07/17/19

Back in the game

An early level in the Danger Rabbit game.Gaming, long dismissed as a pointless, potentially perilous diversion for sexually frustrated teenage boys, has crossed into the mainstream. Having long ago surpassed the revenues generated by the film or music industries, it now seems set to take another quantum leap due to the mass penetration of mobile devices and the rise of “gamification”.
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More on that momentarily, but first a little history. Since the gaming industry began with Pong in 1972, it has worked much like the old Hollywood studio system, with a handful of well-resourced companies, called “producers”, investing large amounts over long periods of time to produce elaborate games for consoles, be it Pac-Man for Atari or Grand Theft Auto for PlayStation.

But the public embrace of smartphones and tablet computers has precipitated something akin to the break-up of the Hollywood studio system. A small team, or even an individual, can now quickly and cheaply create a game (think Angry Birds) to be played on a mobile or iPad as opposed to an expensive console such as a Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox or Nintendo Wii.

If that wasn’t already blue sky aplenty, just as what might be labelled the “leisure gaming” market is approaching saturation (93 per cent of Australian households now have a game-playing device), gamification has promised to get several potentially larger revenue streams gushing.

Gamification involves making, say, learning activities or work tasks resemble a video game, with the student or employee who “plays” them incentivised through getting (virtual) rewards. It’s early days, but unimaginable wealth awaits the gamifier who works out a way to make workers more productive or students more receptive.

“After the GFC hit, almost all of the local studios collapsed and a lot of highly skilled individuals started to make their own games,” says Nahele Allan-Moon, the 19-year-old founder of the MoSoGa gaming studio.

“That’s resulted in a thriving indie scene, particularly in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. As with most industries, a small number of huge companies pocket most of the money, but there are also pools of cash there for smaller operators targeting niches.”

Phil Mason, 42, chief executive of Bubble Gum Interactive, echoes Allan-Moon: “The growth of online and mobile broke down the barriers, allowing anyone to create and publish games. In the four years since I started Bubble Gum, I’ve been doing exactly that, attracting $3 million in capital and employing around a dozen staff in the process.

“We’ve had a lot of success making kid’s games that work on a freemium model, whereby gamers can play for free but increase their engagement in the game through various in-app purchases.”

The gaming entrepreneurs Fairfax spoke to painted a relatively rosy picture, insisting they hadn’t had much trouble gaining access to skilled and passionate staff or capital.

When it came to government policy, all they wanted was for broadband to be rolled out as quickly as possible (just like albums and films, the trend is now for games to be downloaded rather than purchased in-store) and possibly for more generosity to be shown to those seeking early-stage capital.

“The government provides grants to games developers through Screen Australia but it could be doing more,” says Lloyd Perry, 33, a game producer at Flow Spark Studios. “The Finnish government invested €65 million ($95 million) over six years in its domestic games producers and ended up with an industry that now generates €900 million a year, 90 per cent of which is from exports.”

Unfortunately, neither the government nor any other institution can help local game-makers repeatedly capture lightning in a bottle, which, as in other creative industries, is the foundation of long-term profitability.

“A successful gaming company is built on successful games,” says Adrian Vergara, 18, the creative director of Reach Game Studios. “The issue that everyone in the industry faces is that there is no sure-fire formula for producing a commercially successful game. Most of them disappear without trace, even when really talented people produce what is, objectively, a really great game.”

But while the odds are stacked against them in a world where hundreds of new apps go on sale each day, our gaming entrepreneurs are cautiously optimistic that they will win the lottery in the not-too-distant future.

Perry’s releasing Danger Rabbit, “a Mario-style platformer with a twist” on May 18; Mason’s launching Cake Bake Blitz, a puzzle game with a Facebook social connect in June; Vergara should have Apathy, a sci-fi game, finalised by late 2014, and Allan-Moon has “some internal projects in the pipeline” that he is working on alongside jobs for external clients. If any of those games resonate with the public, their owners can expect to be LOLing all the way to the bank.

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07/17/19

ATO braces for more work, less money

Public service news: full coverageFederal budget 2014: full coverageWhere the Public Service axe will fall
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In a stinging “slap in the face for Canberra” 600 Commonwealth public servants will be relocated to the Central Coast, half of whom will come from the already embattled Australian Tax Office.

It comes as ATO bosses warn the tax office faces more work collecting Treasurer Joe Hockey’s new taxes, with fewer workers to carry the load.

Commissioner of Taxation Chris Jordan says the ATO’s workforce should brace for years of job loss pain following Tuesday’s budget. Unions say hundreds or even thousands of tax officials will be forced from their jobs around the country as the ATO cuts another 2100 workers in the next seven months and the tax collection agency will be plunged into “turmoil”.

The federal government will open a new building on the Central Coast to boost jobs in the region dominated by Liberal MPs, even though the nation’s capital could already be hit with 6500 or more job cuts in three years as the bureaucracy loses 16,500 positions nationally.

Accounting, information technology, professional services and legal roles could be some of the job descriptions to relocate.

Not all the 600 jobs will come out of Canberra, according to a spokesman from Treasurer Joe Hockey’s office, who said the ratio “has not been determined yet”, but others expect Canberrans will make up the vast majority.

The spokesman also said it was not yet known which other departments would relocate staff to the Central Coast.

Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann said the decision was a slap in the face for Canberra, which went against the vision of the national capital being the home of public servants – a vision consolidated by the Liberal party half a century ago.

“Today, we learn that it is also moving hundreds of public service jobs out of Canberra,” she said.

“Sir Robert Menzies said we must ‘build up Canberra as a capital in the eyes and minds of the Australian people.’ It was he who moved public servants from Melbourne and Sydney to Canberra.

“What the Abbott Government has done to Canberra in the last 24 hours is a betrayal of Menzies’ vision and a betrayal of his profound understanding that public servants make an invaluable contribution to the economy and society.”

ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja said the decision by his party would still allow all workers to choose if they wanted to relocate.

“Whilst I will always fight to keep jobs in Canberra, I have been assured that it will not be a substantial number that come from Canberra,” Senator Seselja said.

“It is important that we keep the heart of the public service in Canberra, as our city is experienced and skilled in the area of public administration and serves the government with expertise.”

An ATO spokesman said the tax office would take the lead in the relocation project, which would take a number of years to complete.

Robertson MP Lucy Wicks said the building would be built in Gosford, adding “we want this to happen as soon as possible”.

“These 600 jobs will drive even more activity to local cafes, local restaurants and local businesses,” she said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott first flagged his intention to relocate bureaucrats while campaigning in August last year.

His comments sparked fears across the public service about which departments or agencies would be targeted to help boost regional economies.

Meanwhile, in an email bulletin sent to all staff on Tuesday evening, Mr Jordan told workers 2100 jobs would have to be culled by October 31.

“This is in addition to the expected 900 exits from natural attrition and redundancies in 2013-14 and will take to 3000 the number of staff exits from the ATO since July 2013,” the commissioner wrote.

Mr Jordan told his workforce that the temporary budget repair levy, the scrapping of some tax offsets and tax concessions, fuel duty indexation, the deferral of superannuation guarantee increases and changes to super contributions would all add up to extra work for the tax office.

“In most instances the cost of implementation will be absorbed by the ATO,” the commissioner said.

Mr Jordan warned the sackings would not end this year, with more job cuts contained in the budget’s plan for the four-year forward estimates period.

“The budget papers signal further reductions in the out years,” he wrote.

“The changes to funding and staffing are significant and will require us to reassess all of our business to find where we can make savings and reductions.”

Australian Services Union organiser Jeff Lapidos said the Tax Office would not be able to manage the job losses without forced redundancies.

“A 2100 reduction in staffing will require compulsory redundancies,” the union official said. “The budget does not appear to provide any additional money to the ATO to pay for these redundancies.

“Turmoil is about to strike the ATO.”

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07/17/19

Antarctic program slashed in budget

Australia’s Antarctic program has been cut in the budget. Photo: SuppliedAustralia’s strategic interests in Antarctica are threatened by cuts in the federal budget, the Greens have warned, at a time of growing international spending on the frozen continent.
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The Abbott government has slashed the Environment Department’s Australian Antarctic program by 15 per cent to $157 million, and by 26 per cent in later years.

Despite the program cuts, the government delivered on election commitments to maintain Australia’s polar connections, headlined by air link spending, and moves to acquire a new icebreaker.

Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the budget cuts jeopardised Australia’s Antarctic strategic interests.

“When presence and science means everything in the Antarctic Treaty, these budget cuts put our sovereignty at risk,” Senator Whish-Wilson said.

They comes as China builds new stations in the Australian Antarctic Territory and the New Zealand claim, while Korea opens a new base and Italy plans for an expanded air operation.

Widespread pre-budget concern over cuts in staff to the science and logistics-focused Australian Antarctic Division were met on Tuesday night with a promise to maintain average staffing levels at 403.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Greg Hunt said: “The AAD will be required to find efficiencies.”

But the spokesman added: “While the Australian Antarctic Division’s funding has decreased, significant investments are being made elsewhere to support the work of AAD and Antarctic research.”

The government met an election commitment to a $24-million Antarctic Gateway Partnership over the next three years between the AAD, University of Tasmania and CSIRO.

The air link from Hobart to the Antarctic gained a guaranteed $11 million per year, and an election promise has been met to provide $38 million for the expansion of Hobart airport to make it useable by large long-haul aircraft, including Antarctic traffic.

The government will also request tenders for an icebreaker, expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, to replace the ageing Aurora Australis.

Former AAD director Tony Press is preparing a 20-year Australian Antarctic Strategic Plan for the government.

The departmental budget paper pushed out the plan’s delivery from July to “later in 2014”.

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07/17/19

Canberra Capitals sign Adelaide WNBL star Stephanie Talbot

The Canberra Capitals have pulled off a major recruiting coup by signing WNBA-bound Adelaide Lightning youngster Stephanie Talbot for next season.
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And Australian Opals forward Abby Bishop will decide within two weeks whether she returns to the WNBL club, or plays in Europe as Canberra looks to nail down the league’s most imposing front court.

Former WNBL rookie of the year Talbot, taken at pick 33 by Phoenix Mercury in last month’s WNBA draft, has been training in Canberra over the off-season as part of Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence Program at the AIS.

The small forward is believed to be the first player to officially sign with the Capitals for the 2014-15 season, with a number expected to follow suit shortly.

Bishop is keen to stay and superstar Opals centre Lauren Jackson is already pencilled in as Canberra coach Carrie Graf works to build a roster capable of a playoff return after a three-year absence.

Jackson revealed last week she is yet to officially re-sign, but said it isn’t a cause for concern and she has committed to a Capitals return for the next two seasons.

The 33-year-old terminated talks with Canberra about playing for them last season after they failed to meet a contract deadline imposed by her management.

The delay in finalising the Capitals’ mooted partnership with University of Canberra has put several player contracts in limbo.

“They’ve got to do up a new contract but I’m not worried, everything will get sorted,” Jackson said.

“My contract hasn’t been done so I’d imagine no one’s been done, or talked about.

“We need to get a team together. The teams I’ve been successful in at Canberra have had great players, it hasn’t just been me.

“I’m not concerned, I know Graffy’s on the hunt.”

Talbot, 19, co-captained Australia’s under-19 team to bronze at last year’s world championships, and was named on the tournament’s All Star Five team.

She is regarded as a star of the future, and in March was named in an Opals long squad of 33 for the FIBA World Championships in Turkey later this year.

Her signing will help offset the loss of Canberra-born centre Alex Bunton, who signed with Adelaide last week.

Bishop has just returned from a short stint with Hungarian side PEAC Pecs and her sister’s eight-month-old daughter she has taken custody of, Zala, will have a major bearing on her decision.

The London Olympian is contracted with Canberra for 2015-16, but Bunton’s departure means the Capitals have stepped up moves to sign her for next season.

“I met with Graffy [Capitals coach Carrie Graf] a couple of days ago and I want to stay here, it’s just a matter of if something worth my while comes up in Europe or not,” she said.

“If not I’ll be a Cap again, in about two weeks I should know.

“I’d love to stay in Canberra and that’s my first preference. I want to do what’s best for Zala and if that’s Europe well it is, if not I’ll be here.

“I got back on Friday and since then Zala’s been struggling with jetlag. It’s not easy travelling and changing places with a baby.”

Bishop said the prospect of playing alongside Jackson and Talbot, who she played a season alongide at Adelaide, is ”enticing”.

“I think Steph’s got amazing potential, she’s got lots of talent and you’ll see her develop even more under a coach like Graffy,” Bishop said.

“The team Graffy’s half put together so far, I’d love to play in a team which looks great on paper and could be even better on court.”

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06/16/19

Three Jets named in Socceroos World Cup squad

Three Jets named in Socceroos World Cup squad Happy days for Jets, Adam Taggart, Josh Brillante and James Birighitti. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL
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Adam Taggart. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Taggart in action previously for the Socceroos. Picture: Getty

Mark Birighitti. Picture: Getty Images

Mark Birighitti. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Josh Brillante. Pic by Max Mason-Hubers MMH.

TweetFacebookTHREE Newcastle Jets players have been named in the 30-man Socceroos World Cup squad with Adam Taggart, Josh Brilliante and Mark Birighitti winning selection.

Adam Taggart is the best placed to secure a birth in the final 23-man squad, given his outstanding form this A-League season, with the striker taking out the Young Player of the Year award, along with the Golden Boot, scoring 16 goals and setting a new club record in the process.

The 20-year-old has played four times for the Socceroos, all of his caps coming in the East Asian Cup competition, where then manager Holger Osieck opted for a squad of locally based players.

Mark Birighitti is a surprise, considering he was dropped by the Newcastle Jets for the final few games of the season after suffering indifferent form and travelling to Germany for a trial with Bayer Leverkusen.

Birighitti is one of four keepers named in the squad, alongside Mat Ryan, Mitchell Langerak and Eugene Galekovic.

The keeper has also previously played for the Socceroos, having made his debut in the East Asian Cup against China.

Josh Brilliante’s selection caps of a huge year for the 21-year-old, with the young Jet taking out the clubsPlayer of the Year award, winning plaudits forhis versatility, which may yet secure him a place on the plane to Brazil.

Former Newcastle JetJames Holland also secured selection, after a strong season in Austria.

The biggest bolter is defender Bailey Wright.

Wright is based in the English second divisionwith Preston North End and has previously represented Australia at U17 level.

The 23-year-old may not take his place in the Socceroos camp, with his club side currently involved in the playoffs for promotion to the Championship.

The Socceroos will assemble in Gosford for a training camp, before moving to Sydney to prepare for a friendly withSouth Africaon May 26.

Preston tackle Rotherham in the playoff semi-final this week and victory will ensure Wright plays no part in this weeks camp, nor the farewell friendly with South Africa.

Ange Postecoglou will name a squad of 23 which he will take to Brazil, with seven players to be cut from the list announced on Wednesday.

SQUAD –

Mark Birighitti

Oliver Bozanic

Marc Bresciano

Josh Brillante

Tim Cahill

Jason Davidson

Ivan Franjic

Eugene Galekovic

Curtis Good

Ben Halloran

James Holland

Mile Jedinak

Josh Kennedy

Mitchell Langerak

Matthew Leckie

Massimo Luongo

Ryan McGowan

Matt McKay

Mark Milligan

Tommy Oar

Tom Rogic

Mat Ryan

Adam Sarota

Matthew Spiranovic

Adam Taggart

James Troisi

Dario Vidosic

Alex Wilkinson

Luke Wilkshire

Bailey Wright

06/16/19

World’s oldest sperm found in Australian fossil

A specimen of the modern Australian ostracod Newnhamia fenestrata with the right valve removed. Photo: Renate Matzke-Karasz Professor Michael Archer and Associate Professor Sue Hand at Bitesantennary fossil site in the Riversleigh World Heritage site. Photo: Tony Walters
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A sketch of a male ostracod, showing the organisation and orientation of the reproductive system. Photo: R. Smith

The world’s oldest and best preserved sperm has been discovered in 17 million-year-old fossils unearthed in far north Queensland.

The sperm of an ancient species of freshwater shrimp, which were found inside a rock taken from the Riversleigh World Heritage area, were not only hardy, but huge compared to the animal’s body size.

The not-so-little swimmers were as long as the crustacean itself, which was only a couple of millimetres in length.

Palaeontologist Michael Archer, one of the three researchers who dug up the fossils in 1988, said: ”99.9 per cent of organisms who have sperm have, relative to their body size, small sperm [because] you’ve got to tuck them away in a little jiblet somewhere in your body.”

It was ”absolutely extraordinary” that the animal’s soft-tissue had been so well preserved, he said.

”When you’re in the field picking up hard, dry rocks and smacking them with hammers the last thing you expect to find in those rocks is a piece of what was once living soft tissue.”

Using a European synchrotron to scan the ancient critters, German researcher Renate Matzke-Karasz found many of the animal’s internal organs had been fossilised, including the sperm cells coiled inside the sex organs and the muscular pumps that thrust the sperm into the female.

Inside the giant sperm they also spied the nuclei that once held the animal’s DNA.

The fossilised shrimp, known as an ostracod, was uncovered on the floor of an ancient cave. ”The site was clearly a cave but the walls and ceiling of the cave have gone,” Professor Archer, from the University of NSW, said.

Research associate at La Trobe University, John Neil, found the fossils in the rubble after vertebrate fossils had been removed from the rock. Out of an ice-cream tub-sized container full of crushed limestone the size of gravel, Mr Neil found 800 specimens. Of those, 23 had some preserved soft tissue and just five contained well-preserved fossils with soft tissue.

”That gives you an idea of the rarity of what has happened,” he said.

A taxonomist, Mr Neil said advances in technology, such as being able to scan fossils using a synchrotron, meant a new frontier was opening up for palaeontologists, who could study the fossil record in greater detail than ever before.

The discovery, outlined in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday, shed light on the evolution of shrimps, which have been around for 400 million years. Mr Neil said there was little difference between the structure and organs of the modern-day shrimp and its ancient ancestor.

”This is indicating a long period without change which gives the evolutionary biologists something to think about, which I think is very significant,” he said.

Riversleigh is known for its beautifully preserved fossils because on the death of their owner, they were petrified in water rich in the mineral calcium carbonate, which can dissolve and re-precipitate into solid limestone rock.

”The ostracods were living in a pool in a cave and for some bizarre reason the limestone has preserved the soft tissue,” said Professor Archer.

It was unclear how the cells, including their nuclei, had been fossilised so perfectly, he said.

While soft tissue fossils are extremely rare, those that have been uncovered are usually made of bacteria that, in the process of eating the dead animal’s flesh, had become fossilised themselves.

But Professor Archer suggested it was possible the chemicals inside bat droppings, found in large quantities on the cave floor, may have played a role in preserving the sperm. ”It’s kinda magic stuff.”

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06/16/19

Budget 2014: ‘A kick in the guts’ for NSW, says Premier Mike Baird

‘We haven’t got the financial capacity to meet the demand’: Premier Mike Baird. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Andrew Constance: “Potential impact on overwhelming our emergency departments.” Photo: Greg Ellis
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Full coverage: federal budget 2014More NSW news

Federal government funding cuts to services including in health and education have been described as “a kick in the guts” for NSW that will cost the state budget about $2 billion over the next four years.

NSW Treasurer Andrew Constance estimates that $1.2 billion will come from health alone, while the impact on education will be about $240 million.

Premier Mike Baird said the cuts were “a kick in the guts to the people of NSW” that could potentially harm the state’s triple-A credit rating. He noted that one ratings agency already had the state on negative outlook before the federal budget announcement.

“Does the announcement last night potentially impact our credit ratings? Yes, it does,” he said on Wednesday.

“The ratings agencies say, well, how are you going to meet that cost? So we do have a challenge.”

Mr Baird and Mr Constance were responding to the budget handed down on Tuesday by federal Treasurer Joe Hockey, which will rip $80 billion from schools and public hospitals across Australia up to 2024-25.

From 2017, indexation of health and education funding will change to reflect the growth in population and inflation, instead of the amount of activity in each system.

At a news conference on Wednesday morning, Mr Baird challenged Mr Hockey to answer the question: “What services would he like us to cut here in NSW on the back of the funding cuts we’ve seen overnight?

“When we had our problems fiscally [and] got our house in order, we did not send the bill to Canberra,” he said.

“What we’ve had last night from the federal government is a flick pass. It’s cost shifting. And it says to this state: we have a problem, you work it out.

“Our message back to Canberra is no, we are in this together. You cannot outsource your problems to the state.”

Earlier, Mr Baird had said the prospect of deep cuts to federal funding has “brought forward” the debate about whether the GST should be increased to cover them.

On ABC radio, Mr Baird described the announcement as “almost a game of ‘tip and you’re it – we now want the states to solve these challenges”.

“Well, it doesn’t work like that,” he said.

Mr Baird said there was “a clear requirement” for the states and Commonwealth to come together “to work out how we solve this”.

“Because we haven’t got the financial capacity to meet the challenge being provided by the Commonwealth and we need to address it.”

Mr Baird said the types of discussions that were necessary included whether the federal government would allow the states to levy a proportion of income tax – a recommendation of the recent Commission of Audit.

Asked if he believed Mr Hockey was seeking to “wedge” the states on the issue of an increase to the GST by requiring them to find a way to fund extra health and education services, Mr Baird said he remained a supporter of Mr Abbott’s pre-election promise to have a “mature debate about tax reform”.

“That should take place,” Mr Baird said. “What we saw with events last night, that has brought that forward.”

At his news conference, Mr Baird said he favoured a proposal previously brought to the federal government whereby a portion of income tax is quarantined for the states.

“I have been very upfront on this,” he said. “If Canberra last night said we are going to quarantine some income tax to align with this expenditure responsibility, I’d be the first to give it a tick, because that’s what I’ve been arguing for consistently.

“It makes sense. But I’m not going to prescribe that as the only course of action. What I’m saying is we need to have the discussion on tax reform [and] federalism and we need to align revenue and expenditures.”

NSW Treasurer Andrew Constance said the state was also concerned about the impact of a $7 co-payment to visit a GP announced by Mr Hockey and “its potential impact on overwhelming our emergency departments”.

“We need to have a long and detailed discussion with the Commonwealth about further details regarding this announcement,” Mr Constance said.

Mr Baird agreed with concerns raised by Mr Constance that the $7 co-payment would push more people into public hospital emergency rooms.

“We can’t get queues a mile long in emergency departments, because that’s going to be expensive and that’s not an efficient way to run any health system,” he said. “So we do need to consider that in detail.”

Mr Baird said: “if it leads to long queues in emergency departments, well, that’s not something that’s sustainable.”

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06/16/19

‘I have never heard such rubbish in all my life’: Pensioner has a go at Tony Abbott over age pension changes

Prime Minister Tony Abbott was confronted by an angry pensioner on national television. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Federal budget 2014: full coverageMark Kenny: Trust deficit spells death for a salesman 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey are defending accusations of untrustworthiness, saying their first budget was “fundamentally honest” and drafted in good faith.

But the Prime Minister’s greatest critic on Wednesday morning came from an unexpected quarter and left the Coalition leader momentarily speechless.

During one of a raft of breakfast television appearances, on the Ten network’s Wake Up, Mr Abbott was confronted by an elderly woman, named only as Vilma, who was furious about changes to the age pension and responded to his explanations on broken promises with: ”I have never heard such rubbish in all my life.”

But it emerged later on Wednesday that Vilma is Vilma Ward 85, the president of the Bulimba Senior Citizen’s centre and – according to a media report from 2010 – she served on Kevin Rudd’s election campaign committee in his first run for Federal Parliament in 1998.

‘‘Why don’t you leave the pensioners alone? If we pull the belt any tighter we’re going to choke to death,’’ Mrs Ward said on the TV program. ”Why are you picking on me?

‘‘I challenge you: come out and meet some of the pensioners, they’ll tell you a little thing or two.’’

Appearing distinctly uncomfortable, Mr Abbott told the program’s hosts that he’d been given a piece of Mrs Ward’s mind.

‘‘Fair enough, that’s your right in a democracy, to be able to tell the prime minister exactly what you think of him,’’ he said.

He then suggested to Mrs Ward that it was obvious that she had not voted for the Coalition, to which the indignant Mrs Ward replied ”Excuse me, it’s got nothing to do with who I vote for and who I don’t vote for”.

”Why are you picking on pensioners?” she asked the Prime Minister.

Mr Abbott then said: ‘‘This is a fair budget, everyone is doing his or her bit, including, dare I say, politicians.’’

Mrs Ward laughed and replied: ‘‘You’re a comedian, sir you’re a comedian.’’

Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey repeatedly made a plea for public trust and patience during their respective post-budget media blitzes, each man facing a barrage of questions over broken promises made during the election campiagn.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the budget delivered a large trust deficit for Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey.

“It’s a bad budget, it breaches a fundamental commitment to the Australian people,” he told ABC Radio.

“This government was elected on web deceit; they lied to get into office. This makes cost of living so much worse for Australian families. It is an attack on pensioners, and worst of all, it is the trashing of Medicare.

“This is a massive $80 billion hit cut to schools and hospitals, these are not areas you are able to cut without taking a massive hit to frontline services.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was in lockstep with his shadow treasurer’s assessment of the forward estimates.

“It’s a bad news budget, it breaks promises, it breaks trust and I just wish they had been straight with the families before the election,” he said.

“We oppose specifically, the increase in petrol tax, changes to the pension.

“We are not interested in supporting them gutting Medicare and cuts to education are simply unacceptable.

“Australia doesn’t have the budget crisis to warrant these cuts. We will oppose these measures and we will fight to the end to preserve Medicare.”

On Wednesday morning, Mr Abbott was repeatedly forced to defend the character of his government’s first budget, saying it was ‘‘fundamentally honest’’ and the right thing for the nation.

Conceding many voters would oppose the measures, he stressed the changes were necessary.

”I want to do what’s right for the country, not what’s right for the government,’’ he told the Nine Network.

‘‘We are not going to cook the books, we are not going to make a series of rosy assumptions”, adding that the ”cannot keep using its credit card to pay the nation’s mortgage”.

Mr Hockey mounted a defence of his first budget on Wednesday morning, which includes a $7 charge for GP visits, lower pension rises and hikes in the fuel excise and income tax for people earning over $180,000, and cuts to family benefits, foreign aid and the ABC, saying ‘‘What we’re doing is good policy.”

ACTU president Ged Kearney said she was devastated by the figures in the budget papers, nominating the young unemployed and low paid workers as the biggest victims of the forward estimates.

“This is the end of civil society and the end of the fair go in Australia,” she said.

“Basically, if you are old, if you are sick, if you are looking for a job, if you lose job, if you are young, this government is saying ‘you are on your own’.

Leader of the eponymous Palmer United Party, Clive Palmer tweeted: “This is a heartless and cruel budget that will cause many Australians undue pain and all based on a fairy tale about a debt crisis.”

Greens leader Christine Milne described Mr Abbott as a “warped individual” for his budget priorities.

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06/16/19

Geoff Huegill pleads guilty to possessing cocaine

Guilty plea: Geoff Huegill and Sara Hill arriving at court. Photo: Chris PearceFormer Australian swimmer Geoff Huegill and his publicist wife Sara Hill have pleaded guilty to cocaine possession.
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The pair were given six-month good behaviour bonds in Waverley Local Court on Wednesday after being caught with the prohibited drug in the bathrooms of an exclusive suite at Sydney’s Randwick racecourse last month.

Magistrate Clare Farnan blasted the swimming champion and father-of-two, saying she found it “disturbing” that a person who is looked up to in the community, particularly among young people, “should choose to behave in this way”.

“I deal day in, day out, with young people who I lecture about the choices you make,” she said.

Police were called to the suite on Schweppervesence Stakes day by a security guard after receiving a tip-off and observed Huegill placing something in his jacket pocket after emerging from a disabled toilet with his wife.

They questioned Huegill, 35, in a nearby unused bar area and he admitted he had a bag of cocaine in his wallet.

Hill, 30, then joined her husband in the bar area and admitted she also had a bag of cocaine in her handbag. There was less than one gram of the drug in each bag.

The couple’s lawyer Dean Woodbury told the court that the pair were polite and co-operative with police and Hill willingly approached officers and admitted she had cocaine on her.

“She had an opportunity to dispose [the drugs] but she didnt,” he said.

The drug bust occurred in a private area and involved a small quantity of cocaine, he said.

“It wasn’t like they were flashing it around where they were,” he said.

Mr Woodbury told the court that the pair had no criminal record, were loving parents and both “clearly people of exceptional character” who should be treated no differently because of their fame.

However he also asked Magistrate Farnan to consider Huegill’s impressive history as a swimmer, saying she would probably be familiar with his well-publicised comeback to the pool during which he shed 40 kilograms and won two Commonwealth gold medals at the 2010 Games.

“I don’t assume [to know] anything,” Magistrate Farnan replied. “I have certainly heard of your client.”

She accepted that Huegill and Hill were remorseful and humiliated but said it was a “mystery” why people with so much to lose would use illegal drugs.

“It’s a very sad thing to see people like you before the court,” she said.

Outside court, Huegill and Hill apologised “to all the people we have let down”.

“The last couple of weeks of our lives have been some of the most stressful,” Huegill said. “Stressful for our families, stressful for our friends and stressful for our business associates.”

He said they were both looking forward to earning back the trust and respect of those who have supposed them but the most difficult part of the ordeal would be telling their two young daughters one day.

“At some stage in the future, both Sara and I are going to have to have this conversation with our girls,” he said.

The champion butterflier retired after the 2004 Athens Olympic, made a comeback in 2010 then retired again in 2012 after he failed to make the team for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

He married Hill in 2011.

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05/17/19

LIVESTREAM: Hunter Innovation Forum

Newcastle Next: archive and entries
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WATCH our dedicated livestream as leading thinkers gather in Newcastle this week for a multi-faceted forum looking at the Hunter region’s role in the global innovation race.

The 2014 Hunter Innovation Forum is a series of events for industry, experts and the broader community to consider the latest innovation trends and how the Hunter region can best benefit from embracing new ways of thinking.

The Herald has a dedicated livestream of the event, which you can view, simply by pressing play in the viewer below.

Resourceful innovation– Thursday afternoon – 15 May at Newcastle City Hall

Sessions cover solutions to contemporary challenges in the Hunter’s traditional industry strengths of mining, manufacturing and energy. The region is transforming and the change is being driven by smart SME’s, by big research projects and by the region’s skill development and commercialisation programs.

This afternoon is an opportunity to catch up on where we are and why our big industries will continue to adapt and drive our region’s economy.

Working Innovation– Friday 16 May at Newcastle City Hall

Sessions cover a broad range of industry sectors including creative industries, health, retail, transport, construction, and education and training. Areas of focus include disruptive innovation, traditional and emerging industries, health, crowd-sourcing and urban revitalisation.

Thursday’s presentation is split into two parts, with the “Australian Internet of Things kicking off in the morning, before the Hunter Innovation Forum beginning at 12:30pm.

The Australian Internet of Things can be viewed by clicking here.

The Hunter Innovation Forum Livestream can be viewed by pressing play below.

Over the years our City has seen great change, as has the media landscape that we operate in. Herald News Director Heath Harrison, Night News Director, Joanne Crawford and Multimedia Journalist Adam Santarossa discuss these changes in the video below.

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