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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m.au

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.

Secondwife.com 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.