Mercury drops to -6.1°C at Tuggeranong

Mercury drops to -6.1°C at Tuggeranong

‘Out of this World’, a photo sent into to the Canberra Times Readers Winter Photo competition. A prickly seed pod from the Plane Tree encased in ice.Canberra woke to sub-zero temperatures and heavy frosts this morning, in a trend that’s set continue well into next week.
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At 6.46am this morning in Tuggeranong, the mercury dropped to an icy minimum of -6.1°C, well below the July average of -0.1°C.

The weather was a little more balmy at the airport, bottoming out at -5.8°C at 6.40am.

The coldest overnight low we’ve had this year was recorded two weeks ago on Friday June 20 at a chilly -6.3°C.

The lowest temperature on record for July is -10°C, recorded in 1971 on July 11.

Minimum temperatures in Canberra are forecast to remain below zero into next week.

Check out Canberra’s seven day forecast.

The forecast minimum for Canberra tomorrow is -4°C with frost expected and temperatures are forecast to get down to -5°C on Saturday.

But it’s not all bad news according to Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Ryan White, who said afternoon temperatures will be quite the contrast.

“Canberrans will have to be prepared to scrape ice off their windscreens in the mornings… but the afternoons should be extremely pleasant,” he said.

Mr White said the rest of the week will bring clear days and sunny weather, with maximum temperatures of up to 14°C – at least three degrees above the average July maximum.

He said a strong slow-moving high pressure system near the Great Australian Bight is currently directing very light, dry southeasterly winds across Canberra.

These dry winds are primarily the cause of Canberra’s cool evenings, as dry air cools more quickly than air with a greater moisture content leading to a drop in temperature in the evenings.

Mostly sunny weather is predicted for today, with a maximum temperature of 12°C.

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9 tips to make your website sing

9 tips to make your website sing

Short attention span … your site must share a quick and concise message.The first contact most potential customers will have with your business is through your website, so it can’t be tired and old. Here are nine tips on how to refresh your website.
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DON’T LOOK CHEAP

Your website doesn’t have to be a work of art, but it shouldn’t look too cheap or ugly either. “If it looks cheap then you attract customers wanting cheap; if it looks good you’ll attract a better quality of client,” says Peter Ball, managing director of Exa Web Solutions. “It’s not that hard to get a decent design, it’s probably the easiest part of a website.”

NOTHING’S BROKEN

Database errors, links that don’t work, clicking onto pages that won’t take you back to the homepage – these infuriate users mad and drive away potential customers. “It’s more important to get the basic functionality right than to have something really fancy,” says Ball. All sorts of things can cause website errors, so once a week spend five or 10 minutes clicking around your site to make sure all the links work. And if you have a web-based contact form, test it regularly to ensure that you’re still getting those business leads.

GET MOBILE

Smart phone and tablet use is rocketing, with mobile devices are forecast to comprise10 to 20 per cent of the total web audience this year, so you need to make sure your website will work on mobile devices. “Mobile users expect quick access to the most relevant information, without heavy graphics, animation, or downloads, and it’s relatively straight forwards to setup a mobile-friendly template for your website,” says Mack Nevill, founder and creative director of digital agency Evolution7. “We recommend you identify the most important content in your site and optimise it for mobile, rather than just shoehorning pages of content five levels deep into a mobile interface.”

CLEAR MESSAGE

When someone comes to your site you’ve only got their attention for a very short time so you need to communicate your core message quickly and concisely. “You need to tell the user why you’re better than the next guy and why they need to buy your services or read further,” says Michael Rom, a director of Netstarter. To convert interest into business, you need to follow up with a strong call to action, a prompt to users to call or seek more information.

DON’T CLUTTER

Write the copy for your website, then halve it and then halve it again, says Rom. And use dot points. “It’s about having clean aesthetics and sufficient use of white space,” he says. “If you can imagine going to a site that’s got a lot of copy, a lot of links and a lot of graphics and everything’s all over the place, it’s very difficult for the user to focus and read the key message.”

USE THE TOP RIGHT-HAND CORNER

The first place a web browsers eyes drift towards is the top right of the screen, so use the space for a call to action, says Mike Larcher, director of web agency Acidgreen. Use a different colour that stands out and a phrase like “call now” or “free quotes” with a button to press. “

SEO

When you’re refreshing your website, don’t forget search engine optimisation – making sure your site contains key words about your business that will show up in search engines. SEO has spawned an entire industry, but Larcher says the basics are to ensure the key words for your business appear often on your pages and to be as specific as possible. For instance, just putting “plumber” on your site would mean you’re competing to be noticed by search engines against all of the other plumbers in Australia and Google would be unlikely to give you a listing. More specific words such as “plumber North Shore Sydney” will win you more hits.

GET ANALYTICAL

If you haven’t got it already, get Google Analytics. This free service from Google offers detailed information on how people use your website – how long they stay and which pages they visit. Louise Gorrie, director of Sydney-based web design agency Digital Finery says small businesses should use the service to find out which phrases people come to the website for after a search. “Make sure you’ve got the content to match and that’s quite an easy win,” she says.

WATCH A USER NAVIGATE

Gorrie says that a rule of thumb in website design is “don’t make the user think”, so ensure that the site is easy to navigate, because if people can’t easily find what they want they’ll go elsewhere. “Show the site to a few people and see how they navigate their way through the pages, because people never use your website like you think they do,” Gorrie says. “Get them to find something specific on the site and see if they can find in and that might give you some ideas to improve the navigation.”

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He could only just see over the dock: boy, 12, accused of $500,000 school arson

He could only just see over the dock: boy, 12, accused of $500,000 school arson

He has just turned 12, been on a bond for less than a month for robbery and is now facing allegations that he was part of a team of boy arsonists who caused more than $500,000 damage to a Hunter institution.
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The child could only just see over the dock at Broadmeadow Children’s Court yesterday when magistrate Bruce Williams granted him strict conditional bail over the St Pius X High School fire because he was so young, the Newcastle Herald reports.

The boy, who is suspended from his own school, was placed back into the custody of his father with a nightly 7pm to 7am curfew slapped on him.

The court heard the boy’s father, the child’s supervising parent, had been struggling to control him.

And the boy has also been warned to stay away from two other boys who police allege were with him at the time the large building was torched on Saturday afternoon.

The boy pleaded not guilty to the charges of destroy property in company by fire and destroy or damage property, claiming one of the other boys had lit the blaze.

Police are yet to lay charges against other suspects, although they have spoken with two boys who were assisting with the investigation.

Mr Williams said the issue of bail was “a serious balancing exercise” and that it was with “some reluctance” that he granted bail because the boy’s ambivalence was of “some concern to me”.

But he noted the boy’s young age meant that, if convicted, he believed “that the resources of the state look at rehabilitation”.

“If it were a 17- or 18-year-old, I would have no hesitation in refusing his bail,” Mr Williams said.

He later told the boy: “I can tell you now, you break the bail conditions and you stay in custody. You break the curfew, you will stay in custody.”

A police facts sheet tendered to court said the boy and two others, also aged 12, had climbed under a fence and broken into the school hall in Adamstown by smashing windows.

One of the other boys had received a severe cut from the windows, with the trio running off shortly after the fire was lit near the vicinity of an open door, the facts sheet said.

The court heard a bloody jumper was found next to the nearby rail line before a woman was stopped at a Park Avenue bus stop and asked for directions to get medical assistance.

Three boys also told a man at a nearby RTA facility that the injured boy had received his injury after a bottle was thrown from a passing car.

“At the time the fire within the school structure spread rapidly and was threatening other structures,” the facts sheet said.

It later read: “The accused young person offered of his own free will admission to his presence at the scene and that a co-accused was responsible for the fire.

“Police as investigators sought to expand this offer of information, a number of questions and answers were made before the accused young person declined to answer.”

The charged boy was put on a nine-month bond for robbery.

He will reappear on July 30.

theherald南京夜网.au

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Moving the goalposts

Moving the goalposts

Mark Schwarzer, who has offered his Watsons Bay home for rent. 43 Susan Street, Annandale, has been with one family for 114 years.
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40 Pymble Avenue Pymble, which is for sale at more than $1.7 million.

The Socceroos goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who also plays in the English Premier League with Fulham, has listed his Watsons Bay harbour-front property for rent at $3400 a week. Since March, the property has been on the market with price hopes of more than $12 million, but it hasn’t sold so Schwarzer is looking for a tenant.

Named Boongarre, the two-storey weatherboard house stands on a 1214 sqm Pacific Street block with views across Watsons Bay and the harbour to the city skyline. Schwarzer paid $10.2 million for the property in 2009. But he and his wife Paloma decided to remain in Europe to educate their children, so the property was listed for sale.

Boongarre was the childhood home of the renowned author Christina Stead, and it was owned by the Stead family from 1918-1980.

History in the making

At Annandale in the inner west, a cottage owned by the Blaydon family for 114 years is set for auction next Saturday through Jennifer Aaron. Expected to sell for more than $850,000, the circa 1898 two-bedroom weatherboard stands in a 468 sqm block in Susan Street. In the back garden is an air-raid shelter built during World War II. There is also a garage with an adjoining stable that used to house a horse and carriage.

Headed for the beach

The Channel Nine television sports identity Tim Gilbert and his wife, Josie, snapped up a La Perouse beachside house last week. The couple paid $1,595,000 for a modern four-bedroom residence through McGrath agent Damon Anasta.

Standing opposite the sandy shores of Frenchmans Bay, the property has been on and off the market with $2 million-plus price hopes through various agents since it was listed by the Reid family in October 2010.

Earlier this month, the Gilberts sold their Maroubra home for $1.16 million through Raylean Ellison of Ellison Zulian Property.

Hollywood connection

On the upper north shore, a Pymble house believed to have been rented by the Australian-born Hollywood actor Errol Flynn is for sale at more than $1.7 million through Alex Riley, the sales director of Sachs Real Estate.

Flynn was a friend of the filmmaker Charles Chauvel who lived in the same street, Pymble Avenue. In 1933, Flynn had a starring role in an Australian film, In the Wake of the Bounty, directed by Chauvel.

Set on a 1006 sqm block with a swimming pool, the Californian bungalow was built by the McKewan family who later moved to live at another Pymble Avenue house called The Knoll. Since the mid-1980s, the four-bedroom residence has been owned by the Roufogalis family who have listed it for sale.

Transformed delight

A Rose Bay residence designed by the architect Michael Falk is for sale at more than $2.25 million through Barry Goldman of Raine & Horne Double Bay.

On a 340 sqm block in the Avenue, the three-bedroom semi-detached house is owned by Kim Scheftz, whose South African-born husband, Joel Scheftz, owns the Foam Booth store at the corner of Cleveland and South Dowling streets.

Falk’s design transformed an original circa 1930s semi into a large contemporary two-storey residence with marble and limestone bathrooms, a state-of-the-art kitchen and large living and dining areas that flow onto a covered outdoor dining area and a landscaped garden with a swimming pool.

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New kids on The Block are winners thanks to low reserve prices

New kids on The Block are winners thanks to low reserve prices

The  reserve prices on all four houses from Sunday night’s finale of The Block were ”excessively conservative” and bear little relationship with the current Melbourne property market, property experts say. And even the show’s executive producer, Julian Cress, admitted the reserves were set lower than for an average auction.
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More than 4 million people tuned in to watch the final episode of the renovation show in which each of the four houses sold for well above their reserve, a turnaround from last year’s dismal result when three of the four properties failed to sell.

This year’s winners, Brad and Lara, from Newcastle, pocketed more than $600,000 after their South Melbourne property sold for $1.62 million – $506,000 over the reserve. They also took home the $100,000 winners prize, taking total winnings to $606,000.

Each of the other couples’ houses sold for more than $300,000 over their reserve, which a Channel Nine spokeswoman said was a ”massive result”.

She said the reserves had been set ”in the last couple of weeks” after consulting an independent valuer.

”The reserves reflect sales of other properties in the area and take into account the price we paid for the property and the cost of renovating with the intention as always to maximise what the contestants can win [rather than a return to Nine],” the spokeswoman said in a statement.

But Paul Nugent, a director with Wakelin Property Advisory, who buys and sells property in inner Melbourne, said the reserve prices were more about ensuring a good result and a big audience for the station.

”What was disclosed to the viewers as reserve prices were excessively conservative,” he said. ”But at the same time they had the desired result, which was they encouraged participation.

”The eventual sale prices were what I would have thought were the genuine values of the properties.”

Andrew Wilson, a senior economist for the Fairfax-owned Australian Property Monitors, said even though South Melbourne was one of the property ”hot spots” in the city, rising 15 per cent in the May quarter and 7 per cent since November, all but one of the reserve prices was under the suburb’s median price in May.

The reserve prices did not ”reflect market value on the day and that was proven by the result”, Dr Wilson said.

Mr Cress, The Block’s co-creator and executive producer, last night admitted the reserve prices were deliberately set lower than the normal market so that the contestants would make money.

He said the reserves were based on an off-the-plan valuation done in October before the contestants began work.

This was then adjusted in the months following to take account of fluctuations in the market.

The final reserve was set two weeks before the auction.

Source: Entertainment

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Housing outlook around Australia: the bad and the ugly

Housing outlook around Australia: the bad and the ugly

The outlook for Sydney’s housing is less clouded than for Melbourne.Anyone who has followed my blog on MacroBusiness will be aware that this columnist holds a bearish view on the Australian housing market overall.
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This view is based primarily on the fact that Australian home prices experienced a decade of strong growth that was not matched by the growth in underlying fundamentals: incomes, rents and construction costs (see chart below).

While my overall view of the Australian housing market is pessimistic, it is by no means uniform, with some capital cities providing superior investment prospects than others.

In this report, I provide my 12-month price forecasts for each of Australia’s capital city housing markets, based on consideration of key price drivers: housing finance; housing supply; affordability; and the macroeconomic outlook. My forecasts are based on a “stable” economy, and would change materially should conditions deteriorate (e.g. a Chinese “hard landing”).

Sydney

Relative to the rest of the nation, Sydney’s housing market has displayed resilience, with detached house values declining by 6.4 per cent since peak and unit values remaining flat as at May 2012, according to RP Data-Rismark. This result compares with declines of 8.1 per cent (houses) and 2.8 per cent (units) at the national capital city level.

Over the next 12-months, Sydney’s home prices are projected to perform slightly better than the national average, experiencing a price shift of between minus-3 per cent and 1 per cent.

While Sydney home prices are the most expensive in the nation on a price-to-income basis, due to its relatively attractive rental returns, Sydney’s price-to-rent ratio is below the national average, suggesting that buying is relatively more attractive than renting.

Sydney’s housing market is also relatively supply-constrained, experiencing one of the lowest home construction rates in the nation.

The number of homes for sale in Sydney is also not particularly elevated, and has fallen from this time last year.

In addition, Rental vacancy rates, while higher than last year, are below the national average, as is the average time taken to sell a home.

Melbourne

Melbourne’s recent price performance has been poor, declining by 11.0 per cent (houses) and 7.4 per cent (units) since peak as at May 2012, according to RP Data-Rismark. Yet, despite the sharp decline in values, Melbourne’s housing market still offers the worst investment fundamentals in the nation and is the market most at risk of a severe house price correction.

Our baseline forecast is for Melbourne home prices to decline by between 5 per cent and 8 per cent over the next 12 months. This pessimistic view is based a wide range of considerations.

First, Melbourne home prices are the second-most expensive in the nation on a price-to-income basis, and owing to its very low rental returns, the most expensive when home prices are compared against rents. Melbourne’s housing supply is also relatively abundant, with the rate of construction running well above average, as are the number of homes for sale, which are nearly 20 per cent above last year’s levels.

There is also significant construction in the pipeline.

Brisbane

Brisbane’s recent price performance has been poor, declining by 12.4 per cent (houses) and 10.8 per cent (units) since peak as at May 2012, according to RP Data-Rismark. However, investment fundamentals are improving, which should result in above-average performance over the coming 12 months, with prices forecast to shift by between minus-2 per cent and 2 per cent.

Brisbane home prices are relatively affordable, with its ratio of house prices-to-incomes the second lowest out of the major capitals and its home prices compared to rents the lowest, suggesting that buying is relatively attractive compared with renting.

Housing supply in Brisbane is tightening, with dwelling construction rates running below average and the number of homes for sale some 8 per cent below last year’s levels (albeit still elevated). Rental vacancy rates in Brisbane also remain tight relative to both the national average and last year’s levels.

Perth

Perth’s housing market is likely to be a star performer over the coming year. Although values have declined by 9.5 per cent (houses) and 4.7 per cent (units) since peak, which are above the average decline nationally, fundamentals have improved significantly, which should support price growth of between 2 per cent and 5 per cent over the next 12 months.

Affordability in Perth has improved considerably, with home prices relative to incomes the lowest in the nation, and prices compared with rents below the national average.

Rents are also rising sharply – up by around 16 per cent over the past year according to RP Data – caused by a rental vacancy rate that is the second lowest in the nation and has tightened considerably compared with the same period last year.

The tightening of Perth’s rental market has been driven by the highest population growth in the nation combined with a low rate of dwelling construction. The number of homes for sale is also relatively low, and has fallen by 14 per cent since the same period last year.

Adelaide

Adelaide’s housing market has performed surprisingly well, experiencing the lowest decline in values from peak in the nation (3.7 per cent for houses and 3.6 per cent for units as at May 2012, according to RP Data-Rismark). However, the good fortune is unlikely to last, with prices predicted to fall by 2 per cent to 5 per cent over the next 12 months.

Although Adelaide housing provides better-than-average affordability when measured against incomes, prices are more expensive than average when compared with rents.

The overall supply situation in Adelaide is deteriorating. Dwelling construction relative to population growth is the highest in the nation, whereas the number of homes for sale is elevated and some 3 per cent higher than the same period last year.

Hobart

Hobart’s housing market has been one of the weakest performers in the nation, declining by 11.8 per cent (houses) and 8.9 per cent (units) from peak as at May 2012, according to RP Data-Rismark.

A broad range of indicators suggest that Hobart housing is unlikely to improve any time soon, with prices predicted to decline by a further 4 per cent to 7 per cent over the next 12 months.

Housing affordability is not a key concern in Hobart, with home prices amongst the lowest in the nation compared to both incomes and rents.

Rather, the supply situation is deteriorating, with the number of homes for sale some 20 per cent higher than a year ago and dwelling construction rates relative to population growth running well above the national average. Similarly, rental vacancy rates in Hobart are around 50 per cent higher than this time last year and are the second highest in the nation after Melbourne.

Darwin

Darwin’s housing market has experienced the heaviest losses in Australia, falling by 15.2 per cent (houses) and 16.9 per cent (units) from peak as at May 2012, according to RP Data-Rismark.

However, key indicators suggest that Darwin’s fortunes are turning around, which should support price growth of between 3 per cent and 6 per cent over the next 12 months.

Affordability in Darwin has improved considerably, with home prices relative to incomes just below the national average, and prices compared to rents the second lowest in the nation. Rents have rising sharply – up by around 14 per cent (houses) over the past year according to APM – caused by a rental vacancy rate that is the lowest in the nation and has tightened considerably over the past year.

The tightening of Darwin’s rental market has been driven by the lowest rate of dwelling construction in the nation. Meanwhile, the number of homes for sale is also relatively low, and has fallen by 30 per cent since the same period of last year.

Canberra

Relative to the rest of the nation, Canberra’s housing market has displayed resilience, with values declining by 5.0 per cent (houses) and 7.9 per cent (units) since peak, according to RP Data-Rismark.

However, the outlook for the capital is mixed, resulting in projected price shift of between minus-3 per cent to 0 per cent over the coming year.

Although Canberra’s housing market is relatively affordable – with prices relative to both incomes and rents below the national average – the supply situation has deteriorated somewhat, driven by a recent housing construction boom, as well as a near doubling in the number of homes offered for sale over the past two years. Canberra’s rental vacancy rate, too, has been rising, although it remains roughly half that of the national average.

Source: BusinessDay

Leith van Onselen is the Chief Economist at the Macro Investor newsletter. He has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs. To read the full Australian Cities Housing Valuation Report 2012/13, sign up for your free trial at Macro Investor (www.macroinvestor南京夜网.au)

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DJs ‘bidder’ renews attack on media for failure

DJs ‘bidder’ renews attack on media for failure

The obscure investor group, EB Private Equity, which pulled its bizarre $1.65 billion bid for David Jones, has again blamed media coverage and public commentary as the prompt for dropping an unlikely takeover off for the upmarket retailer.
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A message posted on EB Private Equity’s website last night says “inaccurate” publicity surrounding its corporate play had made it difficult to hold discussions with its financial partners.

“Our intention was to hold preliminary discussions with the David Jones board while financial partners continued to be approached. Recent unfounded, inaccurate and ill-informed publicity around our proposal has made it difficult for these discussions to take place,” the private equity firm’s website reports.

It also blamed the David Jones board for the failed talks.

“Our proposal was made in an effort to engage with the board. However, the board has made it clear it does not intend to engage in these discussions based on our proposal. This is our only statement on this matter and we are not giving further interviews and comment in any way.”

However, mystery still surrounds the background, financial strength and credibility of EB Private Equity and its chairman John Edgar.

In other developments overnight the contact email address from EB Private Equity’s website has also disappeared. The website of Laura Panton, the 20-year old web creator from West Yorkshire who created the site for the Luxembourg-based EB Private Equity firm also remains offline.

Last Friday David Jones informed the market it had been approached by EB Private Equity with an incomplete $1.65 billion bid for the retailer. But concerns over the credibility and bona fides of the little-known company grew over the weekend and by Monday the entire takeover offer was withdrawn.

Shares in David Jones rose 20 per cent when the offer was unveiled but about much of Friday’s gains were lost yesterday when EB Private Equity said it was walking away from the deal.

David Jones shares were recently unchanged for the day at $2.33.

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Queensland’s financial crisis and the pain to come

Queensland’s financial crisis and the pain to come

In April, the Informant examined the decision of Queensland’s Newman government to appoint a commission of audit to review the state’s finances. Its first report, issued last month, covered the overall state of public sector finances, and its second, due in December, will examine government programs and service delivery.
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The use of audit commissions external to government is not new. There are relatively recent examples in NSW (Nick Greiner, 1988), Victoria (Jeff Kennett, 1992, and Ted Ballieu, 2011), Queensland (Rob Bordidge, 1996) and federally (John Howard, 1996). There are earlier precedents, too, such as the Whitlam government taskforce in 1973 (chaired by H. C. Coombs) and a royal commission on public spending in 1918, in the aftermath of World War I.

The recent Queensland commission’s findings, their veracity and the audit’s methodology will be scrutinised closely, as will its effect on the state’s public sector, which employs about 200,000 people. The audit found the government’s finances were in a parlous state, and Premier Campbell Newman has since committed to shedding many jobs. It’s worth asking why it took an external audit and a change of government for the full situation of that state’s finances to become known. What does this tell us about Queensland’s existing watchdogs: its auditor-general and, indeed, its Treasury? Was this an indication of a politicised public service, in which no one had the integrity to tell their political masters the truth, or ensure that others who could tell the public knew? The other peculiar issue is how Queensland’s finances deteriorated so quickly since 2006, given it’s a resource-rich state that should be riding a resource boom.

These issues may be relevant to more than one state. Queensland’s audit commission could be seen to be following the well-established tactic of new governments that wish to implement major reforms, and seek to justify them by blaming the previous administration’s mismanagement. It has been used by other non-Labor governments, such as Kennett’s, which wanted to implement neoliberal or ”new public management” policies. However, if the Queensland commission’s assessment of state finances is correct, then the use of such external instruments, while having a ”political” role, are also legitimate in identifying independently the extent of a financial problem and providing government with the ”evidence” for the subsequent actions – spending cuts – that inevitably follow.

Features of audit commissions

Before assessing the Queensland commission’s work, it’s worth noting the features of such bodies.

First, most of them, with the exception of the Coombs taskforce in 1973, were appointed by non-Labor governments. There are several possible explanations for this. One is that they have tended to be appointed after a Labor government’s term ended with poor financial outcomes. Another is that non-Labor parties tend to oppose ideologically a large public sector and, upon winning office, want to cut it back.

Second, such bodies are usually appointed by incoming governments that have been out of office for long periods: Newman (14 years), Borbidge (seven), Howard (13), Kennett (10), Ballieu (11) and so on. Parties out of office for long periods naturally suspect that the bureaucracy is both politicised and part of the problem: profligate, incompetent and top-heavy.

Last, audit commissions draw their members from outside existing government agencies, and the members usually have significant professional standing and expertise. Borbidge’s, for example, was chaired by well-accomplished academic Dr Vince Fitzgerald. Kennett and Howard’s were chaired by Professor Bob Officer, who was the chairman of finance and the deputy director of Melbourne University’s business school. Ballieu’s was chaired by Dr Michael Vertigan, a retired head of Treasury with a record of conducting state and federal government inquiries. However, as the Informant noted in April, the appointment of former federal treasurer Peter Costello as chairman of Newman’s recent commission differentiates it from these other audits, and makes it appear more politically motivated than it probably is. Such an appointment has few positives if the aim of the review is to provide credible evidence.

The Queensland findings

The commission’s findings are horrendous. Moreover, there has been little refutation of their overall accuracy. They include:

■ The government had embarked on ”an unsustainable level of spending that has jeopardised the financial position of the state”.

■ Government finances had deteriorated sharply since 2006 to the point that it was ”borrowing heavily to support the budget”.

■ State debt is now $64 billion and likely to be $100 billion by 2018-19.

■ The cost of Queensland of losing its triple-A credit rating added $100 million a year to interest payments.

■ The previous government’s projected budget surplus needed urgent revision – $3 billion in ”fiscal consolidation” (i.e. cuts) was needed for the budget to be in ”genuine surplus” in three years.

■ Treasury’s forward budget estimates were ”overly optimistic”.

■ The previous government, which enjoyed a revenue surge between 2001 and 2007, left no reserves for unexpected circumstances (e.g. the global financial crisis and natural disasters).

■ Public service productivity was poor.

■ Capital spending was financed increasingly by loans – an increase from 34 per cent in 2005-06 to 96 per cent in 2010-11.

The commission’s report is highly critical of both the growth in Queensland Public Service staff numbers and, more importantly, expenses due to classification creep and wage rises. Some of these problems were known beforehand, though they were not acknowledged by the Bligh government. For example, the public service’s growth and costs, which the commission identifies as a key underlying cause of the budget blow-outs, had been detailed by external researchers, such as the Institute of Public Affairs’ Julie Novak in a public paper in 2009.

The audit recommendations

The 206-page report recommends a two-stage fiscal strategy.

The first is to achieve a surplus in 2014-15 by what it describes as ”a $3 billion process of fiscal repair over three years”.

The second is a debt-reduction strategy of $25-30 billion, to restore the debt-to-revenue ratio to 60 per cent by 2017-18. Once this is achieved, the government should ”set medium-term targets of maintaining a zero fiscal balance in the general government sector on average over the economic cycle, and of keeping total government debt levels constant to [general state product]”.

In recommending how to achieve these targets, the commission acknowledged ”there are limited prospects to boost revenue. It is likely, therefore, that a major part of the adjustment burden will need to be borne by the expenditure side of the budget.” And so has been the case.

For example, in the first stage, the commission supported the government’s policy of capping public sector wage growth at 3 per cent a year as the most important measure in reducing recurrent spending. This means a substantial cut in jobs. On June 19, Newman told state Parliament there were 20,000 too many public servants in Queensland. Although some contract staff have already lost their jobs, the commission’s report has ignited fears that the cuts will extend to ”permanent” public servants; an option the LNP eschewed in opposition. There is little doubt now, given the report’s tone, that such cuts will occur.

Other suggested spending cuts included reviewing discretionary grants, targeting government services, and assessing partnerships with the federal government to determine the costs to the state. The proposed national disability insurance scheme was cited as an example of such a review.

The thrust of the commission’s proposals is towards reducing services by way of ”demand management”; i.e. contracting out, privatisation, means-testing and charging. It recognises political realities by saying the state ”would continue to have a role in those instances where no other provider exists (for example, in the more decentralised parts of the state)”. The report also advocates ”exiting expenditure activities more appropriately supported by other levels of government”. The examples given are residential aged care, primary and community healthcare and services for job seekers, which the report suggests should be handed over to the Commonwealth or the private sector. Whether the Commonwealth would accept is another question.

Revenue-raising strategies included a deficit levy (which the government rejected), broadening the base of land tax, increasing gambling taxes and mining royalties, increasing the progressiveness of transfer duty and the rate of landholder duty, and improving taxpayer compliance. None of these received strong endorsement from the commission, so the focus will stay on spending cuts.

Conclusions

The Queensland audit commission’s findings are an damming indictment of previous Labor governments’ financial management, but also their lack of integrity. Even if some see the commission process as politically motivated and manipulative, the audit findings are hard to refute.

The immediate issue is how deeply Newman will need to cut Queensland’s public sector and whether this can be done without creating future problems.

But the long-term, and more important, task is the reform of Queensland’s system of government. Accurate financial information should never be suppressed, and the public service must provide frank and fearless advice. The paradox of public service ”reform” in the age of new public management is that public servants inevitably see their jobs as giving ministers what they want and need. With so many jobs now under threat, it’s hard to see this kind of politicisation decreasing.

Understandly, the audit commission did not address this issue, which fell outside its scope. Yet the Newman government, with almost 90 per cent of the seats in Parliament, has the power to address it, and for the sake of Queensland citizens it must.

Dr Kate Jones is a research fellow and and Professor Scott Prasser is the executive director at the Public Policy Institute in the Australian Catholic University.

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

Drug kingpin sentenced to 30 years

Drug kingpin sentenced to 30 years

About to learn his fate… Tony Mokbel arrives at court this morning. Tony Mokbel leaves court after the sentencing.
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John Silvester: Cutting a dealFrom drug lord to porridge days

Drug boss Tony Mokbel was today jailed for a minimum of 22 years for masterminding a multi-million dollar drug trafficking empire.

Supreme Court Justice Simon Whelan said Mokbel had shown “an arrogant contempt for the law and an incorrigible determination to persist in serious business-like drug trafficking regardless of the circumstances or possible consequences for yourself or others”.

Justice Whelan said drug trafficking had been Mokbel’s business.

“It was your area of expertise,” he said. “It was your career.”

Justice Whelan said he did not believe Mokbel was sorry for what he had done.

“Thing have not turned out as you planned, and no doubt you now regret that, but to describe such feelings of regret as remorse is, I think, misconceived.”

Mokbel had told a psychologist he would like to apologise to the community and to the courts for his crimes and that he recognised “dealing in drugs was wrong and that it caused damage to a lot of people”.

The judge jailed Mokbel for a total of 30 years with a non-parole period of 22 years, less 347 days for time already served.

Mokbel will be eligible for parole when he is 67 years old.

Justice Whelan said he would have jailed Mokbel for life without parole if he had not pleaded guilty to the drug charges he faced.

Medical evidence had been given that Mokbel had a life expectancy of 24 years or less because of his coronary heart disease. Mokbel suffered a minor heart attack at Barwon Prison in February.

The judge, whose sentencing remarks were streamed live via video on the internet for the first time in Victoria, said a psychological report revealed that that while Mokbel had shown a “remarkable degree of psychological resilience to date”, he was experiencing a range of physical manifestations of anxiety.

As he was being led from courtroom four, a smiling Mokbel winked and said “See you guys” to the media.

He had earlier stood in the dock flanked by five security guards yawning a number of times as he waited for the judge.

Mokbel pleaded guilty in April last year to charges of trafficking large commercial quantities of methamphetamine and MDMA, and inciting an undercover policeman to import a commercial quantity of MDMA.

He made millions through The Company, which he ran like a legitimate business with records being kept on a computer.

The charges stemmed from three separate investigations code-named Orbital, Quills and Magnum.

In Magnum, The Company distributed at least 47 kilograms of methamphetamine (speed) between January 2006 and June 2007 with a wholesale value of about $4.7 million. The street value was worth much more.

A plea deal led to charges in relation to four other investigations into his drug manufacturing empire to be dropped, and the prosecution also agreed to seek a non-parole period of between 20 to 23 years.

Mokbel’s ex-girlfriend, Danielle McGuire, who has reportedly restricted him from seeing his youngest child, Renate, was not in court for his sentencing today.

McGuire left the drug boss for Bandidos sergeant-in-arms Toby Mitchell.

She had been living with Mokbel in Athens in 2007 and the then six-month-old Renate when he was arrested.

McGuire had fled her Melbourne beauty salon and moved overseas in July 2006, four months after Mokbel had disappeared.

He had fled Melbourne just days before he was to be convicted in the Supreme Court for cocaine trafficking. He was later sentenced in his absence to 12 years jail.

Mokbel had been hiding out in a farmhouse in the Victorian country town of Bonnie Doon before taking a yacht from Western Australia to Greece.

He was arrested at an Athens cafe in June 2007 carrying a forged Australian passport and a fake NSW driver’s licence in the name of Stephen Papas, of Albion Street, Bondi.

In each ID photo, he was wearing the same ill-fitting toupee he had on when police swooped.

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

The voice: ‘ Every one person you kill there is like taking 50 lives’

The voice: ‘ Every one person you kill there is like taking 50 lives’

The voice … Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari.Forty-eight hours into the bloody assault on Mumbai in November 2008, smoke was billowing from the wreckage of the Taj Mahal hotel and commandos were flushing out the last gunmen holed up in the opulent landmark of India’s financial capital.
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A short distance away in the city’s southernmost peninsula, security forces were still battling at Nariman House, a Jewish centre where two of the Islamist militants had taken half a dozen people hostage, including a rabbi and his pregnant wife.

“Remember that every one person you kill there is like taking 50 lives,” a coordinator of the rampage told the two men, according to the transcript of a telephone conversation picked up by Indian intelligence.

“Get rid of these people. Kill them.”

All six in the centre were killed before the gunmen were slain by security forces.

In all, 166 people were killed in the three-day frenzy of attacks on two upmarket hotels, Mumbai’s busy railway terminal and a fashionable cafe.

India says the voice urging the 10 militants on to bloodshed was that of Indian-born Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, who was speaking from a “control room” in the Pakistani city of Karachi.

Last month, after more than a year of painstaking diplomacy that involved India, Saudi Arabia and the United States, Ansari was quietly put on a plane in Riyadh, flown to New Delhi and arrested.

For India it is a huge breakthrough. New Delhi is hoping that Ansari’s capture will help prove its allegation – strenuously denied in Islamabad – that the Mumbai carnage was directed by people connected with Pakistan’s security establishment, particularly the shadowy ISI military intelligence agency.

That could stir fresh tensions between South Asia’s nuclear-armed rivals, who have already fought three wars since their independence 65 years ago, and it could put further strain on the ragged relations between the United States and Pakistan.

Ansari’s extradition from Riyadh – which officials say came after pressure from Washington and despite pleas from Islamabad for him not to be sent to India – may also have delivered a jolt to Pakistan’s traditionally close relations with Saudi Arabia.

‘A window into the control room’

Indian investigators say Ansari, who is also known as Abu Jundal and Abu Hamza, has confessed he was in the “control room” talking the gunmen through their operation by satellite phone.

They believe that, alongside him there, was Hafiz Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group whose emergence the ISI nurtured in the 1990s as a proxy to fight Indian forces in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir. Earlier this year the United States placed a $10 million bounty on Saeed’s head, but he still moves freely around Pakistan.

Ansari’s arrest may turn out to be far more critical to shedding light on the command and control of the 2008 attacks than Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the only gunman to be taken alive and who is now on death row in a Mumbai prison.

“It is a window into the control room, who set it up, who was coming into it, who was going out,” said Ajit Doval, a former head of the Intelligence Bureau, India’s domestic spy agency, which has been questioning its prize catch at an undisclosed location.

“It takes us one step closer to the role of Pakistani establishment in the attacks. That will be the big worry in Islamabad,” said Doval.

Indian officials caution that they are unlikely to find a smoking gun leading directly to the headquarters of Pakistan’s powerful military, but they say Ansari’s arrest nonetheless provides crucial details suggesting some level of complicity.

A Pakistani security official told Reuters there was quite simply no ISI involvement, and there wasn’t even a control room.

Quiet and shy boy

Ansari carried a Pakistani passport – a fake, the Pakistani security official said. He was born 30 years ago in India, and brought up in a village near the dusty town of Beed, some 350 km (220 miles) east of Mumbai.

When he was about 15, his family moved to a Muslim-dominated neighborhood in Beed town, a crowded and down-at-heel area with narrow lanes, dug-up roads, open drains, a vegetable market and two mosques.

Locals say that Ansari was a timid and quiet boy, coming off worst when there were street brawls and barely making a mark at school.

“None of the teachers remember teaching him,” said Bharat Sonavane, principal at Beed’s Balbhim College for Art, Science and Commerce, where Ansari was a student.

Trained as an electrician, he found work that brought money for a family struggling to make ends meet, including one job re-wiring the local police headquarters.

Ansari suddenly disappeared in 2006 after police linked him to an arms haul case. For the next six years his family received no word of him, until last month when his bearded face was splashed on news networks announcing his deportation and arrest.

“We thought he might be dead by now,” said Ansari’s mother, Rehana, a 65-year-old diabetes sufferer who spoke to Reuters from her father’s tiny home in Beed.

“One night he just left home and we didn’t hear from him for almost six years. No phone call, no letter,” she said, holding back tears in pale green eyes framed by a black burqa, the all-enveloping garment worn by many Muslim women on the subcontinent.

“It pains us … we never imagined our Zubi would be linked to this.”

Shortly after nightfall on November 26, 2008, three inflatable speedboats pulled up on the shores of Mumbai. The 10 men aboard had sailed across the Arabian Sea from Karachi for days, hijacking an Indian trawler on their way and killing its crew.

When they were accosted by local residents, the men were prepared. Ansari told his interrogators that he had coached the gunmen to speak Hindi with a local accent so that their assault could be passed off as a home-grown attack rather than traced back to Pakistan: at one point during the operation he scolded them for not using the proper dialect.

Indian officials who analysed the phone conversations with the gunmen had long suspected that one of the handlers was an Indian because he used words only a fluent Hindi speaker would use, while the others spoke the mix of Punjabi and Urdu common to large parts of Pakistan.

Ansari, investigators say, has provided the names of four other people in the Karachi control room, which New Delhi maintains could not have operated without some state support.

Two of them he named as Sajid Mir, also known as Sajid Majid, and Sameer Ali.

A Pakistani-American, David Headley, who was convicted of scouting targets in Mumbai ahead of the attacks, gave the same two names to a Chicago court last year as helping mount the operation.

Headley identified Sameer Ali as a major in the ISI who had recruited him when he was briefly detained near the Pakistan-Afghan border in 2006 and Sajid Mir as a man handling foreign recruits for the LeT.

Mir was also believed to be the handler of a Frenchman accused of plotting an attack in Australia soon after the September 11 attacks. French judge Jean-Louis Brugiere who investigated the case said he believed Mir was an officer of the Pakistani military.

Ansari’s revelations could have a bearing on investigations in the United States, where families of six Americans who were killed in the Mumbai attack have filed lawsuits alleging that the head of the ISI at the time, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and other operatives helped the LeT plan and orchestrate its operation.

“We believe Ansari’s interrogation provides further corroboration of active ISI support in the attacks,” said an official of the Indian Intelligence Bureau. “They were physically present in the control room.”

Pakistan rejects accusations

Pakistan, which has conducted its own investigation into the Mumbai assault and indicted seven members of the LeT – an organisation it has officially banned – roundly rejects the charge that members of the ISI were involved.

“The Mumbai plot came to the attention of the ISI in 2005 or 2006,” the Pakistani security official said. “The leadership of the LeT was contacted and told not to go ahead with it. But the LeT waited. After Pasha took over as ISI chief, they managed to slip under the radar and carry it out.”

He said five handlers were scattered across Pakistan at the time, not together in a control room. Ansari himself was in the Sindh town of Thatta, speaking to the men in Mumbai from a Thuraya satellite phone.

The Pakistani prime minister’s adviser on interior affairs, Rehman Malik, said Ansari’s involvement showed that India had extremists in its own backyard who were being sent to Pakistan.

“I have the right to know how he was radicalised – was he radicalised through Muslim extremism or was he radicalised through Hindu extremism?” Malik told Reuters in an interview during a visit to London last weekend.

Indian investigators said that after leaving his hometown in 2006, Ansari crossed the porous border with Bangladesh and travelled by air to Pakistan. But it was not until some time in 2008 that they established his presence there.

The security official in Islamabad said Ansari first went to Pakistan during a brief conflict with India in the Kargil district of Kashmir in 1999, which broke out after Pakistani soldiers and militants poured across the de facto border between the two countries there.

“He thought he could just join the mujahideen on his own, but he didn’t manage,” the official said, describing Ansari as someone who “really believes Muslims are being suppressed around the world”.

Early last year, Ansari obtained his fake Pakistani passport and flew to Saudi Arabia, where – the official in Islamabad said – the LeT thought he could blend in with the many Pakistani laborers there. Indian police believe he was “talent-spotting” in Saudi Arabia in preparation for another “massive attack”.

However, he was arrested there a few months later.

That was the starting point for a year-long effort by Indian intelligence to convince Riyadh that – despite the Pakistani passport – he was an Indian citizen and must be sent back.

“We kept telling them, don’t send him to Pakistan, he is our man and if he went there he would be lost to us. In July (last year) we told the U.S. to prevent him from going to Pakistan,” the Indian intelligence bureau officer said.

In May of this year, the United States put its foot down, telling Saudi Arabia there was overwhelming evidence that Ansari was an Indian national wanted for the attacks.

“The decision of the Saudi authorities to transfer Ansari to Indian custody, mindful of the unhappiness of Pakistan, will be seen in Pakistan as a blow to its much-vaunted relationship with Saudi Arabia,” said Bahukutumbi Raman, a former head of India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing.

He said Riyadh’s move reflected a growing fear that the LeT may act as a Trojan horse on its soil for al Qaeda, which is now on the backfoot in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Why did the Saudis eventually agree to give him up? And that, too, to a non-Islamic country? We know they have given suspects to the U.S. but not to us,” said Doval, the former Indian Intelligence Bureau chief. “That’s a shift.”

Reuters

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