Illegal dumping investigator Craig Izzard denies bribery allegations at ICAC inquiry

Craig Izzard after appearing at the ICAC inquiry on Thursday. Photo: Peter RaeA former illegal dumping investigator told a corruption inquiry he was “surprised” to learn more than 200 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated waste had been dumped at a western Sydney property he was allegedly responsible for investigating.

Craig Izzard, a former rugby league player for the Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels, endured a day of rigorous questioning at the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Friday over his alleged involvement in “black market” dumping operations last year.

Mr Izzard maintained he had done nothing improper, as counsel assisting the commission James Mack guided him point-by-point through his employment code of conduct for the Western Sydney Regional Illegal Dumping Squad (RID).

“Is it your evidence that, while employed in the Western Sydney RID, you always acted honestly?” Mr Mack inquired

“I would say so, yes,” Mr Izzard replied.

Mr Izzard is the principal person of interest in four allegations of corrupt conduct, including three times last year when he allegedly solicited bribes from people in exchange for not investigating their dumping activity.

Among the allegations, Mr Izzard is accused of soliciting a bribe from Reuben Matthews in exchange for turning a blind eye to dumping at his property in Willowdene Avenue, Luddenham.

But Mr Izzard said he had no involvement in investigating the site, despite email evidence showing he was asked by Liverpool Council to investigate dumping complaints in November 2014.

He told the commission he had been “surprised” to learn that more than 200 tonnes of waste was later dumped at the site and tests revealed it was contaminated with asbestos.

Matthews was later convicted of dumping offences and fined $55,000. Another man, Nosir Kabite, was fined $25,000 after pleading guilty to transporting the waste to the property.

Earlier in the week, Mr Mack extracted an admission from Mr Kabite that he and Mr Izzard had an understanding that involved the exchange of “favours”.

After numerous recordings of phone calls between Mr Kabite and Mr Izzard were played before the inquiry, Mr Kabite admitted the pair used the code word “drinks” when discussing bribes.

“Mr Izzard frequently asked you for drinks, and by drinks he meant bribes, and it was your job to go out and get Mr Izzard a drink? Do you agree with me?” Mr Mack asked Mr Kabite.

“Yes,” he replied.

Mr Kabite said he gave Mr Izzard money on “two or three occasions”, and each payment was between $500 and $700.

However, Mr Izzard maintained the payments were in connection with an unrelated energy business he owned, whereby Mr Kabite would sell refrigeration units for him.

He also denied attempting to solicit a bribe from another man, Antonio Barillaro, in connection with alleged illegal dumping at a property in Badgerys Creek, telling the inquiry he’d never heard of someone by that name.

The commission also heard Mr Izzard regularly advised Mr Kabite over his council-related dilemmas, including one time when he suggested Mr Kabite’s nephew could attempt to avoid a dumping-related fine by pretending someone else was responsible.

When asked by assistant commissioner Reginald Blanch if he realised he was advising someone to pervert the course of justice, he replied: “I think it was, I probably didn’t [think] about it, Mr Commissioner.”

Mr Izzard will continue giving evidence to the inquiry on Monday.

North shore offices are back in the spotlight

The north shore in Sydney is returning to its former self as more office towers are being constructed to satisfy the demand of the expanding commerce industries.

Having gone through tough times when office vacancy reached heady levels of about 20 per cent, the area was turned into a residential zone.

But with significant stock withdrawals and rising rents in Sydney’s central business district, the demand for office accommodation across the north shore is expected to rise substantially, according to Knight Frank’s managing director, North Sydney, Angus Klem​.

He said North Sydney is now “well and truly an adjunct to the Sydney CBD”.

“Over the next two years significant stock withdrawals in the CBD will see an exodus of tenants to North Sydney and the other north shore markets,” Mr Klem said.

There is also the planned state metro line that has led the state government to buy up properties in North Sydney, which has led to a tightening of stock.

Knight Frank’s Giuseppe Ruberto​, director of office leasing, north shore, said a number of tenants were opting away from the CBD due to cost and the limited options available. He said instead tenants were choosing to operate within the north shore with North Sydney expected to be a big winner over the next 24 months.

“Effective secondary rents in the CBD core have risen by over 20 per cent in the last 12 months, with rents now sitting over $900 per square metre gross in some locations, so it is no surprise tenants are now considering other options. Recently we have seen tenants, including BT Australasia and Chubb Insurance, committing to North Sydney from the CBD,” Mr Ruberto said.

He said the lack of prime space in North Sydney was an issue of the past with 101 Miller Street as the only premium building available and experiencing strong leasing success with a number of floors leased, highlighting the demand for quality assets.

Another development is by DEXUS Property Group at 100 Mount Street,  North Sydney. The group has appointed JLL national head of leasing, Tim O’Connor, and JLL head of office leasing North Sydney, Paul Lynch, to partner with DEXUS’ leasing team, headed by Chris Hynes, on the project’s leasing.

DEXUS executive general manager of office and industrial, Kevin George, said the group had received some strong inquiries to lease the office space since it had agreed to buy 100 Mount Street. “Now that we have settled on the acquisition, we can progress leasing discussions,” Mr George said.

Knight Frank’s Tyler Talbot, director, institutional sales, North Sydney, said north shore investment activity had been strong over the past 12 months and this was expected to continue with high demand from both domestic and offshore groups.

“Limited quality stock, falling interest rates and the real prospect of significant rental growth has been driving down yields,” Mr Talbot said.

Knight Frank’s latest research report, the North Shore Office Market Overview: August 2016 found about 80,000 square metres of office stock has been earmarked for permanent withdrawal from the North Sydney market over the next four years.

According to Knight Frank’s Alex Pham, senior research manager, NSW, the significant withdrawal of stock saw the North Sydney vacancy rate dipping to its lowest level in four years at 7 per cent in July 2016.

Hotels sector braces for busy times ahead

The Novotel Darling Harbour was the first Accor hotel in Australia. Accor has grown to 208 hotels across the country.There are three mega trends that are being felt in the hotel sector and operators are taking up the challenge, says AccorHotel’s Asia Pacific chief executive Michael Issenberg.

Speaking in Sydney for AccorHotel’s 25th anniversary in Australia, Mr Issenberg said hotels had a new “dream phase” where the “before and after” experiences at a hotel had changed the sector dramatically.

AccorHotels arrived in Australia with the launch of the Novotel at Darling Harbour and now has 208 hotels under 12 brands across the country. It will expand with its latest $3.9 billion purchase of the Fairmont, Swissotel and Raffles hotel.

But Mr Issenberg said amid the new sharing economy and guests’ ability to plan and book a hotel room by themselves, and where every experience is put online immediately, its still old-fashioned service during the stay that remains the constant focus of hotel operators.

“Travel is now about the time it takes to plan and then book a holiday and select the appropriate hotel, which we call the dream phase, but once the guest arrives it’s back to offering the best service we can to make the stay enjoyable,” Mr Issenberg said.

“Everything has changed with technology and the sharing generation, so service is the differential for hotel operators.”

He said now that most people bring their own electronic devices and download movies, demand for cable TV in a room has diminished, but demand has risen for better Wi-Fi and technology outlets.

Mr Issenberg said the sector’s mega trends are the inflow of Asian travellers, the increased use of private stay accommodation, such as the group’s Onefinestay​ business, and the new sharing economy, which is not just the domain of the so-called millennials but where visitors like interacting in more relaxed lobbies and common areas.

“The growth of visitors from Asia is an important mega trend that is changing the hotel and tourism sector,” he said. “That includes having dual-speaking staff and different and more varied food, among many other services.”

This comes as the sector is bracing for an inflow of visitors for events that are now booked at the new International Convention Centre, which has been rebuilt in Sydney and opens later this year.

According to ICC Sydney, there are already more than 100 events booked and it expects to generate at least $200 million a year in economic benefits for NSW. Given the time and distance of travelling to Australia, it is expected that some guests will stay and see more of the country, which will benefit other states.

Business Events Sydney has booked 43 events to be hosted at UCC Sydney, of which 39 are international, which is its core focus.

Lyn Lewis-Smith, chief executive of Business Events Sydney, said of this pipeline 17 events will be hosted  next year, although she expects this to keep increasing over the next 12 months,

Ms Lewis-Smith said international conference delegates spend up to 6.5 times more than a regular tourist, so this super high yield traveller is the NSW government’s focus.

The chief executive and founder of Ovolo Hotels, Girish Jhunjhnuwala, said Sydney was the gateway to Australia for travellers around the world. And the opening of ICC Sydney will definitely further strengthen Sydney’s position in conventions, exhibitions and entertainment segments by attracting more international business travellers to the city.

“Hotel room demand is already at an all-time high in the city, and with the ICC’s opening, it’s going to likely accelerate rate increases, which is sure to benefit hotels in Sydney,” Mr Jhunjhnuwala said. “Overall room quality, however, continues to be a big issue, as there are limited new hotel openings and the majority of the city’s hotel room inventory is old and tired. Ovolo is well positioned with recently refurbished hotels in Darling Harbour and Woolloomooloo.”

Why backpackers make the best travellers

Go on, admit it. You’re jealous. Maybe it’s only a tiny bit, but you’re definitely jealous.
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You see those backpackers hanging out at the bars, or in the hostels, or in the bars in the hostels, doing very little but boozing their meager savings away, and you can’t help but be just a little envious.

Sure, they’re not doing anything particularly cultural. They’re not mixing with locals or immersing themselves in a foreign land. They might not be learning much. They might be missing out on plenty that their destination has to offer.

But they are having a lot of fun. And there has to be a small part of every traveller that would like to go join in.

The trouble is, as you get older and richer, you tend to shed your backpacking tendencies. Like going to all-night rave parties and voting for the Greens, there are certain things you’re expected to just grow out of at some point.

Backpacking is one of them. And maybe that’s mostly for the best – no one wants to be that one creepy old guy in the dorm room.

But still, there’s plenty to admire about backpackers, and plenty that every traveller could learn from those cheapskate, drunken goons (said with love, backpackers, don’t worry).

The thing I’ve always loved about backpackers is that they very rarely lose sight of why they’re travelling: to enjoy themselves. To have the most fun possible at any given time.

They don’t get too upset about trains that are late or buses that don’t turn up. They don’t freak out over hostel rooms that don’t match up to the brochure. They don’t take one look at that rickety ferry and cancel all plans. They roll with the punches.

They understand that a fancy hotel doesn’t equate to a great experience. They know you can have just as good a time in a dingy bar as in a fancy restaurant. They will have experienced first hand the fact that some of the best travel experiences come through hardship, from riding on the roof of some rickety old bus, from trawling around markets looking for cheap food, from jumping in a tuk-tuk instead taking an air-conditioned cab.

Backpackers will be happy to tell you that time is far more important than money – in that the less you spend in any given day, the longer you can be away from home, doing what you love. Travelling.

I also like the fact that backpackers don’t seem to feel any compulsion to do things that they’re not really interested in. They understand that, sometimes, sightseeing is really boring. Sometimes you don’t feel like joining the hordes at the museums or the churches or the galleries. Sometimes it’s far more fun to just hang out at a bar all day and get drunk.

That might sound like a cop-out, but it’s actually a great way of meeting people, too. Maybe those people won’t be the ones who call the city that you’re visiting home, but backpackers seem to get that there’s just as much value in meeting other travellers as there is mixing with locals. Sometimes more.

Other travellers have amazing stories, too. They have knowledge, they have experience, and they’re willing to share it.

That’s part of the fact that you can usually rely on backpackers to be up for making new friends. Meeting people is part of their experience.

For some reason, though, that doesn’t last. As travellers get older they tend to become more insular, to travel with a partner or with family and to cloister themselves in private hotel rooms, to take private tours, to disconnect themselves from other travellers.

Backpackers, meanwhile, are always mixing with new people. Just stay in a hostel and you can’t avoid it. Everyone is up for a chat. Everyone is keen to hang out with someone new, whether that’s spending the day sightseeing together or just going down to the hostel bar together. Why does that social atmosphere have to get lost as you get older?

You have to admire, too, backpackers’ commitment to long periods of travel, to taking time away from study or even full-time employment to just wander the world for a year or so. They understand that it’s never too late to take a gap year. They know that it’s worth a few sacrifices to be able to immerse yourself in the travel experience for so long.

And that experience is all about having a good time. Maybe it’s not always cultural, and maybe it’s not always what you would describe as mature. But it’s fun. And we can all learn something from that.

Email: [email protected]上海

Instagram: instagram上海m/bengroundwater

​See also: 13 signs you’re too old to be a backpacker

See also: 15 lessons every traveller learns in their 20s

Crossbench challenges Bill Shorten on same-sex marriage as Parliament resumes

A large crowd at a marriage equality rally in Melbourne in June. Photo: Luis Ascui Equal love. Photo: Luis Ascui
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Crossbench MPs are calling on Bill Shorten to ditch his same-sex marriage bill and throw his support behind theirs in a bid to attract a Liberal co-sponsor and pressure Malcolm Turnbull to abandon his plebiscite plans.

Greens MP Adam Bandt and independents Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan will introduce their private member’s bill into the lower house on Monday morning, just after Mr Shorten and his deputy Tanya Plibersek.

However the trio believe the Labor bill is doomed and theirs has a better chance of attracting support from across the aisle.

The crossbench bill is identical to the one introduced in the last parliament that had the support of now former Labor MP Laurie Ferguson, former Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro​ and still-serving Liberal MP Warren Entsch.

The crossbenchers​ have written to Mr Shorten urging him to join with them.

“We write to you seeking a way forward,” they say in the letter obtained by Fairfax Media. “We propose that instead of two bills proceeding we all unify as co-sponsors of one cross-party bill.

“We believe that a bill that is not owned by one political party will have the best chance of attracting a Liberal co-sponsor especially if legislation enabling a plebiscite is not passed by Parliament.”

With a Liberal co-sponsor, the chance of securing a free vote of government MPs can only be increased, they write.

Labor equality spokeswoman Terri​ Butler said: “We will work with anyone in the Parliament to make marriage equality a reality.”

However it’s understood Mr Shorten will press ahead with his own bill unless the crossbenchers can first secure a Liberal’s support.

Asked if he had been asked to support a new cross-party bill – or would consider doing so – Mr Entsch was clear: “No and no.”

Mr Bandt said “in the end, love will win”.

“If we all work together, we have a real chance to pass marriage equality through Parliament sooner rather than later, without a divisive and wasteful plebiscite. By working together, wedding bells could be sounding by Christmas this year.”

Mr Wilkie said no Coalition members would support a Labor bill and he hoped “wiser heads” in the ALP would recognise that.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised a public vote on same-sex marriage under pressure from conservatives in his party who want the issue delayed. However he looks unlikely to be able to secure enough parliamentary support to enable the plebiscite, unless Labor decides to change course and support it.

The bills will ensure same-sex marriage will be a major issue during the week.

Mr Shorten is also expected to introduce a bill to reform the political donations system in the wake of the Sam Dastyari scandal.

The government will seek to pressure Labor into supporting its omnibus savings bill, some elements of which has divided the opposition along factional lines. However much of the focus will be taken up by the first anniversary of Mr Turnbull’s ousting of former prime minister Tony Abbott, who has embarked on a media blitz.

Charities combine to fight government plans to abolish $5-a-week dole supplement

Sean Smith (wearing hat), Patricia Young and Keith Fernandez, working for the dole at the Salvation Army in Auburn, Sydney. Photo: Janie BarrettA coalition of Australia’s biggest charities is calling on the Turnbull government and Labor to abandon plans to cut the income of people living below the poverty line on the dole.
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In a rare intervention into politics, the heads of St Vincent de Paul Society, Mission Australia, Catholic Social Services, Anglicare and the Salvation Army have combined to call out the “injustice” of removing the energy supplement on benefit payments to new recipients.

The change, contained in the government’s $6 billion omnibus savings bill in front of Parliament, will cut the Newstart Allowance by about $5 a week for new recipients and lower the rate of pensions and family payments accessed by a total of 2.2 million people, if it becomes law.

At just $38 a day, Newstart equates to 39 per cent of the minimum wage and is the second lowest unemployment benefit among OECD countries on a comparative basis.

Charities will unite in a press conference on Sunday to highlight the “unfairness” of the government removing the energy supplement, which was introduced as part of the carbon tax compensation package in 2011, while at the same time pushing ahead with nearly $10 billion in personal and company tax cuts promised by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during the election campaign.

John Falzon, chief executive of St Vincent de Paul, said: “It’s the height of injustice and unfairness to take away from these people who have the least while seeking to give tax cuts to those who have the most.

“It’s deeply divisive and benefits those who are already well off. It’s time both sides of politics unite to ensure those left out of the job market are not pushed further below the poverty line.”

Mission Australia chief executive Catherine Yeomans compared the controversial picture of Mr Turnbull handing $5 to a homeless man to the reality of Mr Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison taking $5 a week from people joining the almost 800,000 Australians on Newstart.

“I think most Australians probably assume there is a reasonable social security safety but the reality is there is not. There should be community outrage at taking from the poorest people like this,” she said.

Cassandra Goldie, head of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), said Mr Turnbull had promised he was listening after narrowly surviving the election.

“Who is he listening to?” she said.

“Not the people in regional areas. Not the people in Tasmania where there are hardly any jobs. This is not about people being lazy, this is 800,000 people who cannot find a job.”

She said ACOSS is aware of parents who are going without meals to ensure the internet is kept on for their children and others who cannot afford $10 so their kids can play weekend sport.

KPMG recently urged the government to raise the dole by $50 a week and the Business Council of Australia has said Newstart “no longer meets a reasonable community standard of adequacy”.

Mr Morrison has insisted that abolishing the energy supplement, which will save $1.3 billion by 2020, is justified because it “compensates people for a tax that no longer exists”.

But welfare advocates point out that the billions in tax cuts for the employed, also introduced alongside the carbon tax, are not being revoked.

The intervention of charities on Sunday comes as the Labor caucus, which is divided on the issue, is due to discuss support for removing the energy supplement when Parliament resumes on Monday.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen resolved to support the budget savings measure as he sought to tighten Labor’s bottom line during the election but senior members of the Left, including Bill Shorten’s leadership rival Anthony Albanese have spoken forcefully agains the idea of backing a measure that has been compared to some of the controversial items of the infamous 2014 Hockey-Abbott budget.

Along with Jenny Macklin, the Opposition spokeswoman for families and social services, Mr Albanese has been arguing internally and in public that the ALP need not be locked into its election savings promises because they were part of a package that included support for apprentices and skills training that the government has no intention of implementing.

In its submission to the hurried inquiry into the omnibus bill, Catholic Social Services, which provides services to 450,000 people, said: “Placing the burden of budget repair on those who can least afford it, while providing tax cuts to the wealthy and businesses, is wrong morally and economically.” $5 a big difference

There are times when Patricia Young is forced to ask her supervisors whether she can go to the freezer and take home a meal to feed her and her 15-year-old son.

The humbling request for the single mother from Merrylands is made a little easier in that the frozen meals are at the Salvation Army in Auburn, where she is a member of the work-for-the-dole scheme in the Salvos’ restaurant.

Ms Young, a qualified hairdresser, said she knows the value of the $5 a week the government is proposing to cut from the Newstart Allowance for new recipients.

“Some people think ‘it’s just $5 so what’s anyone complaining about?’ but there are times when I will be down to the last $5 in my wallet and there are still two or three days until payday,” she said.

“Working at the Salvos, if I am having a really bad week I can ask to grab a meal from the freezer but it is not nice to have to ask for help. You start to feel like you’re not doing your job as a parent.”

Having been moved off a parenting payment on to Newstart and the work-for-the-dole program, Ms Young has struggled to get hairdressing work because she has been unable to agree to work Thursday nights and Saturdays as the only carer for her son.

Keith Fernandez, a colleague of Ms Young’s in the restaurant, has been on Newstart for eight years since losing work as an IT consultant.

“If you’re out of work for more than six months in that industry you may as well kiss goodbye to getting another job,” he said.

Mr Fernandez said the value of $5 is clear in the Salvos restaurant.

“If you’re basically homeless you can come in here and get a three-course meal for $2. So that’s two meals they are taking away for some people,” he said.

Sean Smith, 40, who was moved off sickness benefits on to Newstart after his career as a postie was ended when a driver backed into his bike, hospitalising him for three months, said he struggled to survive despite living in a granny flat at his parents’ house.

He had to borrow petrol money from his father to make an interview in Newcastle as he searches for work in the hospitality industry, he said.

Taxpayer cash goes up in smoke as Defence fined millions for false fire alarms

The Department of Defence wants to cut the number of false fire alarms after being fined $4.93 million for such events in three years. Photo: Paul JeffersDefence is burning through money at an alarming rate, charging taxpayers almost $5 million to cover false fire alarm fines.
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Government documents show the Department of Defence has been fined $4.93 million for false fire alarms in just three years.

The most recent bill – disclosed on the government tender website last month – cost $91,735.

Some of the earlier bills sent hundreds of thousands of dollars up in smoke.

Defence points out it is responsible for 111 sites across the country, comprised of 25,000 buildings. Nonetheless it says it’s trying to bring down the number of false fire alarms.

“After any false alarm the department undertakes a post review of the call out to determine the cause and the necessary actions to minimise any future call outs,” a spokesman told Fairfax Media.

“The department regularly communicates with staff on how to avoid causing false fire alarms.”

The department’s response – which took 12 days – says the $5 million also covers security and fire panel inspections and the maintenance and installation of fire systems. However, the 16 relevant contracts are all clearly labelled “false fire alarms fines” and there are dozens of other contracts for installations and inspections.

Firefighting agencies across the country have introduced hefty fines of between $750 and $1250 in an effort to prevent false call outs.

However, the fines typically don’t cover the full cost to the firefighters of the emergency call out, which is estimated to be closer to $3000.

They say false alarms increase the risk of accident and injury to firefighters and the general public, clog up the 000 system and cause delays to response times for genuine emergencies.

The main causes of false alarms include burnt toast, cooking fumes, aerosol sprays, cigarettes and candles and poor ventilation. site gaining traction in Australia, says UK founder

Azad Chaiwala, founder of Secondwife上海m, has wanted multiple wives since he was 12. Photo: Secondwife上海m Keysar Trad at Zetland Mosque. The president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils has sought a second wife for decades. Photo: Wolter Peeters
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It sounds like just another profile on a dating website.

“I’m into religion, science and politics. Soccer, table tennis and swimming. Spending time with family,” it starts.

But these are not your normal call-outs for a life partner.

“I have one wife and three children. My wife also greatly supports this lifestyle and is wanting a co-wife to be a part of our family,” it continues.

The profile is just one of thousands on a match-making website for Muslim men and women looking for a second spouse. And it is rapidly gaining traction in Australia, its British founder says.

Azad Chaiwala has stirred controversy in Britain with his outspoken promotion of his website Secondwife上海m. Since the age of 12 he desired to have multiple wives.

Polygamy is illegal in Australia yet Chaiwala believes a growing number of Muslims are seeking second marriages in religious ceremonies. He said the “social taboo” is fading away.

Fairfax Mediafound about 180 male users and 12 female users on the website who publicly list their location as Australia. Mr Chaiwala claimed the number of Australian users is as high as 750.

“A lot of Muslims give their cultural background precedence instead of looking at what religion says,” he said. “There is a lot of stigma now against Muslims so they’re being stupidly cautious.”

The top of the site carries a line from the Koran: “then marry women of your choice, two or three, or four but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly, then only one”.

He said a man is permitted to have up to four wives as long as he can afford it and treats them equally.

However Joumanah El Matrah, executive director of the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, said such interpretations were antiquated and demeaning.

“It’s quite an underground practice in Australia,” she said. “It’s frowned upon because Muslims are of the view that you can’t treat two women equally.

“Women and children fare very badly in polygynous set-ups. There tends to be a lot of suffering and loneliness. The limited evidence we have is that there is an increased risk of domestic violence.”

She said the directive in the Koran was written in an era when women needed marriage for rights and support, whereas now they don’t.

Keysar Trad, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, was raised in a polygamous Lebanese family and has sought a second wife for decades.

His wife of 30 years has previously voiced her support, saying she would rather he have a halal relationship with a second woman than an affair.

Other women on Secondwife上海m say they’re looking for a companion “sister wife” or someone who can provide the children or intimacy they can’t.

“My wife is a saint, she’s one of the best women out there but I think it’s human nature, God put this drive very strongly inside males so that we can be providers and supporters for more than one woman,” Mr Trad said.

He argued most men are not monogamous so polygamy means the “other woman” is given rights and equality rather than being simply a mistress.

Ms El Matrah labelled this idea “absolute nonsense from an Islamic perspective”.

Buoyed by the success of his website, Mr Chaiwala set up another site, Polygamy上海m, for non-Muslims.

Polygamy has been common in about 800 of 1000 societies, the University of Wisconsin found in an oft-cited 1998 study. Just 186 are monogamous.

Some indigenous tribes in Arnhem Land support the practice. Famous polygamists have included South African president Jacob Zuma and Australian actor Jack Thompson.

Dr Linda Kirkman, a sex and relationships researcher who has examined polyamory among middle-aged Australians, said it was wrong to assume women are treated badly in multi-partner relationships.

“There are women who choose this kind of marriage and it works really well for them,” she said. “It’s about having choice and within that choice making sure the behaviour is respectful.”

Successive federal attorneys-general have ruled out changing bigamy laws.

The young artists behind the Children Hospital’s new collection

Ben and Sally Zinsli, with Nathan Zinsli in the hammock, at home in Berowra Heights. Photo: Janie Barrett Benjamin Zinsli’s Noah’s Ark artwork.
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Nikki Armstrong’s Red Panda. Photo: Supplied

Benjamin Zinsli is hoping his colourful drawing of Noah’s Ark will brighten up the day for other young patients at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

The six-year-old, who was diagnosed with spina bifida and hydrocephalus soon after he was born, has taken comfort from the artwork on the hospital’s walls during countless visits, and his own piece will now hang alongside them.

“When his teacher mentioned the Operation Art competition, he said he thought he’d give it a go to try to make other kids happy who also had regular visits,” his mother Sally Zinsli said.

As part of his treatment, Benjamin has undergone scans enabled by nuclear medicine that will be produced in massive quantities in Australia by the end of next year.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation is building a new facility in Lucas Heights that will ramp up production of nuclear medical agents from 550,000 doses to 10 million doses per year, the equivalent to about a quarter of global supply.

Australia’s emergence as a major exporter of the medicine will come at a time when the facilities that produce as much as 70 per cent of the world’s nuclear medicine are due to shut down because of age.

Demand for nuclear imaging agent Technetium 99-mm is currently at about 40 million doses a year, but the general manager of ANSTO Nuclear Medicine Jayne Senior said this will rise in coming years.

“This is increasing as the world population expands and more countries modernise their health system,” Ms Senior said. “So there will be a major deficit of supply, and that’s where Australia comes in.”

ANSTO’s use of low-enriched uranium technology could also drive down demand for medicine based on high-enriched uranium and contribute to non-proliferation and nuclear security goals, she said.

The nuclear medicine department at Westmead Children’s Hospital is the largest in Australia and in the top 10 internationally, and administers treatments to about 4000 children every year.

The head of the department, Professor Robert Howman-Giles, said ANSTO’s facility would be important in advancing the field, including the growing use of PET scans for children with cancer.

“It’s a major growth area worldwide,” Professor Howman-Giles said. “The new facility is going to be looking at a lot more new agents.”

Nuclear medicine treatments are mostly administered intravenously, and he said a welcoming environment is especially important in the hospital’s preparation and injection rooms.

“We’ve got a lot of art in those rooms, the entire rooms have been painted with stories and cartoons, so you can be talking to them about that.

“We have some professional, very expensive art at the department, but the kids identify a lot more with what other children produce.”

Benjamin’s artwork will be on display along with 800 pieces by schoolchildren across NSW from this weekend at the Armory Gallery at Sydney Olympic Park. A selected 50 will be given to the Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

William Tyrrell: Police work on 600 persons of interest in suspected abduction investigation

William Tyrrell was three years old when he vanished while playing at his grandmother’s house on the NSW Mid North Coast in 2014. Photo: Supplied A poster on a telegraph pole at the start of Benaroon Drive, Kendall asking for information about missing toddler William Tyrrell. Photo: Max Mason Hubers
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Police searching bushland in Bonny Hills, south of Port Macquarie, in 2015, as part of investigation. Photo: Peter Gleeson

William Spedding (centre) with his wife Margaret Spedding (left) at Campbelltown Court. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Police have been given information about 600 persons of interest in the William Tyrrell investigation. Photo: Supplied

The backyard of William’s grandmother’s house on Benaroon Drive at Kendall. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Detectives investigating the suspected abduction of toddler William Tyrrell have been given information about 600 persons of interest in a mammoth case that has engaged police statewide.

As the disappearance of three-year-old William from the Mid North Coast approaches its second anniversary on Monday, the sheer size and complexity of the homicide investigation behind it can be revealed.

It serves as a startling insight into the vast resources dedicated to finding out what happened to the toddler in the Spiderman suit on the morning of September 12, 2014.

Of the 600 persons of interest that Strike Force Rosann detectives have in their sights, 200 have not been completely identified.

Those profiles may include only physical descriptions from suspicious sightings and information gathered by police.

In a bid to rule in or out each name or description on the list, information relating to about 400 persons of interest have been sent out to police local area commands across the state.

Officers in each area have the responsibility of following up on those people and reporting back to the homicide squad, which is running the investigation.

Other teams at NSW Police’s State Crime Command, home to the force’s elite squads, are also helping with the workload and have been assigned people to investigate.

Other targets have been left to the team of 14 detectives that make up Strike Force Rosann, led by Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jubelin.

The overarching strategy, which has absorbed police resources across the state, is believed to be a first for homicide investigations in NSW.

While white goods repairman William “Bill” Spedding has been the investigation’s most high-profile person of interest, Fairfax Media understands there are others police have concentrated on just as intensely.

Mr Spedding has strenuously denied any involvement in the child’s disappearance and police have previously stressed he was only one of many people questioned in the investigation.

He has not been arrested or charged in relation to the disappearance.

Earlier this year the strike force looked closely at another Mid North Coast local after his erratic behaviour drew attention his way.

This included the man walking into a police station, asking to talk to someone on the strike force and asking to be handcuffed.

However, after a detailed look at every aspect of the man’s life, he was ruled out.

Last year a photo came across the desks of NSW detectives showing a young boy and a woman in a McDonald’s in Central Queensland.

The boy looked eerily similar to William, and the woman he was with looked like his grandmother, Natalie Collins.

William’s complicated background prevents reporting of certain aspects of his family life. However Ms Collins is not the grandmother who lived at the Kendall house where William disappeared from.

Fairfax Media reported last year that the hopes of detectives were dashed when police on the ground in Queensland confirmed the mother and boy were not who they hoped.

Ms Collins had already been tagged as a person of interest in the investigation, a suggestion she strenuously disputes.

The Sydney woman said she didn’t know where William was staying at the time he disappeared or that he was going to be in Kendall.

“I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have a clue,” she said.

“Who would have known what day he was going to be there and when he was playing outside?”

Ms Collin’s friend, Kim Loweke, told A Current Affair in August that police visited her and asked if she was hiding William after they found out she intended to move into a three-bedroom house with Ms Collins.

“Why would I do that, seriously? If someone had him, I wouldn’t hide him, I would show the world,” Ms Collins said.

Other persons of interest have included child sex offenders in the Mid North Coast area, with police revealing last year that a paedophile ring in the region might be linked to William’s case.

William’s parents have been previously ruled out of their son’s disappearance as has his grandmother, who moved out of the Kendall area after the unfathomable crime was carried out in her backyard.

Dressed in his Spiderman suit, William was playing on his grandmother’s deck on Benaroon Drive on the morning of September 12 when his mother went inside to make a cup of tea. William would have turned five in late June this year.

William, his sister and parents had travelled up from Sydney the day before for a spontaneous visit to Kendall.

At some point around 10.30am, William wandered around to his grandmother’s sprawling backyard, which slopes onto Benaroon Drive.

A matter of minutes was all it took for the charismatic toddler to vanish from the quiet cul-de-sac.

NSW Police would not comment on the case ahead of the anniversary on Monday.

What’s in a name? “Organic” orange juice claims questioned

Grant Eastwood, the owner of Wild Things Food in Fitzroy North, has put up signs warning customers he does not believe Milla’s juice to be organic. Photo: Jason South Milla’s “organic” orange juice
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When “organic” is in the name, it’s reasonable to think the folksy-looking orange juice you’re paying a premium price for is just that.

But in the case of Milla’s organic orange juice, the farmer who grows the oranges and squeezes the juice says it can’t be organic.

Philip Williamson, from Murray River Farm Kurrnung Citrus, even sells the exact same juice he supplies to Milla’s Farm Direct under his own brand, the Great Australian Squeeze, and he doesn’t label it organic.

That’s because even though he tries to avoid harsh chemicals where possible he does use herbicides on his NSW property. And just last year he had to spray “poison on the trees” when there was a fruit fly outbreak in the region.

Although he opts for biological pest control it would be economically impossible for him to never use chemicals, Mr Williamson said.

“Milla’s would like people to believe it’s organic but I can’t grow certified organic oranges on my farm,” he said.

“I wouldn’t dare to put the word organic on our own brand, which is the same juice as Milla’s. We promote Australian grown product and are proud of our juice.”

The discovery so incensed a health food shop owner in Melbourne’s inner north that he took to the issue with a permanent marker, crossing out the word “organic” on each individual bottle of Milla’s in his shop.

Grant Eastwood, the owner of Wild Things Food in Fitzroy North, later put up a sign to warn customers that although it’s still the “best tasting, pure OJ available” it is not organic.

“They are doing a lot of the right things on the farm but I hope that they just drop the false label and rely on the fact that they have a really good product,” Mr Eastwood said.

Organic Federation Australia chairman Adam Willson said the industry body was lobbying the government to introduce a domestic regulation for the industry, under Standards Australia.

“We’re facing the challenge that the word organic isn’t covered by legislation in the Australian market at this point, but [it] is a huge marketing advantage on a product,” Mr Willson said.

“Under AS6000, the minimum standard we want to introduce to the domestic market, the term organic would be legally enforceable through the ACCC.”

NASAA chair and owner of Karra Organic Farm Jan Denham said people need to look out for a Certified Organic logo to be sure it was the real deal.

“It’s especially important that companies that make organic claims must be able to substantiate those claims,” she said.

An Australian Competition and Consumer Commission spokesman refused to say if it was investigating Milla’s organic claims.

But the spokesman did say that Australian consumer law requires businesses to not engage in conduct that is likely to mislead or deceive; or make false or misleading claims or statements.

“Products labelled as organic generally attract a premium price compared to those produced using artificial fertiliser, chemicals or pesticides and non-essential food additives or processing aids,” he said.

“Businesses that make organic claims must be able to substantiate those claims.”

A Milla’s Farm director declined to comment.

Narendra Modi’s yoga diplomacy, or how India is winning friends and influencing people

Indian Prime Minister Narendra​ Modi​ is a big fan of yoga.
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He calls it “India’s gift to the world” and recommends people make yoga as much a part of daily life as their mobile phone. After sweeping to power in 2014, Modi even appointed India’s first government minister for yoga.

But yoga is also a key asset in Modi’s push to promote and develop India’s soft power – described by Harvard academic Joseph Nye as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments”.

Modi often talks about yoga in speeches and during meetings with world leaders. The day he addressed the Australian Parliament in November 2014 Modi told reporters, “I know yoga is enormously popular here. We need to connect our people more.” It was reported Modi discussed the benefits of yoga with US President Barack Obama over dinner at the White House in 2014.

Modi won support from the United Nations for the first international day of yoga on June 21 this year. He marked it with an early morning yoga session with about 30,000 devotees in the north Indian city of Chandigarh. Millions more participated across the world, including thousands in Australia.

“What Mr Modi has been able to do is put an India brand on it through the international day of yoga,” said India’s High Commissioner to Australia Navdeep​ Suri​. “Hopefully when people think yoga, they will think of India in a positive way.”

But there’s much more than yoga in India’s soft power toolbox. From the glitz and glamour of Bollywood​ to the ancient wisdom of Buddhism, India is flush with cultural attributes that interest and engage people in other parts of the world. It also boasts a 25-million-strong diaspora that is relatively wealthy and increasingly politically engaged. The director of the Australia India Institute, Professor Craig Jeffrey, points out that India has been Australia’s largest source of permanent skilled migrants since 2008. “Australia is a lot more Indian than it was 15 or 20 years ago,” he said.

For years India’s soft power potential remained largely untapped. But Professor Rory Medcalf, a former Australian diplomat to India and head of Australian National University’s National Security College, says that is changing.

“It’s very clear that the Modi government has been working to harness Indian soft power and Indian cultural appeal more effectively that previous Indian governments have,” he says.

Australia will get to sample a little of this cultural charm offensive over the next two months as a program of Indian dance, theatre, music – and of course, yoga – rolls out across seven cities. The Confluence Festival of India in Australia, billed as “the biggest showcase of Indian arts and culture ever to be staged in Australia” is sponsored by the Indian government. Organisers say it will have a “strong and positive impact on the bilateral relationship, fostering mutual cultural connections, promoting tourism and migration and highlighting business opportunities between Australia and India.” Modi himself announced the festival during his historic 2014 visit.

Suri, who took up his post as India’s High Commissioner in April last year, was previously the head of public diplomacy at the Indian foreign ministry and has been involved with festivals sponsored by the Indian government in South Africa and Egypt.

“I’m a great believer in the power of cultural diplomacy, whether you call it soft power or anything else,” he says.

Suri says staging cultural festivals enabled diplomats to “get out of the box” of routine government-to-government interactions.

“What we’ve found is they have allowed us to very significantly broaden the range of contacts that we have from the narrow bureaucratic circles into the arts, the writers, intellectuals and people who are public figures – culture became a great way to connect with them,” he says. “In democracies like India and Australia centres of power are dispersed. It’s a 21st century diplomat’s task to connect with a much broader range of actors as compared to the traditional diplomacy of engaging on a government to government basis.” Buddhism, Bollywood and India’s most potent cultural exports

The rich performance traditions that will feature in the Confluence festival are often overshadowed by Indian cinema. Bollywood has won global recognition and now rates among India’s most potent cultural exports. The film industry has a major following in many parts of Asia and the Middle East. India also boasts a cadre of globally renowned writers and public intellectuals including Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Amartya Sen.

But maybe India’s greatest cultural export is Buddhism, which originated in north India and has gradually gained adherents through much of Asia. The region would be very different if not for that ancient manifestation of Indian soft power.

Modi has appealed to the vast Buddhist populations in east and south-east Asia by emphasising India’s historic connections to this spiritual tradition. In a speech in September last year he said: “India is taking the lead in boosting the Buddhist heritage across Asia.” Indian scholars have dubbed this “Buddhist diplomacy”.

“The prime minister is diligently pursuing India’s ‘Buddhist agenda’ and taking it beyond its borders, emphasising the Indian and Hindu links with Buddhism,” wrote Indian academic Rishika​ Chauhan​ in a recent paper titled Modi and Buddhism: Between Cultural and Faith-Based Diplomacy.

India’s more assertive use of soft power has sparked inevitable comparisons with its giant regional counterpart, China.

Professor Michael Wesley, director of the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Studies at ANU, says the key difference is that China starts out with a “significant set” of disadvantages.

“China has an authoritarian regime and people are very aware of that,” he says. “India is far from perfect but it doesn’t have a Tiananmen Square in its recent past. India is a much more benign presence internationally … it is simply less of a threat.”

Wesley says the recent controversies over Chinese influence in Australian politics had underscored a “nasty side” to China’s attempts to wield soft power.

“India starts from a much easier position to create positive attitudes,” he says.

Medcalf says it would be a mistake for India’s “global cultural offensive to look anywhere near as orchestrated” as China’s.

“The good news is India is a long, long way from that,” he says.

Modi’s rhetoric suggests he wants India to exert far more intellectual and cultural influence in future. While addressing a packed audience at Sydney’s Allphones Arena in November 2014 Modi said he dreamed of India being a “vishwa​ guru” or guru of the world.

But some are concerned that India’s more assertive soft power push is too closely linked to the Hindu nationalism popular with Modi’s political power base and a hallmark of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Raja Mohan, one of India’s leading strategic analysts, wrote in the Indian Express newspaper that Modi’s efforts to project soft power “are likely to come to nought if the government continues to allow a free run to groups that seek to anchor India’s rich cultural inheritance on a narrow and religious basis”.

Medcalf agrees. Becoming too focused on cultural expressions linked to Hinduism would “dilute” the soft power strengths that set India apart from China.

“There is a risk for India in its global soft power push being too closely associated with Hindu nationalism, or with Hinduism exclusively,” he says. “India’s great advantage is that it’s diverse and democratic.”

The truth about home ownership and the age pension

The family home is protected in public policy settings.The idea that your home does not count when you are assessed for the pension is political fiction. It does count, and so it should. It ought to count for more than it does.
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More on that later, but first I need to clear up some confusion. A few readers have queried my Sunday Moneycolumn last week, which stated that your home counts for $200,000 in the new pension assets test, which takes effect on January 1, 2017.

I’ll explain.

If you are a single homeowner, you can own $250,000 in assessable assets before you start losing the pension. If you are a single non-homeowner the threshold is $450,000.

A couple who owns a home is allowed $375,000 before they start losing the pension, while a couple without a home can have $575,000.

In other words, whether you’re single or part of a couple, home ownership is valued at $200,000 in the new pension assets test.

These amounts were passed by parliament and incorporated into the Social Security Act in mid-2015.

Note this is not a vast change of policy. Under the old assets test, a single homeowner could own $209,000 in assessable assets, while a single non-homeowner had a higher threshold of $360,500. For couples it was $296,500 and $448,000.

So under the old assets test, home ownership was worth $151,500.

The value of home ownership has increased in the new assets test, but the threshold has also increased.

No one will lose the full pension as a result of the changes and about 50,000 extra people will get it. Another 120,000 part-pensioners are likely to see an increase in payments.

So far, so good.

But as most Money readers would know, there are also hundreds of thousands of Australians who will lose their part pension from January 1 because a much steeper taper rate will apply.

Pensioners will lose $3 a fortnight for every $1000 in assets above the full-pension threshold. That’s the same taper rate that applied a decade ago, before the Howard-Costello government changed it to a more-generous $1.50 in the 2006 budget.

That means that single homeowners will lose their pension if they hold $542,500 in assets, while single non-homeowners are permitted $742,500. For couples the cut-off is $816,000 if they own a home and $1.016 million if they don’t.

Again, home ownership is valued at about $200,000. Income limits also apply.

Depending on your perspective it’s either much harsher or much more targeted than the old threshold, which let couples own $1.175 million in addition to the family home and still claim a part pension.

But those thresholds are subject to the regular indexation of the pension, which occurs every March and September. The exact cut-offs will be known later this month when the Department of Social Security announces the new pension figures.

It’s expected that about 91,000 people will lose their part pension, while another 235,000 will have their payments reduced as a result.

It’s an awful lot more than the very small number of wealthy retirees affected by proposed changes to superannuation.

I have sympathy for people who counted on the part pension in their retirement planning and are simply trying to make ends meet.

But the truth is that pension reform should go further, specifically that home ownership should count for far more than $200,000.

A renter would burn through $200,000 in just over seven years at Sydney’s median rent of $530 a week for a house or $525 for an apartment, and that’s under the unlikely scenario of no rent rises during that time.

Melburnians would have closer to 10 years, with a median rent of $400 a week for a house and $380 for units. The prices are from Domain’s Rental Report for the June quarter.

While retirees who own a home may not have much in liquid assets, retirees without a home deserve more help than they get.

It’s also about intergenerational fairness. The property boom since the late 1980s has made a lot of Baby Boomers very rich, even if they don’t feel rich. It’s all relative.

Quarantining the family home from the pension assets test and other tax measures such as capital gains tax discourages people from downsizing to unlock capital.

Yet Baby Boomers are such a big demographic group that whatever they do – buy, sell or hold – can distort the market. If they’re staying in homes that are bigger than their needs because of tax and pension benefits, then that decreases the natural supply in the housing market.

Building new housing stock can only help around the fringes since most of us buy our houses secondhand.

Grattan Institute analysis from 2013 suggested that 80 per cent of mature-age households with $1 million in net assets receive welfare benefits, on average, more than $200 a week.

Grattan is in favour of counting the true value of owner-occupied housing in the age pension assets test. In order to protect asset-rich but income-poor households, people could choose to remain in their home and receive the pension but the government would accumulate a claim against the property.

There is merit to this idea. The purpose of exempting the family home from the pension test is because pensioners need somewhere to live, not to protect one type of asset for the purposes of inheritance.

Those of us in Generation X and Generation Y are happy to be the tax base for the age pension, because supporting our fellow citizens in old age is part of being in a society. But many of us feel rightly aggrieved that we’re supporting property millionaires to get the pension while we can’t afford homes of our own.

I have a huge mortgage instead, which makes me one of the lucky ones.

Caitlin Fitzsimmons is Money editor. You can find her on Facebook or Twitter.This article has been updated with the new indexation figures announced September 14, which provides us with the exact asset test limits effective from January 1.