POLL: Lake council deficit tipped to top $27m

LAKE Macquarie City Council has projected an operating deficit of $27million for this financial year, a blowout of $13million in three months.
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Council documents show it projected an operating deficit of $14million at the start of the financial year.

But the council’s September budget review, to be considered at a council meeting on Monday, has revised that forecast to an operating deficit of $27million.

The council said there was a simple reason for the huge deviation.

A council statement mainly attributed ‘‘the appearance of a $13million discrepancy’’ to government grants received last year for work to be done this year.

Liberal Cr Ken Paxinos said questions needed to be asked about the ‘‘mismatch’’ in the council’s budget.

‘‘One of the basic accounting procedures is the need to match income and expenditure,’’ Cr Paxinos said.

‘‘We need to know where we are financially and our accounting practices need to be rock solid.’’

Labor Cr Daniel Wallace said a lot of councils had problems with their balance sheets, partly because of the timing of government grants.

‘‘It’s not just an accounting issue faced by Lake Macquarie,’’ he said.

News of the deficit projection comes a day after Newcastle City Council said it was considering cutting $19million from its annual budget to get back in the black.

Lake Macquarie council has taken a different route of higher taxes and bigger government. Lake residents will pay an average rate rise of 55per cent over seven years, with business rates to rise by 71per cent.

As reported last month, Lake Macquarie council plans to run budget deficits until 2016-17.

Cr Paxinos said he was concerned it would take so long ‘‘to get back in the black’’.

Cr Wallace said deficits were not a bad thing if the money was spent on infrastructure, but ‘‘they’re not good if they are spent on maintaining current levels of services’’.

Council general manager Brian Bell declined to be interviewed.

TAFE changes hitting staff and students

VISUAL ARTS TAFE FEES COST MORE THAN UNI
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A DIPLOMA in visual arts will set Hunter TAFE students back $12,500 a year from next year, more than double the annual cost of studying art at university.

Hunter TAFE has finalised the commercial fees for its fine arts and ceramics courses in 2013, after the state government scrapped subsidies because of, it said, poor completion rates and low job prospects.

The cost of one-year visual arts and advanced visual arts diplomas will go from $1300 to $12,500, but students are now able to apply for government HECS-style loans.

For a three-year University of Newcastle fine arts degree, the Australian student contribution for a subsidised place in 2013 is $5868 a year.

It would cost a domestic university student $17,600 by the end of their degree.

The Hunter Street diploma will be the most expensive in NSW, with other TAFEs charging between $7700 and $11,000.

There are deep concerns the hefty fees could put a nail in the coffin of Newcastle’s 120-year-old Hunter Street Art School.

NSW Teachers Federation Hunter Street representative Matthew Tome, who is head art teacher, said the prices were cost-based and good value, given the school’s quality. He said they should be compared to unsubsidised fees. At the University of Newcastle an international student paying unsubsidised fees would pay $70,500 for a degree.

Mr Tome said students did not pay back loans until they reached an income threshold.

Nine of the art school’s staff are expected to face redundancy.

‘‘We’re not thrilled,’’ Mr Tome said. ‘‘But we’ve been determined to keep the art school running.’’

Annelies Koch, 23, of Mayfield, has work in the final exhibition at the Hunter Street Front Room Gallery, which is being closed under the cuts.

‘‘Suddenly cutting the budget like this is disgusting,’’ she said.

A Hunter TAFE spokeswoman said fine arts programs had been finalised and were progressively being advertised on the website.

Students could apply for government-funded student loans, she said.

AXE HOVERS OVER TAFE STAFF

MORE than 40 Hunter TAFE staff are facing redundancy in the lead-up to Christmas.

The Newcastle Herald has obtained documents that show plans to consolidate and axe courses under the state government’s $1.7billion education cuts.

Staff have been sent ‘‘change initiative information sheets’’ that had a deadline to provide feedback by November 9.

The proposed job cuts include 18 jobs from tourism and hospitality, three in boatbuilding, three in business and computing, nine in fine arts and nine in information technology.

TAFE said it was still conducting consultation, no voluntary redundancies had been offered at this stage and any surplus staff would be managed in line with ‘‘excess employees’’ policies. Some could be redeployed.

NSW Teachers Federation Hunter TAFE organiser Rob Long said staff feared the job cuts were the start of things to come.

Up to 800 positions at TAFE statewide are expected to go.

Part-time and casual staff had also lost some or all of their shifts, he said.

Mr Long said they didn’t blame the institution but rather state government education cuts.

‘‘Living through it is personally traumatic,’’ he said.

‘‘Inevitably students will either have high costs, or heavy debt, and receive a poorer quality standard of education.’’

A Hunter TAFE spokeswoman said TAFE NSW had to make significant changes to its budget during the next four years to meet the state government’s efficiency targets.

‘‘We must adapt to our changing environment to remain competitive,’’ she said.

‘‘Every effort will be made, during this review, to minimise the impact on front-line services.’’

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said in September the cuts were necessary to help the government tackle billions of dollars in lost revenue.

The NSW Opposition said yesterday the TAFE cuts would contribute to a skills shortage in local government positions such as childcare and gardeners.

COURSESGONE IN 2013:

■ Tourism and hospitality (Glendale and Wyong campuses)

■Metal fabrication and welding (Glendale campus)*

■Information technology (Newcastle and Tomaree campuses)

■Boat building (Newcastle campus)

■Metallurgy (Newcastle campus)

■Subsidised fine arts (Hunter Street campus)

■Subsidised sculpture (Hunter Street campus)

■Subsidised ceramics (Hunter Street campus)

NEW IN 2013

■Bachelor of Early Childhood (Glendale campus)

■Diploma of Visual Arts (Hunter Street) $12,500

■Advanced Diploma of Visual Arts (Hunter Street) $12,500

■Certificate III Visual Arts (Hunter Street) $6000

* TAFE says no final decision

TO GO: Student Annelies Koch has work in the final exhibition at the Front Room Gallery. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Confused mayor votes against himself

FIRST he wanted to wire his own office for video and sound, now the Auburn mayor, Ned Attie, has surprised his colleagues by voting against his own motion.
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Cr Attie wanted to vet the credit card activity of the general manager, John Burgess, on a monthly basis with quarterly reports to council, but then a fellow councillor added an amendment that the mayor should make the same disclosure.

In an about face, the mayor voted against the successful motion at the meeting, which was later stopped after a five-councillor walkout over pecuniary interests stripped it of its quorum.

On Thursday, Cr Attie said he was confused by the proceedings of Wednesday night’s meeting. The mayor, who has previously asked staff to investigate the possible installation of cameras and listening devices in the mayoral suite, said in hindsight he had cast his vote in error.

”Quite honestly it got so confusing with people firing things left, right and centre it just confused me,” Cr Attie said.

”It was really an error; I really should just have voted with everyone. I don’t have an issue, I’ve got nothing to hide.”

The deputy mayor, Salim Mehajer, and Liberal councillor Ronney Ouiek were also hiding nothing in the debate that sparked the councillor walkout.

Both declared pecuniary interests in another proposal to increase the floor space ratios and building heights in zonings covering the Auburn and Lidcombe town centres.

But neither left the chamber, citing council’s legal advice on new state government legislation that allows councillors to vote on planning changes where they personally stand to benefit, as long as they declare their direct interest up front.

The law changes were introduced in August to stop councils losing quorum when voting on proposals covering all or a ”significant” part of the council’s area, where councillors could be reasonably expected to hold an interest.

But councillors were split on how ”significant” matter before council actually was.

Cr Ouiek said their refusal to leave the room was ”all kosher” and criticised his fellow councillors who left in protest.

”We did nothing wrong according to the act, so what’s the problem?”

”If every time the shit hits the fan they’re going to walk out, they’re not fit to represent the community.”

But Cr Campbell said alternative legal advice supported his claim the proposed changes related to ”very limited areas” and the two councillors should have left the chambers.

”I said that if [council’s] legal advice is correct, then the state government has legalised corruption,” he said.

Cr Campbell led the walkout of councillors Hicham Zraika, Tony Oldfield, Semra Batik and Irene Simms after his move to force the two councillors to leave on ethical grounds also failed.

”I was unable to remain in the chamber to facilitate councillors voting to determine the extent of their own financial windfalls,” he said.

The planning proposal in question is due to return to an Auburn council meeting on Monday night. Cr Simms said the state government needed to meet a council delegation to discuss the legislation.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Sony ‘overstretched’ – cut to junk status

Panasonic has a better chance than rival Sony of surviving Japan’s consumer electronics slump because of its unglamorous but stable appliance business of washing machines and fridges, credit rating agency Fitch said Friday.
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Fitch cut Panasonic’s rating by two notches to BB and Sony three notches to BB minus on Thursday, the first time one of the three major ratings agencies have put the creditworthiness of either company into junk-bond territory.

Rival agencies Moody’s and S&P rate both of Japan’s consumer electronic giants at the same level, just above junk status. Moody’s last cut its rating on Panasonic on Tuesday.

Panasonic “has the advantage of a relatively stable consumer appliance business that is still generating positive margins”, Matt Jamieson, Fitch’s head of Asia-Pacific, said in a conference call on Friday to explain its ratings downgrades.

But at Sony, he added, “most of their electronic business are loss making, they appear to be overstretched”.

Japan’s TV industry has been bested by cheaper, more innovative models from Samsung Electronics and other foreign rivals, while tablets and smartphones built by Apple Inc have become the dominant consumer electronics devices.

Investors are focusing on the fate of Sony and Panasonic after another struggling Japanese consumer electronics firm, Sharp Corp, maker of the Aquos TV, secured a $US4.6 billion bail-out by banks including Mizuho Financial Group and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group.

Sony and Panasonic have chosen divergent survival paths.

Panasonic, maker of the Viera TV, is looking to expand its businesses in appliances, solar panels, lithium batteries and automotive components. Appliances amount to around only 6 per cent of the company’s sales, but they generate margins of more than 6 percent and make up a big chunk of operating profit.

Sony, creator of the Walkman, is doubling down on consumer gadgets in a bid to regain ground from Samsung and Apple in mobile devices while bolstering digital cameras and gaming.

The latest downgrades will curtail the ability of both Japanese companies to raise money in credit markets to help fund restructurings of their business portfolios.

For now, however, that impact is limited, given the support Panasonic and Sony are receiving from their banks.

In October, Panasonic, which expects to lose $US10 billion in the year to March 31, secured $US7.6 billion of loan commitments from banks including Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group and Mitsubishi UFJ, a financing backstop its says will help it avoid having to seek capital in credit markets.

Sony, which has forecast a full-year profit of $US1.63 billion helped by the sale of a chemicals business to a Japanese state bank, announced plans to raise $US1.9 billion through a convertible bond before the latest rating downgrade.

Thomson Reuters’ Starmine structural model, which evaluates market views of credit risk, debt levels and changes in asset values gives Panasonic and Sony an implied rating of BB minus. Sharp’s implied rating is three notches lower at B minus.

Standard & Poor’s rates Panasonic and Sony at BBB, the second lowest of the investment grade, while Moody’s Investors Service has them on Baa3, the lowest of its high-grade category. Moody’s has a negative outlook for both firms while S&P sees a stable outlook for Panasonic and a negative one for Sony.

Stock markets in Japan were closed on Friday for a national holiday.

Reuters

Mrs Rinehart, why did you get into media?

Australia’s richest person, Gina Rinehart, signed dozens of books at her launch last night – a love-in for Sydney’s business elite, which queued happily for the chance to have a brief chat with the iron ore magnate, and have their $40 copy autographed.
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The launch of Mrs Rinehart’s book of speeches, pictures and magazine columns, ‘‘Northern Australia and then some,’’ was attended by some 310 members of the Sydney Mining Club and other invitees, and moves on to Melbourne tonight.

After the speeches were over, one questioner drew a burst of applause asking: ‘‘what made you get involved in the media?’’

Mrs Rinehart, who has made loss-making investments in the Ten Network (owning 10 per cent) and Fairfax Media (almost 15 per cent), said her family was involved with the media since her childhood, with her father the late Lang Hancock launching unsuccessful Perth newspaper the Sunday Independent, and then the industry magazine the National Miner.

Old friend Jack Cowin – the Hungry Jacks founder and director and shareholder of both Ten and Fairfax, who joined Mrs Rinehart on the stage last night – invited her to invest in Channel Ten but the first time, she said, ‘‘I couldn’t afford it’’.

‘‘We’ve now got the opportunity to be in Fairfax – well, a partial opportunity that one – and I’m also in Ten. I think it’s good for people just outside the media industry, and basically I am, to know something about other industries, and to perhaps be on these boards.’’

Mrs Rinehart was joined at the head table by her daughter Ginia, former Commonwealth Bank chief and future fund chairman David Murray and Lachlan Murdoch, who left before dinner for an overseas flight.

Advertising industry stalwart John Singleton and federal Liberal MP Scott Morrison, who was expected, were no-shows.

Mr Murray, whose interview with newspaper columnist and broadcaster Andrew Bolt is transcribed in one section of Mrs Rinehart’s book, described Ms Rinehart and her father as ‘‘inspirational and successful Australians’’.

Prominent climate sceptic Ian Plimer, a director of Mrs Rinehart’s Roy Hill Holdings, and lobby group Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision, told Fairfax ‘‘she gets pilloried by those that live off her wealth, and to me that’s an absolute disgrace’’.

Grandmother loses bid to stop TV interview

The grandmother of three girls at the centre of a high-profile international custody dispute has lost her legal case against Channel 9 to stop 60 Minutes from featuring her image in a story due to be aired on Sunday night.
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The story has been heavily promoted by Nine this week and claims to reveal the father’s side of the story for the first time.

The three girls were sent to live with their father in Italy last month after their mother lost her custody case in the Family Court of Australia.

At an urgent interlogatory injunction in Victoria’s Supreme Court late Friday afternoon, the grandmother sought to have her image removed from the story due to fears for her safety and reputation.

She claimed she only agreed to participate if her image was not shown.

In legal documents tendered to the court, the grandmother states she receives daily death threats from hate groups and vigilante fathers groups.

She claims she was pressured into participating in the story by the show’s director, Steve Burling, despite repeatedly telling him she did not wish to be involved as she was too ill.

She has recently had multiple operations and experiences extreme pain, her affidavit states.

She says Mr Burling demanded she produce detailed medical certificates explaining why she was too sick to participate, and he kept telling her the story would “fall over” if she did not take part.

When she produced medical reports which stated she was too unwell to fly to Brisbane where the girls’ mother lived, arrangements were then made for the interview to take place near the grandmother’s home.

The interview took place on November 16.

Despite being assured that she would be placed in a separate room to her daughter and other family members who consented to being shown, the grandmother was not and vision was subsequently taken of her during the interview.

She states she objected to cameras being on her during the interview given their agreement, but vision was still taken.

She claims afterwards, she made repeated requests to Mr Burling that she not be shown in the story, but he ignored her calls and then said it was “out of his hands” when he told her that vision of her would in fact be used.

“I hold grave concerns for my safety and reputation if visual images of me are aired by Sixty Minutes,” her court affidavit states.

“I receive daily threats from hate groups and Facebook hate pages run predominently by vigilant fathers’ groups. Earlier this week, I saw a comment on one such site that  suggested somebody get a ‘hit man’ to deal with (her daughter) and myself.”

The grandmother also expresses concerns that the footage would be detrimental to any ongoing family law proceedings in relation to the three girls, “and could possibly be in breach of the Family Law Act”.

“I believe there are current court cases in both Australia and Italy regarding my granddaughters,” she states.

But after a lawyer for the television network contended that Nine had done nothing wrong, Justice Stephen Kaye ruled there was insufficient evidence to grant the injunction.

VIDEO: Ken Pearsall Tai Chi

AN 83-year-old Kahibah man says he would be dead if not for tai chi.
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Ken Pearsall has been teaching tai chi for 34 years.

‘‘When I started my body was in a mess,’’ Mr Pearsall said.

‘‘I was full of stress, tension and arthritis and when I got up in the morning my body would ache.’’

Now those health problems are gone.

‘‘I’m 83 and if I hadn’t done tai chi, I’d be dead today or in a nursing home,’’ he said.

He is chief instructor for the Newcastle-based Australian Academy of Tai Chi & Qigong.

‘‘It relaxes you and takes the tension out of your body,’’ Mr Pearsall said.

‘‘When the body’s relaxed it’s all right.’’

Arthritis NSW chief executive Karen Filocamo said tai chi decreased stress, increased muscle strength in the lower body and improved balance and posture.

‘‘Studies show tai chi can help reduce pain and stiffness felt by people with arthritis,’’ Ms Filocamo said.

‘‘The movements gently exercise most of the muscles and joints throughout the body and can improve flexibility and ability to move.’’

Mr Pearsall said tai chi ‘‘takes the weight off the skeleton frame’’.

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that involves slow, gentle and flowing movements that have been labelled ‘‘meditation in motion’’.

A recent Sydney University study found tai chi improved balance, muscle strength and quality of life.

The academy will hold a free session in Speers Point Park from 10am to 11.30am on Sunday.

For more information visit www.tai-chi-newcastle-nsw江苏夜网.

KEN PEARSALL

GALLERY: RSPCA, Gimme shelter

The RSPCA’s Tighes Hill veterinary hospital is a virtual emergency room, hospital and rescue centre all under one roof. Helen Gregory takes a look at this hive of activity, where pet owners and professionals have a common goal.
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THE sign on the door of RSPCA’s Tighes Hill veterinary hospital reads ‘‘All dogs and cats must be secured in a cage or on a lead’’ – and with good reason.

When energetic bullmastiff-dane cross Dozer bursts in the door he is dragging his owner with such strength the man’s soles slip on the linoleum floor.

A nurse needs to restrain the 60-kilogram hound while two others reward him with tidbits as his ears are cleaned.

Dozer is just one of the 27 appointments – and five surgeries – that the three vets on shift will see today.

Private patients make up the bulk of the clinic’s clients from as far as the Central Coast, Nelson Bay and Muswellbrook.

The most common reasons for their visits are preventative health checks, including vaccinations, annual heartworm injections and flea control medication that can cover an animal for six months at a time and dental conditions – often due to eating mushy food – that can lead to systemic problems.

There is also an increasing number of older dogs and cats experiencing pain and at this time of year, and skin conditions – including hot spots and itchiness often caused by fleas.

On top of the average day of 30appointments for private clients, the hospital is also responsible for medical attention for the dozen or so animals brought in each day by members of the public and council rangers.

‘‘They can be a cute little pedigree puppy right through to an old scabby dog in need of care,’’ nursing manager Gai Pepperall said.

Many are pets found on the streets, often because they haven’t been desexed.

‘‘A male dog that’s not desexed can smell a female on heat up to 10 kilometres away,’’ Pepperall said.

(The RSPCA has a program where it pays for a third of the price of a castration, Hunter Animal Watch pays a third and the pet’s owner pays a third. The RSPCA at Tighes Hill has spent $31,000 in the past three months alone on desexing.)

But some animals come to the hospital after being surrendered by owners that cannot keep their pets, in some cases due to moving into a new rental property that doesn’t allow animals.

Others have been seized by inspectors after being abused, including the recent case of a canine whose owner didn’t seek attention for the dog’s serious injuries.

It had emergency surgery the day it arrived at the hospital, followed by another two operations at a cost of $3000.

‘‘Sometimes it can be heart-rending,’’ Pepperall said.

‘‘It breaks your heart. You think ‘What’s wrong with the world’?’’

Stray and shelter dogs are kept in kennels outside, while the collected cats are kept in their own room.

The cages feature a white and ginger feline scratching in its litter, and a large, black and white puss with green eyes.

Pepperall said the start of spring and ‘‘cat season’’ will see an increase in the number of cats brought to the hospital.

‘‘Cats can breed very early and can have kittens from four months on, with many becoming pregnant from five or six months on. People wait to get them desexed and then all of a sudden they’re pregnant.

‘‘There are also many cases of feral cats that breed under houses.’’

At its busiest, usually after many litters of kittens have been surrendered, the RSPCA can have up to 50 cats at one time.

Pepperall said the RSPCA makes these kittens as foster-home friendly as possible by checking, desexing, microchipping, vaccinating and giving worm treatments to the youngsters before they are handed to a new owner.

These kittens cost $200 to adopt, while older cats are $170.

All pups and dogs put up for adoption get the same treatment, and are heartworm tested and put on heartworm and flea control prevention.

The price for a dog depends on its age, breed and pedigree, with a $100 starting point for dogs over eight years old and the price for other dogs reaching up to $570.

The RSPCA conducts premise inspections before these dogs (and birds) are sent to a new home to check the environment is safe, secure and appropriate for the breed and the prospective owner.

The staff are also generous with their homes and often act as foster parents, with Pepperall about to take eight kittens herself.

She started working on Saturday mornings for her vet friend and came 16 years ago to work at the RSPCA at Elermore Vale.

She has managed Rutherford for eight years and Tighes Hill since its opening seven years ago.

During this time she has also become mother to a cockatoo that was cherished by an elderly couple before being moved by the pair’s children into a cage inside a dark garage, followed by 12 months of minimal human contact.

Other stray or shelter birds are kept in their own room, including a pigeon with clipped wings from Adamstown.

‘‘They usually take seven months to grow back so we’ve surgically removed the clipped feathers so they regrow in six weeks instead,’’ Pepperall said.

‘‘Hopefully he will just fly home.’’

The 30 or so wild animals brought in each week by the Native Animals Trust, including possums, kangaroos, birds, wombats and sugargliders, are also kept in their own separate room.

The hospital is currently looking after a small peewee (also known as a magpie-lark) with damaged wings and a blue and green budgie with damaged wings and missing tail feathers.

The hospital treats animals if they need medical attention and holds them for 24hours in the hope they will be reclaimed.

If they are not collected, the animals go to Rutherford for seven to 14 days where they are assessed for behavioural or medical problems and it is decided whether they can be sent to a new home.

Pepperall said the staff work with animals with behavioural problems, with some animals changing their behaviours when they are relocated.

Vets must assess for animals with medical problems whether long-term medication is necessary and worthwhile.

‘‘There are more animals than there are homes,’’ Pepperall said.‘‘But it’s not about rehoming a dog that you have an issue with and will throw out the back and it’s left alone.

‘‘We want to put it in the right home so it’s going to have a good life for the rest of its life.’’

There are many happy endings, including the story of an elderly woman who had to go to hospital and gave her cat to the RSPCA hospital for about 12 months.

When she wasn’t able to return to her home the RSPCA assessed the cat in order to find it a new owner, but discovered the animal had major cardiac problems.

It stayed at Tighes Hill for another eight months, until it was adopted by its new owner, who takes the cat to visit its former owner in hospital.

‘‘It’s the nicest ending, the best possible ending,’’ Pepperall said with a smile.

A little further down the hall are the two consulting rooms that the hospital’s 12 vets use to see private patients, as well as the dog ward and cat ward where these animals stay when they need to be monitored or wait for surgery.

Dr Jamie Dumanas is preparing at the table where animals are induced for anaesthetic.

Dubbed ‘‘the guru’’, he has an interest in surgery and visits from Sydney two days each week to help with major surgery.

He performs about three major operations a week, with some taking up to five hours each.

Just a few metres away is the sterilised surgical area, the X-ray lab and the packs area, where surgical instruments are packed and sterilised.

A row of cages hold the slightly groggy animals recovering from surgery, including stray cat Mr Squishy whose left hind leg and tail were amputated after a car accident and five-month-old fox terrier cross Ruby, who has just been desexed.

Pepperall talks to staff about each animal’s ‘‘mum and dad’’.

‘‘The pets are the heart of the family these days and it’s like their hairy child,’’ she says.

Returning to the waiting room Carrington couple Gwen Storrie and Jannette Davidson are waiting with their ‘‘big ball of fluff’’, golden retriever Sasha.

The couple have owned their ‘‘baby’’ since she was six weeks old, when they had the first pick of a litter of six at Salamander Bay 12 years ago.

Sasha brings the couple and their neighbourhood much joy, but lately something has seemed not quite right.

‘‘She’s been huffing and puffing for a couple months and doesn’t want to walk anywhere, her legs just give way,’’ Davidson said.

‘‘We’re really hoping they can do something for her.’’

The couple spend about half an hour in one of the consulting rooms and leave with pain relief for Sasha’s sore hips.

The vet says her puffing is more likely the result of a paralysed larynx than any other sickness.

As they leave, a woman of about 60 rushes into the clinic, shaking and speaking breathlessly. She has a cage with her and says she has come for her cat.

ALL IN A DAY: Dr Jamie Dumanas; dog owners Gwen Storrie and Jannette Davidson with Sasha; vet hospital manager Gai Pepperall; Michael Strickland and his beagle puppy, Buggle; Jenny James with newly-adopted cat, Charlie; and a five-month-old fox terrier cross, is prepared for an operation. Pictures by Brock Perks

ALL IN A DAY: Dr Jamie Dumanas; dog owners Gwen Storrie and Jannette Davidson with Sasha; vet hospital manager Gai Pepperall; Michael Strickland and his beagle puppy, Buggle; Jenny James with newly-adopted cat, Charlie; and a five-month-old fox terrier cross, is prepared for an operation. Pictures by Brock Perks

ALL IN A DAY: Dr Jamie Dumanas; dog owners Gwen Storrie and Jannette Davidson with Sasha; vet hospital manager Gai Pepperall; Michael Strickland and his beagle puppy, Buggle; Jenny James with newly-adopted cat, Charlie; and a five-month-old fox terrier cross, is prepared for an operation. Pictures by Brock Perks

ALL IN A DAY: Dr Jamie Dumanas; dog owners Gwen Storrie and Jannette Davidson with Sasha; vet hospital manager Gai Pepperall; Michael Strickland and his beagle puppy, Buggle; Jenny James with newly-adopted cat, Charlie; and a five-month-old fox terrier cross, is prepared for an operation. Pictures by Brock Perks

ALL IN A DAY: Dr Jamie Dumanas; dog owners Gwen Storrie and Jannette Davidson with Sasha; vet hospital manager Gai Pepperall; Michael Strickland and his beagle puppy, Buggle; Jenny James with newly-adopted cat, Charlie; and a five-month-old fox terrier cross, is prepared for an operation. Pictures by Brock Perks

Picture: Brock Perks

Picture: Brock Perks

Picture: Brock Perks

Picture: Brock Perks

Picture: Brock Perks

‘‘I gave her up – but now I’ve changed my mind,’’ she said.

Hunter eye care: blinded by the cost

IT is a popular dinner party question: if you had to choose, which of the five senses would you least like to lose?
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Eight times out of the 10 the answer will be sight. International surveys have shown that 82per cent of people fear losing their vision far more than hearing, touch, smell or taste. Yet it is a sense that an increasing number of Hunter residents are having to learn to live without. Given the ageing population, a growing number of people are being diagnosed with eye-related diseases of ageing: cataracts, glaucoma, skin cancers, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.

That was why news this month that John Hunter Hospital had closed its outpatient eye clinic at the Royal Newcastle Centre sparked outrage among eye surgeons and their patients alike. The hospital was quick to emphasise it was still able to perform public patient procedures, such as cataract surgery, but its 700 public patients would have to visit specialist ophthalmologists at their private consulting rooms, as public patients, for consultations. For many that will mean a Medicare ‘‘gap’’ payment, where previously the clinic was free.

The former head of ophthalmology at the hospital, Dr Chris Challinor, went on to dispute the hospital’s claim it was focused on treating emergency surgeries and general ophthalmology surgery. While the hospital was well-equipped for the surgeries themselves, he said they did not have the proper equipment to take measurements for the surgery. The clinic closed because ophthalmologists were unhappy with the standard of equipment, which was so bad the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists in January removed the hospital’s training accreditation.

Ophthalmologists said they had battled for months to keep the clinic open. They estimated $500,000 was needed to bring it up to scratch. Ophthalmologist Dr Tim Ruddell was one of the specialists at the former clinic. ‘‘It’s not as if it was full of cockroaches, they just didn’t have equipment considered [up to the required] standard of care,’’ he said.

Challinor said he was told initially that funds were coming but then learned the hospital would not pay for the staff the equipment would require, then later that nothing would be funded.

Ultimately doctors have blamed a lack of will on behalf of hospital bosses.

‘‘They did not seem too concerned about it,’’ Challinor said.

‘‘I just think it’s incredibly shortsighted of them. They do not understand the problems involved.’’

Hunter New England Health chief executive Michael DiRienzo said the ophthalmologists wanted extra resources the hospital was not able to provide.

‘‘We all wish there were unlimited resources for health but this isn’t the case,’’ he said.

Hospital general manager Michael Symonds said the service was also working with general practitioners to better diagnose and treat more eye conditions at the local surgery through its Health Pathways partnership.

If public patients want a free eye clinic consultation they must trek to Sydney Eye Hospital, where the waiting list is between two and 13 months, depending on need.

On Tuesday the issue came to a head in NSW Parliament. NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said she had formally asked what exactly it was that ophthalmologists needed.

Adding to the hospital’s woes were accusations it had not replaced its paediatric ophthalmologist, meaning premature newborns were not screened on site for the potentially blinding retinopathy of prematurity.

This made it the only major hospital in Australian without such a specialist in its neonatal intensive care unit.

The hospital said ‘‘retcam’’ technology allowed nurses to screen babies and send the scans to ophthalmologists, and they were recruiting a new doctor.

Angela Solway, of Cessnock, whose five-year-old daughter needs regular check-ups with an eye surgeon, said she was only told of the eye clinic’s closure in October, one month before her appointment.

Her daughter Emily has juvenile arthritis and needs to have her eyes checked every four to six months because the condition can cause swelling behind the eye and blindness. It will now cost her $265 up front for a private appointment and she will get back only $100 from Medicare.

‘‘This is a joke – such a major hospital, a teaching hospital, and they close a much-needed clinic like this,’’ she said.‘‘When we were there you could tell they needed a bit of stuff because the appointment always went over time.’’

Another Maryland woman, who did not want to be named, said when she suddenly lost her vision on a weekend 18 months ago she went to John Hunter for help. However, they were not able to diagnose her as they did not have the optical coherence tomography or fundus fluorescein angiography scanning machines that take images of the eye’s blood vessels.

‘‘I was told to make an appointment with a private ophthalmologist but that there was no immediate urgency,’’ the 45-year-old told the Newcastle Herald.

‘‘I saw an ophthalmologist as soon as I could get in the next week but it was too late as I had a stroke of the retina.’’

She lost some vision in one eye.

‘‘I don’t blame the John Hunter at all for this – they seriously need funding in this area. My eyesight has adapted fairly well. We are talking about a major hospital here that doesn’t have the qualified staff or equipment on hand for serious emergencies such as the one I had. If it happens on a weekend or overnight you can’t get help.’’

The clinic’s closure baffled ophthalmologists, who believe there is demand for their services.

Many Hunter residents are affected by eye diseases and need public treatment, especially given the high proportion of the aged in the region. Annual hospitalisations for ophthalmological treatment in Hunter New England public health area rose from 4164 to 4335 between 2007 and 2011. All up there were more than 14,000 hospitalisations across Hunter public and private hospitals, with private hospitals carrying most of the ophthalmological burden.

One of the most prevalent eye diseases in the region is age-related macular degeneration. The degenerative disease affects the centre of the eye’s retina, which is responsible for distinguishing details. It is four times more prevalent among the aged than dementia and its numbers are set to go up as the baby boomers age.

One in seven people over 50 show signs of the condition and it is the leading cause of blindness in Australia. Half of all blindness in 2011 was caused by the disease, followed by glaucoma (16per cent), cataracts (12per cent), and other conditions including diabetic retinopathy (2per cent).

Generally cataracts are the prevalent eye disease (31per cent), followed by age-related macular degeneration (3.1per cent), diabetic retinopathy (2.8per cent) and glaucoma (2.3per cent). Cataracts are easily treatable, often with surgery. Glaucoma can be treated with drops, laser or surgery but can be equally as serious as macular degeneration.

Ophthalmologists said while diabetic retinopathy was serious, most people were typically treated before it progressed.

People with the wet form of macular degeneration need about one shot monthly of a special drug called ranibizumab, or its commercial name Lucentis, to maintain their sight. Lucentis costs between $5.50 and $35.40 at the pharmacy, then a gap payment at the ophthalmologists to have it injected. Most treatments of Lucentis last about a month and annual costs are a significant expense.

The pharmaceutical company that produces it, Roche, charges the federal government Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme about $11,700 a year for each patient. Multiply that by the estimated 1.7million macular degeneration sufferers predicted in 20 years time, half of whom will have the treatable wet form, and it is set to be big business in the future.

It and other treatments already cost the government more than $600million a year.

However the Macular Degeneration Foundation said without the drug the costs of vision loss-related falls, nursing home care, depression and aids would be $6billion.

Val Wiltshire has lost a great deal of her sight from macular degeneration.

‘‘I can see to get around in the home but I can’t read,’’ she said. ‘‘Outside is very difficult , I cannot recognise people.’’

The 88-year-old needs the use of an electronic reader and magnifier, which set the pensioner back more than $4000. When people are losing their sight, they have no choice but to pay.

Macular Degeneration Foundation chief executive Julie Heraghty said aids were a major problem. People with hearing loss had access to a national scheme but there was not a consistent approach for the vision-impaired.

‘‘Your access to assistance is dependent entirely on your postcode,’’ she said.

The foundation fears the problem will be classified an ageing disease under the looming National Disability Insurance Scheme and not covered.

After she was diagnosed Wiltshire had to quit driving and playing bowls.

‘‘That was the hardest thing,’’ she said. ‘‘Since then I have more or less adapted to the situation.’’

Wiltshire still looks after the Bonnells Bay home shared with her husband and said independence was the most important thing. ‘‘It doesn’t depress me. I just more or less get on with it.’’

Heraghty said the key was catching any condition, whether it be glaucoma, macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, early because vision loss could be halted.

It’s a message emphasised by Robin Bartlett. The Valentine man was on a trip to Mount Sugarloaf in 2009 when things went awry. He was sitting at the cafe staring at the ABC television tower, which looked bent. It wasn’t.

He went to a specialist the next day and was diagnosed with macular degeneration. One eye was already too far gone but he has partial sight in the remaining eye. The 76-year-old has had injections every six to 10 weeks for past three years to keep what is left of his sight.

‘‘I can read the paper with my glasses; sometimes I might need a magnifier,’’ he said. ‘‘I can’t drive at night any more and I had to give up my truck licence. I’m an ex-fitter and turner, it took a while to come to terms with it. Now I just get around things, like any disability.’’

He urged everyone to get checked regularly and see a doctor if they experienced sudden vision loss or changes.

RAY BARTLETT

VAL WILTSHIRE

Driving Bond’s Aston Martin

Daniel Craig on set during the filming of Skyfall. Daniel Craig and the iconic Aston Martin DB5.
Nanjing Night Net

Ben Collins driving during filming of the latest James Bond film.

It’s dark, it’s cold. We are working nights somewhere in east London under stark moonlight, which does little to take the edge off. I’m back with the James Bond stunt crew, probably the best team of daredevils in the world, who have the rare privilege of taking on the ballistic driving sequences for which star Daniel Craig is literally uninsurable. During the next five months, we will circle the globe from the neon-lit highways of Shanghai to the Scottish Highlands and the gritty streets of Istanbul.

This first shot is a pick-up of Bond spiriting away his boss, M, in his 1964 Aston Martin DB5, the most famous Bond car of all. I swallow hard as my eyes absorb the metallic-grey torpedo sitting in Bond’s oil-stained lock-up. The director, Sam Mendes, and Craig lean against the garage wall in deep discussion while staring longingly at the machine.

After introductions with the screen legends, I get the brief: a sharp pull-away, speed down the alley, then a hard right underneath the railway crossing.

I loosen Bond’s custom-made pinstripe suit and ease into the leather aboard the $5 million DB5 from Goldfinger. Gadgets abound, notably the red button inside the gear knob, and I’m not brave enough to press it. Was it the ejector seat or machineguns?

The stunt co-ordinator, Gary Powell, inspects the camera positions before crouching out of shot. I make sure M’s double, Penny Ryder, has a firm grip of the door handle before we launch. Mendes grasps the radio: ”Action!”

It feels like sacrilege, but I rev the nuts off the ageing six-cylinder engine and dump the clutch. Tyres squeal in protest and we rocket out the door into the alley. The brick wall fills the windscreen until I swing the boat-like wooden wheel to the right and the suspension leans gracefully to make the turn.

For the next shot, the camera crew moves to the kerb, where the alley meets the narrow road. It’s pitch-black and the Aston’s lights throw only a hazy glow at the patch of road directly ahead, making the corner blind. Naturally, I would prefer not to reshape the DB5 on the bridge right in front of the director, but it’s a Bond movie, so you go large or go home.

I make it to third gear in the DB5, which by now knows it prefers being in the museum. The brakes sing, I snatch second and we skid into the black abyss of the archway. The wheelspin echoes around the walls as the DB5 leaps the speed humps and we exit the frame. I love this car. Penny thinks it’s ”f—ing fantastic”, too.

Next stop is Adana, Turkey. This is home for the next three months, and we sink into the routine of a six-day working week: 5am wake-up, breakfast, travel, rehearse, shoot, then back to the hotel to hit the gym.

On set, the special-effects team peels the covers off my new ride: a Land Rover Defender with a pod system mounted on the roof so I can drive it while the actors ride below. The pod contains a seat bolted to a heavy-duty roof rack. All the functions of steering, changing gear, braking and accelerating are diverted upstairs so I can operate the vehicle without being seen by the camera.

All that weight on the roof makes the pod top-heavy, so we prove the system won’t roll over by exploring its limits. Some hard cornering and handbrake turns confirm the pod is ready for duty.

Eve, played by Naomi Harris, is the character driving the Land Rover, and we gradually turn our heroine into a speed junkie by relentlessly rehearsing around the off-road course. Harris’s new skills provide plenty of onscreen action.

In her first set-up, Eve races through Istanbul to keep up with Bond. The ensuing carnage results in a truck flipping into her path. The truck and the Landy have to navigate through their respective traffic at exact speeds in order to meet at their impact point. Arrive too early and the camera misses the shot; arrive too late and crunch. We have about six Land Rovers and back-up trucks in case one of them gets twatted and we need to call in a spare.

Using a stopwatch, we measure the runs and set out start points. I run the route aboard the pod before switching to another driver in the standard Land Rover for the main shot.

Fellow stunt driver Lee Morrison bolts himself into the doomed truck wearing a helmet, neck brace and pads. Morrison has to strike a mobile ramp hidden inside a car being towed by a minivan. A few inches left or right and the resulting collision could wipe out all three vehicles – no pressure.

When ”Action!” is called, the hill springs to life as stunt pedestrians meander up the footpath and the vehicles gun their engines. The Landy snakes through the traffic. Moments later, the thundering red cab of Morrison’s truck looms over the horizon of the bridge just as the Landy squeezes into position alongside.

Clashing metal shakes the ground as the truck rams its target and rolls, casting a shadow over the passing Landy. The truck slams into the deck and spews its cargo. Powell eyes the camera feed and says, ”It doesn’t get any closer than that.”

Steam rises from the truck as its fluids trickle down the road. Morrison gives a thumbs up from the smashed cab and we move on to the next shot.

The intense sequences contrast many hours spent waiting for the train on which Bond slogs it out with a relentless and fearless villain named Patrice (Ola Rapace). Various destructive elements and special effects take forever to set up. Then it’s 120km/h down a dirt road to get parallel to a camera lens on carriage No.5, loaded with sunburnt crew and one Daniel Craig dangling off the side by his fingernails.

DC, as he’s known on set, commands the Bond character with aplomb in Skyfall, increasingly at ease with the wild situations thrown his way. When the shades come off, his cool reserve brightens with a nod and a smile as he climbs aboard the pod for the motoring equivalent of the Cresta Run: a vertical cobbled lane in the downtrodden district of Belat.

Here, Eve is in hot pursuit of Patrice in his Audi A5 (3.0 TDI V6 Quattro). There are twists and turns, stuff blowing up, cars getting in the way and, to keep up with the Audi, my foot is welded to the throttle stop. To help me react to their cues, I can hear Craig and Harris through my earpiece. They know this, so before launch he’s humming the tune to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to wind me up. Powell’s instructions are simple enough: ”Keep two lengths off the Audi’s bumper for this one.”

On ”Action!”, the Audi shoots off and I’m grateful for the ”special” modifications the SFX team made to enhance the pod’s engine. We weave through a chicane amid a cacophony of exploding debris to some glib dialogue from downstairs. The rough cobbles shake the hydraulic steering, affecting the wheel alignment. I chase the wheel to compensate, ever mindful of the precious cargo.

Gravity ramps up our speed and emergency manoeuvres are required. We quickly reach the bottom for a 90-degree right hand bend, a big compression and a sudden stop. It’s our first hard run and there’s silence downstairs, broken by chuckling from DC.

You can hear the adrenalin in Harris’s voice: ”Oh … my … god.”

Mendes adds: ”Good one. We don’t need it any faster.”

Arguably, the stunts in a James Bond movie are as memorable and iconic as anything about 007. Especially when you know the stunts are, I promise you, performed for real. Combining them with great performances from Daniel Craig and the star-studded cast should make Skyfall a classic.

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Martinez and Aubrey hospitalised following ‘brutal fight’

No love lost … Martinez and Aubrey.Gabriel Aubry has been released from custody after being arrested and booked for battery following a punch up with Halle Berry’s fiancé, Olivier Martinez.
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According to TMZ, both men were hospitalised after the ‘brutal fight’. Aubrey is said to have suffered a broken rib, facial wounds and possibly a more serious head injury, while Martinez is said to have broken his hand and suffered neck injuries.

The brawl took place inside Berry’s home at around 10am on Thanksgiving Day as Aubrey, Berry’s former partner dropped off their daughter, Nahla, in a custodial handover.

According to the site, the fight started after Olivier told Aubry: “We have to move on”. This is thought to be a reference to the recent custody battle which blocked Halle from moving to France with Nahla. 

Aubry allegedly responded to Martinez’s approach by pushing and then punching him.

Sources told TMZ that Berry rushed four year-old Nahla inside the house so she did not witness the fight.

Berry, 46, and Aubrey have been involved in a bitter custody dispute, since they split in 2010 after dating for more than four years. The case has involved accusations of violence after Aubrey allegedly pushed Nahla’s nanny into a wall while she held the child. He was not criminally convicted of the charge.

More recently, Berry had made the request to move to France after receiving death threats from a convicted stalker. However, the judge decided that Nahla “Shouldn’t be separated from her father,” according to Radar Online.

Martinez and Berry, who confirmed their engagement earlier this year, are said to have put their wedding on ice until the custody battle is resolved.

Following Thursday’s incident, a judge has issued an emergency protective order, requiring Aubrey to stay 100 yards (91.4m) away from Berry, Martinez and Nahla.

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Savage’s biggest headaches at David Jones

After his last shareholder meeting as chairman of David Jones, Bob Savage opened up on some of the more controversial issues that dogged his near-decade long run in the job.
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Top of the list, of course, was the sexual harassment scandal that lead to the departure of David Jones chief executive Mark McInnes.

‘‘That was a very difficult time for the company, it put everybody in the organisation under stress, people on the shop floor wanted to talk to me about it, customers wanted to talk about it, (and) shareholders,’’ he said.

‘‘I think we did the right things, the only regret I would have is that it was not able to be handled outside of the public arena, but that wasn’t our choice,’’ Mr Savage told reporters after the AGM.

He said the company has also been vindicated over its handling of a hoax bid earlier this year from EB Private Equity – a fantasy thought up by reclusive Brit, John Marshall Edgar.

‘‘I think we acted promptly I think we acted in accordance with the stock exchange rules and in accordance with the ASIC rules and I think that’s substantiated by the fact that ASIC has written to us saying they don’t propose to take any action against the company.’’

Mr Savage said the company was ‘‘highly sceptical’’ but had to make the assumption that there was a remote possibility ‘‘that there was somebody behind this guy who had a genuine offer’’.

He said the company was trying to get to a situation where it could make an informed decision when news of the bogus offer leaked to a blog ‘‘and in that situation everything changes’’.

Mr Savage said after more than 50 years in the work force he it was time to relax a bit and does not plan to take up any new positions on public boards after retiring from David Jones at the end of this year.

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NRL outsider can bank on tough initiation

Stepping up to the job … Dave Smith. Smith will start as NRL boss on February 1.
Nanjing Night Net

WHILE he hasn’t played rugby league, Dave Smith proved he still has a strong fend, even though, as someone who is not a rugby league man, that might not be enough to stop criticism.

Smith is not only a man with a rugby union background, but also a banker, neither of which will endear him to some rugby league people.

That he learnt his sporting fend in rugby union, as well as his continual references to the sport – even if as a boy growing up in working class Wales – will irk some.

Should it? Probably not. He is a businessman and he has been hired to run a business. But rugby league can be an insular sport. Outsiders are frowned upon. Which means the new NRL chief executive, an outsider, will not be fawned upon.

That was clear from the outset today, when he was asked – first up – how he responded to the assertion that he was not a rugby league man. Largely, he responded well.

“I love rugby league,” he said. “I’m a fan of rugby league. I’m a fan of rugby union. I’m a fan of multiple sports. I watch all sports. I really enjoyed the grand final, I thought the State of Origin series was probably some of the most competitive matches I’ve ever watched.

“For it to be reported that I’m not a fan is misleading.”

So he passed one major test; he did not refer to the jewel in the crown of rugby league as State of the Origin. Yet being a rugby league fan is one thing; being a rugby league man is another to the masses. How many games did you go to this year? “I’ve spent six months on a plane this year, I manage businesses across ten countries, and I haven’t had a lot of time to spend with my family, let alone to go to live games,” he responded. “I haven’t been to any live sport this year.”

It seems remarkable that Smith – who grew up in working class Pontypridd, has been in the army, counter terrorism, and lately in the banking sector, while always with a passion for sport – can have such business acumen but might be eyed suspiciously when it comes to understanding the salary cap. But rugby league can do that.

“I’m in a big business at the moment, I have to manage multiple stakeholders,” Smith said. “I’ve been doing that for many years. That’s a challenge in terms of any business, and it’s something that I’ll have to take very seriously. I always try and earn credibility.”

Today was, as Smith said, an “introduction”. But in two ways. He introduced himself to rugby league, while rugby league introduced itself to him.

“This is the best job in Australia,” Smith maintained. For now.

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