Native bees make good pets

Dr Tim Heard with a native stingless bee hive. BEES make good pets.
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So says insect scientist Tim Heard, who has a bee in his bonnet over the little creatures.

‘‘It sounds a bit funny, but they do make fantastic pets,’’ Dr Heard said, of native stingless bees.

A native stingless bee hive.

Dr Heard will hold free workshops on the bees in Lake Macquarie this weekend.

To the ordinary punter, bees that don’t sting sound like an oddity.

‘‘They’re the pacifists of the bee world,’’ Dr Heard said.

‘‘They don’t look like your typical image of a bee – they’re small and black.’’

The former CSIRO entomologist said the bees were ‘‘unthinking little automotons [machines] with no consciousness or intelligence’’.

Nevertheless, they were driven to do their jobs and capable of working together to create complex nest structures.

Colonies consist of one queen, sterile female workers and male drones that ‘‘don’t do any work’’.

The drones simply ‘‘attempt to mate with the queen on the few occasions when she needs to mate’’.

‘‘They have a similar complex society to European honey bees.’’

Kids love them, Dr Heard said.

‘‘In some ways, it’s the kids who don’t do so well in the formal education system who are most interested in these bees,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s a way of drawing kids, who may not otherwise be so conscientious in the classroom, into educational experiences.’’

Lake Macquarie City Council, which is hosting the workshops, said attendees could learn about what’s involved in ‘‘keeping these perfect pollinators in your own backyard’’.

Participants could observe the ‘‘internal structure of hives and sample some incredible native bee honey’’.

Dr Heard said the bees were ‘‘great for conservation and permaculture’’.

They collect pollen and nectar for their own needs and ‘‘in the process they pollinate the plants, which results in higher yields’’.

The bees pollinate crops such as macadamias, avocado, citrus, lychees, blueberries and strawberries.

They produce only small amounts of honey.

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Samantha Clenton hits the road to pay for new wheels


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ON THE GO: Newcastle apprentice Samantha Clenton has ridden 58 winners this season. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

HIGH-FLYING Newcastle apprentice Samantha Clenton is aiming for a rare treble on Saturday when she rides at both the Rosehill and Broadmeadow race meetings.

Jockeys in the past have ridden at two venues on the one day, but it is a rarity these days.

Clenton was involved in a minor car accident while driving to the Wyong meeting on Thursday. However, the accident did not dent her confidence as she produced a daring front-running ride to win on the Hunter Valley-trained Loyalist a few hours later.

Clenton will be aboard her boss Kris Lees’ smart filly Marple Miss in the opening event at Rosehill at 1.05pm.

All going well, she will have plenty of time to drive back up the M1 to pilot Rustic Melody for Lees in race seven at Broadmeadow at 5.10pm.

Clenton rounds off the day on Merry Christmas in the final event at Broadmeadow.

The state’s leading apprentice this season said she was looking forward to the ordeal.

‘‘It is no big deal riding at both tracks the way the races are spaced,’’ the 22-year-old said. ‘‘Marple Miss ($2.80 fav) is a very good ride as she is in terrific form with easy wins at her last two starts at Randwick and Wyong.

‘‘I didn’t ride Marple Miss at Randwick but I rode her two starts back when she won by 5 lengths at Wyong. She is a very nice filly and with 55.5 kilos on her back tomorrow she is very well placed.

‘‘Rustic Melody is first-up, but she goes good and I am expecting her to test these. I have ridden Merry Christmas a couple of times and he is an honest trier who likes the Broadmeadow track.

‘‘I am aiming for a treble so we will see how we go. I want to buy a new car so I have to keep riding winners.’’

Clenton has ridden 58 winners this season and sits fifth behind Blake Shinn, James McDonald, Robert Thompson and Hugh Bowman in the NSW premiership.

It is another busy day for the Lees stable on Saturday with runners at Rosehill (Marple Miss, Oriental Lady and Hera), Sandown (Moment of Music), Doomben (Artibai) and Broadmeadow (Knit ‘n’ Purl, Land Grant, Beyond, Danish Twist, Who’s Next and Rustic Melody). Land Grant and Who’s Next both have bright prospects at Broadmeadow.

Former Perth jockey Paul ‘‘The Duck’’ King has a full book of eight rides and he told the Herald on Friday that Themis (race one) and Don Pellegrino (race eight) were his best.

‘‘Themis is trained by Gai [Waterhouse] and she pulled up lame when down the track in the Gimcrack at her only start,’’ he said. ‘‘She raced on the speed that day and she went well in a recent trial.

‘‘Don Pellegrino is a progressive horse of Paul Perry’s which ran on strong late to finish third first-up at Scone recently. I have ridden this horse in four of his five starts and he won second-up in his only preparation. He is up in class but is on the limit weight.’’

Australian Test cricket captain Steve Smith will have an eye on Broadmeadow on Saturday when Sashay, which he part-owns, runs in an 1850m maiden.

Trained by Chris Waller, Sashay is a former New Zealand mare which has had two starts in this country, both at Broadmeadow. She goes to a more suitable trip on Saturday and she should have a cosy run back on the rail from her favourable draw.

Meanwhile, Newcastle Jockey Club directors, members and staff are in mourning following the death of past chairman and life member Ross Magin.

Magin was chairman from 1989 to 1992 and he held several other positions during his time on the NJC board.

‘‘Ross will be sadly missed by all,’’ NJC chairman Geoff Barnett said.

‘‘Ross was a major contributor to the operations of the club and years after he resigned from the board he continued to attend race meetings at Broadmeadow.

‘‘I sat with Ross at the Boxing Day meeting and he commented on how great it was to see a crowd of young racegoers in attendance.’’

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Cooks Hill Surf Club members to paddle at Gallipoli: photos

Cooks Hill Surf Club members to paddle at Gallipoli: photos Cooks Hill Surf Club are sending a surf boat crew to Gallipoli to compete in the 100 year anniversary race. From left, Phillip Garroway, Allan McKeown, Mick Eager, Ian Buster Byrnes, Gavin Leigh. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
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Cooks Hill Surf Club are sending a surf boat crew to Gallipoli to compete in the 100 year anniversary race. From left, Ian Buster Byrnes, Gavin Leigh, Phillip Garroway, Allan McKeown, Michael Eagar.Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Cooks Hill Surf Club are sending a surf boat crew to Gallipoli to compete in the 100 year anniversary race. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Cooks Hill Surf Club are sending a surf boat crew to Gallipoli to compete in the 100 year anniversary race. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Cooks Hill Surf Club are sending a surf boat crew to Gallipoli to compete in the 100 year anniversary race. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Cooks Hill Surf Club are sending a surf boat crew to Gallipoli to compete in the 100 year anniversary race. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Cooks Hill Surf Club are sending a surf boat crew to Gallipoli to compete in the 100 year anniversary race. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Cooks Hill Surf Club are sending a surf boat crew to Gallipoli to compete in the 100 year anniversary race. From left, Michael Eager, Gavin Leigh, Phillip Garroway, Allan McKeown, Ian Buster Byrnes. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Cooks Hill Surf Club are sending a surf boat crew to Gallipoli to compete in the 100 year anniversary race. From left, Michael Eager, Gavin Leigh, Phillip Garroway, Allan McKeown, Ian Buster Byrnes. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Cooks Hill Surf Club are sending a surf boat crew to Gallipoli to compete in the 100 year anniversary race. From left, Michael Eager, Gavin Leigh, Phillip Garroway, Allan McKeown, Ian Buster Byrnes. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

TweetFacebookIT has been nearly 100 years since Australian soldiers arrived at Anzac Cove as part of World War I. To mark the centenary of that famous landing, five members of the Cooks Hill Surf Club will paddle around the same legendary peninsula on April 22 and 23.

Many of the club’s members have relatives who were Diggers while others are current members of the Australian Defence Force, making the paddle an especially emotional experience.

The club, established in 1911, even had two members who fought in – and survived – the Gallipoli campaign.

‘‘To experience the conditions that the Anzacs Experienced a century ago is an absolute privilege’’, crew member Allan McKeown said.

The Gallipoli 100 Surf Boat Race promises harsh and unpredictable conditions for the crew, who will carry the names of all Gallipoli Diggers from the Hunter with them.

The team is still seeking financial support and is urging the Hunter community to help them out.

Visit the Cooks Hill Surf Club Facebook page here.

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TOPICS: Batman chases demons out of resident’s vents

SCREECH: Microbat. Picture: Justin McManusWHEN an elderly lady in Stroud kept waking up to demons in the night – at least they seemed like demons, flying and screeching and the like – Geoff Delooze got a call.
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Geoff’s an animal catcher. You might remember him from last year, when media outlets went crazy about the giant red belly black snake he caught in Cameron Park. The story went viral. But back to the bat lady. She wasn’t mad, Geoff assured her. There was something in her vents.

‘‘With all the lights coming on to attract insects and the vents, it was like a little cave for them,’’ he says.

They were a colony of bent-wing microbats. Geoff and his colleague Bernie Marmulla deal with the tiny insect-eating species about once a year. For animal catchers, being called out to a microbat job is much cooler than a fruitbat job, and a nice change from snakes.

‘‘They’ve got a massive range,’’ says Geoff of the bats.

‘‘These ones are a good chance of flying back to where they came from.’’

Even if that happens, though, the lady’s vents are now sealed off. Geoff and Bernie were last night releasing the bats over Glenrock State Conservation Area, where it’s hoped they’ll find a new home.

Please enable Javascript to watch this video NICKLE’S WORTH: Nickelback will return to Newcastle in May.

THOSE who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, which could explain how Nickelback are playing in Newcastle again.

The band’s No Fixed Address tour in May won’t be the first time the sound of hell opening up has filled Newcastle Entertainment Centre.

Nor will it be our second visit from the band whose music evokes a furniture ad. Who inspired a campaign called ‘‘Dontletnickelback’’. Who lost an online popularity contest to a pickle. It will actually be our third.

‘‘The band’s worldwide album sales exceed 50million, solidifying their status as the second best-selling foreign act of the 21st century in the US behind only the Beatles,’’ warns the press kit, like an intelligence briefing.

To steel us for Nickelback’s third coming, we’ll give you a taste of their lyrics each week. Call it Nickelback Saturday. Ready?

‘‘And we’ll hide out in the private rooms/With the latest dictionary and today’s who’s who/

They’ll get you anything with that evil smile/Everybody’s got a drug dealer on speed dial.’’

Now you know what you’re dealing with, May might be a good month to get out of town.

WORD of the week: ‘‘Disgruntled’’, from Bob Ingle of Karuah.

‘‘I am disgruntled at the performance of the Liberal government and Tony Abbott in particular and am not happy with the federal ALP either,’’ says Bob.

‘‘I would like to be gruntled again.’’

Promotion of the week: Sanbah Surf Shop, ‘‘Sharksale’’.

Tweet of the week: ‘‘Nothing to see here, folks’’ tweet of the week, during yesterday’s leadership spill announcement: Liberal MP Bob Baldwin posts a photo of himself presenting Marine Rescue Lemon Tree Passage’s Greg Stuchley with a medal for 15 years’ service.

BUSINESS AS USUAL: Bob Baldwin presents Greg Stuchley with a well deserved award.

Headline of the week: From the Air Force Association Advocate: ‘‘Former RAAF nursing officer speaks about missionary position in PNG’’.

​Email Tim [email protected]杭州龙凤419m.au or tweet @TimConnell or phone 4979 5944

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Tritton seeks state double

PREPARATION: Trainer Shane Tritton and Easy On The Eye working out. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
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NSW premiership leader Shane Tritton is quietly confident of pushing for group success across two states on Saturday night as he focuses on a dual shot at group1 glory in Victoria.

The Keinbah trainer and NSW premiership-leading driver Lauren Panella will be at Melton on Saturday night as Easy On The Eye and Artistic Flite chase wins in the group1 Hunter Cup (3280 metres) and Victorian Derby (2240m) respectively.

Tritton and Panella will also challenge for the group3 Four-Year-Old Bonanza with Yayas Hot Spot, which finished third in the Victorian Derby for the Hunter combination last year.

Artistic Flite, an $18 chance with TAB Sportsbet on Friday, came through a tough run in the Derby heats to finish fourth but has drawn well in gate four for the finals.

Tritton said the group1 Gold Crown winner was underdone for the heats because of a lack of available racing and recent wet weather but showed his ability last week and loomed as a greater threat than Yayas Hot Spot was in 2014.

‘‘They are different types of horses but I think this horse has got a bit more depth to him and hopefully that tells in the end,’’ Tritton said. ‘‘Last year they turned the derby into a sprint home, but I think this year it will be more of a staying test and I think that suits this horse a lot better.

‘‘He’s a really nice horse and is the only one who sat in the chair in the heats and got through. It’s hard to do that on a cold and windy night, so we’re pretty confident of him being right in the mix.

‘‘He’s worked on really well this week and feels super, and having a frontline draw helps as well. He’ll be more than competitive.’’

Easy On The Eye, a $41 hope on Friday, has drawn the inside of the second line for the standing start Hunter Cup and Tritton was hopeful of him gaining a forward spot on the rails.

‘‘It’s a two-mile race and you want to get as many shortcuts as you can for as long as you can,’’ he said.

‘‘He’s going to get a nice run, he steps away very good and he’s had a lot of standing starts.

‘‘They are good horses in front of us, so hopefully they can bring us right into it and we are ready to go when we get our chance.’’

Yayas Hot Spot was at $14 in the market after drawing the outside of the front line.

‘‘It’s a pity we didn’t draw better, but he has raced against and beaten a lot of the horses in the race, so we’re quietly confident he’s right up to them,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s the most even race of the night, though, and he’s going to need luck at the start to get into position.’’

Tritton will be also watching Menangle on the same night with interest as exciting two-year-old Salty Robyn contests the group3 NSW Sapling Stakes.

He will also have Saucy Legend, one of six Interdominion nominations from the stable, racing in the group3 Tony Turnbull Cup.

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SPORTING DECLARATION: Own goals cruel Jets

SIGN OF THE TIMES: A banner at Friday night’s game against Brisbane. Picture: Dean OslandTHE Newcastle Jets have become a circus, and their fans, unsurprisingly, are over it.
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In the four years and four months since Nathan Tinkler assumed ownership of Newcastle’s A-League franchise, highlights have been few and far between, and the past few weeks have been nothing short of an embarrassment, on and off the pitch.

Like Football Federation Australia officials, Jets fans are entitled to have formed the view that Tinkler has outstayed his welcome.

Friday’s announcement that some Jets creditors had been paid, having waited impatiently for long-overdue liabilities to be settled, was hardly a cause for celebration.

Rather, it was a case of too little, too late. Even if the one-time billionaire was to start paying his bills in a timely fashion, thereby avoiding the type of publicity for which he has become notorious, what evidence is there that he has the faintest idea how to turn the Jets around after five seasons of mediocrity?

His track record speaks for itself.

He may as well have burned the hundreds of millions of dollars he pumped into his Patinack Farm horse-racing failure.

The Knights were in disarray when he was ousted in June and face a long process, under NRL management, of rebuilding and restoring credibility.

The Jets appear even more of a basket case.

While an FFA coup to remove Tinkler would meet with widespread approval in Newcastle – the city he recently declared has ‘‘done nothing but shit on me’’ – what happens next?

Who would step in to assume control?

Reading between the lines, it seems Scottish Premier League club Dundee United’s owner, Stephen Thompson, is ready and willing to step into the breach if offered the opportunity.

Thompson’s financial credentials and footballing background paint him as an attractive option. Yet anyone who assumes the Scotsman will be Newcastle’s round-ball saviour would appear to have a short memory.

Haven’t we been down this road several times before?

Just wind back the clock to October 2010, when Tinkler was handed Newcastle’s A-League licence. At the time, the overwhelming reaction was relief and gratitude, especially when within a matter of weeks it was announced that the Jets would be hosting a match against David Beckham’s LA Galaxy.

Initially, at least, Tinkler was regarded as a godsend.

Ten years earlier, Con Constantine was similarly well received when he bailed out the Newcastle Breakers after the demise of David Hall.

And so on, and so on.

The recurring theme has been that an owner falls on hard times, an alternative emerges to bankroll the club, and the logical assumption is that nobody would volunteer for such a role unless they were sufficiently cashed-up.

But just as Tinkler was something of a mystery man when he took over the Jets, what do we really know of Thompson?

And if Thompson – or any other owner for that matter – was handed control of the club, what measures are in place to guarantee history does not repeat itself?

Thompson may be a successful businessman with football in his blood. But his knowledge of the Australian game, and the Newcastle commercial market, would seem limited. And no matter how good his intentions, it is hard to imagine his No.1 priority will not always be Dundee United.

Sourcing franchise owners has been problematic for FFA since the A-League’s inception.

Most clubs have changed hands at some point. A-League outfits in Auckland, Townsville and Gold Coast have been wound up, perhaps never to return.

High-profile but controversial owners like Tinkler and Clive Palmer have caused a procession of dramas that brought FFA’s due-diligence process into question.

And when a club becomes so dysfunctional that an ownership change is required, FFA is forced to intervene and rebuild everything from scratch.

So what is the solution?

I would suggest some form of start-up deposit, in the form of a bank guarantee, would be useful in ensuring owners conduct their business appropriately.

If and when they decide to move on, if the club is in healthy shape, the deposit is refunded. If not, it is used to pay whatever debts have been incurred, rather than leaving behind a financial mess. Whether that would be enforceable is another matter altogether.

One thing I feel confident in saying is that the Jets need not always be a money pit, whoever owns them. Given the FFA’s annual grant covers the cost of the salary cap, it should not necessarily be an expensive exercise to run a club.

As the Jets showed during their halcyon seasons between 2006 and 2008, when they are challenging for the title everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon.

Put a successful team on the park and the club’s 9000-plus members will grow. A full Hunter Stadium can again be a regular sight.

The Asian Cup was a reminder of football’s potential in Our Town.

Build it and they will come, in other words. But somehow, given the bridges he has burned, I can’t see that vision becoming a reality until Tinkler’s tumultuous tenure becomes a fading memory.

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OPINION: City’s future depends on rail returning

NEWCASTLE city has enjoyed four smoothly working transport interchanges: Hamilton, Wickham, Civic and Newcastle, the final destination.
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It has a ferry link, a tourist ‘‘tram’’ and a bus station gracefully unobtrusive among giant pines. Newcastle Station has no steps. Its many top destinations are tightly set around it, minutes away on foot, and easy with a bike, surfboard, walker or prams and small kids.

At business peak hours, the four stations distribute passengers, saving the terminus from congestion. This level of provision and efficiency is rare worldwide.

But Newcastle also connects bush to beach, inland to ocean. It is where the regions meet their regional city, and the only beaches they can reach without driving.

But some want Newcastle station to appear useless. They said the railway was in the way of something, and the city would be more vital without it.

Left off their maps were: four beaches minutes from the Newcastle Station, famous YHA, extensive harbourside gardens, rock pools, the baths, fishing spots, grass amphitheatre, Nobbys and Fort Scratchley. Newcastle East blows every tourist’s mind.

We reminded the government how Newcastle Station is packed at surf festivals, fun runs, celebrations and events. Up to its full capacity (169,000 seats arriving per week) is used over days of crowd activity on the foreshores. We were ignored.

So was the obvious principle that big development needs mass transport, or it fails in a mess of congestion on this tiny peninsula.

Government is ditching the best tourist future in NSW, employing city and country people, young and old.

Deloitte Access Economics says tourism will take over from coal. Best model example, Newcastle.

The Hunter rail line is heavily used. On the Scone branch, trains are full at mid-journey. We have maximum usage of present passenger capacity now, let alone when populations grow. Rail capacity at Newcastle gives the city a future.

Some were fooled into worshipping light rail. But the shortest tramline anywhere, with negative cost benefit, is pathetic beside the trains’ 169,000-seat capacity entering Newcastle each week with nothing to spend.

Young people I have met were devastated that their carefree easy movement was to be strangled.

The traffic has increased in town, country people have only a tiny window of time before two or three hours’ travel back again.

Maitland boys say they will be stopped from unsupervised beach visits without the station only four minutes’ walk from the beach.

Less able people will never reach that shoreline again, unable to make a mode change. For the inlanders, the only regional city and beach is Newcastle. Chaos, grief, anxiety and depression pervade Hamilton now. Newcastle’s four tracks don’t fit into two at Hamilton.

We have three rocks of hope: the parliamentary inquiry, the court challenge and the claim by Aboriginal elders.

Newcastle’s future depends on rail returning. But so does the shared economy between regions and city.

So does the health of regional people – with the worst heart disease in the state – whose exercise at the beach costs the government nothing.

So does the mental health of coal miners who need beach days for recovery, safely off-road. So do the lives of youngsters driving because boards and bikes don’t fit on buses. Enough have died on our highways. Certainly at stake is the reputation of governments, which only pretend to care.

They are in danger now.

Bev Atkinson holds a Bachelor of Architecture and lives in Scone

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OPINION: Future-proofed education

GOING AHEAD: Funding has been approved for the NeW Space precinct.IN two years, NeW Space will open its doors to students: the first generation of University of Newcastle students to benefit from our ‘‘next-generation’’ facility, which was approved this week by the NSW government.
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As the new dean of the Newcastle Business School, which will be at the heart of the NeW Space precinct, this is an exciting time to join the university.

At the business school, our students join us from more than 100countries and from all walks of life, and will go on to careers that are just as diverse in business, industry, government and not-for-profit sectors.

In a highly competitive global job market, a modern business school education should not only reflect this diversity but also ensure our graduates have the skills they need to be active, thoughtful and productive members of our workforce.

This is the driving force behind the innovations in teaching and learning at NeW Space. While we certainly hope the striking angles, bold design and cutting-edge technology will inspire talented people to experience the transformation that higher education can deliver, underpinning this physical change is a fundamental change to what and how we teach our students.

Our students will justifiably expect a future-proofed qualification from a world-class university that not only anticipates but helps them to shape the business trends of the coming decades.

We have already introduced blended learning, which mixes the ease of online content delivery with the in-depth learning experience of face-to-face engagement with lecturers and peers.

Building skills in entrepreneurship – both traditional and social – and harnessing the energy of co-operative organisations is also a central platform, as is leveraging the tangible creative zeal across Newcastle to help students shape their own careers in areas that may not yet exist.

Our students will also need to understand and navigate the complex ethical questions that shape modern business decisions and corporate governance.

Students increasingly see themselves as creators, not consumers, particularly in relation to their future careers. Whatever their own vision for their career – entrepreneur, chief executive, financial leader, risk specialist, community leader, social innovator, or a combination of these and others – their education will need to equip them to be flexible and adapt to change.

Our specialist management disciplines and professional programs will focus on entrepreneurship as well as on unique features of the region’s business landscape such as co-operative management. We will teach students how to understand, analyse and manage risk and harness the energy of co-operation and community in the real world of business. These issues are at the core of contemporary business practice and will be a central feature of our curriculum, underpinned by engagement from regional business to build our students’ capacity to think creatively and succeed in the ‘‘real world’’.

Business success relies on a portfolio of skills and at NeW Space, our students will have the opportunity to master them, including the practicalities of decision making across sectors. Technology-enabled ‘‘decision-making labs’’ will teach students about business, community and household decisions, as well as their risk and impact, so our graduates will be equipped to make a difference in the workplace from day one.

When completed, NeW Space will be located on one of the most prominent streets in the city, at the heart of our growing education precinct and close to the city’s central business hub. It will be a global beacon for Newcastle, attracting ever more world-class academics to our business school, generating cutting-edge teaching and research, and a resource for our community, hosting public lectures, community events, business forums and networking meetings.

But most importantly, it will help build what every economically sustainable, world-class city needs: a population with a diversity of high-quality, practical and innovative skills. It is vital that we do. As the Hunter’s economy transitions, our graduates will be the building blocks of a vibrant, sustainable regional economy and a resilient community ready to take its place on the world stage.

Professor Morris Altman is Dean and Head of School, Newcastle Business School

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EDITORIAL: Liberals facing a spill

Abbott stands his ground ahead of spill: poll
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THE phones will be running hot in Liberal-land. Now that a motion has been foreshadowed to hold a spill of the federal leader and deputy leader positions on Tuesday, numbers are everything.

Assuming the vote is actually put, any challenger will need 52 votes from among the 102 Liberal senators and parliamentary party members.

Politics being what it is, the next few days will be characterised by bluff, bluster, concealed intentions, a calling in of past favours and the wholesale creation of a whole litter of new ones.

But will any quantity of promises be enough to induce a majority of Liberal backbenchers to fall in, once again, behind Tony Abbott?

And if they do, how long will the party be able to hold its nerve?

One school of thought maintains that many Liberal MPs have completely lost confidence in Mr Abbott and his close cabinet colleagues.

Those same MPs watched in glee as his belligerence in opposition battered a fragile ALP, and they swept to power in the wake of his adamant promises to do things better than Labor had.

But since then, things have not run smoothly. Insisting that his government’s wide margin of victory provided a mandate for a string of broken promises, Mr Abbott embarked on what many perceived as an ideologically driven bid to remake Australian society along lines prescribed, seemingly, by big business.

Not even his most influential and vocal boosters have been able to sell his attempted reforms to the public. Instead, Mr Abbott’s stocks have sunk from an already low base to levels that even his party finds alarming.

It would appear that many voters have been irrevocably turned off by the Prime Minister and his penchant for suddenly announcing ‘‘bold’’ but ill-considered policy tilts.

Restoring trust would require a sustained period of self-discipline that few probably regard Mr Abbott as being capable of. A bigger problem is that voters now believe they know exactly what an Abbott-led government stands for, and they very clearly don’t like it.

The shock Queensland election result has been read by many as a voter judgment on the hard-right policies and programs that are now synonymous with the Abbott brand.

The Liberals sense they can save their government from being a one-term wonder, but they know they don’t have much time.

The question they will answer on Tuesday is whether they believe they can leave their leadership team as it is, and somehow persuade voters to put aside their suspicion and distrust in time to make the next election winnable again.

Or whether they think a full reboot, with a new leader and new approach, offers the best chance of survival.

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GREG RAY: Selling a mullock heap

SAY I was some rich bloke and I owned two really important pieces of land, one close to your home and another one closer to the home of some good pals of mine.
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And say that for as long as anybody could remember I’d been renting the land near you to some characters who just wanted somewhere to park piles of coal, in between digging it out of the ground and selling it. I’d been getting good rent, plus a fat fee from my tenants, linked to the size of their dirt piles near your house.

The other block of ground I owned was bigger, closer to where some of my posh mates lived, and I pulled a fair bit of rent from it too.

For years you’d been whingeing to me about how the bit of land near you ought to be used for other stuff, not just a big coal-dump. Why didn’t I build some new warehouses there, or other stuff that might really add some value to your neighbourhood?

If I used this bit of land of mine more intelligently, I could make a big difference to your quality of life, you said.

But my coal-digger tenants didn’t want me listening to you. They didn’t want anything getting in the way of more and bigger coal piles, and they told me you were just an uppity git from bogan stock and not worth a pinch of you-know-what.

Say I pretty much agreed with them, not that I’d ever tell you that.

Anyway, say one day I got sick of owning these bits of land and wanted to flog them off.

You were cheering, because you thought maybe somebody with half a brain might buy the bit near you and use it for something other than a mullock heap, transforming your neighbourhood from a grimy dustbowl into something a bit more, you know, up-market.

I was happy to let you believe that, but being a cunning dog I was shafting you in secret.

My other block of land, the one not anywhere near where you live, was on the market and I was hoping to get really big bucks for it. But some of the would-be buyers were umming and ahhing and kicking the tyres and asking how could they be sure that one of their competitors wouldn’t buy my grotty old mullock heap, put some shiny warehouses on it and interfere with the profits they hoped to earn from owning my hoity-toity block of land.

No problem, I told them. Let’s get some lawyers to put a secret clause in the contract for both my blocks of land stipulating that if anybody buys the mullock-heap and tries to build a shiny warehouse they will have to pay compensation to the owner of the hoity-toity block for daring to compete.

Wow, can you even do that, they asked me. Money runs this show, I told them. You just watch me.

So that’s exactly what I did.

Now, let’s imagine I’m actually not just some random rich guy after all, but a state government.

And let’s imagine the two bits of ground are not just any old blocks of dirt, but are really the ports of Sydney and Newcastle. Can you guess which one is the mullock heap?

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it, that a government that purports to represent the entire state of NSW and which also claims to believe in free markets and competition, would pull such a dirty stunt that is so clearly and deliberately designed to hold one city back and prevent its economic advancement?

If this wasn’t NSW it might be hard to believe, but if you study the history of this sorry state you will see the commercial interests of Sydney have always been promoted over those of Newcastle.

As if Sydney even needs help. In this case the suppression of Newcastle’s interests was almost incidental, in that the main aim was to get the highest price for the Port of Sydney by guaranteeing Newcastle would never be allowed to compete in the container trade.

If anything, that’s even more insulting. Like, give me some extra dollars and I’ll cripple that mangy dog so it never bites you.

No wonder the government feels obliged to give Newcastle a small fraction of the sale proceeds from the long-term lease over the city’s own port. Kind of a guilty afterthought, maybe? Still, they didn’t have to …

But don’t you worry about the government. It won’t be out of pocket. Newcastle will repay this little ‘‘favour’’ a hundred times over by the time the Macquarie Street mandarins have finished with us.

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