Pubs, clubs are Newcastle Uber hotspots

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EARLY ADOPTER: Uber driver Kay Benson, 62, outside one of the service’s hotspots, the Cambridge Hotel. The ride-sharing app launched in Newcastle a year ago and now has 500 local drivers. Picture: Simone De PeakIF you’ve caught an Uberin Newcastle, it was most likely outside a Hamiltonpubjust before midnight.
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A year since itlaunchedin Newcastle, the ride-sharing company says its50,000 local customers haveused their smartphones torequest rides from about 500 drivers.

The Sydney Junction Hotel in Hamilton is the most popularpick-up spot, followed by the Honeysuckle Hotel, the Cambridge Hotel in Newcastle West, and the bar and restaurant stripsofBeaumont and Darby streets.

It is less clear how many Uber trips have beentaken to the airport, or between the University of Newcastle and the city.

But for both its users and its detractors,Uber has changed the city’s transport habits in a year. Kay Benson, 62, is one of the topNewcastle drivers inthe app’s user-rated system.

“I don’t even look at that, I just give people rides. The most important thing, I think, is to keep an open mind and your sense of humour,” Ms Benson, of Broadmeadow, said.

“I was a mum taxi for years. Now I get paid for it.”

Uber trips in Newcastle spike at 11pmon Fridaysand especially Saturdays, and there is a smaller spike on Wednesdaysat 10pm.

Ms Benson drives peak-time shifts that can last several hours, collecting passengers frominner-city pubs linedwithcabs.

“Do I feel unsafe? No, I really don’t. You always have the option not to take a job,” she said.

“Sure, [passengers] might be drunk, but most people just want to go home to bed.”

Uber andride-sharing has been criticised by bodies such as the NSW Taxi Council, which say cabbiesare held to stricter standards of service for all passengers.

One taxi driver told the Newcastle Heraldthat Uber “has probably taken 25 per cent of our work” on Friday and Saturday nights.

“When the Knights play and get a crowd of 20,000 people, you used to get about 10 per cent usingtaxis to get to the football,” he said.

“Now even that’s starting to erode.”

But Uber, a multi-billion dollar company headquartered in San Francisco, emphasizes its ease of access for international visitors to Newcastle, andthe high numberof local female drivers.

One in five “driver-partners”in Newcastle are women, it says, twice the national average.

The company has also announced, “to celebrate one year of ride-sharing in Newcastle”, that it will roll Uber mapping cars through the city.

The cars will collect and record data tobe used to build Uber’sown digital maps, in a way similar to the collectionfor Google Maps, but with ride-specificinformation such as thestreet segmentsbest suited to pick-ups and drop-offs.

Turnbull, Dutton or Trump? Who killed 457 visas?

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Peter Dutton announced the government would be cracking down on the issuing of 457 visas. Photo: Alex EllinghausenSo who can really claim responsibility for the federal government’s decision to scrap the controversial 457 temporary work visa scheme?
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Only an hour post the announcement, Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi both reckon they were inspirational;Bill Shorten says he was already planning a crackdown; others claim it was pinched from Donald Trump’s copybook.

Not surprisingly, Malcolm Turnbull is claiming authorship.

A popular policy has plenty of fathers. How can one argue with a policy catchline that says “we are putting jobs first and we are putting ns first”?

Of course it has its detractors. Big business appears to have been blindsided by Trumbull’s Facebook policy splash.

‘s richest person Gina Rinehart made use of 457 visas to build her massive Roy Hill iron ore project and won’t be a fan of Tuesday’s policy decision.

“Now that the government has taken this decision, it is crucial that they work with employers to get the details right and ensure industry’s ability to fill genuine skills shortages is enhanced, not degraded,” was the cautious response from the Business Council of .

One only needed to read social media to get a clear message that this scheme was overwhelmingly disliked by an array of society, but for different reasons.

The most legitimate reason to overhaul the policy that grants visas to foreign workers is that it was so clearly rorted by unscrupulous elements of business. Experts have long said that one could drive a truck through the loopholes in this policy.

The upshot was that workers were being shipped into , underpaid and without proper employee protections by some businesses just looking for cheap labour. If the system worked as intended there would be no room for pay variations because legally 457 workers are paid the same rates as locals.

And despite a couple of government attempts to improve the system, it was sufficiently damaged that it needed to be thrown out and replaced with a fresh policy.

Not surprisingly, unions hated it because they (like many others in ) saw it was a means to take jobs from locals.

Bernardi and Hanson are in a different camp again – the nationalistic one that has no time for immigration generally – which has been garnering increasing appeal among a wider group.

Those that supported 457 visas recognised that there were some legitimate shortages among some skilled occupations and that encouraging the very skilled professionals into to work was a boon for innovation and therefore very positive for the economy.

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes has been one technology chief who has advocated fiercely for opening the doors to the very clever.

The Business Council of has been a strident supporters of skilled migration visas, saying there has been a genuine shortage of skills in some areas and to restrict entry of offshore would be bad for the economy.

The recrafted temporary skilled migration policy will be more restrictive around which occupations will be eligible, work experience, English language proficiency, and the need for these roles to be first advertised locally.

But in reality there are plenty of similarities with the existing 457 scheme.

And it’s a scheme that has even been criticised by those in highly skilled areas. For example, the IT Professionals Association (ITPA) recently pointed to a problem with 457s, especially in relation to visa holders filling the entry-level tech support roles that would normally go to local IT graduates.

The ITPA points out federal government data showing that while the overall number of 457 visas issued over the last decade (excluding IT) has risen by just 2 per cent, there had been a 136 per cent rise in 457 visas issued for IT workers.

At the other end of the scale, areport inThe n Financial Reviewoutlined a group of Chinese workers brought into to work as electricians and welders were paid no wages for months and forced to survive on a $15-a-day “food allowance” while housed in overcrowded accommodation in regional NSW.

Taiwanese company Chia Tung Development underpaid 13 Chinese and 30 Filipino workers more than $873,000 for labour over six months to February this year. Chia Tung employs more than 4000 staff globally and has associated entities registered within .

Only a few months ago Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton announced the government would be cracking down on the issuing of 457 visas to prevent being thoroughly overrun by general practitioners and registered nurses.

The Prime Minister said the 457 visa class had “lost its credibility” and would be replaced with two new temporary skilled visas.

There will be a short term two-year visa stream with a list of occupations that will be slashed by over 200, and there will be no path to permanent residency.

A second “medium term” visa will be for a four-year period for higher skilled, strategic jobs with significantly tighter restrictions and an even narrower occupation list.

The Newcastle Dog Olympics will be held at Islington Dog Park on Sunday, April 23

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Fetching frisbees at the Newcastle Dog Olympics | PHOTOS Champs: Lulu and Alfie at last year’s Newcastle Dog Olympics. Picture: Marina Neil.
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Twin sisters Chloe and Georgia McBeath of Bolwarra Heights with their dogs, Lulu and Alfie. PHOTO BY MARINA NEIL

Owners Charlon and Mark Mahaffy with their dogs Irish Phelan and Conna. PHOTO BY MARINA NEIL

Irene Su with her dog Comet, dressed up as BatDog of Medowie. PHOTO BY MARINA NEIL

Sheba the mini foxie.

TweetFacebookTassie Tiger TalesAs we recently reported, reader Christian Kropp told us he’d twice had encounters with the Tasmanian tiger, deep in the Barrington wilderness.

For the record, we believe Christian. What can we say. He sounded sincere.

Academics reckon Tasmanian tigers have a 1 in 1.6 trillion chance of being alive.

Anyhow, as we’ve said before, scientists saythe Tasmanian tiger [also known as the thylacine] became extinct in Tasmania in 1936 and on the n mainland about 2000 years ago.

Now a report in New Scientist magazine said mathematical modelling done at the University of California suggestedthe probability of Tasmanian tigers still existing was 1 in 1.6 trillion.

Christian’s sightings (the latest of which occurred five years ago) did occur deep in the Barrington wilderness in a World Heritage Area. This is a place the National Parks and Wildlife Service describes as an “ancient landscape”.

Could his sightings really be true? Stranger things have happened.

Can’t Buy Me LoveThe average n would spend $3311 on an engagement ring, a survey says.

Aussies think $3311 is, on average, the right amount to spend on an engagement ring.

But the lawyers who did the survey warned that expensive rings don’talways buy happiness.

The survey of 1000 people found almost half of ns think the cost of an engagement ring doesn’t matter.

Men were willing to spend an average of $3487 on a ring, while women thought$3111 was the right figure.

The survey was commissioned by Slater and Gordon Family Lawyers.

One of the firm’s lawyersMona Emera said “you only have to look at celebrity couples to see that an expensive ring does not always buy happiness”.

“If James Packer had been part of our survey, there’s no doubt the $10 million, 35-carat diamond he bought Mariah Carey would have thrown off our results,” she said.

“But the average n couple can take comfort in the fact that even a $10 million ring doesn’t safeguard against relationship breakdown.

“In our experience, the relationships that are built on solid foundations are the ones that go the distance. There’s a reason ‘for richer or poorer’ is included in traditional marriage vows.”

We do wonder why lawyers would do a survey on engagement rings.

Hmmm. In their press release, they did provide legal answers to the question, “Who gets to keep the engagement ring if a couple breaks up?”.

Ahhh. Now we get it.

HistoryHunter’s almost forgotten heroMike Scanlon

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ELEGY: John Ramsland’s book on war hero Maxwell.
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WE seem to take Anzac Day heroes for granted. It’s easy to forget they were just ordinary peopledoing extraordinary deeds at great personal risk.

Take the case of Hunter Valley World War I hero Joe Maxwell (1896-1967), a winner of the Victoria Cross, the world’s most famous symbol of bravery.

The former Hexham boilermaker, Lieutenant Joseph Maxwell VC, MC and Bar, DCM (to give him his full military title), had his own demons, which haunted him despite his jovial front to the world.

A great soldier, master storyteller and later popular author, Maxwell was the second most highest decorated n solider of the First World War (1914-1918).

With Anzac Day fast approaching, let’s turn the spotlight on this almost forgotten Aussie soldier.

Any study of his war service prominently features his battlefield courage during an attack near Estrees, in France, in October 1918. It was this episode that won him the Victoria Cross.

With his commander wounded he took charge, capturing a dangerous machine-gun post under intense fire. Soon, again single-handed, he silenced a second machine gun, seized 20 prisoners, but was himself then captured.

Maxwell, using a concealed pistol, shot two of his captors and escaped with his men under heavy rifle-fire, then returned to capture the post.

In 1919 Maxwell was invested with the Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace. They were heady days. The veteran had won four gallantry awards in a little over 12 months.

But he was only 22 when the war ended, and this brilliant soldier later had trouble adjusting to peacetime.

There were hints early on to the strain he was living under when he sought solace in liquor. There was a wartime hotel brawl in London involving civil and military police. Then there was the reported stealing of a double-decker bus while on leave in wartime London.

In 1932, long after WWI ended, Maxwell found fame again with the publication of his classic wartime memoirs, featuring his horrific memories of the Western Front, in his (now scarce) book Hell’s Bells and Mademoiselles.

The book sold like hot cakes and made Joe Maxwell, the man with a jaunty smile and always a yarn, a national celebrity.

It’s easy to see why his exciting story grabbed the public’s attention. Few Aussie veterans could, or did, write about their painful experiences in the “vast open-air slaughterhouse” of WWI. But Maxwell did, and colourfully well.

Here’s a sample of how he felt being under enemy bombardment: “A flash blinds me. A terrific roar splits the air. A shell has landed almost in our bay. We are lost in a chaos of flying mud, flying bags, flying duckboards and barbed wire that twists in the air like mad serpents. Smoke, filth, confusion, racket! I spit and splutter and swear. A voice comes above the thump of falling sandbags. ‘Oh Christ! I think I’m flamin’ well dead’.”

And then there’s his laconic humour, like remembering the time Aussie general Birdwood visited the trenches and asked soldier Mick Clarke how is father was.

“My father is dead, sir,” he replied. Moving about the troops, Birdwood soon encountered Clarke again.

“How is your father?” the general absent-mindedly asked.

“He’s still dead, sir,” Clarke replied.

Years later, however, Maxwell could never duplicate the fame and success his best-seller brought.

In 1933, Maxwell was a defence witness in the trial of a former soldier accused of housebreaking.

Maxwell testified that the man, Jamieson, had been of good character but was poverty stricken and a victim of the Great Depression. It was not an uncommon story among ex-soldiers.

Three years before, in 1930, Maxwell himself had had a bitter, humiliating experience of being flung in Long Bay jail after being unable to pay maintenance arrears due to his divorced first-wife Mabel and young daughter Jean.

Probably traumatised by the experience, he didn’t remarry until 35 years after his brief first marriage.

Earlier, after his divorce, he’d become restless, changing jobs in Sydney, then Newcastle and constantly moving to places like Moree and Canberra, often working as a gardener or labourer.

In 1929, the Repatriation Department slashed his pension to a quarter of what it had recently been. So much for the once famous WWI slogan promising after war’s end to be a “land fit for heroes”.

But in many ways, Joe Maxwell was a reluctant hero. At Gallipoli in 1915, in his baptism of fire, a scared Maxwell asked himself what on earth he was doing there.

Born at Glebe, in Sydney, Maxwell was educated at Gillieston Public School, near Maitland. Maxwell’s father had moved the family there to find work on the East Greta coalfields during the 1890s economic depression in Sydney.

Maxwell was working at J & A Brown’s Hexham Engineering Workshop when war was declared in August 1914. Management suddenly panicked, assuming the overseas coal trade and ship repair work was finished. The large Hexham works closed, throwing 250 men out of work.

As a direct result, Maxwell enlisted for war. The daily Army pay of nine shillings (90cents) was one shilling (10cents) better than being an apprentice boilermaker, anyway.

Joe Maxwell might have stayed a mere mention in war histories except for John Ramsland, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Newcastle.

In 2012, Ramsland published an outstanding, long overdue biography of the decorated war hero called Venturing Into No Man’s Land, subtitled ‘The charmed life of Joseph Maxwell VC’, describing it as an elegy of mud, blood and darkness.

In his carefully researched tribute, Ramsland revealed Joe Maxwell had perfected a ‘devil-may-care’ public persona as a defence against anyone really knowing him and his deep feelings of sadness and loneliness. Mental depression hovered over him in the inter-war and post WWI years.

His life spiralled downwards despite his witty anecdotes spun at the bar as he regularly entertained his hard-drinking comrades of the time when they all had once entered the ‘mouth of hell’.

According to Ramsland, the remarkable Maxwell was haunted by many grim memories, including once helping bury hundreds of decaying corpses at Gallipoli.

Ramsland’s personal link with the restless Joe Maxwell stretches back from childhood, to the 1950s, when he went to help the war veteran stumbling his way home from a Manly pub.

Joe Maxwell was the only neighbourhood celebrity, but his eyes were bloodshot.

Then he spoke: “Never let the grog get you, son”.

Ramsland wrote that time eventually mellowed the sorrows and horrors of war for Maxwell. At one occasion in Canberra he stoutly defended the heavily criticised widow of another VC winner who said she needed to sell his medal.

Maxwell argued that a Victoria Cross for valour was all very well, but “you couldn’t cut it up and feed your kids with it . . . you couldn’t eat it.”

The itinerant former soldier collapsed and died on a Sydney street in 1967. He was 71.

By then, besides probably suffering for decades from post-traumatic stress disorder, most of his original war medals, except his VC, had long disappeared.

Maxwell said he lost many when a motor launch capsized on Lake Macquarie in the 1920s.

Some years later he said he lost the rest of his war decorations in a Brisbane fire.

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Life at the top: Five of Brisbane’s most exclusive penthouses

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Historic Brisbane penthouse for saleThe best castle-themed homes around NSW homes to escape to this winter
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Penthouse apartments are a popular product among the rich and powerful and in Brisbane, the market for the expansive and luxurious homes is expected to grow.

McGrath New Farm agent Sherrie Storor tipped the Penthouse market to expand steadily. “I think it’s becoming more popular,” she said. “People who like the idea of low maintenance style life, who want the outlook and want the privacy, they might be over 20 years of cleaning.”

Ray White New Farm agent Josh Brown said by far, the biggest demographic of buyers for penthouses in Brisbane were retirees looking to minimise their housework responsibilities.

“It’s the premium product and I think with the aging population it’ll become a more widespread product as we progress that way,” he said.

He also said the luxury apartment market was continuing to grow despite doom and gloom about apartments in general.

“The bulk of the media surrounding oversupply is centred on one and two bedroom apartments,” said Mr Brown. “There’s been nowhere near as much product for larger apartments in recent years.”

Ms Storor agreed penthouse would continue to outperform their smaller counterparts.

“The bulk of the media surrounding oversupply is centred on one and two bedroom apartments,” she said. “There’s been nowhere near as much product for larger apartments in recent years.” 98 Thorn Street, Kangaroo Point

The penthouse at 98 Thorn Street, Kangaroo Point, offers a huge wrap around balcony that boasted views all around the apartment and uninterrupted look down the Brisbane River to the Story Bridge and CBD. The multi-million dollar property hasn’t changed hands since its construction nearly 15 years ago.

Ms Storor said the apartment was one of the best in Brisbane. “There’s much higher apartments, but it is a very nice property,” she said. “There’s wine fridges that carry over 300 bottles and a perfect north easterly aspect.” 53 Wyandra Street, Teneriffe

Further down the river in Teneriffe, Como is a multi-leveled home which makes use of the extra space to give the home a more wide-open feel, with voids above the living spaces.

Mr Brown said the apartment was one of the more spacious penthouses in the city. “Internally it’s got an immense volume of space for a three bedroom apartment,” he said.

Floor-to-ceiling windows in the bedrooms overlook the living areas and then floor-to-ceiling windows overlook eastern Brisbane suburbs from the apartment’s top floor perch. 461 Adelaide Street, Brisbane City

This Adelaide Street apartment is in the heart of Brisbane City, only a few hundred metres from the popular Eagle Street precinct.

The luxury four bedroom home is the top floor of a block of ten single floor apartments, but is by far the most luxurious.

One of the stand-out features is a dumbwaiter that ferries meals from the kitchen to the rooftop. 76 Thorn Street, Kangaroo Point

Thorn Street in Kangaroo Point must be a good location for penthouse living, with the top floor apartment from number 76 also making the list. The apartment is recently renovated and has the master bedroom and a private spa on the top floor.

The four bedroom apartment also offers views up the Brisbane River and into the city. South Brisbane Inspections are by appointment only for this South Brisbane Penthouse, with the address withheld from the prying eyes of the public. The exclusive home is situated directly across from the CBD and above the Roma Street parklands – arguably one of the best views in the city.

ADVERTISING FEATURE: Camp-out initiative

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SWAG OF MEMORIES: Scouts from the Hunter region are looking forward to camping out at Fort Scratchley for the Anzac Day celebrations.A troop of scouts will watch the rousing Nobbys Dawn Service from a camp at Fort Scratchley and tour visiting frigate HMAS Newcastle as part of this year’s expanded Anzac Day commemorations.
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Around 100 scouts from the Hunter and Manning Valleys will camp out for three nights as part of an educational initiative to reflect on the sacrifices of servicemen and women and continue proud Anzac traditions of mateship and respect.

The children, aged 11-14, will sleep in swags either out in the open or beneath the fort’s verandas during the educational camp sponsored by Newcastle City Council, Aussie Disposals and Coates Hire.

“I’m proud to say we have two new fixtures on the itinerary this year as part of the city’s growing Anzac Day commemorations,” Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.

“The scouts will have a bird’s eye view of the city’s amazing Dawn Service from Fort Scratchley and HMAS Newcastle will exercise its right to Freedom of Entry to the City with a march to confirm the bond between the ship and the citizens of Newcastle.”

RSL President Ken Fayle said the scout camp would combine the old with the new to give the children an unforgettable experience and familiarise them with the work of the armed forces.

“It’s an introduction to times past by staying at the fort, but also a chance to see modern technology at work on HMAS Newcastle and at the RAAF base,” Newcastle RSL Sub-Branch President Ken Fayle said.

“We hope to make Camp Fort Scratchley an annual event and this is a toe in the water exercise to make sure we can do it.”

The scouts have been drawn from the Hunter region, which spans an area from Woy Woy to the south, up to Taree in the north and out to Murrurundi in the west.

“We were approached by Newcastle RSL and Newcastle City Council with a view to doing it each year,” said Deputy Regional Commissioner of Hunter and Coastal Region Scouts Kevin Allen, who is overseeing the campout.

“We felt this was an opportunity for young people to get involved.”

Eagles star Mitchell’s race against time to run out against Hawthorn

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West Coast midfield ace Sam Mitchell will have to perform heroics akin to a Grand Final week recovery to play in an emotion-charged clash with his old club Hawthorn in Melbourne on Sunday.
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The four-time premiership Hawk turned West Coast recruiting coup faces a race against time to recover from a nasty ankle injury he copped 10 minutes into the second term in the Eagles win over Sydney in Perth last Thursday.

He suffered bone bruising as well as hefty soft tissue damage in his left ankle in an accidental kick from Eagles follower Jack Redden.

It is understood the decorated Hawks superstar runs significant risk of more extensive damage to his injury if he plays on Sunday.

He would need pain-killing assistance and heavy strapping to take on his old outfit just 10 days after suffering the blow to his shin just above his ankle, and an inward twist as Mitchell tumbled to the turf.

It is the kind of desperate measures players will generally take into knockout finals and a Grand Final.

But a more conservative approach is on the cards from Eagles medical staff for a home-and-away engagement so early into a season with such a superior star and play-maker.

Mitchell was coy on his recovery progress at a media conference at Eagles headquarters on Tuesday.

“I’m not ruled out at this stage, so I’m a chance,” he said.

Mitchell claimed he would test his injury and recovery progress with training, before making a final decision on whether he will play.

West Coast and Mitchell have flagged prospects of strategic rest periods through the 34-year-old’s first Eagles season in a bid to limit expected wear and tear in balancing his playing, recovery and a far heavier travel commitment than at any other stage of his 311-game, 16-year career.

West Coast heads into Mitchell’s first ever Western Derby against bitter rivals Fremantle just six days after Sunday’s clash with the Hawks.

The Eagles then have a road trip to in-form Port Adelaide, before hosting reigning premiers Western Bulldogs back in Perth in round eight.

Despite a horrid MCG record the fifth-placed Eagles, with three wins and a loss so far this season, are widely expected to beat the Hawks who sit rock bottom without a victory and a shabby percentage of only 56.

Even if the big possession-winning and highly influential midfielder misses the Hawks clash, it seems more likely that West Coast could topple Mitchell’s former powerhouse but now beleaguered outfit.

West Coast has lost four of their last five MCG appointments including twice to the Hawks in the 2015 Grand Final by 46 points and by the same margin again in last season’s round two re-match.

The Eagles last beat the Hawks on the MCG in 2006 and since winning the flag later that year have only won six times from 23 trips to the game’s undisputed headquarters.

Mitchell is expected to take crucial steps toward whether he plays or misses the clash with his old teammates in a closed Eagles training session on Thursday, ahead of team announcements and a squad travelling to Melbourne on Friday.

Eagles coach Adam Simpson indicated on Monday he would give Mitchell every chance to prove his fitness for his big outing against the Hawks.

Mitchell could be named in a provisional 25-man squad and withdrawn ahead of bounce down.

Candidates for recall to possibly replace Mitchell will include enigmatic midfielder Lewis Jetta who was dropped for a second time this season ahead of the Sydney clash.

Jetta, 27, hit back with a dominant 38 disposals at Eagles alignment outfit East Perth along with other contenders Dom Sheed who had 24 touches in his bid for a recall and 32 possessions for Mark Hutchings.

James Packer: Vale the most powerful Chinan in Hollywood

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Godzilla 2014. Warner BrosWhen we think of ns who have made it in Hollywood, it’s usually the actors who spring to mind: Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Geoffrey Rush and the scores of younger stars who have followed in their trailblazing footsteps.
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The more studious might, perhaps be able to name a few directors – the pioneering Peter Weir, Fred Schepisi, Gillian Armstrong, Phil Noyce and Bruce Beresford; the blockbuster helmers George Miller and Baz Luhrmann; the new breed that includes Patrick Hughes, James Wan and Joel Edgerton.

But who, when pressed to identify the most powerful n in Hollywood, would think immediately of James Packer? In all likelihood, only those who read the trades.

But short of Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation owns Fox, no other n has left such a mark on the business as has Packer, and certainly not in such a short space of time.

The Hollywood adventure that began less than four years ago has now come to an end with the sale of his stake in RatPac Entertainment, the company he launched in 2013 with director-producer Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X-Men: The Last Stand).

Packer has sold his stake – to Access, a multi-industry conglomerate headed by Ukraine-born, London-based Len Blavatnik, Britain’s richest man – for an undisclosed sum, and for reasons we can only guess at. If I were a betting man, I’d be putting some money on “cash-flow issues related to a downturn in the casino business”, though given Packer’s history of blow-ups I might also put a small stake on “rumoured breakdown of relationship with Ratner”.

How big a deal was Packer? Well, RatPac didn’t just produce films and TV, it also partnered with former Wall Street banker Steve Mnuchin – now Donald Trump’s Treasury Secretary – to provide finance for the Warner Bros production slate. And it is arguably this deal that made him one of the biggest players in Hollywood.

The deal RatPac-Dune struck was to provide $US450 million to finance of up to 75 films; according to reports, $US300 million of that was in loans, the rest in equity, which suggests a major punt on Packer’s part.

According to the company’s website, RatPac has to date funded more than 50 films, with a combined box office of more than $US10 billion.

There have been hits and misses, but RatPac could hardly have got off to a better start: the first film it helped finance was Gravity, which took $US723 million globally on a budget of $US100 million, winning seven Oscars – including best director (it was pipped for best picture by 12 Years a Slave) – along the way.

Financing deals, and the credits that come with them, are complicated, but James Packer is listed on imdb as a producer or executive producer on 24 titles, starting with The Lego Movie in 2014 and ending with the still-in-production second sequel, The Lego Ninjago Movie.

On the plus side of the ledger, his credits include Jersey Boys, Black Mass, The Revenant and, depending how you feel about Russell Crowe, The Water Diviner. On the not-so-successful side of the ledger, there’s the Colin Farrell stinker Winter’s Tale (Crowe was in that one too; mateship clearly has its costs) and Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply, which opens in this week.

Through the funding facility, RatPac Dune is involved in upcoming titles including Wonder Woman, Guy Ritchie’s update of King Arthur and Christopher Nolan’s epic WW2 drama Dunkirk, all of which should be strong performers.

Now, though, the Hollywood dream is over.

Packer was first reported to be looking to offload his stake in RatPac back in February, though a company spokesperson denied the rumour. The previous month, Steve Mnuchin had announced he would divest his holding in Dune if confirmed as Treasury Secretary, to avoid any conflicts of interest. Still, that didn’t stop him getting into hot water last month for telling a room full of reporters that they “should send all your kids to Lego Batman”.

If things between Packer and Ratner really have deteriorated, Mnuchin no longer playing the role of buffer may have been a factor in his desire to exit the business.

At any rate, as a Hollywood mogul Packer has generally avoided the spotlight, that failed romance with Mariah Carey aside. From outside the tent, it’s hard to know to what degree, if any, he was a creative force in RatPac’s development slate. But as a money man, he was no doubt a player.

We can, with good reason, decry an industry in which it is the depth of a man’s pockets rather than the breadth of his imagination that elevates his standing in what we still call, with less and less justification, a creative industry. But in a town where money speaks, James Packer was heard, loud and clear.

Whatever you think of him, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that, for a brief moment at least, the big man was the biggest n in Hollywood.

Facebook: karlquinnjournalist Twitter: @karlkwin

‘Robo-debt’ collectors paid by commission, had KPIs

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A debt collection agency contracted by the Department of Human Services under its controversial “robo-debt” program was paid on a commission basis used by private companies and had KPIs, a Senate inquiry has heard.
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Probe Group chief operating officer Jarrod Kagan told a Sydney hearing of the inquiry into the “robo-debt” system his company was paid commission where it received a percentage of the debts it recovered for Centrelink, but no base rate.

The payment arrangement was different to that used by another agency engaging Probe to collect payments, the n Taxation Office, which used a flat payment rate.

Mr Kagan said the DHS’ payment arrangement was typical of that used for debt collection services by banks, energy retailers and telcos.

But he did not say what percentage his company received in payment from debts it collected for the department.

He said that Probe set key performance indicators for staff collecting debts for Centrelink according to its agreement with the DHS, and referred cases back to the department if it could not collect money from clients.

“Typically the KPIs that we would set would reflect what the KPIs in the deed of agreement would be. Plus we also have a range of internal KPIs that would reflect what is important to us as an organisation,” Mr Kagan said.

n Privacy Foundation chair Kat Lane said automated debt recovery methods breached the federal government’s own privacy guidelines.

Ms Lane said it was disturbing the government appeared to have decided the voluntary guidelines issued by the n Information Commissioner “didn’t apply”.

DHS service leader in Sydney Scott Chant said its service centres were told to direct people asking about the data-matching program to a phone number or an online portal.

“Our role was to facilitate the person through to the right officer,” he said.

“We want to get the recipient through to the people who have had the training and the skills for that purpose.”

DHS representative Marc Mowbray-d’Arbela said it didn’t believe reports that staff were directed to ignore errors, or that it issued a direction adding to stress, were correct.

Reports there was a significant increase in staff stress were “not borne out by the facts”, he said.

Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman Richard Glenn told the hearing robo-debt recovery methods were not working well before a critical audit was launched by his office.

A report released this month found Centrelink’s demands on former welfare recipients were neither “reasonable” nor “fair”.

“If you talk about the system as part of a process that needs to be implemented and rolled out to real people to use, it didn’t work well at the beginning and it is working better now,” Mr Glenn said.

“I certainly think that the recommendations that we have made and that the department has accepted set the foundation for it to be working well but in all of these situations, the only test is to see it working and to see how people react.”

‘Sick and dirty’: Sydney GP inappropriately touched five female patients

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A Sydney GP has been found guilty of professional misconduct for inappropriately touching five female patients for sexual gratification including two young teenage girls.
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The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal found Elvin Suet Pang Cheng guilty of professional misconduct of a sexual nature “of the most serious kind” concerning a series of consultations he had with the five patients between 1993 and 2003.

The decision comes 12 years after the Lidcombe-based GP was reprimanded for inappropriate physical and sexual misconduct with a patient in 2005.

A woman identified as Patient A was 13 years old in 1993 when her mother took her to see Dr Cheng regarding lumps in her breasts and moles on her back.

After her mother left the consultation room, Dr Cheng asked the teenager to take off her clothes, Patient A told the tribunal. He then stood behind her, reached around her and grabbed her breasts. The patient, now in her 30s, said it seemed like he was fondling her breasts in a squeezing and massaging motion.

“She felt uncomfortable and frozen and too scared to say anything or move ??? she rotated her hips to look at the respondent and noticed that he had an erection,” according to the patient’s evidence detailed in the tribunal decision.

The woman said she did not want to tell her mother, feeling “sick and dirty and the shame and guilt”.

She saw Dr Cheng again when she had been vomiting and feverish. She said Dr Cheng asked her to take her clothes off including her underwear. Dr Cheng again massaged her breasts, then moved his hands down her abdomen, to her groin, asked her to open her legs and palpated her labia.

When she became sexually active at 17 and was concerned about bleeding, pain and whether she had contracted a sexually transmitted infection, Dr Cheng put gloves on and inserted his fingers into her vagina, she told the tribunal.

The second patient was 13 years old and living in public youth housing when she first saw Dr Cheng for bronchitis and a check-up.

In a statement to police in 1993, the teenager alleged Dr Cheng carried out a breast examination without a parent or guardian present, using both his hands to massage her breasts for about 10 minutes.

He pulled her tracksuit pants and underwear down to the top of her legs and touched her around her pubic bone, she told the tribunal.

The teenager told several social workers at the youth home about the encounter and burst into tears. A placement officer told her that Dr Cheng was a good doctor and she should keep seeing him, the patient told the tribunal.

The third patient, a woman in her 20s, needed a referral for an X-ray for an injured shoulder.

Dr Cheng asked her to undress, lie on the examination table and remove her bra so he could check her heartbeat. He performed a breast examination and abdominal examination, moving lower to her pubic bone, where he pulled down her underwear until she stopped him, the tribunal heard.

The fourth patient presented to Dr Cheng with flu-like symptoms in 2012 when she was 21. Dr Cheng decided to perform a breast exam and put his hand on her right breast. The patient said Dr Cheng told her he felt a lump but did not discuss a possible diagnosis or follow-up.

The fifth patient, also in her 20s, presented to Dr Cheng in 2013 after noticing a rash on her stomach and chest pains after a trip to Vanuatu and was worried she had malaria after being bitten by a mosquito on her leg.

Dr Cheng pulled down her pants and lifted the crotch of her underwear and inspected her vagina and vulval area without asking permission, and performed chest and cardiograms at a follow-up consultation that required her to remove her bra without an appropriate explanation.

The tribunal concluded Dr Cheng had touched the five women “in circumstances where there was no adequate or appropriate clinical reason for doing so, other than sexual gratification”.

“The misconduct of which we have found the respondent guilty carries with it sexual connotations of the most serious kind,” the decision read.

“A medical practitioner, such as the respondent, who has, as we have found, deliberately and intentionally carried out inappropriate examinations in an inappropriate manner for sexual gratification is clearly guilty of professional misconduct.

“There can be no motivation for the manner in which the respondent exposed and viewed the bodies of these patients, including sensitive areas, and touched them in circumstances where there was no adequate or appropriate clinical reason for doing so, other than sexual gratification.”

The tribunal will determine whether Dr Cheng will have his medical registration suspended or will be struck off on May 17 and 18.

In 2005, Dr Cheng was found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct and/or professional misconduct for inappropriate physical and sexual contact with a patient on about five occasions. He was severely reprimanded, fined $10,000 and conditions were placed on his practice.

In May 2016, the Medical Council of NSW again placed conditions on Dr Cheng’s medical registration, including that he not treat or perform any procedures on any female.

NSW Police said Flemington Local Area Command were conducting inquiries after receiving reports from the HCCC about the alleged misconduct of a doctor between 1993 and 2013.