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July, 2018

Commonwealth Games magic moment: 1998 netball gold medal game

Although the tiny venue felt more like a school gym than an elite sports stadium, and while other Commonwealth Games netball finals (Manchester, Delhi) have been closer and more dramatic, there was something particularly significant about the 1998 gold medal game between – naturally – Australia and New Zealand.
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It was the first.

After years of playing nicely among themselves at the quadrennial world championships, netball’s elite had to wait until the belated entry of Commonwealth team sports in Kuala Lumpur to earn an invitation to the big(ger) international dance at which rugby sevens, 50-over cricket and hockey were fellow group debutants, along with tenpin bowling and squash.

And if the preliminaries were underwhelming, as they so often are when a top-heavy field includes such netball stragglers as Sri Lanka and Canada – the biggest score blow-out was a 92-17 shellacking in one pool match – then, thankfully, the inevitable decider between the great trans-Tasman rivals was worth the six-day wait.

An enduring memory remains the sight of a 21-year-old Sharelle McMahon sitting alone on one of the plastic chairs at Juara Stadium in the minutes after Australia’s 42-39 victory, crying, as I wrote at the time, “quiet tears of relief” after some shaky shooting moments late in her first major final. The young star who would become arguably the best goal attack of all time was celebrating soon enough, yet her immediate reaction was indicative of how tense the relatively low-scoring contest had been.

One subplot was that McMahon’s arrival in the big-time coincided with the departure of another great: Simone McKinnis. If reporters are allowed to have favourites (and if not, well, too bad), a special place is reserved for these two champions in my more than three decades of covering the sport. The dynamic, athletic McMahon, identified and blooded early, a seemingly charmed run ended only by that devastating Achilles rupture in 2011; the understated but brilliant McKinnis, whose sublime anticipation and clean bodywork in one of the game’s less glamorous positions emphasised how utterly unfathomable it was that she was overlooked for so long.

Both Victorians were key contributors in Kuala Lumpur – McMahon having usurped the established Nicole Cusack to grab the GA starting bib out the front of the great Vicki Wilson. In the final, the rest of coach Jill McIntosh’s otherwise-seasoned seven was as expected: Shelley O’Donnell (WA), Carissa Tombs (C), McKinnis (WD), Kathryn Harby (GD) and Liz Ellis (GK). Not a bad line-up, that.

But New Zealand, too, boasted a formidable squad anchored by defender Bernice Mene. The teams’ previous two world championship matches had been decided by a single goal; most famously in the landmark 1991 decider in Sydney. Suffice to say that, in these late 90s days of pre-9/11 innocence, and notably in Muslim-dominated Malaysia, Games security was far more relaxed than netball’s inaugural gold medal game.

Scores level 12-12 at quarter-time. Australia up by five at the half. Sensationally, a misfiring Wilson briefly dragged for the third quarter but hastily summoned 10 minute later during a contentious – though completely legitimate – substitution that briefly unsettled the Silver Ferns. Tied again at 28-28 to start the last, before New Zealand edge ahead by three. Australia back in front with just over four minutes left. Grimly, they hang on.

“I think it’s one of the ones that will go down in history,” said the usually-reserved-to-the-point-of-unreadable McIntosh, replete with green-and gold war paint, so excited she had made an out-of-character dash onto the court at the final whistle. “We talk about the ’91 final of the world championships, but that one’s up there with the best of them.”

Afterwards, McKinnis confirmed that the occasion, a first for her sport, had been her last as a player. “A good way to finish,” said the 67-Test veteran, in the no-nonsense, just-get-on-with-it fashion that is serving the Melbourne Vixens so well in McKinnis’ second career, as a coach. Indeed. Just as, for Commonwealth Games netball, it was quite a marvellous way to start.

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Cessnock op shop targeted by thieves

RARE PAIR: ADRA Op Shop volunteers Jesse Young and Sam Wilson with the ‘king’ chair, whose ‘queen’ was stolen from the shop’s storage shed over the weekend.
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A Cessnockop shop that raises money for women escaping domestic violence was targeted by thieves over the weekend.

A storage shed at the back of theADRA Op Shopwas broken into some time between Friday afternoon and Monday morning.

Volunteers say it’s the fourth time in two years the Vincent Street storebeen targeted by thieves.

The op shop raises money for South Lakes Women’s Refuge.

“Asa charity we can’t afford CCTV,” volunteer SamWilson said.

“We’re all volunteers, and all of the money we make goes to the women’s refuge.”

Mr Wilson said volunteers spend most Monday mornings dealing with the aftermath of anti-social behaviour– including cleaning up human faeces – at the back of the store.

But the latest robbery is a new low.

“How low do you have to go, to steal from a charity?” Mr Wilson said.

An antique chair that is part of a pair of ‘king and queen’ chairs was among the items that were stolen.

The thieves only managed to get away with the ‘queen’ –the king (pictured) remains at the store.

Mr Wilson is hoping someone out in the community may have seen the missing chair.

“It’s not the type of chair you are going to find in everyone’s loungeroom,” he said.

Two dressing mirrors,four oil heaters and a trolley were also stolen.

Anyone with information should contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

SET: The ‘king’ chair is missing its queen.

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Philippine cybersex crackdown nets 62-year-old’s arrest

Bangkok: Police have arrested a 62-year-old American man in a widening crackdown on a $1 billion-a-year child cyber porn and torture industry in the Philippines.
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The arrest of the Lee David Colglazier came after the country’s largest seizure of illicit material that police allege was linked to a major operation that streamed children performing in explicit sex acts live from dark corners of the internet to predators in Australia, the United States, Canada and Europe.

Mr Colglazier was arrested in Bacolod City, 720 kilometres south of Manila, where police say a widowed Filipino mother earlier offered one of her three young daughters to perform in a live video sex show for an Australian for money.

The mother also offered her two other daughters to be live-streamed performing acts for predators in other countries, police said.

Fairfax Media reported on Sunday that a Queensland man had been arrested and other arrests were expected in Australia following information the Australian Federal Police provided to Philippine authorities.

Three sisters aged eight, 10 and 11 are being cared for in a shelter for abused children in the Philippines. Their mother and two other women have been charged with human trafficking, child abuse and forcing the girls to engage in sex acts.

Police said they seized Mr Colglazier’s computer and mobile phone which contained videos of him engaging in sex acts with multiple male and female partners. Their ages were not disclosed.

The local Negros Daily Bulletin reported that Mr Colglazier’s victims were paid the equivalent of $27 for each encounter.

The newspaper quoted Mr Colglazier telling police it was not illegal to upload sex videos in the United States.

“I told him that ignorance of the law excuses no-one. Here in the Philippines it is crime,” said National Bureau of Investigation agent Renoir Baldovino.

Child social welfare workers in the Philippines say impoverished parents and relatives turn to online exploitation for easy money. Children are made to strip or perform obscene acts while adults, often their parents, train video cameras on them in exchange for payment from predators overseas.

Dolores Rubia, who runs aftercare programs for rescued girls through the Washington-based NGO International Justice Mission, said some parents consider it benign because they think children don’t mind taking their clothes off.

“But that exposure is abuse and it often escalates,” she said.

“It’s a myth for some of them, that nothing is wrong???that anyway, these children are not physically touched and the perpetrators are actually overseas.”

Philippine authorities are sifting through more than 4000 names, numerous computers and 30 hard drives that were seized after the April arrest of 53-year-old American David Timothy Deakin. His two-storey apartment had been converted into a cybersex den north-west of Manila, police said. Authorities expect the seizure will lead to multiple arrests and the rescue of child victims.

Mr Deakin has been charged with cybercrime, child pornography, child abuse and child trafficking and could face life in jail if convicted.

Australian Federal Police also played a key role in the arrest in the Philippines of 52-year-old alleged Australian child sex predator and “dark web” mastermind Peter Scully, who is charged over what police say are most shocking cases of child murder, torture and abuse they have seen in the country. Scully has pleaded not guilty to 75 charges at his ongoing trial in a southern Philippine court, forcing his victims to undergo the ordeal of testifying.

The Philippines has emerged at the centre of a booming cybersex industry that the US’s Federal Bureau of Investigations describes as an “epidemic” with 750,000 child predators online.

with Associated Press

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Tractor starts a blank canvas

PAINT JOB: Derek Percival helps St Dominic’s Centre students decorate a tractor he is driving from Newcastle to Melbourne. Picture: Simone De PeakItbegan as a running joke between two mates but as aMasseyFergussonTE20 tractorstarted its 10-day journey from Newcastle to Melbourne on Monday, Derek Percival and James Gloverwere not the only ones laughing.
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Students from St Dominic’s Centre, Mayfield screamed with joy as “a crazy adventure” forthe two Melburnians was launched in Newcastle.

The journey is in support of Art Cabriolet, a not-for-profit organisation whichaims to bring joy and happiness to children and adolescents experiencing trauma through art therapy.

“About six years ago, James and I saw a ride-on lawnmower driving down the road and said as a joke, ‘Imagine driving that to Sydney’,” Mr Percival said.

“It was a running joke for years and years. Then about three years ago I thought, we’re sick of talking about it, so we bought a tractor.

“Then we did some work with the Art Cab through my business …and I loved the work that I did and I told [Art Cabriolet founder] Caroline [Liuzzi] that we were driving a tractor from Sydney to Melbourne and asked if she wanted to be involved.”

Students from St Dominic’s Centre painted the tractor once it arrived and also worked on a separate artwork to be kept.

Ms Liuzzi said “art therapy lets them work progressively through their issues without words”.

The tractor’s second visit was John Hunter Children’s Hospital on Monday. In all there will be 21 stops along the way.

“The idea was let’s put a little bit of fun into bringing awareness about what art therapy is, and a little bit of fun back into fundraising, because we’re one of 60,000 organisations across Australia putting up our hand saying, ‘We’re really worthy’, as is every single one,” Ms Liuzzi said.

“We just thought we’d do something a little bit differently and do it with art and joy and happiness.

“The goal is by the time it gets back to Victoria, it’s morphed into a piece of art, and the goal is to sell that and that will help fund us as well.”

A tractor drives into St Dominic’s Centre, MayfieldPost by A tractor drives into St Dominic’s Centre, Mayfield.

Students from St Dominic’s Centre get into some art therapyPost by Students from St Dominic’s Centre get into some art therapy.

Gas industry has ‘lost the trust of the public’

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – MAY 05: Woodside CEO and Managing Director Peter Coleman is seen at the Woodside AGM on May 5, 2017 in Perth, Australia. Annual General Meeting (Photo by Trevor Collens/Fairfax Media) Photo: Trevor Collens
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The nation’s oil and gas industry has “lost the trust of the public”, which is threatening its so-called “social licence”, the head of one of the country’s largest gas producers has warned.

Speaking at an industry conference, Peter Coleman, the chief executive of Woodside Petroleum warned the industry’s “social licence to operate is at risk” in light of the widespread bans which have blocked onshore exploration and development in several parts of the country.

As a result, the gas industry must develop “principles and processes” to smooth the way when dealing with landowners.

“The exploration and drilling bans are symptomatic of a trust deficit … between our industry and the broader community,” Mr Coleman said. “The imbalance between exports and domestic gas has made this worse.

“If we are to get onshore development back on track .. a first step might be .. to consult and agree on a code of conduct for land access and use that recognises and assuages landowners’ concerns. We need to commit to clear set of principles and processes to enable us to work with land owners and affected communities.

“We need to ensure some of the resources we develop are available for Australian consumers, and available at a price that is sustainable for both the consumer and the producer.”

His comments come in the wake of the intervention by the federal government to ensure domestic gas supplies are insulated from a supply deficit that has emerged with the start-up of gas export projects in Queensland over the past 18 months.

This has left large manufacturers, for example, facing steep price rises and in many cases unable to obtain sufficient supplies. Additionally, some states such as Queensland have made the development of some gas reserves conditional on supplying the local market, with calls for NSW to follow suit.

“Our whole industry loses out if gas is no longer seen as a reliable and available energy source, if we as producers are seen to be creating problems for the community rather than solving them,” Mr Coleman said. “In those circumstances, our social licence to operate is at risk.”

“Exploration is already in dire straits. We should all be concerned if it becomes even harder for small to mid-cap explorers to attract backing,” he said, since it is typically the smaller companies that undertake much of the higher risk exploration work.

“We need to convey to the community that we understand they own the resources,” Mr Coleman said. “As resource developers, we commit to being responsible stewards of the environment. But over and above this we have a responsibility to make a contribution ot energy security.”

Mr Coleman warned that federal government intervention could inhibit the development of additional gas to supply the domestic market, and the study into supplying gas from western Australia to the east coast, as was unveiled in last week’s Budget may be financially challenging. iFrameResize({enablePublicMethods : true, heightCalculationMethod : “lowestElement”,resizedCallback : function(messageData){}, checkOrigin: false},”#pez_iframeA”);

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Harley Bennell will never play for the Dockers: Sheahan

Troubled Dockers onballer Harley Bennell will never play a game for Fremantle, claims respected football writer Mike Sheahan.
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Bennell is under investigation by club officials after he interrupted a three-quarter-time huddle between Peel Thunder and Swan Districts on Saturday.

Footage shows the 24-year-old pulling his cousin Traye Bennell aside to speak with him.

It’s understood Bennell, who is yet to play a game for the Dockers due to an ongoing calf injury, was later spoken to by Fremantle assistants regarding his behaviour.

Sheahan told SEN Radio on Monday, Bennell’s career is all but over at Fremantle.

“Well he’s never going to play another game Harley Bennell,” he said.

“Apart from his physical problems, he’s got soft tissue injuries, and his behaviour is abysmal.

“His wings were wobbly (on Saturday), I wouldn’t have liked to see him walk the plank off that ground, and he’s had the recent plane episode.”

Fremantle coach Ross Lyon said he was “concerned” by Bennell’s behaviour after the Dockers’ stunning after the siren win against the Tigers on Sunday.

“Of course I’m concerned, I’m concerned about all of my players’ welfare,” he said.

“He’s had an incredibly rough run.

“I’m not here to defend, I’m not here to castigate, I’m really here to say that I haven’t got all of the information.”

Bennell’s curious behaviour during the Peel game, comes weeks after the former Gold Coast Sun was escorted from a Virgin flight to the Gold Coast because he was intoxicated.

In a statement following the plane incident, Dockers’ general manager of football operations, Chris Bond, said Bennell had been experiencing “frustration and disappointment” due to his ongoing calf injury sidelining him for the AFL season.

“Due to a recurring injury problem which has prevented him from playing all of last year and now for the next eight to 10 weeks following another setback last week, Harley has been dealing with the frustration and disappointment of not being able to play AFL football,” Bond said.

“In the meantime, as a club it is important that we continue to support and provide guidance to Harley on how best to cope with the frustration and disappointment of not playing football.”

Bennell has played just one WAFL game since he was traded from Gold Coast Suns at the end of 2015.

With AAP

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On The Rocks: Fate of Sydney’s ‘glass box’ decided

A controversial glass box structure that garnered praise and jeers, depending on the eye beholding it, has been ditched from redevelopment plans for The Rocks.
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Also known as the “jewel box”, or by the less flattering “ice cube on stilts”, the building was part of a $30 million proposal by private hospitality company Tallawoladah to restore and redevelop the historic Campbell’s Stores warehouses, which overlook the harbour in Circular Quay.

The glass box, intended to house high-end shopping, was to be built next to the 165-year-old warehouses, and was expected to be as high as the neighbouring Park Hyatt Hotel.

However, in response to extensive community backlash, including an unprecedented written objection by then-heritage minister Mark Speakman, the structure has been ditched from the final design.

Under plans approved by the Department of Planning last month, Tallawoladah will foot the bill for $32 million of refurbishment and restoration works to the Campbell’s Stores buildings, in order to address deterioration in the roof, windows, parapets and stone decay.

New internal lifts, stairs and toilets will also be built.

Property Minister Victor Dominello described the upgrade as a “big win for Sydney”, and one that would allow new fine dining venues to be located in the warehouse.

“The Rocks is one of Australia’s most culturally significant heritage precincts and we want it to be a premier dining and entertainment hub, buzzing with locals and tourists,” Mr Dominello said in a statement on Monday.

According to Mr Dominello’s statement, up to 12 new tenancies, “including world-renowned restaurants, cafes and bars”, are due to be finalised in the coming months.

The four existing restaurants on the site – Waterfront, Wolfies, Italian Village and Imperial Peking – will close for good on June 30.

As part of the refurbishment deal, Tallawoladah secured approval for a 55-year lease of Campbell’s Stores from the NSW government.

Dating back to the 1840s, the warehouse is state heritage listed and is comprised of 11 separate bays, which have been used for restaurant and dining purposes since the 1970s.

The final heritage plans reveal the Department of Planning received more than 120 submissions objecting to the Tallawoladah’s initial proposal, with the bulk to the complaints centring on the glass box.

Included among them were six submissions from government departments, including a personal objection by Mr Speakman, who described the box structure as “standing out like a sore thumb”.

Under the updated plans, the proposed site of the glass box will instead be a landscaped, outdoor terrace area with seating.

The restoration works will begin in July and completed by mid-2018.

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Silver lining at last for forgotten Socceroo Brad Jones

The days of Australian players winning big titles and trophies in Europe are a distant memory, it seems.
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So when it happens now, its a poignant reminder of how well the Socceroos big name players used to do in their club careers, and how high the standard they reached was.

So step forward Brad Jones, the often forgotten goalkeeper whose career has never quite taken off in the way it was expected to.

Now, at the age of 35 Jones has won silverware with newly crowned Dutch champions Feyenoord, who made sure of the Eredivisie title by beating Heracles 3-1 at the weekend.

Jones spent years and years in the Premier League, but mainly sitting on the bench. For a long time he was Mark Schwarzer’s understudy at Middlesbrough before he moved to Liverpool, where he again sat on the bench for several seasons.

It was another ex-Liverpool man in Dirk Kuyt – who played rather more often for the Merseysiders than Jones – who led the way for Feyenoord, the evergreen 36-year-old notching a hat trick in the win that denied Ajax the chance to catch them at the top of the table.

Jones follows in the footsteps of a former Socceroo in Brett Holman, now at Brisbane Roar, who won the Eredivisie with AZ Alkmaar eight years ago.

It was the first Dutch title in 18 years for the club from Rotterdam, who have been one of the powerhouses in the Dutch game for the last 60 years. Jones, in the twilight of his career, can now look forward to a perhaps unexpected tilt at the Champions League next season.

Its not quite the same as winning a title, but if Aaron Mooy can help Huddersfield Town to promotion to the Premier League then the rewards, certainly financially, will be far greater than Jones’ for winning the Eredivisie.

Mooy, the Socceroos midfielder who has made such a huge impression with the Terriers while on loan from Manchester City, could not help David Wagner’s team conjure up a first leg lead in the Championship play off against Sheffield Wednesday.

Dubbed the most rewarding game in the world – such are the huge riches that come to any team that can win the play off final and reached the promised land of the Premiership – Wednesday will now fancy themselves in the box seat to make the play off final at Wembley given that the second leg of this all Yorkshire semi final will be played at their Hillsborough ground.

Huddersfield dominated possession _ they had 69 per cent to Wednesday’s 31 per cent – but could not find a way through.

Still, the tie is evenly poised, and if Mooy can inspire West Yorkshire club Huddersfield to win in South Yorkshire then they will face the winners of the other play off semi final – either Reading or Fulham – in final at Wembley, with elevation to the El Dorado of the EPL the prize on offer.

Jones title triumph and its rarity is a reminder of how times have changed for Australians in Europe’s big leagues.

In the glory days of the 1990s and early noughties Mark Bosnich was starting between the posts for Manchester United as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side consolidated its position as the powerhouse of English football.

Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka were key components of the Leeds United side that was a regular title challenger both in England and in the Champions League, while Kewell was also part of the Liverpool squad that won the FA Cup and the Champions League.

Before them Robbie Slater had won the EPL with Blackburn, Ned Zelic the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, Paul Okon the Belgian League (with Brugge) and the European Cup Winners Cup (with Lazio) while up in Scotland Craig Moore was knocking up winning trophies with Glasgow Rangers.

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House prices fall again as loans to investors drop

Treasurer Scott Morrison delivers his post-Budget address in the Great Hall at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 10 May 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Photo: Alex EllinghausenHome loans to investors have fallen to the lowest level in 10 months following a regulatory clampdown and the Turnbull government’s efforts to cool the Sydney and Melbourne housing market.
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Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Monday show home loans to investors as a proportion of all loans dropped 1.25 percentage points in March to 48 per cent, down from a high of over half of all home loans in January.

The slide has triggered a dip in property prices across five of Australia’s capital cities, fuelling speculation of the end of the property boom.

The latest results from CoreLogic show the price of homes across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth falling by 0.5 per cent for the week and 0.9 per cent for the month.

Sydney’s house prices had not fallen in 18 months prior to April, while the number of home loan approvals fell 0.5 per cent in March, dashing expectations of a flat result. Overall, the total value of lending to investors moved slightly higher in March after a 5.7 per cent fall in February.

The figures have been released a week after the federal budget placed further restrictions on the market.

The government has targeted investors by limiting the depreciation of equipment and travel costs they can claim with rental properties, restricting the number of foreign buyers in new developments, reducing capital gains tax concessions for foreigners and placing a levy on foreign owners who leave investment properties vacant.

The numbers also reflect the reaction of the big four banks to comments by Treasurer Scott Morrison in the last week of March after he voiced concerns over the “sharp increase in the level of investor credit”, and that measures to stop the growth in risky loans put in place by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) had worn off.

All of Australia’s major banks moved swiftly by raising interest rates on investor loans by 0.25 percentage points,before sweeping measures were introduced by APRA to force banks to limit interest-only lending to 30 per cent of total new residential mortgage lending.

Since last year, National Australia Bank has had a confidential list of hundreds of suburbs including the Rocks in Sydney, and Docklands in Melbourne, where would-be home owners would have to front up with bigger deposits and stricter lending conditions.

Deposits of up to 30 per cent for investors could now be required in some suburbs.

JPMorgan has warned housing investors to prepare for a rate rise of as much as 3 percentage points to cope with the new regulations.

“Taken with the context of last month’s report, today’s housing finance data provides a fairly strong signal that property market activity is beginning to slow,” JPMorgan economist Henry St John said.

In further rate rise threats, banks could hike rates for both investors and owner occupiers across the board, the chief executives of the Commonwealth Bank, ANZ bank, NAB and Westpac have warned, as they threaten to pass on the cost of the $6 billion federal budget levy on banks’ profits.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull admitted on Monday the government would be unable to stop the banks from passing on the levy, but hoped that by exempting smaller banks, the threat of losing customers would prevent the big four from doing so.

“Really it’s a combination of transparency and competition that will ensure they’re under pressure to do the right thing,” he told radio station 2SM.

A rate hike could hit first-home buyers who have become more competitive in the market as a result of the government’s changes.

According to the ABS, the number of first-home buyer commitments as a percentage of total owner-occupied housing finance commitments rose to 13.6 per cent in March, from 13.3 per cent in February.

Of the loans made to owner occupiers, one in eight was used to build a new house, therefore increasing supply and helping to ease affordability, while only one in 12 loans made to investors was to build a new property, pushing up prices.

The government hopes that allowing first-home buyers to salary sacrifice up to $30,000 in pre-tax income into their super accounts will give them better access to the market.

But an analysis of the government’s figures show that savers would be able to put away only an extra 1 per cent of the median property price in its target markets of Sydney and Melbourne under the government’s changes.

Speaking at the Australian Council of Social Services on Monday, Mr Morrison repeated that there were no “silver bullet solutions to making housing more affordable”, while warning that sweeping adjustments to policy settings in housing “risk cooling some red-hot markets while at the same time, causing a collapse in markets that are weak”.

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‘No wonder you don’t have a husband’: Woman taunted by insurance investigator

Following her son’s death from diabetes, Violet* shifted his belongings to the back shed to help her move on. One night, a thief broke in and fled with $20,000 worth of items.
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But the theft wasn’t what exacerbated Violet’s grief. It was the way she was treated by her insurance company’s fraud investigator after she lodged a home contents claim.

The third-party investigator told her that he believed she stole the items and was a liar. He also asked a string of irrelevant questions, including about her plans for the weekend and the death of her son.

The most outrageous comment was: “No wonder you don’t have a husband”.

Violet’s story is one of many that triggered the general insurance industry’s independent monitor, the Code Governance Committee, to examine the industry’s use of external investigators to detect and avoid paying out fraudulent claims.

While there is a need to stamp out fraud, which insurers say costs them $2 billion a year and lifts premiums for honest policyholders, consumer advocates say the lack of rules for investigators has seen them bully, threaten and intimidate claimants.

In a new report, the committee said when insurers outsourced claims-related functions to “service suppliers” such as investigators, compliance with the Code of Practice was “unpredictable” and the degree of oversight they exercised in some cases was “inadequate”.

“As well, there is not enough guidance provided to external Investigators when interviewing consumers,” said committee chair Lynelle Briggs.

“We also found that some respondents have authorised [investigators] to handle complaints when [insurance companies] are required to perform this function [and] some respondents’ contracts with [investigators] do not align with the code’s requirements.”

It has made 30 recommendations, including that interview questions be “relevant, fair and transparent”, that interviews not exceed two hours, that investigators assess whether claimants have special needs and provide additional support such as an interpreter, and that guidelines be established for interviewing minors, such as setting an age limit.

It said the industry should develop a set of best practice standards.

Last year, consumer advocacy group Financial Rights Legal Centre (FRLC) raised alarm that some investigators were “intimidating, threatening and bullying” claimants, some of whom have mental health issues and poor English skills, and made them “feel like criminals”.

In a report, FRLC said a lack of standards had led to investigators using unscrupulous methods to extract information – for example, conducting five hour interviews, demanding to be “friended” on Facebook and urging claimants to sign a blank authority form.

Fairfax Media reported on a case where a claimant was asked irrelevant and invasive questions, including about a rape earlier in the year that led to dealings with the police and to giving birth to the child of her attacker.

At the time, the industry’s peak body Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) responded by saying the 40 anecdotes didn’t amount to evidence of a systemic problem with insurance investigations.

Drew MacRae from FRLC said the committee’s recommendations vindicated its work and that there was indeed a systemic problem.

“We believe the recommendations should be implemented straight away because we think the industry has been on notice for enough time,” he said.

“One of the key recommendations is communication, because we found that most people had no clue that they were being investigated, and if they did, they had very little information about what the process involved and their rights.”

Campbell Fuller, an ICA spokesman, said the committee’s inquiry was conducted with its support and that of its member companies.

“Its findings are timely and will form part of the current review of the General Insurance Code of Practice,” he said.

“The ICA has recently discussed the use of claims investigators and outsourced service providers with consumer advocacy groups, and will consider how consumer protections could best be incorporated into the next iteration of the Code.”

The ICA said 3.2 per cent of the one million motor and home claims lodged in NSW were investigated in 2014-15. Of these, 3250 claims were ultimately denied or withdrawn.

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