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US citizens renouncing because of tax laws affecting Australian superannuation

Karen and Frank Alpert gave up their American citizenship in June this year. They became Australian citizens 17 years ago after falling in love with Australia. Photo: Robert ShakespeareMost Americans would rather die than surrender their passports, but when Brisbane academic Karen Alpert renounced her US citizenship in Sydney with her husband and daughter she was angry.
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The Californian who migrated to Australia 20 years ago wasn’t quitting because of the prospect of Republican candidate Donald Trump, although she does predict others may quit too if he is elected President.

Like thousands of Americans who are now giving up their citizenship, the Alperts were protesting at United States tax policy. Other than Eritrea, it is the only country in the world that taxes non-resident citizens – and even holders of a Green Card (alien resident permit) who are also living outside the USA – on their worldwide income, regardless of where it is earned or where they live.

This requires the estimated 200,000 Americans who live in Australia, many of whom are dual citizens, to file an annual tax return in both countries. Compliance is cumbersome: the American tax code is 74,608 pages compared with Australia’s 3657 pages. Many dual citizens who live in Australia claim the American treatment of Australian superannuation means they are effectively being taxed twice.

Until the introduction of the 2010 Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act or FATCA, the US government had no way of uncovering the earnings of the eight million Americans who live abroad. And most expatriates were unaware that they were required to file annual tax returns in both countries.

That’s changed. Now about 192 countries, including Australia, have agreed to FATCA, which obliges all banks and financial institutions to provide details of every American citizen’s bank balance and earnings. If the banks don’t oblige, they can be banned from operating in the US.

Because of FATCA more than 4500 US citizens gave up their citizenship last year, compared with 231 in the year before it was introduced. Eduardo Saverin, co-founder of Facebook, gave up his citizenship a few years ago, and others including the former mayor of London Boris Johnson – who was born in the US – have also threatened to quit in protest at the US tax policies.

Ashy Bines members claim payments were taken after cancellation

Ashy Bines leads a workout at the Sydney Show Grounds. Photo: Brook Mitchell Women getting in the spirit at the Ashy Bines World Booty Tour in July. Photo: Brook Mitchell
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Ashy Bines arrives to lead a class for her World Booty Tour. Photo: Brook Mitchell

More than 4000 Ashy Bines fans turned up at Sydney Olympic Park in July for the sold-out $28 Ashy Bines fitness session. Photo: Brook Mitchell

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Australian women who have signed up to one or more programs hosted by Gold Coast fitness mentor Ashy Bines have complained about being charged up to $US30 a month after cancelling their memberships.

The social media fitness star is well known for her “12-week Bikini Challenge” and her “World Booty Tour”, a ticketed event that involves mass fitness sessions for thousands of Ashy Bines members.

But members on social media pages for Ashy Bines have said they have struggled to cancel their memberships, with some being blocked from online forums for which they have paid to access.

“I’ve been a follower of Ashy Bines for years. I’m originally from Sweden and I bought her program when I first came here,” said 27-year-old Diana, who has asked for her surname not to be published.

“With her plans you get access to online forums, girls share recipes, talk, ask each other for tips. Every plan you purchase  gives you access to a different forum.”

For $US7.70 the Ashy Bines Booty Challenges includes a full workout plan, a video library, a tailored nutrition plan and access to the online forum.

Diana had already spent $177 on a VIP ticket to the Ashy Bines Sydney Booty Tour, including access to online forums and a program app, when she signed up to Ashy Bines’ The Life program.

At a cost of 1 cent for the first four weeks, and then $US29.95 a month thereafter, the program offered access to a “celebrity-like support team…to put a stop to that terrible yo-yo experience of losing weight…”

All charges for Ashy Bines programs are in US dollars, unless otherwise stipulated.

“When I joined in May I decided to cancel the same day, and I received confirmation that I would not incur any further charges,” Diana said.

However by the end of August, Diana found four withdrawals from her account plus foreign transaction fees, totalling around $US30 each.

“I contacted her support and they put me in a queue…So I decided to write to her on Instagram, and so many girls replied with the same experience…but the comments were deleted very quickly.”

Diana has since received her refund but has been blocked from all Ashy Bines forums, even those she has paid separately to access.

Other women on social media and product review websites have stated that they only elected to sign up to the $US7.70 Booty Challenge package, but were still being charged $US30 a month for The Life program.

In a statement to Fairfax Media, a spokesperson for Ashy Bines Inc said when someone signs up for the 28-day Booty Challenge, they are not automatically signed up to The Life program. “It is an option provided and agreed to at the sign up stage.”

She said subscribers to The Life program would be charged a fee if they did not opt out within the 28-day free trial period, but they could still opt out by emailing.

“However, if anyone believes they been charged by accident after they have emailed…we encourage them to please get in touch and we will investigate on an individual case-by-case basis, as this should not be the case.”

A spokesperson for NSW Fair Trading said customers who were dissatisfied in their dealings with Ashy Bines should contact the trader to  try to resolve the matter in the first instance, or “lodge a written complaint with Fair Trading” if they are unable to resolve their issues.

More than 4000 Ashy Bines fans turned up at Sydney Olympic Park in July for a sold-out $28 fitness session, where they were led through a 45-minute “booty lifting and sculpting workout” by Ms Bines.

Her success is often attributed to her Facebook page, which has more than 1.5 million followers.

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Wallabies v Springboks: Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper shine brightly in Brisbane

Call it a one-game winning streak. The Wallabies are finally on the board for 2016 after grinding out a 23-17 victory over South Africa in front of a disappointing crowd at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
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It was highly entertaining in patches, scrappy in others, but after dropping six-straight Tests, the Wallabies were going to lap up any victory with glee as the pressure lifts in the wake of a pair of heavy defeats at the hands of the untouchable All Blacks.

Green jerseys would prove far more agreeable for the Australians, who were spearheaded by the relentless Michael Hooper, who helped the home side rebound from a 14-3 deficit to claim the Mandela Plate in front of 30,327 fans on a wet night in Queensland.

Bernard Foley had the veritable mixed bag, throwing an intercept that set up a Springbok try, but scoring one of his own in the second half to add to his five-from-five with the boot.

The old Reds combination of Will Genia and Quade Cooper looked far more effective, with Cooper highly involved and orchestrating some promising raids as his combination with Foley at inside centre began to flourish.

Winger Reece Hodge looks a keeper for Michael Cheika, while Samu Kerevi is slowly working out how much of a physical impact he can have with his midfield carries when he runs with vigour and confidence.

“It’s been a long while, it’s a good feeling. We’ve hung in there right throughout. They played well tonight but we’re very happy to win,” said captain Stephen Moore after the match.

The rain that had persisted over Brisbane for much of the afternoon lifted by kick-off but the Wallabies were still miserable. After just two minutes the Springboks were over through number eight Warren Whitely, despite some desperate defence from Genia.

Cooper had some good early touches, and his short kicks behind the rushing Boks defence were turning them on their heels. They were unlucky not to get more pay when Hodge almost pocketed one up with the line in sight, although the three points from the scrum penalty had them on the board.

But such had been the Wallaby woes that even the most promising of movements could end in tears. Israel Folau, Kerevi and Cooper were part of a glittering raid down the Springbok left which had their line in tatters.

It was swung back to the right, but with gold jerseys swarming, Foley managed to find a green one. The Adriaan Strauss intercept made its way to Johan Goosen, who ended the 80m effort under the posts and saw the South Africans lead 14-3 after 20 minutes.

The Wallabies were trailing, but applying most of the pressure. Moore twice shunned penalty shots from wide out to kick to the corner and his persistence paid dividends as Adam Coleman crossed for his first Test try, making it 14-10 with half an hour down.

More quality backline interchanges, Foley and Cooper featuring prominently, poured the pressure on the Boks to start the second half, and the dividend was three points and key line-out man Eben Etzebeth shown a yellow card for a professional foul.

Foley made it four-from-four and the Wallabies were in front with a spring in their step. It took a brilliant try-saver from Goosen to stop Kerevi from scoring in the corner, whose leg was ruled to graze the line at the exact moment he touched down the ball.

But the Wallabies were asserting control. An 18-phase raid in the corner opened it right up for Foley, who dummied his way over under the posts to make it 23-14 to the home side, only for that to be whittled back to 23-17 after a quickfire penalty.

But the Boks didn’t have enough in the tank to steal the result, as the Wallabies did in this very fixture last year. Perhaps this victory will produce the same long-term bounce for Cheika and his embattled troops.

Wallabies v Springboks: Improved performance eases pressure on Michael Cheika

The Wallabies were far from a polished product – and there is no suggestion this year will be smooth sailing, but there were definite improvements in their 23-17 win over the Springboks in Brisbane.
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It is not as simple as saying the Wallabies are back on track, as we will no doubt hear from countless players and coaches over the next few days.

South Africa were supposedly an out of sorts outfit – it’s easy to draw that conclusion after a loss to Argentina – but the fact the Pumas scored more points (19) in one half against the All Blacks on Saturday than the Wallabies did in Sydney and Wellington combined, indicates they are a slick outfit and will be no pushovers in Perth next week.

The easy way for the Wallabies to silence critics would have been to pump the Springboks with the attacking rugby they lived and died by last year.

The result has answered questions – Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper can star alongside each other – and restored confidence in the lineout, but hardly injected confidence Australia will be world-beaters anytime soon.

It is worth keeping in mind that after the Perth fixture the Wallabies play their next eight Tests abroad; Pretoria, London, Auckland and then a Spring Tour. Things are not going to get easier and it could be a long year if beating a Springboks side lacking any real structure was not as straightforward a task as they would have liked.

2005 was the last time the Wallabies lost seven on the trot. Eddie Jones was in charge. Two games later, after a 22-24 loss to Wales, he was sacked as coach. You have to trawl the history books to 1969 to find the last time the Wallabies went down seven in a row before that.

Such a crisis has been averted, but only just, thanks to a 62nd minute try to Foley.

In the blink of an eye the Wallabies trailed 7-0 and were on the backfoot once again. A collective sigh echoed through a slightly fuller than half Suncorp Stadium. It was then hands on heads when Foley threw an intercept pass to Adriaan Strauss finished off by fullback Johan Goosen to put the visitors ahead 14-3.

Foley redeemed himself though, scoring late to give Australia a nice buffer and give further credit to Cheika’s plan of having he and Cooper forge a long-term No.10 and No.12 combination.

The lineout was far better. Stephen Moore didn’t miss a throw all night and is no doubt sleeping easier without the prying hands of New Zealand’s Kieran Read and Brodie Retallick in front of him.

He backed himself and let his throwing do the talking.

Adam Coleman, solid across the park, dived over for his first Test try in the 27th minute to mark Australia’s second try in 187 minutes of play.

Reece Hodge was a standout on his starting debut while Cooper produced glimpses of brilliance, including a behind-the-back flick pass to Samu Kerevi to go with a string of inside passes that are working an absolute treat at the moment.

Australia’s forwards were direct and possessed plenty of punch and power through the middle, while Michael Hooper picked his moments cleverly at the breakdown.

It wasn’t the wet war of attrition expected given the Brisbane weather prior to kick-off, but the Wallabies were up for the fight, because, well, they had to be.

And we might see more Cheika pre-game chats with referees after the Wallabies were the beneficiaries of a 11-8 penalty count. There was also the stroke of good luck keeping Israel Folau on the park after a questionable late hit on Goosen.

Cheika was, however, visibly perplexed at Kerevi’s non-try early in the second half with the Wallabies up by two points.

For now though, the pressure on Cheika has been alleviated with this latest, albeit narrow, victory.

He will enjoy being back in the winner’s circle but the Wallabies missed a perfect chance to make a statement and change a perception they are a markedly different team to the one that galvanised the nation some 10 months ago.

Australian cricketer Steve O’Keefe quits alcohol for six months after pub incident

Steve O’Keefe always liked a drink and a chat. It was just that one Saturday night last month on the Corso in Manly he did a bit too much of both.
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There were reasons behind the NSW and Australian spinner tying one on and then letting his frustration get the better of him and verbally abusing police when he was denied entry to a pub. The devastation of tearing a hamstring midway through Australia’s first Test in Sri Lanka, and wondering whether he would ever suit up for his country again, was chief among them.

O’Keefe, 31, does not want to make any excuses, though. In fact, the episode has not just left him $10,000 lighter on due to a Cricket Australia fine but with a renewed focus on getting as much out of his career as he can.

Hence he has put an increased focus on recovery, more specific training – and has decided to quit the booze for six months. The latter is a well worn path for athletes who have run into strife on a night out. But while O’Keefe’s incident doesn’t rate too highly on the scale of player misbehaviour, particularly compared to the misadventures of athletes in other codes, he has taken something productive out of it.

“I’m getting older and I’m getting injuries like the hamstring, which I’d never done before, and if I want to at my age give myself a realistic chance of having the long career that I want then I need to be doing these other things outside the game,” he said.

“It’s not something I go around touting to every individual. I’m planning to go [without alcohol for] the cricket season. It’s not for everyone. I love a beer and having a beer at the end of the game with your mates you certainly got a lot out of. You sit back and relax and some of those conversations you have really extend your cricket.

“But I think for me right now it’s the best thing I can do to give myself every chance of playing the best cricket and being as healthy as I possibly can.

“I’m into day 31, I’ve been ticking them off.”

O’Keefe had been so embarrassed by his behaviour outside the Steyne Hotel last month that he spoke to police the next day and apologised to the hotel manager.

What had been building up inside him in the 11 days before had been the disappointment of another missed opportunity, having broken down so early in the Test series in Sri Lanka. There had already been frustration for O’Keefe at the cancelled tour of Bangladesh last year, on which he was likely to feature, and the hamstring injury in Kandy was another setback.

Spin city: Steve O’Keefe is a possibility for the tour of India in February. Photo: AP

It was fine when he was still with Steve Smith’s squad, where he remained upbeat around teammates, but when he returned home reality was tougher to swallow.

“I think I mainly just felt sorry for myself,” O’Keefe said. “I’d been home for a week and I felt like I had things under wraps and then you have a couple of drinks and those other thoughts that are sitting around in the back of your head start to come to fruition. You think, ‘is that it? Is that your last opportunity to play cricket for Australia?’

“When you go home and you’re on your own, you sit down and reflect on it and the Test is on the TV, it’s a hard thing to take. Obviously it’s fair to say I didn’t handle it appropriately at all.”

The likelihood is more chances will come O’Keefe’s way. He is in selectors’ plans for the tour of India in February and March and could get a start even earlier, having played alongside Nathan Lyon in the weather-affected Sydney Test against the West Indies in January.

“India is there and will be in the back of your mind, but it’s just a day by day thing at the moment,” he said. “You’ve got to be performing well for the Blues and there is a lot of guys out there now, particularly young spinners around the country, doing really well.”