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Price rise won’t stop levy

THE federal government has agreed to hit taxpayers with a one-off levy to help cover the cost of flood damage, at the same time warning that food prices will skyrocket during the next three months.
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The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, held meetings in Canberra yesterday with the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, the Finance Minister, Penny Wong, the Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, and officials to thrash out the details of the levy as well as budget cuts to find the billions needed to rebuild roads, railway lines and bridges in flood-affected areas.

While the levy was still being finalised late yesterday, the main option involved an increase in the 1.5 per cent Medicare levy over 12 months. It is understood other options were being canvassed.

Ms Gillard was to announce the levy next week after Mr Swan outlined the financial impact of the floods during a speech on Friday.

But it was decided to bring forward the announcement to a National Press Club address tomorrow while public sentiment over the floods was high and so the government could start selling the levy against opposition attacks.

”We’d done enough of the ‘we may have a levy’,” said a government source of the hints dropped in the past week.

The talks yesterday coincided with the release of data which showed that headline inflation was lower than expected at 2.7 per cent for the year to the end of December.

But the figures showed a sharp spike in food prices in the three months to the end of December and Mr Swan said these increases would only worsen during the March quarter as the effect of the floods was felt.

”These figures for December do not reflect the recent flooding at all,” he said of the rises, which included 15.5 per cent in fruit prices and 11.4 per cent in vegetable prices.

”I understand that many families will be doing it tough at the checkout when these price hikes flow though in the weeks and months ahead,” he said.

The shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, said the government was avoiding the hard decisions by opting for a levy to help pay for the flood damage.

”You would have to have rocks in your head to impose a new tax on Australian families on the back of rising fruit prices and vegie prices,” he said.

Without confirming or denying the levy yesterday, Mr Swan said a bigger economic picture was at stake and ”we have to be really mature about our response to this crisis in Queensland”.

He said the federal government would have to foot the bill for 75 per cent of infrastructure damage and suggested budget cuts alone could not cover the cost without cutting core services. ”The only responsible thing to do is have all options on the table,” he said.

”I don’t think the Australian people would want us to respond by hacking in to essential expenditure in health and education, sacking teachers or nurses.”

The Medicare levy, which raises $10 billion a year, applies to single people earning more than $18,500 a year and childless couples which earn more than $30,000. At the least, people at or below these income levels would be exempt from any flood levy. But there is pressure on the government to extend the exemptions to protect more low-income earners.

A senior source said that when selling the levy it would be important to stress that it would be used only to rebuild infrastructure and not pay for disaster relief or to help people whose homes were uninsured. Other emergency funds, government and private, were earmarked for that.

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Ugliness is in eye of the fruit buyer

Green and good … growers say there’s no shortage of produce. Photo: Dallas Kilponen THERE is no significant shortage of fruit and vegetables after the Queensland floods and it is unlikely grocers will need to import produce, says the chief executive of the NSW Chamber of Fruit and Vegetable Industries.
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Colin Gray, who also serves as a director at the Sydney Markets, urged shoppers to ignore reports about drastic shortages and huge price rises.

”The last thing we need is to import products and the pests and diseases that can come with them,” he said.

Coles and Woolworths have relaxed their quality classifications to allow flood-damaged crops on their shelves, but long-term shortages may force them to look overseas, they said.

”We certainly don’t want to have to import produce and we would only do it if we had absolutely no choice,” a Coles spokesman, Jim Cooper, said.

Coles has signs in its stores asking for understanding if the produce has ”more markings than usual”.

”Our customers expect the highest quality fruit and vegetables but they also understand that, when things happen that are beyond the growers’ control, it is only reasonable to support them,” he said.

Coles assured the eating quality of the damaged produce was not compromised and any differences were purely cosmetic.

Stewart Finlayson, who is visiting Sydney from Armidale, saw no sign of the so-called ”ugly fruit” at Coles in the CBD.

”It doesn’t make a difference to me anyway,” Mr Finlayson said. ”I had some hail-affected cherries a few weeks ago and they tasted terrific.”

Mr Gray said there was far too much emphasis on the look of the fruit: ”I don’t know what ugly fruit is.” The main point, he said, is to shop intelligently. ”If a certain product is particularly expensive, just substitute it with something else.”

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Food prices were soaring before the floods

FOOD prices were soaring before the full force of floods that wrecked the Queensland, northern NSW and Victorian food bowls.
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Figures show retail fruit prices jumped 15 per cent between the September and December quarters last year, and vegetable prices 11 per cent.

Along the east coast the rises were steeper, with fruit prices up 17 per cent in Sydney and Brisbane and 16 per cent in Melbourne. Vegetable prices climbed 15 per cent and 10 per cent.

Mostly unrelated to the floods, the supply shortages were just a taste of what is in store. The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, yesterday outlined official figures showing 80 per cent of Australia’s beetroot is produced in flood-affected areas as well as 60 per cent of sweet potatoes and zucchini, mandarins and spring onions.

”Many families will be doing it tough at the checkout when the price hikes flow through in the weeks and months ahead,” he said, responding to an otherwise benign inflation result of 0.4 per cent for the quarter and 2.7 per cent for the year to December.

A TD Securities economist, Annette Beacher, said she had pencilled in a further jump of 50 per cent in fruit prices in the March quarter, a ”guesstimate” based on the increase in banana prices after Cyclone Larry wiped out 80 per cent of Australia’s banana crop in 2006.

”There’s a wider variety of produce affected, but on the other hand there’s scope for importing which there wasn’t for bananas,” she said.

A Commonwealth Bank economist, Michael Blythe, said the days of relatively cheap food were ending. Prices would continue to climb even after the impact of the floods had passed.

”Rapid income growth in emerging economies is lifting the demand for food,” he said. ”Economic history shows that the largest increase in food consumption typically occurs as incomes rise from low levels. Most of any rise in income goes on food, either more of it or better quality.

”The other driver is the expansion of biofuels which will absorb more agricultural production over time. The Food & Agriculture Organisation believes global food prices have climbed 46 per cent over the past four years. Australia is not immune.”

The Reserve Bank’s preferred so-called underlying measures of inflation were tame at 0.4 per cent for the quarter and 2.3 per cent for the year. These measures underweight large price movements such as those for food and for petrol, which jumped 2 per cent.

Weighing inflation down was heavy discounting in the face of weak consumer demand and rapidly falling prices of imported electronic goods such as computers and audio visual equipment, which slipped 5 per cent in the quarter and 18 per cent over the year.

Going up

Fruit prices +15%

Vegetables +11%

Petrol +2%

Rent +1%

Going down

Children’s clothes -1%

Major appliances -2%

Women’s clothes -3%

Computers, hi-fi -5%

Men’s socks, briefs -7%

SOURCE: ABS CPI, DECEMBER QUARTER 2010

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Fitness the focus for many as 2016 approaches

Chizen Health Club trainer Tom Hopkins helps member Wayde Tobin hit the bikes.AS Dubbo prepares to herald in 2016, residents are thinking hard about their resolutions, and what they want to achieve in the new year.
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Lifestyle changes or shedding some of that Christmas cheer also rank highly as new year’s resolutions, and Chizen Health Club owner Jackie Hopkins said after Christmas there is always a spike in people wanting to improve their health and wellbeing.

“It’s a crazy time of year and you eat a lot of food and drink more and once the new year kicks in it’s great to start shedding again,” Ms Hopkins said.

“The best place to exercise is under the air-conditioning, out of the heat.”

Ms Hopkins said setting more achievable, short term goals is the key to achieving a New Year’s resolution.

She said Chizen’s six-week weight loss challenge would kick off again around the end of the month.

“Usually people succeed better with short term goals,” she said.

“We can reassess them after they’ve achieved that short term goal and change their program, and a lot of people like our classes because they find a group environment is more motivating.”

The city’s politicians have set a few goals of their own for 2016, with continued growth in Dubbo a priority for Deputy Premier and Dubbo MP Troy Grant.

“I don’t make new year’s resolutions, but I’ve got things that we want to do,” Mr Grant said.

“We want to open stages one and two of the hospital in the new year and then set a timeframe for stages three and four, and then progress our investment into cancer equipment.

“I want to guide the councils through the boundary commission process and just keep the momentum going for the Dubbo electorate – more investment, more funding, more jobs.”

Mr Grant said it was unlikely his beard – the subject of much debate in 2015 – would make a return next year.

Member for Parkes Mark Coulton said the federal election would make 2016 a big year politically, and a redistribution at the election will see Parkes take up about half of the landmass of NSW.

“There are a lot of things we’ve started this year and put funding toward that will continue to emerge next year,” Mr Coulton said.

“There was a big domestic violence funding announcement and work with the inland rail will continue.

“Hopefully there is rainfall where it is needed as a lot of the electorate is still in drought. Hopefully we will see more benefits of the CHAFTA (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement).”

Dubbo mayor Mathew Dickerson said he doesn’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, but said his main goal for 2016 would be for Dubbo to avoid amalgamating with Wellington.

He said the Artlands Conference would be a big event for Dubbo in 2016, as will the Junior Indoor Cricket National Championships.

“We want to make sure we get the weir completed, same with the upgrade of the cattle facilities,” Cr Dickerson said.

“The controversial one will be the trial of the organics bin – that will start around late January.

“And Eumungerie will be connected to water this year so that’ll be a huge breakthrough for Eumungerie.”

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Vandalism attack at Dubbo Animal Shelter

An after hours pen at Dubbo Animal Shelter was vandalised on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Photo: CONTRIBUTED
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SECURITY footage will be reviewed to try to find who is responsible for a vandalism attack at the Dubbo Animal Shelter.

A hole was cut in an after hours pen on Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

People who dropped off animals in that period were being urged to contact the shelter in the aim that information provided might help identify the offender or offenders.

A spokesperson for the shelter said it was a disappointing development, given one overnight pen was already out of action due to vandalism just before Christmas.

With fireworks traditionally spooking some pets and prompting numerous runaways, it was expected the pens could get a fair bit of use on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in Dubbo.

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New wave of locusts in state’s south

FARMERS’ hopes that rains had averted a locust plague have been dashed – a ”second wave” has hatched in southern NSW.
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Large locust bands have been sighted in crops and pastures around Corowa. Aerial surveillance has found other clusters on the ground around Albury and Deniliquin, said the NSW deputy plague locust commissioner, Suzanne Robinson.

Spur-throated locusts, cousins of the Australian plague locusts, have damaged citrus orchards and cotton crops in the state’s north-west, she said. They had been sighted from Brewarrina to Cobar.

She said this species prefers tropical and wet conditions and does not aggregate in dense bands, making control more difficult. ”Spur-throated locusts cannot be seen from the air, meaning aerial surveillance is not possible,” she said.

Australian plague locusts, as well as feasting on the greenery made lush by rain and floods, are leaving vivid marks on southern highways after hatching from eggs laid on cleared roadside land, said the Corowa Shire mayor, Fred Longmire. ”It’s like someone splashed the road with red dye,” he said.

The postmaster in the village of Balldale, Bernie Carter, told him locusts had swarmed over the entire road along the 200 metres between its pub and post office.

”People are a little bit anxious about it,” said Mr Longmire, who fears that thick foliage will make it hard to find and spray locusts and in autumn another wave will eat the green shoots of new crops.

Many farmers had harvested their summer crops, which were badly damaged but high yielding because of rain, he said.

Ms Robinson said the fresh spike of locust sightings in the south followed intense adult activity late last year, particularly around Albury, Corowa, Gundagai and Wagga Wagga.

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Push to sack the Union Jack

MORE than a dozen former Australians of the Year have sparked a fresh debate on the national flag, saying the time for change is long overdue.
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In an unprecedented show of strength and purpose, the award recipients signed a statement saying the present flag is a transitional symbol that “highlights and promotes the flag of another nation”, the British Union Jack.

The current design was a source of confusion overseas and considerable embarrassment at home, Patrick McGorry, the outgoing 2010 award winner, said yesterday.

“It’s time Australia grew up. Right now, it’s a bit like a slowly maturing Generation Y adolescent, a 27-year-old who just won’t leave home,” he said, calling on the nation to move belatedly into “independent adulthood”.

Professor McGorry, a mental health expert who believes a new flag is now an “achievable goal” on the way to the greater prize of a republic, is one of 15 former winners to have signed a statement calling for change.

Other signatories include clean-up campaigner Ian Kiernan (Australian of the Year 1994), swimmers Dawn Fraser (1964) and Shane Gould (1972) and scientists Sir Gustav Nossal (2000), Ian Frazer (2006) and Tim Flannery (2007).

Ausflag, which drafted the statement, believes it can secure support from other award recipients, including runner Cathy Freeman (1998). It is understood only a few of the previous winners approached withheld support.

“This is a major breakthrough, backed by some of the nation’s most respected people,” said Harold Scruby, who founded Ausflag in 1981.

“We must boldly take the next step and define ourselves confidently and distinctly before the world. Our new flag must be unambiguously and inclusively Australian, representing all of us equally.

“We believe the time has come to embrace a flag worthy of our sovereign, independent, mature, egalitarian nation; our own flag.”

The proposal, which comes after a series of unsuccessful moves to replace the flag, calls on Parliament to produce a design which, “like our national anthem, can be put to a plebiscite of the Australian people”.

Supporters concede that, like devising an acceptable model for a republic, designing a flag to meet Australia’s needs will not be easy. “So much mythology is involved that a redesign will always be contentious,” said Mr Kiernan.

Ausflag alone has promoted three design competitions: in 1986 leading up to the bicentenary; in 1993 after Sydney won the right to host the 2000 Olympics, and in 1998 in the run-up to the new millennium.

Not surprisingly, though the signatories insist the process should not be divisive, they have different views both on the shortcomings of the present flag and the design of what might replace it.

For example, retired public administrator Lowitja O’Donoghue (1984) said the current design “symbolises dispossession and oppression . . . represents a monoculture and intolerance” towards indigenous people.

But she does not propose replacing it with the Aboriginal flag. “We have lost so much, I’m afraid. We don’t want to lose our flag,” Dr O’Donoghue said.

Professor McGorry said: “I am sure some people will say, ‘Oh, this is not the time, Australia has other priorities.’ But that’s pathetic. Governments can deal with dozens, hundreds of issues at one time. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, you know.”

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Reformers, performers, librarians, contrarians: awards are for all

AS IS customary, a cast of hundreds has been honoured this Australia Day, for services to everything from librarianship to tent boxing.
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The honour roll includes a smattering of household names, such as chef Ian Parmenter, former Australian Medical Association chief Mukesh Haikerwal and fashion designer Liz Davenport. Former treasurer Peter Costello receives the top award. He has been made a Companion of the Order of Australia, along with army chief Ken Gillespie and Queensland Governor Penelope Wensley.

But the list is mostly filled with those who have dedicated themselves to the community largely without wider public recognition, be it out of duty, compassion or compulsion.

Radiographer Mary Nolan began fighting for better accommodation for young people with acquired brain injuries after her son Chris Nolan suffered a multiple organ collapse that resulted in permanent brain injury and was forced to live in a nursing home for the aged.

“It’s a real mix of feelings, a sense of real privilege and also of being humbled, because this belongs to not just me but to a lot of others who’ve gone on this journey the last 14 years,” Mrs Nolan said from the family’s farm near Meredith yesterday.

Today she becomes a member of the general division of the Order of Australia.

Her son remains in an aged care facility in Melbourne, but before he was struck down he was one of the founders of the much-loved Meredith Music Festival, for which many would gladly see him honoured for services to rock’n’roll.

Elsewhere in country Victoria, Dimboola farmer Darryl Argall has also been made a member of the general division for prolific community work and fierce advocacy for water reform and land care. “Volunteerism in the rural areas is exceptional, everybody is a volunteer in one form or another, it’s as simple as that. Life wouldn’t go on without it,” Mr Argall said.

A little more than 10 years ago, during the drought, when he was Dimboola Shire mayor, Mr Argall stood on the dry bed of the Wimmera River with then premier Steve Bracks and pressed him on the need for water reform to avert the potential death of farming communities in the Wimmera-Mallee.

Yesterday he acknowledged the superb irony of being honoured days after a flood had passed through his town, as he spoke to The Age from a fishing boat on the swollen Wimmera River, stopping to reel in a redfin mid-interview.

But he warned that the recent rains were no cause for complacency. “I think we’re going to have a lot more of these severe weather events, whether it’s drought or it’s rain,” he said.

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The hottest weather this summer is upon us

Sydney is tipped to reach 33 degrees today, which would make it the hottest Australia day in 31 years of records.
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The interior was baking yesterday with temperatures reaching up to 48 degrees at Woomera, 14 degrees above the average and the warmest in 61 years for January.

A severe fire danger warning was issued by the Bureau of Meteorology for South Australia in; the Northwest Pastoral, Northeast Pastoral, West Coast, Eastern Eyre Peninsula, Flinders, Mid North and Riverland districts. Gusty northerly winds and the extreme heat have brought the fire prone conditions.

Western NSW sizzled on Tuesday with temperatures reaching into the low 40s. Lightning Ridge recorded 43 degrees, which is 7 above average and the warmest day in seven years for January.

We are experiencing the hottest weather of the summer so far due to clearer skies over the interior, which have allowed heat to build over the past several days.

This heat will continue to move east today, with Australia day to promote water based activities across NSW and QLD.

A cool southerly change will drop temperatures in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne on Friday.

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

The hottest weather this summer is upon us

The interior was baking yesterday with temperatures reaching up to 48 degrees at Woomera, 14 degrees above the average and the warmest in 61 years for January.
Nanjing Night Net

A severe fire danger warning was issued by the Bureau of Meteorology for South Australia in; the Northwest Pastoral, Northeast Pastoral, West Coast, Eastern Eyre Peninsula, Flinders, Mid North and Riverland districts. Gusty northerly winds and the extreme heat have brought the fire prone conditions.

Western NSW sizzled on Tuesday with temperatures reaching into the low 40s. Lightning Ridge recorded 43 degrees, which is 7 above average and the warmest day in seven years for January.

We are experiencing the hottest weather of the summer so far due to clearer skies over the interior, which have allowed heat to build over the past several days.

This heat will continue to move east today, with Australia day to promote water based activities across NSW and QLD.

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