Rescuers frustrated by stormwater risk takers

Facing danger, head on … teenagers brave the heavy surf at Collaroy Beach. The SES says people are putting their lives at risk.IT seems as floodwaters rise, commonsense often recedes, according to rescue authorities.

Over a 24-hour period on Monday, the NSW State Emergency Service rescued about 34 people. The majority had deliberately entered floodwater by foot, car or boat, despite warnings to stay away from nominated roads and beaches.

The following incidents occurred when people chose to test nature’s force:

An experienced surfer, in his 60s, mistimed his jump off the rocks at Avalon Beach on Tuesday morning and was washed back onto the rocks. Paramedics treated the man for suspected spinal injuries and for lacerations to his head. He was taken to Mona Vale Hospital.

A couple on a boat near Elizabeth Island, near Grafton, ignored advice from the SES on Monday to leave or move their vessel because they were in an unsafe area. Their anchor broke and the couple had to be rescued by an SES flood boat at 4am on Tuesday.

In Lismore, three rescues in a row took place on Monday evening for people who had driven into floodwaters and become stuck. As the SES team finished one rescue and were called straight to another, they didn’t get to go back to base.

Stormy weather didn’t deter one man from canyoning in the Blue Mountains on Monday night. After a search-and-rescue mission, the 26-year-old was found on Tuesday morning near Bowens Creek and treated for mild hypothermia and dehydration. He set off a personal locator beacon in the Mt Wilson area just before 7pm on Monday.

An SES spokesman, Philip Campbell, said more than half of the people rescued had entered the waters against advice. The consequences could be ”deadly serious” as floodwater can be deeper or faster flowing than it looks, with potential debris, chemicals and viruses, he said.

“Our volunteers love helping people, they’re not judgmental but there is a degree of disappointment that we have with people who make a decision to deliberately enter into water,” Mr Campbell said.

SES spokeswoman, Samantha Colwell, expressed frustration at people who put lives at risk and didn’t heed advice. “We have had a couple of people that didn’t evacuate, until water went in their door,” she said.

Surf Life Saving NSW spokeswoman, Donna Wishart, advised people to stay out of the water on Tuesday, including experienced surfers who have been heading out despite beaches being closed. They underestimate their abilities or the conditions, she said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

First home buyer grant aimed at boosting construction off to a sluggish start

FEWER than 400 first home buyers have been paid a $15,000 grant introduced by the NSW government last October as a centrepiece of its plans to stimulate the new housing market.

The Treasurer, Mike Baird, announced in last year’s budget the $7000 grant for first home buyers of new and existing properties would be axed from September 30. It was replaced with the $15,000 benefit for first home buyers who purchase newly built dwellings or off-the plan properties valued at up to $650,000.

At the time, Mr Baird said he expected the new grant, along with other measures, to stimulate the construction of new dwellings in NSW.

But figures supplied by the Office of State Revenue reveal that in October, the first month the new grant was available, only 50 were paid. In November, 156 grants were paid and in December, 172.

This compares with 233 grants paid to first home owners for new homes in October 2011, under the old scheme (although these figures include grants applied for in previous months). In November of that year, 293 grants were paid, while the figure for December was 237.

Mr Baird argued the latest figures were an improvement on the previous year.

”Housing finance and first home owner grants are both up for new dwellings so early evidence suggests our policy of targeting incentives to improve supply is working,” he said.

For the three months to the end of 2011, only 763 of the grants were for new houses, whereas the figure for the same period last year is 1090. However, the 2012 figure includes grants carried over from under the old scheme.

Saul Eslake, the chief economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said the figures showed ”a slow start” for the scheme.

Mr Eslake said that first home owner grants were ”a complete waste of money” as they inflate the price of housing and do very little to increase home ownership.

However, he strongly supported the NSW government’s decision to replace the $7000 grant for existing homes with the $15,000 grant for new properties.

”If you are going to waste money in this way, at least by restricting it to people who buy new houses you are no longer bumping up the price of established dwellings and at least providing some inducement for the purchase of new housing,” Mr Eslake said.

The slow initial take-up of the grant may have to do with the general apprehension of would-be home buyers across Australia, Mr Eslake suggested.

The reasons for this included people being reluctant to take on more debt, a higher level of unemployment among younger people and a belief that house prices have yet to bottom out.

Data released by the Bureau of Statistics two weeks ago showed the number of home loans taken out by first home buyers in NSW fell to a 20-year-low in November. Just 1383 home loans were taken out.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

PM gets tough on deals for well-off

Setting the agenda … Julia Gillard.THE Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will commit her government to big ”structural” cuts in spending, putting a range of concessions and tax breaks enjoyed by wealthier Australians in doubt.

In her first big agenda-setting speech for the year, Ms Gillard will use an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday to say the cuts are necessary for the government to fund its signature education and disability reforms, which are likely to be the centrepiece of its campaign.

The spending cuts, according to excerpts from her speech notes released to the media, were ”tough and necessary” in a new ”low-revenue environment”, a reflection of flat company tax receipts after the mining investment boom peaked.

Her speech raises the possibility that years of accumulated concessions for upper middle-class and wealthy voters, handed out by successive governments and continued under Labor, may now be either trimmed or axed.

This could include changes to family payments, cuts in concessional tax arrangements for self-funded superannuation contributions, a further tightening of the private health insurance rebate, a decrease in the 50 per cent capital gains tax discount, and a clampdown on loopholes such as the exemption from fringe benefits tax for employees of churches and charities.

The potentially risky strategy is consistent with Ms Gillard’s conviction that Labor’s best hopes for victory lie in reconnecting with its traditional heartland, even if that means alienating some comparatively well-off families. With the government still reeling from its backdown on delivering a budget surplus, Ms Gillard’s language reveals a preference to get the bad news out early.

That would clear the way for it to focus on its national disability insurance scheme and the Gonski education reforms, both premised on a budget that is coming back into balance.

”In the lead-up to, and in the budget, we will announce substantial new structural savings that will maintain the sustainability of the budget and make room for key Labor priorities,” she will say.

While no specific payments or programs have been publicly earmarked, the Prime Minister wants voters to understand the government’s logic for making painful efficiencies.

”Our record of cutting wasteful programs, in line with our Labor values and purpose, is already strong,” she will say, listing previous cuts despite their unpopularity with voters.

”The dependent spouse tax offset, the tax breaks for golden handshakes, tax concessions on super for high-income earners, the millionaires’ dental scheme and fringe benefits loopholes for executives living away from home … all gone,” she will say.

”We will make the tough, necessary decisions to ensure our medium-term fiscal strategy is delivered, and our centrepiece plans for Australian children and Australians with disability are funded,” Ms Gillard will say.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

Abbott all for diversity in campaign trail outing sealed with a kiss

The Opposition Leader met Lyombe Lyimo.IF TONY Abbott wanted evidence to support his claim that his party is the face of modern Australia, he found it in abundance over morning tea at the Mulgrave Country Club in Wheelers Hill on day three of his mini-campaign.

”One of the things that makes me very proud to be a Liberal is the diversity of the candidates we are putting forward for election this time around,” he remarked, introducing two in the room who will contest Labor-held seats in Victoria.

One of them, John Nguyen, was five when he fled Vietnam in a boat with his siblings and grandparents in 1979. He was processed in a camp in Malaysia and accepted as a refugee by Malcolm Fraser. ”We were on the seas three days and three nights,” he recalls. ”We were attacked by pirates seven times.”

Mr Nguyen, who is trying to unseat Anna Burke in the seat of Chisholm, went on to make a career in financial services and was across the street when the World Trade Centre came down in New York in September 2001. Ask him about the Coalition’s hard line on asylum seekers, and he says it is about getting the right balance between border protection and welcoming those in need.

The parents of another, Emanuele Cicchiello, came from the Italian city of Benevento in 1963. He is now the deputy school principal for an independent school in Cranbourne and describes his mission in trying to unseat Labor’s Alan Griffin in the seat of Bruce as helping ”Tony deliver the knockout punch to this inept Labor government”.

About 15 members of the Cicchiello extended family of 200 were present to see Mr Abbott ”kick-start” his campaign.

Then there was Lyombe ”Leo” Lyimo, a 21-year-old of African and Armenian heritage with a striking hairstyle, from Homenetmen Arax, an organisation dedicated to engaging youth through sport and culture. He was there to observe Mr Abbott, and says he was impressed with what he saw.

”This is what modern Australia is all about,” a beaming Mr Abbott told the gathering. ”This is today’s Australia: a country that makes people from the four corners of the earth welcome because they have come here, not to change our way of life, but to join our way of life. They have come here not to detract from our country, but to add to it.”

If it sounds at odds with the ”we-decide-who-comes-to-the-country” rhetoric of the past three years, Mr Abbott would politely suggest that it’s because you haven’t been paying attention.

The same goes for the slogan of this week’s mini-campaign – hope, reward, opportunity – which he insists is utterly consistent with the stop-the-boats, cut-the-waste, repeal-the-taxes mantra of 2010.

Certainly the substance remains, and begins with a commitment to repeal the carbon tax, which Mr Abbott insists ”is going to damage, if not destroy, the affordable energy which was a basis of Victoria’s traditional strengths in manufacturing industry”.

But the emphasis is emphatically on the positive – and the promise of ”a government you can feel good about”.

If the tone was low-key, with no sign of senior Liberals such as Premier Ted Baillieu, Mr Abbott was accompanied by daughter Frances and in full campaign mode.

Earlier, during a visit to the Royal Children’s Hospital, he offered comfort to a plethora of patients and their parents, planting a kiss on the cheek of six-year-old Shantel, who seemed to understand the bigger picture. ”I’ll see you on TV,” she told Mr Abbott before he departed for Wheelers Hill.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

Coen brothers back on song with folk tale

What if a folk singer got beat up outside a Greenwich Village nightclub in 1961?

Six, seven or, maybe, eight years ago, as Joel Coen remembers it, that seemingly idle question about an unlucky singer in a hypothetical encounter at what used to be a real club called Gerde’s Folk City started bothering Coen, who writes and directs off-centre movies with his brother, Ethan.

Next week, some music industry insiders, and perhaps a few potential buyers, will finally see the resulting film at a private, pre-Grammys screening in Los Angeles.

It is called Inside Llewyn Davis. It promises to be quintessential Coen brothers fare – but different. For starters, as Joel Coen explained, Inside Llewyn Davis has a certain kinship with Les Miserables.

In it almost all the principal actors – Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake – sing. ”There are lots of duets and trios,” Coen said.

While not quite a musical, he added, Inside Llewyn Davis is built around full-length performances of folk songs that were heard in the grubby cafes of the Village in a year when Bob Dylan, who sort of shows up in the movie, had just appeared on the scene.

As for plot, Coen said there isn’t quite as much as is usual for the brothers, who in the past have written and directed elaborate crime stories like Fargo and No Country for Old Men. This time they present the travails, over roughly two weeks, of a struggling folk singer, Llewyn Davis, who is portrayed by Isaac.

For the record, Davis doesn’t really resemble, or sound like, Dave Van Ronk, whose posthumous 2005 memoir, The Mayor of Macdougal Street, written with Elijah Wald, served as source material for the film.

”The character is not at all Dave, but the music is,” said Wald, who spoke after having been given an early look at the film with Van Ronk’s widow, Andrea Vuocolo Van Ronk.

He said he did not know for years that the Coens were behind an option for film rights to the book, which he based on Dave Van Ronk’s reminiscences, compiling them after his death in 2002. Wald had spent years listening to Van Ronk’s stories and got some pages from him before he died but otherwise did the writing.

Wald said he ”thoroughly enjoyed” the movie. But he cautioned that the world of Inside Llewyn Davis, having been devised by the Coens, is ”less innocent” than the one inhabited by Van Ronk, Dylan, Paul Clayton, Reverend Gary Davis, Joni Mitchell, Tom Paxton and the myriad other singers who are invoked in the film.

Its story bounces through actual places like Gerde’s, the Gaslight Cafe and the Gate of Horn in Chicago without explicitly portraying real artists or folk music powers, like the impresario Albert Grossman.

Working with the musician Marcus Mumford, Coen said, T-Bone Burnett produced the music for Inside Llewyn Davis. Mumford sings in the movie.

Burnett had earlier provided the old-time music for O Brother, Where Art Thou? a Coen brothers caper that was based loosely on The Odyssey and released in 2000 after a Cannes debut. ”This hillbilly music’s going to be big,” Burnett told the brothers at the time.

They were sceptical. But the soundtrack was a hit and has sold roughly 8 million copies in the US.

For Inside Llewyn Davis, Burnett has helped recreate the brief flowering of a folk scene that in the early ’60s made Washington Square and its environs an unlikely crossroads for musical influences from Appalachia, the deep south, the far west and New England; in fact almost anywhere but New York’s neighbourhoods, from which some of its best practitioners, and Davis, arrived.

It was that cultural disconnect, Coen said, that lured him and his brother – big fans of folk music – to look for a movie in it.

When we catch up with Davis in 1961, he is frustrated. While Coen did not say how the Gerde’s beating fits in the story, a Web link associated with invitations to the pre-Grammy’s screening shows the singer-hero getting bounced onto a parked car and pounded in a dark alley.

”He’s trying to get some traction in his career and in his life,” Coen said. ”How good you are doesn’t always matter. That’s what the movie is about.”

The New York Times

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.