EDITORIAL: Light rail a political winner

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By , 10/01/2019 05:48

PRIVATISING the Port of Newcastle and using the proceeds to build the foundation of what might become a new light rail network around the city could prove to be a political masterstroke.

It has the potential to satisfy many people who had concerns about the termination of Newcastle’s heavy rail line at Wickham, thus easing the passage of an interlocking set of developments designed to revitalise the city and reintegrate it with its harbour.

Public opinion had been sharply divided on the truncation of the rail, largely because of concerns that it wouldn’t be replaced by a feasible alternative. If people are reassured that a practical light rail link will replace the removed heavy line, many will be pleased to surrender their misgivings.

Critics are scrambling to find new objections, of course, and some will point out that, as things appear to stand, rail passengers heading from Newcastle to Sydney may face extra inconvenience.

It was already being suggested that Sydney trains might have to terminate at Broadmeadow after the heavy rail line was clipped, and if that’s true then it means some passengers will have to change from light rail to a train at Wickham and from one train to another at Broadmeadow.

The other major criticisms of the idea centre on the sale of the port corporation. The Labor opposition is suggesting that this is another case of ‘‘selling the family silver’’ and complaining that less than half the expected sale proceeds are so far slated to be used in Newcastle.

Labor hardly seems in a position to complain about the sale of public assets, given its spectacular mismanagement of the state’s power station sell-off.

Most Newcastle people probably won’t feel too emotional about the transfer of ownership and control of the busy coal port. Instead of dividends being sucked straight to Sydney, as now, profits will flow to private shareholders.

There is a good case to be made for having more of the proceeds used in the city, however. The proposal now envisages about $340million of the $700million sale price being used for the light rail conversion. Newcastle people have every right to ask for more.

From a political perspective, if the project moves ahead quickly enough and the government doesn’t renege on the light rail undertaking, the Coalition stands to win considerable voter approval, making it much harder for Labor to win back what it once regarded as a ‘‘rusted-on’’ electoral asset.

For that reason alone, Labor and its allies can be expected to fight the plan with exceptional vigour.

Sci-fi fans pay dearly for whatever takes their fantasy

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By , 10/01/2019 05:48

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Caporn has met Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart (left) and comic book “god” Stan Lee (right). Photo: Twitter @capey

Caporn says the Avengers tattoo his girlfriend paid for on his 27th birthday is the best present he ever received. Photo: Twitter @capey

Luke Caporn calls his room of collectables his “geek den”. Photo: Twitter @capey

Caporn has previously commissioned Mark Brooks (Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men) to create a piece of artwork for him. Photo: Twitter @capey

Fans will pay between $27.50 and $780 for a ticket to Supanova. Photo: Twitter @capey

While hundreds of Star Wars fans will be lining up to meet Princess Leia at the Supanova pop culture expo, comic book collector Luke Caporn – who has a collection worth $75,000 – will be going to collect a one-off piece of artwork from one of his favourite artists.

A photo with Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) tops the list of Supanova stars – a photo with her will cost $80 – followed by David Hasselhoff for $60 and Margot Kiddler (Superman’s Lois Lane) for $40, but Caporn will pay $400 for his piece of comic book art.

“I like Star Wars but it’s not my main love, I usually spend my money on the comic guests,” the 28-year-old said.

“I’m meeting [illustrator and writer] George Perez, I’ve got him doing a commission for me that I organised eight months ago.”

Mr Caporn began collecting 20 years ago, buying up to 30 comic books each week, and has now built up a collection of more than 10,000.

“I actually worked out I’ve been reading comic books for about 20 years, and that’s continually buying them every week,” he said.

“I have a whole office full of toys and books and pieces and a whole bedroom back at my parents place.

“Anytime anyone comes to visit they come have a look at my geek den.”

Mr Caporn plans to one day open his own store and once travelled interstate to dine with US comic book creator “god”, Stan Lee.

“He was going to Melbourne to Oz Comic-Con and I booked flights and tickets immediately and fished out a bit of money,” he said.

“The dinner cost about $250 but he’s like 90 so I knew it was the only chance in my lifetime to meet him.

“He’s pretty much a god.”

The 28-year-old has even been recognised at overseas conventions for the Avengers tattoo he has inked on his wrist.

“I’ve travelled to Singapore for a convention before…they’d seen me online so I was getting recognised,” he said.

“It’s kind of like wearing my ‘geekdom’ on my sleeve.

“Since the [Avengers] film came out, people love it.”

Attending conventions allows him to connect with people who share his interests.

“The culture is great – people with your same interests and people in costumes,” he said.

“All different fans and we all get along.

“In my general life I don’t have too many friends who share those interests.”

Cultural studies lecturer Jon Stratton says fantasy and sci-fi are unique genres because they create spaces for fans to escape into.

“Sci-fi creates alternative worlds and that fascinates people,” he said.

“It means you get some people who want to expand on that world and others who want to live in that world rather than this one.

“People are fascinated by the kinds of aliens that are created and the potential possibilities with different kinds of alien life.”

Fans collect autographs and photos of the genres’ celebrities because it gave them a special claim to share that experience with others, the Curtin University lecturer says.

“An autograph is something that’s specific to a particular individual,” he said.

“It’s something that you can show to people to say ‘I met this person’.

“A lot of this goes back to the idea of celebrity.

“If you’ve done film or television, because it’s a mass medium and so many people can see you, there’s that sense that you become something special and people think that you’re different.”

Supanova VIP tickets sell for up to $780 and when Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Perth, fans paid $10,000 for a spot at his private dinner.

“It tells you something about the extraordinary celebrity,” Professor Stratton said.

“Arnold Schwarzenegger started off as an amazing bodybuilder then he made a number of films, many of which are still very highly regarded.

“It’s a remarkable career and talk about an immigrant success story in the United States.”

Professor Stratton said while $10,000 to meet ‘Arnie’ – or even $80 to meet Carrie Fisher – might seem over the top to some people, the value of tickets, signatures and photos was whatever fans were willing to pay to get their piece of history.

“What you have with Carrie Fisher is that history of being Princess Leia, a very charismatic character – one of the characters that people most remember from Star Wars,” he said.

“People are prepared to pay that much money to be close to them and get their autograph so in that sense it’s clearly not too much money.” Follow WAtoday on Twitter

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Seven’s new chat show cuts up rough

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By , 10/01/2019 05:48

The Daily Edition attracts few viewers

Kris Smith said it best right at the start of Seven’s new afternoon panel show, The Daily Edition, yesterday: “The point of difference is that I’m going to speak to you in a completely different language.”

And then he proceeded to stumble over his words with the appealing charm of a very handsome man bumbling through live television. The model, former British rugby star and erstwhile husband of Dannii Minogue kept this up for the next 90 minutes, which is the gaping length of the hole in the schedule now filled with this peculiar Seven experiment in afternoon programming.

The title of the show tells you nothing; The Daily Edition might raise hopes that homage is to be paid to The Daily Show, but Jon Stewart’s bracing wit and satire are nowhere to be found.

There were laughs galore during the show’s Monday debut, but they were on the screen, not in your living room. The four hosts – Smith and Sally Obermeder, flanked by Tom Williams and Monique Wright – appear to have been instructed: “When in doubt, laugh, and then laugh some more.”

Appearing to find each other uproariously funny, the quartet giggled and chatted their way through a show that is essentially The View, but with blokes. Like Barbara Walters’ hugely successful US program, The Daily Edition is intent on ensuring we don’t die wondering what its presenters think and feel about every issue under the sun.

For its first program, the hosts had an instant talking point, the Nigella Lawson domestic violence scandal from the UK, a story ready-made for this type of program and it did the job of chewing up a good amount of air time.

In case you were wondering, if Tom Williams had been in that restaurant and seen Nigella being assaulted by her husband, he would have intervened in a flash. Kris Smith said the behaviour of Nigella’s husband was “unexcusable” (try inexcusable), adding with gravity: “He disgraces me.”

Alas, Williams and Smith were nowhere near London at the time. They were busy playing golf as new Daily Edition co-hosts – an adventure that formed the basis for an endless filmed package, the point of which escaped me entirely.

But it was content, and with seven and a half hours of air time to fill every week, The Daily Edition is going to have to do a lot of padding. But on the evidence of its debut, it will need to cast its net rather more widely. When you’re filling space with a long studio interview with a retired Seven newsreader, it suggests a certain lack of imagination in production meetings.

Ian Ross seems a lovely man, but his presence as the headline guest on a new chat show was a head-scratcher. As with much else about The Daily Edition, there was only one question to be asked when it was over: Why?

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It pays to plan ahead

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By , 10/01/2019 05:48

  Overseas traveller Phil Derham: “What I need is convenience, and that is what I?m paying for.” Photo: Simon Schluter

The No. 1 piece of advice for taking money when you’re heading overseas: pack a back-up option. If a pickpocket grabs your wallet or an ATM swallows your debit card, you’ll be glad of plan B.

As an academic, Paul Giles often travels overseas to speak at conferences. So far this year, the University of Sydney English professor has been to New Zealand, Taiwan and the US. Next month he’s off to China. Mostly he relies on his Commonwealth Bank debit card to access cash from ATMs while he’s on the road.

“Often I get cash out and then change it back,” he says, adding that he doesn’t really worry about the cost. Convenience and the safety of carrying around small sums of money are what counts.

But he hit a snag on a recent trip to Los Angeles when his debit card wouldn’t work in a shopping mall ATM.

“I thought in a shopping mall there would be ATMs everywhere and there wasn’t and I needed money for a taxi,” he says.

Fortunately, a British bank account saved the day. He plucked his Barclays Bank debit card from his wallet and was able to withdraw the dollars he needed. The professor is not alone in using ATMs when he travels. According to Visa’s second annual Cash Access Survey, released in April, 56 per cent of Australian travellers use ATMs to access cash.

Visa’s country manager for Australia, Vipin Kalra, says the debit cards “allow consumers to spend abroad much like they do at home accessing their own funds safely and conveniently with competitive exchange rates.” It comes at a cost, however. The major banks charge $4-$5 for a cash withdrawal from an overseas ATM, plus a currency conversion charge of 2 per cent to 3 per cent of the transaction, and the overseas ATM operator may attach another fee.

In some countries you can run into trouble if your PIN has letters or more than four digits and there are still places, such as Myanmar and parts of Africa, where ATMs are sparse or non-existent.

Westpac offers a way out of its $5 cash withdrawal fee if travellers use ATMs in its global alliance network, which includes Bank of America, Barclays and Deutsche Bank. The Citibank Plus account allows users to access cash free via the 20,000 ATMs in its global network. Publisher of the comparison website Finder苏州美甲学校.au, Jeremy Cabral, says currency conversion rates on debit cards are generally better than other methods of travel money. The rate is applied, however, at the time of the cash withdrawal or purchase.

Lock it in

Prepaid travel cards come into their own for those concerned about the direction of exchange rates and want to lock into a particular rate. The money is converted into the preferred currency or multiple currencies when the card is loaded. Darren Brown, Asia-Pacific director for Travelex, which issues the Cash Passport prepaid travel card, says: “It can help the consumer manage their budget [because] they know how much foreign currency they have.”

From a security perspective, the cards are not linked to an individual’s bank account and access is via a PIN. They can be used to withdraw money from an ATM or to shop online or in-store.

General manager of Flightcentre’s Travel Money Oz, Dion Jensen, says these advantages make them attractive to travellers embarking on long trips.

“The trend is really now towards prepaid cards if they are travelling for a longer period of time,” Jensen says. “Those cards can be used like a normal credit card but they are not subject to the fees that a bank would normally impose.” They are, however, yet to enter the world of contactless payments where you don’t have to sign or enter a pin for payments less than $100.

The latest development in this space is Virgin’s Global Wallet, which links a travel money card with its Velocity frequent-flyer membership. Charges vary on prepaid travel cards, which are offered by the major banks as well as players such as Travelex, OzForex and Travel Money Oz. Some charge a fee of $10-$15 to buy the card, and there may be a transaction fee of up to 1.1 per cent to load the card with money initially or to reload it. Monthly inactivity charges can apply after 12 months of non-use.

OzForex issues the card free, charges $15 for the first load and then nothing for reloads, but there are flat fees for ATM withdrawals and balance enquiries and a 3 per cent fee if a transaction is made in a currency not loaded on the card.

Conversion rates

Cabral discovered one of their potential disadvantages in Germany when he wanted to transfer funds from his bank account to his prepaid travel card from the same institution to buy his partner a special present. “Because it was a Friday night in Australia it took up to six days to get the funds off the card,” he says. He also found the currency conversion rates attached to the cards can be up to 1 per cent higher than those associated with credit cards.

On the flip side, when his wallet was stolen in Rome, he was glad a back-up card had been automatically issued with his prepaid travel card.

The credit card is how travellers tend to pay for flights and accommodation, Cabral says. It can also be the “in-case-of-emergency” option. A recent study by technology provider HP and research firm RFi found that the preference for using cash as a payment method had dropped from 51 per cent of Australian travellers in September last year to 40 per cent in March, because of the increased use of credit and debit cards.

“Card issuers have started to identify the removal of international transaction fees on credit and debit cards as a means to capture a greater share of online spend,” the report says.

The GE Money 28 Degrees MasterCard is one of the new breed, catering to travellers wanting to withdraw cash at ATMs. It doesn’t charge for ATM withdrawals overseas. Where it can hurt is if you spend up big and don’t pay off the balance within the 55-day interest-free period, Cabral says. The interest rate for purchases is 20.99 per cent.

Tips and fast factsTaking your debit or credit card overseas? It’s a good idea to let your bank know. Bank fraud detection systems get nervous when an Australian suddenly starts racking up payments in foreign countries. The last thing you want is a frozen credit or debit card when you’re in a bar in Barcelona or sampling the pilsner in Prague. Spend that change. In March a Visa Payments Attitudes Study found that Australians have on average $298 lying around in unused foreign currency from a holiday or business trip. Rather than bring it home, use the change to make a last-minute purchase at the airport before jetting out or give it to charity. You can donate coins at Commonwealth Bank branches or on Qantas flights within Australia to support UNICEF. Have a back-up plan. Research by Virgin Australia’s Velocity frequent-flyer program found 37 per cent of Australians only take cash overseas, leaving them with no back-up if their money is stolen.

Using your debit card at an overseas ATM

For a withdrawal, your bank charges:ANZ $5 plus 3 per cent of transaction value.Bank of Queensland $5 plus 3 per cent. BankWest $5 plus 2.95 per cent.CBA $5 plus 3 per cent.Citibank 2.5 per cent. HSBC $4.50 plus 3 per cent.NAB $4 plus 2 per cent.St George $5 plus 3 per cent.Westpac $5 plus 2 per cent.

Case study: ‘I need to keep it simple’

Melbourne accountant Phil Derham is planning to cram a whole lot of holiday into the space of a month when he jets overseas in September.

“I’m going to ride my bike in Italy up in the mountains, I’m visiting friends in the UK and Switzerland, and I’m catching up with a friend in New York and we’re going to do a car trip down to Nashville and get countrified,” he says.

With an itinerary that sounds something like a triathlon, there’s no way he would consider taking travellers’ cheques. He doesn’t want to waste a precious moment changing money in banks. “That’s why I need to keep the money simple,” he says.

His preferred option? A prepaid travel money card loaded with euros, pounds, US dollars, and possibly a few hundred Swiss francs.

Part of the appeal is that he pays just one fee when he buys the card and there are no transaction fees when he uses it.

He wasn’t overly concerned about locking in exchange rates, even though it’s touted as one of the advantages of prepaid travel cards.

“To me, when you’re spending the amount of money I’m spending on an overseas trip, a few dollars here or there on an exchange rate pales into insignificance, really,” he says.

“What I need is convenience, and that is what I’m paying for.”

Flights and a deposit on his Italian accommodation are already on his credit card and he will probably flash the plastic again for flights and trains when he’s on the road, and to pay the balance of his accommodation costs.

While the 56-year-old has a mental picture of his daily travel budget, he’s also got a fall-back solution if he ends up living larger than expected. “I’ve always got a credit card.”

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Pitbull and Psy – the unlikely rock stars for refugee rights

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By , 10/01/2019 05:48

104.7FM presenter Mariam ‘Maz’ Hakim 104.7FM presenter Mariam ‘Maz’ Hakim

104.7FM presenter Mariam ‘Maz’ Hakim. Photo: Jay Cronan

For all the Sattler/Jones/Sandilands scandals stemming from the wireless, Canberra’s 104.7FM presenter Mariam ‘Maz’ Hakim is restoring hope in the medium, literally.

The 28-year-old Afghan-born radio announcer is the ACT ambassador for World Refugee Week which kicked off with a breakfast on Tuesday, and for all the bile and bitterness expelled by radio hosts recently, she is a breath of fresh air.

The bubbly radio star, who has quickly risen through the Southern Cross Austereo ranks, is using her role as a pop-music-loving-refugee-advocate to spread the word about the 2013 World Refugee Week slogan “restoring hope”.

“Some people may thing that pop culture, and especially today’s pop music, is vapid and the artists have no substance which is completely not true. Pitbull and Psy are two huge international artists who are really making a contribution to the diversity discussion via their music and projects,” she said.

“We have our own stars here in Australia too, just look at Jessica Mauboy and Timomatic. I’ve interviewed them both numerous times and they always talk about their heritage and backgrounds. For Jess, her indigenous roots are very important to her and Tim, he’s a refugee just like me, it’s great to see them both achieving so much – not just professionally but personally as well.

“Pitbull may be one of the most mocked artists these days but he is someone who is actively addressing social change in his music. He regularly references his Cuban culture and sings in Spanish – yet his music is in the Top 40 mainstream charts and being consumed by the vast audience pop music attracts all around the world.”

Energetic and warm on air, Ms Hakim, spends her days interacting with listeners, gossiping about celebrities and spinning the latest hits – a far cry from her first Australian experience inside Villawood Detention Centre in the late 1980s.

“We drove past it [Villawood] about six months ago just by chance. My parents were in the car and they pointed to it and said that is where we first stayed. It’s scary to think my fate could have been behind those walls, but back then it was a sort of hostel for refugees. They would house refugees and migrants who first arrived and didn’t have anywhere to stay. Now it is very different and I think my lucky stars every day that we aren’t there now. Had my parents not escaped back then, that could have easily been my destiny.”

“My parents escaped Afghanistan during the Russian invasion on horseback in the middle of the night. They paid a smuggler to help them escape with three children, one being six months old, the other was 7-years-old and the eldest was nine. I was yet to be born. If you got caught it was conscription and death on the spot. But my parents were dreamers and knew there was something better out there. They hoped and dreamed for a better life for their family. After my parents escaped Afghanistan, they crossed the border into Pakistan which is where I was later born.”

During World Refugee Week she will be working with a group of disadvantaged multicultural youths and hosting the Walk Together – Welcome to Australia Walk, which will start at 1pm on Saturday June 22 from Reconciliation Place.

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