A former government lawyer who resigned after spectacularly falling out with ex-attorney-general George Brandis will do battle for ACT Labor senator Katy Gallagher as her citizenship case goes to the High Court.
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Justin Gleeson SC, who left his role as solicitor-general following a public deterioration in relations with Senator Brandis, will argue the case for Senator Gallagher after she was caught up in the dual citizenship fiasco that has ejected multiple parliamentarians.

Mr Gleeson also acted for Tony Windsor in the High Court, fighting the former New England MP’s nemesis, deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, as the Nationals leader’s citizenship case was heard in October.

The Senate voted to refer Senator Gallagher to the High Court over her dual British citizenship in December, when she also stood aside from her responsibilities on Labor’s frontbench until her case was resolved.

A finding on her eligibility could have implications for other Labor MPs under a cloud over dual citizenship claims, but the ALP says it won’t consider a High Court ruling on Senator Gallagher as a precedent.

Senator Gallagher said she believed she had taken all reasonable steps to renounce British citizenship by descent from her father, but delays in processing her case by the UK Home Office meant she was a dual citizen at the time of nomination for the 2016 election.

Documents provided to the Senate this month showed she was “at the date of her nomination for the 2016 election, a British citizen by descent” and that her moves to renounce in April 2016 took until August 16 to be completed by UK officials.

Labor has enlisted Maurice Blackburn as Senator Gallagher’s solicitors and it is understood the High Court will decide whether the ALP or the government bears the costs for her legal representation upon making a ruling.

Batman Labor MP David Feeney’s case will also go to the High Court after he admitted he could not find documents proving he renounced his British citizenship.

Mr Gleeson argued in Mr Joyce’s High Court case the Nationals leader should be disqualified as an MP, warning the High Court that chaos and uncertainty accompanying Parliament’s dual citizenship crisis will be repeated in future if the court accepted that ignorance was a valid defence.

Section 44 of the constitution required strict “undivided loyalty” from MPs and dual citizenship did not need to be “voluntary, chosen or felt” to create a split allegiance, Mr Gleeson said.

Clearing Mr Joyce and other MPs on the basis that they were ignorant of their status would set a dangerous precedent, he said.

The High Court will hold a directions hearing for Senator Gallagher’s case on January 19 in Brisbane.

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Kuala Lumpur: An Australian grandmother who was the victim of an online romance scam has been acquitted of drugs charges in Malaysia.
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Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 54, would have faced execution if found guilty in Malaysia’s High Court on Wednesday, despite lawmakers in Kuala Lumpur voting only weeks ago to give judges discretionary powers in individual cases.

The new law passed in Malaysia’s parliament on November 30 would not have saved her because it has not yet been formally gazetted.

Prosecutors told Exposto’s lawyers on Wednesday night they had decided to appeal the acquittal, meaning she will not be allowed to immediately return to Australia.

Earlier prosecutors had asked for her to be deported with days.

Ms Exposto insisted she was duped into flying into Kuala Lumpur’s international airport from Shanghai in December 2014 with 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine in her luggage.

Defence lawyers say Ms Exposto, a mother of four from Cabramatta in Sydney, was the victim of a sophisticated US military romance scam that has entrapped thousands of people.

She told Malaysia’s High Court in September she fell for the scam after building an online relationship with a supposed US soldier and Afghanistan veteran named “Captain Daniel Smith” who asked her to marry him in 2013.

She said her relationship with her husband was “getting a bit sour” at the time.

Ms Exposto said she was lured into carrying a bag from Shanghai to Melbourne – transiting in Kuala Lumpur – which she believed to contain only clothing by a supposed acquaintance of the soldier.

“He (Smith) made me feel loved, he made me feel wanted,” she said.

The scam involved the supposed soldier sending her photographs .

“Smith would sing to me a few times a day and send poems as well,” she said.

Defence lawyer Shafee Abdullah told reporters that Ms Exposto’s testimony revealed what she strongly believed was a close relationship with the fictional Smith.

“There are probably thousands, mostly women, who have (been) conned in similar situations,” he said.

Ms Exposto arrived in court on Wednesday wearing a black blazer, white top and black slacks, having lost weight during more than two years in a Kuala Lumpur jail.

She smiled and chatted with lawyers before the verdict was delivered.

A judge said he found that Ms Exposto had no knowledge of the drugs in the bag, rejecting a prosecution submission that her story about the love scam was an afterthought.

The judge said he believed Ms Exposto’s love for the online scammer was genuine and that they been in contact for two years.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has warned that scammers targeting Australians in love scams will go to “great lengths to gain your interest and trust, such as sharing personal information and even sending you gifts”.

“Scammers may take months to build what seems like the romance of a lifetime and may even pretend to book flights to visit you, but never actually come,” the ACCC said.

The commission warned there are dozens of scams including those involved in dating and romance, identity theft, get-rich investments, money transfers, jobs and employment.

Fraudsters often personalise scams to fit the profile of their victim.

Often scammers use fake webcams, video changing programs and photographs of other people to build a false identity and then prowl the internet for victims.

The US military has described the scams as a “growing epidemic”.

Australian defence personnel have also had their identities stolen by scammers.

Defence lawyers say Ms Exposto, a former social worker in East Timor, has never wavered in her account of the scam.

Mr Shafee said Ms Exposto is a “responsible mother” who told him she is so anti-drugs that if her four children ever got involved in drugs she would kill them herself.

Her family and friends in Sydney, including a son who travelled to Kuala Lumpur for the verdict, were shocked by her arrest after she volunteered to put her bag with the drugs through Customs screening.

The drugs were sewn into a hidden compartment in the bag and she insists she never knew they were there.

Malaysia has hanged more than 440 convicted drug offenders since 1960.

Two Australians, Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers, were the first Westerners to be executed under Malaysia’s then new drug laws in 1989, after being arrested with 141.9 grams of heroin.

Michael McAuliffe, another Australian, was hanged in Kuala Lumpur in 1993 after being found with heroin in his pocket at a Penang airport checkpoint.

Malaysian government officials say despite the law change giving judges discretionary powers on capital punishment, authorities are not going softer on drug trafficking.

“We do not want the judges’ hands tied,” said Azalina Othman Said, a minister in the prime minister’s department.

After the acquittal, Ms Exposto was sent back to jail on Wednesday night.

Lawyers said her passport had expired while she was awaiting trial and they would apply for another from the Australian embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Abdullah told reporters after the verdict the case was “clear cut”. He said there was overwhelming evidence she was tricked into carrying the bag.

Leaving the court, Ms Exposto’s son Hugo said: “I am very happy.”

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Long-viewed as Australia’s next coach, Justin Langer says it is way too early to think about whether he will take over the role when incumbent Darren Lehmann stands down at the end of the 2019 Ashes.
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Lehmann, who was appointed Australian coach after Mickey Arthur was sacked shortly before the 2013 Ashes series in England, this week confirmed in an interview with Fox Sports that he would not seek a new deal when his current contract expires in less than two years.

“That will be it,” Lehmann said. “It will be a case of too much time, too much travel.”

Lehmann’s former Test teammate Langer, who coaches Western Australia and the Perth Scorchers, has seemingly been on the path to replace Lehmann, having already filled in for Lehmann in white ball series.

Langer’s record with the Scorchers is terrific, while he also led WA to the most recent one-day title in October.

However speaking after the Scorchers continued their unbeaten start to the season with a win over the Melbourne Stars at the WACA on Tuesday night, Langer said the job wasn’t on his radar.

“It’s all hypothetical. It’s two years away,” the long-time gritty Test opener said.

“Had we lost [against the Stars], I would be a rubbish coach and not even considered for it.

“So I know how fickle it is. It’s so fickle. It’s all about timing. Life’s about timing. A lot happens in two years.”

Asked specifically about whether his family situation would prevent him from taking the job, he played a straight bat.

“Honestly I don’t even have to think about it at the moment. It’s two years away. Honestly, I love my job here [in Perth].”

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Nick White in Buninyong on Wednesday, and the ute that hit him. Photo: Lachlan BenceCyclist Nick White was doing 50km/h andhad no time to move whenaute suddenly cut in front of him on the MidlandHighway.
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“He got halfway across the road and then I started to think, this guy hasn’t seen me, he’s not going to stop,” Nick said.

Seconds later, Nick smashed into the ute with a sickening thud, shattering the vehicle’s windscreen and bouncing overthe bonnet onto hard bitumen along Buninyong’s main drag.

Pictures of the damaged ute that emerged after the collision on the morning of December 7 show the force of the impact when the 20-year-old’sbody struck the glass.

The ute after the collision.

Nick was able to walk away from the smash with only a grazed knee, but his family said it could have been much worse, pointing to the death of another young cyclist, Jason Lowndes, 23, who was killed in a crash while training near Bendigo last Friday.

Jason Lowndes.

Gerard White, Nick’s father, is callingfor tougher penalties to be introduced for drivers who recklessly injurecyclists, saying a minimum passing distance of one-metre needsto be enforced.

Police told Nick that the driver of the ute would be issued with a fine, meaning he would not have to front court, according to Gerard.

“Not all cyclists are angels and it’s everybody’s responsibility on the road to do the right thing,” Gerard said near Nick’s crash site in Buninyong.

“But the penalties for drivers who do not do the right thing are not strong enough.

“As a parent, when you get that phone call after a crash, it’s not a good feeling.”

The White family, who live in Millbrook,knew Mr Lowndes and said his death had sent shock waves through the tight-knit cycling community across the Central Highlands.

Nick’s older brother, Liam, 23, competed against Mr Lowndes only weeks ago.

Liam White (far left).

“He was the same age as me, his deathhits home pretty fiercely, because you’re racing with him week in, week out,” Liam said.

“Only 10 days ago he did his last race at Shimano Super Crit in Melbourne and got third place.

“You don’t think about the things that can happen in such a short period of time.

“He was a wonderful guy, and always smiling.”

A police officer inspects a damaged car that hit cyclist Jason Lowndes, killing the 23-year-old on Sedgwick Road near Bendigo last Friday. Picture: Glenn Daniels

In response to Nick’s crash, his father Gerard contacted Ballarat City Council and asked if more safety signs could be set up around Buninyong ahead of next week’sRoadNational Championships, which manyriders have been training for in the area, including the White brothers.

Councilinstalled two temporary electronic signs this week, warning motorists to look out for riders along the Midland Highway.

Gerard praised council for the move but hoped permanent signs would be erected as cycliststrain in the area year round.

The latest TAC numbers revealed 11 cyclists werekilled on Victoria’s roads this year, representing an increase of 38 per cent on the year before.

Meanwhile, the number of drivers killed in crashes haddropped by 15 per cent, according to the data.

A series of high profile collisions thrust the issue of cycling safety back under the spotlight in Ballarat recently.

In April, Rebekah Stewart, 24,was jailed for six years after she hit a cyclist while driving to buy drugs along Wendouree Parade on Good Friday last year.

Rebekah Stewart.

The victim, father Christian Ashby, was left to die on the road and now has permanent disabilities.

In May, well-known building designer Luke Taylor suffered critical injuries in a collision with a ute at the intersection of Cuthberts and Whites roadson Ballarat’s western outskirts.

A man driving the ute stopped to help Nick following the collision two weeks ago.

“There’sjust too many collisions,” Nick said.

The Courier, Ballarat

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FILE IMAGE.Three teenagers have been charged following an alleged series of robberies in the Lake Macquarie area.
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About 11.30pm on Sunday, December 24, police will allege, three boys broke into a shopping complex in Pearson Street, Charlestown, and stole a charity tin from a fast food restaurant.

Just before 2.30am on Monday, December 25, the boys allegedly entered a service station on the corner of Lake and South streets, Windale, while armed with knives and stole cigarettes, ice-cream and cash.

About 4.30am on Tuesday, December 26, the three youths entered a supermarket in Wilsons Street, Mount Hutton, and allegedly stole soft drink and chocolates.

Police from Lake Macquarie Local Area Command commenced an investigation.

Detectives arrested a 16-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy in Windale on Wednewsday after officers fromLake Macquarie Local Area Command commenced an investigation.The boys were taken to Belmont Police Station.

The 16-year-old was charged with two counts of aggravated break and enter dwelling in company and steal, and aggravated break and enter and commit serious indictable offence while armed.

The 15-year-old boy was charged with aggravated break and enter dwelling in company and steal.

Both were refused bail and appeared at a children’s court on Wednesday.

About 10.30am on Wednesday, target action group officers arrested a 14-year-old boy in Windale. He was taken to Belmont Police Station.

He was charged with three counts of aggravated break and enter dwelling in company, aggravated break and enter commit serious indictable offence, and aggravated robbery with offensive weapon.

He was refused bail and is due to appear at a children’s court on Thursday.

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The information of stocks that lost in prices are displayed on an electronic board inside the Australian Securities Exchange, operated by ASX Ltd., in Sydney, Australia, on Friday, July 24, 2015. The Australian dollar slumped last week as a gauge of Chinese manufacturing unexpectedly contracted, aggravating the impact of declines in copper and iron ore prices. Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg MARKETS. 7 JUNE 2011. AFR PIC BY PETER BRAIG. STOCK EXCHANGE, SYDNEY, STOCKS. GENERIC PIC. ASX. STOCKMARKET. MARKET.
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Stock information is displayed on an electronic board inside the Australian Securities Exchange, operated by ASX Ltd., in Sydney, Australia, on Friday, July 24, 2015. The Australian dollar slumped last week as a gauge of Chinese manufacturing unexpectedly contracted, aggravating the impact of declines in copper and iron ore prices. Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg

In equity land, the story of the night has been the FTSE 100 breaking out to new all-time highs, although the 0.4% gain was hardly spectacular and even less so when one thinks the total value traded was 41% below the 30-day average. The long and short of it

1. Wall Street: US equities have barely moved across the major indices, with volumes non-existent. Even if we drill into the multiple sectors there have been limited ranges, with utilities having the strongest upside move with a 0.2% gain, while energy succumbed to modest profit-taking with a loss of 0.4%. So a 60 basis point variance between the various sectors tells you all you need to know and the S&P 500, Dow and NASDAQ 100 look to be closing out 2017 with gains of 19.7%, 25.3% and 28.9% respectively and one suspects these percentages won’t deviate too greatly in the two remaining trading sessions.

2. ASX: Aussie SPI futures caught a bid just as US equity markets opened, gaining 20-odd points into 6033, but the move has been faded somewhat and at the time of writing the futures index are up just one point. Our ASX 200 opening call sits at 6060, so a modestly weaker open is expected, but this reflects the 11.6 points coming out of the market with 21 stocks going ex-dividend on open, so there is a headwind from this factor. Still, it’s hard to get too carried away with proceedings today, and participation will be extremely poor and an extension of what we saw yesterday with a pathetic, yet not unexpected $2.78 billion of value traded through the market, which is just over half the value we’d usually trade over an average of a 30-day period. So slight tweaks to portfolios, but that’s about it.

3. Stocks to watch: We can turn to the US markets and look at the lead from various Aussie equity ADR’s (American Depository Receipt) and see the flat lead from SPI futures reflected here too, with BHP, CBA and NCM all basically unchanged in their respective ADR’s. Materials and energy provided the support for the ASX 200 yesterday, putting in 9.16 index points, but the catalysts are lacking here today, with copper down very modestly and looking ominously like it won’t make it 15 consecutive days of gains.

4. Copper: Keep an eye on the monthly chart of copper, where we can see a pronounced bullish outside month reversal in play, where we need to see a monthly close above $US3.19 p/lb to complete. One suspects there are risks in January given price is quite extended here and pricing in a lot of good news, notably with China’s biggest copper producer ordered to cut production, so the bulls have to push for a move through $US3.30 p/lb or the risk of a reasonable pullback is elevated here. US crude is lower by 0.5%, while spot iron ore fell 4.5%, although iron ore futures, which are lower by 0.3%, are probably the better lead.

5. Bright days ahead: An unexciting day may be in store, but it has to be said that the monthly chart of the ASX 200 looks outright bullish and highlights a solid platform to progress into 2018. This strong underlying trend paints a compelling picture, although the valuation argument is one to debate. Here we see the market expecting 12-month (blended) earnings-per-share (EPS) of $3.75 (for the ASX 200 on aggregate), which is the strongest earnings estimate seen since 2014, but the question for 2018 remains whether this is as good as it gets and where we get earnings upgrades to boost EPS, which in turn could lower the index forward price-to-earnings ratio from its current level of 16.18x (12-month blended). Recall, in the last decade the consensus forward P/E multiple has rarely been higher and if we use a 16.5x multiple, which is punchy, we get 6187 as a potential target. So in the absence of any earnings re-ratings, if we apply a multi-year high P/E multiple, then we have around 2% upside for the year.

6. Aussie dollar: Another area of interest though has been in FX markets where the USD has been seen modest downside versus all G10 currencies. The notable moves have been seen against the SEK and AUD, but it’s the AUD that interests most here, with AUD/USD hitting a session high of $0.7779. The bulls have been enthused, not just be the near multi-year lows in the JP Morgan FX volatility index, which has helped the hunt for carry, but we can also see yield differentials working in favour of AUD appreciation. Here, the yield premium demanded to hold Aussie 10-year debt over US Treasuries has widened by 4bp on the day to 27bp and recall this yield spread got as low as 8bp in late November, so moves here have helped AUD upside.

Again, we can put AUD/USD on a monthly timeframe (for the bigger picture) and see a bullish reversal potentially in play, with price trading below the November low and needing a close above the high of $0.7730 to complete. The daily chart looks quite constructive here too and there is scope for a move into $0.7810/20 in the short-term.

7. US data: Keep in mind we have seen a fairly uninspiring US December consumer confidence report, with the index coming in below consensus at 122.1. One can also look at the Citigroup US economic index, which effectively measures US data relative to the consensus expectations. This index currently sits up at the highest levels since 2011 and rarely has it been higher, so in essence, it shows that US assets have been partially buoyed by positive data shocks. Again, we ask the question is this as good as it gets? Personally, I don’t see a collapse in US economics and the data flow should continue to be upbeat, but in terms of positive shocks to support asset prices then it seems we may be hitting a turning point.

8. Market watch:

SPI futures up 5 points or 0.1% to 6027

AUD +0.6% to 77.75 US cents

On Wall St: Dow +0.1%, S&P 500 +0.1%, Nasdaq +0.1%

In New York, BHP +0.8% Rio +0.7%

In Europe: Stoxx 50 -0.1%, FTSE +0.4%, CAC +0.1%, DAX flat

Spot gold +0.3% to $US1286.83 an ounce

Brent crude -1% to $US66.33 a barrel

US oil -0.8% to $US59.49 a barrel

Iron ore -4.5% to US72.62 a tonne

Dalian iron ore -0.3% to 516 yuan

LME aluminium +2.7% to $2252 a tonne

LME copper +1.6% to $US7239 a tonne

10-year bond yield: US 2.43%, Germany 0.37%, Australia 2.69%

This column was produced in commercial partnership between Fairfax Media and IG

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Classrooms destroyed in high school inferno BLAZE: A fire tears through a building at Hunter Sports High. Picture: Michael Bell/Merewether fire station
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BLAZE: A fire tears through a building at Hunter Sports High. Picture: Michael Bell/Merewether fire station

BLAZE: A fire tears through a building at Hunter Sports High. Picture: Michael Bell/Merewether fire station

BLAZE: A fire tears through a building at Hunter Sports High. Picture: Michael Bell/Merewether fire station

TweetFacebookPOLICE have not ruled out suspicious circumstances as the cause for a fire that destroyed a block of classrooms at Hunter Sports High School on Wednesday night.

More than 50 firefighters raced to the Gateshead school shortly after 11pm.

But the single-storey building was already well-alight when firefighters arrived, sending a thick plume of smoke overLake Macquarie.

There were existing plans for the building to be demolished as part of the school’s $45 million redevelopment, but the damage bill was still estimated to be half a million dollars.

Firefighters brought the fire under control in about two hours after some initial difficulty in sourcing a water supply.

PrincipalRachel Byrne saidthe fire wiped out five industrial arts classrooms and a storeroom, which were still in use.

She said the building also housed expensive industrial arts equipment.

The school made contact with the Department of Education on Thursday and confirmed industrial arts classes would take place in demountable buildings in the new year, which were being arranged to replace the fire-ravaged building.

The new industrial arts block is expected to open late next year.

Firefighters were still on the scene on Thursday to guard against potential spot fires.

And security guards attached to the construction site remained on site.

Police said the cause for the fire was still undetermined, not yet rulingout suspicious circumstances, if only because the investigation had thus far failed to show otherwise.Authorities appealed for anyone with information to come forward.

“Our investigation is still ongoing and we are chasing any information from the public as to how it occurred,” Lake Macquarie police Inspector SteveGallagher said.

“We would encourage anyone who can assist to come forward.”

The fire comes amid a substantial state government investment to rebuild the school.

At a site tour of the construction site in November, Education Minister Rob Stokes hailed the redevelopment as one of the biggest school upgrades in the state.

Mr Stokes said the reconstructionwas“a case study in complexity” and challenging for planners.

“Trying to keep a school operating in situ at the same time as building around it and all of the work place health and safety issues that need to be managed, it’s a case study in complexity and … an incredible logistical challenge,” he said.

The schoolmoved to reassure parents classes would resume as normal at the end ofholidays.

Anyone with information should phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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My father was always disapproving of people who excused their failure to turn up to his Sunday meeting by saying they’d been “worshipping God in the great outdoors”. But the older I get, and the more I read, the more I think it’s not such a bad idea.
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I’m much attracted by the American biologist Edward O. Wilson’s hypothesis of biophilia, that humans have an innate tendency to seek connection to nature, for its calming effects.

While most people will be heading for the beach in the next few weeks, I usually head for a national park, to lift my quota of trees, bush, grass and anything else that’s green.

Illustration: Andrew Dyson

This time, however, we’re heading for a jungle – otherwise known as Manhattan – to do babysitting duty. Ideally, this means I’d be virtually living in Central Park, but that may be a bit too snowy.

My regular reading of the universities’ blogsite,The Conversation, has garnered a fair bit of evidence for biophilia.

According to a survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2007, each year one in five Australians experiences a mental disorder. Most common are anxiety disorders, such as panic attacks or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Zoe Myers, an urban design specialist at the University of Western Australia,says researchshows that city dwellers have a 20 per cent higher chance of suffering anxiety and an almost 40 per cent greater likelihood of developing depression.

Research shows that exposure to nature increases calm and rumination, decreases agitation and aggression, and improves concentration, memory and creative thought. Photo: Brook Mitchell

Fortunately, research also shows that people in urban areas who live closest to the greatest green space are significantly less likely to suffer poor mental health.

Myers says more than 40 years of research shows that exposure to nature increases calm and rumination, decreases agitation and aggression, and improves concentration, memory and creative thought.

But it’s not emptiness or quiet that has these good effects, she says. “Nature in its messy, wild, loud, diverse, animal-inhabited glory has most impact on restoring a stressed mind to a calm and alert state.

“This provides a more complete sense of ‘escape’ from the urban world, however brief.”

Many studies have attested to the restorative effects of forests but, though holidays in national parks are nice, we need something closer to home.

Melanie Davern, of RMIT University, with colleagues from Melbourne University,say recentresearch on the benefits ofurbangreening has found, for instance, lower rates of anti-depressant prescriptions in neighbourhoods close to woodlands in Britain, happier people living in areas with more birdlife, and better health in areas with increased neighbourhood tree coverage in the United States.

Planting trees in parks, gardens or streets has many benefits: cooler cities, slower stormwater run-off, filtering of air pollution, habitat for some animals (such as birds, bats and bees), making people happier and providing shade that encourages more walking.

Professor Pierre Horwitz, of Edith Cowan University, is a great advocate forurban bushland– a bush park of native trees, a wetland, or any native vegetation characteristic of the local region.

“With its undisturbed soils and associated wildlife, urban bushland is more diverse than other types of green spaces in our cities, like parks. The more unfragmented the landscape, or unaltered the bushland, the more likely it will be to retain its biodiversity,” Horwitz says.

“Exposure to biodiversity from the air, water, soils, vegetation, wildlife and landscape, and all the microbes associated with them … enhances our immunity. This is thought to be key to the health benefits of nature.”

Horwitz says we know that wealthier people tend to live in greener suburbs, and that wealthier people tend to be healthier. So is it wealth rather than nature that’s doing the good work?

Fortunately, no. Many studies have controlled for wealth but still found direct health benefits from exposure to biodiversity.

The benefits go not just to individuals, but to the wider city. Forests and woodlands clean our urban air by removing particles and absorbing carbon dioxide. This reduces premature death, acute respiratory symptoms and asthma across the city.

As well, urban bushland improves city water. Wetlands and the vegetation around them clean water by filtering, reducing exposure to pollutants carried in groundwater or surface run-off.

And not forgetting that vegetation moderates extremes of temperature, providing shade when it’s hot and less exposure when it’s cold, thus reducing heat- or cold-related illnesses.

Trouble is, urban bushland shrinks as new suburbs are developed on the outskirts of our cities. Worse, bigger houses and more high-rise living is causing backyards to be shrinking, too, even though they contribute to our health and our kids’ development.

Not to worry. There’s a lot of urban roof space, and we’re getting more rooftop gardens. Sara Wilkinson and Fiona Orr, of the University of Technology Sydney,studiedthe use of a rooftop garden at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney as part of two “horticultural therapy” programs for people recovering from mental illness.

Among the many benefits participants identified were regular connection with others, developing friendships, experiencing enjoyment and restoration of health.

And if you don’t have a spare rooftop, you can join the latest trend and install a vertical garden.

Sorry, I’m getting a bit over-excited here. I wonder if “green space” still counts as green when its covered in snow? Hope the apartment we’re renting at least has some indoor plants.

Ross Gittins is theHerald’seconomics editor.

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Wild Oats XI overhauled LDV Comanche in the Derwent River late Wednesday night to claim a thrilling line honours Sydney to Hobart victory, shaving more than four hours off Perpetual Loyal’s race record.
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But second-placed LDV Comanchehas launched a protest against the now nine-time race winner following a near collision between the two yachts just outside Sydney Heads shortly after the start on Boxing Day. Atime penalty may still not be enough to overturn the placings.

Runner-up Comanche, left, and Sydney to Hobart winner Wild Oats, right, on the River Derwent at the finish on Wednesday night. Photo: AAP

Disciplinary action against Wild Oats XI would likely incur a minimum five-minute time penalty. An international jury, which could hear the case as early as Thursday, can impose a penalty stiffer than five minutes but that still may not be enough to reverse the placings such was the shift in fortunes both supermaxis underwent on the Derwent.

Had Wild Oats XI performed a 720-degree penalty turn in the hours following the near collision with LDV Comanche, that would have been taken as adequate punishment.

But navigator Ian Burns confirmed just hours after the incident that his crew had discussed taking the penalty turn, but decided against the action believing there was no infraction.

But navigator Ian Burns confirmed just hours after the incident that his crew had discussed taking the penalty turn, but decided against the action believing there was no infraction.

The wind died down once they entered the Derwent, allowing Wild Oats XI to orchestrate one final fling to the line and she passed LDV Comanche just south of Opossum Bay, finishing more than one nautical mile clear.

It was enough to ensure they won back their race record set in 2012 before Perpetual Loyal’s blistering performance last year. Her unofficial time of one day, eight hours, 48 minutes and 50 seconds took four hours, 42 minutes and 30 seconds off Perpetual Loyal’s 2016 record.

Wild Oats XI has won the Sydney to Hobart for a ninth time. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Peter Harburg’s Black Jack entered Storm Bay a clear third with fellow supermaxi Infotrack narrowly clear of Beau Geste in fourth spot. All five yachts, plus last year’s winner Wizard (nee Giacomo) spent Wednesday camped inside Perpetual Loyal’s record time.

“Last year there was a bit of a transition on the first night, it got a bit soft before it came away from the nor’east or the east while this year they just haven’t stopped, they’ve just been absolutely percolating it, the big boats 20 knots plus all the way through,” veteran ocean sailor Peter Shipway said.

“Twelve hours into the race [last year] they were only doing 11 knots. They slowed down that first night as I’m recalling and about midnight last year Loyal was only doing six knots.

“That’s the difference this year, the breeze was lighter at the start but it’s just gradually freshened all the way through. It kept them moving last night and has certainly kept them moving today.”

Wild Oats XI and Comanche both smashed the record. Photo: AAP

The frantic finish was one of the most exciting the race has ever produced, although it was almost overshadowed when a crew member of Invictus Games 2018 Down Under was thrown overboard at roughly 5pm on Tuesday afternoon.

Fellow clipper Hotelplanner南京夜网 was in the vicinity of the incident and hauled the fallen sailor aboard their boat within 15 minutes of their tumbling into the open ocean.

The victim suffered superficial scratches but was in good enough health to resume sailing after being medically assessed, and was soon transferred back to Invictus Games 2018 Down Under.

Hotelplanner南京夜网 will have six hours upon completion of their Sydney to Hobart to request a redress in accordance with race rules. Should that be granted, the yacht’s race time will be adjusted to factor in the rescue.

Behind the surge of the supermaxis down Australia’s east coast there were three race retirements on Wednesday.

German boat Rockall officially pulled out at 9.26am on Wednesday morning with rudder damage about 60 nautical miles south east of Eden.

A police boat was helping Rockall with their initial plans to sail back to Eden, but the Chris Opielok-owned TP52 then opted to sail west to Victoria instead instead of going headlong into the northeasterly.

Jazz Player pulled out after a failure to their on-board high frequency radio on Wednesday afternoon. The faulty radio was unable to make the mandatory check in with race officials before crossing Bass Strait.

Safety regulations dictate Sydney to Hobart competitors must radio in their position upon arrival at Green Cape on NSW’s south coast before sailing into the Bass Strait. Crew aboard Jazz Player have opted to sail to Hobart anyway, despite having withdrawn.

Sydney boat Wots Next was the third casualty, forced to retire with broken rudder bearings.

Opt2Go Scamp spent most of Wednesday afternoon sailing to Eden for some running repairs, but plans to continue the race.

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Two-thirds of NSW government agencies are failing to properly safeguard their data, increasing the risk of improper access to confidential information about members of the public and identity fraud by cyber criminals.
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The finding has emerged from an audit of dozens of government agencies, including those holding highly sensitive personal information collected from millions of citizens, such as NSW Health, the department of education, NSW Police Force, Roads and Maritime Services and the justice department.

While the report by auditor-general Margaret Crawford does not name the agencies failing to properly manage privileged access to their systems, it highlights the potential consequences.

“Personal information collected by public sector agencies about members of the public is of high value to cyber criminals, as it can be used to create false identities to commit other crimes,” she says in the report.

“Despite these risks, we found that one agency had 37 privileged user accounts, including 33 that were dormant. The agency had no formal process to create, modify or deactivate privileged users.”

Overall, Ms Crawford’s report found 68 per cent of NSW government agencies “do not adequately manage privileged access to their systems”.

In addition, she said, the audit determined that 61 per cent of agencies “do not regularly monitor the account activity of privileged users”.

“This places those agencies at greater risk of not detecting compromised systems, data breaches and misuse,” the report said.

The audit found 31 per cent of agencies “do not limit or restrict privileged access to appropriate personnel”. Of those, just one-third monitor the account activity of privileged users.

It found that almost one-third of agencies breach their own security policies on user access.

The report warns that if agencies fail to implement proper controls “they may also breach NSW laws and policies and the international standards that they reference”.

These include the Public Finance and Audit Act, which says agencies must have effective internal control systems.

Ms Crawford’s report also finds there are different approaches to how agencies record and report cyber attacks, including applying different definitions, which means “the number and nature of cyber attacks is unknown”.

It says that NSW government agencies “should tighten privileged-user access to protect their information systems and reduce the risks of data misuse and fraud”.

A spokesman for finance, services and property minister Victor Dominello said the government “acknowledges the findings”.

“As recommended in the report, a review of the Digital Information Security Policy is currently under way and a new Cyber Security Strategy is due to be completed in 2018,” he said.

The spokesman said the review is being led by the government’s chief information security officer, Dr Maria Milosavljevic, whose position was established in May “to bolster the government’s capacity to prevent, detect and respond to cyber threats”.

The findings follow a report in February to the NSW Parliament by then acting NSW Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Coombs.

In it, Dr Coombs noted: “Misuses of personal information and data breaches are not random events; they result from poor organisational governance and practice, and the conduct of employees and contractors.”

Dr Coombs said that “data breach notifications and complaints to my Office are increasing”.

She noted that, last year, the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission “revealed that the misuse of confidential government information was not just one of the most common corruption allegations made, but [was] an increasing percentage, having almost doubled from 2014-15”.

“Members of the public have every right to expect that their personal information is not being placed at risk by poor organisational practices, nor accessed by or disclosed to anyone who does not have legitimate authority to use it,” she said.

Her report highlighted gaps in NSW privacy legislation and recommended changes “to increase the accountability of employees and contractors”.

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Some of the most iconic sights of Kings Cross, including the historic old former Bourbon & Beefsteak and the building that housed Les Girls, would be demolished in a massive redevelopment program poised to change the face of the area.
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Four buildings along Darlinghurst Road between the El Alamein Fountain in Fitzroy Gardens and the landmark Empire Hotel on the corner are proposed to be pulled down in a $47.5 million development application before the City of Sydney.

Already the application, described as “the single most important plan to be considered by council for this area in the last half a century” is provoking alarm from some residents.

“This will completely change the face of Kings Cross and its social structure,” said Andrew Woodhouse, president of the Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage Society.

“It breaches 40 planning rules and heritage conservation guidelines. We adamantly oppose demolition of the white Bourbon building. This is not a DA; it’s an EA – an Exploitation Application.”

The plan, by developer group Piccadilly Freehold, calls for the demolition of most of the existing structures along the block, apart from parts of the white-arched Bourbon fa??ade.

In its place would be an eight-storey block of 83 apartments with basement parking for 100 cars. There would be new cafes, restaurants and shops on the ground floor, with the units over them.

Developer Sam Arnaout, also the CEO of IRIS Capital, says the 700-page DA is part of a massive revitalisation of a “decaying” part of the city and its transformation into a new food and entertainment complex, with laneways and luxury apartments.

“There’s no doubt that it will really significantly add to, and improve, an area that has long been decaying,” Mr Arnaout said. “Of course, some people will hate the idea of it but others will love the fact we’ll be renewing an area that’s already in a state of transition.

“We’ve been working very closely with the council over the last 12 months to come up with a plan that will integrate into the area very well. It’s going to be an amazing part of the revitalisation of Potts Point that’s been going through a renaissance for a while now and coming back into its own.”

Construction is set to take three to four years, with the shops and cafes opposite already talking about demanding compensation from the city for custom lost through noise and dust and disruption. The Bourbon and Empire bars would return but on a smaller scale.

Local architect and resident Simon Gollon said he was shocked when he examined the small print of the DA, which allows comments only until January 24.

“It’s incredible that this might be allowed to happen in a heritage conservation area,” he says. There are such iconic buildings here, with both Victorian architectural and cultural merit but they’re set to go.

“Places like the Bourbon and the building that housed Les Girls, and where Carlotta started, are such institutions from the past, they should be treasured, rather than knocked down and replaced with such a generic building with a blank wall that could be anywhere in Sydney. It looks as though the developers are trying to maximise the floor space to fit in as many apartments as possible rather than ever considering good architecture.”

The existing buildings exhibit elements of Victorian, Mid Century Modern and Federation detailing, with the Bourbon building dating from the 1880s.

Mr Woodhouse says the Woods Bagot building proposed for the site does nothing to add to the streetscape for which Kings Cross is so well known. “The quality of the design reminds me of Robyn Boyd’s 1960 architectural bible, The Australian Ugliness,” he says.

“It’s a Lego-like, bland building block with no design merit. “To claim this bold behemoth, even allowing for part retention of the fa??ade of a backpackers’ hostel, can add to the fine-grained texture of the area and adds vibrancy to the streetscape is a nonsense on stilts.”

But Mr Arnaout insists that the Kings Cross area of Potts Point is going through a rebirth, and this plan will contribute hugely to that vision. “This will help create much more of a village atmosphere with a boutique lifestyle.

“Where the transition is happening in parts of the area, there’s a huge vacuum left in others. It’s now time to fill that vacuum to contribute to its rejuvenation and to make that commercially viable, we need to build apartments and retail too.

“This area will be a great complement to the city and once people realise how significant and important this development will be, I think they’ll be supportive.”

At an estimated $47 million, the project would be assessed for approval by the City of Sydney Council. The development’s proposed height would exceed the current height limit of 22 metres in places.

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The year 2017 seemed to be the year when property finally overtook pornography as the dirty secret of everyone’s browser history as the entire nation indulged in unrealistic fantasy play regarding their housing situation.
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You could hear the late night guttural moans echoing through the rental belts of the biggest cities, the blue glow of laptops illuminating their twisted reveries: “oh yeah baby, that’s right: three bedrooms, close to public transport, schools and a hospital; local auctions are clearing in the mid-six figures, a mortgage would basically be less than we’re currently paying in rent ??? and only a 40-minute commute to work! YES YES YES OH GOD YES!”

Of course, regular readers would be aware of these dangerous delusions and have more realistic ambitions: we know that if we work hard, apply ourselves and live with the ascetic frugality of a particularly clutter-averse monk, we too can enjoy watching prices skyrocket far beyond our reach until that magical day the landlord informs us we have 60 days to get out before they knock our place down for a block of luxury studios.

But that was only one of the stories of the past year. However, if you listened very, very carefully at the rhythms of 2017 you may have discerned a few common beats that seemed to play out with predictable regularity. So what were the big property story trends this year? 1. Everything is going to be perfect forever, cash register noise!

Every weekend a new auction record was set as some clown paid a Taylor Swift ransom for an unliveable hovel, almost as though they were providing a valuable Aesop’s Fable-style service about how savagely everyone needs to adjust their expectations.

“Can you believe someone paid $2.6 million for a derelict shanty on the Rozelle virus-pits,” readers would scoff, “despite it being undevelopable because of the quicksand and restless ghosts?”

Ka-ching! Photo: Henry Zwartz

However, the message to those already in the housing game was simple: your property was constantly rising in value because of your wisdom and nous. Indeed, we are now a nation of pharaohs sitting within mighty pyramids of pure gold and precious leverage. If anything, you should buy more investment shanties – when it comes to property values, the sky is the limit! 2. The property crash is coming and we’re all doomed!

Of course, then there’d be a weekend where not every auction ended with the exchange of a comically Scrooge McDuck-style vault of riches, at which point the story would abruptly change: clearly this is the inevitable beginning of the inevitable correction, and everyone is dangerously exposed through their profligate borrowing and once interest rates move up a percentage point the rate of defaults will bankrupt our entire financial sector and condemn us to roaming the barren wastelands hunting real estate vendors for food – like Cormack McCarthy’s The Road, but not as toe-tappingly upbeat.

What property crash? Photo: Erin Jonasson

The message to those already in the housing game was simple: you were damned fools to borrow so much cheap credit and now the hubris train is a-coming, as it does for all who attempt to serve their own selfishness and greed by quick-fix get rich schemes.

Why oh why didn’t you sell up and put everything in bitcoin instead? 3. Increased supply is about to fix everything for renters, muffled laugh

As more non-buyers stayed in the rental market, that increased demand made renting in the bigger cities increasingly impossible for those earning wages from lesser professions such as baristas, fast food workers, cleaners, teachers, police officers, dentists and surgeons.

In fact, it got to the point where even federal MPs were priced out of their own inner-city electorates in what would pass for poetic justice if politicians appreciated either justice or poetry.

Supply, supply and more supply. Photo: Eddie Jim

Fortunately other groups of politicians asserted that there was a solution at hand: encourage developers to build more apartments, which would increase supply and therefore drive down prices.

State and local government went out of its way to make this possible for developers, who ensured that they kept prices at a rate that was affordable for those on lowe ??? nah, just kidding: they merrily accepted the perks of making “affordable housing” such as building boarding houses right up until the thing was built, at which point they whacked as high a price on it as the market could bear.

The answer, however, is clear: we haven’t given developers enough incentives and must free up all currently non-developed land to curry their good graces. And what’s all that green space doing at Taronga, anyway? Why should those sweet harbour views be wasted on those uppity giraffes? 4. ‘Sydney’ suburbs still affordable to first-home buyers are hardly even in Sydney

In 2017 it seemed that every month or so there would be a story about the suburbs where a young family can afford to buy their first property, and each time the accompanying graphic would sport a larger and larger ring whose radius began 12 kilometres further from the CBD than the last time around.

The Central Coast ??? is technically Sydney. Photo: Supplied

It’s a trend we probably need to knock on the head since we’re getting closer to the era of think pieces asking “is it realistic for Sydney homebuyers to live and work in the same time zone?”

It’s time that we start acknowledging the unquestionable future of Sydney as a fly-in-fly-out city where workers sleep in gridlocked Ubers around Mascot and whose sole affordable suburb is now Bordertown, SA. 5. Telling us to all move to Hobart

Yes, we get it Tasmanian property stories: Hobart is very nice and also cheap. It has a lovely MONA, bracing Antarctic winds and convenient access to people who claim to have seen thylacines – and in numbers that put Melbourne and Sydney to shame.

Hobart is the new black. Photo: Tourism Tasmania

However, it also has a population of 225,000, which means that a) it can’t possibly cope with an influx of more than a dozen or so people before the infrastructure collapses, and b) it all seems like a cunning way to create forward sizzle for content in 2018 about how Hobart used to be cool before all these mainlanders turned up and ruined its charmingly creepy Twin Peaks ambience.

That said: sorry, how much for a beachside bungalow? And no ghosts, you say? Maybe I’ve been all backwards on this???

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Almost 100,000 Australian homes and businesses will be disconnected from their internet and landlines in January if they haven’t moved over to the national broadband network.
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Next month, premises across the country will be reaching the 18-month NBN cut-off date, with potentially 95,590 homes and businesses affected if they have not yet made the switch.

Usually, when an area is declared “NBN ready” a resident has a year and a half to choose a provider and a plan and to move onto the network before their home or business is disconnected.

Now, 173 suburbs across the country are reaching this crucial cut-off point.

In these areas, Telstra home and landline services, excluding some velocity lines, and home and landlines from any other company utilising Telstra’s copper phone lines will be switched off.

Services from any provider offering ADSL, ADSL2 and ADSL2+, Telstra BigPond cable internet services and Optus cable internet and phone services would also come to an end.

Victoria would be hardest hit by the upcoming cut-off, an analysis by comparison website Finder found. There could be more than 22,000 Victorian premises impacted.

This was followed by Queensland, with up to 19,988 and Western Australia with 17,670.

The most affected suburb in the country is likely to be Melbourne satellite suburb Pakenham, where 15,482 homes are expecting disconnection. !function(e,t,s,i){var n=”InfogramEmbeds”,o=e.getElementsByTagName(“script”),d=o[0],r=/^http:/.test(e.location)?”http:”:”https:”;if(/^\/{2}/.test(i)&&(i=r+i),window[n]&&window[n].initialized)window[n].process&&window[n].process();else if(!e.getElementById(s)){var a=e.createElement(“script”);a.async=1,,a.src=i,d.parentNode.insertBefore(a,d)}}(document,0,”infogram-async”,”https://e.infogram南京夜网/js/dist/embed-loader-min.js”);

Murray Bridge in South Australia, Edmonton in Queensland and New South Wales’ Terrigal and Nelson Bay were also in the top five most affected, Finder spokesman Angus Kidman said.

In these areas, the ‘take up rate’ of the NBN is of critical concern as provided every household has made the move to the network at the end of the 18 months, no one will be left without internet or phone services.

While many in these areas have already made the switch, Mr Kidman said some Australians still think the NBN is optional with survey results showing 44 per cent of those not on the NBN don’t realise they need to connect within the 18 month time period.

“There has been a lot of talk about the NBN in recent months but Australians remain confused about the broadband network,” he said.

“It’s worrying to see almost half of those not on the NBN aren’t even planning on making the switch.” !function(e,t,s,i){var n=”InfogramEmbeds”,o=e.getElementsByTagName(“script”),d=o[0],r=/^http:/.test(e.location)?”http:”:”https:”;if(/^\/{2}/.test(i)&&(i=r+i),window[n]&&window[n].initialized)window[n].process&&window[n].process();else if(!e.getElementById(s)){var a=e.createElement(“script”);a.async=1,,a.src=i,d.parentNode.insertBefore(a,d)}}(document,0,”infogram-async”,”https://e.infogram南京夜网/js/dist/embed-loader-min.js”);

Foxtel Pay TV will not be affected if provided over Telstra Cable or satellite, but anyone accessing it through the internet – such as a smart TV – will need to update their internet connection.

Those using a landline or internet connection over another fibre network may also not be affected, such as a network provided by a private enterprise, building owner or non-Telstra or Optus cable network.

The latest roll out data from the NBN Co shows 3.35 million premises were activated in December, 6.05 million were ready to connected and 7.02 million were in ready for service areas.

An NBN Co spokeswoman said there were around 97,000 premises set to reach the end of their migration window in January.

“The take-up rate across these areas is on track to meet NBN Co’s target of approximately 73 to 75 per cent connected homes and businesses at the end of the 18 month migration window,” the spokeswoman said.

At the moment, the take-up rate is on target with more than 74 per cent of homes and businesses connecting after 18 months of the network becoming available.

“For those yet to make the switch, it’s important to know that accessing services over the NBN network is not automatic,” she said.

It’s understood there is usually a surge of activity within the first six months of the NBN being available to connect to, and then right before the end of the 18 month cut-off period.

The switch to the NBN has seen some providers land themselves in hot water with the regulator over when to turn off customers’ services.

In December, Optus was taken to court by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over allegations the provider misled 20,000 customers by telling some they needed to switch to the NBN sooner than was necessary and in some cases switched off their services before it had to do so.

An Optus spokesperson said it made the decision in late-2016 to move customers off its broadband cable network to the NBN as soon as the area was serviceable.

“During this process, we provided some customers with insufficient notice of their options to migrate. As a result, some customers were disconnected before they migrated to the NBN,” the spokesperson said.

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