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Sydney light rail line: Transport sets up new agency to build CBD-eastern suburbs service

An artist’s impression of the new light rail service down George Street at Martin Place. Preliminary construction on George Street has already forced temporary closures in the city. Photo: James Alcock

An artist’s impression of the new light rail service down George Street at Martin Place.

Preliminary construction on George Street has already forced temporary closures in the city. Photo: James Alcock

An artist’s impression of the new light rail service down George Street at Martin Place.

Preliminary construction on George Street has already forced temporary closures in the city. Photo: James Alcock

An artist’s impression of the new light rail service down George Street at Martin Place.

Preliminary construction on George Street has already forced temporary closures in the city. Photo: James Alcock

The state’s transport authority is overhauling the structure charged with delivering a light rail line through the middle of the city to the eastern suburbs.

Major construction is due to start on the project in September or October, though early works along the route are already taking place.

The acting secretary of Transport for NSW, Tim Reardon, told staff last week a new stand-alone delivery office would be set up to run the light rail project, along the same lines as the office set up to build the North West Rail Link.

The restructure means the sudden departure from the department of Chris Lock, formerly the deputy director general of the Transport Projects division of Transport for NSW, who had been working full-time on the light rail project.

Construction of the light rail line is expected to be highly disruptive, and the cost of the project has already blown out by at least $500 million, from $1.6 billion to $2.1 billion.

One of the major difficulties will be reorganising the city’s bus network to accommodate the construction of the project.

Buses from Parramatta Road and City Road that run along George Street will be re-routed when George Street is closed to traffic, though the government is yet to explain what the new bus routes would be.

Asked about the internal transport for NSW reorganisation, a spokesman said the fact that the project director of the light rail scheme would report directly to the secretary of the department indicated the project’s importance to the government.

“The creation of a CBD & South East Light Rail Project Delivery Office and the evolution of Transport Projects from a broader division to a delivery office follows the agile and focused North West Rail Link model, which has proven extremely successful,” the spokesman said.

Mr Lock’s departure comes after a 10-year career in the department. His division had recently been in charge of delivering the light rail extension from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill and the South West Rail Link to Leppington.

CBD light rail project director Jeff Goodling will act as the head of the new delivery office. The light rail line is scheduled to be opened to the public in late 2018 or early 2019.


Stephanie Scott: 1000 people gather to farewell 26-year-old teacher

Mourners gather for the funeral of Stephanie Scott in Eugowra. Photo: Wolter Peeters Yellow balloons were released in honour of Stephanie Scott on April 11. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Family of accused offer condolences

Eleven days ago, Robert Scott was to have walked his daughter Stephanie through the vine-covered archway of Eugowra’s Eat Your Greens function centre for her wedding.

Instead, the Scott family were among about 1000 people gathered at the picturesque venue in central western NSW on Wednesday to farewell the 26-year-old teacher.

She and her husband were supposed to have their first dance in the sandstone dining room to Keith Urban’s Making Memories Of Us.

Instead, the same song played as yellow balloons were released into grey skies.

The celebration of her life marked yet another sad milestone since Ms Scott disappeared from Leeton High School on Easter Sunday.

Three days after she was last seen, school cleaner Vincent Stanford was charged with her murder. Two days later, police found her charred body in a national park 70 kilometres away.

On April 11, the day she was due to marry Aaron Leeson-Woolley at Eat Your Greens, her family fronted a public memorial at Mountford Park in Leeton and released yellow balloons into the sky in memory of the popular English and drama teacher.

Ms Scott’s elder sister, Kim, said she pulled together 95 slides to show at the private service on Wednesday but it still didn’t do justice to the smiling girl she called Button-Nose.

“I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve even tried to impersonate your brilliant cackle, but after 95 slides, I still don’t think I’ve done your beautiful life justice,” she posted online, two days before the memorial. “You’ll always be our little sister and always be our Button-Nose.”

Her sister Robyn responded: “The world is far less bright without her in it. Our lives less full and our future less whole. How can this happen to someone so good?”

The two-kilometre stretch of road winding from Eugowra to Eat Your Greens was lined with yellow balloons and streamers on Wednesday as hundreds of cars filed into the countryside venue.

Under the grey sky, mourners came with bright yellow ribbons in their hair and pinned to their jackets. Her younger brother, Scott, donned a yellow tie, her mother, Merrilyn, wore a corsage of yellow roses.

Be Still by The Killers rang out over surrounding paddocks, with lyrics: “Be still / Wild and young / Long may your innocence reign / Like shells on the shore / And may your limits be unknown.”

Leeton High School vice-captain Grace Green told the crowd it would be difficult to finish the last two terms of high school without the “love and laughter” of everyone’s favourite teacher .

She recalled excursions to Sydney and her teacher’s well-worn motto of “please study, eat, repeat”.

“Miss Scott was a breath of fresh air,” she said.

Kim Scott told stories from their childhood, of three sisters sharing a bedroom and getting up to mischief.

Mr Scott placed a large photo of his daughter in front of a white casket topped with pink flowers before the service began.

A photo of her as a grinning graduate fronted the order of service, behind the words: “Stephanie Clare Scott.”

Leeton mayor Paul Maytom said it was an upbeat celebration.

“It was really good to have a service like that which, as touching as it was, it [had] a lot of laughs,” he said.

After a service and wake at Eat Your Greens, her family were expected to continue celebrating her life at the Services Club in their home town of Canowindra.

Schools between Leeton, Cowra and Canowindra flew flags at half mast on Wednesday and businesses in Leeton closed from 1pm to 2pm as a sign of respect.

Students, colleagues and Leeton community members held a public memorial to coincide with the private gathering at Eugowra.

The Scott and Leeson-Woolley families had spent Tuesday night together, reminiscing and comforting each other.

“Oh my goodness I love my family which obviously includes my amazing brother in law Aaron Leeson-Woolley,” Robyn Scott posted on Tuesday night.

“Even with the loss of Stephanie Clare we are still blessed to have each other to give each other strength in this terrible time for us as a family. Stephanie Clare would be proud of us that’s for sure.”

Bank ad campaigns backfire: customers dissatisfied, ready to leave say experts

Breakable: New research suggests the relationship between banks and their customers is fragile.SBS warns of more cuts if it can’t double its advertisingWoolworths’ Anzac Day debacle highlights social media riskBanks promise “more give, less take” and “happy banking”, inspiring “the little dragon in all of us”. But the more they impose their feel-good campaigns on us, the more we hate. Australian research published in this month’s Journal of Marketing Management shows bank advertising campaigns are backfiring​ because customers largely hold strong negative bias against them. “Overly positive information was viewed cynically by customers, who immediately compared these proclamations with their own real, and often more negative, service experiences,” wrote Jana Bowden, senior marketing lecturer at Macquarie University. She found customers had limited tolerance for performance failures and deep cynicism and scepticism because they believed banks lacked “authenticity and trustworthiness”. As a result, the relationship was fragile, with the customer often “on the precipice of leaving”.   In striking contrast, Roy Morgan research declared in March that its customer satisfaction ratings had hit a 19-year high of 82.9 per cent, with non-big four banks leading the charge. The big four are now only separated by 3 per cent, with Westpac coming first, followed by the NAB, Commonwealth Bank and ANZ.

Steven Münchenberg, Chief Executive of the Australian Bankers’ Association, said the Roy Morgan data showed that bank customer satisfaction levels had been “consistently trending​ upwards for many years”.

“Banks have for a long time invested heavily in enhancing their product and service offerings to improve customers’ banking experience,” he said.

“This includes making it easier and more convenient for customers to access their money.”

Westpac group executive Jason Yetton said at the time: “I’m delighted but also humbled by the response of our customers who now say that they are the most satisfied amongst those of Australia’s major banks.” But Dr Bowden said these eagerly anticipated ratings, closely tied with executive performance bonuses, distorted the reality that customers – new and existing – viewed their relationship with banks as “detached, non-personal, reductionist and transactional”.   A 0.1 per cent increase can be heralded as a major win in the banking world. A quarter of Commonwealth Bank senior executive’s long-term bonuses are determined by satisfaction scores. “The potential risk [here] is that they might potentially encourage executives to focus on strategies which increase satisfaction score performance in the short and medium term … at the expense of a deep understanding of the reality of the total customer experience and real customer engagement,” she said. “Banks have to recognise that 82 per cent satisfaction doesn’t mean that their customers are resolutely committed. These statistics do not measure lasting and strong consumer engagement.” While Dr Bowden said bank customers are “on the precipice of leaving”, new Canstar​ Blue research shows only 18 per cent would shop around and take their money elsewhere. Nearly 80 per cent of the 5550 consumers surveyed by Canstar​ Blue admitted they were likely to apply for products like credit cards and personal loans with their banks. Those aged 18 to 24 and aged 70 and older were most likely to stay put. Based on current market offers, a customer searching for the best value $5000 loan over three years could potentially save $1100 in interest payments alone.

“Regardless of who you bank with, it’s absolutely crucial that you thoroughly compare all financial products available – otherwise your loyalty could end up costing you big,” said Simon Downes from Canstar​ Blue said.

“Some Australians seem to be putting convenience ahead of value, which could be a big mistake.”

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Australian property seen as hot destination for money laundering

Australian property is seen as an attractive place to invest corruption proceeds, the report says.Australia needs to tighten safeguards against money laundering in its booming property market, which has attracted Chinese funds with likely links to corruption, an international anti-money laundering body said in a report released late on Tuesday.

The intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force said real estate agents and lawyers have been identified as a high money laundering risk in Australia, where regulations do not require them to report suspicious transactions.

The Paris-based group recommended that Australia widen its efforts, instead of only focusing on drugs, fraud and tax evasion.

“Australia is seen as an attractive destination for foreign proceeds, particularly corruption-related proceeds flowing into real estate, from the Asia-Pacific region,” FATF said in its year-long review of Australia.

Lawyers, accountants, real estate agents and precious stones dealers should demonstrate that they are refusing business on money laundering and terrorism financing grounds and they should be required to report suspicious transactions, the task force recommended.

The report comes a month after Australia ordered the Chinese owner of a $39 million Sydney mansion to sell up within 90 days, saying it was purchased illegally although it did not suggest it was linked to corrupt funds.

Immediately following the high-profile incident, Treasurer Joe Hockey said Australia would beef up its investigations into foreigners buying residential properties.

Australia, the United States and Canada are the three most popular destinations for suspected economic criminals from China, Chinese state media have said. Last year, China launched “Operation Fox Hunt” to go after suspects who have left the country to seek refuge abroad, often taking large sums with them.

Chinese are the number-one foreign buyers of Australian real estate, snapping up nearly $6 billion worth in 2013, according to the Foreign Investment Review Board.


Herald Breakfast – April 22, 2015

Storm fallout: Herald Breakfast – April 22 Tester’s Hollow near Cliftleigh and Gillieston Heights closed by floodwaters. Picture: Peter Stoop

Tester’s Hollow near Cliftleigh and Gillieston Heights closed by floodwaters. Picture: Peter Stoop

Tester’s Hollow near Cliftleigh and Gillieston Heights closed by floodwaters. Picture: Peter Stoop

Tester’s Hollow near Cliftleigh and Gillieston Heights closed by floodwaters. Picture: Peter Stoop

House in Douglas Street, Stockton lost its roof on Tuesday night. Picture: Donna Page

Cleanup at No1 Sportsground: Picture: Darren Pateman

Darby Street. Picture: Darren Pateman

Picture: Darren Pateman

Cooks Hill. Picture: Darren Pateman

TweetFacebookTHE Hunter wakes on Wednesday to a massive clean up bill as the people of Dungog continue to grieve for three of their own lost in the cyclonic storm.

Conditions have eased across the region but not before the State Emergency Service continues to respond to at least 2733 calls for help across the Hunter, including 777 in Lake Macquarie and 722 in Newcastle.

The SES has also made 90 rescues since the storm hit the coast in the early hours of Saturday.

More crews have been brought into the Hunter and Central Coast to work through the callouts.

Ausgrid reports on Wednesday morning that crews continue to respond to 6,000 hazard jobs..

Some 100,000 customers continue to be without power in the Hunter and about 75,000 in the Central Coast.

The view over Newcastle from Tyrrell Street, The Hill. Picture: Supplied

The Bureau of Meteorology reported on Monday that very heavy surf could lead to localised damage and coastal erosion for the Hunter.

The Hunter River is now expected to peak at Belmore Bridge, Maitland, at 9am on Wednesday around 9.1 metres and is expected to cause moderate flooding.

Buses continue to replace trains between Hamilton and Central while the Hunter line between Hamilton and Dungog and Scone remains closed with limited bus services running.

Dungog residents were also continuing to clean up after flash flooding destroyed houses and killed three of their elderly residents.

The victims were identified as Robyn McDonald, aged about 70, of Hooke Street, and Colin Webb, 79, and Brian Wilson, 72, who lived a block away, across the road from each other, in Brown Street.


Traffic: Abermain, Cessnock Road near Church Street: Flooding, road closed in bothdirections.

Adamstown Heights,Pacific HwynearNorthcott Drive, 1 out of 3 southbound lanes closed dueto fallen tree.

Tighes Hill,Industrial DratElizabeth St, road closed in northbound direction due to flooding and fallen trees.

Newcastle,The EsplanadebetweenNobbys RdandWatts St,Road closed in both directions due to flooding.

Singleton,Port Stephens, Maitland,closure in various areas.

For more information and updates go to Live Traffic NSW.

Trains: No service on the Hunter line, The Hunter Line is closed between Hamilton and Scone and Dungog due to flooding at Hexham. Passengers are advised to delay their journey and avoid unnecessary travel or make alternative travel arrangements. A limited bus services is now operating.

Partial closures on the Central Coast and Newcastle line.

For further information and updates go to www.sydneytrains.info.

Weather:Showers, possibly heavy forecast across the regionNewcastle(20 degrees),Maitland (20 degrees), Scone (18 degrees).

Radar map from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Pair rescued from floodwater at Woodville:PHOTOS,A YOUNG couple are lucky to be alive after they were plucked from the roof of their four-wheel-drive at Woodville on Tuesday afternoon as rushing floodwaters surged around them

Cyclonic lashing shakes us to the core:PHOTOS,THREE dead, dozens of houses severely damaged, scores of flood rescues, hundreds of trees down, thousands of calls for help and tens of thousands without power.

Lake Macquarie counts the cost, braces for more:PHOTOS,CYCLONIC winds and torrential downpours wreaked havoc across Lake Macquarie on Tuesday, with the savage storm leaving no suburb unaffected.

Near miss for Raymond Terrace family:PHOTOS,BEN Wright was laying in bed listening to the wind rattling against his home on Mount Hall Road in Raymond Terrace in the early hours of Tuesday morning when he heard a bang.

School closures for Wednesday:ALL Catholic schools, at least 40 public schools and the University of Newcastle will remain closed on Wednesday as storm clean-ups and repairs continue.

Bob Carr says retrospective change to the ICAC Act should be considered

Former NSW premier Bob Carr, who would like to see a more robust ICAC process. Photo: Ryan Osland “Consider this with a cool head”: NSW Premier Mike Baird. Photo: Louise Kennerley

Former NSW Labor premier Bob Carr says “everything should be considered”, including retrospective legislation, to ensure the Independent Commission Against Corruption retains “robust powers”, after a devastating High Court ruling on the scope of its powers.

The ICAC says the four-to-one majority decision of the court imperils some of its most high-profile investigations as well as past convictions flowing from some of its inquiries.

Mr Carr said the people of NSW “want a strong ICAC that has got robust powers when it comes to investigating corruption of the governmental political process”.

“I think we’re all looking to both sides of politics to shake this judgment out and work out what amendments are required,” he said.

“Everything should be considered, even including the prospect of fixing it up retrospectively, if that is required for ICAC to proceed with the cases that have generated the headlines.”

The ICAC has urged Premier Mike Baird to consider retrospective laws to reverse the High Court decision, which found that the watchdog did not have the power to investigate Crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen, SC.

The commission warned that the decision would “severely restrict” its ability to report on recent inquiries into Obeid-linked company Australian Water Holdings and Liberal Party fundraising.

Mr Baird said on Tuesday that he would meet ICAC Commissioner Megan Latham when she returned from leave on April 27.

He said the government wanted a “strong ICAC” but it would “consider this with a cool head”.

The ICAC has long operated on the basis that it could investigate allegations that a private citizen misled a public official in a way that could have led to a different outcome.

A 2005 review of the ICAC Act, conducted by Bruce McClintock, SC, recommended the Carr government consider a minor amendment to the laws to clarify its power to investigate such cases, which it termed “indirect corruption”.

Mr McClintock said that had the amendment had been made, “there can be no doubt that ICAC would have been entitled to investigate the allegation against Margaret Cunneen and the result of the case would have been different”.

Asked if he had concerns about the ICAC’s powers while premier, Mr Carr said: “I can’t remember it ever coming up as a concern.”

Mr McClintock did not comment on the desirability of changing the act now, saying there was force in the arguments on both sides.

But he did say: “My personal opinion is that ICAC should not have commenced the Cunneen investigation.”

He said this had “nothing to do with the question of power” but there was a separate requirement – inserted in the ICAC Act on his recommendation – that the commission focus “as far as practicable” on serious or systemic corruption.

“There is no way that what was alleged against Margaret could satisfy that test of serious and systemic corruption, and so ICAC should not have taken up the reference,” he said.

“If there were evidence of the commission of a criminal offence, it should have been left to [the NSW police].”

Melbourne Uni buys historic pub for ‘student amenity’

Melbourne University wants students to have continued access to food and drink across the extended campus. Photo: Josh Robenstone

Melbourne University wants students to have continued access to food and drink across the extended campus. Photo: Josh Robenstone

Melbourne University wants students to have continued access to food and drink across the extended campus. Photo: Josh Robenstone

Melbourne University wants students to have continued access to food and drink across the extended campus. Photo: Josh Robenstone

The Prince Alfred Hotel in Carlton, which sold at a public auction in late March for $4.5 million, was bought by Melbourne University.

Melbourne University has an extensive portfolio of properties outside of its main Parkville campus, extending across Carlton into the CBD, and is an active buyer.

It is also developing the former Royal Women’s Hospital site bordered by Swanston, Grattan and Cardigan streets into an “innovation hub” called the Carlton Connect Initiative, which will include a mix of research and education facilities, commercial, retail and student housing.

University director of facilities and sustainability Chris White said there were no plans “at this stage” to redevelop the historic pub.

“We’re keen to ensure there’s a continuity of student amenity in terms of access to retail and food and beverage across the extended campus,” he said.

The pub was sold with vacant possession by agents CBRE and Cropley Commercial.

The university would upgrade parts of the building and lease it to a new publican once the property settled, Mr White said.

“Prince Alfred has been a landmark site adjacent to the university for a long period of time. We’re keen to ensure that that relationship continues.”

Melbourne mother forced into poverty after son was diagnosed with severe autism

Single mother Deborah Frith with her four-year-old son Jacob. Photo: Jason SouthDeborah Frith stood in line with her toddler at the church-run food relief centre, waiting to collect the much-needed supplies she couldn’t afford: nappies, canned vegetables, milk.

The single mother had just moved back to Melbourne from interstate after her three-year-old son, Jacob, was diagnosed with severe Autism Spectrum Disorder.

As his full-time carer Ms Frith had already given up her career as a kinesiologist and deferred the master’s in psychology she planned on studying. Then came the costs of her son’s therapy and medicine.

“To not be able to feed your child … it’s heart-wrenching,” she said.

Eights months since they arrived in Melbourne, Ms Frith and her son still live in emergency accommodation – a one-bedroom apartment in South Yarra. The government welfare payments they survive on total about $650 a week, making the private rental market out of reach.

“We haven’t had a home since [we moved],” she said. “We’re tier one priority but we still can’t be housed and it’s looking like it could take years.”

New research by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia has found up to 1.5 million Australians – between 4 and 6 per cent of the population – live in poverty and have “little to no hope” of improving their situation.

People who drop out of school, those aged over 65 or with long-term health problems or a disability, people living in a jobless household and Indigenous Australians are at higher risk.

Ms Frith, who grew up on the Mornington Peninsula, said she never expected to find herself in cramped public housing and struggling to afford to buy meat and fresh vegetables.

She struggles to find enough money to run her car, which she needs to take Jacob to up to nine specialist appointments a week, including a pediatrician, speech therapist and occupational therapist.

“I feel like I’m living in a depression,” she said. “After bills are paid we have about $20 to $30 a day for food, medicine, petrol. Coming up towards our payment days we’re scraping by to get the basics – that’s the struggle. There’s not a day where I don’t worry how we’re going to survive. And the only reason we’re in this situation is because a few things stacked up and I found myself here.”

Ms Frith said many other people she had met in recent months were also struggling to pay for food, accommodation and transport.

“People who wouldn’t have been in this situation in the past are facing poverty,” she said.  ”The cost of living has gone up so much and rental prices just aren’t viable. My resilience is running bare … this has really pushed me to my absolute limit. I feel frustrated and really let down by the system.”