State changes won’t counter RET damage to wind industry

THE state government’s promise to relax planning regulations on wind farms is unlikely to lead to a rush of local investment in the industry, according to both pro and anti-wind farm groups.
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A spokesman for the 223-turbine farm proposed for near Penshurst said a federal government decision on the renewable energy target was more crucial to the future of the project than state Labor’s promise to reduce the buffer zone around wind turbines from two kilometres to one kilometre.

The present buffer zone gives a veto to landowners within two kilometres of a proposed wind farm.

Penshurst wind farm developer, RES Australia, welcomed the Labor government’s promise to reduce the buffer zone, saying it would allow the project to have more turbines.

However RES Australia spokesman Simon Kerrison said the company would not proceed with the $1 billion project until the federal government had set a decent renewable energy target.

The current target aims to produce 20 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, but the federal government wants to reduce it by more than a third.

Such a cut would reduce the amount of renewable energy produced from 41,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) to about 26,000 GWh but Labor has blocked the move.

Another company, Wind Prospect, downsized its proposal for a wind farm at Willatook a few months ago because of the two-kilometre setback laws and the introduction of more powerful three-megawatt-plus turbines.

Southern Grampians Landscape Guardians president Keith Staff, of Penshurst, said a decision by the federal government to reduce the target would make the state government’s promise to relax planning regulations for wind farms “irrelevant”.

Mr Staff said there should be a moratorium on approvals of any large-scale wind farms until the federal government had set the new target.

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

Mikala masters art of a volunteer holiday

A Deakin University student has come from Melbourne to Warrnambool for a work placement and liked it so much she’s reluctant to leave.
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Mikala Knights, 24, of Narre Warren, enjoyed her work placement at Warrnambool Art Gallery so much she is staying as a volunteer over the summer holidays. 141219AM08 Picture: ANGELA MILNE

Mikala Knight, from Narre Warren, has just completed a four-week placement at the Warrnambool Art Gallery as part of the university’s Work Integrated Learning Program and intends to stay on as a volunteer over summer.

“This was my first time to Warrnambool but I’ve absolutely loved it,” Ms Knight said.

Her volunteer work over summer will include acting as a tour guide and security for the renaissance art exhibition.

“I’ve been learning a lot about art curatorship. I’ve constructed a diorama, changed exhibitions, bubble-wrapped a taxidermy exhibition. It’s been quite practical and hands-on,” she said.

She has also been interviewing staff about their roles at the gallery and the work they believe to be iconic in the collection.

Ms Knight hopes to pursue a career as an artist and work in a gallery.

She has finished the second year of her three-year Bachelor of Creative Arts course majoring in visual arts at Deakin’s Burwood campus.

Several students from Burwood and Geelong have come to Warrnambool for their placements through the Higher Education Participation Program.

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

Cessnock student travels to Gallipoli to honour great-great uncle

HONOURING ALL THOSE WHO DIED: Cessnock student Lauren Wood, who will visit Gallilpoli in 2015. Picture by STUART SCOTTA young student will be on a special mission after she is rowed ashore at the Gallipoli beaches in a few months.
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Lauren Wood, 16, will step ashore on the same beach her great-greatuncle Sydney Sawtell walked on when he was a soldier in the 2nd Infantry Battalion in April 1915.

Lauren, from St Philip’s Christian College in Cessnock, was chosen as one of 20 students to go to Gallipoli to attend the 100th anniversary of the ill-fated landing.

After just 13 days of service, Lauren’s ancestor was killed.

And soon, the young schoolgirl will be able to visit his grave at Lone Pine Cemetery.

“I have always been interested in stories about war and I know it brings out the best and the worst in people,” she said.

“My great-great-uncle Sydney Sawtell is buried at Lone Pine – I have his grave number. I want to visit his grave and pay tribute to him and, through this, to honour all those who died at Gallipoli.

“ I also want to look at this conflict from a Turkish point of view, too, and see things from their side.

“I am told Turkish people really like Australians and I want to meet as many of them as I can.”

Sydney Sawtell enlisted in the Australian Army in 1914 when he was 22.

“The day before he died, 42,000 Turkish soldiers attacked the 17,000 Anzac troops,” Lauren said.

“Through my research, I have gained a greater respect and appreciation for what Sydney and many other men and women did for their family, their country and for other nations.

“I am so proud Sydney is related to me and, in my eyes, he is a true hero, along with all the other men and women who sacrificed so much for us.”

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

Melbourne plans extravaganza for NYE

Fireworks, loud music and human gridlock: for many, New Year’s Eve is the party of the year.
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More than half a million people are expected to pour into the city on Wednesday for what Premier Dan Andrews and lord mayor Robert Doyle have promised will be an “extravaganza”.

“Anywhere you can see the skyline of the city, you will be able to see the fireworks of the city,” Cr Doyle said. He expected about 100,000 at Yarra Park alone to watch the family fireworks at 9.30pm.

The city and surrounds will offer parties for all tastes, ranging from the burlesque of the Mad Hatter’s Ball, to be held at St Brigid’s Parish Hall in Fitzroy, to prayer at a special service at the Catch the Fire Ministries’ Apostolic Centre in Hallam.

Bimbo Deluxe manager Brendan Kenner said the Brunswick Street institution and its south-of-the-river counterpart Lucky Coq will host a “no frills” night to cater for “those that see New Year’s Eve as something that’s a little over-rated, a bit full-on and intense”.

For those seeking a more solitary New Year’s Eve, the Melbourne Shyness and Social Anxiety Meetup group will be watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show from 7.30pm at the Astor. The organiser of the meetup group did not respond to emails for comment.

If you have the $650 spare to attend Vue de Monde’s New Year’s event atop the Rialto, you may look down on a crowd topping 550,000 while you eat herring and drink 1993 Chateau d’Yquem.

For a mere $400 per person, you could catch an Edwardian-era steam yacht for a cruise on the bay. Drinks and finger food included. Or, for $290 a couple, you could rise above the rabble for a late-night high tea at the Hotel Windsor.

Party centres will be organised at the city’s four corners: Docklands, King’s Domain, Treasury Gardens and Flagstaff Gardens. These will play host to music and entertainment, as well as a digital countdown to the year’s final seconds.

Victoria Police will take to the streets, the skies, the waterways, the roads and public transport networks, “to keep the extravaganza as safe as possible for everyone”, Deputy Commissioner Lucinda Nolan said.

“We will have a big contingency of uniform members, plainclothes police officers and a lot of our specialist capability to ensure that we can actually deal with anything that comes up,” she said.

“We don’t want people to wake up in 2015 with something worse than a hangover, which could be fines for drunk in a public place, $590, or fines for drunk and disorderly, $758.”

More than 60 suburban rail stations would remain open and patrolled until 7am on New Year’s Day, marking a first for Victoria, Ms Nolan said.

However, city loop railway stations including Flagstaff, Melbourne Central and Parliament will close at 11.45pm to avoid the problem of passengers trying to board trains that would arrive full from Southern Cross and Flinders Street stations, which will remain open.

In light of Australia’s heightened terror environment, Ms Nolan said Victoria Police had conducted rigorous risk and security assessments for New Year’s Eve festivities.

“We certainly have well and truly gone into that because of recent events,” she said. “We’re very confident about the arrangements and I think that Melburnians and the rest of Victorians will come out in numbers just because that’s just the sort of people we are.”

Why New Year’s resolutions work

Why New Year’s resolutions work. Illustration: Simon Letch.New Year’s resolutions are ridiculous.
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Think about it. People who want to change their behaviours decide to change their behaviours and then all do so at once at midnight. But if they really wanted to change their behaviours they would do it of their own accord, without waiting.

At least that’s what anyone who has ever studied economics has been taught. People are meant to be straightforward, literally single-minded.

But we’re not, and the success of New Year’s resolutions proves it. That’s right, success. Because despite all the jibes, the truth is that New Year’s resolutions work, and work far better than the alternative of simply deciding to change behaviour and then changing it.

The reasons why give us an insight into what it means to be human and into why many of us are never quite sure who we are.

Here’s the evidence, assembled by United States psychologist John Norcross. In the lead-up to New Year’s Eve 1995 he and a team from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania phoned hundreds of Americans at random and asked whether they were planning to make a specific measurable resolutions at midnight or whether they weren’t but still had measurable goals they would like to achieve.

Half a year later an impressive 46 per cent of those who had made resolutions claimed to be meeting their goals, compared to only 4 per cent of those who had not.

Conceding that self-reported success might be exaggerated, he said his findings should be seen “in a comparative context – compared to what”.

“In this case, the success rate of resolutions is approximately 10 times higher than the success rate of adults desiring to change their behaviour but not making a resolution.”

His finding has been replicated repeatedly: resolutions work. And it suggests that rather than being single-minded, as economists have traditionally believed, many of us are better thought of as having at least two minds, each fighting for control. One might be the saver, the other the spender; one the lifter, the other the leaner; one the dieter, the other the eater.

Economist Richard Thaler had his epiphany when he invited a group of graduate students to his house for dinner. While he was cooking he brought out a bowl of cashews.

“We started devouring them,” he later explained. “I could see that our appetites were in danger. After a while I hid the bowl in the kitchen. Everyone thanked me.”

And then it hit him. He was being thanked by graduate economists. They wouldn’t be thanking him at all if they really believed human beings were rational. “After all,” he recalled in his biography, “if we wanted to stop eating cashews, we could have done that at any time.”

Economics has traditionally explained away what appear to be two separate selves by saying each of us is one self with stable preferences moderated by a discount rate. Because we care most about the present we “discount” whatever good or bad things are likely to happen in the future when comparing them to the good or bad things we are facing now. We are said to have a constant discount rate of about 8 per cent per year.

But the explanation doesn’t stand up. Rather than being constant, our discount rate seems to climb the closer we get to the choice we have to make.

Ask someone today to choose between working seven hours on April 1 or eight hours on April 15 and that person will almost certainly choose the easier day on April 1. But ask again when April 1 arrives and the same person will almost certainly choose the harder day in a fortnight’s time.

The example comes from US economists Ted O’Donoghue and Matthew Rabin who in 1999 published a paper in the American Economic Review eviscerating the traditional idea of a constant discount rate and proposing instead a model of two selves in which the first was concerned only about the present (always wanting to put off anything unpleasant) and the second was concerned about where that would lead.

The two fight it out. There’s no single “self” always in command.

If they are right it explains the success of resolutions – they are a tool the long-term self can use to trap the short-term self into acting.

And it explains why certain types of resolutions are more likely to succeed than others – those that are specific and are made in public with no room for backing out.

John F. Kennedy did it most famously in 1962 with his commitment to send a man to moon “before this decade is out” and just as effectively a year earlier declaring that the US would regard any attack on West Berlin “as an attack upon us all”.

In both he was influenced by Thomas Schelling, an adviser to President Truman who later won the Nobel Prize in Economics and probably invented the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction, which against all odds has kept the world free of nuclear attacks for seven decades.

His insight was that closing off options can be empowering. The US was formidable when it declared that it would send a man to the moon no matter what, frightening when it declared it would defend Berlin no matter what and terrifying when it declared it would respond to nuclear force with nuclear force no matter what.

His advice for tonight is to eschew vague resolutions and go for absolutes: “Just as it may be easier to ban nuclear weapons from the battlefield in toto than through carefully graduated specifications on their use, zero is a more enforceable limit on cigarettes or chewing gum than some flexible quantitative ration.”

And say it out loud. Lock yourself in. Surprise yourself.

Peter Martin is economics editor of The Age.

Twitter: @1petermartin

AirAsia flight QZ8501: ‘Unique weather’ may have caused plane crash, says CEO

Bodies pulled from AirAsia wreckageThe passengers of AirAsia Flight QZ8501
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The AirAsia chief executive whose plane crashed on Sunday killing 155 passengers and seven crew has told Indonesian President Joko Widodo he believes the blame can be put squarely on bad weather.

CEO Tony Fernandes said his company would pay an immediate advance of money to families bereaved by the tragedy, and that AirAsia would not run away from its future obligations to them.

Mr Joko said his priority was to get the bodies and wreckage of flight QZ8501 off the bottom of the Karimata Strait as quickly as possible so victims can be identified and returned to their families. He has instructed search and rescue agencies to deploy all available ships and aircraft to speed the task.

Speaking of the families of the passengers and crew, he said: “We also feel the loss from this tragedy”.

Six bodies were recovered before night fell on Tuesday, and the grim task will recommence at first light on Wednesday.

Mr Fernandes said the “black box” flight cockpit recorder, which should provide crucial clues as to the cause of the tragedy, had not yet been located. He was confident that it would be.

While saying it would be “improper” to speculate on a cause, Mr Fernandes said he had spoken with the Indonesian President “about some of the information that we [AirAsia] have about what could have gone wrong”.

He then added that there were “some very unique weather conditions” in the area at the time.

“We cannot make any assumptions about what went wrong. All I can say is that the weather in south-east Asia is bad at the moment,” he said.

Referring to floods in Malaysia and Thailand, he suggested that climate change may have played a part in more dangerous conditions for air travel: “There’s a lot of rain, so that is something we need to look at carefully because the weather is changing. The weather is changing”.

Standing outside the Surabaya airport facility set up to cater for about 200 grieving families, Mr Fernandes said AirAsia would advance money “straight away” to the victims’ families, and “will not run away from any of our obligations or hide  behind any conventions”. The grief stricken families, who had only hours earlier learned about the certain deaths of their loved ones, were “an amazing group”.

“Many of them say they will continue to fly on AirAsia,” he said.

The airline’s bookings were still strong and he would “continue our business as normal”. There had been no suggestion from Mr Joko about ramifications against the company in Indonesia, and it was too early to talk about operational changes as a result of the company’s first crash in 13 years of flying.

“I have full confidence in my fleet and crew … in our operation in Indonesia and elsewhere,” Mr Fernandes said.

Mr Joko said “ships and helicopters, from the sea and air, will conduct a massive search” of the area.

The President thanked the search and rescue crews and also other countries that had provided assistance, including Australia.

My fitness wristband took over my life

Handy companion: But I feel like it’s watching me all the time. Photo: iStockBlame it on the boredom of Heathrow airport. I had just disembarked from a long-haul flight and I was in what Oprah might call  “a vulnerable place” – sleep-deprived and guilt-ridden over all those delicious white dinner rolls I had consumed on the way over. Reader, I had not spared the butter. Neither had the complimentary wine cart escaped my attentions. And there seemed to be no way to amuse myself for five hours without spending money.
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Whatever the psychological cocktail that led me there, I decided it would be a good idea to buy one of those fitness tracker wrist-band things so trendy they have been personally endorsed by Rupert Murdoch.

And since then, life hasn’t been the same.

These wristbands are the latest technological step in the “self-quantifying movement”, the contemporary craze for accumulating and analysing data on yourself – from daily calorie counts, to steps walked and energy burned, to your mood and sleep patterns.

Mine was black and slim, and fit snugly around my right wrist. I quickly began wearing my handbags on my left side to accommodate the hand-swinging action it needed to pick up my activity. This was the first in many ways in which the wristband began to control my life.

The gadget was paired with an app on my smartphone, which could magically tell how many steps I had taken that day, how many hours I had slept at night and whether I had taken vigorous exercise. It wanted me to take 10,000 steps a day and I quickly became its slave, walking unnecessarily and even jiggling more in an attempt to please it.

The app could also be paired with a calorie counter that told my master how much I had consumed in a day. The omniscient creature would then calculate whether I had arrived at an energy deficit. If I had, my wristband would communicate warm congratulations. Sometimes it even vibrated in approval, and I would feel a surge of disproportionate pride which was actually a strong signal that the relationship had become unhealthy.

Soon, the fitness tracker went from fun gadget to panopticon. I began to believe it saw everything, and the things it didn’t see – for example, if I accidentally left it at home while off for a run – seemed pointless if it couldn’t record them.

As with all technology, my black manacle-master is fast becoming out-dated. I find myself eyeing others on the market that can measure my heart rate, or tell me exactly how many hours I have left to live on earth.

But the truth is I am too frightened to upgrade. It will know.

BHP workers win jobs back after breaches

For the second time in as many weeks, BHP Billiton mine workers sacked for breaching safety rules have won their jobs back, after the Fair Work Commission ruled firing the men was unduly harsh.
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Harley Schofield and Mark Winterton were sacked in March from their jobs at Broadmeadow Mine Services, which employs workers at the BHP BIlliton-Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) mine at Broadmeadow.

They were dismissed after breaching one of BMA’s seven life-saving rules at the site, relating to guarding against falls and falling objects.

The decision followed a similar case, where two workers at a BMA site won their jobs back after the commission ruled it was unduly harsh to sack the workers for using their phones on site in breach of safety rules.

Mr Winterton, a fitter, and Mr Schofield, a diesel technician, had worked for BMA for five years and about 18 months respectively and neither had any safety or disciplinary blemishes on their records.

Both were aware of BMA’s policies on working from heights, which required steps to mitigate hazards, such as the use of work baskets or harnesses.

However, the pair, with a manager, used the roof of a mine vehicle, known as a drifty, as a work platform to carry out maintenance.

Mr Winterton told the commission he had done this before and believed it was accepted practice, partly because he believed the roof platform was lower than 1.8 metres.

A more senior manager arrived at the site and demanded work cease. Following an investigation Mr Winterton and Mr Schofield’s supervisor resigned.

The mine’s senior HR business partner, Kristi Gooch, found their conduct “reckless and grossly negligent”, on the basis that the men knew the rules and failed to identify a hazard that a competent mineworker would have recognised.

The company said it had lost faith in the men to perform their jobs competently and without endangering themselves or others and their employment was terminated.

The men told the commission they had struggled since to find employment.

Commission vice-president Adam Hatcher found the dismissals had a valid reason but were unduly harsh because a manager had proposed the use of the drifty and it was also not obvious that the 195cm-high roof platform was above the 180cm trigger height for BMA’s rules.

It was also well below the statutory guide for working at heights of 240cm, Mr Hatcher found, adding that other employees had breached the rules without being fired.

He ordered the two men should get their jobs back but not get compensated for lost wages, given their conduct was negligent.

A BHP spokeswoman said BMA’s “first and foremost consideration” was the health and safety of employees.

“We welcome the opportunity to continually improve our health and safety policies and procedures, and will take feedback by the Fair Work Commission into account as part of this ongoing process,” she said.

Recall suitor Iron Mountain pays $US45 million to settle with regulator

Brambles spun Recall Holdings last year.Iron Mountain, the Boston-based paper storage giant stalking Recall  Holdings, has paid $US44.5 million to settle a claim that it overcharged US government customers.
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In the lead-up to Christmas, Iron Mountain and its subsidiary Iron Mountain Information Management LLC settled allegations made under the False Claims Act that the company failed to meet its contractual obligations to US government entities.

The US Department of Justice said that Iron Mountain had provided the relevant entities with record storage services from 2001 to 2014 through General Services Administration contracts.

During this time Iron Mountain was alleged to have failed to “provide GSA with accurate information about its commercial sales practices during contract negotiations, and failed to comply with the price reduction clause of the GSA contracts by not extending lower prices to government customers during its performance of the contracts”.

Iron Mountain has maintained a deferred revenue liability based on estimates of the GSA pricing adjustment and said there would be no material impact on its fourth quarter result.

The case was filed in the Eastern District of California under whistleblower provisions that allow private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and receive part of the recovery.

The lawsuit was brought by former Iron Mountain employee Brent Stanley and another former worker in the records management industry, Patrick McKillop.

Mr Stanley and Mr McKillop will share $US8 million of the settlement.

Iron Mountain, the global leader in information storage and management, made a $2.2 billion cash and scrip bid for ASX-listed Recall Holdings earlier this month.

Recall was spun out of logistics group Brambles last year and is Iron Mountain’s only listed peer. Recall rejected the $7 a share offer, saying it failed to adequately share with Recall shareholders the value created by a combination.

After the knock-back Iron Mountain boss William Meaney poured cold water on pursuing further talks with his target, claiming Recall had grossly overestimated the synergies that could be extracted.

There has been no movement on the takeover deal since Mr Meaney’s response, but Recall shares have continued to trade above the $7 offer price, suggesting investors expect another offer will be forthcoming.

Iron Mountain is being advised by Goldman Sachs. Recall is being advised by UBS and Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Another hot, dry year for Canberra and more of the same to come

Joel Patton, of Woden, swings over the Murrumbidgee River as he tries to cool off in January. Photo: Jeffrey Chan A late start to the ski season brought some winter snow to the Brindabellas in June. Photo: Melissa Adams
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Canberrans sweated through another hot, dry year in 2014, which weather-watchers say was the ACT’s seventh warmest on record.

The city also had an equal record of three days in which the temperature reached 40 degrees or more – all in January.

The Bureau of Meteorology will not release its official annual review until next week though the trends are already apparent.

The ACT’s total rainfall this year (569 millimetres) was only 8 per cent less than the annual average, but almost a fifth of that fell in a very wet December.

And whereas the year was neither as hot nor dry as record-breaking 2013, Weatherzone meteorologist Rob Sharpe said Canberrans should brace for more heat in coming months.

“Looking ahead, across January and February, we’re expecting warmer than average temperatures as the most likely scenario,” Mr Sharpe said.

“It’s also slightly more likely that it will be drier than usual.”

 

The bureau says there is a 70 per cent chance that 2015 will be an El Nino year, which in Australia is associated with droughts, high temperatures and bushfires, particularly across the eastern and southern states.

Mr Sharpe said “we’re teetering on the edge” of declaring the climate event.

“We’re experiencing what we call El Nino-like conditions. It’s pretty much an El Nino but not officially. And that generally means we’re likely to see drier than usual conditions here in the east.

“But the other factor working against that is we have warmer sea surface temperatures off the coast at the moment. Because of that, you see more evaporation than usual, and therefore you have more moisture in the atmosphere.

“That’s a fairly large reason why we’ve seen a wetter than usual December throughout NSW, with a lot of thunderstorms.”

Earlier this month, the ACT government released the first detailed projections of how climate change was likely to affect the Canberra region.

The joint NSW-ACT project found the city would experience hotter summers, drier springs and a significant increase in severe fire-weather days.

The warming trend projected for Canberra was worse than that projected for NSW regions.

Environment Minister Simon Corbell said the modelling provided “a very clear and stark warning about what our future will be”.

“This is a marked change in our city’s climate, in our region’s climate and the implications are far reaching.”

Weatherzone is owned by Fairfax Media, which publishes The Canberra Times.

Sydney eccentric: James Fowler Wilcox

Thirty years before Sydney’s first public zoo opened at Billy Goat Swamp in Moore Park, James Fowler Wilcox had opened a zoo of his own in the heart of the city.
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The enterprising naturalist arrived in Sydney in 1850 aboard the HMS Rattlesnake. The ship, under Captain Owen Stanley, had spent several years surveying the north and south-east coast of Australia, and the south coast of New Guinea, and Wilcox was kept busy collecting specimens for museums in England. Once discharged, he began amassing his private collection, and in 1851 opened shop at 30 Hunter Street.

His menagerie was part zoo, part museum, part emporium, where stuffed specimens were exhibited alongside their still-breathing cousins.  One June afternoon the Herald paid a visit to Wilcox’s establishment, and described “…a small but unique collection of Australian and Indian beasts, birds, and reptiles, from the inspection of which we derived much gratification”.

In far-flung colonial Sydney, the collection must have been a magnet for both the scientifically minded and seekers after novelty. For a small fee, visitors could see such exotic creatures as a cheetah, an orangutan, and a guynee (“a small cow with a hump, which the Hindoo regards as a sacred object”) housed with a Persian sheep. A favourite with the punters was a “formidable” boa constrictor, whose pen was kept humid with a jar of boiling water. “Young ladies declare it be a ‘love of a snake’, but are quite angry that it is not folded up in blankets,’ the Herald reported.

Wilcox had the instincts of a scientist and showman combined. The press made great play of the arrival of a “monster Moruk”, an emu-like bird…lately imported from one of the South Sea Islands and purchased at a high figure by the spirited naturalist of Hunter-street.” The latter announced that the Moruk had swallowed the key to its cage and was not, therefore, likely to escape.

Visitors could purchase live “budgerygars”, stuffed birds and animals “mounted in unequalled taste, and in strictly natural and anatomical positions” and, presumably for those wishing to accumulate their own collections, a range of firearms (including a “walking stick percussion gun”).

The menagerie was also home to Wilcox and his young family during his three-year stint as proprietor, and his wife regularly placed “servants wanted” ads in the papers. Unsurprisingly perhaps, there was a high turnover of housekeepers at the Wilcox residence.

Unhappy new year looms for Australia’s public servants

Public Service Minister Eric Abetz has left himself little room to manoeuvre. Photo: Andrew Meares Public Service Minister Eric Abetz has left himself little room to manoeuvre. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Public Service Minister Eric Abetz has left himself little room to manoeuvre. Photo: Andrew Meares

Public Service Minister Eric Abetz has left himself little room to manoeuvre. Photo: Andrew Meares

The nation’s 160,000 federal public servants, the ones who still have their jobs, will limp into their Christmas breaks, punch-drunk from the toughest year the service has seen in a generation.

And things will probably get worse in 2015.

The redundancies that have been racking the Australian Public Service for three years now show no signs of letting up, making life ever harder for those who are left behind, they haven’t had a payrise in 18 months and probably won’t get one before two years have  passed.

Even then, they’ll get nothing without a fight, never a welcome prospect for one of the more mild-mannered workforces in the Australian industrial landscape.

The only bright spot, and it’s not real bright, is that the Abbott government has admitted, in its recent MYEFO budget update, that it has cut as deep as it dares to for fear of causing economic slowdown.

But that doesn’t mean that things aren’t going to get rough in 2015.

The battlelines for an industrial war were drawn more than 12 months ago.

It’s just that, in true public service style, the opposing sides are taking forever to deploy on the front line.

To recap: the government’s “APS bargaining framework” rules out absolutely any wage increases that are not paid for with cuts to conditions and entitlements.

(The official euphemism “productivity offsets” is a fiction. They are cuts.)

While the Department of Human Services got crazy-brave in July and offered 1.2 per cent, at most, with $250 million worth of cuts, senior bosses across the bureaucracy winced.

“If I made an offer like that, my staff would lynch me,” one agency chief confided while he and others bided their time, waiting to see if something might give.

Something did, sort of. The offer collapsed before a vote could be taken, well and truly sabotaged by the Community and Public Sector Union, whose ambit wage claim is 4 per cent per year. Remember that?

The offers that have made it to the ballot stage in recent weeks, at Employment and the Australian Financial Services Authority, have been run out of town in landslide results. If offers were people they’d have been tarred-and-feathered too.

And AFSA was offering 4 per cent over three years, albeit with swingeing cuts to conditions.

The margins of the no-votes – 95 and 82 per cent respectively – gives us no reason to believe those deals would be palatable anywhere else.

The problem for departmental bosses is that they haven’t been able to cobble together cuts-and-wages packages tough enough to get past the Public Service Commission, Finance Department, and  minister Eric  Abetz, who all need to approve any offer before it can be put to workers.

The effect on all of this of having a new Public Service Commissioner, John Lloyd, who thinks job security is a quaint anachronism, remains to be seen.

Public servants at big workplaces, such as Defence and the Tax Office, are getting restless. There is no sign of an offer for them, they were expecting something at least this year and, because the bargaining framework bans back-pay, they’re facing an open-ended wage freeze.

It’s starting to look vindictive.

The CPSU has been warning  for weeks about “spreading unrest” but what is unclear is the union’s ability to harness the unhappiness that is so clearly present in public service offices around the country.

The union, for sheer numbers, is not what it used to be.

Even where it is strong, DHS for example, any meaningful industrial action like disrupting Centrelink, Medicare or Child Support Agency payments pretty much guarantees a nasty public backlash.

Besides, it’s just not that sort of union.

On the other side, Abetz hasn’t left himself much room to manoeuvre either.

The minister’s tough rhetoric has worked him into a corner where anything less than a complete acceptance of his demands will be seen as a failure.

In recent weeks, the minister has resorted half-truths, circulating figures showing public servants’ pay has increased 42 per cent in the past 10 years, against consumer price index figures of about 28 per cent.

“The Australian community will have little sympathy for industrial action taken” by public servants who have enjoyed those pay rises, Abetz said, not bothering to mention that 42 per cent is about the same as everybody else has had over the last decade.

The rhetorical shift suggests that Abetz has given up trying to persuade public servants to see it his way and is now tailoring his message to the broader public, painting the bureaucrats as greedy and out of touch.

Digging in, it appears, for a long fight.

As 2015 dawns, we have a minister who can’t or won’t compromise, a union that lacks the strength to force the issue and a workforce wondering where this is all going to end.

None of it points to a very happy new year.

AirAsia flight overshoots runway in Kalibo, Philippines

Jet Damazo-Santos tweeted this photo of passengers leaving the plane via emergency slides. Photo: Twitter南京夜网/@jetdsantosBodies pulled from AirAsia wreckageThe victims on board AirAsia flight QZ8501
南京夜网

Passengers on an AirAsia flight landing in the Philippines have been forced to use emergency exit slides after the aircraft overshot the runway amid bad weather.

AirAsia Zest flight Z2272 was flying from Manila to Kalibo, in the central Philippines, with 159 passengers and crew members on board. No one was hurt in the incident.

“AirAsia Philippines confirms flight Z2272 from Manila skidded off the Kalibo International Airport runway at 5.43pm (8.43pm AEDT) upon landing,” AirAsia said in a statement on Tuesday night.

“All 153 passengers and crew were able to disembark safely, no injuries reported. All passengers are now at a hotel assisted by AirAsia staff.”

Giovanni Hontomin, who is in charge of AirAsia Zest’s operations, said crew members activated an emergency slide to help passengers disembark safely from the Airbus A320-200.

In pictures posted on Twitter, the plane appears to have landed on a grassed area at Kalibo Airport. Airasia plane overshot runway at kalibo pic.twitter南京夜网/6E4hWUJbS0 — Jet Damazo-Santos (@jetdsantos) December 30, 2014Rappler – a news website based in the Philippines – tweeted the events of the emergency landing, but said no one had been injured.

“Nobody seems to be hurt. Weather was bad because of #senangph Plane came to a very abrupt stop,” she tweeted.

“Engine was shut immediately, we were told to leave bags, deplane asap. Firetruck was waiting. Seems handled well.”

Parts of the Philippines, Malaysia and southern Thailand have been battered by heavy rain and flash floods in recent days, killing dozens of people, although it was not immediately clear if the weather had caused the incident at Kalibo.

Reports said Kalibo Airport had closed after the incident.

According to pictures tweeted by Ms Damazo-Santos, elderly passengers on board the flight had their blood pressure checked after they disembarked the aircraft.

AirAsia Zest is a domestic carrier in the Philippines, partly owned by AirAsia Philippines.

On Tuesday afternoon, the mystery of AirAsia flight QZ8501 was solved with the news from Indonesian authorities that the wreckage of the plane had been found in shallow water, with all 162 passengers presumed dead. Just landed in kalibo on an AirAsia flight that overshot runway — Jet Damazo-Santos (@jetdsantos) December 30, 2014 Shoe-less AirAsia flight attendants on the windy, cold tarmac in Kalibo. Can’t wear heels when sliding down. pic.twitter南京夜网/PZNTXgLirc — Jet Damazo-Santos (@jetdsantos) December 30, 2014

with AP