Dave Grohl’s dead

Written by admin on 17/07/2019 Categories: 南京夜网

The late, great Dave Grohl in happier times.My car, whose name was Dave Grohl*, was rear-ended on Sunday. Sadly, the injuries he sustained means he’s a write-off.

The accident wasn’t my fault. I was stationary, sitting at traffic, and became the meat in a three-car pile-up sandwich. Frankly, I could have done without it 10 days before Christmas.

I’m fine – thanks for asking.

I managed to get poor Dave home, despite his injuries, and promptly called my insurer. It was a very business-like and impersonal end for a vehicle that was my trusted steed for more than five years, my constant companion as I travelled around the country. Despite having done 160,000 kilometres, of which I was responsible for about 80,000, he never skipped a beat. I was hoping to get him to 300,000 kilometres. Sadly, that’s not to be.

Anyway, back at home that afternoon I was sitting on the couch, somewhat shell-shocked, when there was a knock at the door. It was the tow truck driver who had towed the guy’s car that hit me.

He was “just driving by” – what a coincidence – and saw my crumpled car in the driveway and wanted to see if I was all right.

I doubt that was the case. He wasn’t interested in my wellbeing – he wanted my business. But how did he get my address, given he arrived after I left?

The guy who hit me took a photo of my licence with his phone. I suspect the tow truck driver either got him to send the photo of my license to him, or he just looked at the photo of my licence and committed my address to memory.

Seizing the opportunity to drum up a bit of business, he thought he’d drop around to see if my car needed towing too. It didn’t, because I’d made arrangements with my insurer to have it towed to its preferred smash repairer to be assessed.

As soon as I closed the door I got that weird feeling you get when something doesn’t pass the smell test. I didn’t believe he was driving by and saw my car.

It rankled that he had obtained my address by cunning means and thought it was appropriate to come to my home, without me having solicited his services, to try to get my business.

I don’t think there’s anything illegal about this. The privacy laws cover the way commercial enterprises use personal information. But I don’t think they apply when a customer gives a business someone else’s personal details.

Even so, there’s certainly something not right about the way the tow truck driver got my information. Even though I appreciate he was just trying to be enterprising.

The driver’s underhand approach sends a big message about the tow truck industry. They must be so desperate for income they are reduced to using trickery to win work. Competition must be so fierce in this game they’ll use any means to drum up business.

For example, you will often find a tow truck driver or two poised at the entrance to the south-bound approach to Sydney’s Harbour Bridge and tunnel, waiting to pounce on an accident that’s just happened so they can supply their services. This ambulance-chasing means of securing new business confirms how hungry they must be for work.

They do provide an essential service – how else are we supposed to get broken down or damaged vehicles to somewhere they can be assessed and repaired or scrapped?

But when you’ve had a car accident you’re in a vulnerable position. The way this tow truck driver tried to get my business took advantage of this.

It’s not a good long-term strategy, because this approach gives tow truck drivers a bad reputation. And if you have a poor reputation, you can’t charge a premium for your services. By acting so aggressively, all they succeed in doing is to create a commoditised market, with no provider offering a differentiated service, for which they could charge more than the market average. To prove my point, what brands in the tow truck market can you name? None? Thought so.

So there’s an opportunity for a tow truck operator to come in, build its brand and become the name people think of as offering a reputable, respectable service in this market.

That business will be able to build connections with insurers, which will send business its way. It will also be able to build its reputation among mechanics, who will also refer business.

Spending time forming relationships with potential referral partners, who can help generate ongoing work, is a much more productive way of building a business than knocking on the door of some poor sod who has just had an accident, a tactic that can generate only a one-off job. Food for thought, tow truck driver, food for thought.

* Dave Grohl is the lead singer of the band the Foo Fighters.My previous car’s name was Ben Harper, the name of another musician. I name my cars after rock stars so I can say, “just going to the shops with Dave Grohl”. You know what they say, small things amuse small minds.

What’s been your experience with tow truck drivers? Are they ambulance chasers or respectable members of the business community?

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SMSF assets hit almost $560 billion

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Self-managed super funds now account for 99 per cent of the number of super funds in Australia. Photo: Jessica ShapiroThe number of DIY super funds has ballooned 29 per cent in the past five years to hit 534,000 retirement saving vehicles with $557 billion in assets – making it the fastest growing segment of the superannuation market.

New data from the Australian Taxation Office found that self-managed super funds now account for 99 per cent of the number of super funds in Australia, with 30 per cent of the $1.9 trillion in super assets across the country.

“Over five years to 2012-13 contributions to SMSFs averaged $24.9 billion a year on behalf of 64 per cent of SMSF members,” ATO assistant commissioner Matthew Bambrick said.

“Notably, member contributions increased by 5 per cent and exceeded employer contributions by approximately three to one in 2013.” The ATO report showed that the vast majority of SMSFs were still in accumulation phases where Australians are pumping money into the vehicles to save for their retirement. However, over the last five years 7 per cent of DIY funds have switched into full pension phase.

DIY funds are often seen as a honey pot for advisers and accountants looking to woo sophisticated trustees’ fees.

Regulators are closely monitoring the investment habits and practices across the sector.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission cancelled the registration of 440 SMSF auditors after they failed to meet competency standards. ASIC has also disqualified two DIY fund auditors.

“As the SMSF sector continues to grow in popularity with Australian investors, it is critical that SMSF auditors play their key gatekeeping role,” commissioner Greg Tanzer said. “ASIC will continue to administer the registration process to assure Australians that SMSF auditors at least meet base standards of competency and expertise.”

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Standard & Poor’s cuts oil price forecast, threat to company credit ratings

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Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s has cut its price assumptions for crude oil for the second time this month, raising the prospect that companies will face further pressure on their credit ratings as their creditworthiness is tested against the lower prices.

Just three weeks after the last cuts in price assumptions for crude oil fed through to a cut in the rating of Santos, the estimates have been further reduced by about $US10 a barrel, with S&P citing the “precipitous declines” in future prices.

S&P said on Wednesday it will now assume a price of $US70 a barrel for Brent crude oil in 2015, instead of $US80, and $US75 a barrel in 2016, instead of $US85.

For the US benchmark West Texas Intermediate, the assumed price is now $US65 a barrel for 2015 and $US70 for 2016.

Those new levels are still well above current levels for crude futures, with Brent at about $US60 a barrel on Wednesday, while WTI was about $US55.40.

“Over the coming weeks, we will be updating our forecasts, and we anticipate a number of corporate rating actions in the upstream and oil field service sectors,” S&P said.

“However, any such actions also depend on company-specific factors, including our other rating assumptions and issuers’ flexibility to adapt to lower prices, hedge positions, and liquidity. We anticipate few immediate sovereign rating changes as a direct consequence of these updated price assumptions.”

Santos had its BBB+ credit rating cut to BBB on December 8 after the last downgrade to S&P’s oil price assumptions. While the company said it had plenty of cash and debt capacity to fund its capex obligations, investors marked the shares down on concern it would be unable to avoid an equity raising to beef up its balance sheet should S&P again lower its price assumptions, and its rating was further reduced, to just above investment grade.

S&P said on Wednesday that while it recognised current oil prices were even significantly lower than its new assumptions, it expected “some stabilisation and ultimate recovery” as oil companies curb production of high-cost wells and defer capital spending. Uncertainty also remains as to future decision on production made by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, it noted.

It expects US shale development drilling to be cut back next year if WTI prices remain below $US75 a barrel, slowing production growth and ultimately supporting prices. It pointed to estimates by consultancy Bentek, which estimates that a 10 per cent cut in annual drilling activity would result in a 4 per cent reduction in production growth in six key US shale plays next year, and a 6 per cent reduction in 2016. A 25 per cent cut in spending would result in reductions of 11 per cent in 2015 and 16 per cent in 2016. Lower prices also render many deep water oil fields less economically viable, it noted.

“We do not foresee a dramatic drop in near-term US crude production, but we believe the rate of investment in growth is likely to slow with prevailing spot and futures prices,” S&P said.

Longer term assumptions for both Brent and WTI crude were left unchanged at $US85 a barrel and $US80 a barrel, respectively.

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Good year, bad year: how the big games companies fared in 2014

Written by admin on 16/06/2019 Categories: 南京夜网

Critically acclaimed Grand Theft Auto V continues to do well for Take-Two. Photo: RockstarBorderlands: The Pre-Sequel! pleased series fans but failed to do much new.

2014 has been a fascinating year in video games. We have seen surprise smash hits come out of nowhere while heavily hyped big budget titles have sunk without a trace, plus PR disasters, major controversies, and consumer revolts.

Here is our list of the winners and losers of 2014. WinnersGrand Theft Auto V had a high-definition re-release on the new consoles and PC, selling three million copies in its first week despite already shifting more than 35 million copies on 360 and PS3.

Over at 2K, there was more success. Civilization: Beyond Earthtopped the PC gaming sales charts both for UK retail and Steam simultaneously, a rare feat, and also enjoyed positive reviews. Popular basketball simulator NBA 2K15 also achieved success with critics and fans.

There were some downbeat notes, however. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! received mediocre reviews, and WWE 2K15, the publisher’s big entry into next-generation wrestling games, was a dud.

Activision – The first big hit of the year was Activision’s: Destiny, the first new property in many years from Halo creator Bungie. While it divided critics, it was a sales phenomenon, topping $US300 million in sales in its first week and claimed by Activision to be the highest-selling new property in games history.

Also performing well critically (though sales figures have not yet been released) was this year’s Skylanders, titled Trap Team.  It reviewed well and seems to be selling strongly, despite competition from Disney Infinity 2.0.

Finally there was Call of Duty, the main event in Activision’s annual release schedule. The series regularly breaks sales records, and 2014 was no exception: Advanced Warfare was cited as “the biggest entertainment launch of 2014”, meaning that it raised more revenue at launch than any other game, film, music album, or entertainment property. It also received the best reviews the series has seen in years. Losers

Ubisoft – The usually reliable Ubisoft has had a year that truly deserves to be called annus horribilis. Watch Dogs set the trend for the coming year: it was criticised before release for not living up to the amazing graphics seen during its trade show previews, and when released it was savaged by critics. This triggered the first of several sharp drops in its stock price for 2014.

The unveiling of Assassin’s Creed: Unity in June attracted more controversy, with fans outraged that the new four-player co-operative play featured only male characters. Ubisoft spokespeople stumbled through unconvincing excuses, but there didn’t seem to be any good reason for the oversight.

When Unity was released there was more bad news. The game was a buggy, unfinished mess, apparently rushed out the door to meet a deadline instead of being delayed until it was complete.

Ubisoft has apologised for the disastrous launch, released a series of major patches (one of which listed more than 300 fixes), and offered free games and downloadable content to make it up to frustrated fans. None of this stopped Ubisoft shares plummeting.

Open world racing game The Crew, which was delayed for more than a year, was also a critical disaster, but at least Far Cry 4 launched without major problems or controversy. It was an unusually bad year from a company generally known for quality games, and it will no doubt be hoping for 2015 to be better. The big three

Sony, Microsoft’s Xbox division, and Nintendo all had interesting years, with all seeing strong sales, but one console being a clear leader.

The PlayStation 4 has enjoyed a strong sales lead over its next-gen competitor, but the Xbox One refuses to die, and the long-struggling Wii U has seen a surge in sales, probably due to some strong exclusives.

Between Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart 8, and to a lesser extent Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2, the Wii U has gone from trailing far behind the Xbox One to roughly level pegging. The PS4 is the undoubted king, however, selling about as many consoles as the Xbox One and Wii U combined.

DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

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Why higher petrol prices would be good for you, me and Joe Hockey

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V8 fans won’t welcome higher fuel pricesOf all the unpopular measures in Joe Hockey’s unpopular budget, reportedly the most unpopular was reinstating indexation of fuel excise.

Yet a much better – but even more unpopular – idea would be to seize the opportunity of crashing oil prices now to recoup all the indexation that has been forgone.

Yep, I’m saying increase the price of petrol by about 12 cents a litre.

When you’re stuck this deep in the policy and opinion poll mud and show no sign of climbing out, you may as well lather on some of the medicinal variety for its complexion-enhancing properties.

Hey presto, around $5 billion a year would disappear from Joe’s troublesome deficit.

And he could claim all of that as a “direct action”, carbon-reducing measure, allowing him to scrap the silly $2.5 billion allocated for burying charcoal and such.

But before the V8 drivers arrive at my garage door with tar and feathers, let me point out that there would be reasonable benefits for our economic health in such a move.

John Howard’s excuse for scrapping indexation back in 2001 (and actually cutting it by 1.5 cents a litre as well) was to alleviate the impact of higher petrol prices.

The real reason of course was to get himself get re-elected, but let’s stick with the theoretical one for now.

With oil prices nearly halving in six months, there are no higher petrol prices needing alleviation.

Indeed, the punters would barely miss what they haven’t quite got yet.

Maintaining petrol prices close to $1.40 a litre would hardly cause great strain. Remember that inflation is quite low and it actually wouldn’t be a good thing for us for it to go much lower.

And it’s not as if petrol in Australia is expensive by international standards, as the attached graph shows.

Yes, there’s the odd silly oil state and the USA that nearly gives the stuff away, but most of the world pays considerably more, which encourages them to use it more efficiently, taking with all the inherit benefits that efficiency delivers.

Petrol becoming cheap again would send a different message.

Many of us have actually been considering fuel efficiency as factor in deciding what vehicle to buy.

Drop prices to $1.20 a litre or less – a level that would feel cheap now – and, gee, that V8 does have an engine note the fuel-sipping little turbo-diesel lacks.

The downside is mainly political. Labor and the Greens were shamelessly populist and short-sighted in whipping up opposition to the reintroduction of indexation alone, so they would have even more principle-free fun over recouping the foregone indexation.

The move therefore would need to be carefully packaged: the OECD has told us we need more consumption tax revenue of one sort or another, so wouldn’t restoring indexation be more palatable than a 15 per cent GST?

And you could always pretend a share of the extra revenue was going to public transport or something similar.

After scaring the electorate so hard for so long about the evil deficit, maybe being seen to make a little progress on that front would count for something. Or maybe not.

Economically, we would miss out on the stimulus that cheaper fuel gives consumers, an effect similar to a small tax cut when the economy wouldn’t mind some stimulus.

While it would be nice, it’s of passing interest.Punters adapt to prices very quickly. And, as you’ve noted, the poor don’t drive cars – or maybe you’ve un-noted that.

A bigger problem with this initiative is that, while it’s been slowly forming, the key driver (so to speak) for it has been shot down in flames on these pages by two colleagues.

On Monday, overshadowed by tragedy, Peter Martin very nicely made the case for solving all the budget’s problems simply by taxing superannuation contributions as part of normal income

The case for it is overwhelmingly convincing, despite the predictable howls of self-interest from those who would lose a massive and unnecessary perk. (It was one of the many fine ideas in the Henry tax review that are being steadily exhumed.)

And today, Ross Gittins slaps all of the budget-fixation brigade around the head with a heavily-framed edition of the missing Big Picture.

There are more important things we should be concentrating on while doing the necessary housekeeping.

But, personally, I’d be happy for the greater good to see petrol prices not fall sharply – it would make me feel a little better about buying that efficient turbo-diesel.

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Second Test: Murali Vijay plunders a century as Aussies wilt in the heat

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Grilled: Cheteshwar Pujara given out even though ball missed his bat. Photo: Via Channel NineAs it happened: Day oneMitchell Marsh injures hammyClarke surgery ‘a success’Greg Baum: India take a bat to curse

Australia’s young quicks wilted in the oppressive Brisbane heat, another bowler was lost to injury and India’s batsmen were well on top at the Gabba fortress. Welcome to the Australian captaincy, Steve Smith.

Through no real fault of his own, Smith endured a tough first day at the office as Test skipper, his team under physical duress and in trouble on day one of the second Test as Indian opener Murali Vijay continued his relentless runscoring against Australia.

Vijay unfurled a brilliant 144, his fourth century in eight matches against Australia. It was the second-highest score by a visiting opener at the Gabba, behind Alastair Cook’s unbeaten double-century in 2010.

India were 4-311 at stumps, with the elegant Ajinkya Rahane unbeaten on 75, Rohit Sharma on 26 and more batting to come after the return of captain MS Dhoni and spinner Ravi Ashwin. It was the second-highest first-day score by a visiting team at the Gabba, where Australia has not lost a Test in Smith’s lifetime.

Vijay has made 976 runs at an average of 69 against Australia and his reprieve on 36, when recalled batsman Shaun Marsh grassed a low catch at third slip, was a let-off the home side could ill afford.

Nor could the Australians afford a hamstring injury to young allrounder Mitchell Marsh, who grimaced and left the field after his sixth over shortly after celebrating his maiden Test wicket. His departure left Smith with a depleted attack as the temperature soared to the mid-30s but coach Darren Lehmann refused to use the heat as an excuse for India’s cascade of runs in the last session.

Marsh’s injury was only the beginning of the Australian bowlers’ physical struggles.

Debutant Josh Hazlewood was the best of the bowlers, gaining steep bounce and a bit of swing, but fell on the pitch and had to be treated for cramp after collecting the wickets of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. Later, the 23-year-old couldn’t complete his first over with the second new ball and had to leave the field with physiotherapist Alex Kountouris.

Hazlewood’s most recent first-class game was in early November. “He had cramps all over his body, so it wasn’t just one place,” Kountouris said. “With him it was his calves, both hamstrings, groin, hips, he just couldn’t function.

“You could see his pace was down when he came back to bowl and he showed some courage to do that because he really struggled. Every ball he bowled he was cramping up in multiple places.”

Hazlewood is expected to bowl on day two.

Mitchell Starc had to leave the field in distress from the heat and returned only to clutch at his ribcage. In the Channel Nine commentary box Shane Warne was highly critical of Starc’s body language, but Kountouris said he was struggling with rib and back pain. “We think he is going to be able to bowl tomorrow.”

Even Mitchell Johnson, so destructive at the Gabba last summer and now, in the absence of Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris, the undisputed spearhead, was subdued. Both left-armers went for four runs an over.

With the exception of a couple of deliveries that reared up and were gloved to the vacant leg gully region, the Indian batsmen played him without too much trouble. Johnson was also bothered by a sore finger on his bowling hand, receiving a blow on a spot that he hurt during the previous Test series in the United Arab Emirates.

“He is generally sore but he is fine,” Kountouris said.

Lehmann was critical of the bowling with the exception of the middle session, when Hazlewood struck twice.

“We didn’t get it quite right for a long period of time, second session we certainly did, third session we were too full or too wide and we couldn’t hit our lengths the whole time. It was very hot and we understand that as a group and a team but we’ve got to be better than that in the last session,” he said.

“We went for 160 in 30 overs which is not what we’re about.”

Medical staff now face a huge challenge to nurse the bowlers through the match.

“The difficulty of today was it’s day one. You probably cop this if it was day three or day four, it makes the next four days very, very long,” Kountouris said.

Vijay, who brought up his century with a beautiful cover drive off Shane Watson and seemed too dazed by the heat to celebrate, was given another life on 102 when Shaun Marsh misjudged the pace of the ball at short cover.

He attacked Nathan Lyon, whose main asset on this pitch was bounce rather than turn.

Eventually the opening batsman charged the off-spinner and took a tired swipe, and was caught behind.

Smith had to turn to David Warner’s medium pace and bowled an over of his own wrist spin before taking the second new ball. There was little else he could do in the circumstances, and his only real mistake was to lose the toss.

“I thought he coped really well considering the revolving door. In and out, we didn’t know who was out on the field. We had [spin coach] John Davison  in his whites,” Lehmann said.

Smith was also slow getting through the overs, with just 83 bowled for the day.

Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan got through the first hour, Dhawan tempering his attacking instincts. But the left-hander could control himself for only so long, and attempted to cut a short, wide ball from Marsh.

Cheteshwar Pujara paid the price for India’s refusal to use the DRS, out for 18 when umpire Ian Gould ruled he was caught behind from a short-pitched delivery from Hazlewood.

Replays indicated the ball came off the grille of his helmet.

It was an unusual way for debutant Hazlewood to collect his first Test wicket, but there was no doubt about his second. The dangerous Kohli was fooled by the extra bounce when he attempted a cut shot and was caught behind for 19.

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Ballarat woman Whitney Beseler’s Burger Ring blooper on Millionaire Hotseat

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Whitney Beseler on Tuesday night’s episode. PICTURE: CHANNEL NINE BURGER Rings are a delicious chip.

But one Ballarat woman will never be able to stomach them again after a TVblooper which has left her the butt of jokes across the nation.

Whitney Beseler appeared onChannel Nine’s Millionaire Hotseaton Tuesday night when the first question – generally the easiest – stumped her in brilliant fashion.

“Which of these is not a piece of jewellery commonly worn to symbolise a relationship between two people,” asked host Eddie McGuire.

The options: A, Engagement ring,B, Anniversary ring,C, Wedding ring and D, Burger ring.

Within seconds a confident Ms Beselerhad locked in B, Anniversary ring, quickly realising she’dmade one hell of a mistake.

“Oh my god, Eddie, that is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me before,” she said in a fluster.

Ms Beseler spoke to The Courier on Wednesday and said she was shocked bythe negativity her answercreated.

“Some of the things people are saying about me have just been shocking,” she said.

“It’s hard to believe people can be like that.”

The teacher said the show was filmed in October, adding it hadn’t been an anxious wait until it aired this week.

“I honestly wasn’t worried about it,” she said.

“It was one of the funniest things to ever happen in my life and it will always be such a great story.

“If this can make people smileafter the tragic events in Sydneythis week, well that’s a great thing.”

As for Eddie, she said he told her after the show it had made for brilliant television.

“After the show he walked up top me, high fived my hand and said itwas the funniest thing he’d ever seen on the show,” she said.

“So that’s why I wasn’t worried.”

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Council mergers: Warringah wants to join Pittwater, Manly to form Northern Beaches council

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In 1992, Pittwater seceded from Warringah and formed its own council. Now, Warringah wants its northern neighbour back – and Manly as well.

Warringah Council passed a motion on Tuesday night that it would seek to merge with Pittwater and Manly councils to form a northern beaches council under the state government’s Fit for the Future program, which is dangling a $258 million carrot before the state’s 152 councils to merge voluntarily and reduce their number substantially.

“The benefits of one council organisation for the northern beaches are clear,” Warringah Mayor Michael Regan said in a statement. “It would mean better value for rate payers and better ability to plan for the entire region. Concerns about loss of local representation are a red herring – as this can be maintained, and even increased, depending on the governance model that is adopted. I call upon our neighbours to support the recommendation for the creation of a new northern beaches council for our community.”

A report tabled at Warringah’s council meeting recommended endorsing the creation of one northern beaches council over splitting Warringah into two and merging each half into Manly and Pittwater councils. It was carried 9-1. A merger with half of Warringah is the more palatable option for Manly. “Neither Manly or Pittwater are particularly keen about being taken over by Warringah,” Manly mayor Jean Hay said.

Pittwater council voted in October to reject a northern beaches super council.  “Pittwater’s councillors rejected the Fit for the Future proposal of merging with neighbouring councils Manly and Warringah to form one council,” Pittwater Mayor Jacqueline Townsend said. “Pittwater Council remains committed to advocating for a strong and independent Pittwater.”

Pittwater’s secession from Warringah more than 20 years ago resulted in a multimillion-dollar administrative and court battle over the ownership of council assets. The Warringah mayor at the time, Councillor Brian Green, said then: “My overall conception is the whole separation issue will have to go down as the worst blot on the horizon of contemporary local government.”

Warringah’s move this week echoes that of four larger western Sydney councils – Blacktown, Liverpool, Parramatta and The Hills – which have also welcomed the idea of talking to smaller neighbouring councils about merging.

Any new Sydney council formed by a merger would be given a grant of $10.5 million – plus further funding up to $12.5 million for every 50,000 residents above 250,000.

The Independent Local Government Review Panel, chaired by  Professor Graham Sansom, recommended  Sydney’s 41 councils be reduced to 15-18.

Councils have until the end of June to either apply for mergers or explain why they are financially sustainable in their current form.

On releasing his panel’s report  this year, Professor Sansom said: “NSW councils spend around $10 billion each year and employ some 50,000 people. Better local government is vital for the state’s future. We literally can’t afford councils that are unsustainable or lack the capacity to meet community needs and work effectively with state agencies. No change is not an option.”

with Angharad Owens-Strauss

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Sydney siege: The moment hostage John O’Brien saw a green button and decided to make a run for it

Written by admin on 01/06/2019 Categories: 南京夜网

John O’Brien, left, and Stefan Balafoutis were the first two hostages to run to safety on Monday. Photo: Mark Metcalfe John O’Brien pays tribute to the victims of the Lindt siege hostage incident in Martin Place from outside his home in Maroubra. Photo: FAIRFAX MEDIA

Sydney siege survivor John O’Brien paid tribute to the victims outside his home on Wednesday. Photo: Janie Barrett

The Woman in Window 4How the siege reached its awful end Arrest after threats to mosqueWhy police sniper didn’t shoot gunman

The siege at the Sydney cafe had been going on for more than five hours and 82-year-old John O’Brien had become convinced the gunman was insane and they would likely all end up dead.

And so he made a decision, one he knew came with a cost: he was going to try to escape.

O’Brien — a former professional tennis player who played at Wimbledon — looked at the gunman who was at the other end of the cafe, barricaded behind tables and chairs. The man had forced two or three young women to stand in front of him as human shields, so police snipers couldn’t take shots at him.

O’Brien glanced up at Stefan Balafoutis, a lawyer, who was standing, as ordered, with his hands against the window. The younger man had his eyes closed.

“I said to the barrister, look, this is not going to end well, this guy will never get out of here alive, and he’s going to take everyone with him,” O’Brien said in the first detailed account from a hostage who was held inside the cafe.

He whispered his plan to Balafoutis. The lawyer replied: “Good idea.”

O’Brien was exhausted and was wondering at times if he was in a dream. He hadn’t eaten since early in the morning, before their ordeal began, when he’d ordered a piece of raisin toast and a cappuccino.

He thought the coffee at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Martin Place was creamy and delicious, albeit overpriced. He liked the chocolates on display, a point of difference at the cafe. He’d visit a few times a year, often after an appointment with his eye doctor like the one he’d had that morning.

O’Brien was eating his toast when 50-year-old Man Haron Monis strode in, wearing a bandanna with Arabic writing. He pulled out a shotgun. O’Brien looked at it, thinking it was the size of a tennis racket. He knew right away the situation was dire.

The gunman grabbed Tori Johnson, the 34-year-old cafe manager, ordering him to lock the door. O’Brien said Monis was immediately aggressive and belligerent.

There were 17 people in the cafe that Monday who became the gunman’s hostages. Several were cafe staff in their early 20s. The customers included three lawyers and four bank workers who had popped in from nearby offices. O’Brien was the oldest while Jarrod Hoffman, a 19-year-old university student and a cafe staffer, was the youngest.

Monis ordered the customers to stand with their hands on the cafe window and to hold up a black Shahada flag with the Islamic declaration of faith written on it. O’Brien said he stood with his hands on the window for 30 minutes, or maybe 45 — it was hard to tell — before telling the gunman how old he was and saying he needed to sit down.

It was his first challenge to the gunman’s authority and a bit of a ruse, he said. He felt stronger than he was letting on. He’s remarkably fit for his age. He still plays competitive tennis, and is among the best in Australia in his age group. As a young man, in 1956, he made it to the fourth round of Wimbledon.

Monis complained but relented, allowing O’Brien and a few others to sit.

The hours ticked by as the gunman tried to use the hostages to relay his odd demands on social media: to be delivered a flag of the Islamic State group and to speak directly to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

O’Brien would sometimes rest his head on the table. He thought about his wife, Maureen, whose brother had died two weeks earlier. He thought about his two daughters. And he thought about the gunman, who he became convinced was mad.

O’Brien quietly slipped out of his seat and sat on the floor. He’d noticed a small gap between the wall and a large advertising placard, which was perhaps 3 metres wide and 1.5 metres high. He figured the gap was less than a foot (0.3 metre) wide but he knew he had to squeeze through if his plan was to work.

He struggled, trying several times and failing. Finally, he made it through. Now the placard was obscuring him from the gunman. He lay down, looking up at a large green button. But he wasn’t sure if it would open the glass doors. If the button didn’t work, he figured, he would be seen by the gunman and killed.

Also weighing on his mind was the thought of leaving the others behind. He didn’t want to, of course, and he had no way of knowing how the gunman might react.

“I was terribly worried for them,” he said.

But there was no turning back. He reached up and pushed the green button and a moment later, at 3:37 pm, he was free.

O’Brien is now instantly recognisable after his daring dash, broadcast around the world, as one of the first hostages to escape.

He and Stefan Balafoutis can be seen desperately running from the cafe at 3.45pm on Monday, five hours after it was first captured by gunman Man Haron Monis.  They were followed shortly after by Lindt worker Paolo Vassallo.

The men put their hands in the air as they reached the heavily clad officers. O’Brien took a step back out into the street, gesturing back toward the cafe, before an officer pushed him behind the front line and to safety.

“I’ve never felt so much relief as I did as when I turned that corner and saw the armed police officer,” Mr O’Brien said.

Over the following hours, several more hostages escaped. The siege ended just after 2 am in a barrage of gunfire when police rushed in to free the remaining captives. Two hostages, including Tori Johnson, the cafe manager, were killed. So was the gunman.

Johnson would be hailed a hero, after reports he brought the standoff to an end by wrestling Monis for the shotgun, saving the lives of most of his fellow hostages.

O’Brien certainly considers Johnson a hero. He says he can’t stop thinking about Johnson and the other victim, Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old mother of three.

“They weren’t doing anything wrong,” he said.

Speaking outside his eastern suburbs home on Wednesday morning, he paid tribute to Dawson and Johnson, the two hostages who died in the siege.

“I offer my heartfelt condolences to their friends and family,” he said. “My thoughts and prayers are also with my fellow hostages and everyone affected by this terrible event as we all come to terms with it.”

Mr O’Brien said he had been “terribly stressed” inside the cafe with “an awful headache”.

“We had had virtually no food all day long.”

Mr O’Brien said he was grateful to be home now with his wife Maureen.

“I’ve been trying to get some more sleep,” he said. “I’ve been very stressed again today this morning.”

But the retiree showed he was determined to get on with life, dressed in his tennis gear for a 12 o’clock game. And he has not lost his sense of humour. 

“Tennis, that’s my racquet,” he said.

AP and Patrick Begley

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Red imported fire ants threaten playgrounds, 2000 Sydney homes

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Foreign invader: The red imported fire ant, an infestation of which arrived at Port Botany earlier this month. Photo: Supplied The new eradication area.

There are renewed concerns the outbreak of red imported fire ants in Sydney could spread to backyards and playgrounds as the state government expands its eradication efforts.

NSW Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson announced on Wednesday that the control area had been extended to cover a two-kilometre radius from the nests in Port Botany.

The control area now includes more than 2000 homes, as well as playgrounds, golf courses and local businesses.

The ants were first discovered in early December and experts have warned it is critical to eradicate them immediately.

“While no additional sites have been found, authorities are taking all possible steps to prevent any potential spread of the pest,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

Surveillance has now covered 366 hectares across the two-kilometre zone, according to Ms Hodgkinson. The movement of “high-risk materials” that could contain the fire ants – including soil, mulch, pot plants and turf – has also been limited within the control area.

The Invasive Species Council, which described the pests as “the piranha of the ant world”, warned the initial eradication response was crucial. The ants can inflict painful bites on people, pets and livestock.

“If it fails, it will irrevocably change Sydney,” a spokeswoman said. “Imagine future Christmases with red imported fire ants – no backyard barbecues, no children running about the yard [and] parks out of bounds unless governments spend lots of money baiting. It would mean much less wildlife and great costs to farmers.”

A Department of Primary Industries spokesman said an “extensive” community awareness program was underway. “All affected residents received information in the mail and we are working with councils and other local organisations to get information out to the community,” the spokesman said.

The control order also gives authorities the power to check properties if they suspect fire ants are in the vicinity, according to the spokesman.

The DPI declined to provide an exact location of the quarantined site in Port Botany, citing confidentiality reasons.

Fire ants, which are endemic in parts of the United States, cost its economy up to $7 billion per year. A previous study estimated the cost to southeast Queensland alone could be up to $43 billion over 30 years if the ants were not contained.

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