OPINION: Creating a healthier and wealthier future

TODAY is another landmark occasion in HMRI’s history as we celebrate our international connections with an official visit from Swedish ambassador Par Ahlberger, while formally cementing a regional business alliance with industry co-operative HunterNet.
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When HMRI’s founders met in 1998 I imagine this was a far cry from even their wildest dreams. There were fewer than 90 scientists and clinicians engaged in research back then, and seed funding of just $100,000 was provided to implement a business plan.

A simple endeavour to improve community wellbeing has evolved into a major industry in its own right, with 1500 researchers from the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health (HNEH) now striving to treat and defeat some of the world’s biggest health issues.

Of course, the time was ripe for a new venture to replace the ailing steel industry and reinvigorate the city. In a region renowned for pioneering spirit, the stakeholders were hungry to ensure that their research vision was realised.

Today, HNEH and the university are the region’s major employers, while HMRI has grown to become the second largest medical research institute in NSW. The Hunter has proven to be a place where the nurturing of knowledge can flourish alongside grapes and coal.

Delivering world-class translational research is our sole purpose, which means supporting an ongoing cycle of information and technology from the laboratory through to the clinic and back.

At any given time researchers from the university and HNEH are engaged in clinical trials valued at over $100million. HMRI’s own fundraising efforts have generated more than $50million, which has leveraged considerably more state and federal funding into the region.

At the same time there are healthcare cost savings worth billions of dollars flowing from more effective and efficient treatments.

When you consider the multiplier effect of the dollar, we’re creating both a healthier and wealthier future for the region. We aren’t just giving people more energy – we’re energising the Hunter’s economy too.

Of course, game-changing innovations can emerge quite suddenly when you provide the right environment for smart people to work in, and encourage them to think outside the square. Harness the support of surrounding industries and the sky’s the limit.

That’s why HMRI has increasingly become pro-business in its thinking, forging partnerships with drug and technology companies across the nation, as well as abroad. Our horizons have expanded not only to Sweden but throughout Asia, the US and Europe.

By signing a new Memorandum of Understanding with HunterNet, we hope to further capitalise on synergies within the region’s medical and manufacturing sectors and create new investment opportunities. It’s a significant point of difference for our institute.

Both organisations share a strategic vision to establish a biotech cluster for pharmaceuticals, medical devices and healthcare delivery, and I see great opportunities for good ideas to flow back and forth.

We can dare to think big and dream big in the Hunter because we have infrastructure, we have expertise, we have entrepreneurship, we have connections and we have the close proximity to major markets.

Our alliance with HunterNet provides a mechanism, right on our doorstep, to underpin and accelerate new developments that will further help grow the local economy. It also puts us on a stronger footing to work with our fellow collaborators in Sweden and beyond.

Professor Michael Nilsson is director of the Hunter Medical Research Institute

Like it or not, we’re moving into a world of greater tax transparency, not less

Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting would be among a number of private companies that would have to publicly report their tax information, unless the laws are wound back by the Coalition government. Photo: Ron D’RaineThe arguments put forward by some in business and the Coalition government about why large private companies shouldn’t have their tax details published by the n Taxation Office have become more sophisticated.
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That doesn’t necessarily make them legitimate.

Under tax disclosure laws – passed under the former Labor government but voted against by several  Coalition ministers – Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan was required to publish on its website the tax details of about 1600 public and private companies with $100 million or more annual turnover.

The laws affected public multinationals and private businesses such as those run by billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart. It would have given details including a company’s taxable income, total income and tax paid.

But the Coalition – which has faced constant lobbying from those in business and tax circles – has decided this is a bad idea. It has passed amendments to the laws that will exempt about 800 private companies.

How and why did we get here? The first sign that these laws were going to be wound back came in January last year, when the then assistant treasurer Arthur Sinodinos expressed concern that it would mislead and prevent the public from being well informed.

Then in March, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the reason they were reviewing the laws was because private business owners were worried they could be kidnapped and held at ransom when people realise how wealthy they are from their published tax information.

There was of course no evidence to back that extraordinary claim, and  the n Federal Police had not been told of these security concerns.

That same month, when Josh Frydenberg was assistant treasurer, the public started being fed new arguments about why public companies should be exempt.

These included that companies would be at a “commercial disadvantage” if they happened to be suppliers to the big supermarket chains like Coles and Woolworths, or were negotiating with them.

That publication of company directors’ name and addresses would breach people’s  privacy.

And finally, that there was no public interest benefit, that such information could mislead the public, and create unnecessary compliance costs for business.

These arguments, on first glance, are more understandable than the ridiculous one that the wealthy will be subject to kidnapping.

While it managed to confuse some independent senators such as Nick Xenophon as to how they should vote, the case to wind back the laws still doesn’t stack up.

Firstly, we are not talking about small fish here. The laws would only affect companies with revenue of $100 million or more. Apart from Gina Rinehart’s business, companies like James Packer’s Consolidated Press Holdings and Adelaide Airport would be among those required to report.

This legislation would not give Coles and Woolworths, or any other large player, more information than they already have.

Secondly, personal information about company directors is already a matter of public record. Sole owners of businesses can currently be identified through ASIC searches – just ask one of the journalists compiling the BRW rich lists.

And finally, it’s not misleading to know how much tax multinationals pay. Telling the public they are too stupid to understand tax information is offensive: the Senate economics legislation committee cited a “poor understanding” of the difference between turnover and taxable income as one of the “strong reasons” to wind back the transparency measures.

We are moving into a world of greater tax transparency, not less. In Europe and Canada, extractive companies are already being required to publicly reveal their tax information.

A dissenting report by Labor senators and the n Greens on the government’s proposed amendments says that introducing this law will erode public confidence, and that “the arguments being wielded clumsily in defence of this bill are absurd, illogical, and often lacking any evidence”.

“The government is evidently doing the bidding of a tiny number of very wealthy individuals,” it says, adding that the bulk of submissions to the inquiry were made by tax consultants and tax lawyers servicing large private companies. The only corporation to make a contribution was Teys , it said, a privately owned meat-processing joint venture with the American company Cargill, based in Brisbane.

The dissenting report also points out that the individual’s right to privacy of their income and tax information remains preserved under current legislation, and that “corporations do not enjoy the rights and privileges of natural people”.

The government had tried to make out as if it was a breach of a UN covenant drafted back in 1966 that aimed to prevent governments arbitrarily or unlawfully invading the privacy of people’s homes and bedrooms.

As Parliament debated privacy concerns, ‘s biggest public companies are gearing up to launch their own reports detailing how they are good taxpayers.

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto publish voluntary reports. While this is more than most other companies do, BHP is not a beacon of transparency. It had avoided answering detailed questions at the Melbourne hearing of the inquiry into corporate tax avoidance on the amount of profit it shifts through Singapore.

It was only until the inquiry forced it to make a written submission that BHP Billiton revealed that the ATO is chasing it for $500 million in unpaid taxes and fines and that it pays no n tax on the 42 per cent of its profit channelled through Singapore.

It may be the case that large private companies have legitimate operations in places like Singapore and that they pay the right amount of tax in .

But how will we ever know now that these companies aren’t expected to report it?

When the crisis manager hits a crisis: Nauru spruiker Mercer PR goes to ground

Nauru Justice Minister David Adeang. Photo: Michael Gordon The conditions of asylum seekers detained on Nauru are clouded in secrecy. Photo: Angela Wylie
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Protesters at a rally calling for the closure of the Manus and Nauru detention centres. Photo: Anadolu Agency

PR company condemned by peak body for releasing rape claim details

When calamity strikes and your reputation is shot, Lyall Mercer reckons he can sort you out. But what happens when the crisis manager is steeped in his own crisis?

Mercer, a former journalist and founder of Mercer PR, went to ground this week after his firm committed a colossal public relations blunder – revealing the name of an alleged refugee rape victim and making itself the story.

The Brisbane-based firm’s Instagram and Twitter account have been set to “private” and most links on its website have been deleted.

Among Mercer’s clients is the government of Nauru, which hosts a detention centre bankrolled by . Mercer PR circulated a Nauru police brief detailing the Somali refugee’s name, particulars of her alleged rape and a vaginal examination.

Condemnation was swift, including from the Public Relations Institute of  which suggested the incident was a privacy breach that highlighted lax professional standards.

The incident has cast the spotlight on Mr Mercer, principal of the eponymously named firm.

The company website says clients pay Mr Mercer “primarily to think. I think about the message, the angles, the implications and the pitfalls. I think about what no one else thinks about.”

Mercer PR is called on when “company, executive or personal reputations are at risk” and advises clients on “achieving positive outcomes from negativity”.

The Hillsong Church and the Queensland Taxi Council confirmed they use the services of Mercer PR. The Queensland Liberal National Party was also once on the firm’s books.

Mr Mercer is no newcomer to controversy. In 2012 he brokered a contentious interview deal between Channel Nine and the wife of triple-murderer Max Sica.

Victims of crime groups labelled the deal, for which Mr Mercer was reportedly paid, as “disgusting”.

Since the latest controversy broke, Mr Mercer has deleted his blog, however his views on social affairs and the PR business are on the public record.

In 2013 he said then prime minister Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech – widely lauded as one of her best performances – badly misread the public mood.

In 2010 he wrote in the Courier Mail that children live in “an unprotected, R-rated world” and asked “aren’t our children more important than making money? If not, maybe it’s time for governments to step in for the sake of children.”

In August, there were 93 children in detention on Nauru.

In an odd role reversal on Thursday, the Nauruan government came out swinging in defence of its embattled n spin doctors.

In a press statement Justice Minister David Adeang said the release of the woman’s name was “the decision of the Nauruan authorities alone” and the media should stop blaming others including the firm who “merely distributed the government’s statement”.

“The police investigation has shown there was no rape, therefore, as far as we are concerned the person in question is not a rape victim or a victim of any crime,” Mr Adeang said, adding “truth is the real victim here”.

Nauru police – subject to criticism they are incompetent and ill-equipped – have closed the rape case due to insufficient evidence.

The controversy underscores the difficulties journalists face obtaining information about the plight of asylum seekers and refugees at the n-funded detention centre.

The n Border Force Act threatens detention centre workers with up to two years in prison if they disclose information relating to their work, and the Nauru government recently hiked the cost of a journalist visa to $8000 – which is not refunded if the application is refused.

The Nauru government said on Thursday the “absurd” reaction to the release of the woman’s name means it is “reluctant to update n media on future police investigations”.

In a statement issued Friday morning, Mercer PR said the company has acted “legally and ethically” at all times and is considering legal action against the PRIA.

“We have not ‘gone to ground’ and these reports are ridiculous,” the statement said. “We are simply focused on servicing our clients in the manner we always have, rather than answering ridiculous questions no one in cares about, like the settings on our social media accounts.

“Just because we choose not to give a particular journalist a response to questions doesn’t mean we are hiding.”

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Dancing tampons frolic in The Period Song on Swedish children’s TV channel Barnkanalen

The Period Song video clip features dancing, anthropomorphic tampons. Photo: YouTube Swedish public service broadcaster SVT says the video is designed to teach children about menstruation. Photo: YouTube
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Anthropomorphism has always been big in children’s television. In , it is all about talking bananas. In Sweden, dancing tampons are the stars.

Children’s channel Barnkanalen has released a video titled The Period Song, which features tampons dressed as pirates, kings and hippies, bouncing merrily from their strings like puppets beneath a makeshift mirror ball.

YouTube star and television presenter Alex Hermansson strums a ukulele, while singing and rapping in Swedish, “Period, period, hip hip hooray for period!”

He sings with a group of teenagers, cavorts on a basketball court and dances in front of a street mural decorated with red droplets. “It’s just a little blood,” he sings, as a red spatter hits the screen.

“The body’s working as it should. And that is really, really good – hooray!”

At the video’s conclusion, Hermansson dips one of the bouncing tampons into a container of crimson liquid.

The song will air on Friday on the channel, which is part of the Swedish public service broadcaster SVT. The broadcaster has said the video aims to destigmatise menstruation and explain the subject to children.

“You should be able to talk about the most natural thing, as half the world’s population is involved,” head of programming for SVT, Petter Bragee told Sweden’s The Local.

It is not the first time the channel has caused a stir with its videos for children. Earlier this year it aired a video featuring a pair of dancing male and female genitals. Called Snoppen och Snippan, which translates as Willie and Twinkle, the clip has been viewed more than six million times on YouTube.

Adani Carmichael: China’s largest coal mine free to proceed after Greg Hunt gives approval

Environment Minister Greg Hunt, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, announced on Thursday the mine would proceed. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Equipment at the Abbot Point coal terminal in Queensland. Photo: Glenn Hunt
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Protesters oppose the Carmichael coal mine in Brisbane. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Former prime minister Tony Abbott with mining magnate Gautum Adani. Photo: Andrew Meares

The site of the proposed Carmichael coal mine.

Opponents say the yakka skink is threatened by the mine.

The ornamental snake.

Abbot Point coal terminal. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Analysis: Is the mine really a $20b project creating 10,000 jobs?

The nation’s largest coal mine has passed a significant hurdle after Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved it with “the strictest conditions in n history”, in a decision environment groups have declared “a disaster”.

Mr Hunt on Thursday said the Carmichael coal mine proposed by Indian mining giant Adani has been given the green light after the Federal Court in August set aside the previous approval.

The project, which will produce up to 60 million tonnes of coal for export a year, has faced staunch opposition because its Abbot Point terminals are located close to the Great Barrier Reef.

Opponents have already flagged an intention to launch a legal challenge to the latest approval.

The government decision clears a regulatory hurdle, yet there are still questions over how the $16 billion project will be financed. National Bank has said it will not fund the mine and other banks are being pressured to follow suit.

The court previously said Mr Hunt had not properly considered advice about two threatened species – the yakka skink and the ornamental snake.Mr Hunt on Thursday said his approval for the project, in the Galilee Basin in remote central Queensland, considered additional information provided by Adani and environmental groups.

The approval, which includes a rail line, would be “subject to 36 of the strictest conditions in n history”.

These include implementing all advice from an independent expert scientific committee and protecting and improving 31,000 hectares of southern black throated finch habitat.

The approval will require $1 million funding for research programs to improve conservation of threatened species over 10 years, and strict groundwater monitoring and action triggers would protect Doongmabulla Springs, Mr Hunt said.

The Department of the Environment will monitor the mine and Adani must provide a groundwater management and monitoring plan.

Federal Labor resources spokesman Gary Gray welcomed the decision and said the project was of “great importance to Queensland and to “.

The project still requires federal dredging approval and some state-based approvals.

The Mackay Conservation Group launched its Federal Court challenge in January, alleging greenhouse gas emissions from the mine, vulnerable species and Adani’s environmental track record had not been taken into account.

Mr Hunt said the court set aside the mine’s earlier approval at the request of the government.

The case prompted the government to propose new laws that would prevent “vigilante” environment groups from challenging large developments in court.

Mackay Conservation Group coordinator Ellen Roberts said the approval “risks threatened species, precious ground water, the global climate and taxpayers’ money”.

“[Mr] Hunt is sacrificing threatened species … and precious ground water resources for the sake of a mine that simply does not stack up economically,” Ms Roberts said, adding the black throated finch would probably be pushed to extinction.

She said the conditions set by Mr Hunt did not adequately deal with the serious implications of the mine, which “can’t be offset”.

Greenpeace Pacific campaigner Shani Tager said the mine would be “a complete disaster for the climate and the Great Barrier Reef”.”This project means more dredging in the Great Barrier Reef, more ships through its waters and more carbon emissions,” she said.

Adani welcomed the decision, saying the initial legal hurdle was a “technicality” prompted by a mistake by the Department of the Environment. In a statement, the company said it was always “confident in the soundness of the broader approvals, that the species involved had been protected by conditions, and that the technical error would be promptly rectified”. “Today’s announcement … makes clear that these concerns have been addressed, reflected in rigorous and painstaking conditions,” it said. The company intended to deliver mine, rail and port projects in Queensland creating 10,000 direct and indirect jobs, and $22 billion in taxes and royalties to be reinvested into community services, Adani said. The jobs figure has been disputed.

Lobby group GetUp! on Thursday said its members had already helped fund legal action against the mine, and the organisation was “exploring the legal opportunities available to us” in light of the latest decision.

“This coal mine is the dumbest, most dangerous and uneconomic development in ,” senior campaigner Sam Regester said.

“We are calling on GetUp! members and the community to stand up and fight this mine again. We’ve beaten it before and we can beat it again.”

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Kodi Maybir punched boy in face, pogo stick murder trial hears

Kodi James Maybir is on trial over the death of a seven-year-old boy.​ A man accused of murdering a seven-year-old boy previously punched him hard in the face for running slowly during a “beep test”, a court has heard.
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Kodi James Maybir had been living in a relationship with the boy’s mother, Kayla James, who was convicted of her son’s manslaughter.

Mr Maybir, a Christian music producer, has pleaded not guilty to murder, arguing the boy’s 2013 death in a southern Sydney music studio was caused by a wrestling accident.

But the Crown alleges the fatal blow or blows to the head were deliberate and came after months of abuse.

Mr Maybir, the boy and James were holidaying at a Bulli campsite near Wollongong on the Easter long weekend in 2013, a little more than a month before the death.

Fellow camper Michael Comer told the NSW Supreme Court at Darlinghurst on Thursday that he had seen Mr Maybir and James running along the beach, holding the boy between them.

The boy was struggling to keep up and then they began to drag him, Mr Comer said.

“He fell face first down in the sand.”

Mr Comer told the court the boy was trying to stand when Mr Maybir picked up a piece of driftwood and beat the boy across the buttocks with it.

Mr Comer said he later saw Mr Maybir and the boy back at the campsite at a basketball court.

Mr Maybir was running lengths of the court, touching the ground at each end, encouraging the boy to do the same. The witness was reminded of a “beep test” in which the participant must do faster and faster laps.

The court heard that, when the boy slowed to a walk, Mr Maybir became aggressive.

The boy had fallen to the ground and was standing up when Mr Maybir “punched him right in the middle of the face”.

“It was a hard punch,” Mr Comer said. He reported the incidents to the police.

Mr Maybir’s barrister, Grant Brady, asked the witness whether it would be wrong to say the accused had tapped the boy on the forehead with an open palm, as if to say “Come on mate”.

The witness said that was not what happened.

Mr Maybir had become “infatuated” with the boy’s mother, inviting her and her family to live with him in his music studio, the court heard previously.

When initially asked how the boy had died, Mr Maybir said he might have fallen off a pogo stick.

An autopsy revealed the boy had suffered severe blunt force trauma to the back and front of his head, causing multiple subdural haemorrhages as well as the brain swelling that killed him.

The trial continues.

International flavour still strong at Magic Millions sale

Good stock: a half-brother to Samaready drew plenty of interest on the Gold Coast. Photo: Jenny EvansWizard of Odds: Live Odds, Form and Alerts for all Racing
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The Magic Millions Gold Coast 2YOs in Training Sale on Tuesday followed hot on the heels of last week’s Inglis Ready2Race Sales and once again had a phenomenal result thanks again to the powerful presence of international buyers.

The Inglis sale grossed $6 million with 115 lots selling. Of this number, 35 will head overseas, predominantly to Asian countries. The Magic Millions sales achieved a similar result.

A total of 134 lots sold on the Gold Coast with a turnover of $8,443,500, up a massive 71 per cent on the previous year and producing an average of $63,151.

The internationals were spearheaded by Singapore buyers, who purchased 18 of the 66 juveniles which, overall, represented almost half of the catalogue after 49 withdrawals were taken into account

A total of 32 two-year-olds fetched six-figure sums. Sydney-based agent David Raphael came away with the sales-topper at $300,000 for a colt by the deceased stallion Northern Meteor.

A Foxwedge colt came in second at $270,000 to Gary Moore’s son Nicholas on behalf of leading owner Lai Chan Chong with a brother to dual group 1 winner Samaready selling to the Queensland based Aquis Farm.

This colt was initially passed in at $240,000 by Gerry Harvey who later on-sold the two-year-old for his reserve price of $250,000.

Singapore trainer Theo Kieser followed on from the Inglis sale signing for another three lots for a total of $397,500 while former champion jockey Mick Dittman, who is now based in Singapore, bought four lots for $360,000.

The top-priced colt will enter Gerald Ryan’s Rosehill stables with Raphael glowing in his praise of the Northern Meteor colt and the success of the sale.

“I think this breeze up sale will continue to grow and more breeders will aim at a sale like this with nice horses as their first point of sale.” he said.

Waterhouse produces two divine winners

Randwick played host to two two-year-old barrier trials on Tuesday and Gai Waterhouse produced a pair of highly exciting winners. Both have brilliant pedigrees and are endowed with tremendous ability which is bound to win them city races in the not-to-distant future.

El Divino is a Snitzel half-brother to the super mare Winx and has been retained by breeder John Camilleri, a decision he will surely find a rewarding one judging on his all-the-way win in the 737-metre heat.

Thyme For Roses won the next heat in a terrific speed display giving jockey Tim Clarke an armchair ride. She is a Redoute’s Choice filly from the Magic Millions winner Augusta Proud and was bought by American Jon Kelly for $450,000 at the Magic Million Sales in January.

There is a tremendously interesting two-year-old trialling at Rosehill on Friday for Chris Waller. He is named Comin’ Through and is the half-brother to Criterion by Fastnet Rock who is raced by the champion’s owner-breeder Sir Owen Glenn.

His dam, Mica’s Pride, currently has a colt by Pierro and was covered by Fastnet Rock last year.

Previous Magic Millions produces three winners

Speaking of the Magic Millions sales – the three two-year-old races conducted on the east coast last Saturday were all won by graduates of the Gold Coast sales last January.

Conchita started the ball rolling at Randwick with the Uncle Mo filly, a $130,000 buy for Paul Perry, followed by Melbourne trainer Robbie Laing producing the last-to-first Caulfield winner Missrock, who looked to be worth every cent of the $500,000 which he paid for the Fastnet Rock filly.

Criquette, a daughter of I Am Invincible, had an effortless win at Doomben for Kelso Wood. She was bought by agent John Foote for $240,000 last January. The filly was bred by Ron Quinton who has a full brother entered for next year’s Gold Coast sale.

Godolphin in record $1.6m bid for yearling at Newmarket

Godolphin’s racing manager John Ferguson wasn’t going to miss out on the sole lot by champion sire Dubawi in the Tattersall’s Book 2 Yearling Sale at Newmarket on Tuesday.

Ferguson showed no signs of stopping as he outbid a number of hopefuls at 725,000 guineas ($1,607,927) which was to establish a record price for a yearling at the Book 2 sale.

Dubawi had the top-priced yearling to come out of Book 1 last week with the Coolmore team paying $4.66 million for a beautifully credentialled filly.

Ferguson had signed for 16 yearlings after the second session of Book 2 for $5.94 million but was in second place with Shadwell Estates leading the way with 24 youngsters for just under $6.65 million.

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End of the line for Newcastle rail after government wins key vote

NSW Premier Mike Baird and Transport Minister Andrew Constance after unveiling the new design for the Wickham transport interchange. Mr Constance says light rail will allow Newcastle to capitalise on an opportunity for renewal. Photo: Max Mason-Hubers Community campaigner Joan Dawson from Save Our Rail after a December court win that stopped heavy rail being removed. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
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The heavy rail line into Newcastle will start to be removed from next year, after the government won support for legislation allowing the overhaul in the NSW Parliament on Wednesday night.

The upper house vote, which follows a drawn-out legal battle and a highly charged debate surrounding the future of the state’s second city, will also allow the government to build a replacement light rail service on an alternative route through central Newcastle.

“With the bill passing Parliament, we now have the certainty to forge ahead and deliver on our promise to roll out light rail, allowing Newcastle to capitalise on this opportunity for renewal and reach its potential as an economic, social and cultural centre,” Transport Minister Andrew Constance said on Thursday.

But the government’s policy has been strongly criticised by some community groups, the Labor opposition and the Greens, who say removing a direct rail link into the heart of Newcastle is a retrograde step.

The idea of removing the rail line through the middle of Newcastle has been floated for decades, and support for the idea has divided the community.

Under former planning minister Brad Hazzard and former transport minister Gladys Berejiklian, the Coalition backed the plan, saying  it would replace the heavy rail line between Wickham and Newcastle with a light rail service.

The route that that light rail will run on, however, does not duplicate the heavy rail line. Premier Mike Baird has confirmed that much of the land used for the current rail corridor would be open for development.

And leaked internal analysis showed that Transport for NSW thought the government’s chosen route would deliver a slower service at greater cost, though it would deliver more opportunities for property developers.

But the government was prevented from tearing up the rail corridor by a Christmas Eve Supreme Court victory by community group Save Our Rail. Lawyers for the group argued successfully that under the Transport Administration Act, the government could not remove a rail line except by act of Parliament.

An appeal to that verdict is pending, though the verdict will mean little. The government obtained its required act on Wednesday night, after securing the support of the two upper house Shooters and Fishers MPs.

Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi condemned the vote.

“The NSW government has prioritised the interests of private developers over the public transport needs of an entire region,” Dr Faruqi said.

“The government has teamed up with the Shooters   and Fishers Party to rob the Hunter, Central Coast and Newcastle of a world-class public transport future and flog off public land,” she said.

“What happened in Parliament on Wednesday night was transparently misguided and truly shameful.”

But Mr Constance called the outcome “the start of Newcastle’s tomorrow”.

“The reality is, due to the delay in being able to remove the heavy rail line, early stages of the light rail project have been pushed back a month or two,” he said.

“Consultation with the community will now take place early next year, with early enabling work to start soon after.”

Michael Zullo hopes City spark can reignite his career after ACL nightmare

Melbourne City’s Michael Zullo against Edgeworth Eagles in the FFA Cup. Photo: Max Mason HubersEvery team has a buzz around it at the start of the season, but it’s impossible to escape the vibe around Melbourne City this year. Perhaps it’s the run that has taken the club to the semi-final of the FFA Cup.
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Perhaps it’s the fact that the players and staff now feel at home at the City Football Academy, the purpose-built headquarters they moved into next to La Trobe University midway through last season.

Or maybe it’s simply because there are so many new players and fresh faces and their optimism is rubbing off.

One of those new boys, former Socceroo left-back Michael Zullo, is hoping to surf on the wave of hope  all the way to the Asian Champions League and put himself in line again for a recall to n colours.

But, says the former Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United man, who also spent five years in The Netherlands with FC Utrecht, his first priority is to establish early season bragging rights in the Victorian capital with a win over Melbourne Victory in Saturday night’s derby.

Zullo, who missed a whole year after an anterior cruciate ligament injury while training for Utrecht in July, 2014, cannot wait to get out on the pitch in front of a large and and passionate crowd and make his debut for his new employers.

Its understandable given his long absence and the frustration he felt at being named on the bench for City’s opening round 1-1 draw in Sydney without getting the chance to take part.

“I was a little bit disappointed I didn’t get to play against Sydney but it was a pretty quick turnaround from where I have been injured,” he said on Thursday.

“I have had another week of training under my belt and it will have done me the world of good. I am hoping to get a start and contribute during the game.”

Its significance in a wider context has not been lost on Zullo either.

“For us, the three matches against Victory are the biggest, apart from finals games. Winning on Saturday could be a massive step forward in our season.”

“Everyone at the club is looking forward to this weekend. It is the sort of game I want to be part of, to play in. We all know Victory were the best team in the league last year, and in the front third they are probably the most dangerous team in the league.

“But  if we want to be the best club in we have to beat the strongest teams. “

Zullo signed a one year deal with City; there was interest from elsewhere in the A-League and the possibility of playing in Europe and he acknowledges opting for such a short term deal was a calculated gamble.

“I have lived a nomadic life the past four or five years, but that’s the nature of being a footballer. If  you want to try and maximise your opportunities  you have to be ready to up and leave when you have to. Here is no different, it’s only a one year contract for me.

“I am definitely hoping I can prove myself and it’s definitely a place I can see myself staying longer. I am very happy off the park and on the park, Melbourne City provide everything you need to be a footballer.”

The A-League that he has returned to (he made his name with Roar over three years ago bursting on to the scene in 2007 as a tricky teenage left-winger) is now a very different beast, he says, an improved competition at every level.

“It’s  now a place where you can really establish yourself and have a strong career and give yourself a stepping stone to be a part of bigger things, whether the Asian Champions League or the national team. They are both pretty big carrots in a footballer’s career. The ACL is something that aligns with what Melbourne City wants to do as well.”

He is reluctant to talk too much about an international recall, but left-back is one of the positions in the Socceroo squad that could provide an opening.

“I don’t want to speculate too much on where I stand. For me this year is just about performing.

“I had a huge injury lay off with a reconstruction, so for me coming back a year after such a big injury is just about getting some consistency in training and playing, performing and showing people what I can do. Whatever comes of it so be it, but I am definitely not banking on it or waiting for a  call.”

The FFA Cup semi-final against Perth next Wednesday may at the back of his mind, while Victory is front and square, but Zullo says the whole City mindset will shift to that as soon as Saturday night’s game is over.

“Winning the trophy can be a massive kick in the right direction for us. All of our planning has been for moving forward over the next three or four years, but it’s based solely around being successful on the park.

“If we can be successful on the park we can build off it. It’s up to us to kick that upwards trend and it could be something as simple as winning the FFA Cup. Not that that’s simple, but it would be the first piece of silverware for us as a club, and it would be fantastic to be part of that as a player.”

Why Bridge of Spies gave Tom Hanks the cold war chills

Brooklyn lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is an ordinary man placed in extraordinary circumstances in the thriller Bridge of Spies. Photo: Jaap BuitendijkMore on Bridge of SpiesMovie session timesFull movies coverage
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Tom Hanks made his debut on Broadway this year in the play Lucky Guy. The title could not have been more appropriate for an actor who often uses the phrase to describe his life.

After all, this is the actor who defied all odds to achieve his megastar status. His beginnings were hardly illustrious – a guest appearance on the TV series The Love Boat, followed up by a lead in the forgettable sitcom Bosom Buddies and then the teenage sex romp Bachelor Party.

But in the 30 years since, he has become one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars – his films have taken more than $A10 billion at the box office, according to the website Boxofficemojo – as well as becoming almost synonymous with decency and likeability.

But as we sit in a small, windowless conference room in a New York hotel to talk about his latest screen venture, the new spy drama Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg, the 59-year-old actor confides that lately he’s really come to appreciate the good fortune of being a “lucky guy”.

Last December, Hanks’ wife of 27 years, actress Rita Wilson, was diagnosed with  breast cancer and underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction.

She revealed her diagnosis to this media this year, saying it was missed by the first doctor and that, “I hope this will encourage others to get a second opinion and to trust their instincts if something doesn’t feel right”.

The usually upbeat Hanks, who likes to skim along the surface of interviews with self-deprecating jokes, momentarily pauses when asked how he felt about her decision to go public.

“That was all her decision,” he responds. “When something comes up like that, everything stops and you deal with it.”

He says that after they got the potentially life-threatening diagnosis, “Christmas and New Year’s was a completely different version of what it had been prior to that”.

He adds, with palpable relief, that after “a fervent nine months of treatment”, Wilson has fully recovered.

“We are so lucky, because right off the bat we knew that we had access to the greatest care in the world, and that was a blessing,” he says, using the L-word again. “All I can do now is bow down to the courage of my wife.”

As if we’ve come too close to the emotions that are rarely on display for the press, Hanks smoothly steers the conversation back to the reason we’re here, to talk about Bridge of Spies, his fourth collaboration with Spielberg.

Set in the 1950s and based on a true story, the film stars Hanks as James Donovan, an insurance-claims lawyer from New York who is thrust into the centre of the Cold War after the CIA enlists his help in negotiating the release of captured American U-2 pilot Gary Powers and student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) in exchange for Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance).

Hanks reminisces that he was only five when the Cold War really began but has chilling memories of that period.

“I remember my parents talking about when Khrushchev said, ‘We will bury you’, and I was a kid, so I took it literally and was terrified,” he says. “I imagined we were all going to be put in a hole with dirt shovelled on top of us and I was terrified.”

Perhaps that vivid brush with a period in all the history books spurred on his lifelong fascination with the past, which often translated to films such as Saving Private Ryan and Apollo 13, and his excitement when he heard about Bridge of Spies.

“I’d heard that this was a huge international incident, when the U-2 pilot was shot down by the Soviet Union back then,” Hanks says, “but I didn’t know anything about James Donovan, so when Steven sent me the script, it was like winning the lottery.”

The affable actor has always come across as charming and easygoing during our many chats over the past two decades, but it’s only in recent times he’s become more willing to voice his political opinions – as if he no longer seems worried about offending his fan base.

The staunch Democrat has supported environmental causes, alternative fuels, same-sex marriage and Barack Obama in his presidential bid.

But in a country now obsessed with Donald Trump’s race for the White House, Hanks drops any facade and cautions with disgust: “There are some things to be taken very seriously right now but the political process today is so far away from being important that it’s a joke.”

Few actors have survived as long as Hanks without a whisper of scandal. Not only is he considered, as Spielberg later declares, “one of the greatest actors in the world”, he’s also a devoted husband and father of four – Colin, 37, Elizabeth, 32 (from his first marriage), Chester, 24, and Truman, 20 – and grandfather of two.

It’s no secret he had a rough childhood; it could tell you why he’s always prioritised his family over his career.

“I learned what not to do from my own parents, who had this fabulous philosophy of benign care,” Hanks says with a hint of lingering resentment as he leans forward in his chair, his green eyes boyishly engaging.

Aged five when his parents divorced, Hanks and his older brother and sister went to live with their dad, Amos, a cook who moved often, while his younger brother stayed with their mother. When Amos married for a third time in 1966, he moved the three Hanks children into a tiny basement bedroom with their five new step-siblings.

“There was stuff going on and I’d go to school and end up spending three or four weeks sleeping on the couch at somebody’s house because it was easier than going home,” Hanks says.

“When you get older and have kids yourself, you’re just trying to make your way in the world as a professional but also a man who is continuously reminded that there’s no substitute for being there enough during the day in order to make them breakfast before they go to school.”

Hanks, who has won two Oscars (for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump) and been nominated for three more (Big, Saving Private Ryan, Castaway), seems particularly proud his family has remained largely unaffected by his fame.

“My wife married me knowing I wasn’t a dentist or an investment banker and my kids have grown up with a dad who had this odd job that was often defined by the hairstyle he was wearing or whether or not he had a dyed moustache,” he says, chuckling.

“I’d either be away for a long time or be the idiot doing car pool and hanging around a lot and they pay no attention to all the other stuff, so it’s no different than if I was a long-haul trucker or news photographer on assignment.”

A lucky guy? Indeed, but a great deal more as well.

Bridge of Spies opens in cinemas on October 22. 

Saving private friendship  

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks met long before they collaborated on the 1998 war drama Saving Private Ryan. They started out as close friends after Spielberg produced the 1986 movie The Money Pit and 1990 film Joe vs the Volcano, both starring Hanks.

Eight years later, Spielberg the director cast his friend in the World War II film that won five Oscars.

“I think it was just a matter of me being mature enough finally,” Hanks suggests modestly. Spielberg acknowledges it was a risk, saying, “Tom is godfather to one of my kids and we were friends for years, so the fear was whether our friendship would survive the movies.”

They needn’t have worried. The collaboration continued with the 2002 caper movie Catch Me If You Can and the 2004 drama The Terminal and they have also co-produced two award-winning miniseries, Band of Brothers (2001) and The Pacific (2010), and the documentary Shooting War, narrated by Hanks.