05 Jan

Lionel Shriver takes glee in being a ‘mischievous, scandalising provocateur’

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Lionel Shriver is appearing at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. Photo: MediaxpressThe theme of Lionel Shriver’s talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas and the Melbourne Writers Festival is “Break a Rule a Day”. She’ll be responding to questions from Michael Williams, but she already knows what she intends to say: that laws should be adhered to only when they make sense, that verities are meant to be questioned, that dignity and self-respect are the preserve of the sceptic.
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“I am anti-authoritarian to my marrow,” Shriver says. She ignores red lights on her bicycle, fudges expenses on her tax return and regularly gets into rows with bureaucrats. In her novels, she prods and pokes and picks at complacent bourgeois assumptions, including her own. Received wisdom is a balloon to be pricked.

Her latest book, The Mandibles, is set in a near future United States of America in which the government has defaulted on its debts, the US dollar has been usurped by a rival international currency and the stock market has crashed, wiping out fortunes. Soldiers raid houses to confiscate gold, cabbages costs $20 a head and a shower lasting longer than four minutes is an impossible luxury.

Shriver presents two dystopias: an imploding society in which money is worthless and behavioural norms no longer apply and the terrifying totalitarian taxation state that follows. The alternative is a hard-scrabble libertarian republic with few laws to break, little tax to pay, no red tape and no safety net. It’s no utopia but it is closer to her anti-authoritarian heart.

In her imagined US, rampant political correctness mean people now dial 1 for Spanish and 2 for English. The country’s first Latino President, Dante Alvarado, conducts press conferences in his native language. Although she is adamant The Mandibles “is not exclusively an attack on liberal America,” Shriver enjoys ridiculing left-wing cant and does so expertly.

“I think my fears are widely shared,” she says, without fear of contradiction. Conservatives have been warning about inflation and out of control Social Security spending for decades. The Mandibles is a Fox News fever dream about what could happen if the government keeps running up colossal debts and printing more money at the first sign of trouble.

“Most novels are written by people of an identical political persuasion in this country,” she observes. “I’m actually only one of the only voices of departure in the entire literary community. So if I don’t at least introduce a political note that clashes or offers a counterpoint to the prevailing shibboleths, then who’s going to? It’s like my job.”

Her summer house (she and her husband, jazz drummer Jeff Williams, live in London nine months of the year) is on a pleasant cul-de-sac in flat white-drinking, Obama-voting, John Maynard Keynes-believing Brooklyn. She’s more likely to bump into another novelist running laps around Prospect Park than someone else who shares her views on the welfare state, which tend towards libertarianism.

Last November, in neighbouring Park Slope, activists gave out mock summonses to all the affluent white people riding their bikes on the pavement to make the point that in poor, black communities, people are much more likely to be ticketed for minor offences. Breaking the law is a luxury, the ability to do so unevenly distributed.

“I do not obey rules because they are rules, but because they make sense. When they don’t, I feel free to ignore them – although I am as prey as anyone to shit-eating terror, and if the consequences of being a scofflaw​ are too dire I’ll toady along with the best of them,” Shriver says.

Shriver had written seven novels, six of them published, before finally finding success with her eighth. We Need to Talk About Kevin described the relationship between a troubled child and his ambivalent mother, and asked whether she should be blamed for his psychosis. It won the Orange Prize for fiction, was adapted into a hit movie and made Shriver rich after more than a decade of striving. She chose not to have children herself.

“I have a tendency to be a little nostalgic about being a failure,” she says, pointing out that in the 12 years that she worked as a reporter in Belfast and wrote novels in her spare time, she was never interrupted by interviews or tours or literary galas, because so few people bought her books.

She is drawn to controversial, uncomfortable subjects – the more provocative the better. So Much for That examined the disastrous consequences of for-profit healthcare in the US. Big Brother tackled obesity. In Game Control, a character proposes murdering 2 billion people as a solution to overcrowding and scarce resources. “I like to craft characters who are hard to love,” Shriver once told Bomb magazine.

This appears to include her own persona. At 15, she changed her name from Margaret Ann to the traditionally masculine Lionel. In interviews and photographs, she sometimes plays along with the notion that she is stern. I found her to be charming, but smart, opinionated women often acquire a reputation for being intimidating, whether they deserve it or not. I suspect she quite enjoys it.

“I’m always talking to journalists who have formed some preconception of me as ‘scary’ – which I find absurd,” she says. “I don’t think I’m very difficult to talk to… I don’t think I’m harsh, in person, and mean to people. I sure hope I’m not. It is never my intention.”

Shriver has written herself into The Mandibles, in the form of Nollie, an expatriate American author in her mid-70s, living in France off the proceeds of her one hit novel. Although the line between public image and self-image, between self-parody and self-congratulation, is a tricky tightrope for any author to walk, she clearly had fun up on the wire.

Nollie gets bad reviews and publishes books that no one reads. She is “wildly opinionated” and fanatical about her jumping jacks. Shriver, an extremely sporty 58, does the interview dressed for her afternoon tennis match, in hot pink running shorts and a blue T-shirt.

Nollie has given up writing, citing book piracy and diminishing financial returns. She arrives at the house that will soon be home to the whole Mandible clan laden with crates of her novels, and is persuaded by her teenaged grand-nephew Willing, who understands the gravity of the financial crisis long before any of the adults do, to burn them for heat.

“The whole character’s supposed to be a wink and a nod to the reader,” Shriver says. Nollie is an anagram of Lionel. The names of the books tossed into the oil drum – Better Late Than, Virtual Family, The Stringer, Cradle to Grave – are all working titles Shriver abandoned.

“I had originally intended to take the mickey out of myself, and I hope I successfully did so – mercilessly, in some instances. The thing is, I grew rather fond of her. She became an independent character and not just a caricature of me.”

Nollie turns out to be the one Mandible with any tangible, portable assets. Towards the end of the novel, she reminds Willing that she came about them the hard way. “I earned it,” she tells him. “By staying up late at a keyboard when my friends were carousing in bars. By reading the same manuscript so many times… that I came to hate the sight of my own sentences. By appearing in public events and saying the same thing over and over again until I was senseless with self-hatred.” I put it to Shriver that this is nakedly her own voice. Fair comment, she says.

Consistently challenging conventional wisdom requires supreme self-confidence. It also takes discipline, to avoid crossing a line into provocation and contrariness for its own sake. Reading The Mandibles, I often wondered how much of Shriver’s mockery of middle-class platitudes is heartfelt, and how much stems from her desire to provoke, to be deviant, to break a rule a day.

When I ask if she gets into rows at dinner parties, she answers “yeah, I do” instantly. “And the thing is that I like arguing, as long as it’s good-natured. I don’t like getting into arguments where it gets very personal. I had an argument about Brexit shortly before I left London, and she just went crazy.”

I say I bet you were arguing that Britain should leave the European Union – a contrarian position in upper middle-class London. “Right. And she went crazy. The only thing that was interesting about it was watching somebody lose it and wondering whether I get that way. It was like ‘note to self: don’t do that. This is not effective. Keep your cool.'”

Nollie never loses her cool. I doubt Shriver does either. It takes some nerve to describe oneself as a “mischievous, scandalising provocateur” in print, but she has earned that right, too.

Lionel Shriver will appear at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at Sydney Opera House on September 3 and at the Melbourne Writers Festival on September 4.

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05 Jan

Canberra-based program aims to boost children’s literacy levels

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Naomi Thorn and daughter Mylee, 3 have participated in the Let’s Read program for the last three months. Photo: Jay CronanWhile literacy rates are on the decline in Australian schools, work is under way in Canberra to give children key reading skills long before they start school.
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Run by charity The Smith Family, the Let’s Read program aims at fostering a love of reading in pre-school aged children.

Its team leader in the ACT, Sally Duncan, said the program works by doing more than just reading stories.

“It’s not always about reading books, but introducing them and increasing the awareness of them to children,” she said.

“The main thing that we’ve found is there are a lot of families out there that don’t have an understanding of the importance of having books or reading in the home.”

Since starting in the ACT two years ago, more than 300 families have been involved with the program, with 23,000 children nationwide benefiting from Let’s Read.

A similar program targeting numeracy levels, Let’s Count, is being rolled out across the ACT in coming months, with training beginning for Canberra-based educators last week.

As National Literacy and Numeracy Week begins on Monday, The Smith Family says thousands of children are entering school without basic skills, causing them to be disadvantaged in future years.

Ms Duncan said learning literacy skills from an early age give them a head-start over their peers who weren’t exposed to reading.

Kambah resident Naomi Thorn has been participating in the program with her daughter Mylee, 3, for the last three months.

She said by reading to Mylee from a young age, other skills have developed.

“I read to Mylee before she could talk, and she showed her interest in words and learned to talk a lot earlier than most children,” Mrs Thorn said.

“There are a lot of other mums who are now becoming interested in the program who have never read to their children before.”

This year’s Literacy and Numeracy Week comes as the most recent NAPLAN results show there has been no significant improvement in literacy and numeracy levels since last year, despite a record amount of government funding.

The 2016 results saw ACT students record their worst results since the tests began in 2008.

While ACT students came first or equal first out of all states and territories in 14 out of 20 areas, it’s down from 18 out of 20 in 2015.

A spokesman for the ACT Education Directorate said while literacy results in the ACT were lower in 2016 compared to last year, it was similar to what is happening at a national level.

“Comparisons between ACT schools and similar schools in other jurisdictions suggest that there is room for improvement in the ACT,” the spokesman said.

“The directorate is committed to working with schools that aren’t performing above the peer-group average.”

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05 Jan

National Rugby Championship: Vikings put hands up for Wallabies selection

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Joe Powell makes a break for the Canberra Vikings against Queensland Country. Photo: QRU/SportographyWallabies selections may be the only disruption that will emerge for the Canberra Vikings following their dominant 58-20 thrashing of Queensland Country in their round one National Rugby Championship clash.
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The Queensland team selected a strong side but were no match for the Brumbies-ladened Vikings, who had 36 points on the board before their opponents finally scored deep in the second half on Sunday at Bond University Oval on the Gold Coast.

Rory Arnold was his usual powerful self in his return from an elbow injury, scoring two tries, as was Henry Speight, who also bagged a brace off the bench. And with another poor showing by the Wallabies on Saturday night, higher honours could be calling.

Arnold was partnered in the second row by Blake Enever, who said his side’s depth was equipped to cope with any players being withdrawn.

“That’s the goal, we want players to move on and take those honours. If it happens we have guys in the squad that will step up, but that would be awesome to see because that’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to make people better,” he said.

Enever said the Vikings’ forward pack set up the win early, dominating the set piece.

“The forwards were dominant but the backs were finishing really well, they took advantages of the holes, ran well and supported each other,” he said.

“NRC is a different beast, there was a lot more rugby being played in the 80 minutes, so it was a lot tougher.”

Winger James Dargaville was also prominent, scoring the first try. However, he injured his shoulder scoring his second and will miss up to two weeks.

Scrum-half Joe Powell was instrumental in the first two tries and controlled the game superbly.

He passed with intent and created momentum for the Vikings with dangerous breaks around the ruck.

With five minutes remaining, Australian under-20s representative Jordan Jackson-Hope put the nail in the coffin, slicing through Country’s defence to bring up the half-century for the Vikings. Speight crossed for the final try on full-time.

Queensland Country coach Toutai Kefu said it was hard for his team to get in the match with so little possession.

“We have an attacking game plan based on possession and we weren’t able to control our own ball today, which made it hard for us to pressure the Vikings,” he said.

The Vikings will play their first home game of the season next Sunday at Viking Park against NSW Country.

NRC – ROUND 1

Canberra Vikings 58 (J Dargaville 2 H Speight 2 R Arnold 2 R Abel J Jackson-Hope tries N Jooste 5 goals) bt Queensland Country 20 (T Banks 2 I Perese tries M Mason goal) at Bond Uni, Gold Coast.

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05 Jan

Chris Waller believes Winx is the best she’s been heading to Chelmsford Stakes

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Best she’s been: Winx will race in the Chelmsford Stakes on Saturday. Photo: Nick MoirThe air of invincibility about Winx is scaring off rivals.
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The champion mare will face a small field again in Saturday’s Chelmsford Stakes at Randwick as trainers start to plan around her as the spring starts in earnest.

Winx will be looking for her 11th straight win and after her show of force in the Warwick Stakes two week ago, she is ready to take another step on the path to the Cox Plate.

“I know exactly where she is at now, that is the best form she has been in,” trainer Chris Waller told Sky sports radio on Sunday. “I just have to maintain her to next Saturday … and hopefully we’ll see another improvement.”

Godolphin will only have Warwick Stakes runner-up Hartnell in the group 2, while James Cummings is flirting with the idea of running three-year-old Prized Icon against the star mare and Entirely Platinum will be nominated by Team Hawkes.

Waller is likely to  resume four-time group 1 winner Preferment and have stayers Storm The Stars, Grand Marshal and Who Shot Thebarman continue to get miles into their legs for targets later in the spring in the Chelmsford.​

Kathy O’Hara has been put on standby to ride Prized Icon at 50.5kg in the weight-for-age group 2, which would be a drop of 10½kg from the Champagne Stakes winner’s return, but he will be entered in the Ming Dynasty Stakes and could still go to the Golden Rose.

Many will take the option of chasing the exemption from the Cox Plate ballot in Saturday’s Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes at Moonee Valley instead of coming to Sydney.

David Hayes will send Dibayani, which was runner-up to Winx in the Chipping Norton Stakes in autumn, to Sydney for the Tramway Stakes.

“He is probably not ready for a mile but you don’t want to be taking her on,” Hayes said. “He is heading to the Epsom and we will get there by avoiding Winx.”

Winx’s profile continues to grow and jockey Hugh Bowman signed colours for charities that connections have chosen to support on Saturday.

The ATC is hoping her presence will bring out another record crowd for the start of spring at Randwick on Saturday.

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04 Dec

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says no extra pressure despite another Bledisloe Cup loss

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Still got the silverware: Kieran Read with the Bledisloe Cup. Photo: Anthony Au-YeungMichael Cheika says he does not feel any added personal pressure after a sixth consecutive loss, but has stressed the need for the Wallabies to build on their improved showing in Wellington.
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Allegations of eye-gouging, complaints about referees disrespecting players and clandestine meetings dominated discussion in the wake of the All Blacks’ 14th consecutive Bledisloe Cup triumph.

It doesn’t camouflage the fact the Wallabies are in a big hole that only they can dig themselves out of.

Cheika is in the midst of his biggest challenge as a coach since taking over in 2014 but says he is not feeling the heat despite the Wallabies being one loss away from equalling the mark of seven defeats in a row which led to the sacking of Eddie Jones in 2005.

“I haven’t felt any personal pressure on me,” Cheika said. “I’m not worried about that. Everyone’s doing their best, that’s something I really see from players as well. We’ve just got to be better, that’s the way it’s got to be and [we have to be] more clinical when the opportunities come.”

Despite another ugly scoreline, there were positives to take away from Wellington. There were fewer defensive lapses and Australia’s scrum is still solid, however, the problem is how to get all key components in order at the same time.

“You’ve just got to be more clinical.” Cheika said. “We’ve got to make sure we take the things that we thought we did well yesterday [Saturday] … and also get better at delivering on field with what we practice what we want to do.”

For all the pre-series barbs, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen spoke on Sunday about why it was important for rugby as a whole that the Wallabies got better quickly – something he genuinely wanted to see.

He acknowledged the Wallabies would be down and sympathised.

“You’ve got two fierce competitors, one of them’s going through a tough time,” Hansen said. “They’ve just lost six games in a row and I could only imagine what we’d be like if we were in that situation.

“If you get two brothers who are fiercely in battle and one of them’s getting a little bit of an upper hand, the other tends to not like it much. It’s just to be expected. Don’t read too much into it.”

As another year of Bledisloe rivalry finishes up – keep in mind there is a dead rubber in Auckland in October to go – one has to wonder just when the All Blacks’ streak will end.

According to Hansen, the prospect of ruining 14 years of glory was why New Zealand were able to once again rise to the challenge.

“I thought about it at the start of the process as to what it would feel like and I didn’t like the idea,” he said. “I mentioned it to a few people. They didn’t like that idea of it either, so that’s why they played as hard as they played. It’s inevitable one day someone is going to lose it for sure, I’m just hoping it’s not on my watch.”

Wallabies vice-captain Michael Hooper believes results will come, saying hard work has to pay off sooner than later, preferably in their next Test against South Africa on September 10.

“The scoreboard didn’t paint a great picture, but as far as intent of the guys at training, as far as intent of guys in the game, you can’t not build that sort of stuff and not get results at the back-end of the year,” Hooper said. “[It’s about] knowing that there’s going to be some good to come from this.”

All series Hansen has refrained from commenting specifically on the Wallabies but with another win under his belt he was relatively optimistic they could get back somewhere near their best with 10 Tests still remaining this year.

“Australian rugby is competing with other sports that might be just ahead of them at the moment from a fan point of view, so we want a strong southern hemisphere base for the game,” Hansen said.

“We want our closest neighbours to be really strong so they’ll come right though, I’m confident of that. They have got the players to be a very good side, so we’ll support them as best we can.”

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04 Dec

Doctors call for more GPs to provide abortion drug RU486

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Dr McNamee is one of about 1200 doctors trained to prescribe medical abortion drugs. Photo: Eddie JimDr Kathleen McNamee​ has thought a lot about what it means to be an “abortion doctor”.
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While the women’s health specialist has been referring patients for surgical terminations for many years without actually performing the procedure herself, last November she started prescribing abortion drugs to women so they could manage the process in a different way.

Before she started, the medical director at Family Planning Victoria had to organise hospital backup for women who experience complications, think about how the service would be advertised or not, and consider the risk of protesters because exclusion laws were not yet in place.

“I’ve been a little wary of telling people about it,” she said. “I feel perfectly comfortable with it, but I do worry if other people are going to feel comfortable with it.”

Dr McNamee is one of a small group of Australian doctors who have overcome the potential stigma associated with prescribing mifepristone​ (RU486) and misoprostol for women who want to terminate a pregnancy up to nine weeks gestation.

She and others now want other doctors to follow suit so more women can access the alternative to surgery which can be both expensive and difficult to find due to a shortage of doctors and hospitals willing to do it.

While the drugs were listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in 2013 to make them widely available, only 1244 doctors have become certified prescribers – a small proportion of the estimated 30,000 GPs and gynaecologists working in Australia.

The data from MS Health, which trains health professionals in how to use the drugs, also shows there are only 2715 dispensers out of about 29,000 pharmacists in Australia.

Despite a lack of routine data collection, researchers estimate one in four pregnancies – about 80,000 a year – end in terminations.

A recent study interviewed 19 health professionals providing abortion services in Victoria and found that they all thought doctors should consider prescribing the drugs to increase access, particularly for women living outside of big cities.

Associate Professor Louise Keogh​, of Melbourne University’s School of Population and Global Health, said the study participants felt that GPs could provide the drugs as long as they had good peer support to assist them, as well as relationships with local hospitals, pharmacists and ultrasound services.

A separate study that asked 15 providers about women’s experiences of the two options found that many women did not know the drugs were an option because they were not well publicised. Some of the providers also felt women had misconceptions about how they worked.

They found that women weighed up a lot of factors in making a decision about the two options, including the time taken for the procedure; the location and privacy they would be afforded; and the amount of support required.

Some women also perceived the physical risks of the two differently, as well as the emotional impact of either waking up from surgery with it done, or effectively experiencing a miscarriage over the course of a day or two. Both studies have been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Dr McNamee said most women having a medical abortion (one with RU486) experienced about two to six hours of strong pain and bleeding, for which they’re given painkillers. It carries a one in 1000 risk of hemorrhaging that requires a blood transfusion; a one in 100 risk of infection; and a three in 100 risk of retaining products that requires follow-up surgery.

The risk of complications with a surgical termination are much lower, she said, and women tend to experience less pain compared to medical abortion.

Dr McNamee said while some women struggle with it emotionally, many also come back feeling very relieved.

Associate Professor Keogh said she hoped more organisations such as the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners would consider how they could support members to provide abortion services to their patients, and treat it just like any other essential component of healthcare.

Many women, particularly in rural areas, suffer because of a lack of access to abortion, she said. It can mean they have to travel four or five hours to reach a service, pay hundreds of dollars for private care, or face delays that mean they experience a termination later in pregnancy. Given medical abortion can only be taken up to nine weeks gestation, this can limit their choices.

“The college should be encouraging its fellows to consider the training,” Associate Professor Keogh said.

A college spokesman said they did not have a position statement on medical abortion, but that GPs were taught to be non-judgmental towards women seeking terminations and to be aware of legal issues, so they can provide patients with advice for an informed decision.

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04 Dec

Federal government’s budget finances a threat to Victoria’s top AAA credit rating

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Victrorian Treasurer Tim Pallas wants to persuade ratings agencies that ”we have revenue security of our own”. Photo: Josh RobenstoneThe parlous state of the federal budget could cost Victoria its coveted AAA credit rating.
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Top ratings agency Standard & Poors has warned there is a one-in-three chance the state’s rating could be downgraded – potentially raising the interest bill on public borrowing needed to pay for big road and rail projects.

In a report to investors issued last week, S&P said Victoria’s economic and financial health remained “very strong”, with “exceptional liquidity” and moderate debt.

But the glowing assessment could be irrelevant if the Commonwealth fails to rein in its spending and bring debt down.

The report says Victoria’s budget remains critically reliant on the Commonwealth, with 40 per cent of the state’s revenue flowing from Canberra, mostly from GST.

This, it says, would make it impossible for any state to be more creditworthy than the Commonwealth if things turned ugly.

“We don’t consider that any state or territory in Australia, including Victoria, can maintain stronger credit characteristics than the sovereign in a stress scenario,” the report says.

Maintaining the AAA rating remains an article of faith for the Andrews government. The rating was last lost in 1992, in a crippling blow to the Kirner government during the last recession. It was regained six years later in 1998 during the Kennett years, and has remained ever since.

As a result of the downgrade threat, the state government will argue that the GST should be regarded as a state rather than a federal tax – mirroring a controversial argument made by former federal treasurer Peter Costello when the GST was introduced in 2001.

The assessment follows a warning last week from federal Treasury secretary John Fraser that the nation cannot continue to pay for its ongoing spending by lifting debt.

“That would leave us increasingly exposed to international shocks, erode into … intergenerational equity and increase borrowing costs that could reduce our long-run growth potential,” he said.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison also last week issued a dire warning that Australia could face a trillion-dollar debt burden over the next decade, plunging the economy into recession and triggering the loss of the rating.

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said Victoria would attempt to convince the ratings agencies that “we have revenue security of our own”. He said Victoria was the standout economy in the nation, with a strong budget position, strong employment growth, strong consumer confidence and strong construction activity.

He also reiterated a plan to lift debt back to 6 per cent of the state economy to free up an extra $16 billion to spend on infrastructure.

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04 Dec

Spring price growth looks perfect for Sydney’s property sellers

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A large five-bedroom, two-bathroom house in Lilyfield could be in huge demand.This spring, everything is coming up roses for those planning to sell their homes. A shortage of property on the market plus strong buyer demand – fuelled by record low interest rates and population growth – continue to drive up prices in most areas.
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“It’s just a great market for sellers,” says Mathew Tiller, head of research at LJ Hooker. “Listing figures are down from last year and we’ll see a little bit more price growth than was expected because of the uneven supply and demand.

“We will see some more people put their houses on the market for spring but compared with the last few years, that number will definitely be down as some of those considering upsizing or downsizing don’t see anywhere to move into.”

A measure of the strength of current demand lies in the last two weekends’ record clearance rates of 84.1 and 82.8 per cent respectively. The contrasting lack of supply can be seen in the numbers of listings, down in all parts of Sydney in the first seven months of this year compared with the same period last year, and slumping by up to a 24.4 per cent on the Northern Beaches.

“There are significantly fewer properties on the market this year and the Sydney market will struggle to get those 1000-auction weekends we had last year,” says Domain Group chief economist Dr Andrew Wilson. “It’s good for sellers but it does lead to the conundrum: if you sell, where will you buy?

“I think last year a lot of sellers brought forward their property plans so we had extraordinary numbers of sales levels. But the key question, with more competition for properties, is what the impact on prices will be.”

One dampener on price growth will be the traditional rise in the numbers of houses for sale as spring gets underway, says BIS Shrapnel property analyst Angie Zigomanis. While that won’t be as big a quantity as in the last few years, it could still be substantial.

“We’ll see that pressure on prices ease a little as the spring quarter gets underway,” he says. “Also, there’s a lot more new stock being built, both houses and apartments, that will be completed and come online.

“And we’re seeing investor demand still down, with Australian Bureau of Statistics data showing lending activity for investors dropping back, but owner occupiers are coming up to fill the breach.”

Price growth will naturally tail off over time as income levels fail to jump up to match property price rises, believes Housing Industry Association senior economist Shane Garrett. In addition, he believes that many people who were thinking of selling their current home and buying something else are now choosing to stay and renovate instead.

“When they’ve weighed the pros and cons of stamp duty and the cost of selling and buying, and seen how much finance they can raise with the equity they already have in their home, they realise they can do substantial renovations, or a knock down and rebuild,” he says. “And a lot of demand for housing is being displaced into new builds.”

Indeed, the strength of demand for one new apartment complex, The Finery at Waterloo, persuaded developer Mirvac to bring forward the final release. “The level of demand for our projects suggests that spring has come early this year,” says Mirvac’s head of residential John Carfi. Photo: Kate Geraghty

When retired firefighter John Maguire decided to put his home of the last 50 years on the market, he had no doubts that spring would be the best time to sell.

“Who would buy a house in winter?” he asks. “Spring is a much better time. The sun is out shining on the house, the flowers are in bloom and the garden looks great. A house really looks at its best then.

“And in summer, it’s too hot and people are too busy going to the beach – and I will be too!”

5 Park Avenue, Randwick.

Daily ocean swimmer Maguire, 77, now has his beautifully renovated two-bedroom Federation house at 5 Park Avenue, Randwick, up for auction on September 15.

McGrath Coogee agent Jason Pisani (0410 471 761) has put on a price guide of $1.4 million-$1.5 million.

“It does look great in spring,” says Pisani. “It’s north-facing so it gets plenty of light, both morning sun and then afternoon sun to the front. Its proximity to Queens Park, Centennial Park, the eastern beaches and all the private schools makes it very special too.”

With high ceilings, period features, a near-new extension, a large entertainment terrace and scope to add a second storey, the house is in immaculate condition and is light and bright all year round.

“It’s been a lovely house but it’s time to move on now,” says Maguire, the father of two firefighter sons, Mark, 53, and Todd, 50, and grandfather to five. “It’ll be nice for someone else to enjoy it now.”

See more at: domain杭州m.au/2012992072Feature property

56 Glover Street, Lilyfield

56 Glover Street, Lilyfield Guide: $2.2-$2.4 million

With so few properties on the market at the moment, and the shortage of family homes on offer even more acute, McGrath Balmain agent Cindy Kennedy knew that a large five-bedroom, two-bathroom house in Lilyfield could be in huge demand.

But even she was taken aback at her small preview opening last weekend.  “We had 49 people through,” she says. “We were so busy. Everyone is desperate for more houses at the moment, especially family ones.

“This one has such generous accommodation with three living areas and, of course, with spring coming, the gardens look pretty wonderful now, with all the trees and many of the flowers blooming.”

The house, on a 430 square metre corner block close to schools, The Bay Run and the Leichhardt Aquatic Centre, is owned by expat Australians who’ve decided to return from Singapore to their original hometown of Canberra. It’s now being auctioned on September 17 through Kennedy (0404 000 570).

With a veranda overlooking the garden, a balcony off the master bedroom and DA-approved plans for a pool, it also has a tree house, workshop and rear courtyard.

“It’s perfect for either a young family or an older family, and it’s so close to the CBD,” says Kennedy.

See more at: domain杭州m.au/2012998061

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188 Short Street, Birchgrove

188 Short Street, Birchgrove Guide: $2.5 million

A completely renovated three-bedroom, two-bathroom Victorian terrace with fabulous harbour views, a roof terrace and a pretty landscaped courtyard could be the perfect place to enjoy the onset of spring. “As the garden becomes more established, it’ll look even better,” says Cobden & Hayson agent Anthony Ross (0408 266 508). With French oak floors, state-of-the-art kitchen and a stroll to the ferry, it’s for auction September 10.

See more at: domain杭州m.au/2012993982

49 Woodi Close, Glenmore Park

49 Woodi Close, Glenmore Park

49 Woodi Close, Glenmore Park Guide: $739,000-$769,000

A stunning springtime garden sets this four-bedroom, two-bathroom house off beautifully. With great indoor/outdoor living and a pool on the 790 square metre block, it’s perfect for the warmer months. “And it has such a relaxing, at-home feel to it,” says agent Andrew Lia of Jim Aitken & Partners Lennox (02 4735 2121), who’s selling the property, which is close to schools, parks and public transport.

See more at: domain杭州m.au/2013003354

3/40 Dorritt Street, Lane Cove

3/40 Dorritt Street, Lane Cove Guide: $1.38 million – $1.5 million

A new townhouse in a block of just three, this three-bedroom, two-bathroom home is close to Lane Cove Village and the express city bus. “It also has its own gardens and lots of outdoor spaces for spring,” says Tony Walker of Shead Property (0402 767 666). Over 340 square metres, it has spacious open-plan interiors, including a casual living space and a private balcony. For auction September 10.

See more at: domain杭州m.au/2012993827

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04 Dec

Turnover fall spells end for 30-minute race gap experiment

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Brenton Avdulla rides Antonio Giuseppe, right, to win The Strassmeir Handicap. Photo: bradleyphotos杭州m.auThe six-month trial of 30-minute gaps between races at midweek meetings will come to an end at Canterbury on Wednesday and NSW is set to return to the traditional 35- and 40-minute gaps from next week.
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The reduced gaps were a Racing Victoria idea to shorten the raceday but have not proven popular with participants and punters, with turnover dropping in the congested schedule.

“We have been reviewing our data and turnover is down overall,” Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys said.

“Revenue is paramount to the industry for it to continue to flourish and the indications that it has being affected is very concerning.

“We have to discuss our decision with the ATC, which runs most the midweek meetings but the feeling is that 40 minutes between races is better on most fronts.”

ATC general manger of racing James Heddo told Fairfax Media the club feels that a return to traditional gaps would take the pressure off on racedays.

“We would think the extra space between races will take the pressure off everyone during racedays. It will increase the lead-in times to races and give punters a better opportunity to invest,” Heddo said.

Waller vindicates scratching decisions

Chris Waller is not noted as a late scratcher of horses on raceday but he “got it right twice” last Wednesday when he took out Antonio Giuseppe and Revolver because of the very heavy Warwick Farm track and waited to Saturday.

Antonio Giuseppe looks a staying prospect in the making after chalking up back-to-back wins at Rosehill but he will probably not get to black type racing this time in.

“I was very concerned about him having a gut buster on a heavy track because I would like him to have a couple of more runs this time and get through his grades,” Waller said. “It worked out well and he beat a nice horse [in Extensible].”

About an hour later, Revolver made winning start to his career on the Beaumont track at Newcastle.

“I’m delighted that they both vindicated my decision to scratch them. Revolver has been one of the best triallers around for us recently,” Waller said. “You worry when you take a horse out midweek to run on the Saturday but we got it right twice.”

Star Thoroughbreds owner makes hall of fame

Star Thoroughbreds owner Denise Martin was inducted into the Tasmanian racing hall of fame in the associate category on Friday night.

Martin has always had horses race in the Star’s colours in her home state while her company has made it mark on the biggest races in the country. The crowning moment, of course being Sebring’s win in the Golden Slipper.

“It was fantastic to get that moment of recognition and a great night,” Martin said.

Sydney three-year-olds storm Melbourne

Peter and Paul Snowden have struck two early blows for the Sydney three-year-olds with Russian Revolution and Defcon making winning trips to Melbourne in August.

The early indications are that the three-year-old crop is up to same level as the Pierro and All Too Hard group from a couple of years ago that proved more than a match for the older horses at weight-for-age.

The depth of the Golden Rose might see a few more Sydney three-year-olds head south early, powerful colts Astern and Star Turn dominated Saturday’s Run To The Rose and the Golden Rose is not going to get any easier for anything left in their wake.

The best  Melbourne trained three-year-old, Blue Diamond winner Extreme Choice, will wait for the Moir Stakes against the older horses, so the Sydney horses should have the edge on their southern rivals.

Peter Snowden said Defcon, which won Saturday’s McNeil Stakes, will return south for the Danehill Stakes next month.

“We are trying to find the right races for each of the horses and there are certainly some nice options for them in Melbourne,” Snowden said. “We want to get the right horse in the right race.”

Snowden was delighted to watch Detective – the Breeders Plate and VRC Sires Produce Stakes runner-up – hold off Godolphin’s Drachenfels to win a Wyong maiden on Sunday. It might return into a key form reference for the spring.

“It is good to finally see him and ran home in 33-and-a-half [seconds] for his last 600 metres shows the quality of the race,” Snowden said. “We thought it would be an easy race but he beat a couple of good ones.”

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04 Dec

The Catholic Church has been rocked by sexual abuse uncovered in the royal commission

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ABOUT this time four years ago, the crisis of child sexual abuse in Australia had reached boilingpoint.The Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry was underway, the Special Commission for Inquiryinto the Catholic Diocese of Maitland Newcastle would shortly be announced and there wereoverwhelming calls for an Australia-wide royal commission into child sex abuse.
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Much of that agitation was coming from the Hunter, and the Newcastle Herald’s roleindriving the public advocacy for a royal commission cannot be underestimated.

During this time the crimes and cover-ups within the Catholic Church in Newcastle were rightlylaid bare for all to see.

Now, after almost four years, as the royalcommission enters its final phase, it, too, is turning itsattention to what happened in the Catholic Church in the Hunter.

The damage to victims of the child abuse scandal can never be fullyexpressed or understood. Confused identities, broken homes, failed careers, unfulfilled dreams,and undermined communities.The scandal has shaken the Catholic Church across Australia to its very foundations.

In the past three and a half years I’ve had well over 100 meetings with groupsdirectly related to the work of the commission. I’ve met with survivors groups, parish groups,lawyers, and people working in education and social services. I’ve also met with priestsand volunteers who work in Catholic communities around Australia.

Significantly, most of those public meetings have been held in local parishes, organised by localCatholics. The depth to which the child sex abuse scandal has affected people coming to thesemeetings, mostly ordinary, practicing Catholics, is profound.

The anger at the Church leaders who failed toprotect children is more than evident. The demands for current Church leaders tobe fully transparent is unmistakable and the compassion for the peoplewho have sufferedis palpable.

In places like the Hunter, Ballarat, Townsville and regional Western Australia, the commissionhas exposed the abuse of power within the Catholic Church and the depravity that that unleashed.

Many people could be forgiven for thinking Catholic and other institutions have beensitting on their hands as the extent and depth of the abuse has been exposed.

At least for the Catholic Church this is not true.We’ve developed and put in place new guidelines for when victims want torevisit their claims. And there are new civil litigation guidelines that help church authoritiesidentify an entity for victims and survivors to sue.

The Church has also maintained its call for anindependent, national redress scheme, which would provide fair and just compensation for abusevictims.

We’ve also seen widespread implementation of safeguarding officers and structures withindioceses and religious orders.

While the Maitland Newcastle Dioceses has had in place for some time a groundbreakingapproach to the Church’s response to child sexual abuse, the Catholic ChurchAustralia-widewill never be able to do enough to alleviate the suffering so many have endured and continue to live with.

What I hope we are seeing at this point in the royal commission’s work is not just policyresponses to emerging issues, but the beginning of a genuine cultural shift in the Catholic Churchand other institutions that have been exposed by the work of this royal commission and themyriad other inquiries.

Francis Sullivan is the chief executive of theCatholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council

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