Builders rip off home owners

UNLICENSED builders and tradespeople who misappropriate another professional’s licence are being caught at the rate of more than one a week.In the past five years, 46 people have faced prosecution and 300 have received penalty notices for breaching licensing rules in the Home Building Act, figures from Fair Trading show.Fair Trading Minister Virginia Judge said too many homeowners were signing up builders without running background checks on them, despite the state government upgrading its public register to make licence searches easier.Any building work carried out where labour and materials was worth more than $1000 required the appropriate licence, Ms Judge said, as well as all plumbing, electrical, airconditioning and refrigeration work.NSW Master Builders Association executive director Brian Seidler said unlicensed builders would rip people off as long as consumers failed to undertake checks.”People spend more time investigating what car they are going to buy than the builder they are going to use,” he said.Peter and Enriqueta Jones fell victim to a builder whose licence had lapsed when they tried to have gates installed at their Rooty Hill home.Mr Jones said he paid Michael Greco, of All Steel Gates, a $1600 deposit towards the $4869 job based on a promise the job would be finished in three weeks.By May, when the job had not been started, Mr Jones and Mr Greco agreed the deposit would be refunded. When nothing happened, Mr Jones contacted Fair Trading, which told him Mr Greco’s licence had expired a year earlier.The department launched legal action against Mr Greco, who was fined $21,000, 95 per cent of the maximum penalty.Mr Jones also pursued his deposit through the Consumer, Tenancy and Trader Tribunal, which ordered the $1600 to be refunded. But Mr Jones has yet to see his money.”He [Mr Greco] was ordered to pay a $21,000 fine, but there was no requirement to pay the money back to us. To me that seems a deficiency in the legislation.”
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Prisoner, 82, dies after 54 years in jail

THE longest-serving prisoner in Australia died in his cell yesterday at the age of 82.Edward “Tony” Rawlins was sentenced to life in 1956 for the mutilation murder of 12-year-old Townsville girl Fiona Verdova.Rawlins, a former stockman, met the girl on the beach at the Kissing Point Military Reserve in December 1955. He bought her lunch then strangled her with a belt after she rejected a sexual advance.A medical expert said at the time Rawlins was “unconcerned with his deeds”.Rawlins, who was 28 at the time of his arrest, spent 54 years in prison. He told a prison rights campaign group in 1993 that he never stopped thinking about what he had done.An alcoholic, Rawlins never missed an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting during all his time in prison, saying he believed “one drink would be fatal”.Although he was released on leave of absences several times for events such as Anzac Day marches, his many applications for parole were always rejected.He was found unconscious in Wolston Correctional Centre, Brisbane, at 6.15am, and pronounced dead 55 minutes later.
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Minister waxes lyrical about verse

LABOR is red, Liberals are blue, getting politicians excited about poetry isn’t easy to do.But NSW Arts Minister Virginia Judge is going to try.She’s even willing to put her own poetry up for scrutiny – and potential ridicule – to flush out potential Banjo Patersons or Henry Lawsons lurking in the Bear Pit.Ms Judge, the only MP to have recited one of her own poems in a maiden speech, is planning to establish a ”culture club” at Parliament House to bring politicians of all persuasions together over the shared love of poetry, books, dance and painting.”Arts are so important to our cultural life and if politicians engage with the arts, it could have the effect of refreshing political life. Culture club will be a good way to do that and hopefully all sides get involved,” Ms Judge said.The MP, whose brother Hal Judge is a published poet, wrote a poem called Waverley Cemetery for the culture club ”poetry soiree”.Poet and spoken word performer Adam Gibson praised Ms Judge’s writing efforts despite calling it ”hokey” in parts.”It’s not actually a terrible poem and I have definitely read a lot worse. It’s got a certain localised charm and an encouraging level of depth that is often absent in poems by people who might perhaps best be called poetry dabblers. I don’t know how much other stuff Virginia has written but it’s clear to me that she’s not a complete novice and there is a real sense of place and atmosphere in the piece.”Having said that, the refrain of ‘people in glass houses’ doesn’t work for me and takes away some of the power that other parts of the poem generate.”In summary, nice job, Virginia, keep up the good work and at the end of the [parliamentary] term, you may just get a gold star.”As part of the culture club roster of events, the Sydney Dance Company will give a free performance of a work by its artistic director Rafael Bonachela on Thursday, the first time the company has performed at Parliament House.On May 3, the Pleinair painting show begins in the House, featuring paintings produced in the open air in the tradition of the great Australian landscape painters such as Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts.The winner of Pleinair, to be announced on May 11, is bought for $20,000 on behalf of the government and hung in the House.Ms Judge has also lined up the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to play inside Parliament for the first time later this year.
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Petrol profits are still safe – for now

OIL companies say they are not threatened that big manufacturers plan to introduce electric cars over the next decade.Shell Australia said that with about 1 billion cars expected on the world’s roads by 2050 – twice the current number – and with the development of cleaner fuel by companies, its share of the car market was safe.A Shell spokesman, Paul Zennaro, said increased choice meant a win for the consumer. ”In the future there will be conventional fuels, biofuels will play a huge role and electricity as well. Our customers will decide the types of fuel they want to buy,” he said.But he added: ”Significant investment is required to move to any new form of energy. It takes decades of effort and collaboration between consumers, companies and government to make things happen.”BP Australia said it would watch the development of the electric car with interest but, because of the current restrictions on battery life, any real competition would be some way off.”It takes 15 years to turn over the current fleet of motor vehicles and the advantage for internal combustion engines is that the infrastructure is already here,” spokesman Jamie Jardine said.
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Ker-ching! Political parties hit the jackpot

DONATIONS from clubs, hotels and casinos have jumped in the past decade to form about 5 per cent of all contributions to major political parties.The total amount has grown by more than 50 per cent at the same time as community pressure has increased on governments to tackle problem gambling.Independent senator Nick Xenophon said the rise in donations raised questions about the level of influence the gaming industry has over governments.”If you give someone $1000, you support them. If you give them $100,000, you own them,” Senator Xenophon said.He described the amounts given by clubs and hotels as ”chump change considering the millions of dollars they make”.The Australian Hotels Association and Clubs NSW are the two biggest donors, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars away each year to both the Labor and Liberal parties, a search of Australian Electoral Commission returns by The Sun-Herald shows.In the last financial year, clubs, hotels and casinos gave $529,096 to the state and national Labor parties, accounting for about 5 per cent of all the donations they received. The industry also contributed about 5 per cent – $289,308 – of the Liberal Party’s donations.Ten years ago, the total amount of money donated to all political parties was $511,940.In 2004 – an election year – donations passed $1 million for the first time. In that year, $1.183 million went to political parties with the lion’s share – $880,374 – going to the Labor parties.The figures do not include money donated by lobbying firms engaged by the industry.Senator Xenophon said the industry was betting against increasing community pressure for action on problem gambling.”This is a cheap form of insurance to keep their licences and businesses going as usual,” he said.He called on the federal government to release the Productivity Commission’s report on gambling which it received in February.
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They’re pricey, but EVs are on their way

AS IT is on climate change, asylum seekers and Tiger Woods, opinion is divided on electric cars and the impact they’ll have on the fuel-based breed Australians still love.The big hurdle for electric vehicles (EVs) initially is prohibitive prices. Like many new technologies the first models are expensive, effectively limiting them to governments, businesses and cashed-up early-adopters. But EVs are coming.While the Australian government has shown little interest in electric cars, preferring to throw money at more mature technologies (conventional, locally built petrol-powered cars), every car maker around the world is investing hundreds of millions developing vehicles that can be recharged from household powerpoints, potentially using green energy such as wind or solar.Volvo, Audi, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Holden are all lining up to join the electric race and even Porsche and Mercedes-Benz have EVs in the pipeline.Unlike hydrogen cars and hybrids, there seems to be agreement that electric vehicles have potential, although even the most ardent supporters concede the vast majority of vehicles on the roads in a decade or two will still slurp petrol or diesel.EVs will take many forms but expensive batteries and the lack of a high-voltage, fast charging network will limit appeal of vehicles that will cost more than otherwise similar vehicles.Either way, they have the ability to produce zero carbon emissions, if Australia can wean itself off its addiction to electricity produced from coal. This iswhere governments need to take control and make hard decisions that won’t necessarily impress all of big business.
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It’s back to the bowser in the race to the future

THE federal government has ruled out offering incentives for electric cars, preferring to support existing oil-based technology.Consumer subsidies such as those offered by overseas governments are crucial to ensuring Australian buyers can access the limited supply of electric cars, car companies say.The first production electric car, Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV, which will arrive at the end of the year, is understood to cost about $70,000.The federal government instead believes the future of the car industry lies in the development of existing technology across petrol, diesel and LPG engines.”It’s not our intention to run programs to support any particular form of technology,” Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Kim Carr said.”Over the next decade, the most rapid and cost-effective way of improving fuel economy and building more environmentally effective cars is to adapt technologies that are being deployed now.”The government will spend $1.3 billion over the next 10 years to increase production of cleaner, more efficient vehicles. But the money is going to manufacturers, such as Toyota, for the development of the hybrid Camry, rather than consumers in the form of rebates or tax incentives.Senator Carr said the decision would ensure Australia had a sustainable automotive industry that continued to produce Australian-made cars and employ more than 60,000 people.He said the government would not be investing in any infrastructure for electric cars, such as charging stations, and that the rising cost of electricity was a factor.Referring to a US National Research Council report, Senator Carr said the high cost of lithium-ion batteries limited charging stations. Electric cars will make up only 13 million of the 300 million cars in the US by 2030.”We want [to develop] Australian-made vehicles on Australian roads to the highest level we can,” Senator Carr said. ”The evidence at the moment suggests that the economics would have to improve dramatically for there to be a significant change in consumer preference.”Mitsubishi Australia head of corporate communications Lenore Fletcher said the company had high demand for the i-MiEV, mainly from large corporations.It expects to receive about 10 plug-in i-MiEV vehicles a month from October.The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries said electric car sales were unlikely to have an impact on the Australian market in the short term because they were still in the development phase.But the cars had a future in this country and the government needed to start doing more to attract car manufacturers to our shores.”It is important that in the Australian market we look to be part of that emerging trend as early as possible,” chief executive Andrew McKellar said.”Some of those incentives that are being implemented overseas are very substantial. If we are to secure supply in the Australian market in substantial numbers then we need a competitive policy and that needs to be evaluated.”Mr McKellar said incentives built demand which encouraged further investment in the development of technology and the battery.University of Technology Sydney researcher Chris Dunstan said electric cars offered health benefits in terms of local air pollution and, unless they were charged in Victoria, which used brown coal, they were no worse for the environment.Mr Dunstan, the research director at the university’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, said several major issues concerning electric cars were still to be addressed, including if owners would have to use green power and where and when they could charge their batteries.”We need to make sure we are thinking about the energy supply infrastructure and how we manage it. It goes back to not just having the technology right but the incentives also,” he said.Mr Dunstan said 100 per cent renewable power was cheaper than petrol and the price of batteries was coming down.”If Australia was to embrace this technology more, then there’s potential for us to be a significant player in what’s likely to be a multibillion-dollar industry in the next few years,” he said.Dr Peter Pudney, from the University of South Australia, said the more electric cars sold, the cheaper they would become.He is calling for a push towards renewable energy and the need for immediate action.He said incentives did not have to be financial but could be the introduction of low-emission parking spaces and traffic lanes.
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Long way from home: families stranded by volcano chaos

TRAVELLERS to Europe are being told to expect delays of up to 10 days as the thick plume of volcanic ash from Iceland closes airports and creates air traffic chaos.At Sydney International Airport yesterday, stranded passengers were still arriving at the Qantas desk asking for help.Anne Reed, from Leeds in Britain, was in tears after learning the next flight that she, husband Duncan and son Daniel, 10, could take did not leave until April 28.”We were due to fly out at 4pm and now we are stuck here. We are at the end of a three-week holiday and we will have to put the extra [costs] straight onto our credit card,” she said. ”It would be nice if families with children had priority.”Airlines have cancelled more than 20 flights a day between Europe and Australia this weekend.The family of Polish President Lech Kaczynski want his state funeral to go ahead today despite fears the ash cloud may keep world leaders away.
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Councils demand rate rises for cash lost in crisis

A THIRD of all NSW local councils have had their financial accounts called into question amid evidence the $300 million lost in bad investments during the global financial crisis could worsen and push some councils to the brink.Councils said the twin hit from bad investments and rising costs meant the state government must abandon ”rate pegging” and allow councils to impose inflation-busting rate rises to bolster their balance sheets.Councils want a 6 per cent rate increase, adding an average of about $70 to annual household bills. Of the 152 councils, 43 had their 2009 accounts returned with ”qualified” audit opinions, indicating they did not comply with accepted accounting standards. Most relate to the book value of investments in subprime-related securities that took a hammering during the crisis.Auditors of the Wingecarribee Council in the southern highlands raised concerns about $29 million in assets, about half of the council’s $62.8 million investment portfolio.At Kur-ring-gai Council, more than $7 million of its $75 million investments were collateralised debt obligations. Auditors Spencer Steer said there was ”limited market evidence available to verify their reasonableness”. Other councils with question marks over their accounts include Canada Bay, Hornsby, Rockdale and Tenterfield.Opposition treasury spokesman Mike Baird accused the state government of having hung local councils out to dry. He said the government chose not to invest in CDOs but failed to pass on the same advice to councils.The government has issued new investment guidelines for councils and last month announced training workshops for councillors. The opposition plans to take investment and debt decisions out of the hands of local councillors with a pool of advisers in Treasury.The Local Government and Shires Association said councils would be forced to reduce services unless the government agreed to rate rises and to get rid of rate pegging.
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Women want nookie as much as thenext bloke: online poll

WOMEN crave sex nearly as often as men, according to a survey that also suggests the art of seduction has vanished from modern romance.Almost 10,000 Australian men and women, aged between 25 and 45, took part in an online survey of what they think about sex.The results, published in tomorrow’s Men’s Health and Women’s Health magazines, show that when it comes to love, lust and good old-fashioned romance, the genders aren’t that different.The study found that almost 33 per cent of women want sex every day, compared with 40 per cent of men. The reality isn’t quite as exciting, with 25 per cent of women having sex once a week while one in five get lucky just once a month.Olivia Nicolson, 25, an events manager, and Chris Grady, 25, a forensic officer with NSW Police, have been together for four years and have a very healthy sex life – engaging in sex three to four times a week – with both of them initiating it. ”We’re both pretty similar in what we want,” Mr Grady said. ”I probably want it a little more than Olivia, but on the whole we just really enjoy being with each other.”Ms Nicolson said she often wanted sex every day. ”When I’m not tired from work I would say that I would want it almost every day,” she said.When it comes to a date most likely to put us all in the mood, a romantic dinner was favoured by a third of both sexes but according to 61.8 per cent of men and 52.4 per cent of women, there is nothing quite like a cosy night in to ignite passion.Dancing is the unanimous winner for both sexes when it comes to activities most likely to turn us on, with 65.9 per cent of women and 50 per cent of men preferring a boogie over outdoor pursuits and pub-based pastimes such as pool.As for sex itself, the survey suggests we’re all stuck in a bit of a rut. Rushed foreplay was named as the biggest issue for 37.8 per cent of women while 35 per cent of men complained women never initiate sex.More than half of both sexes said the one thing they really wanted, above all else, was to be seduced more often.Sex therapist and clinical psychologist Janet Hall said sex was often reduced to soulless hook-ups. ”The attitude towards sex is now about the outcome, rather than the journey,” Dr Hall said. ”People aren’t making love now, they’re just having sex.””Girls are not telling the guys what they want and as a result the whole art of seduction is just not there any more.”More than two-thirds of both sexes said they would be open to watching porn or engaging in sexy role play games in order to spice things up.Ms Nicolson said: ”We don’t need to mix it up all that often. But we have watched some porn and I sometimes dress up in lingerie.”
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