December 4th, 2018

Newcrest managing director Sandeep Biswas’ pay dubbed ‘excessive’ as shareholders urged to reject report

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Newcrest has not yet outlined a clear strategy for the revival of its struggling Lihir goldmine. Newcrest has not yet outlined a clear strategy for the revival of its struggling Lihir goldmine.

Newcrest has not yet outlined a clear strategy for the revival of its struggling Lihir goldmine.

Newcrest has not yet outlined a clear strategy for the revival of its struggling Lihir goldmine.

Questions have been raised over Newcrest managing director Sandeep Biswa’s remuneration package.

Questions have been raised over Newcrest managing director Sandeep Biswa’s remuneration package.

Questions have been raised over Newcrest managing director Sandeep Biswa’s remuneration package.

The remuneration package paid to Newcrest Mining managing director Sandeep Biswas has been labelled “excessive” by an influential proxy adviser, raising the pressure on the goldminer before its annual meeting of shareholders later this month.

Proxy adviser ISS Governance criticised several aspects of Newcrest’s pay structure and recommended shareholders formally reject the company’s remuneration report that will be voted on at the October 31 meeting.

The critique comes just days after fellow proxy adviser CGI Glass Lewis queried why Mr Biswas was earning a bigger base salary than the bosses of BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, and remuneration is believed to be one of the main topics the Newcrest board will discuss with concerned shareholders at private meetings over the next week.

In a note to clients, ISS said Mr Biswas’ base salary, short-term incentives and long-term incentives were all “materially higher” than his predecessor, Greg Robinson, while his long-term incentive was judged to be more than “twice the size” of the long-term incentives offered to bosses of similar sized ASX-listed companies.

“The package provided to the incoming CEO is materially greater than that of his predecessor and in absolute terms is considered to be excessive,” ISS said.

Rejection of the full remuneration report was recommended by ISS both because of Mr Biswas’ pay package and because the short-term incentives that Newcrest proposed to pay its senior management team were considered to be “misaligned with shareholder outcomes” for the 2014 financial year.

Newcrest’s top nine executives were awarded between 42 per cent and 68 per cent of their short-term bonuses, with many having their rewards reduced by the board because of the company’s poor performance.

But ISS said the size of the awards was still inappropriate given the $2.2 billion statutory loss, the fatality that occurred at the company’s Telfer mine, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission investigation and the fact shareholders did not receive a dividend nor any significant share price growth.

While some shareholders choose not to follow the recommendations of their proxy advisers, several Newcrest shareholders are known to share the concerns about the miner’s remuneration structure.

Allan Gray portfolio manager Simon Mawhinney said the remuneration structure at Newcrest was not ideal and had been slow to improve.

“Our issue revolves around the structure of remuneration and whilst the quantum is important it is secondary to the structure,” he said on Monday.

“Regrettably there has been little change to the remuneration structure, particularly on long-term incentives.”

ISS said Newcrest had explained the size of Mr Biswas’ package on the fact the company was “in a position of distress” and “needed the right candidate”.

A spokeswoman for Newcrest chairman Peter Hay told Fairfax Media that Mr Biswas’ package was heavily weighted towards “at risk” measures and was designed to drive improvements and reward high performance.

“The total package was determined with reference to the market at the time to attract a person of the CEO’s operational calibre and experience,” she said.

When asked about the remuneration report, the spokeswoman said great care had been taken to design the framework and the framework had “assisted in driving the performance achieved last year”.

Like CGI Glass Lewis, the ISS team said shareholders should not return director Richard Knight to the Newcrest board given he was a member of the company’s audit and risk committee during the period when the disclosure scandal took place.

But unlike CGI Glass Lewis, the ISS team said shareholders should return fellow director Lady Winifred Kamit, who was also on the board when the disclosure scandal occurred.

December 4th, 2018

New Fortitude Valley development a hit with Sydney investors

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‘Flatiron’ will have stunning views of the city. Photo: GURNERInvestors priced out of the booming Sydney property market are seeking more affordable options in Brisbane, with at least one third of interest for a new $600 million development in Fortitude Valley coming from the south.

Gurner developer and 32-year-old Tim Gurner, who made BRW’s young rich list in 2013 with an estimated worth of $26 million, said the three-tower development had received 2500 registrations since the first stage was launched.

“A huge amount (of enquiry) is out of Sydney, 30 to 40 per cent,” Mr Gurner said.

“Melbourne not so much and WA just a bit.”

There are 810 apartments to choose from, with the cheapest starting from $375,000.

A two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment would set you back $490,000 and the two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments start from $570,000 and go up to $700,000.

Local interest, especially for the more expensive stock, has also been strong, according to Gurner.

Three of the four penthouses have already been sold to local business people for $1.45 million, $1.55 million and $1.7 million.

But the $1.8 million penthouse is off limits – Mr Gurner is keeping the crème de la crème for himself.

“They’re pretty expensive apartments sold to local businessmen within one kilometre of the site,” Mr Gurner said.

“That’s given me a lot of confidence.”

The 5000-square-metre site is architecturally designed by Elenberg Fraser and one of the buildings is named after New York’s famous Flatiron building.

The development also includes a luxurious 90-room, 4.5 star hotel and a 3000-square-metre private club, which features a pool and sunken bar, three VIP lounges and a BBQ area.

However, the rental market in Fortitude Valley has remained flat over the past 12 months, with the median unit price dropping by 1.1 per cent or down to $445 per week as more supply comes onto the market, according to the latest Domain Group figures.

Domain Group senior economist Dr Andrew Wilson said new stock was something both local and interstate investors needed to watch out for.

“There’s no doubt new supply of apartments in Brisbane has maybe pushed the supply level over demand,” he said.

“Not withstanding that, it’s good to regenerate those areas into new modern residences and there’s growing demand for smaller properties, although Brisbane isn’t quite the same as Sydney, because it doesn’t have the same commuting constraints.”

Mr Gurner shrugged off oversupply issues.

“When I bought the site in August last year everyone was telling me there was enormous undersupply. Now in a six to eight-month period, the press is saying oversupply,” he said.

“I think the oversupply has been very much talked up.”

The Valley Heart Portfolio on the market

Speaking of new supply, The Valley Heart Portfolio, a 9340-square-metre site in Brisbane’s Chinatown mall, is on the market for those who might happen to have the millions of dollars required to purchase it.

It consists of mixed-use buildings across two land parcels on Brunswick Street and Duncan Street.

Colliers International director of capital markets and investment services Tom Phipps said the portfolio was just 1.2 kilometres from the Brisbane CBD.

“The Valley Heart Portfolio offers the flexibility to hold the properties as an investment, with future development upside, or to immediately commence the development process while enjoying significant holding income,” he said.

“The size of the parcel means The Valley Heart Portfolio is zoned for development up to 30 storeys. One of Australia’s leading architectural firms, Nettletontribe, has designed a code compliant scheme (pictured) which provides for a minimum of 840 apartments.”

December 4th, 2018

Teenager Marlisa Punzalan wins The X Factor 2014

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Winner Marlisa and mentor Ronan Keating. Photo: SuppliedLatest:Marlisa plans to be home-schooled

In a surprise finish, 15-year-old Marlisa Punzalan has won The X Factor 2014.

The teenager from Mt Druitt, NSW beat 22-year-old Queensland crooner Dean Ray and folk-pop trio Brothers3 to the crown, securing a recording contract with Sony Music Australia.

Going into the final, which was screened over two nights and nearly five hours, Ray was the hot favourite, followed by Mudgee siblings Brothers3, but strong performances throughout the final saw Punzalan emerge victorious.

Early on, Brothers3 were sent home for the second time in the competition, having returned to the series via a publicly voted “wildcard” at the start of the live shows.

Punzalan and Ray were left to perform a song each – a personal “highlight” from the series so far – before a winner was announced.

X Factor and Australian Idol alumni Olly Murs, Guy Sebastian and Jessica Mauboy were special finale guests, performing with the finalists on Sunday night and solo on Monday night.

Mauboy dazzled with a vivacious performance of her new single Can I Get a Moment while Sebastian’s new track Mama Ain’t Proud featured American hip-hop star 2 Chainz rapping via video.

But the biggest star of all was Taylor Swift, performing current single Shake it Off from her new album 1989.

Asked if she had any advice for the finalists, the 24-year-old seven-time Grammy winner told them not to take anything for granted and to “be nice to everyone, not just the people you think can help you”.

Punzalan, who claims to be so shy that most people at school didn’t know her name pre-X Factor, chose Titanium by Sia and David Guetta for her final performance, while Ray sang George Ezra’s Budapest.

Punzalan’s win was the *second for mentor Ronan Keating in his five years in the role. The Irish pop star is due to commence a leading role in the musical Once the Musical in London’s West End in November.

On Sunday night, part one of the finale was watched by 1.316 million nationwide, making it the most watched show on television. It was the highest ratings that The X Factor had delivered to date this series, with overall audience figures down 25 per cent on last series.

The end appears not to be nigh for the show yet, though; Channel Seven is already advertising auditions for next year’s series.

*Correction: Brothers3 were not eliminated Sunday but last night, and Marlisa isn’t Ronan’s first win for the series.

December 4th, 2018

Timbercorp liquidator offers to cut a deal with victims

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Illustration: Simon LetchThe liquidator of collapsed Timbercorp has written to thousands of victims offering to cut a deal on the $490 million still owed, including offering a hardship assistance program, if they come forward.

The message is clear: if they don’t play ball and register, the writs will keep coming. “It is our strong preference to avoid time-consuming and costly litigation against you. We wish to engage with you to discuss the options available to settle your loan(s) with Timbercorp Finance.”

Liquidator KordaMentha has set up an online service with an application form and contact details for financial counselling services for anyone experiencing financial difficulties.

But it makes it clear, the move isn’t about wiping the slate clean but working with borrowers “through our hardship assistance program” and “exploring options for those suffering financial distress”.

At the end of the day, the job of the liquidator is to claw back as much money as it can for its creditors. It isn’t about investigating if the financial advice was shoddy and letting the victims off the hook. That is for the victim and the financial adviser or licensee to work out.

For KordaMentha, its biggest concern is beating the clock on a statute of limitations of six years. Timbercorp collapsed in 2009 and so it is in a hurry to issue writs.

Complainants in a class action taken by some victims of Timbercorp back in 2009 were advised by their lawyers not to repay their loans. When the High Court refused to hear an appeal in May KordaMentha took the pause button off and started seeking repayment.

KordaMentha is issuing an average of 70 writs a week to the 2871 borrowers who owe almost half a billion dollars to creditors, including ANZ Bank. 

The twist in all of this is that the creditors could potentially make hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from accrued interest at whopping 13 per cent plus default rates.

Put simply, when Timbercorp went belly up, there were 7511 borrowers owing $477 million to secured creditors. More than $247 million of that debt was repaid, but that figure has blown out to $492 million over the past five years, which is equivalent to $260 million in interest payments.

Labor Senator Sam Dastyari said he had met with liquidator KordaMentha and ANZ Bank and had expected that any action to recover debts would be “paused” while complaints were investigated, particularly victims of shoddy advice. “This letter being sent out doesn’t offer that,” he said.

Senator Dastyari, who is chairing a Senate inquiry into collapsed forestry managed investment schemes, including Timbercorp, Great Southern, Environinvest, FEA Plantation, Rewards Project and Willmott Forests, said that in the past few days more than 40 people had contacted him saying they had received writs from the liquidator.

He said schemes such as Timbercorp wouldn’t have come into operation without the loans from ANZ. It is an interesting point that he will undoubtedly pursue during the Senate inquiry. He wants compassionate relief for victims of advisers of fraud and bad advice. He wants their cases investigated and any legal action put on hold. 

Interestingly, a submission lodged late last week by corporate regulator ASIC into managed investment schemes said it had identified a number of factors that the collapsed schemes had in common, including “employing a business model that is heavily reliant on upfront payments from investors for working capital and proves insufficient to service the ongoing operations of the business”.

This alone should raise questions about the type and standard of due diligence conducted by these financial institutions when they agreed to back these models by lending them money.

In its submission, ASIC also says one option is the introduction of “a last resort compensation scheme” to compensate investors and financial consumers from inappropriate financial advice. It is a point worth examining in the circumstances.

Timbercorp was one of a number of managed investment schemes that blew up during the global financial crisis. Their demise followed a decision by the ATO in February 2007 to end the tax deductibility of upfront fees paid by investors.

One victim said her adviser sold Timbercorp on a large scale and put seven families into Timbercorp. “Our families stand to lose $1.4 millions now, one of us has gone bankrupt and two more will follow. I stand to lose financial stability and might have to go on government pension at retirement,” she says.

More than $92 million was earned in commissions from Timbercorp, with banned adviser Peter Holt at Holt Norman & Co, writing almost 8 per cent of the business.

As Jeff Morris, a former financial planner and CBA financial planning whistleblower, says: “Where were the clients’ best interests in all this as the planners concerned put the telescope to their blind eye and buried their snouts deep in this commission trough?”

In various guises, the punters keep getting clipped and the advisers almost invariably keep getting off scot-free. “What can you expect? he asks.

“You get a recommendation from a bipartisan Senate inquiry for a royal commission into this widespread misery and a government that has had royal commissions at the drop of a hat into pink batts and unions simply decides it can’t be bothered!”

December 4th, 2018

Politicians’ pay rises outstrip soldiers’ by 140 per cent

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Latest public sector news

Politicians’ pay rises have outstripped those of Australian soldiers by more than 140 per cent over the past two decades, according to new research by a leading military think-tank.

And the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says the government could afford to give sailors, soldiers and air force personnel a pay rise to match inflation without reducing other military spending programs.

The government put its offer of a 1.5 per cent pay rise for each of the next three years in exchange for a reduction in leave entitlements and other allowances before the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal this week amid a storm of controversy.

More than 11,000 service men and women and their families contacted their advocacy group the Australian Defence Welfare Association, most of them expressing anger at the deal and some of them labelling it “outrageous” and “a joke”.

The military’s top brass were forced onto the defensive with the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, telling the nations’s 57,000 men and women in uniform that it was the best outcome he could negotiate in the current budget climate.

After the tribunal reserved its decision on Wednesday, the Strategic Policy Institute’s senior analyst Mark Thompson has found that the wage offer will leave ADF members and their families more than 2.6 per cent worse off over the next 36 months with inflation running at 2.5 per cent per year.

“Compared with the remainder of the labour force, the picture is worse still,” Mr Thompson wrote in his analysis.

“The government projects that the wage price index will run at 3 per cent over the next two years.”

The Defence economics expert wrote that with the Defence budget indexed at 2.5 per cent to keep pace with inflation, a better pay rise was within the government’s means, even under its hardline public sector industrial policies.

“ADF workforce has been quarantined from efficiency dividends under the current and previous governments.” Mr Thompson wrote.

“It follows that an inflation-matching salary increase of 2.5 per annum could be afforded from within existing funding without redirection from other programs, consistent with the government’s 2014 Workplace Bargaining Policy.”

The analyst found the base pay of a federal parliamentarian had grown more than 250 per cent since 1991 while the average adult weekly earning was up by just over 160 per cent.

But the salaries of ADF members, and their civilian colleagues in the Department of Defence, had grown only about 110 per cent.

“The salary plus service allowance for a sergeant in the army roughly equates with average adult full-time earnings in Australia, $78,000,” Mr Thompson wrote.

“Looking over time, ADF salary increases have consistently outpaced inflation; and growth in average weekly full-time ordinary earnings has done the same, but by a wider margin.

“Defence APS salaries and ADF salaries are bootstrapped onto each other, thereby explaining their overlapping trajectories.”

Mr Thompson acknowledged the government had frozen the pay of politicians and senior public servants this year.

“However, this needs to be seen in the context of the 31 per cent pay increase awarded to parliamentarians in 2012, along with the 27 per cent increase in remuneration awarded to the Chief of the Defence Force and a similar rise for departmental secretaries over the period 2012 to 2014,” he wrote.

The technical union Professionals Australia, which represents many members of the Defence establishment, said the research highlighted the “hypocrisy” behind the low wage offer.

“It is also clear that increases to the Defence budget could comprehend fair and reasonable increases for all Defence personnel,” union official Dave Smith said.

“This is why it is outrageous that ADF personnel are expected to take a pay offer well below CPI and lose important conditions and it is hypocritical for their political masters to tell them to tighten their belts.”

December 4th, 2018

Vodafone offering Spotify and Fairfax Media services with subscriptions

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Vodafone Australia is partnering with premium brands to boost its business. Photo: Ina Fassbender Vodafone Australia is partnering with premium brands to boost its business. Photo: Ina Fassbender

Vodafone Australia is partnering with premium brands to boost its business. Photo: Ina Fassbender

Vodafone Australia is partnering with premium brands to boost its business. Photo: Ina Fassbender

Vodafone Hutchison Australia is moving to rehabilitate its reputation by partnering with premium brands including Fairfax Media and global music giant Spotify.

It is understood Vodafone will give its new high-end customers a choice of getting free or discounted access to either Spotify’s streaming music service or subscriptions to The Sydney Morning Herald or The Age.

This means mobile subscribers signing up for a 24-month contract could get a one-year online subscription to one of the publications as part of their plan. The offers will not include The Australian Financial Review.

The offers are a major push by Vodafone to drive up subscriber levels and repair the damage done to its brand reputation after network problems in 2010 drove customers away.

More than 2 million customers have quit the company over the past two years, but the level of decline is slowing down. It now has about 5 million subscribers.

Vodafone has invested significant amounts over the past three years to build its network and has said its network is now ready.

Both Fairfax Media and Vodafone Australia PostPay general manager Stephen Smyth declined to comment on their partnership. But Mr Smyth did say his company was looking to use the deal with Spotify and other partners to boost Vodafone’s standing.

“We want to be a high-value, premium player, and this is the kind of thing that helps us be relevant,” he said. “This is about working with leaders in industries to partner on topics that are most relevant to customers.

“We’re hoping to seal and announce future partnerships in those areas in the coming months.”

Mr Smyth said the telco was targeting partnerships with news, television and music-streaming services as its priorities.

The average Australian mobile customer downloads 0.6 gigabytes per month using their smartphone, but Vodafone’s high-end plans offer more than 3 gigabytes of data.

Mr Smyth said getting customers to use more of their allowance could lead to increased loyalty and spending. But he also saw partnerships with content providers as a way for all players to make extra money.

“Bundling gives you access to a package, which is better than its component parts. This is an example of something that could make a genuine difference … from a financial perspective.

“If you can get more customers willing to buy premium products from you because of the premium service you’re delivering, that absolutely can help the bottom line.”

Spotify Australia managing director Kate Vale said the company had partnered with telcos around the world in an effort to boost its subscriber base.

“I’d like to think that telcos will be the future,” she said. “[Spotify bundling] has been proven to improve their customer retention.

“[Vodafone] is a very large, captive audience, and that’s a key reason why we want to work with them.”

An analyst who declined to be named said it was a good move for Vodafone.

“But for Fairfax it could be quite a rude awakening if no one takes its subscribers,” the analyst said. “Fairfax has a great product and [subscriptions] are pretty great value. But people don’t pay because they get [news] free. And I don’t know if that changes whether or not Vodafone are offering it.”

December 4th, 2018

Education: Charlestown candidates have their say

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“I’ll work hard to reverse these cuts”: Luke Arms.

AFFORDABLE access to quality education is an incomparably powerful force for social equality and cohesion in Australia.

It’s inconceivable, then, that recent state governments have applied savage funding cuts to schools and TAFE.

We’re seeing quality education privatised, students priced out of the education market and fewer courses offered.

The long-term social and economic impacts will include deeper inequality, skills shortages and higher unemployment.

I’ll work hard to reverse these cuts, to restore pride and prestige to educators and to ensure they’re fully equipped to inspire and empower future generations of Australians, regardless of their financial means, ability or disability, religion or ethnicity.


“I would appeal to the NSW state government to do as much as possible to empower people”: Marc Sky.

INCREASING university fees, closing TAFEs and changes to Newstart will create a lost generation of Australians – underemployed and over-indebted.

I would appeal to the NSW state government to do as much as possible to empower people adversely affected by these changes, and join together with all sides of politics in NSW to lobby the federal government to change these pieces of legislation.

I believe schools in NSW should only be given funding for Jedi, not qualified secular youth workers.

I’m joking – that’s ludicrous.

The national school chaplaincy program will be rolled out next year, despite the research that supports the use of secular welfare workers.

I support them, the NSW Liberal Party supports them and we both disagree with the federal government.


“I enthusiastically support strong, innovative and vibrant public education”: Jane Oakley.

PUBLIC education and its values have been undermined by successive state and federal governments.

Greens members of the NSW upper house have worked hard to make public education a national priority.

I enthusiastically support strong, innovative and vibrant public education because only the public system can provide high-quality education to all students, regardless of their socio-economic status, religious or ethnic background or level of ability.

I strongly oppose the introduction of university fees and to the gutting of TAFE.

Greens education policy calls for increased salaries and status for teachers to ensure a long-term supply of high-quality teachers, and increased resources for public schools to fix the maintenance and capital works backlog.

We also want an end to public funding of the wealthiest private schools and limits on government funding of all other private schools.


“I want to see more support staff provided within schools”: Suellen Wrightson.

OUR teachers are the custodians of our future generations.

They are passing on the vital knowledge to young minds that will go on to shape our future.

I want to see more support staff provided within schools to allow our teachers to teach and ensure that children with needs are managed well within the learning environment.

Bullying within schools has increased to alarming levels and is continued within the home via social media.

It interrupts learning and our teaching staff do not have the resources or time to effectively deal with incidents of bullying that arise at school and continue within the home.

I would like to see a regional support team provided to schools that deals solely with bullying and takes on the role of teaching our children ways to manage and prevent the bullying at its source.


“Another big issue is school security”: Jodie Harrison.

IF elected, I will fight to maximise the budget of every Hunter school.

Parents in Charlestown are very concerned that after both Labor and Liberal supported the essential improvements needed in educating our children, Tony Abbott cut billions of dollars in funding in his recent budget.

Premier Baird has been silent.

This means less money for literacy and numeracy programs, less pay for teachers and less support for students with special needs.

School facilities need improvement, we should not have children crammed into substandard demountable classrooms.

Another big issue is school security.

The government’s own data shows Hunter school grounds have growing violence and drug use, and this is an area where the Gonski money is needed to help address the problem.

Combine the Liberals’ broken promise on Gonski with their cuts to our university and TAFE system – already being felt at Glendale – and it will be Labor’s job to fix the damage.


“Education is undoubtedly an area that needs increased funding.”: Luke Cubis.

ONE recent independent review into teaching stated, “The teaching profession is the only profession that directly impacts every single other profession”.

All future doctors, lawyers, educators, etc, all come through the school system.

This is where their minds are developed and shaped.

It ultimately determines the effectiveness of their role in society.

Education is undoubtedly an area that needs increased funding.

I am a former school teacher who worked locally for almost a decade and I have seen first hand the importance of effective education. I have worked in the public, Catholic and independent school systems.

Furthermore, I have a double degree in teaching from the University of Newcastle and a master of education degree.

There is no byelection candidate more experienced or qualified than myself to make real positive change in the education sector.

Properly funding and protecting our schools, TAFE campuses and universities is a top priority of mine.


“I’m for schools teaching life skills”: Arjay Martin.

THIS byelection’s candidates cannot control Parliament. All have equal potential power.

I was studying dual teaching and science degrees when I was 17 years old, before changing to complete a business degree, and then finished TAFE.

I’m for schools teaching life skills such as first aid, budgeting and car maintenance, including the changing of lights, jump-starting, safe-driving skills, changing oil and tyres.

I’m also in favour of schools teaching constitutional law and making education more practical in the real world.

Educational institutions need to increase student intake.

Course levels should be based on ability and not age. For example, a 14-year-old might excel at year 10 mathematics, but be of year 7 English ability.

Why hold the student back in one and overly push in the other? That creates disillusionment and class disruption.


“All parents must have the right to choose the school for their children”: Brian Tucker.

EVERY child has the right to an education.

Affirming and supporting our children is the primary role of parents in education.

All parents must have the right to choose the school for their children that supports their beliefs, traditions and values of their home life.

Governments need to maintain a fair and equitable funding system between private and public schools.

I support many aspects of a national curriculum, however, I am concerned that the curriculum can be used as a political tool to push certain values.

In its current form, the curriculum is open to manipulation by social engineers and academics.

The government should seek a fairer process of curriculum development by means of an independent panel of qualified personnel (representing the main stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, universities and TAFE, employers and government).

Curriculum development must be accountable to the main stakeholders in education.


“More funding is not the answer for schools.”: Veronica Hope.

MY policy on education is the same as that of health. Let’s tidy up the administration.

There are thousands of great programs, diligent teachers and support services.

More funding is not the answer for schools. Creative solutions are the answers.

We’ve all heard the stories of differently learning kids being pushed into the ‘‘disabled’’ category, just so a school can justify spending more time on the kid.

My brother is a contractor for the Department of Education. When teachers say a kid can’t read, Raymond is called in to teach them to read.

Raymond’s methodology simply considers how this particular kid learns, and a short time thereafter, the kid can read.

Independent state members can float ideas that the big party candidates can’t.

We can comment on inefficiencies in ways that major party members can’t.

Plato said we all have inherent knowledge. The Department of Education is a wealth of knowledge, but it’s the administration of the knowledge that matters.

December 4th, 2018

Doctors don’t give patients quotes for surgery costs

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When you go to the specialist doctor you are unlikely to know exactly how far out of pocket you will be. Photo: Virginia StarSo you want to get your home plumbing fixed because your taps are leaking. The obvious thing to do is to get some recommendations from people who live in your area and then ask local plumbers to make some estimations – in writing – about what the repairs will cost.

Plumbers charge a bucketload (sorry, terrible pun) but at least I can get a quote from them up front.

That, sadly, is not the procedure when you have to get other kinds of plumbing done. I’m speaking about your own internal plumbing.

Yes, when you go to the doctor – and I’m speaking specialists here – you are unlikely to know exactly how far out of pocket you will be after you’ve finished the business.

Here’s the reason for that. It turns out that the Royal Australasian College of Physicians doesn’t teach its doctors how to be small business owners, according to a spokesperson for the RACP. There is no concentration on financial organisation or on corporate governance. These people can charge you to operate on an arm and a leg and, in many cases, you will never know exactly what you are up for until you get the letter in the mail.

Instead the focus is on the medical aspects – the education and training required to be excellent physicians. That’s incredibly important – but it’s not the only thing. Because when we go to specialists, we are at the mercy of the financially merciless. There is no set list of fees to which specialists have to adhere. There is no way of getting quotes and comparing and contrasting various services. We don’t really get a choice – it’s either use this person who your GP has recommended, or hope for the best with someone you’ve picked out of a book.

“We focus on the medical specialities and all of the training and curriculum program around that,” a spokesperson said. “We don’t do [financial] guidelines.”

The fees, of course, bear no relation to the AMA schedule. And you could easily fall in the gap (between what they charge and what rebate you can get from either Medicare of private health insurers) and drown. In fact, try having a cataract operation on both eyes with a senior specialist and you will find you are thousands and thousands of dollars out of pocket.

New figures around financial complaints from the NSW Health Care Complaints Tribunal are steady from 2013 to 2014 in figures to be released later this year – but there are still 300 people in NSW alone who make the effort to say they’ve had enough. There are still many of us who feel the heat of resentment but never take the time to make trouble.

Nearly 10 years ago, I was admitted to hospital for surgery. Two hours before the operation, in waltzed a guy to ask me a few questions. He was, apparently, my anaesthetist. Was I allergic to anything? Did I have asthma? He took all of five minutes and then handed me a piece of paper that included his  “Estimate of Anaesthetic Fees”. The estimated total was $750. The estimated gap was around $500. But at least I got some kind of an estimate even though it was too late for me to say no. I had no intention of allowing anyone to slice my flesh without an anaesthetic.

That kind of behaviour still occurs. And we still don’t get to know exactly what we will be up for when we are admitted to hospital. Truly, specialists, it’s not as if the range of treatments is so specifically calibrated that you can’t estimate to within 50 bucks what the procedures will cost.

Give us plenty of time to shop around. And, while you are at it, when you are seeing us in your “rooms”, please do us the courtesy of offering to put the payments through Medicare and sending the rebate to our accounts.

The number of specialists who think I’ve got the spare time to faff around with their receipts and chase the rebate myself is utterly extraordinary. You are making the big bucks now – the least you can do is install up-to-date technology. No one will think worse of you for being modern – despite the fact many of you still behave as if you run fiefdoms.

I have this fantasy that one day a consumer association will be able to give us the complete guide to doctors and we will be able to do a comparison shop – or at least get some shadow shoppers to give us an honest assessment of the service of these professionals. I’m dead keen to know who delivers the best value; and whose pelvic floor reconstructions last the longest (hey, women, I’ve got a name for you).

Doctors seem to be still in the category of occupation where they command respect. They should, however, be in the category of occupation where consumers are just sceptical as if they were buying a new car. In some cases, we are spending just as much.

Twitter @jennaprice or email, politely, [email protected]杭州龙凤论坛.au.

December 4th, 2018

Hit the Bricks street art festival 2014 to transform urban scene

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Street artists hit the bricks Artist Hiroyasu Tsuri known as Twoone with his work Hunted Hunters Head in King St Newcastle. The work is part of the upcoming Hit the Bricks Festival. Picture: Simone De Peak

Artist Hiroyasu Tsuri known as Twoone with his work Hunted Hunters Head in King St Newcastle. The work is part of the upcoming Hit the Bricks Festival. Picture: Simone De Peak

Artist Hiroyasu Tsuri known as Twoone with his work Hunted Hunters Head in King St Newcastle. The work is part of the upcoming Hit the Bricks Festival. Picture: Simone De Peak

Artist Hiroyasu Tsuri known as Twoone with his work Hunted Hunters Head in King St Newcastle. The work is part of the upcoming Hit the Bricks Festival. Picture: Simone De Peak

TweetFacebookNEWCASTLE’S urban landscape will be transformed in November as buildings from the central business district to Mayfield become a canvas for local and international street artists.

Organiser Sally Bourke said the 2014 instalment of the Hit The Bricks festival would include more than 20 artists – twice as many as last year – and bigger spaces for them to fill.

‘‘There is a strong perception outside of Newcastle that this is a very creative place, but I’ve spoken to people who come and visit and they don’t know where to find it,’’ Ms Bourke said.

‘‘We’ve tried to curate a good mix of local and international street artists, from those that are considered quiet edgy to artists who appeal more to the masses.

‘‘The idea is we want people to look at the street art, find the ones they like most and hopefully that will open doorways for them to appreciate other styles.’’

Japanese-born Melbourne artist Hiroyasu Tsuri, known as Twoone, can’t make the festival on November 1 and 2, but is currently visiting the city and agreed to kick start the street art with his work Hunted Hunters Head on the exterior of 426 King Street, Newcastle.

Hit The Bricks is apart of the broader Look Hear arts festival and is sponsored by Newcastle City Council, Newcastle Now and several local businesses including McCloy Group and Murray’s Craft Brewing Company.

People are encouraged to spectate as the artworks are created and become engaged with other art lovers.

December 4th, 2018

ASEAN’s hands-off attitude awkward for Atlanticist neighbours

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Before MH17 and Islamic State, the international news that monopolised our attention was from our own region. Just because we’ve forgotten these tensions in Asia doesn’t mean they’ve gone away.

In the South China Sea, a tense rivalry continues. In the past year, it’s seen physical clashes between Chinese coast guards and the Philippines and Vietnamese navies. It’s also seen brinkmanship between Chinese and American naval vessels. Further north, in the East China Sea, Asia’s two most powerful militaries are staring each other down. Amid the armed shadow-boxing between China and Japan in the air and under the sea, our region has been – and is – one mistake away from potentially serious conflict.

These regional tensions and others – on the Sino-Indian border, Eastern Malaysia, Kashmir – draw our attention to an anomaly about our neighbourhood we usually ignore, but  which has big implications for Australia. Whereas the rest of the world is relaxing its strict adherence to state sovereignty, in order to solve troublesome disputes, boost trade and prosperity, or solve shared problems, Asian countries remain deeply committed to their sovereign prerogatives.

Just over a decade ago, the British diplomat Robert Cooper described Europe as having entered a “post-modern” era, where state sovereignty had been slowly traded away in favour of stability, security and prosperity. In Europe and the Americas, countries have invested heavily in domestic and regional institutions promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Moreover, they care whether their neighbours are upholding  similarly high standards, and they’re prepared to criticise and even intervene if they feel these standards are not being met.

No such ideals exist in Asia. Our region boasts the oldest and most stable forms of non-democratic government on the planet, some of the world’s leaders in human rights abuse, and some very poor standards of the rule of law. What’s more, the continent’s oldest democracies, such as Japan and India, have been particularly reluctant to criticise other Asian countries for their poor records on democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

At the regional level in Asia, institutions are much less robust. Asia’s oldest existing regional institution, ASEAN, is founded on the principles of absolute respect for sovereignty; strict non-interference and non-criticism of other members; and consensus as a basis for decision making. These principles have been imported into all of the region’s newer organisations. And while ASEAN’s 2007 Charter makes repeated references to democracy, good governance and the rule of law, these principles have never been collectively enacted. Not a single tension point or dispute in Asia has been resolved, mediated or even addressed by regional organisations ostensibly designed to deal with tensions.

Why such a divergence between Atlantic and Asian states’ attachment to sovereignty? There are manifold reasons, many of which will be canvassed in this week’s conference on sovereignty held by the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific. For this writer, the roots of the divergence lie in history – or at least the readings of their own history made by Atlantic and Asian states.

For European states, the last century has charted a trajectory of decline from the glory days when imperial Europe ruled the world. For Latin Americans, there is a widespread feeling that they have failed to live up to the promise of their bounteous continent. Elites in both regions have decided the responsibility for these disappointments lie with volatile and venal domestic politics that lead to extremism, war and economic underperformance. Hence the need for strong institutions – domestically and regionally – that can check these destructive urges.

For Asian states, modern history reads very differently. Theirs too is a story of decline from former glory – but they believe the cause of this decline is external, not internal. To be precise, they blame colonialism.

Anger at external domination is one sentiment that unites countries subjugated by Europeans and Americans (India, China, Southeast Asia), by other Asians (China, Korea), or by crusading international institutions (post-Soviet Russia). Most of Asia’s states believe that the end of external domination led to their recent astonishing economic rise. For the states of Asia, sovereignty is a sign of recently-won independence. They aren’t likely to shackle the command power of the state with domestic or regional institutions any time soon.

Australia lies between these camps – a post-modern minded country in a sovereignty-plus region. Over time, we have tempered our enthusiasm for decisive regional institutions, and moderated our zeal for criticising what we see as our neighbours’ shortcomings. It means that Australia’s foreign policy will be destined to have a schizophrenic character: Atlanticist beyond our region (in Iraq and the Ukraine for example), but Asian in our own region (for example in the South China Sea).

Tony Abbott’s distinction between Geneva and Jakarta  is a dilemma he and his successors will need to manage for the foreseeable future.

Professor Michael Wesley is director of the School of International, Political and Strategic Studies at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

He is one of a number of scholars appearing at the 2014 Research School of Asia and the Pacific free annual symposium, “Landscapes of Sovereignty in Asia and the Pacific”, taking place at ANU on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 21-22. More details at