury, conference and training facilities, evidence rooms and map rooms. The department envisions an “innovative” and “modern” new office with “large efficient floor plates to support future flexibility” and an open environment that will “promote collaboration and positive cultural renewal”.

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‘That kind of survival isn’t what I want’: Anne’s plea to Parliament

Each day, breathing and swallowing become more difficult for Anne Gabrielides.
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She has largely lost control of her hands, and faces eventually having to communicate via technology that tracks her eye movements.

Ms Gabrielides was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in July last year and has recently lost the ability to speak.

“That kind of survival isn’t what I want,” Ms Gabrielides told Fairfax Media during an interview in which she responded to questions by typing on her iPad.

“Along with that is the difficulty of breathing and swallowing every day. I want to suck up as much of life as possible, but there will come a time when I will want to say, ‘No, that’s enough’.”

The 53-year-old wants the legal right to end her life with medical assistance at the time of her choosing and has the support of her husband, Paul, their twin sons Michael and Christopher, 31, and daughter Eleni, 20.

Terminally ill NSW residents over the age of 25 would have the legal right to end their own lives with medical assistance under draft legislation expected to be introduced to state Parliament within months.

To qualify under the draft Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, the patient would have to be, in “reasonable medical judgment”, expected to die from their illness within 12 months and be experiencing “extreme pain, suffering or physical incapacity”.

The decision must be signed off by two medical practitioners, including a specialist, and the patient assessed by an independent psychiatrist or psychologist to guarantee they are of sound mind and the decision made of their own free will.

Other safeguards in the draft legislation include a 48-hour cooling-off period, the patient’s ability to rescind the decision at any time and the right for close relatives to challenge patient eligibility in the Supreme Court.

A cross-party working group of NSW MPs will unveil the draft bill for public consultation on Tuesday, with the aim of introducing it to Parliament in August for debate shortly afterwards.

The bill is the result of two years’ consultation by the working group comprised of Liberal MP Lee Evans, Nationals MLC Trevor Khan, Labor MLC Lynda Voltz, Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi and independent MP Alex Greenwich.

Ms Gabrielides will be attending the bill’s launch on Tuesday at NSW Parliament House. She and her husband are petitioning MPs for their support.

She has launched a change.org petition imploring NSW MPs to support the voluntary assisted dying legislation.

On Monday, the petition had been signed by more than 40,000 people.

Asked for her message to NSW MPs, Ms Gabrielides said: “Until you have this impact your life you don’t know why this is so important.”

Mr Gabrielides acknowledged that some MPs might be concerned that the legislation is the “thin end of the wedge” and could be expanded.

But he argued: “Politicians shouldn’t fear that anyone with a terminal illness wants to go early. They don’t. They want every last bit of wine and every last kiss.”

Shayne Higson, spokeswoman for the right-to-die advocacy group Dying with Dignity NSW, said the draft bill contained “basically the tightest eligibility criteria in the world and the most safeguarded process for making a request for assisted dying”.

While supporting the bill, Ms Higson raised a question about the fairness of the eligibility age of 25, given similar legislation internationally stipulated 18 years.

The MPs’ working group decided on the age of 25 in light of medical evidence that some executive functions of the brain relating to rational decision-making do not mature until then.

In an opinion piece for Fairfax Media, the group says: “Whilst society may shy away from talking about the end of life we can no longer ignore giving those patients with terminal illnesses the right to a dignified death.”

But a spokeswoman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said activists should be advocating for more resources to be placed into palliative care.

“Legalising euthanasia is not death with dignity, and introducing a law which would define killing as a form of medical treatment would have consequences for all Australians, not just those who would use such a law to end their lives,” she said.

“And these consequences would exist no matter the ‘safeguards’ put in place.”

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ANU calling on citizen scientists to help search for supernovae

Dr Anais M????ller of the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics Photo: Stuart Hay ANUThe explosive, violent deaths of stars are being used to help measure how much our universe is expanding.
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The Australian National University is calling for citizen scientist’s help in their quest to spot supernovae, a flashpoint so powerful it can briefly outshine millions of stars in the galaxy.

Using a web portal on zooniverse.org people can search for these luminous bursts in thousands of images taken by the SkyMapper telescope at the ANU Sliding Spring Observatory.

Co-lead researcher ANU astrophysicist Dr Brad Tucker said scientists could measure the distance of a supernova from Earth by calculating how much the light from the exploding star faded.

“Using exploding stars as markers all across the universe, we can measure how the universe is growing and what it’s doing,” said Dr Tucker from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

“We can then use that information to better understand dark energy, the cause of the universe’s acceleration.”

Understanding dark energy is now a major international research enterprise and analysing Type 1a supernovae was crucial to this field, co-lead researcher Dr Anais M??ller said.

She said Type 1a supernovae were of particular interest as scientists understood the amount of light they emitted when they exploded and could calculate their distance from earth by how much that faded.

Dr M??ller explained dark energy, a force thought to cause the expansion of the universe, with an example of two ants standing still on top of a balloon.

“You inflate the balloon and these ants, the distance between them is getting bigger, but they are not moving or doing anything,” she said.

“I always think of dark energy as that. The energy is making the space bigger but we don’t feel it.”

Dr M??ller said unlike the public search for Planet 9 earlier this year images were coming in every weekly for this project from the 1.3 metre telescope – the only one comprehensively surveying the southern sky.

“We are examining an area 10,000 times larger than the full moon every week,” she said. “The first people who identify an object that turns out to be a supernova will be publicly recognised as co-discoverers.”

Searching for brilliant supernovae was a fun activity for the public, but would hopefully help to illuminate greater ability to measure the forces which shape our universe, Dr M??ller said.

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ATO slated oil giant Chevron, now ramps up hunt for multinationals

Chris Jordan, Commissioner of Taxation at the ATO, at the 2016 Self Managed Super Funds Conference, Adelaide Convention Centre, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. Wednesday 18th February 2016. World Copyright: Daniel Kalisz Photo: Daniel Kalisz
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The Tax Office says the more than $10 million legal cost of fighting global oil giant Chevron in court was worth every cent – even if the company appeals to the High Court – since the agency feels it now has firepower to chase hundreds of millions of dollars in tax bills from other companies using dubious tax schemes.

On Tuesday the Australian Taxation Office will release new transfer pricing guidance. This is aimed at helping companies with cross-border financing – in 2015 worth about $420 billion across the economy – meet their obligations.

These cross-border transactions involve potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars in tax each year.

Deputy commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn said “everyone is excruciatingly aware of the Chevron case”, which had loaded up debt with its US parent company in a bid to reduce its Australian tax bill.

This strategy ultimately proved unsuccessful when the company last month lost its appeal against the $300 million tax bill issued by the ATO.

Chevron’s global vice-president and chief financial officer Patricia Yarrington has called the Federal Court tax ruling a ‘huge disappointment’ and said the company is considering a High Court challenge.

Notwithstanding that, the ATO wants multinationals to be transparent about whether they have similar tax arrangements. ‘Red zone’ taxpayers

Mr Hirschhorn said it was important that multinationals pay the right amount of tax, given the “astronomically large” size of Gorgon and other upcoming investments by oil and gas and resource giants.

Chevron has almost completed the $US60 billion Gorgon LNG plant in Western Australia. The company is now targeting first production from the $US34 billion Wheatstone project, also in WA, by mid-year.

The ATO guidance asks taxpayers to rank themselves within six colour-related risk ratings starting from green “low-risk” and moving through to red “very-high risk” categories.

If the interest Australian subsidiaries pay on an inter-company loan is within 1 per cent of any borrowings made by the parent, then they are unlikely to be targeted.

But as the Chevron case highlighted, not all taxpayers have low interest bills. Mr Hirschhorn said in 2015, about 50 taxpayers had related-party interest expense of over $50 million. Of those 50, about 25 taxpayers had $100 million or more in interest expense.

“You can work on the assumption that this guidance is aimed at that 50,” Mr Hirschhorn said. “At least one-third of these taxpayers have already been assessed as being in the red zone.”

He said the ATO expects the number of taxpayers in the red zone to increase slightly as it continues to assess them. Less likely to cut deals?

While the Tax Office has in previous years cut deals with large companies, Mr Hirschhorn said that this time around it was expecting it would recover most of the $4 billion of tax bills being issued to big companies.

Already $2.9 billion of that $4 billion has been attributed to seven large companies.

“I would say from where I sit I am expecting that we will collect a higher percentage of those [$4 billion worth of tax bills] than we have in previous years,” Mr Hirschhorn said.

“We are more focused on key issues and cases like Chevron strengthen our hand in transfer pricing cases.”

Mr Hirschhorn said some of the seven are transfer pricing-related cases. For example, SingTel is fighting a $330 million tax bill from its 2001 Optus purchase which also involved intra-company financing.

Apart from Chevron and Singtel other companies named during evidence at the Senate corporate tax avoidance inquiry or in ASX statements as fighting tax bills resulting from ATO audits include Apple, Google, Microsoft, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Crown. Related-party deals on the rise

He said while the number of related party-deals is on the rise, “I would expect that as the gas starts coming on line some of those oil and gas companies will start repaying some of that debt”.

In a submission to the Senate inquiry into corporate tax avoidance the ATO said in the 2014-15 income year, total related party loans totalled about $420 billion.

Almost half of these related party loans were in the energy and resources sector (worth $202 million). About one quarter of related party loans were in the oil and gas industry (worth $97 million).

The Tax Justice Network’s Jason Ward said related party interest payments in the oil and gas industry were estimated at $3.9 billion in one year.

“These schemes are blatant efforts to avoid tax obligations in Australia where the profits are earned,” he said.

The ATO’s guidance was “very encouraging” and had the potential to bring in billions in additional tax revenues from the world’s largest multinationals, Mr Ward said.

Tax Institute senior tax counsel Bob Deutsch said the guidance gives taxpayers a deeper insight into how Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan might regard their financing transactions. Can’t be stooged

Mr Hirschhorn said the ATO wanted multinationals to be more transparent but expected that unfortunately not all companies would willingly admit that they were in the “red zone”.

If that was the case, the ATO would use its information-gathering powers to force them to, he said, reiterating Mr Jordan’s line to the 2015 Senate inquiry into corporate avoidance that some “believe we can be stooged”.

Aside from interest levels other indicators resulting in red zone risk include the use of “hybrid financial instruments” and/or “hybrid entity structures”.

The OECD plan against multinational tax avoidance includes anti-hybrid rules that aim to deny duplicate deductions or deny where an entity is able to claim a tax deduction in one jurisdiction but not include an income amount in the other tax jurisdiction.

Mr Hirschhorn said Europe and the US were typically jurisdictions where hybrids were used.

The government noted the OECD’s work on hybrids in the May federal budget.

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Buying for investment: Are tenanted properties the best buy?

Living on the cutting edge: Brisbane’s best contemporary homesWinners and losers: the suburbs with the best (and the worst) performing apartmentsTeneriffe: the tiny enclave of properties making it Brisbane’s most elite suburb
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Investors might think they’ve struck the rental jackpot when they pick up a tenanted property but sometimes they can be more trouble than they’re worth, according to experts.

Property Pursuit director Meighan Hetherington said there are pros and cons to inheriting tenants as part of a sale.

“We always assess the documentation if the tenant is in situ, so the lease agreement and the entry condition report, which is one of the most important pieces of paper that a potential buyer can look at,” she says.

“If that is good, thorough and has good photos, then the end of lease is a much smoother process than if it’s not there, doesn’t exist or it’s poor record-keeping.”

If the documentation is non-existent or poor, that could potentially lead to problems, especially if there weren’t actual records of any breaches, she says.

Hetherington says investors need to be have an understanding of the tenancy’s history because the vendor may be selling because of longstanding problems.

“The cons can be that the tenant may actually be a problem and it may be the reason that the landlord is selling, so those investigations into the tenant’s history are really important,” she says.

Bees Nees City Realty sales manager Rebecca Herbst says some landlords wait until the end of a lease to sell their properties believing that a vacant property is more attractive to potential buyers.

But this isn’t always the best strategy, she says.

“Unfortunately many agencies actually encourage landlords to move their tenants out before selling and, while there can be some benefits in easier access and presentation, we do think a great tenant is always worth hanging onto if investors are looking to sell,” Herbst says.

“A well-presented property with happy tenants and a good return is always attractive to investors – the sale has more opportunity to be a win/win situation for everyone involved.”

But she says incoming landlords needs to have their eyes wide open, including any outstanding maintenance requests, which can annoy tenants and potentially give them grounds to terminate.

Landlords should also consider whether they want to retain or change the property management appointment, Hetherington says.

She also suggests that if tenants appear problematic and are on a periodic lease then new landlords consider vacant possession.

“We would like for vacant possession and for the existing property manager to manage that exit process,” she says.

“We then have the opportunity to do a pre-settlement inspection once those tenants are out. Then we can identify other issues that we need the owner to address that weren’t addressed by the existing property manager.”

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Rolf Harris trial jury told three claims of assault is ‘beyond coincidence’

London: The jury at a trial of Rolf Harris underway in London has heard that it is “beyond coincidence” that three teenage women who allege the Australian entertainer groped them at separate events over the course of a decade should come forward with their claims independently of each other.
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The 12-person jury, comprising seven women and five men, was sworn in on Monday for the trial of the 87-year old artist and musician who is charged with four counts of indecently assaulting the three women who were aged 16 or below at the time. The incidents all took place at events dating between 1971 and 1983.

Harris appeared via video-link, sporting his trademark goatee and spectacles. He wore a grey suit, white shirt and dark blue tie with red braces. He is pleading not guilty to all counts.

The first day of the trial heard evidence from two witnesses – the first was Larry Westland, the organiser of the festival for youth music which took place at London’s Lyceum theatre in Covent Garden on the weekend of the 10 -11 July in 1971.

One of Harris’ alleged victims attended the festival and said she was in shock after the incident and was not able to talk about it with her own mother until years later when she was married with children, adding that what happened to her as a teenage girl wasn’t talked about in the 1970s.

It was at this festival that the British woman alleges Harris pulled her onto his lap with both hands around her waist area, after they had been photographed together with another unidentified boy.

She testified to the jury that when she stood up, Harris slid his hands “between her legs”‘ touching her vagina through her tights and knickers in an encounter lasting “a couple of seconds” that made her feel “terrible.”

She said she immediately told her father who went to confront Mr Harris but said it took many years before she was able to tell her mother.

“I was in shock about what happened??? in the seventies you didn’t discuss things like that,” the court heard.

“Later on when I was married and had children it was a lot easier to talk about things, we talked about it then.”

The woman will be cross-examined on Tuesday when the case resumes at 10am local time.

Earlier, prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC opened the trial telling Southwark Crown Court that it was “beyond coincidence” that three women with similar allegations would come forward decades later independently of each other.

Mr Rees said it “offends common sense” to think that three women, aged 13, 14 and 16 at the time “should just happen to fabricate” offences in which Harris is alleged to have groped them “‘in a sexual way without their consent… for his own gratification.”

He told the jury they would notice the “common theme” of the women reacting badly to images of Rolf Harris on the television years later causing them to confide in their friends and family that the actor and musician was a “pervert”‘ and “dirty old man.”

Judge Taylor told the jury to put out of their minds any prior media reporting they may have read or seen about the high-profile entertainer and begin the trial with a “blank page in your minds” to be filled only by the evidence heard in the courtroom.

The trial is expected to last around two weeks.

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