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Monthly Archives: January 2019

Comment: Just my five cents

Written on January 12, 2019 at 00:45, by

Imagine if you walked into your local bank, handed them a five cent piece and asked, “Can I have ten cents for this?” And then the teller said, “Yes.

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Well, that’s the world of commerce our friends across the Pacific pond are used to. And soon, we might have to accept the same sort of illogic here in Australia.

In the 2012 fiscal year The Unites States Mint produced and distributed just over 1 billion US five cent pieces, worth a total of US$50 million. But they spent more than US$100 million to produce them! That’s more than US$50 million in losses. And all simply to subsidise the irritating existence of bacteria-ridden disks that you’d be surprised to find someone bothering to pick up off a New York City sidewalk.

Granted, the price of copper and nickel – the main constituents of the US five cent piece – have since lowered slightly, so the same loss might not be incurred today. But since the early 2000’s the price of copper, which also makes up 75% of all silver coins and 92% of all gold coins in Australia, has more than tripled. Compound this with inflation and the increasing costs of energy consumption required by manufacturing and distribution, and it’s no wonder it was reported in 2009 and 2011 by The Sydney Morning Herald that there were plans to scrap our echidna-bearing shrapnel forever.

The real cost to society could be in lost productivity costs, though. Think of all the times you’ve fumbled around for exact change and how the poor soul who has to count them at the end of the day must wish they were elsewhere. The US one cent piece – which is bafflingly still produced – is estimated to cost the US economy US$1 billion in lost productivity annually.

Even if they were affordable to produce or money was no object, for something which is meant to grease the wheels of commerce, the five cent piece really underperforms. Anyone would be rightly shocked to find even a single item in their local supermarket that costs five cents or less. Parking meters don’t take them, vending machines know better and even the infamous Melbourne Myki system can spot such indisputable inefficiency when it sees it.

The truth is that there are even laws to limit how many five cent pieces you can use in an individual transaction. The Currency Act 1965 (section 16) prohibits anyone from ruining the day of a store clerk beyond $5 worth of five cent pieces; any more it’s not considered legal tender. And rightly so, too – that’s 100 five cent pieces!

Our Kiwi cousins scrapped their five cent piece in 2006 after realising what a nuisance they were. Why can’t we do the same? It might not be a sexy topic or have catchy three-word-slogans like ‘Five Cent Wastage’ and ‘Coinage Reform Now’, but couldn’t we afford to be pragmatic for once? In fact, given the economy, how can we afford not to be?

Tom Burns is a blogger, vlogger and self-confessed political junkie.

Abbott cites exuberance in latest gaffe

Written on January 12, 2019 at 00:45, by

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott admits he was “a bit exuberant” when referring to the sex appeal of a female Liberal candidate.

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Social network contributors and Labor pounced on Mr Abbott’s gaffe on Tuesday during a visit to the key marginal seat of Lindsay in western Sydney.

Standing between his daughter Frances and local Liberal candidate Fiona Scott, he was asked how the latter compared with her coalition predecessor Jackie Kelly.

“They’re young, they’re feisty and I think I can probably say have a bit of sex appeal,” he told reporters.

Leaving his daughter wincing, Mr Abbott was later forced to explain himself.

He said Ms Scott was a smart, hardworking woman with whom he was proud to be associated.

“I was a bit exuberant today … but we’re all working incredibly hard to get her elected,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday night.

But by the time Mr Abbott tried to explain himself, a backlash was underway against the man who has a record of gaffs about the role of women.

“He’s pathetic, he really is pathetic,” Labor minister Kim Carr told the ABC of Mr Abbott’s words.

“Sometimes we should think Tony Abbott really hasn’t crawled out of the 1950s.”

The coalition camp worked to brush off the remark.

“It was just a light-hearted comment, which I’m sure was not meant with any offence,” Opposition assistant treasury spokesman Mathias Corman told Sky News.

Coalition finance spokesman Andrew Robb said the comment was made in “jest” and talked up Mr Abbott’s deep respect for women, including his professional wife Margie, three daughters, and sister.

However Twitter exploded with opinion on the subject, much of it criticising Mr Abbott.

“So @TonyAbbottMHR thinks a woman candidate is vote-worthy if she has #sexappeal ? #mysogynist” posted one person.

The Twitter account for NSW Labor also weighed in: “On September 7 we should vote for candidates based on #policyappeal not #sexappeal”.

In an odd show of support, NSW Liberal minister Pru Goward, a former sex discrimination commissioner, said she sees nothing wrong with highlighting a candidate’s sex appeal.

“I think a lot of politicians are described as sexy,” she told Macquarie Radio.

The clanger comes a day after Mr Abbott’s incorrect use of the word “suppository” during a press conference attracted widespread publicity.

Tuesday’s comment risks overshadowing the coalition’s efforts in Lindsay, a seat currently held by Labor’s David Bradbury by a 1.1 per cent margin.

Mr Abbott also used the visit to announce that a coalition government will provide $12 million for a sport and community centre at Penrith.

Hird wants Demetriou blocked from panel

Written on January 12, 2019 at 00:45, by

James Hird claims in a writ that the AFL urged Essendon to call for an investigation into their 2012 supplements program because it would look better for the club.

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Essendon coach Hird’s lawyers lodged a writ in the Victorian Supreme Court on Thursday seeking to have AFL charges against him heard by an independent tribunal, not the AFL Commission.

It also seeks to have AFL boss Andrew Demetriou and any AFL commissioner who has been given access to the ASADA interim report on the on-going investigation into the Bombers to be banned from future hearings.

In court documents Hird details a phone call from Demetriou to then-Essendon chairman David Evans on February 4 which allegedly alerted the Bombers to investigations into drug use at the club in 2012.

“Evans said that Demetriou said words to the effect that Essendon players had been taking performance-enhancing drugs,” Hird’s writ alleges.

“Evans communicated the tip off to Hird and other Essendon officials including Danny Corcoran and Ian Robson (then-Essendon chief executive).”

Hird says the following day Robson, Essendon media adviser Justin Rodski and Hird attended a meeting at AFL House.

AFL deputy chief Gillon McLachlan told the Bombers they should come forward to the AFL and ask for an investigation, Hird alleges.

“If you come forward earlier and invite ASADA to investigate, then the investigation will look better for you,” Hird claims McLachlan told Essendon’s officials.

“Hird told McLachlan, as was the fact, that Essendon had not used PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs).

“On February 5 2013, Hird, Robson and Evans gave a press conference at the urging of McLachlan and the defendant (AFL).”

Essendon announced they were reporting to ASADA and the AFL about their 2012 supplements program.

Essendon, Hird and three other Bombers officials have been charged by the AFL with bringing the league into disrepute over Essendon’s supplements scandal since the AFL received an interim report from ASADA on its investigation.

Hird says he’s been denied natural justice by the AFL.

On Wednesday, eight days after the AFL announced it had laid the charges, Demetriou went ahead with the league’s stated intention to release the details of the charges in a 34-page document.

Hird is also hoping to stop the charges being heard until he has been given “proper particulars” of the charges against him and a list of the witnesses the AFL plans to call and the evidence they will give.

Hird wants the AFL to deliver the particulars by September 16 and the witness list by September 30.

Hird’s writ claims the AFL provided copies of ASADA’s interim report to “unknown members of the press including Fairfax Media”.

The AFL’s 34-page statement of grounds “includes allegations against Hird which Hird was given no opportunity to answer during the alleged joint investigation.”

Hird says with two rounds remaining before the AFL finals he fears he won’t be able to meet his coaching commitments fully and he is seeking damages for “interference with contractual relations” and court costs.

McKendry recovery surprises Panthers coach

Written on January 12, 2019 at 00:45, by

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary admits he didn’t know if he would see Sam McKendry play again in the NRL after he broke his neck earlier this season.

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The New Zealand international prop fractured his C6 vertebrae when tackling Parramatta’s Jacob Loko in April.

The incident occurred in the 15th minute of the match but McKendry continued to play on for a further 10 minutes before coming off after complaining of a tingling sensation in his fingers.

But the 24-year-old made a miraculous return in round 22 against North Queensland after just four months on the sidelines and played a starring role in last Sunday’s vital win over the Warriors in Auckland that kept alive his side’s flickering finals hopes.

Brisbane visit Centrebet Stadium on Friday night just one point ahead of the 12th-placed Panthers, who could potentially move to eighth spot with victory, with McKendry keeping his spot in the starting line-up.

“It’s Sam’s third game back and he will be stronger for the run,” Cleary said.

“I am surprised how well he’s come back, he doesn’t take a backward step and plays the way he always has.

“He’s a pretty tough man both physically and mentally.”

Despite showing all the signs of a full recovery in the gym and in training, Cleary said McKendry’s surgeon was hesitant about granting him clearance to play.

“There were so many things around it, and it was a wait and see factor,” he said.

“But even as close as two weeks ago we weren’t sure.

“The problem with necks is that specialists aren’t going to give you clearance and that could be the end.

“So it was pretty close and we are all relieved as is Sam.”

A pragmatic Cleary said he was delighted with the effort of his players to beat his former club last week, but knows the season will be over if they slip up to a desperate Broncos side.

“Our home form hasn’t been great over the last few weeks and this is a really big game,” he said.

“I think whoever loses is gone really. Auckland was a really tough road trip and the boys did well to come through it.

“The mood has been good this week.”

Roosters expect Ferguson to fire

Written on January 12, 2019 at 00:45, by

NRL ladder-leaders Sydney Roosters expect Canberra’s returning star Blake Ferguson to make a statement when they host the Raiders this Saturday.

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Outstanding back Ferguson will play for the first time in almost two months after he was stood down by the NRL following a drinking session with NSW Origin squad teammate Josh Dugan.

“He’ll obviously be willing to make a statement for while he has been absent and he’s a massive part of that team,” Roosters winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall said on Wednesday.

“I think the rest of the team will get confident by having him in the side, so we’re definitely going to be careful of him.

“He’s a good player and always tough to tackle and he has actually been playing some pretty good football this year, so he’ll be looking to get straight back to his best and help Canberra in their run to the finals.”

Kenny-Dowall also anticipated the seventh-placed Raiders would be motivated by last week’s embarrassing 68-4 flogging by Melbourne.

“Any team that gets pretty much humiliated like that will bounce back and it will be a massive motivation for them,” Kenny-Dowall said.

Canberra overturned a 16-0 half-time deficit to beat the Roosters 24-22 earlier this season.

“We haven’t (talked about that) but we still remember that for sure,” Kenny-Dowall said.

“They have beaten us once so they are capable of that sort of footy. It’s always tough down there in Canberra. We’ve got them at home this time.

“I think we’re a better team than what we were then.”

With captain Anthony Minichiello injured, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck moves from wing to fullback with Kenny-Dowall shifting from centre to wing.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson has yet to name a replacement captain.

The Roosters have four vice-captains in forwards Boyd Cordner, Jared Waerea-Hargraves and Jake Friend plus halfback Mitchell Pearce.

Kenny-Dowall said all four players had leadership qualities and could potentially captain the side once Minichiello retires.

Hewitt into Australian Open final

Written on January 10, 2019 at 07:28, by

“It’s awesome, it really is,” Hewitt said after downing the second seed. “I would have given anything to be in this position, to have an opportunity to play one match for the title here in Melbourne.

“Now part of that dream’s come true. I get an opportunity Sunday night.”

Only Marat Safin stands between Hewitt and his dream of becoming the first Australian to win the men’s title since 1976.

The Russian, twice a runner-up, beat world number one Roger Federer on Thursday and Hewitt knows he faces a battle against the fourth seed.

“Marat’s a top player, he’s got a lot of firepower and a lot of weapons out there,” Hewitt said. “He’s got all the shots. You know, he’s got a massive serve, he’s got a big forehand, backhand, he moves well for a big guy.”

American Roddick had dominated third seed Hewitt with his heavy service game in the opening two sets, crashing down 23 of the 31 aces he served in the match, but eventually he crumbled as Hewitt stood firm.

“You know, I’m mad,” Roddick said. “I felt like I was in there with a shot. To lose two breakers … I’m normally pretty money in those. It’s disappointing.”

Hewitt, who survived two tough five-set matches to reach the semi-finals, absorbed everything Roddick threw at him and gradually wore the American down with his superior court coverage, groundstrokes and never-say-die attitude.

The Australian, whose win lifts him to number two in the world, sank to his knees with his arms raised to wild cheers from the Rod Laver Arena centre court crowd when a Roddick backhand sailed long on the final point after two hours and 54 minutes.

Hewitt had never made it past the fourth round at Melbourne Park since he began as a 15-year-old qualifier in 1997 and is now bidding to become the first Australian to win the men’s title since Mark Edmondson beat John Newcombe 29 years ago.

Winner of the US Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002, Hewitt is the first Australian to reach the final since Pat Cash in 1987 at Kooyong and again in 1988 at Melbourne Park.

Roddick, last year’s Wimbledon runner-up, began strongly against a subdued Hewitt and grabbed an early break in the second game as the local favourite grumbled about a bad line call.

The American then revealed his match plan by slamming six aces past Hewitt to serve out the first set, even risking his 200 kph-plus bombs on second serves.

Roddick added four straight aces to hold serve in the second game of the second set, apparently intent on battering Hewitt into submission.

But instead of crashing through, Roddick crashed, with the momentum shifting as Hewitt clung on to his own serve to force a tiebreak in the second set.

Hewitt turned the tables on Roddick and brought up set point with an ace of his own and a backhand error by Roddick gave the Australian the tiebreak 7-3.

Hewitt handed Roddick an early chance in the third set, gifting the American a service break with three double faults.

Roddick raced to a 4-1 lead but again the Australian scrambled back, snaring his own service break for the first time in the match on a Roddick double fault in the seventh game.

Roddick complained bitterly to chair umpire Andreas Egli that someone in the crowd had twice yelled out while he was serving.

“It just took one jackass to yell out,” Roddick said later.

Hewitt again dominated the third-set tiebreak, whipping a backhand past a stranded Roddick to claim it 7-4.

The fourth set went all Hewitt’s way as a dispirited Roddick dropped serve twice in the second and fifth games, the first time with a double fault as his serve was all but blunted.

Roddick finished the match with nine double faults but was also let down by poor volleying, winning only 18 of the 32 points he played at the net.

Auschwitz liberated 60 years ago

Written on January 10, 2019 at 07:28, by

In the snow and freezing cold, a group of 100 people gathered in Harmeze, five kilometres from the main camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau and the site where ashes from the camp’s crematoria were dumped.

Among the assembled were survivors of the infamous Nazi death factory where more than one million people, mostly Jews, died.

The exact number of people killed will never be known as those victims who were selected for immediate extermination by German SS officers were not registered at Auschwitz.

Estimates range from 1.1 million to 2 million.

World leaders, along with former Soviet soldiers present at the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, will shortly join survivors in a ceremony at a memorial located on the ruins of the two camp’s gas chambers.

The former Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski – Auschwitz prisoner number 4427 – will give a speech on behalf of 150,000 Poles who died, aside from the hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews.

Speaking for the Jewish victims will be the former French Health Minister Simone Veil – Auschwitz prisoner number 78651.

Romani Rose, the president of Germany’s Central Council of Sinti and Roma, will give an address on behalf of the 23,000 Roma who died in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Homage to the 14,500 Soviet soldiers sent to the concentration camp was paid by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

As the son of one of only 95 Soviet soldiers to survive the camp in southern Poland, Mr Yushchenko recalled with emotion a previous visit to the Auschwitz museum when he was given receipts signed by his father.

Andrei Yushchenko was held at Auschwitz from February to July 1944 as prisoner 11367.

He was tattooed three times by the Nazis, and escaped from various camps seven times.

He died in 1992.

Sixty years after the liberation of Auschwitz, though, the world has again been alerted to the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.

“The situation in Europe is similar to what happened just before World War Two,” Moshe Kantor, the head of the European Jewish Congress said.

“The speed with which the Kristallnacht of 1938 turned into the infamous Wannsee conference of 1942 was just a historical second.”

The Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, was a nationwide pogram against Jews in Germany, while the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 saw Nazi leaders discuss “the final solution to the Jewish question in Europe.”

“Today we are standing on pieces of crystal in Europe again,” Mr Kantor said.

Israel to free 900 prisoners

Written on January 10, 2019 at 07:28, by

The news adds to speculation the two sides could draw a line under more than four years of violence at Tuesday’s peace summit, which is to take place in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The Palestinian Authority is expecting Israel to formally match an unofficial Palestinian ceasefire, which has seen a rare period of calm descend on the region.

Israeli media reported the troops would withdraw from Jericho “within the coming days”.

And Israel is reported to be ready to free 900 of jailed Palestinians, mainly those accused of minor security offences.

Israeli Army radio suggested 500 would be released after next week’s summit and 400 within three months.

While their freedom would boost Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s ceasefire campaign, he’s been lobbying for the release of those accused of major acts of violence.

But after meeting with his Israeli counterpart in Tel Aviv, Palestinian negotiations minister Saeb Erakat said there was still no consensus on the matter.

“There are disagreements on the Palestinian prisoners Israel should release,” he said.

But the news was welcomed in Washington, where the US State Department described the possible releases as “important and welcome” in helping to “sustain and maintain momentum in engagement between the parties”.

Tuesday’s summit is the clearest indication yet of tangible progress in the peace process, which ran aground after the roadmap plan was launched in 2003.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres predicted it would yield a joint declaration on ending violence that has claimed more than 4,700 lives since the Palestinian uprising broke out in September 2000.

However Jerusalem is playing down expectations, warning the talks wouldn’t focus on implementing the troubled roadmap.

“This summit will be an occasion for declarations, which will be of great significance, but it is still too early to have political negotiations on the roadmap,” a source close to President Sharon told the AFP news agency.

Key differences between the two sides remain, such as the borders of a future Palestinian state, the plight of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

The processes is also expected get a boost by a frenzy of diplomatic visits in the coming week, topped by new US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

On Thursday US President George W. Bush vowed in his State of the Union address that an independent Palestinian state was now within reach and pledged US$350m to support Palestinian reforms.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and his Canadian counterpart, Pierre Pettigrew, are also due to meet both leaders in the coming days.

On the ground, a Palestinian teenager died of injuries he sustained last month during an Israeli incursion into northern Gaza, while a Palestinian militant was shot by Israeli soldiers following a grenade attack on a military vehicle in southern Gaza.

Two Israeli soldiers were also wounded, one seriously, by Palestinian gunmen outside the West Bank town of Hebron.

And Israeli soldiers say they arrested a Palestinian teenager carrying an explosive belt in his bag.

Troops at the checkpoint near the West Bank town of Nablus stopped the 15-year-old boy, who also had a home-made gun and 20 bullets.

Palestinian security expanded

Written on January 10, 2019 at 07:28, by

The deal was struck on Tuesday between Mussa Arafat, the head of Palestinian national security in Gaza, and Avi Kochavi, who commands Israeli troops in territory.

During talks at the Erez checkpoint between Gaza and Israel, the two discussed a Palestinian deployment of forces in the flashpoint Khan Yunis and Rafah areas from where militants frequently launch rockets into Israel.

No Israeli official was immediately available to comment on the outcome of the talks, which took place five days after the successful deployment of around 2,500 Palestinian security forces in northern Gaza.

That deployment has been accompanied by a marked lull in violence in Gaza.

Israel also agreed on an unspecified number of Palestinian workers being allowed to cross Erez to work in Israel.

But earlier Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei accused Israel of bad faith with its resumed construction of the West Bank separation barrier inside Palestinian territory.

“We are making 100 percent efforts to bring about a ceasefire but Israel is sending us an ugly message by working on the wall,” Mr Qorei told reporters, saying it would lead to the “confiscation of a large amount of land”.

He said the Palestinians would make US envoy William Burns “aware of the situation on the ground” when he arrived for a visit later this week.

Witnesses said several hundred Palestinians and foreign activists tried to stop work on the barrier in the village of Iskaka near the Jewish settlement of Ariel, where bulldozers resumed work on Monday after a seven-month break.

Work on the section was halted last June by order of Israel’s supreme court, but recommenced Monday after being sanctioned by attorney general Menachem Mazuz.

Construction of the Ariel section is particularly contentious as it is situated about 20 kilometres inside the West Bank.

Israel insists the barrier is crucial to prevent infiltrations by West Bank militants and suicide bombers, but Palestinians see it as a land grab aimed at foiling the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

OECD criticises Aus tax reform

Written on January 10, 2019 at 07:28, by

The Paris-based economic think tank said the pace of economic reform has not been fast enough in recent years, and the federal government had slowed down competition changes that would strengthen the economy.

But it gave an upbeat appraisal of the economy in the short term, arguing there were good signs for low inflation, strong productivity and employment growth.

Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello immediately welcomed the positive comments made by the OECD but failed to dwell on its criticisms of the pace of economic reform.

“Looking forward, the OECD expects a continuation of strong economic growth over the next two years, underpinned by strong productivity growth and accompanied by low inflation and an unemployment rate around current levels,” he said in a statement

Every year the OECD gives its assessment of the economy and its future, based largely on briefings from Canberra.

However, it appears the OECD has listened to some of the concerns from business groups who want the government to use its majority in the Senate to ramp up the pace of reform.

The OECD said reform appeared to have slowed in recent years.

“The pace of reform has recently not been as strong as it could have been,” it found.

It said high effective marginal tax rates were hurting the economy, even being one of the factors for the flight of highly-trained specialists to low-tax Asian capitals.

The OECD believes the government must tackle personal and business tax reform if Australia was to remain internationally competitive.

It warned if the government failed to tackle some of the major looming issues, such as the ageing of the population or taxation reform, then the success of recent years would fade.

“There is no guarantee that Australian economic performance will continue to be as impressive as it has been over the past 13 years,” it found.