Time travel as a daily routine

Karen Bennett is a ”super commuter” – one of those people the international group Sustainable Cities identifies as willing to travel up to four hours a day between work and home.Her daily trip between Wyong on the central coast and North Sydney takes an average of 105 minutes each way, and despite the long haul she faces the journey with good humour. ”I’ve got a lot of train buddies, people I only see on board,” she said. ”You know their families and their holidays. We are a community.”But she also calculates she spends more than 90 working days a year in transit. ”That’s a lot of time on a train. We choose to live here, we accept that, but in the 21st century it shouldn’t take this long.”Ms Bennett represents a growing class of commuters who for financial or lifestyle reasons are living in the regions on the metropolitan fringes.The NSW government’s Household Travel Survey, released in August, shows that in 2007 (the most recent available data) central coast commuters notched up 2.071 million kilometres in rail travel on an average weekday. In outer-western Sydney, including the Blue Mountains, the figure was 1.222 million kilometres, in the Illawarra it was 911,000, and in the south-west it was 1.150 million. Clearly, there is an appetite for train travel to the furthest reaches of Sydney.A recent online poll by the Herald found 59.6 per cent of people ”would … be prepared to live farther from Sydney’s CBD if access to public transport was better”.The Department of Transport and Infrastructure recently began its latest household travel survey, going door to door interviewing residents about their travel patterns and preferences.Experts say they expect the results of this round of surveying to confirm a trend.”Right around the country we saw [from 2004] a decline in per capita car use and an increase in demand for public transport,” said Dr Garry Glazebrook, an urban planner and academic at the University of Technology, Sydney. ”I think we could expect to see a further drop in car use as we get figures from 2008 and 2009.”Commuting to and from work is the fourth most common reason for travel, registering 16 per cent of trips, behind recreational travel on 22 per cent, driving other people on 18 per cent and equal to shopping, also 16 per cent. But commuting accounts for more than 27 per cent of all kilometres travelled in Sydney.A report released earlier this year, Moving People, compiled by the Australasian Railway Association, the Bus Industry Confederation and the International Association of Public Transport as part of a campaign to win more federal investment, confirmed that in every mainland capital, car use had climbed between 1999 and 2004 then, almost uniformly, fallen, although less so in Sydney.But trips for work and pleasure are also getting longer.”The average time a Sydney resident spends travelling per weekday has increased from 79 minutes in 1999 to 81 minutes in 2007,” the survey finds.”The work trip represents a large and growing component of this time, increasing from 31 to 34 minutes over the same period.”In spite of the additional time spent in transit, the survey confirms the plentiful anecdotal evidence about why people are moving to public transport. Almost half of commuters are overcoming parking problems; 28 per cent believe it is quicker; 27 per cent think it is cheaper; 17 per cent report it is ”less stressful”; and 14 per cent say it offers time to read and relax.For Karen Bennett, the journey up the North Shore line, then past the picturesque Hawkesbury River and Brisbane Waters, has its compensation.”It’s my time to wind down,” she said. ”I used to do the drive from Crows Nest to home and by the time I got in, I was so tense and cranky that I had no time to relax because I would have to start getting ready for bed.”Camaraderie the best part of riding the railsThe alarm clock in Karen Bennett’s house is set for 4.10am onweekdays ut, after 12 years of train commuting between Wyong and NorthSydney, she doesn’t really need it – her body clock is well and trulyset.Ms Bennett spends one hour and 45 minutes each morning and eveningriding the rails, one of the ”super commuters” who, for economicnecessity or lifestyle reasons, live far from work.In good weather, she will ride her motor scooter for 10 minutes toWyong station to make the 5.45am train, but she likes to arrive up to30 minutes early to nab a good seat. ”You’d be surprised how many ofus there are on the station at 5am,” she says.Ms Bennett is usually at her desk at an information technology firm by7.35am – serious commuting has taught her to be specific about times -and takes the 4.53pm home each night, arriving at 6.45 pm.She says she loves the camaraderie of the train trip, which for thefirst 30 to 45 minutes involves passengers napping, before people rouseto swap stories and, as they near work, make an early start on emailusing laptops. On the return trip, some work, others watch DVDs; shereads.But she resents the time it takes to cover the distance – pointing outthat early 20th-century steam trains from Newcastle travelled fasterthan today’s services – and the way she has had to ask her employer forflexible work hours to accommodate the train timetable.”The solution to every problem on the railways seems to be to slow thetrains down, either for safety or to fix a timetable problem,” shesays. ”They have built so much leeway into the timetable so they canalways say they’re on time.”’The T-Way gives me the chance to avoid CityRail’Loui Pham is one of those rare people in western Sydney who managesto get around contentedly without a car, despite a long journey eachmorning and evening.The outgoing secretary of The Hive, the student union at the Universityof Western Sydney, commutes daily between her home in Cabramatta andthe university’s campus near Rydalmere using her bicycle and two buses.Most mornings she cycles for 30 minutes to the Bonnyrigg stop on theT-Way, a mostly bus-only corridor between Liverpool and Campbelltown,leaving her bike in the care of a friend who lives near Bonnyrigg Plaza.In peak hour she might wait five to 10 minutes for a bus, and thenspends up to 30 minutes in transit to the Parramatta interchange, atthe rail station, before waiting another five to 10 minutes for a busto the Rydalmere campus.Ms Pham says driving in peak hour would take her more than an hour.The journey has made her a convert to T-Ways. Sydney has threetransitways – Liverpool-Parramatta, Parramatta-Rouse Hill andBlacktown-Parklea – but she would like to see more, right acrosswestern and south-western Sydney.”The T-Way also gives me the chance to avoid CityRail,” Ms Pham says.”Everyone I know has had a bad experience with CityRail. There has notbeen enough investment in the system and in the maintenance of ageing trains.”Cheap as chips and an easy trip – no sweatRALPH VAN DIJK became a scooter commuter three months ago when he lost his licence and needed another way to get from his home in Mosman to his job at a radio advertising company in Pyrmont.He spent $800 on an electric model and lowered the gearing, which cut the top speed but means it can carry his lofty frame up the hill when he gets off the ferry on his way home.His commuting takes about 40 minutes door to door, with only 12-14 minutes spent getting from Circular Quay to Pyrmont, including the run along the crowded footpath in George Street, which he said could ”be a bit sticky”.While he turned to the scooter from necessity, he likes it so much he plans to stick with it.”I am seeing bits of Sydney I have never explored before, riding along the little bays around Mosman, thinking this is what everyone should be on,” Mr van Dijk said.He did think about a bicycle but prefers the scooter because it’s easier to zip around, and he can get to work without needing a shower. ”I ride straight into the office … with this I can just step on and off.”He also likes the fact that he’s not obliged to wear a helmet although he concedes that one might have been handy whenhe came off one night after hitting a gutter.He usually sees about three other electric scooter riders each week and reckons there could soon be more because of the advantages that go beyond the purely practical .”I get envious looks from my kids’ friends.”Matthew Moore
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New safe seat turns into a Wright stuff-up for LNP

SCOTT DRISCOLL, a colourful Queensland business figure and Liberal National Party supporter, is contemplating a crack at federal politics.Since Hajnal Ban, the LNP candidate for the newly created federal seat of Wright, was disendorsed, Mr Driscoll is considering a run for preselection. Also likely to run is Cameron Thompson, a Liberal MP in the Howard government who lost his seat to Labor at the last election.Mr Driscoll, a controversial and opinionated character, established a small business lobby group, the Retailers Association. It was a bitter critic of the Rudd government and angered the more objective industry group, the National Retailers Association.The latter and other similar lobbies accused Mr Driscoll of exaggerating his membership and acting as a front for the Coalition. Legal action was threatened.Mr Driscoll changed the name of his organisation to the United Retail Federation and continued to act as an industry lobbyist.Ms Ban, a local councillor who rose through the ranks of the National Party before it merged with the Queensland Liberals, was disendorsed this week after complaints were raised about the finances of an elderly man for whom she had power of attorney.She may attempt to run again.Her disendorsement and the subsequent bad press upset the LNP which has all but counted Wright as being in the bag for the Coalition.With the federal election set to be a cliffhanger, the Coalition has made mistakes with candidates in marginal seats in NSW and Queensland.It has had to conduct another preselection in the marginal Labor seat of Dobell, on the central coast, after the candidate withdrew. And in Queensland, the LNP chose a 19-year-old to try to wrest the marginal seat of Longman back from Labor.The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, will spend the rest of the week in Queensland.There is an awareness that a small number of marginals could decide the election and that poor candidate choice by the Liberals in key seats in the South Australian election in March proved costly.
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Tax fears may be reason for gunman’s fatal rampage

LONDON: The gunman who carried out the Cumbria massacre was embroiled in a tax investigation into an undeclared £60,000 ($104,000) in his bank account and was facing serious financial difficulties, friends and colleagues have said.Detectives are working on the theory that Derrick Bird harboured grudges against several of his victims following disputes over money.Some of those killed in the early stages of his rampage had clashed with Bird in recent weeks, including his twin brother, David, and the family solicitor, Kevin Commons.However, Bird’s victims are thought to include bystanders he did not know.Bird shot and killed 12 people before taking his own life. Eleven other victims remain in hospital.The twins had had a rocky relationship since childhood. David’s family said that his downfall had been ”to try to help” his brother.However, the dispute is alleged to have escalated recently when David reported Derrick to the authorities for evading tax.A friend of the killer, Mark Cooper, said Bird had about £60,000 ($104,000) in undeclared and untaxed earnings in a bank account, which the tax authorities had discovered.”He was terrified he was going to go to prison,” Mr Cooper said.”It had been going on for six months but he only told me a fortnight ago. I had never seen him bothered about anything before.”Bird is understood to have been given details of his mother’s will last week, which was drawn up by David and Mr Commons.Mr Commons, who is believed to have been the first person to be killed on Wednesday, was shot in the driveway of his home.Bird then drove to his brother’s house and killed him while he was still in bed.Other victims include a real estate agent, Jamie Clark; a mother of two, Susan Hughes; a retired couple, James and Jennifer Jackson; and a part-time mole catcher, Isaac Dixon.Bird, a taxi driver, is thought to have fallen out with several work colleagues after they were accused of failing to follow rules when waiting for passengers. The drivers were also reported to have clashed during a recent holiday in Thailand after Bird paid a large amount of money to a Thai woman.At least two of the victims were employees at the Sellafield nuclear plant, where Bird worked until he was sacked and prosecuted for theft in 1990.Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Goulding, who is leading 100 detectives investigating the killings, said Bird appeared be have a motive for some of the murders but others were random.There were questions over the conduct of authorities after it emerged Bird had been granted two gun licences despite a conviction for theft. A former home secretary, Alan Johnson, said the government should consider introducing mental health checks for potential gun owners.However, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said: ”Of course we should look at this issue but we should not leap to knee-jerk conclusions on what should be done on the regulatory front.”You can’t legislate to stop a switch flicking in someone’s head and this sort of dreadful action taking place.”Telegraph, London
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Mardi Gras looks to future

Criticism of this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has lead the organisation that produces it to launch a widespread consultation process on the future and objectives of the parade.After complaints about refusing parade entry to Animal Liberation and its over-commercialisation, the chief executive of New Mardi Gras, Michael Rolik, is encouraging debate on whom the parade is meant for, how it should be funded and how to create a more relevant, entertaining and engaging event.In an open letter in February, Mr Rolik said there was a discrepancy between some people’s view of what Mardi Gras should be about and the reality of the organisation’s constitution and business model.”Let’s look at its purpose, composition and funding and work towards a clear statement (or restatement) of our objectives and values,” he wrote. ”By doing this we’d go a long way to ensuring Mardi Gras’ relevance into the future.”Now New Mardi Gras is acting on his hopes, seeking views from the community.In just a week, the organisation has received hundreds of submissions and online comments to the six main topics: the purpose, participation, what’s working, what’s not, improvements and funding.Online debates have raged about issues including greater quality control of floats, the length and time of the parade and the need to keep issues such as politics and equality on the agenda.Mr Rolik said there had been consultation in the 33 years of the event, but not for some time.”It’s their event, but there’s no use just having a bitch; we actually do want constructive ideas and there’s a lot of great ideas out there,” he said.Submissions will be published online and in July there will a night of debate.www.mardigras.org.au/itsyourparade
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Australia accused of fudging emissions

AUSTRALIA has been accused of trying to cheat its way out of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by pushing for ”dishonest” forestry accounting loopholes at the latest round of UN climate talks.Along with Russia and the European Union, Australia is facing claims it is pushing to change rules so they could include offsets from planting trees but not count emissions created by land clearing.Developing countries and environmental groups at the two-week meeting in Bonn, Germany, said rich nations were attempting to give the impression that they were tackling climate change when in reality they would be undermining genuine cuts.The dispute centres on what year, or series of years, are chosen as a baseline to measure emissions from the land and forestry.The Climate Action Network, a coalition of more than 500 environment and development groups, said a proposed revision of the land use, land use change and forestry rules would falsely exaggerate emission reductions. ”It’s a disgraceful scandal. It would be disastrous for the climate,” said Sean Cadman, an Australian spokesman for the climate network.”This is a massive loophole. All rich countries except Switzerland are now trying to avoid the consequences of increasing the harvesting of forestry.”The deputy chief executive of the Climate Institute, Erwin Jackson, said Australia’s credibility was ”teetering on the edge of an abyss” after the government’s decision to delay emissions trading and the Coalition’s outright opposition to a scheme.”Obstinacy against reasonable calls for Australia to take responsibility for pollution from forestry is counterproductive and the government risks being perceived as trying to cook the books,” he said.A spokeswoman for the Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, said the government measured and reported emissions from forestry and the land in accordance with international rules and reported them clearly every year. ”Australia recognises that the world needs smarter treatment of human-caused emissions from the land sector,” she said.”We have been pursuing this internationally for a long time because an effective global agreement will need to include human-caused emissions from all sectors.”The climate network claims that loopholes could account for nearly 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, or nearly 5 per cent of the global total. Forest management is seen as key to the climate talks because it is the biggest source of carbon credits and potential mitigation.with Guardian News & Media
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Burma pursuing a nuclear program

WASHINGTON: Burma has begun secretly acquiring key components for a nuclear weapons program, including specialised equipment used to make uranium metal for nuclear bombs, according to a report that cites documents and photos from a Burmese army officer who recently fled the country.The smuggled evidence shows Burma’s military rulers taking concrete steps towards obtaining atomic weapons, according to an analysis co-written by an independent nuclear expert. But it also points to enormous gaps in their technical knowledge and suggests that the country is many years from developing an actual bomb.The analysis, commissioned by the dissident group Democratic Voice of Burma, concludes with ”high confidence” that Burma is seeking nuclear technology, and adds: ”This technology is only for nuclear weapons and not for civilian use or nuclear power.”The intent is clear, and that is a very disturbing matter for international agreements,” said the report, co-authored by Robert Kelley, a retired senior United Nations nuclear inspector.Hours before the report’s release, a US senator announced that he was cancelling a trip to Burma to await the details.”It is unclear whether these allegations have substantive merit,” said Senator James Webb, who chairs a Senate foreign relations panel on east Asia.”[But] until there is further clarification on these matters, I believe it would be unwise and potentially counterproductive for me to visit.”Last August the Herald reported that Burma was building a secret nuclear reactor and plutonium extraction facilities with North Korean help, based on evidence from defectors.The new analysis is based on documents and hundreds of photos smuggled out of the country by Sai Thein Win, a Burmese major who says he visited key installations and attended meetings at which the new technology was demonstrated.Among the images provided were technical drawings of a device known as a bomb-reduction vessel, which is chiefly used in the making of uranium metal for fuel rods and nuclear-weapons components. The defector also released a document purporting to show a government official ordering production of the device, as well as photos of the finished vessel.The Washington Post
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Action over Palm Island death

SIX officers must face disciplinary action over their roles in two investigations into the death of Cameron Doomadgee at the Palm Island watchhouse in 2004.Yesterday the Crime and Misconduct Commission handed down the findings of its review into the handling of Mr Domagee’s death and was scathing of the Queensland Police Commissioner, Bob Atkinson, and his leadership.However, the police union says the commission neglected its moral responsibility to take over investigations into the indigenous death in custody.Mr Doomadgee died from internal injuries after his arrest for drunkenness and a scuffle with the arresting officer, Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, who was later acquitted of manslaughter.The Queensland Police Union president, Ian Leavers, lambasted the commission and its chairman, former supreme court judge Martin Moynihan, attacking the organisation’s credibility and independence.Three days after Mr Doomadgee’s death, Mr Atkinson wrote to the commission asking it to handle the investigation, but nothing was done, Mr Leavers said.”This … letter indicated that due to the complexity, the racial issues and the seriousness of the matter … that the CMC should consider taking over the investigation, and nothing was done,” Mr Leavers said yesterday.”The CMC not only had the power, as well as the authority, but they had the moral obligation, too, of taking over this investigation.”The CMC has given the commissioner two weeks to say what action will be taken against the six officers – four involved in the first investigation and two others who carried out an internal review.Mr Doomadgee’s death on November 19, 2004, sparked riots and saw the local police station burnt to the ground, amid widespread local perceptions of a police cover-up.AAPArts – Page 20
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Incentive for seniors to shift from family home

A STAMP duty exemption to encourage the over-65s to downsize to new dwellings has been labelled “an assistance package to builders rather than home owners”. But it has been welcomed as smart policy by property developers and some seniors groups.For the next two years seniors selling their home and buying a newly built dwelling worth up to $600,000 will pay no stamp duty. The measure is designed to remove the disincentive to downsize from the family home to a smaller dwelling.Savings could be worth up to $22,490, but purchasers must live in the new dwelling for at least 12 months to be eligible for the exemption.Developer lobby groups endorsed the initiative, saying it showed the government had listened to the industry on its proposals for tackling the housing supply shortage.Seniors groups welcomed the changes but said it should be extended to cover all housing stock, not only new dwellings.”We understand the rationale behind it, but if the government was serious about encouraging people to downsize they would apply it to all homes,” said Charmaine Crow, from the Combined Pensioners & Superannuants Association of NSW.The president of the Real Estate Institute of Australia, David Airey, commended the initiative but said its attractiveness would be limited by the restriction to new dwellings.”In many ways it is an assistance package to builders rather than home buyers generally, but . . . even if it’s a marginal increase in the supply of property, it’s got to have some benefit,” Mr Airey said.Paul Versteege from the National Seniors Association said the $600,000 cut-off was “very reasonable” because it was close to the state’s median house price of $546,000.Kath Brewster, a retiree in the process of selling her family home at Coffs Harbour, also welcomed it. She has lived in the home for 23 years but plans to downsize to a unit in the area.”It’s a very emotional time for older people when they do decide to leave the family home, because of the networks, the community, the social capital they have there,” said Ms Brewster, who is also president of the NSW Council on the Ageing. “We welcome it for those people who are buying into new properties, but it really would have been better had it been available to all buyers over 65.”
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Officials insistent on Crean demand

SENIOR public servants have insisted the Minister for Trade, Simon Crean, did ask them to improve their connections with other officials so he did not get ”surprised” by government policies.Mr Crean said yesterday he was ”disappointed” a report of the remarks to a ”retreat session” for senior Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials on May 10, conducted under ”strict Chatham House rules”, had been leaked to the Herald.He confirmed that he had ”asked the department to engage more closely with other departments” but denied he had told the public servants he found out about the details of the Henry tax review and the emissions trading scheme delay in the newspapers.In a short and carefully worded statement, he did not respond to the report’s central assertion that one reason he wanted his officials to be better connected with other senior public servants was so he could avoid being ”surprised” by policy developments in his own government.Sources confirmed he did make the remarks in his address to the retreat and that he urged his bureaucrats to liaise better with his office and to not be afraid of offering ”frank and fearless” advice.The Coalition seized on the report as more evidence the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, kept his ministers in the dark and had given Mr Crean ”the mushroom treatment”.The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said ”the government as a whole has chronically bad process”.There has been disquiet inside Labor that ministers have been shut out of critical decisions by the so-called ”kitchen cabinet” that have contributed to the party’s plummeting popularity but some ministers said cabinet had begun functioning more as a decision-making body in recent weeks.The Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, has admitted the Prime Minister’s department had not informed her beforehand that it was disclosing a significant element of the health reform plan was to be ditched.But she denied opposition claims she was not involved on the decision to dump plans for a national funding authority.
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Stamp duty cuts set to boost supply

THE housing and construction industries are to receive a significant boost from the budget. One of the measures taken by the government to increase housing supply is cutting to zero stamp duty for those buying dwellings off the plan.Additionally, those aged over 65 years will pay no stamp duty on a new dwelling, as long as they live in it for more than 12 months. In both cases, the new dwelling must cost less than $600,00.None of the budget measures here involve a large amount of money but, taken with other measures to cut developer contributions to local councils announced last week, will give the housing construction industry a substantial lift.The government has budgeted $120 million over two years to fund the off-the-plan stamp duty costs, with a further $20 million, also over two years, to finance the stamp duty cuts for those over-65s who are selling the family home to move into smaller housing.To qualify for zero stamp duty, new dwellings most be at the “pre-construction stage” – that is, before the laying of foundations has begun, although site preparation such as demolishing existing buildings is permitted.For off-the-plan dwellings where building is under way, stamp duty will fall by 25 per cent.”What this is about is allowing project finance to be accessed,” the NSW Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, said of the stamp duty cuts to increase off-the-plan sales. “This is a well constructed plan . . . to get a lot more housing stock into the market.”Since the global financial crisis, property developers have found it difficult to obtain the financing for new developments. A higher level of pre-sale is expected to ease financing pressures, helping developers to get projects off the ground.The chief executive of Urban Taskforce, Aaron Gadiel, said: “This is a fundamental re-shaping of the stamp duty regime so that it supports new housing development.”Coupled with the measures to increase housing supply outlined late last week by capping developer contributions to councils for infrastructure, while also paving the way for councils to raise rates beyond the present rate cap, the stamp duty cuts detailed yesterday will result in a boost in the amount of new housing stock being offered for sale.The NSW acting executive director of the Property Council of Australia, Glenn Byres, said: “The [stamp duty changes] break the back of some of the impediments to bringing housing demand though.”In pre-budget lobbying, his organisation argued for the government to follow Victoria in cutting stamp duties for dwellings bought off the plan. NSW went a step further, in abolishing stamp duty altogether in some cases.Treasury expects the additional measures to boost housing stock by 8000 units, twice the estimate arrived at by BIS Shrapnel based on concessional cuts to stamp duty introduced earlier in Victoria.After the initial two years of stamp duty cuts, they would be reviewed, Mr Roozendaal said.The $600,000 threshold might also need to be assessed, property industry officials said. “The thresholds may need to be reviewed in 12 months time, to see if it is acting as an impediment to some stock being brought to market,” Mr Byres said. Even with the stamp duty cuts, the state government is budgeting for a $400 million increase in stamp duty revenues from property transactions in 2010-11 and again in 2011-12.
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