Defence boss Richardson resigns

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The boss of the Defence Department, Dennis Richardson, will step down next month after a five decade public service career.

He will leave his Canberra office on May 12, two days before his 70th birthday.

Respected former Communications Department chief Drew Clarke has also drawn the curtain on a distinguished public service career with his resignation as Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Richardson has led the mammoth department since 2012. His tenure at Defence was part of a 48-year contribution to public service and national security, Mr Turnbull said on Wednesday morning.

Before he took the helm at Defence, Mr Richardson was secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade from 2010 to 2012, ambassador to the United States from 2005 to 2010 and director-general of ASIO from 1996 to 2005.

He also worked in Immigration and Prime Minister and Cabinet, and was principal adviser to prime minister Bob Hawke in the early 1990s.

The 69-year-old broke the news to his 17,000 staff in an internal announcement on Wednesday morning.

“Brendan Sargeant, associate secretary, will be acting secretary pending the appointment of my successor,” he wrote.

“I thank everyone for their professionalism, commitment and achievements since October 2012.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my 48 years in the public service.

“I am delighted to have had the opportunity to work in the Department of Defence and, in particular, to have met many of you personally around the country and overseas.”

Malcolm Turnbull paid tribute to the career public servant on Wednesday.

“In this near half century of service, Mr Richardson has served 12 prime ministers with consistent professionalism,” the Prime Minister said.

“His commitment to public service, his strategic insight, his candour and integrity have made him a trusted adviser to governments from both sides of n politics.

“On behalf of the government and the n people, I thank Mr Richardson for his leadership and service and I wish him and his wife, Betty, all the very best for the future.”

The praise for Mr Richardson came from across the political divide with Labor Defence spokesman Richard Marles and his portfolio colleagues in paying tribute to the retiring mandarin.

“Dennis’ advice and insight has helped governments of both stripes make decisions which have shaped our country’s place in the world,” Mr Marles said.

“Dennis’ personal integrity and judgement meant his advice was always given heavy weight in Labor’s national security considerations, whether in government or out.”

The commercial sector also expressed its respect for the veteran public servant with the n Industry Group publishing a statement praising Mr Richardson’s contribution.

“The decision by Dennis Richardson to resign from Defence will see the departure of one of ‘s most dedicated, long serving departmental heads,” AIG chief executive Innes Willox said.

Mr Clarke worked as Secretary of the Department of Industry and Resources from 2010 until 2013 when he was appointed as secretary of the Communications Department.

Mr Turnbull picked Mr Clarke as his chief of staff soon after seizing the prime minister-ship in 2015 and the public servant was credited with restoring a more traditional cabinet-process style to the Coalition government.

He will be succeeded by former ambassador to Iran and Defence adviser Greg Moriarty.

All Chinan states abandon online NAPLAN plagued by technical problems

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File photo: iStockAll n states and territories have now abandoned a trial of online NAPLAN tests this year due to technical glitches that could disadvantage students.

A pilot of the online literacy and numeracy test is in disarray, with the Victorian, Western n and ACT governments announcing on Wednesday that they would withdraw from the trial and South n and Queensland ditching it earlier this month.

NSW, Tasmania and the Northern Territory had always planned to roll it out at a later stage.

The online trial was due to start next month, but Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said technological issues had not been resolved.

“Recent testing indicates that this could affect students’ ability to complete the tests,” he said.

“We want NAPLAN Online to be a positive experience for students and schools. With three weeks to go, we don’t have enough time to be confident of this happening.”

“The last thing we want is students being unable to demonstrate their numeracy and literacy skills because of technological faults.”

All Victorian students will instead sit pen and paper tests this year.

Mr Merlino said that the state government would work with Education Services and other states to ensure that the online test was successfully rolled out from 2018.

Power failures, freezing, browser issues and broken internet connections plagued initial trials of the online NAPLAN tests, according to a report by primary school principals who were involved in administering the online tests.

The online test will be gradually rolled out over a three-year period, and about 10 per cent of schools were initially expected to take part in its trail this year.

The n Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority chief executive Robert Randall said it was disappointing that the five states and territories were no longer moving to online NAPLAN in 2017.

“I respect the decision of states and territories to delay transition to allow more time to gain a greater level of confidence for the move online,” he said.

He said states and territories were determining which schools would take part in a separate readiness trial in August/September.

The switch to online testing will mean speedier results for parents and schools.

Schools currently have to wait about 12 weeks before receiving results from the pen and paper tests.

The online test will also be adaptive, with questions adjusted according to students’ skill levels.

When Queensland announced that it was pulling out of the trial, Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said he hoped that other states still took part in the online tests.

n Principals Federation president Julie Podbury said NAPLAN online would be a “useful tool” for schools, but there was no use rolling out a product if it was not going to work.

“You can’t afford to waste time in schools, principals and teachers work hard enough … so let’s ensure it is 100 per cent right before we roll it out,” she said.

President of the Victorian Association of State Secondary School Principals Judy Crowe said principals participating in the trial said they were disappointed by the news.

They looked forward to receiving faster feedback on students’ performance on the test – a key advantage to the online model – but they accepted the test has “technical issues”, she said.

“The platform has to be absolutely workable,” said Ms Crowe. “There have to be minimal risks that things will go wrong.”

Ringwood Secondary College principal Michael Phillips, whose school was set to take part in the online test in May, said the news was “disappointing”.

“In 2017 we have all this technology that kids are using all the time and yet we can’t get it right,” he said.

The state school in Melbourne’s east had a positive experience when it experimented in a smaller trials of online NAPLAN last year.

It has invested time in making sure the tests ran smoothly, and just yesterday, ran a briefing for 100 staff.

Brian Bell’s end date tolls Lake Macquarie council debatepoll

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“HELD IN HIGH REGARD”: Retiring Lake Macquarie council general manager Brian Bell, with former mayor Jodie Harrison.A SPLIT has formedbetween Lake Macquarie councillors over the treatmentofretiringgeneral manager Brian Bell, anda push to have his leaving date brought forward.

Liberal councillor Jason Pauling wants Mr Bell to depart a “mutually agreed”four weeks after Monday’s council meeting, despite the general managerof 11 years announcingplans to leave at the end of June.

Supporting “a quick clean break” from Mr Bell’s tenure, Cr Pauling will also move for an acting interim general manager to be appointed forsix months.

During that time, Cr Pauling wants twopanels of four councillors – including mayor Kay Fraser –to recruit apermanentgeneral manager and reviewMr Bell’s performance in the near-$400,00-a-year job.

“This is pretty much a once-in-a-decade appointment. We needsix months to do this, and that’s why I think we needan interim GM,” Cr Pauling said.

“My issue is there’s this drawn-out,Brian Bell sunset celebration period. The quicker and cleaner we get on with it, the better.”

The comments drew an impassioned defence of Mr Bell fromthe mayor.

“I am extremely disappointed by councillorPauling’s mean-spirited response to our general manager’s retirement,” Cr Fraser said.

“Brian is held in high regard by all at Lake Macquarie City Council and throughout the Hunter, and deserves to be treated with more respect.”

Labor councillor Brian Adamthwaite said Mr Bell deservedcredit for keeping the council clearof the NSW government’s forced council merger calculations.

Allowing himto leave at the end of June would ultimately aidthe transition to his successor, CrAdamthwaite said, because it would free him to hand over the job.

CrAdamthwaite’s Labor colleague, Cr Barney Langford, said he thought the council wouldappointan interim general manager.

“But given the service that he’s given to the council, he should be able to choose the time of his leaving.”

MrBell, who declined to comment, received a Public Service Medal in last January’s Day Honours Awards.

Adam Sandler’s new Netflix film surprises with rare good reviews

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Someone might want to check the thermostat in hell, because Adam Sandler’s latest Netflix film is getting good reviews.

Sandy Wexler, directed by Sandler’s longtime collaborator Steven Brill (Little Nicky, Mr Deeds), stars the actor as a washed up ’90s Hollywood talent manager who mounts his comeback after discovering an aspiring singer (Jennifer Hudson) at a theme park.

It features cameos from a slew of Sandler’s famous friends, including Jimmy Kimmel, Judd Apatow, Conan O’Brien and Saturday Night Live honcho Lorne Michaels, and period-setting ’90s stars such as Vanilla Ice, Jason Priestley, Pauly Shore, Lisa Loeb and Hootie from Hootie and the Blowfish.

After a string of flops that saw him highlighted as a box office pariah, the film has earned positive reviews and strong word-of-mouth since launching last week – although not without the requisite caveats.

“Maybe it’s a question of drastically lowered expectations finally working to Sandler’s advantage, but Sandy Wexler is disarming in its charms,” wrote AV Club critic Jesse Hassenger.

“Once you get past the annoying voice and some of the dreadfully unfunny side characters, it is disarmingly sweet and even occasionally clever,” wrote The Guardian’s Jordan Hoffman.

The film is the third of a multi-picture deal Netflix struck with Sandler, a deal that saw the streaming giant roundly mocked when it was renewed for another four flicks in March.

The ridicule was perhaps understandable: Sandler’s previous works for Netflix resulted in the woefully-received The Ridiculous 6 (2015) – it still sports a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes – and The Do-Over (2016).

Netflix, however, don’t mind. Earlier this week, in a report outlining their Quarter One results, the streaming site revealed that subscribers watched “more than half a billion hours” of Sandler films on the platform, despite the star’s much derided output.

Sandler’s unlikely success echoes the company’s, with Netflix due to hit 100 million subscribers by the end of the week.

That monumental milestone had CEO Reed Hastings gloating over the service’s dominance over its streaming rivals, including Amazon Prime and Hulu.

In an address to shareholders following the report’s release, he joked that, at this stage in the online bingeing landscape, “sleep” was the company’s biggest competition. Wow, Sandy Wexler was such a great movie! ???? @[email protected] It was so heart ?????? warming! ????????? Gabrielle VR Lawson (@g_vanrensselaer) April 17, 2017Calling it. “Sandy Wexler” is the return of Adam Sandler. Movie is non-stop laughs, and it feels great to laugh at Adam Sandler again.??? Austin Shutler (@Bike_Guy23) April 18, 2017

ArtWork of skilled handsJill Stowell

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LEZLIE Tilley is one of Newcastle’s best-known and most adventurous artists, with a career as formative teacher to generations of students and veteran of dozens of exhibitions here, in Sydney and beyond.

Tilley has woven copper and rubber, made patchwork from wooden tiles, made grids of hundreds of fragments of gravel and used paper for collage and as sculptural material.

She has used branches embedded in plaster and has minutely painted the landscape as well as experimenting in visual essays on colour theory.

Her survey exhibition at Cessnock Regional Art Gallery until May 14, curated by John Barnes, can only hint at this long and productive creative life.

But it brings to prominence several long-term concerns.

Seeing these works hung together makes links and connections clearer between very different disciplines as well as the historical progression.

Most obvious is the passion for process, the dedication to time-consuming techniques with often unlikely materials such as the grids of tiny stones, or the elaborately detailed paintings based on heavily pixelated photos.

Similar landscape-filtered paintings have been shortlisted for many prizes.

As in these imposing paintings with their painstaking rendering of banal scraps of landscape, much of her other work deals in paradox.

The grids of gravel play meticulous and impersonal order against saturations of emotion-rich colour.

The towering patchwork of timber tiles deliberately fractures and fragments its thematic trees.

Type-cast female skills in working with fabric are translated into woven wood and galvanised metal strips.

Paper is cut and punched rather than written or drawn on.

Here is an artist consistently using formidable skills in many mediums to create artworks that subvert our expectations; simultaneously warm and cool, intellectual and deeply felt, perfectly original but invoking the paradigms of the past.

Where will she take her questing imagination next?

There are hints that amended books will incorporate sound, even music, in a coming exhibition at Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery.

It is a tribute to the volunteer management committee of the gallery that it can undertake a serious survey exhibition so professionally mounted.

But why no printed catalogue?

Artists need the documentation for their records and many visitors like to read the catalogue essay to find out what they have seen.

SPANISH INFLUENCEWELL-KNOWN potter Anne Gazzard attended a porcelain workshop in Barcelona last year.

Now, at Back to Back Galleries until April 30, she is exhibiting the results of this immersion in the vibrant culture of Spain.

Brightly coloured vessels are cut and flared and a variety of porcelain and earthenware bowls and platters reveal the traditional advantages of strong experienced wheel-form techniques, though hand building is also prominent.

Complementing the masterly ceramics is a group of innovative and immersively coloured paintings by Frances Fussell.

Celebrated for her vital studies of flowers and domestic interiors, this too-rarely-seen artist is now experimenting in more abstract compositions, incorporating cut and collaged canvas, dense in richly coloured paint.

CLASSIC TECHNIQUETHE past is a resource, but it needs imagination to use it. At Watt Space until tomorrow, Vanessa Lewis continues to find stimulating use for materials and techniques from the paintings and painters of the past.

She is currently investigating tempera, the painting medium where egg provides the binding agent to stick pigment onto a support.

As well as studying it in European panel painting in the Gothic period, she discovers its varied use by painters of the recent past from works in the collection of Newcastle Art Gallery.

Particularly fruitful as models are the coloured stencils of Margaret Preston, with a wreath of banksias we recognise from previous exhibitions by Lewis herself providing an ideal subject.

Practical research for a PhD is less common than it might be.

I look forward to the next investigation that Vanessa Lewis undertakes, combining historical perspective with her own strongly visual creations. Who can forget her previous celebration of blue?

Also at Watt Space until tomorrow are Amy Nash’s photographic essay on ballooning, Momo Hatley-Couper’s ambitious multi-media sculpture and Margaret Kummer’s astonishing kitsch-cabinet of small pre-loved treasures.

What will the archaeologists of the future make of these current triggers to memory and reminiscence?

PASSION FOR PROCESS: Lezlie Tilley’s After Fire II 2014.