POLL: Paid parking for Charlestown

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NO PARKS: Leo Nicola says no to parking meters. PAID parking is being investigated as a way to alleviate problems in Charlestown central business district, Lake Macquarie City Council officials say.

NO SPACE: John Russell wants parking plans progressed. Picture: Anita Jones

Parking has been a problem in Charlestown for years and is expected to worsen with an extra 500 workers planned in the town in July.

HealthShare NSW, a branch of NSW Health, is planning to house 440 office workers in the Sky Central building in Charlestown in July.

A further 65 workers will start work at a National Disability Insurance Scheme regional office in Hilltop Plaza.

Cr Barry Johnston said a new multi-level car park with paid parking should be considered.

Cr Johnston said he was open to discussing street parking meters, but he was “not a supporter” of the concept.

Parking was a Lake Macquarie City Council responsibility, he said.

Cr Johnston said the council had considered the parking problem but had not “followed through on it”.

A council statement said it was investigating paid parking and additional off-street parking.

The council said it was examining the “potential use of spare car parking capacity in privately owned developments”.

The council released a plan in 2007 for an underground car park in Tallarah Street, Charlestown, along with a park, theatre and conference centre.

Cr Johnston said the council did not have the money for the proposed underground car park and until they did more temporary parking should be created.

The council-owned former public school site at Charlestown, on the Pacific Highway, with a rear access in Smith Street, is used for temporary parking.

The council is planning to demolish a building on the site, which Cr Johnston said should be used to expand temporary parking.

Charlestown Business Chamber president Jason Pauling, who is a Lake Macquarie councillor, opposes street parking meters. He said people still loved their cars and Lake Macquarie was not ready for paid parking.

Businesses push for solution

BUSINESSMAN Leo Nicola hopes he never sees street parking meters in Charlestown.

‘‘Parking is tough enough as it is,’’ said Mr Nicola, who co-owns Charlestown shop, Carla Swimwear.

But Mr Nicola would not oppose a multi-level car park being built in the town with paid parking.

Lake Macquarie City Council revealed plans in 2007 for an underground car park in Tallarah Street, Charlestown, but the plan is on the backburner.

Russell Property Partners owner John Russell said the council should progress the plan.

Mr Russell said Charlestown would become ‘‘more densely populated and people should become accustomed to that’’.

‘‘Temporary car parking is not the answer,’’ Mr Russell said.

Some business owners believe the council should do more to police parking in time-limited zones in the town.

End-of-life plans shunned by many

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IN DENIAL: Nicole Schimanski, who nursed her husband, Michael, for 16 months after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Picture Dean Osland Michael Schimanski 

NICOLE Schimanski and her husband, Michael, had been married just two years when they were given the devastating news he had terminal cancer.

Michael, then 37, came home from working in a mine in Chile with jaundice and within two days was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer.

For the caring and generous stepfather of two, it was a revelation he never came to terms with, not even on his death bed.

“He refused to believe he was going to die,” Mrs Schimanski said.

“There was so much denial in the house and no one would talk to him about it.”

Wife Nicole, of Belmont, was a full-time carer for her husband for 16 months.

She wished the couple had a frank conversation about end-of-life plans when he was first diagnosed.

As Michael’s condition began to deteriorate, his pain management and mental state followed and it always fell to Mrs Schimanski to make tough decisions.

“There were times when he could have passed away but we kept him from going because we felt it was what he wanted,” she said.

“He just didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want palliative care involved.”

Despite her husband’s denial, eventually Nicole reached out to palliative care services for help.

They provided support, advice and equipment, ranging from shower aids to a hospital bed.

That is why, five years after Michael’s death, Mrs Schimanski is now working with palliative care services.

She has been speaking about her experience this week for Palliative Care Week.

A Palliative Care Australia survey, released this week, found half the people had not discussed end-of-life care with loved ones.

The survey of 1000 people who recently lost a loved one, found only 15 per cent had a plan for their final weeks.

Mrs Schimanski said if she and her husband had a difficult conversation, it might have resulted in more positive experiences during his remaining time.

“In a massive crisis, you don’t always make decisions that are the best ones,” she said. “If you can make a plan before the crisis hits, they’re going to be better.”

She would like to see more funds for palliative care and home nursing because carers relieved the burden on the health system.

Palliative Care NSW 92062094

$20m aged-care home for Muswellbrook

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 NEW $20million aged-care home in Muswellbrook is set to help ease accommodation pressure for the elderly and create jobs in the town.

Little Company of Mary, the company that runs Calvary Mater Hospital, has announced it will buy 3.4hectares of Muswellbrook Council’s Brennan Park land to build a 92-place aged-care community.

The new complex will include 60 hostel and nursing home places and 32 independent living units.

The announcement is also set to solve a problem facing Hunter New England Health about where to put 10 aged-care patients in Muswellbrook Hospital who are to be displaced in October by construction of a new emergency department.

The Newcastle Herald reported in February the hospital’s medical staff council objected to both evicting the elderly patients and using some of the hospital’s few general ward beds to accommodate them.

However the residents will still likely have to spend the next two to three years in an adapted general ward at the hospital while the Brennan Park aged-care centre is designed, approved and built.

The Brennan Park centre will also take in 35 residents from Little Company of Mary’s Mt Providence aged-care hostel in the town.

Little Company of Mary aged-care national director Paul Bradley said the company had not yet decided what would happen to Mt Providence and it was in discussions with their landlord, the local Catholic parish about its fate.

In the meantime, Muswellbrook Hospital aged-care patients will be offered places at Mt Providence, on a case by case basis, as they become available.

Mr Bradley said because of laws related to admissions he could not guarantee hospital residents a place at Brennan Park but it was likely they would all be eligible.

The new Brennan Park aged care centre will also include a base for community care outreach services and associated community spaces.

The development is also subject to due diligence and approvals.

$30m deficit for Newcastle Council

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NEWCASTLE City Council is on track to post a $30 million operating deficit this year, according to a quarterly review document that will be tabled at Tuesday night’s meeting.

But budget review statements for the first three months of 2013 show the council has ‘‘stopped the rot’’, lord mayor Jeff McCloy said.

The council came in about $400,000 ahead of expectations – the first time a quarterly review hasn’t recorded a blown budget since September 2011.

‘‘It’s only marginal in the scheme of things, but I think we’ve stopped the rot,’’ Cr McCloy said.

The better-than-expected financial result is partly due to reduced salary costs – a result of a staffing freeze implemented in November.

The city saved $230,000 on staffing between January and March.

‘‘Council continues to implement the recruitment freeze across its entire workforce,’’ the budget review said.

‘‘As a result of the reduction in recruitment, absorption of vacant position responsibilities and natural attrition [the] council has a lower than forecast employee cost.’’

New lease arrangements for beach kiosks and higher investment returns have also helped.

Swimming pool attendance has been lower than anticipated, costing the council about $213,000. Community groups have frequently said pool attendances suffer because of recent entrance fee increases.

The construction slowdown continues to cost the council money, with about $215,000 missing in expected development application fees.

While the quarterly review provides the council with its first positive financial news in some time, the city is still on track to post a $29.89million operating deficit for the year to June.

The operating deficit is the underlying figure and considered the best measure of an organisation’s sustainability.

The projected overall result, which is masked by $10 million in loans and $7.9 million transferred from council reserves, is a $2.46 million deficit.

SPORTING DECLARATION: A dilemma

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NCH SportKnights recovery at MayfieldPictured Darius Boyd12th March 2013NCH Sport Picture by DEAN OSLANDPOOR old Darius Boyd.

For a bloke who seems to detest the media spotlight, the Newcastle Knights fullback has a funny way of avoiding it.

Just a few weeks ago, Boyd found himself being dissected on the nightly news, in newspaper columns and by Foxtel rugby league panellists for his performance at one of those garden-variety, all-in interviews.

The whole business was a bit of a non-event, but because he was a previous offender, Boyd copped a hammering for more than a week.

It was hardly a hangable offence but by the same token could easily have been avoided if Boyd had kept his disdain for the press under a modicum of control.

Since then the prospect of Boyd standing in front of a microphone answering questions has been right up there with David Warner winning a kindergarten spelling bee.

Anyway, if Boyd was already dark on members of the fourth estate – whom he says are responsible for publishing “a lot of untruthful stories” that create “a wrong perception of some players in the game” – you can imagine his attitude after this week’s developments.

Along with Brisbane fullback Corey Norman, Boyd was reportedly present and witnessed an alleged incident involving South Sydney’s Ben Te’o that left a woman with a fractured eye socket.

There is no allegation of any wrongdoing on Boyd’s behalf.

Just as there was no wrongdoing on his behalf in 2008, after a much-publicised incident involving a woman, Broncos teammates Sam Thaiday and Karmichael Hunt and a nightclub toilet cubicle, which perhaps turned Boyd sour on the media forever.

But both episodes rate as embarrassing, to say the least.

And unfortunately for the Knights, the whole chain of events impacts on them.

If Boyd is not their highest-paid player, then he would be in the top three, in the same ball park as Kurt Gidley and Akuila Uate.

For a reported $500,000 a season, the Knights bought themselves a player who could become one of the code’s all-time greats. At 25, he has already played in 174 NRL games, 14 Origins, 11 Tests and won grand finals with two different clubs.

If he avoids injury, he could conceivably rewrite the record books.

Yet when clubs sign a marquee player, they often expect more than just an on-field dynamo.

They need someone who is the complete package. Someone marketable, to whom fans and sponsors can relate.

Unfortunately for Boyd, the public perception of him is of a champion player with an enigmatic personality who has a habit of finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I heard Foxtel commentator Ben Ikin refer to Boyd as a “great bloke” a few weeks ago.

Maybe he is. We can only take Ikin’s word for it.

But it doesn’t matter how many hospital visits Boyd makes or autographs he signs – while ever he presents a begrudging face to TV cameras, that is how 99 per cent of the population will view him.

Moreover, if Boyd was hoping for some guidance on how to deal with the media, he is unlikely to receive any from Knights management.

Take their handling of the Marvin Filipo affair.

Filipo was sacked almost two weeks ago, yet the Knights chose not to disclose this information until the Newcastle Herald started asking questions on Wednesday.

Even then they would not confirm the reason for his dismissal.

It took the Herald to reveal there had been an off-field altercation and a disciplinary hearing, at which Filipo’s contract was terminated.

It was a similar story in February when the Newcastle Jets – apparently realising Ben Kantarovski’s absence would eventually be noticed – released a statement announcing he had been fined and disciplined after an off-field “injury” that would sideline him for the rest of the season.

But the club did not divulge what the injury was.

It was the Herald that revealed Kantarovski had been punched outside a night spot and suffered a broken jaw.

Such attempts to obfuscate appear at odds with the statement on the Hunter Sports Group website that proclaims: “We always act in an honest, transparent and pragmatic manner.”

Some would argue the Filipo and Kantarovski matters are evidence to the contrary.

And while ever club officials are less than forthcoming, what hope is there for Darius Boyd?

TOPICS: Self-starting lifts a ghostly mystery

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NEXT STOP HABERDASHERY: The lift at the David Jones building has been operating on its own accord. NEW BITS: An Axolotl.

CREEPY things have been going on in Hunter buildings this week.

Lifts operating on their own accord. Bank doors enticing criminals and opening after business hours.

It’s all happening and Topics is screaming ghosts.

We’ve never encountered someone from the other side or had a paranormal experience and feel a bit unloved.

First up is Maitland’s NAB branch, which mysteriously opened its doors on Monday night, offering opportunistic robbers the chance for a perfect crime.

Luckily they were only open for about an hour and no one took advantage.

The freaky opening could not be explained by a branch spokesman but was blamed on a power cut.

As far as Topics is concerned, that leaves the door wide open for a ghostly explanation.

On the other side of the Hunter there have been reports of spooky happenings in the old David Jones building in town.

Olive Tree Market founder Justine Gaudry has been preparing the space as a permanent home for her local artists’ works, which is open Thursday to Saturday every week.

As they set up in the dark every morning, a rogue elevator has caused quite a stir.

“It keeps going up and down on its own accord and a lady makes announcements of what floor it’s on,” Ms Gaudry said.

“We’re still deciding what to call her – maybe Ethel.”

Topics would freak out if we heard a lady announcing “women’s underwear” while in the dark.

We suspect that a David Jones ghost, either an obsessive shopper or a former worker who won’t let go, is operating the lift. Or it’s just faulty electronics.

Out on a limb

TOPICS wants a new foot. We’re currently nursing a terrible ankle injury and we’re not keen on the rehab process.

We want to play football.

So it would be ideal if humans had the ability to regrow limbs.

Salamanders can do it, as well as regenerate parts of major organs. So why can’t we?

Enter science. This week a study of the axolotl, an aquatic salamander, found that immune cells called macrophages were critical when it came to regenerating lost limbs.

The best news? These cells exist in humans.

Apparently further study could provide insight into treating spinal cord and brain injuries.

And perhaps lead to Topics growing a new ankle too? Probably not, but we can dream.

Robyn my identity

ENVIRONMENT Minister and Member for Maitland Robyn Parker has either had an astonishing makeover or her Wikipedia profile has been hijacked.

When you type the minister’s name into Google, a brief profile of her career will pop up, accompanied by a photo.

The source says Wikipedia and the text seems legit, but when you look closely at Robyn’s face there’s something terribly amiss.

The photo looks old, the lady’s hairstyle comes straight from the 1980s and her smile is nowhere near as charming as our Robyn’s.

A few clicks and all is revealed.

The lady in question is actually assistant professor Robyn Parker at Kent State University, Ohio, America.

How the mix-up has occurred is anyone’s guess. But rest assured that Ms Parker has not undergone drastic plastic surge\

Miners finding Indonesia a tougher ask

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 STRING of mid-tier Australian mining companies have run into serious problems with local protests in Indonesia recently, prompting some executives to say the resource-rich nation is losing its lustre.

As the Australian government’s Asian century white paper urges business to get familiar with Asia, companies are confronting sometimes wild protests and heavy-handed police action, with little hope of relief through the courts.

”The risk profile for Indonesia is starting to look very challenging [compared with other parts of Asia],” according to Jim Kerr, the general manager of goldminer Hillgrove Resources. ”If it was a Melbourne Cup, you’d say Indonesia has drifted to the back of the pack. The odds are looking a little longer.”

In the past 12 months, Arc Exploration, Hillgrove Resources, Sihayo Gold, G-Resources and gas company Triangle Pase have run into serious difficulties with local protests.

Last week, protests erupted against Hong Kong-listed and Australian-run G-Resources, which is attempting to build a ”clean-water pipeline” at its Martabe mine in northern Sumatra. Protests that began over fears of discharging water into the local river turned angry at police action during the protest, and two district offices and a police station were damaged, three government cars burned and a number of people injured.

Local spokesman Adi Sumurung told BusinessDay the company’s chief executive, Peter Albert, was ”good” and had been willing to negotiate, but that they were angry at police, who had forced two youngsters to eat gravel and a young woman to drink water laced with mercury. ”I think this is ridiculous,” Mr Sumurung said.

Arc Exploration also faced trouble last year over the actions of local police, who shot dead two environmental protesters at its Bima project on the island of Sumbawa. The government cancelled the company’s licence as a result.

Sihayo Gold has twice suspended work at its North Sumatra exploration site after attacks by protesters, who set the camp on fire last year. The company blamed illegal ”artisan” miners who face being locked out of goldfields.

Gold explorer Hillgrove Resources likewise suspended drilling for much of 2011 at its Sumba prospect because of environmental protests and what it claims was ”political misinformation” from people outside the community.

And Triangle Pase, a gas producer run by long-time industry figure John Towner, has been the subject of a protest about ownership, alleged problems with waste, and claims that it had not fulfilled its corporate social responsibility obligations.

Both Mr Towner and Mr Kerr suggested the protests were more about money than environmental issues.

”In reality, these people are paid by someone to cause a disturbance,” Mr Towner said. ”I’ve been there longer than most, I’ve seen it all … someone thinks we’re making an absolute fortune and they think they can come in and take it over until it runs out.”

Mr Kerr said some NGOs were legitimate, but others were little more than organisations designed to ”shake down” his operation.

”They’ll put 20 people outside your gate and then someone comes up and says, for a bit of money, these people can go away,” Mr Kerr said.

Indonesia’s post-democracy decentralisation of power has left local administrations with enormous power over mining investment, but ill-equipped to administer complex environmental and mining legislation, he said.

Companies also do not expect the courts, which in Indonesia are often corrupt, to enforce their rights.

But G-Resources chairman Owen Hegarty said despite the trouble his company faced he had significant faith in the government and people of Indonesia. ”These issues are not fatal, they are not deal-breakers. They are issues we need to work with,” he said.

Australian National University economist Hal Hill said mining was a vexed political and legal issue in Indonesia with ”more than a hint of corruption”. But he also sensed mining companies might be in a rush to catch the once-in-a-generation profits on offer. ”I get a sense of nervousness, that they are getting pushy and aggressive. Maybe both sides are going harder,” he said.

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Criminal charges loom for HSBC

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BRITISH bank HSBC Holdings acknowledged this week that its exposure to an industry-wide money laundering investigation had swelled as it disclosed that it could face criminal charges in the US.

With its legal liabilities rising, HSBC set aside an additional $US800 million to cover potential fines stemming from the case, bringing its total to $US1.5 billion. The bank, negotiating a settlement with US authorities, is expected to pay the largest fine on record for money laundering and related actions.

The trouble at HSBC comes amid a widespread crackdown by federal and state authorities into the illegal movement of money. Officials are moving to choke off the supply of US dollars to drug cartels and terrorist organisations.

Regulators and prosecutors are looking into whether foreign banks failed to monitor cash transactions at American subsidiaries, allowing drug dealers and terrorists to move tainted money. As well as scrutinising money laundering activities, they are also investigating whether institutions skirted rules by transferring money for nations subject to sanctions.

Over the past few years, the bulk of cases have focused on those sanction violations. The US Treasury Department reached a $US619 million settlement with ING Group in June over such accusations. A couple months later, the British bank Standard Chartered agreed to pay $US340 million to New York’s top banking regulator, which claimed the bank laundered hundreds of billions of dollars for Iran for nearly a decade.

HSBC faces harsher scrutiny. Besides sanction violations, prosecutors are considering criminal charges related to money laundering, according to several law enforcement officials. It would be the first such case stemming from the broad investigation.

”A lot of banks will likely have to respond if US authorities impose criminal sanctions on HSBC,” said Jimmy Gurule, an anti-money laundering expert at the University of Notre Dame. ”It could send shock waves through the financial services industry.”

This year, HSBC was thrust into the spotlight when the US Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations accused the bank of exposing the US ”financial system to money laundering and terrorist financing risks”.

The subcommittee claimed some bank executives were complicit in the activity, ignoring warning signs and allowing illegal behaviour to continue unchecked from 2001 to 2010.

The Senate report found that HSBC’s US operations provided at least $US1 billion in financing to Al Rajhi. Senate investigators said HSBC also failed to effectively monitor the bulk-cash businesses in Mexico. NEW YORK TIMES

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Education market ready for players to bulk up

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EDUCATION is one of Australia’s largest industries, ranking in the top 10 for ”gross value added” in the national accounts, and appears to be one in which we have a competitive advantage. Global demand for education is continuing to grow as the developing world chases the developed world. And demand is likely to remain strong even when economic conditions waiver, as reduced employment prospects or more competitive labour markets can drive interest in reskilling or upskilling.

Yet this is an industry that is significantly under-represented on the domestic sharemarket.

Navitas has acted as the industry beacon, rising from humble beginnings in Western Australia to operating on the global stage with a market capitalisation of $1.5 billion. That valuation positions it among the top 10 companies globally that are primarily in the education services sector, although there are also largish listed companies such as The Washington Post, which has acquired a number of businesses in Australia that include education among a broader portfolio.

A second listed entity, RedHill Education, tried to bolt together a number of educational businesses in the hope it could replicate the success of Navitas. But it languishes with a market capitalisation of $3.9 million, not far from the $3.2 million it held at June 30, after a disastrous listing in which it fell short of its prospectus revenue forecast for fiscal 2011 by a third and reported operating losses that have only just been stemmed in the September quarter.

RedHill appointed Glenn Elith as CEO in May, with a brief to salvage the business. Elith is a chartered accountant experienced in business turnarounds, including stints with Lion Nathan and George Weston Foods. He was CFO at organic retailer Macro Wholefoods Markets, which was sold to Woolworths in 2009. RedHill recently announced that under Elith it had achieved an EBITDA-positive and cash-flow result in the September quarter.

RedHill operates three Sydney-based colleges: the Academy of Information Technology, Greenwich College and the International School of Colour and Design. It also owns an independent student agency, Go Study Australia. But with the business historically generating about $14 million revenue (the original prospectus forecast $21.4 million in fiscal 2011), the second step for Elith is going to be to find a way to drive shareholder value through consolidation.

While universities dominate the higher education category (and even then there are 135 businesses competing), the broader educational industry is highly fragmented. There are 4910 registered training organisations (RTOs), according to training.gov.au. In addition, analyst IBIS World estimates there are more than 11,600 businesses offering language and other educational services (from business colleges to driving schools).

There is a third listed player that has kept a low profile and progressively acted on the consolidation theme, including the purchase of a 10 per cent stake in RedHill.

Academies Australasia Group is a tertiary education business that evolved out of a listed entity with more than 100 years of history. It operates nine colleges in Australia and one in Singapore, offering vocational, English and higher education. Its market capitalisation is $38 million and it is tightly held.

Last month it bought 40 per cent of the College of Sports and Fitness for $300,000 cash and shares, as well as 100 per cent of Melbourne-based language college Discover English for $190,000. It bought 51 per cent of Benchmark College for $5.5 million and paid $1.1 million for 75 per cent of Melbourne-based Academies Australasia Polytechnic, which offers tourism and hospitality qualifications, English courses and delivery of University of Ballarat programs, including MBAs.

Market conditions look ripe for continued consolidation, with weaker competitors placed under considerable pressure. The international market is still recovering from a post-2009 plunge that followed negative publicity regarding student safety in Australia, changes to Australia’s migration policies and shifts in exchange rates.

Industry feedback regarding domestic students is that tight purse strings in government are resulting in a shakeout within the sector. And a move among some states to contestability between private operators and TAFEs offers new opportunities for those operators with scale and efficiency.

Martin Pretty is head of research at Investorfirst Securities.

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