Newcastle Permanent staff charity donations total $750,000 over two decades of fundingTopics

Are you someone who donates to a charity straight out of your regular pay?
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CUDDLY CAUSE: Newcastle Permanent staff member Brianne Donald holds a bear with Toni Watson, vice president and co-founder of Bears Of Hope.

It seems a logical way to contribute to a worthy cause on a consistent basis, rather than ad-hoc donations to a bucket being carried around a supermarket, club or street.

The staff at Newcastle Permanent recently ticked over $750,000 worth of donations to local charities from money derived directly from their fortnightly pay.

The figure, reached over a 20-year period, has allowed more than 50 charities to be supported during that time.

Last week, Bears Of Hope –an organisation that supports families who experience the loss of a child through pregnancy or infancy – was handed $15,500 in funds from the pool of staff donations.

Four recipients are selected each year to support and are split over two rounds of funding.

The best part is, staff who contribute to the pool of money are allowed to nominate a charity of choice.

Participating staff then vote on the charities nominated to decide who receives the funding in each round.

Bears Of Hope was nominated by Newcastle Permanent staff member Brianne Donald, who received a Bear of Hope after her child past away.

“When we were given a Bear of Hope, which had been donated by another grieving family, we were reminded that there were others out there who had walked in our shoes,” Mrs Donald said.

“It gave us a keepsake to remember the life we had lost and comfort in knowing we were not alone.”

GIVING: Newcastle Permanent staff member Brianne Donald handing vice president and co-founder of Bears Of Hope, Toni Watson, a $15,500 cheque.

The money will help Bears Of Hope support 140 families through the giving of a bear, support resources and guiding parents through the process of leaving hospital.

Counselling and a grief workshop will also be able to be offered to parents free of charge.

The other recipient of a $15,500 donation in this round of funding is Little Wings, an organisation which provides regional and rural children with free flights and transfers from airports to hospitals.

They will be receiving their cheque from Newcastle Permanent staff on Monday at Maitland Airport.

“Newcastle Permanent is committed to giving back to our community,” Newcastle Permanent CEO Terry Millet said.

“Be it through our extensive corporate sponsorship and community programs, through the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation, or through providing our staff the opportunity to donate their own hard-earned salaries to local charities that are important to them.

“For our staff to reach this significant donation milestone of $750,000 –and it be entirely made up from our staff’s own salaries – is remarkable and shows the generosity of our team.”

Does your workplace donate from your regular pay? Let us know.

LIFE IN A PIPE SOLID FOUNDATIONS: The water pipe designed for living in Hong Kong.

The tiny house movement.

Apparently it’s been booming, or should we say rooming, for the past few years.

For both economical and geographical reasons, houses designed on the minute scale have become a legitimate reality for many around the world.

The movement even garnered the production of two television programs in the US –Tiny House NationandTiny House Hunters.

And now, adesign company in Hong Kong believes they’ve come up with an answer to the country’s housing crisis.

Building on the tiny house movement’s foundations, architect firm James Law Cybertecture has created a stylish micro-house from a massive concrete water pipe.

Designed to accommodate one or two people, the 1000 square feet of living space comes with all the necessary amenities.

A living room bench that converts into a bed, a mini-fridge, bathroom complete with a shower, and space for storage and belongings.

Business ownerJames Lawactually envisions entire tube communities installed in alleyways, under bridgesand other typically bare urban areas.

ROUND TOWN: Life inside the concrete pipe is full of mod cons.

Perhaps the only catch, if you view it as one, is the fact the house weighs22 tonnes.

But apparently they stack well on top each other.

While theNewcastle Heraldhas plenty of modern house reviews in its Weekender lift-out magazine, Topics is wondering whether there are any tiny house enthusiasts in the Hunter?

And not just a cubby house for the kids,aliveableabode…

If you know of one, give us a shout.

Meet the Aussie trying to fix the US electoral system

n?? Ruth Greenwood and her husband cut their wedding int he shape of the electoral map of Winsconsin. Greenwood is a legal expert?? leading arguments in North carolina against gerrymandering.New York: An n lawyer, who led a successful court case last week that ruled Republicans unconstitutionally gerrymandered North Carolina congressional districts to guarantee their electoral victory, describes the win as evidence of “a huge problem” within the American electoral system.
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Ruth Greenwood, a graduate of Sydney University’s law school, led legal arguments that three federal judges agreed showed North Carolina’s electoral map is rigged in favour of the Republican Party.

“This is democracy,” Greenwood who is senior legal counsel for the voting advocacy group Campaign Legal Centre in Chicago, says.

Gerrymandering describes the practice of drawing electoral maps in a way that strings together voters who can give a party the best possible chance at victory.

North Carolina has 13 congressional districts that send representatives to Washington on a map drawn by the Republican-controlled state legislature.

Partisan boundaries defined after the 2010 Census saw North Carolina elect 10 Republican candidates and just three Democrats – even though the state has more registered Democrat voters than registered Republicans, according to figures from the state Board of Elections.

“If you get an election where the vote is 50-50 then we would expect the congressional delegation would be 6-7 or 7-6,” say Greenwood, highlighting the imbalance.

“The Republicans didn’t feel they needed to hide any partisan intent. They stood up publicly and said we’re doing this so [they could] get a 10-3 Republican map and the only reason we’re doing that is because we can’t get an 11-2 map.

“To his credit, [state] Representative Lewis was very honest in his deposition – he said he thinks the world is a better place when Republicans are in charge so he put through a bill to make sure there are more Republicans elected.”

“I think that is not democratic and that is the problem,” Greenwood says.

Pending an appeal the North Carolina decision will see a balanced state map for the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.

Greenwood, 36, is a keen observer of American politics. After graduating from Sydney University she continued legal studies at Columbia University in New York where she became interested in voting rights while volunteering during the 2008 presidential elections.

“There were signs put up to look like they were from the Board of Elections saying turnout was going to be unprecedented so Republicans vote on Tuesday and Democrats vote on Wednesday,” she recalled. “Are you kidding me? This is supposed to be the world’s greatest democracy.”

Greenwood’s passion for the issue was shown when her wedding cake featured an electoral map of Illinois District 4, and was featured in an episode of Last Week Tonight, the satirical TV show hosted by comedian John Oliver.

She has found the US electoral system littered with contentious issues including the infamous electoral college that saw Donald Trump elected president with a minority popular vote. Campaign financing and ethics were also problems, she says.

“People in the US ask me how I know there is a better system out there and I say I come from a country where we do it differently.

“There may be problems in but we managed to get rid of gerrymandering and we use ranked choice – or preferential – voting so we don’t get so many political extremists. These are systems that could be implemented in America and hopefully will, one day.”

While compulsory voting in the US is unlikely to get traction, Greenwood says the concept could invigorate low turnout in American elections. The issue for many people, she says, is not a will to vote but finding a way to vote among other priorities.

“In America they say that people are choosing not to vote but actually they are choosing to look after kids or choosing to work three different jobs or choosing to do the three million things they have to do before they get to the polls.”

Greenwood says her n accent has caught judges off guard but used it to good effect.

“One of the judges said, ‘You’re not from around here are you?'” she recalled.

“No,” she responded. She was “from a little more south.”

“Being able to help out disenfranchised people in North Carolina is awesome,” she added. “But it [also] matters to the world what goes on here.”

Greenwood is not the only n with a role in gerrymandering cases before the courts in the US.

Professor Simon Jackman, chief executive of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, was called as an expert witness for the North Carolina case. Jackman spent a decade at Stanford University in California and is recognised as an authority on the subject.

Mark Wahlberg donates US$1.5 million reshoot fee following outrage

All the Money in the World star Mark Wahlberg and the agency which represents him have bowed to growing outrage over his US$1.5 million fee for filming reshoots on the movie and will donate the fee, and another US$500,000 to the Time’s Up fund.
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The astonishing pay cheque was revealed after an investigation by the newspaper USA Today and sat in stark contrast to Wahlberg’s co-star Michelle Williams, who was paid only a per diem to cover expenses – totalling around US$1000 – for the reshoots.

The scandal was compounded by timing; USA Today published the explosive revelation the day after the highly politicised Golden Globe awards, where actresses almost uniformly wore black to shift focus to the Time’s Up movement, to combat sexual harassment and inequality in the workplace.

“Over the last few days my reshoot fee for All the Money in the World has become an important topic of conversation,” Wahlberg, who earned $US68 million last year, said in a statement issued to media.

Wahlberg said he “100 percent support[ed] the fight for fair pay” and that he would donate his US$1.5 millon fee to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in the name of his co-star, Williams.

Wahlberg’s agency, William Morris Endeavor, which represents both Walhberg and Williams, said it would make an additional donation of US$500,000.

“The current conversation is a reminder that those of us in a position of influence have a responsibility to challenge inequities, including the gender wage gap,” the agency said.

“It is crucial that this conversation continues within our community and we are committed to being part of the solution,” the statement said.

Mark Wahlberg topped Forbes’ list for being the highest paid actor in 2017. He took home a total of $US68 million, more than 2.5 times the $US26 million Emma Stone made, Forbes reported.

William Morris Endeavor has already donated US$1 million to the fund; inclusive of the new donations, a total of US$3 million has been poured into the fund, which plans to provide legal support to people in all workplaces fighting sexual harrassment and inequality cases.

While the individual actor’s fees were negotiated separately, outrage over the discrepancy has grown for the past week.

Commenting on social media, the producer/director Judd Apatow described it as “so messed up that it is almost hard to believe.”

“Almost,” Apatow added. “This is how this business works.”

The reshoots on All the Money in the World were required when director Ridley Scott decided to cut actor Kevin Spacey from the film, in the wake of allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour, and recast his role with actor Christopher Plummer.

The decision came less than a month before the planned release of the film, so the reshoots were organised hastily and depended on the cast effectively dropping whatever they were doing and agreeing to participate.

In line with her co-stars – at least, it appears, as far as she was aware – Williams agreed to return at no additional cost.

In a break with that position, which director Ridley Scott praised in interviews, it is understood Wahlberg demanded an additional payment.

Some media reports suggested that Wahlberg’s contract allowed him to approve casting and that the fee was required to obtain his consent to Plummer replacing Spacey.

It is still unclear which actors in the cast had reshoots included in their original contracts – a standard inclusion for most major projects in Hollywood – and whether some did not.

Williams later issued a statement praising Wahlberg and William Morris Endeavor for their actions, and also singled out actor Anthony Rapp for praise.

Rapp, who stars in Star Trek: Discovery, was the target of actor Kevin Spacey’s inappropriate behaviour; it was Rapp’s statement about Spacey’s actions which set in motion the course of events which led to Spacey’s removal from the film and the subsequent reshoots.

“Today isn’t about me,” Williams said. “My fellow actresses stood by me and stood up for me, my activist friends taught me to use my voice, and the most powerful men in charge, they listened and they acted.

“If we truly envision an equal world, it takes equal effort and sacrifice,” she said.

Williams described it as “one of the most indelible days of my life because of Mark Wahlberg, [William Morris Endeavor] and a community of women and men.”

Williams added: “Anthony Rapp, for all the shoulders you stood on, now we stand on yours.”

The film, based on John Pearson’s 1995 book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty, is the story of J. Paul Getty’s refusal to cooperate with his grandson’s kidnappers in 1973.

Plummer replaced Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty.

The film was released on December 25 and has grossed almost US$30 million worldwide since opening, off a budget of around US$50 million.

Scott, Williams and Plummer were all nominated for Golden Globe awards; Plummer is nominated for a British Film Academy award for his work on the film.

False savings from sacking public servants

Would you burn $1 of petrol driving to the other side of the city so you could save 50 cents filling up? Would you recommend to a friend that they buy the cheapest printer, knowing it has the most expensive ink cartridges? Do you advise family to save money by not getting the flu vaccine?
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Of course not. Fortunately, we’re familiar with the idea of a false economy: a saving that turns out to be illusory because it eventually costs you more.

Unfortunately, not everyone seems to have cottoned on to what this means for the n Public Service. While public service jobs have been decimated, spending on consultants has ballooned. Work that used to be at the core of the public service, like policy development and stakeholder engagement, is increasingly outsourced.

First, a bit of background. During Labor’s last term in office, from 2007 to 2013, the number of federal public servants grew from 155,087 to 166,139. Outside Canberra, the Liberal Party decried this increase as a wanton waste of public resources. The critique insults those public servants who built the national disability insurance scheme, devised a fiscal stimulus package that kept out of recession, and all those who serve ns daily. It also misses the fact that the number of public servants per n fell during these years.

But in Canberra, the Liberals peddled the opposite line. Here, they weren’t railing against a growing public service. Instead, the Canberra Liberals told porkies about how Labor had “cut” the public service. Or was secretly planning to. Or something.

To keep both constituencies happy, the Liberals promised they would cut 12,000 public service jobs, all by natural attrition. Then the heads began to roll, beginning with several agency heads being sacked. Five years on, 152,095 public servants remain. That’s 14,044 job losses.

Not only were these job cuts a broken promise, they also look like a false economy. We’ve seen the Tax Office website crash repeatedly, Centrelink customers waiting on hold for hours and the census failure. Now, a report from the n National Audit Office has estimated how much the federal government spent on consultancy contracts established due to the “need for specialised or professional skills”. The audit office found that such consultancy spending doubled from about $250 million in 2012-13 to over $500 million in 2016-17. Appropriately, Parliament’s joint committee of public accounts and audit is holding an inquiry into these troubling findings (submissions close on February 16).

No one doubts there are moments when it’s appropriate for the public service to ask for outside help. If you’re deciding how should respond to the Ebola crisis, it may make sense to draw on people and organisations that dedicate their lives to fighting public health emergencies in developing nations. But the problem comes when outsourcing involves tasks that should be the core responsibility of government. Mainstream policy development, community engagement and strategic planning should primarily be done in-house, not by outsiders.

Get a group of retired public servants together and they’ll often have stories about the moment they were pushed out of their jobs, only to be hired back a few months later on consultant rates. Such an approach costs the taxpayer more and denudes departments of historical memory. As shadow finance minister Jim Chalmers puts it: “There is no point hitting an arbitrary short-term headcount target at the cost of building higher consultancy costs into the budget in the future.”

History, too, can teach us about the value of a strong public service. A few years ago, the Grattan Institute named 10 major reforms over the past generation that underpinned our prosperity. They included Medicare, tariff reduction, national competition policy, superannuation, broadening the income-tax base, and changes to the structure and funding of higher education. The public service underpinned all of them.

If people tell you we have too many public servants, a simple riposte is to suggest they look across the advanced world. The public sector employers 18 per cent of n workers, well below the OECD average of 21 per cent. Of course, that figure includes state and local public sector workers. Narrow things down to the federal level, and there are more people working for Woolworths than in the public service.

Between miserly pay offers, job cuts, reliance on labour hire and rising use of consultants, it’s been a tough few years for the APS. It needn’t be that way. Past Liberal leaders, such as Robert Menzies and Malcolm Fraser, recognised that a strong and capable public service is a national asset – no less valuable than our educational institutions, our iconic buildings and our sporting stars.

When natural disasters strike, it is public servants who race to ensure that those affected by floods and fires receive immediate relief payments. When teenagers get into strife overseas, it is to n diplomats that they turn for help. Our quarantine officers keep pests out. Staff who administer our income-support system oversee a social safety net that is rigorously targeted towards the neediest.

It’s time we stopped attacking ‘s public servants, and began celebrating them.

Andrew Leigh is the shadow assistant treasurer and the federal member for Fenner. andrewleigh苏州夜总会招聘

Michael Danby silent on using Commonwealth limousines for personal holidays

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten arrives by a comcar for his visit to the Sydney Markets on Friday 11 December 2015. Photo: Alex EllinghausenFederal Labor MP Michael Danby has refused to explain how and why he used Commonwealth limousines on personal holidays to Queensland that he later claimed were charged to taxpayers because of administrative error.
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The Melbourne Ports MP charged taxpayers about $500 for COMCARs to and from the airport on three trips to the Gold Coast or Cairns for which he had no official parliamentary business. The trips took place in 2010, 2012 and 2015.

Mr Danby says he reimbursed the Commonwealth for those holidays last year after a self-audit, including flights and car costs. He claimed the trips were charged to the taxpayer in error by his staff, caused by the fact he used the same booking agent for personal and business travel.

However, the COMCAR booking system is completely separate to the booking agency used for airfares. Mr Danby has also refused to explain how he could have taken a Commonwealth limousine to the airport for a personal holiday and failed to realise a mistake had been made.

COMCARs are only to be used while MPs are in Canberra, if they are interstate on parliamentary business, or if they are travelling to the airport in their home city for parliamentary business.

Several former MPs who are intimately familiar with the parliamentary expenses system told Fairfax Media administrative errors did happen, but it was virtually impossible for such a mistake to go unrealised. They said the right way to deal with such a mistake was: “Don’t get in the car.”

Fairfax Media asked Mr Danby about the COMCAR expenses but neither he nor his spokesman answered questions or returned calls.

Earlier this week Fairfax Media revealed Mr Danby charged taxpayers almost $15,000 for six trips to Queensland over a period of six years, accompanied by his wife, who also travelled at taxpayers’ expense.

Mr Danby – who holds the seat of Melbourne Ports – identified parliamentary business for three of those trips, which included meetings with Labor hero Con Sciacca, who had been out of Parliament more than five years, as well as union functions and a protest.

He said he reimbursed the Commonwealth for the other three trips, including a holiday to Cairns in 2012 and a trip to the Gold Coast in January 2015, after a self-audit last year prompted by the downfall of former cabinet minister Sussan Ley.

Labor leader Bill Shorten was on leave this week and through a spokesman declined to comment on Mr Danby’s travel. Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said it was a reminder for all MPs of the need to follow the rules.

In comments to other media outlets, Mr Danby described Fairfax Media’s reporting on his travel as a misleading “attack”.

Goodbye Indonesia, I will miss you

Indonesian President Joko Widodo being interviewed by Fairfax journalists Jewel Topsfield and Peter Hartcher at the presidential palace in Jakarta.Photo: Jefri TariganJakarta: I can’t pinpoint the moment I fell in love with Indonesia.
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A friend knows exactly. He tells this wonderful anecdote about a security guard at a Jakarta museum asking if he wanted to come inside and lie down to escape the heat.

The next day he quit his job in Singapore and moved here. “There is no way you could even sit on the museum steps in Singapore,” he told me.

I know what he means. Indonesia is everything Singapore is not: dysfunctional, chaotic and polluted. Jakarta, with its gridlocked traffic, is the megalopolis that expats love to hate.

And yet I have never felt more alive. The clogged streets with their treacherous footpaths might be hard to navigate but they pulse with energy. I love the wit of Indonesians on social media. I love the steamy nights, waking to the call to prayer and the drama of torrential downpours.

Anything seems possible here even when so much is bloody difficult. I was recently trapped in floods in Jakarta. The eight-kilometre commute from my office took three hours. As the water lapped against the side of the taxi, the driver got the giggles. It struck me, not for the first time, that no driver in would ever have the sanguinity to laugh about this level of madness.

I watched a fleet of green-helmeted Go-Jek motorcycle taxi drivers pick their way through the waves. Go-Jek was Indonesia’s first unicorn (a start-up with a value of over $1 billion). It’s the ultimate example of a company making lemonade out of lemons. Go-Jeks do not just ferry passengers around the congested streets, squeezing through spaces cars could only dream about, they also save you from ever having to leave the house. I have Go-Jeked (it’s a verb here) someone to wax my legs, cut my hair, deliver cranberry juice and drop off a pram I bought online. It arrived exactly 56 minutes later.

Indonesia is a country of extraordinary stories. The warmth, openness and generosity so many people have shown me has been incredible. My favourite word in Indonesian is boleh (you may). I heard it so many times – you may interview me, you may come in, you may visit.

And yet Indonesia is dogged by problems that can seem insurmountable. Barely a day goes past without a corruption scandal hitting the headlines. Last November 18 officials were suspected of graft relating to the Monument of Integrity erected in Pekanbaru, a city in Sumatra, to mark International Anti-Corruption Day. It was not satire. “Peak Indonesia,” someone tweeted.

There are concerns about rising Islamic conservatism and religious intolerance, with the former Chinese-Indonesian Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – known as Ahok – jailed for blasphemy last year and an unprecedented crackdown on the nation’s LGBT community.

But there are also unsung heroes everywhere.

The Sumatran school doing its bit to tackle the national rubbish crisis by allowing parents to pay fees with recycled rubbish, the Muslims who provide security outside churches at Christmas, the women of Rembang who planted their feet in blocks of concrete outside the presidential palace to protest against the environmental damage caused by a cement factory, the Acehnese fishing communities who welcomed Rohingya refugees when the rest of the world turned its back.

Struggling to articulate Indonesia’s contradictions, I find myself craving my favourite comfort food, martabak manis, a sweet pancake stuffed with chocolate and grated cheddar cheese. It’s a much loved food combination here I once thought disgusting. Now I snap: “How is chocolate and cheese any different to caramel and sea salt?”

But unlike my friend’s instant crush on Indonesia, my relationship with the country was a complicated slow-burner.

Jewel Topsfield interviewed Indonesian President Joko Widodo, centre, with Fairfax Media’s Peter Hartcher, left. Photo: Jefri Tarigan

My first few months here in early 2015 were harrowing.

Within days of my arrival, Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, rejected the clemency pleas of Bali Nine heroin smugglers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, despite their remarkable rehabilitation.

From this moment their death by firing squad seemed inevitable.

Reporting on the lead-up to the executions was like watching a film, heart in mouth, that you already know ends tragically. I barely slept for weeks.

Relations between the two countries soured, exacerbated by Tony Abbott’s disastrous reminder of the billion dollars in aid had donated after the 2004 tsunami.

” and Indonesia are like divorced parents who have to stay together for the sake of the children,” one Indonesian official told me.

The anger some ns felt towards Indonesia at the time was visceral. I deplore the death penalty – now more than ever – but felt a responsibility not to fan the flames of hate.

Many Indonesians see drug smuggling through a different prism to ns; a crime akin to cold-blooded murder or terrorism because it can lead to the deaths of addicts.

And there were also Indonesians who were deeply affected; among them the guards and fellow prisoners who became close to Chan and Sukumaran and their indefatigable lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, who has been fighting to end the death penalty in Indonesia since 1979.

Mulya would later describe the night the ns were shot as the darkest moment of his life. “I failed. I lost,” he tweeted, heartbroken, at 4am.

For a long time I didn’t let myself acknowledge the executions had affected me. It seemed nothing in the face of the grief faced by Chan and Sukumaran’s loved ones.

But I was haunted by photos of them as children, Sukumaran with a broad toothy grin and Chan an impish smirk.

For weeks afterwards I dreamed my son, 18 months old at the time, fell into a swimming pool. I would dive in and try to rescue him but each time his slippery, muscular body would squirm out of my hands until I realised I was powerless to save him. I would wake soaked in sweat, again and again.

I remember reading former Melbourne radio journalist Brian Morley’s account of witnessing the hanging of Ronald Ryan in Melbourne and how it changed him. I marvelled he was still alive to tell the story. The last execution carried out in seemed so long ago although it was only 1967.

Jokowi last year suggested Indonesians would eventually change their minds on execution laws, as citizens of other countries have done in the past.

I hope one day to write a retrospective piece when the death penalty seems as remote and archaic in Indonesia as it does in .

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed in 2015. Photo: Anta Kesuma

I still have to pinch myself I got this job. I was terrified when appointed that I would never live up to the previous Fairfax Indonesia correspondents. I poured out my heart to a mentor. “No two correspondents are the same,” she said. “Follow the stories that interest you.” It sounds so obvious but it is among the best pieces of career advice I have received.

Fairfax Media is blessed to have two superb Indonesian journalists – Karuni Rompies and Amilia Rosa – who are gutsy, charming, dogged, unflappable and insatiably curious.

Accompanied by either one of them, I criss-crossed the archipelago in search of stories that interested me and (I hope) gave readers some insight into the complexity and wonder of one of ‘s closest but least understood neighbours.

The n media is generally blamed for this lack of understanding. We are told we are only interested in the three Bs: boats, beef and Bali.

There is no disputing that Aussies’ misadventures in Bali, the seamy underbelly of the Island of Gods and anything that might jeopardise the holiday plans of 1 million ns a year drives traffic to Fairfax websites.

Some of the stories read like Hollywood scripts. The n who escaped from Kerobokan jail via a sewage tunnel just weeks before his sentence finished and has taunted police on the run ever since and the Byron Bay woman Sara Connor jailed over the fatal assault of a Bali police officer.

But Bali made up only a part of our reportage.

We investigated the devastating legacy of toxic levels of mercury from illegal gold mines on child-bearing women in Lombok.

It can be difficult for foreign media to access Papua (the independence struggle here is one of the most sensitive topics in Indonesia) but we reported on the mysterious disappearance of Papuan Martinus Beanal as conflict simmered around the Freeport mine. The area surrounding the mine, which many indigenous Papuans see as the root of their oppression, has long been the site of a low-level insurgency.

We wrote about the “real estate deal of the millennium”: the forgotten Indonesian island of Run in the Banda Sea that was swapped for Manhattan 350 years ago.

Run Island, famed for its nutmeg, was once exchanged for Manhattan. Photo: Jefri Tarigan

The man expected to challenge Jokowi for the 2019 presidential election, Prabowo Subianto – usually referred to as a “former military strongman” – told us over breakfast that his love for animals meant he had to negotiate with ants.

We explored Indonesia’s struggle to come to terms with one of its darkest chapters – the massacre of an estimated 500,000 people suspected of left leanings in 1965 and 1966 – and the surreal paranoia about a resurgent red peril.

I wanted to highlight the inspirational stories too: the former extremist who established a school in Medan to deradicalise the children of terrorists, the footpath warriors reclaiming the pavements for Jakarta’s pedestrians and the charismatic crisis manager handling Indonesia’s natural disasters one tweet at a time.

We interviewed child brides, a rain shaman, street musicians, former political prisoners, participants in the world of competitive birdsong and a much loved defender of the waria, Indonesia’s transgender community of biological men who believe they were born with the souls of women.

In Toraja, South Sulawesi, where people are completely at home among the dead, I reflected on our sanitised buttoned-up attitude to death in the West, where the body is quickly dispensed with and grief is largely a lonely, private affair. We had witnessed manene, an intimate ritual to pay homage to ancestors, where corpses were removed from their coffins, groomed and dressed in new outfits. “Were you revolted?” a friend asked. In fact I had been moved. At its heart, the ceremony is an expression of love.

Living with the dead in South Sulawesi. Photo: Alan Putra

In Probolinggo, East Java, one of the centres of black magic in Indonesia, we investigated the killing of a woman suspected of being a sorcerer.

We met terrorist attack survivors, women who formed a support group for those who wear the niqab, religious leaders, fans of Indonesia’s weird architecture in the 50s and 60s and the president of Indonesia.

The access we were granted was extraordinary.

In June 2015, Amilia and I travelled to West Timor to investigate vague – but potentially explosive – claims an n official had paid people smugglers to return a boat of 65 asylum seekers to Indonesia.

I was highly sceptical. Then prime minister Tony Abbott had described people smuggling as an “evil trade”. Surely would not reward criminal activity?

We were ushered into a room at Kupang police station. I was astonished General Endang Sunjaya, the then police chief of East Nusa Tenggara, had agreed to even meet with us.

He told us the six crew members on the people smuggling boat had all sworn under oath they received about $US5000 from an n official to return to Indonesia. Their accounts were corroborated by asylum seekers who were separately interrogated.

“The money is now being kept as evidence that this was not a made-up story,” General Endang told us. “This is very unexpected. If it happened in Indonesia it would constitute a bribe.”

I was pouring with sweat and my eyes were beginning to bulge. I frenziedly scribbled a note to Amilia: “Let’s get out of here before he changes his mind and says this is all off the record!!!!!”. Amilia calmly ignored me and sipped her tea. “Could you show us the money sir?” she asked sweetly. “Boleh,” the general replied and showed us photographs of piles of crisp US dollar notes.

Later Amilia, bemused by my shock, asked if the n government was likely to respond. I said it would almost certainly not comment “on water matters”.

Sure enough Abbott refused to comment on “operational matters”, although he never denied had paid the people smugglers. “What we do is we stop the boats by hook or by crook,” he said. “I just don’t want to go into the details of how it’s done.”

Amusingly, Indonesian journalists were not familiar with the idiom “by hook or by crook” and translated it literally. “Abbott simply insisted that he would ‘stop the boat by inducement or with criminals’ and refused to elaborate on ‘how it is done’,” Antara news reported.

I’ll always be grateful for the refreshing – and generous – level of access that Indonesian officials have provided to us over the past three years. It is a world away from the team of media flacks employed to massage the message back home.

We won a Walkley Award for our coverage of the cash for boat turnbacks scandal and it triggered a Senate inquiry.

From left, seated: Captain Yohanis Humiang with head of the people smuggling division of Nusa Tenggara Timur, Ibrahim, and Rote police chief Hidayat. Photo: Supplied

Analysts have claimed Indonesia has been at a crossroads for so long it has been parodied by The Simpsons. “Look at me, I’m reading The Economist. Did you know Indonesia is at a crossroads?” Homer asks, after ordering a steak on a plane. “Nooooo,” deadpans Marge.

But once again things seem precarious.

Identity politics in Indonesia (and other southern Asian countries) has been named one of the top global risks for 2018 by US risk analysis organisation the Eurasia Group.

Islamists’ increasing sway over Indonesian politics was demonstrated in the lead-up to last year’s gubernatorial election, with massive street protests denouncing the reformist Chinese-Christian governor Ahok.

The allegations Ahok had insulted Islam and his subsequent blasphemy trial proved catastrophic for his re-election bid despite polls showing that Jakartans were overwhelmingly satisfied with his performance in office.

Former Jakarta governor Basuki ”Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. Photo: AP

The 2016 and 2017 Islamist mobilisation has been recognised as an important shift in Indonesian politics. A new paper by n National University academic Marcus Mietzner and others says opposition to non-Muslims holding political office has hardened.

All eyes will be on the 171 provincial elections in June which are likely to be a bellwether of the 2019 presidential elections. Already there are fears religion, ethnicity and race will be used to sway voters.

I will be watching with bated breath. After three years reporting on politics I feel personally invested.

I recently met a man who had a map of Indonesia tattooed across his face to reflect his love for his country. He was an environmental activist working in a remote village in Bogor regency to turn plastic rubbish into fuel. This powered a generator and provided electricity for the village.

I thought it would make a great story. The tattooed man who loved his country trying to tackle Indonesia’s trash crisis. And then it struck me I had run out of time.

And in that moment I realised how much I will miss chronicling this complex and confounding country. Life will never be quite the same again.

Jewel Topsfield was the Indonesia correspondent for Fairfax Media from 2015 to 2018.

Speculation mounts over future of prime waterfront site as aquarium closes its doors

It has operated under a host of different names, and welcomed hundreds of thousands of families since it opened. But after 54 years, the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary is closing its doors.
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News of the closure of the aquarium on January 28 has sparked speculation about what will replace the Manly aquarium, as well as questions around the future of the animals that have called it home.

The aquarium was the first of its kind in Sydney and only the seventh in the world when it opened in 1963.

It was then named Marineland, and it boasted a 55ft circular tank holding four million litres of water surrounded by newly air-conditioned viewing galleries.

In the late 80s, $12 million was injected into the aquarium, refurbishing the interior and revealing the longest underwater tunnel in the world at the time.

Over the years, it has been known as Marineland, Oceanworld, Underwater World or Manly Oceanarium, before its current name was adopted in mid-2012 under the new owners Merlin Entertainments Group.

In March last year the company announced that the building was no longer feasible to maintain as an aquarium due to the projected maintenance required to keep the site up and running.

The site, owned by the Roads and Maritime Service, is a prime piece of real estate sitting right off the shore of Manly cove.

An RMS spokesperson said the service has “been approached by several parties with an interest in taking on the site once the aquarium departs the site this year,” and that it would be looking for expressions of interest for the lease of the site “in accordance with the current zoning.”

“RMS will go to market to determine the possible future use of the site, which is zoned W2, in the first half of this year.”

Under this current zoning the site is solely limited to boats sheds, kiosks, function centres, water recreation structures and marinas.

This would rule out the possibility of residential property replacing the aquarium at the current time.

Northern Beaches Council Acting CEO David Kerr told the Herald there are “no plans to change the zoning of this property.”

“If an application was lodged to change the zoning, Council is required by legislation to consider the application. Any application to change the zoning would be a matter for the elected Council to consider and determine.”

Speaking with Manly ward members of the Northern Beaches Council, Pat Daley and Sarah Grattan, both expressed their opposition to any proposed changes of the zoning.

“It is imperative that we keep this location for the benefit of the community,” Cr Daley said.

While Cr Grattan believes there “certainly would be no support for a residential site ??? it just would not be suitable.”

“It’s a local, public asset that should not be taken over by private residential groups,” she said.

Manly MP James Griffin also said it should remain in public hands.

“Ideally it would host a tenant in line with my community’s expectations and who would be sympathetic to the sensitivities of our local, coastal environment,” he said.

“I will listen closely to the feedback from my community and let RMS do the necessary work to hopefully find a new operator for the site after January 2018.”

As the closing date nears, aquarium staff are preparing to relocate the animals.

Life sciences manager Rob Townsend said the breed, rescue and protect program, which is being moved to the Darling Harbour Sea Life Aquarium, has helped change the community’s outlook towards animals like sharks and taking care of the environment.

This work has ranged from a primary focus on in-house breeding to minimise the impact of animal populations in the wild, rescuing injured animals and nurturing them back to health and protecting the environment by regular beach and dive cleans.

Mr Townsend has been analysing each animal to find the best suited location for it to be moved to, with a number of aquariums across and some overseas showing interest.

With the comfort of knowing all the animals will be safely taken care of, Mr Townsend admitted he will deeply miss the daily contact with animals.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be able to jump in the tank with big sharks, rays and turtles on a nearly daily basis,” he said.

“That’s going to be really hard to not have that anymore.”

Chris Lloyd-Mostyn first visited the Manly aquarium when he was 18 years old. More than three decades later, with four children and his wife Jane, Chris has returned to from London visiting for the last time.

“I came here exactly 31 years ago and have fond memories of diving with the sharks and turtles. I’m hoping my eldest son will go diving with me, like what I did when I was 18,” Chris said.

“I’m sad and surprised that it’s closing because it’s such a nice attraction.”

His wife Jane relished in the opportunity to visit the aquarium for the first time, “for 20 years my husband has not stopped talking about this place and how he wanted to come back here, so I’m thankful we got here just in time” she said.

Sydney’s great crane migration flocks to the ‘burbs

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
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No, the crane invasion of Sydney’s skyline has been visible for several years – a 65 per cent increase in just the last two years.

But new figures reveal the shifting shape of the flock, as construction migrates away from the CBD and into the suburbs along key public transport routes.

Politicians – from Joh Bjelke Petersen to Gladys Berejiklian – point proudly to the skyline as a mark their achievements.

But experts warn Sydney’s pattern of development is failing to deliver the relief first home buyers need.

Amid a record apartment building boom, a suburb by suburb breakdown of the Rider Levett Bucknall Crane Index reveals Sydney’s emerging crane hotspots, spreading wings across the northern, western and southern corridors of the city.

Back in 2015, the Sydney CBD was the unrivalled centre of crane activity, home to 25 cranes.

By 2017, that number slipped to 17, while Sydney’s satellite suburban centres climbed the ranks. When researchers counted cranes in September last year, Epping was home to 16, Wolli Creek 13, Parramatta 12 and Mascot 10.

Sydney’s inner west is also a hive of activity, with Burwood, Ashfield, Homebush Bay and Lewisham rounding out Sydney’s top 10 crane suburbs.

The director of research at Rider Levett Bucknall, Stephen Ballesty, said the pattern of crane activity in Sydney and Melbourne differed markedly from other state capitals.

“Interestingly, the two most buoyant markets of Sydney and Melbourne have seen a huge decentralisation of multi-level developments taking place. There are now 109 Sydney suburbs and 54 Melbourne suburbs with cranes, whilst other cities’ high-rise developments are focused in the CBD area.”

Of the nearly 350 cranes that dominate Sydney’s skyline, more than one in five are building residential blocks, rather than commercial.

“Residential cranes soared to 298 around Sydney, which amount to 43 per cent of total cranes erected within and 54 per cent of all cranes supporting the residential sector in ,” Mr Ballesty said.

Building work began on a record number of new apartments in NSW last year, figures from the n Bureau of Statistics show.

In the aftermath of the Sydney Olympics and Bob Carr declaring Sydney “full”, construction dwindled to a low of just 24,000 new homes in 2009, split roughly evenly between free-standing homes and apartments.

The last five years have seen a dramatic turn around.

Work began on 74,000 new homes last year, including 29,000 free standing homes and a record 44,000 apartments.

But experts warn that the state’s record apartment boom is not delivering the price relief that first time buyers need.

The head of Urban and Regional Planning and Policy at the University of Sydney, Peter Phibbs, said high land prices meant developers were building apartments in the million dollar mark range, out of reach of typical first time buyers.

Overall, Professor Phibbs said the Sydney experience showed the error of simply focusing on supply to improve housing affordability.

“We have run an international experiment about the inability of supply really to moderate housing price increases in a context of declining interest rates and a very tax friendly environment for investors.

“We will probably never see that supply response in Sydney again.”

Professor Phibbs backed calls for reform of generous negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts. He also urged economic policy makers to question the over reliance on ultra low interest rates to stimulate the economy, and focus more on government infrastructure investments to spur growth and deliver much needed transport links.

FSANZ apologises to nanotechnology experts for misrepresenting views

‘s food regulator had to apologise to its own advisory group of nanotechnology experts after it “misrepresented” the group’s views in its public slapdown of a study that found needle-like nanoparticles in baby formula, internal emails reveal.
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Fairfax Media reported last year that tests by an Arizona State University team showed the presence of needle-shaped hydroxyapatite nanoparticles – which the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety had concluded was potentially toxic – in two formula products.

Internal emails released under Freedom of Information laws reveal the depths of uncertainty and lack of consensus among ‘s top experts about whether the needle-like nano hydroxyapatite poses a health and safety risk to babies.

Following Fairfax Media’s article, Food Standards New Zealand (FSANZ) published a statement saying it had “reviewed all the available information and concluded it does not contain any new evidence to suggest these products pose a risk to infant health and safety. This conclusion is supported by experts from our Scientific Nanotechnology Advisory Group (SNAG).”

Later that day, one of SNAG’s six members sent an email saying she “objected” to the second sentence because in her opinion “it misrepresent[ed] what we were asked to comment on at the teleconference”, which focused on the study’s methodology and findings.

While one SNAG member said he “was not so concerned”, another member took the opportunity to again ask FSANZ for “information to support” the statement, namely evidence showing the nanoparticles “were not intentionally added and the concentration of nanoparticles in the samples were negligible, also, these dissolve when mix[ed] with water at a certain temperature”.

This member said if FSANZ could provide the requested information, she would not object to the sentence. It is unclear from the released emails whether FSANZ ever provided the materials.

A week later, FSANZ apologised to the SNAG members and changed the contentious sentence to read: “FSANZ consulted with members of our SNAG in reaching our conclusions.”

The internal emails, obtained and shared by Friends of the Earth (FoE), which commissioned the ASU study, show FSANZ held three teleconferences with SNAG, whose members hold positions at leading universities and government agencies, about the issue.

In summary, the group said: The nanoparticles were present in the samples and the testing method was valid;It could not be determined if the nanoparticles were intentionally engineered and added;Such nanoparticles can naturally occur from processing;

The emails show some disagreement within the advisory group at the time. Some members said the evidence in the study was insufficient to show that nano hydroxyapatite would dissolve in the infant gut and therefore it couldn’t be determined whether they posed a safety risk.

Some members held the position that nano hydroxyapatite didn’t pose a risk because they would likely dissolve in the stomach.

But one member pointed to the EU consumer safety committee’s concerns in relation to “potential toxicity” and said there was “insufficient evidence to draw a conclusion on safety”.

The EU committee’s report had concluded needle-like nano hydroxyapatite was potentially toxic and shouldn’t be used in oral care products such as toothpaste and mouthwash. It also found these nanoparticles were “fully synthetic”.

FSANZ at the time dismissed the report, saying it was based on “insufficient” data related to oral cosmetic products and therefore of limited relevance to the “trace amounts” of nano hydroxyapatite in baby formula.

FSANZ declined to comment for this article.

While nano hydroxyapatite can dissolve in the stomach, questions remain about what occurs in a baby’s stomach which is less acidic and the possible absorption through the gums.

On its website, FSANZ states: “Hydroxyapatite is soluble in acidic environments such as the stomach, so small amounts in food are likely to dissolve to release calcium and phosphate. These are essential minerals that are required to be in infant formula products”.

Regular hydroxyapatite is a naturally occurring, calcium-rich mineral that gives bones and teeth their rigidity, so its presence in formula is understandable. Sometimes it’s taken as a dietary supplement.

But it’s the needle-shaped, nano-sized version that’s alarming some health experts, as its extremely small size may give it unique properties and behaviours, some of which are unknown and could be harmful.

An FoE spokesman said they wanted affected products removed until safety was established.

Bringing back a language only 50 people can speak

All that’s left of the Gamilaraay language from northern NSW and southern Queensland are a few phrases spoken by fewer than 50 people.
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“The language stopped changing 70 or 80 years ago,” said John Giacon, a lecturer at the n National University who is trying to bring the language back from the brink of extinction.

“Many of the things we want to talk about today, there are no words for them.

“There are 60 hours of tapes [in the language] where they’re talking about hunting kangaroos, there’s no way you could practice with that.”

Dr Giacon and his team have been working with Aboriginal communities to develop a dictionary that now has about 2500 words, and is being used to teach an intensive summer course on the language run by the ANU, one of a few of its kind at the tertiary level.

Kevin Lowe, who is a former inspector of Aboriginal education for the NSW Board of Studies (now the NSW Education Standards Authority), said that figuring out how to translate simple phrases to Gamilaraay can take months.

“We wanted to talk to a class about boys getting on their bikes and going fishing, which is a simple idea and easy to say in English,” Dr Lowe said.

“So we emailed John [Giacon] and said ‘how would you say this?’ He came back two months later and said, this is my best effort by going back to the tapes and looking at what we know.”

Words such as mobile phone or computer need to be constructed from words that already exist in Gamilaraay or a close dialect, Yuwaalaraay.

???”The main things you need for language teaching are fluency, resources and infrastructure for learning,” Dr Lowe said.

“For most NSW languages, the resources we’ve got are all gone and it’s hard to find fluent speakers in any of these places because they haven’t had the opportunity to learn it or speak it.

“Kids in schools speak Japanese or French or German because that’s what they have access to.”

Garruu Victor Chapman, from Hebel in southern Queensland, said he spoke the language as a young boy but was punished for speaking it at school.

“They used the cane for speaking your language, it’s a very effective way of knocking it out of you,” he said.

“My parents spoke it but they were hesitant to pass it on because they were conscious of the fact that you were penalised for speaking your language.”

Priscilla Strasek, from Lightning Ridge in northern NSW, is doing the intensive Gamilaraay course as part of a bachelor of education from Charles Sturt University.

Ms Strasek said her grandparents spoke the language and she now wants to see it revived for her own children.

“A language is your connection to your culture and your mob,” she said.

“To be able to do it at uni is a really big change in 20 years.”

Sophia Brown, who lives in Tamworth and is also doing the summer course, said that language is a big part of developing a shared identity.

“If you say ‘Yaama’ [‘hello’ in Gamilaraay] in a sentence, you’ll be surprised at who’ll turn around and say, ‘I recognise that word’, and the next question is always, ‘Where are you from?'”

For Tracy Cameron, a tutor at the University of Sydney, learning the language is “a responsibility”.

“There’s a worldwide movement to revitalise languages, we can look to the Maori language, Indigenous languages in Canada, Welsh, Gaelic,” said Ms Cameron, who is learning Gamilaraay with her son Angus, a communication student at the University of Technology Sydney.

“We’re part of that movement.”

The summer course is being held at Charles Darwin University’s Sydney campus. The university also plans to establish the n Indigenous Languages Institute and begin offering courses in other languages such as Yolngu Matha in January 2019.