Unionist Kathy Jackson to go on trial as bid for delay due to house fire rejected

Former HSU boss Kathy Jackson after a suspicious fire at her home north of Wollongong in late January. Photo: Kirk GilmourControversial unionist Kathy Jackson will go on trial for the alleged theft of $1.4 million after a Federal Court judge rejected a bid to adjourn the civil case against Ms Jackson as her house caught fire last week.
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The house fire in Wombarra, north of Wollongong, is being treated by authorities as suspicious, and is the latest drama to involve Ms Jackson. Previously dubbed a “heroic” whistleblower by Tony Abbott for exposing corruption in the Health Services Union, she is now accused of large-scale fraud.

The Federal Court on Friday heard that Ms Jackson was now well enough for the case against her to proceed, after the trial was delayed in November due to her mental health problems.

She had been in a medical facility south of Sydney, under the care of her psychiatrist as a voluntary patient, and unable to give advice to her lawyers.

Justice Richard Tracey set a trial date of June 29 for the case and rejected a bid for an adjournment from Ms Jackson’s lawyer Philip Beazley, as a result of the house fire.

An affidavit from Mr Beazley said the fire destroyed Ms Jackson’s clothes and some personal effects. He said the fire may affect her mental health and Ms Jackson had an appointment with her psychiatrist next week.

Lawyer for the HSU, Mark Irving, said on Friday that they are seeking to expand the case against Ms Jackson after they said they found some more allegedly questionable transactions, although it is understood they are relatively small.

Central to the HSU’s claim against Ms Jackson is a $250,000 payment her No.3 branch received in 2003 from the Peter MacCallum cancer hospital to settle a back-pay dispute. That money was then used as seed money for a bank account personally controlled by her, and from which she spent money on herself at David Jones, JB Hi-Fi, supermarkets, a paediatric dentist and $50,000 on her former husband.

Workers at the hospital did not receive any back-pay.

Another key part of the union’s claim is that Ms Jackson allegedly used union credit cards and cash cheques to misappropriate more than $660,000 for her own use, including on overseas holidays, airline tickets, upmarket dinners, department stores and liquor shops.

Ms Jackson was a key witness last year in the royal commission into union corruption although, despite an interim report by Commissioner Dyson Heydon, is yet to deal with the allegations against her.

It comes as Ms Jackson, who has been on extended sick leave, was formally replaced as national secretary of the HSU on Friday by the acting national secretary, Chris Brown.

Mr Brown said now the “union can truly move forward unshackled by past scandals.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

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Blue chips hit highs – but will run last?

Blue chips – we can’t get enough of them.Shares in most blue-chip stocks favoured for their yield – the big banks, Telstra and Wesfarmers – are hitting record highs as investors dive into the shares.For more on the rate cut and our love affair with blue Chips, read John Collett in Sunday Money
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The spur for the spike has been the Reserve Bank cutting the cash rate by 0.25 percentage points on Tuesday, to a new record low of 2.25 per cent.

With interest rates on shorter maturity term deposits at less than 3 per cent, yield hungry investors have piled into the blue-chips.

Commonwealth Bank shares traded at less than $90 on Monday before pushing above $91 after the rate cut. It hit a high of $93.43 in early trading on Friday.

Most of the other blue-chip yielders are trading at or near record highs.

Despite the share price rises their shares can still be bought on dividend yields, after franking credits, of between 6 and 8 per cent.

The share prices are much more expensive than their international counterparts, with the Commonwealth Bank, in particular, considered overvalued.

Peter Warnes, head of equities research at Morningstar, says that the Commonwealth Bank’s share price is too high.

Investors who are chasing yield have to be careful, he says. Commonwealth Bank has the most expensive shares of the four big banks and the lowest yield, though it is still more than 6 per cent, after franking credits.

The banks remain very good businesses, but caution is needed, he says. Of the blue-chip yielders, Warnes favours Wesfarmers, which owns Coles, Bunnings and Officeworks among others, probably the “safest”, Warnes says. He says those thinking of buying, should wait for market weakness.

“I think that there is a correction in the wind,” he says.

The trigger could well come after the companies have paid their dividends, in late March and early April, Warnes says.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

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Liberal MPs ‘will take whatever action they see fit’: Julie Bishop says on leadership

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop: “I don’t have any advice for my colleagues because they are elected members of Parliament and they will take whatever action they see fit.” Photo: Gary Warrick Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop: “I don’t have any advice for my colleagues because they are elected members of Parliament and they will take whatever action they see fit.” Photo: Gary Warrick
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Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop: “I don’t have any advice for my colleagues because they are elected members of Parliament and they will take whatever action they see fit.” Photo: Gary Warrick

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop: “I don’t have any advice for my colleagues because they are elected members of Parliament and they will take whatever action they see fit.” Photo: Gary Warrick

Treasurer Joe Hockey, who visited a childcare centre in Padstow, says Tony Abbott will “absolutely” remain Prime Minister next week. Photo: Nick Moir

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop has passed up an opportunity to try and quell backbench unrest, saying those pushing for a spill to topple Tony Abbott as Prime Minister will do as they see fit.

In contrast, Treasurer Joe Hockey who was once considered a possible Liberal leader but is now in danger of being dumped in favour of Scott Morrison in any change, is urging his colleagues to back Tony Abbott.

Ms Bishop, who a week ago was considered a leadership contender, is now shoring up her own position as Liberal Party deputy.  It was reported on Friday that cabinet rival Christopher Pyne has been phoning colleagues angling for the deputy position.

The pair appeared together at an early learning centre attached to the Adelaide school Ms Bishop once attended and brushed aside the reports.

“I’ve not been informed that the position of deputy is up for a spill motion, they are separate leadership contests between the leader and the deputy,” she said.

Mr Pyne added: “Julie Bishop makes an outstanding deputy leader, I’m firmly of the view that Julie Bishop should remain as the deputy leader. She has made it perfectly clear that she is not challenging for the leadership, and I expect that she will remain in that job well into the future.”

But when asked if she would advise her colleagues against launching an attempt to dislodge Mr Abbott, Ms Bishop declined.

“No, I don’t have any advice for my colleagues because they are elected members of Parliament and they will take whatever action they see fit,” she said.

“My message to the backbench is focus on teamwork, focus on what we can achieve as a united cohesive team.

“Tony Abbott is the leader of the party, I’m not challenging him but I’m not canvassing the backbench, you know who is canvassing the backbench? The media, so you tell me what’s going on.”

The press conference, which at times descended into farcical scenes, was the third media appearance for Mr Pyne who earlier on Friday gave only a lukewarm assessment of the Prime Minister’s hold on the leadership during a dawn appearance on the Today show.

Mr Pyne was asked if Mr Abbott still has the numbers in the party room.

“That’s a very inexact science, I hope he does, yes,” Mr Pyne said.

“Will he be prime minister next Wednesday?” pressed host Karl Stefanovic.

“Well I certainly hope so,” Mr Pyne replied.

Three hours later he sought to clarify his remarks in an interview with Sky News.  He accused the media of overreacting to his remarks and said he did not intend to fuel the media speculation with his comments.

But Ms Bishop defended her colleague.

“Christopher with the greatest respect doesn’t have a crystal ball,” she said.

“I can’t read people’s minds but what I can say is I’m not campaigning for the job of prime minister, I’m not contacting the backbench seeking their support and I’m not counting numbers,” Ms Bishop added.

Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham added “none of us is Nostradamus” but called on his colleagues to get on with their jobs as parliamentarians.

But speaking in Sydney, Mr Hockey said Tony Abbott would “absolutely” be the Prime Minister next week.

Follow Latika Bourke on Facebook.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

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WWI in the Herald:February 5, 1915

WWI in the Herald: Archive
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FRIDAY 5 FEBRUARY 1915

One development of the patriotic movement in this State has been a greatly increased interest in the rifle clubs. The clubs are really part and parcel of the Commonwealth defence scheme as drawn up by Lord Kitchener.

When that scheme has been in force for some years there will be, practically speaking, no adult males in the community who have not been drilled and taught the use of the rifle.

When a man has done his years of service as a member of one of the militia regiments he will pass into the reserve and then he will become attached to one of the rifle clubs in the district in which he lives. It is true that he will cease to be a citizen soldier in the true sense of the term.

He will, however, still be liable for service, and he will be kept in touch with the authorities through the medium of the rifle club organisation.

At the present time very few members of the rifle clubs have undergone any training. Nearly all of them were over eighteen years of age when compulsory training came in, and they, therefore, escaped the obligation.But at the present time the desire to qualify for defence is so wide that many men are joining the clubs. They are desirous of learning how to use a rifle, and the clubs afford very reasonable facilities to enable them to do so.But from the ranks of the clubs there is coming a request for military instruction, and it is one to which the Defence Department should pay close attention.

No matter how good a shot a man may be, it is obvious that to be a good soldier he must know something about drill and be accustomed to the essentially rigid discipline. Mr. Hughes, the Attorney-General, speaking at a gathering at North Sydney this week, made an eloquent appeal for recruits.

He emphasised the greatness of the struggle in which the Empire is engaged, and discounted the theory that the danger to Australia is too remote to cause alarm.

It is the duty of every man in Australia to equip himself for the war that is here already and for the developments that may come with startling suddenness.

There are many who for various reasons are not suitable for the front, and in any case all cannot go. But of those who cannot go just at present there is a very large proportion ready to prepare themselves for the time when they might be compelled to, or for the time when they might be called upon to act nearer to this country.

Those men are joining the rifle clubs, and it is most desirable that their request for military instruction should be responded to. In this respect ex-military men now beyond the age for active service might render very great assistance by the drilling of the men.

PARIS, Thursday.

The latest communique states:-

German attacks have been repulsed west of Perthes, north of Mesnil les Hurlus, and north of Massiges, in the Champagne district; also at Bagatelle.

A previous communique stated:-

We stopped fireboats launched by the enemy on the Ancre River, north of Albert, before they exploded.

We made slight progress near Perthes and took a number of prisoners.

Elsewhere operations were uneventful. A report from Dunkirk states that the Germans are making a new and violent effort to recover the Great Dune, in Belgium.

The attack began on Sunday, in massed formation. Some reached the allied positions, and were taken prisoners. A terrific bombardment continues.

London, Thursday.

Lord Sydenham, formerly Governor of Victoria (as Sir George Clarke), in a review of the six months of the war, recalls the three years before decisive operations in the American Civil War, and that Plevna was not captured until seven months after the declaration of war.

“Considering the unparalleled magnitude of the operations,” he says, “It is unreasonable to expect greater progress towards a decision. Trench warfare close at hand tends to weaken our sense of prospective.

“It is true the Allies in the west have not achieved more than local successes, but the belief that a deadlock has been reached is superficial and misleading. The Allies have effectually ended the German offensive, and are firmly holding a large part of Germany’s military strength.

“The Allies’ position is steadily growing and the preponderance of their artillery is beginning to be felt. The German soldiers are fighting bravely, but they have learnt that their generals are always ready to sacrifice life on a large scale without the prospect of corresponding advantage.

“The German War Office now knows that it hopelessly underestimated Russia’s fighting capacity and generalship. The great mass of the German people will shortly know that their leaders have brought them to disaster. Germany, though still unconquered, is beaten.”

London, Thursday.

The Turks made an attempt to bridge the canal at Tousoun on Tuesday night, but were repulsed. The British captured the enemy’s bridging material.

The enemy were allowed to bring the material to the bank of the Canal. The British attack was completely successful. The Turks fled in disorder, abandoning the whole of the material, and several were drowned.

An attack was made at Kantara, at daylight on Wednesday, but was easily repulsed. Sixteen Turks were killed or wounded, and forty taken prisoners. The British had three wounded.

The British met the Turks in the vicinity of Ismailia on Tuesday.

The enemy’s ardour was checked by a sandstorm, and their shooting was bad. The British casualties were six wounded.

Bound from Egypt to Wellington, Major J. McClymont arrived in Sydney today, on the P. and O. Royal Mail steamer Egypt. He has been among the Australian and New Zealand troops camped near Cairo, and speaks reassuringly of their welfare. “So far the Australian Expeditionary Forces have only been on a gigantic picnic,” he said, “and they are wondering when the real thing is to begin. Their daily routine is the same as it would be at Liverpool, only the environment is different. The climate is splendid, and I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there.

The Australians are about 15 miles from the New Zealanders, our camp being at Zeitoun, while theirs is at Mena. Both camps are about equi-distant from Cairo, though they are on opposite sides of the city. The local residents are enthusiastic about the boys, and help greatly in the matter of entertainment. We found the native people very nice, too, and I know we impressed their little army.

This force is only kept for show, you know, and you should have seen our soldiers staring when they saw squads of Egyptians at drill. The fighters of the country are the Bedouins and the Sudanese, but they, of course, are a long, long way from Cairo.’

Sydney, Thursday.

“Australia most invade or be invaded,” said Mr. Ashford, the State Minister for Agriculture, today. “We must get it out of our minds, immediately that in sending our men to the front we are only endeavouring to show our practical disapproval for the violation of the neutrality of Belgium.

“We are doing nothing of the kind. We are fighting to prevent Germany taking Australia. We must remember at the present time Germany is an invader.

She is doggedly holding the position she gained, both in Belgium and in France. So far, the Allies have not been able to drive her back, and if the Allies cannot drive her back, Australia will become a Germany possession.

The sight in the city this morning, when those brave men marched through our streets, was one long to be remembered. I feel it a distinct privilege that I had the honour of suggesting this inspiring spectacle.

Few could witness it unmoved. I have read with great interest the marvellous speech delivered by my Federal colleague, the Attorney-General, yesterday. What he says is true.

The people are not wanting in patriotism, but they lack imagination. I do not for a moment pretend to have the faculty of putting into words such a wonderful flow of thought as that so frequently shown by Mr. Hughes.

As a simple man I express myself simply, but it does seem to me that Mr. Hughes’ speech was an effective reply to the speeches delivered at Parramatta on Saturday. This is no time for party warfare, yet the leader of the Federal Opposition is reported to have termed his opponents ‘quacks,’ ‘muddlers,’ and ‘experimenters.’

Mr. James said they were liars. Mr. Levy accused them of being dishonourable men. Mr. Fitzpatrick said that our iniquities were such that we deserved to be ‘hung to the yard-arm.’

Surely the eloquence of those gentlemen might be better used if they combined in an effort to wake the people from their lethargy, stir them up, and make them realise that Australia is fighting for her national existence. It must be admitted that there is no appreciable effect of the war as far as one can see. The theatres are still filled, sports continue and business flows on as usual.

The Ministry is attacked bitterly by the Opposition, while thousands of soldiers are giving their lives, in order that, amongst other things, Australia may remain a nation, and whilst little children are being ruthlessly murdered by the barbaric Germans, women grossly violated, and peaceful towns destroyed. If the members of the Opposition do not realise their responsibilities, how can we expect that the people, whose leaders we profess to be, can do their share.

It will be a noble thing if those who have the power of putting their thoughts into words which will stir and rouse the people should endeavour to assist the military authorities by inducing every able bodied man to prepare to train, by joining a rifle club, so that even if he does not enter into the active lists immediately he will be ready when the time comes to do his share.”

(From Embarkation Rolls)

Private Frank Higgins, Cessnock, 2nd Australian Light Horse Regiment, 7th Reinforcements

Private John Rees, West Wallsend, 17th Infantry Battalion

Corporal Leslie John Rochester, Cessnock, 18th Infantry Battalion

Private Carl William Warburton, Dungog, 5th Field Ambulance, A Section

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Taps of Jessica Silva’s phone in murder probe reveal violence she endured by man she killed

Jessica Silva at the NSW Supreme Court during the trial. Photo: Christopher Pearce Jessica Silva arrives at the NSW Supreme Court on Friday. Photo: Daniel Munoz
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Ice addict James Polkinghorne was the main suspect in the murder of a drug rival, Nikolas Argiropoulos, whose body was dumped in a Birchgrove park in March 2012.

As part of a police investigation into that case, phone calls and text messages to and from the phone of Mr Polkinghorne’s former partner Jessica Silva were being tapped.

Fortuitously, the contents of those covert recordings allowed a court to see and hear the foul, expletive-laden abuse endured by Silva in the days and weeks leading up to Mr Polkinghorne’s death at her hands.

Silva, 25, stabbed Mr Polkinghorne, 28, outside her family home in Marrickville on May 13, 2012 after he got into a scuffle with her brother Miguel and her father.

Silva pleaded not guilty to murder and manslaughter on the grounds of self-defence but in December last year a jury found her guilty of the lesser charge.

In a sentencing hearing in the NSW Supreme Court on Friday, Silva’s barrister Gregory Scragg said she had been diagnosed with a complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder, sometimes referred to as “battered wife syndrome”, following four years of a relationship peppered by domestic violence.

Mr Scragg tendered a report from forensic psychiatrist Carolyn Quadrio, which said that Silva was suffering from the mental illness at the time Mr Polkinghorne told her he had a gun and was coming over to “cave her head in”.

When he arrived at her family home in an ice-fuelled rage, Silva acted in the belief he had indeed killed “Nik” with a firearm weeks earlier, Mr Scragg said.

In delivering his sentencing submissions, Crown prosecutor Eric Balodis said Silva had an intention to kill, or an intention to inflict grievous bodily harm, when she went inside the house to retrieve a knife and returned to stab Mr Polkinghorne five times.

In the days before his death, Mr Polkinghorne was staying in a city hotel and using ice. He tried repeatedly to get back with her, but she refused.

A telephone intercept recorded Mr Polkinghorne saying to her, “I’ll kill youse all, I’m telling ya. I’m not f—ing joking.”

In an interview with detectives in the hours after the stabbing, Silva said she thought Mr Polkinghorne had a gun and would kill her.

“I wasn’t trying to kill him. I just didn’t want him to hurt me any more,” she said.

“I know for a fact he was coming to kill me, because he told me.

“I know he has killed before. I was scared. He’s a psycho.”

When he arrived at her home, Mr Polkinghorne had punched her in the face and ripped her pants, Silva told police.

“I didn’t know what to do, so that’s when I [went inside] and grabbed the knife,” she said.

When detectives asked why she had not pressed charges over Mr Polkinghorne’s physical abuse or sought an apprehended violence order, she said he threatened to kill her if she ever went to police.

Two hours before the stabbing, Silva was recorded in a phone call to her brother Miguel saying Mr Polkinghorne was a “f—ing psycho” and she was going to “f—ing stab him myself”.

On Friday, Justice Clifton Hoeben said the existence of telephone taps – an unusual treasure trove of evidence for a case such as this – could suggest Silva was acting in a way typical of women with “battered wife syndrome”.

“She might have gone out thinking that she could be the only one who could calm him down.”

Justice Hoeben said the key issue was whether Silva genuinely believed her life, or the life of her family, was in danger.

Mr Scragg asked for a good behaviour bond or, if a jail term had to be imposed, that it be less than two years and immediately suspended.

He said Silva had no criminal record and would not reoffend.

Silva spent seven months on remand before being released on bail in the lead-up to the trial.

In a victim impact statement, Mr Polkinghorne’s mother Aroha Gouvela said being informed of her son’s death on May 13, 2012 “was the worst Mother’s Day present someone could ever get”.

She said she would never forget seeing his lifeless body in the morgue.

Ms Gouvela said that, in Maori culture, the nature of her son’s death was “taboo”, meaning he remained unsettled.

Her victim impact statement was read out on her behalf by Mr Polkinghorne’s aunt Ngare Winitara.

Mr Polkinghorne’s older sister Ann-Marie Spice read out her own statement, saying: “There is no hate from me, just sadness for both our families.”

Silva will be sentenced on March 6.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

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Fill up now, the cheap petrol honeymoon is over

Petrol prices are set to rise. Photo: Dominic LorrimerFill up your car now because the current petrol price honeymoon is over, the NRMA and CommSec say.
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Sydneysiders have been enjoying the cheapest petrol since 2008, with many service stations selling 91 unleaded petrol for below a dollar and ethanol-added E10 for as little as 95¢ a litre.

However, the volatile world oil price has climbed 20 per cent from its sub-$US50 lows of January.

“We advise motorists to buy petrol as soon as possible at the lowest price possible. Shop around because there will be a 20¢ to 30¢ differential between the cheapest and most expensive,” president of the NRMA, Kyle Loades, said.

“There are some operators who bought cheaper and are still selling cheaper, but will have to buy more expensive petrol soon,” Mr Loades said, pointing out that the increased terminal (wholesale) fuel price is now 110¢, up from 101¢ a week ago.

“By next week, NRMA expects the [retail] price to average around $1.20,” Mr Loades said, compared with a Sydney unleaded average today of 113.5¢.

“The honeymoon is over; we’ve had a good go, but it will be going up.

“Watching those signboards and filling up at the low point in the next week or so would be your best bet,” CommSec economist Sebastian Savanth said.

“If you look at the crude price, it has lifted off its lows of the past week, and there’s the double whammy effect of the falling exchange rate. So it’s likely prices will rise from here, not significantly, but motorists have probably seen the low point for fuel at the moment,” Mr Savanth said.

Brent Crude rose to $US56.17 on Friday, up from a January low of $US45.19 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate is up to $US51.39 from $US43.58 a barrel

Sydney consumers have had among the best of the recent fall in prices, with an average low metropolitan price of 101.4¢, according to the Australian Institute of Petroleum’s Weekly Petrol Price Report for the week ending February 1. This compared to 117.3¢ in Canberra, 102.2¢ in Melbourne, 99.7¢ in Adelaide, 104.5¢ in Perth, 128.3¢ in Darwin and 123.1¢ in Hobart.

The regions did not fare so well with a NSW low average litre fetching 116.3¢, 112.5¢ in Victoria, 117.9¢ in Queensland, 114.9¢ in South Australia, 126.4¢ in Western Australia, 137.5¢ in the Northern Territory and 126.3¢ in Tasmania.

“We’ve had this stellar run of falling prices, but you look at the global backdrop now and you’ve still got a huge lift in ongoing oil supply, but it’s the expectation for the future story that is important,” Mr Savanth said

“A lot of these oil producers have cut back on capital expenditure over the next couple of years so that seems to have put a bottom in terms of the oil price. At least at the short term,” he said.

However, despite views that petrol prices will continue to rise, predicting the future price is notorious for being a mugs’ game. Few predicted the sharp drop at the end of 2014 and the beginning of this year.

The basic reason for the slump in prices is a price war between the OPEC oil producing countries, and the newer cheap oil producers in the United states and Venezuela.

Put simply, the Arab producers want to force their rivals out of the market by flooding it with cheap oil.

This has meant that supply has outstripped demand for the first sustained period since the global financial crisis.

On Thursday night, Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf said that the Saudis were expecting cheap oil, for “some time” and that the country had been building up its cash reserves for such an eventuality

“We have learnt from the past … obviously the oil market, everybody knows, goes through ups and downs and peaks and valleys,” he said.

Before Christmas, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi told the Middle East Economic Survey that it would be up to other countries to cut petrol production, not OPEC.

“As a policy for OPEC … it is not in the interest of OPEC producers to cut their production, whatever the price is.”

Mr Naimi stated unequivocally (and for some OPEC competitors, ominously) that “whether it [the oil barrel price] goes down to $US20, $US40, $US50, $US60, it is irrelevant.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

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Skyscraper dropping and island hopping in Cebu, Philippines

Hilutongan fisherman make better money offering accommodation in thatched huts on stilts Photo: 123rf整形美容医院m Hilutongan fisherman make better money offering accommodation in thatched huts on stilts Photo: 123rf整形美容医院m
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Hilutongan fisherman make better money offering accommodation in thatched huts on stilts Photo: 123rf整形美容医院m

Banca boat. Photo: 123rf整形美容医院m

The Shrine of Magellan. Photo: 123rf整形美容医院m

Hilutongan fisherman make better money offering accommodation in thatched huts on stilts Photo: 123rf整形美容医院m

Things rarely end well on the top of skyscrapers. Ask anyone – King Kong, Doctor Octopus, Hans Gruber – they all fall slowly, clawing at the air with terror on their faces.

The rooftop  of the Grand Tower in Cebu City is 45 storeys up. Standing on the parapet, I’m nudged by warm breezes and the fear is such that my eyes water and the city lights are smeared like raindrops on a pane.

I step from the edge and into the void. The zip-line sags and panic rises into my throat. I fly 75m through the night to the top of another tower until a savage braking system has me flung around like a ball on elastic. Any relief at having made it across is offset by the knowledge I must now be winched slowly back…

A tower-to-tower zip-line is not what I expect from the Philippines. But nothing’s quite what I expect from the Philippines, the nation that likes to say of itself “We eat like the Chinese, pray like the Spanish and talk like the Americans”.

If the zip-line gives me an overview of a city, the flight into Cebu puts an unusual Asian nation clearly in the picture. I fly over great hunks of uplifted land in pale-blue equatorial seas, just some of the 7200 islands that make up the Philippine archipelago. It strikes me that 7200 islands would have an awful lot of coast and I’m astonished to learn that the Philippines has 30 per cent more sand and sea than even our vast island continent.  It’s the fourth longest coastline in the world.

Cebu’s coral coast is famous among the Philippines’ middle classes who holiday here, as well as a significant contingent of Koreans. But judging by the dearth of Westerners, I conclude that in Australia at least its fame hasn’t gone much beyond a mention in Orinoco Flow by Enya.

The actual resort area of Cebu is on a huge island province called Mactan (which I suppose wouldn’t have rhymed so well with “Peru”), and the hotels are fledglings compared to the glittering many-winged multiplexes of Koh Samui, Kuta and Halong Bay. The perfectly charming Be Resort is typical – a medium-size hotel that has 4-star aspirations, 3.5-star finish, a modest infinity pool and its own little beach of crushed coral.

The beach is where I’m dining on my first night, only I’m late. Local guide Tony waves away my apologies: “Don’t worry, don’t worry,” he says, “in the Philippines we believe in siesta, fiesta and manyana.” Then he invites me to a fight.

A boodle fight is a Philippine tradition where two rows of cross-legged diners sit facing each across platters of heaped food. It’s a hands-only contest, and the quickest gets the mostest. I dive into piles of fish, eggplant, chicken, pork and rice – a delicious, lively banquet that leaves no doubt of the influence of Chinese traders who first began plying the islands in the 9th century.

Next day, $30 provides a day-long island-hopping experience. It’s a staple of Philippine tourism, facilitated by a large banca, an outrigger that strikes an iconic pose with its white bamboo wings flying over turquoise waters. During an hour-long transit, one of the bana crew harvests a net full of poison-tipped sea urchins, which he deftly de-spikes and hatches for each of us to taste.

“Swee t… salty,” says the sailor, using his knife to prod a slimy sac around its de-spiked shell. He’s right. It’s surprisingly good.

The island of Hilutongan is home to fisherman who until recently used dynamite to harvest their catch; these days, they make better money offering accommodation in thatched huts on stilts and charging $2.50 to divers and snorkelers visiting their sea sanctuary. The coral has seen better days but the fish have certainly fought back, offering an array of all things striped, beaked and spotted.

On the neighbouring islet of Nalusuan, seafood is served up in a tsunami of lunch. Sitting at crude wooden tables beneath palms, we eat off paper plates, messily devouring char-smoked prawns, squid, crab, local salmon and an alien-looking cray called a sea-mantis. Thatched shacks sell cold drinks from ice-chests.

I recognize it all from backpacking days in Thailand, 25 years ago – relaxed, affordable, low impact.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

After my bone-white fingers are unlaced from the zip-line I immediately seek out one of the Grand Tower’s bars. The young ladies who serve me have an American accent bequeathed by the overseers and educators who ruled from 1898 until 1942 (when it was the turn of the Japanese to have a bash).

They leave me a “check” and I’m reminded again that the Philippines is cheap – super-cheap, old-school cheap, Bali-30-years-ago cheap. A beer in an upmarket development like the Grand Tower costs US$2. Zip-lining off an upmarket development like the Grand Tower costs A$12. Add another $2.50 and they’ll chuck in a buffet meal.

But the beer is not Budweiser, it’s San Miguel – “Saint Michael” – brewed here in Cebu, and just one legacy of Spain’s 400-year rule. European colonial powers have come and gone in Asia but few could claim to have had such a lasting influence as the Spanish in the Philippines.

In 1521, the handsome Conquistadors landed with their signature steel helms. But the real hard-heads were the tonsured priests who had the herculean task of converting 7200 islands to Christianity. They had to start somewhere. And that somewhere was Cebu.

The old part of Cebu City is home to hacienda-style buildings, long edifices of arches and balconies made weary by too many people and not enough maintenance. At the epicentre is a square and a small chapel that barely warrants a second glance.

The Shrine of Magellan houses a wooden cross two metres high. “This cross is made of native hardwood,” says guide Tony. “Inside this is another cross – the original wooden cross that was planted by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.”

The chapel ceiling has murals depicting invaders standing over kneeling Malayo-Polynesian people who are erecting said crucifix. I’m tempted to ask Tony whether the Spanish imposition was resented, but the two peoples in the mural are really the ancestors of the modern country named for then-king Philippe II. The Magellan relic – although completely hidden – is sacred enough to attract a steady stream of pilgrims offering prayers and lighting candles.

Next door is the Santo Niño Church, a substantial basilica rebuilt of stone in 1739 to resist earthquake and fire. People pour through a gate into a walled quadrangle where a huge outdoor mass is underway; a priest intones sombre incantations while vendors patrol at the edges clutching great clouds of shiny Spongebob and Bart Simpson balloons. Within the brightly lit basilica, people queue to rap thrice on a glass case containing an icon of the infant Jesus, asking for alleviations to hardships in health, love and money.

The Philippines is one of the world’s fastest growing economies but its number one export is still its people – its maids, its nannies and its merchant navy crews who work overseas for months, sending money home to their families.

Extraordinary disparities between rich and poor are still evident, a fact driven home to me not at the basilica but in, of all places, a furniture factory.

On the outskirts of Cebu are vast sheds that smell of sickly sweet adhesives, and a yard where workers play a fierce variation of volleyball. A carefully  designed showroom however is quiet and pristine, a space of cold air that smells of cinnamon. It’s hosted by a tailored young man who speaks for furniture maven, Kenneth Cobonpue.

Feted by the world’s press and Hollywood stars, Cobonpue’s designs are plaited, woven and steam-shaped into extravagant forms. “This chair costs around $3500 dollars,” says the host beside a luscious leaf of velvet. “Kim Kardashian bought one. She said it reminded her of a vagina and she had to have it.”

After 30 minutes, the host initiates a video to further explore Mr Cobonpue’s sensibilities – at which I quietly escape to do some exploring.

Next door is a huge cemetery hidden behind a two-metre wall. I pass through a gate and enter a bizarre maze of tight corridors formed by stone tombs stacked high. It’s like a warehouse of the dead. I’m startled to find chickens and goats in the narrow alleys; behind the bars of a family mausoleum I see two guys sleeping on stone slabs, their meager belongings in bags. Small children squat beside marble squares inscribed with names of the dead. A little further into the gloom, I find a group of older women smoking cigars and playing cards for money.

They eye me cautiously, and I smile awkwardly, realising these are some of Cebu’s poor and this is where they live. Of course our two worlds collide and the awful truth of disparity escapes no one – not me, the person with obscene amounts of money eyeing off chairs that cost $3500, and not them, the people with obscene amounts of nothing.

And for a moment I feel exactly as I did on the zip-line. On a precipice. Uncomfortable. And invigorated to be somewhere that’s bewilderingly, brilliantly, blindingly foreign. FIVE SURPRISES

One of the less trammelled parts of Asia, the Philippines offers plenty of “who-knew?” moments…

The sound of the Jeepney: put some extra funk into your Manila tour by climbing aboard one of Jeepney Tour’s 20-seat vehicles which come complete with karaoke machines… jeepneytours整形美容医院m/

Camiguin Island: Camiguin offers more volcanoes per square kilometre than any other island on earth. Twenty cinder cones and stunning surrounding waters make it a true adventure destination.

Zubuchon: the food outlet where pork obsession meets fast food meets fine art. This five-cafe chain in Cebu started life when Anthony Bourdain tried the founder’s signature “Lechon” coconut-basted pork and called it “Best pig … EVER!” Bourdain was right.

Supermarket shopping in the Philippines: check out western brands like Vans and Levis at half price. Why so cheap? They’re all manufactured here.

Snorkel with whale sharks half the year round: the world’s largest concentration of whale sharks are in Donsol (Luzon ) where the monster fish are reliably seen December to May and sometimes November to June.  TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

See http://itsmorefuninthephilippines整形美容医院m/cebu/GETTING THERE

Cebu Pacific Air now flies from Sydney to Manila four times a week. Flights are around $400 one way but specials start at $200. cebupacificair整形美容医院mSTAYING THERE

Rooms in Be Resorts Mactan Island start at $105 per night. Boodle on the Beach costs $45 drinks included, beresorts整形美容医院m/ Overwater shacks on Nalusuan cost $90 per night, nalusuanislandresort整形美容医院m/ The Grand Tower is part of the Crown Regency Hotel and Towers complex: the Tower Zip costs $12; rooms at the hotel from $100 per night See crownregencyhotelandtowers整形美容医院m/

Kenneth Cobonpue see kennethcobonpue整形美容医院m/

Max Anderson was a guest of Cebu Pacific Air and Philippines Tourism.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

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Urban beekeepers angered over government’s poison plan

Vanessa Kwiatkowski and Mat Lumalasi with their hives on top of Federation Square. Photo: Josh RobenstoneUrban honey producers are urging the state government to reconsider a plan to inject poison into some trees that could affect bee populations in suburban Melbourne.
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The government intends to inject suburban trees with poison to eradicate Marchalina hellenica or the giant pine scale, to help protect the state’s $1 billion softwood timber industry from the pest.

The giant pine scale is a parasitic insect, native to the Mediterranean and Russia, that has been responsible for the destruction of pine forests in its native countries. Infestations have been found at Mount Waverley and Harkaway near Narre Warren.

Urban beekeepers, a growing and vocal movement in Melbourne’s food community, are “seriously concerned” for their future after the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources announced it would inject pine trees across a large swath of eastern and southern suburbs and the Dandenong Ranges with the chemical Imidacloprid. This is a potent neonicotinoid pesticide, which has been associated with the rapid decline in bee colonies in the northern hemisphere and banned by the European Union.

The process involves injecting the poison into affected pine trees; the insecticide is taken up by the sap of the trees and distributed throughout the plant. The insects then suck the sap and are poisoned. Beekeepers are fearful because the bees not only forage on resin secreted by trees but they can eat a sweet substance secreted by the scale called honeydew.

Beekeepers are furious about the lack of consultation, after getting a letter warning them to move their hives out of the designated Restricted Areas dated Wednesday, January 28 – just four days before the poisoning programme commenced on January 31. Urban beekeeper Matt Lumalasi, co-owner of Melbourne City Rooftop Honey, said: “They gave us only a few days to pull our hives out of the treated areas at one of our busiest times of the year.”

Simon Mulvany from Save the Bees Australia said: “We’re concerned that not only might the bees die, but they could take the poison back to the hive and contaminate other bees.” He added: “We (urban beekeepers) are trying to create sustainable businesses. The department has known about this scale insect problem since at least last year, but seems to have rushed into poisoning. If we put a stop to the poisoning we wouldn’t have to be scared about urban honey.”

Other beekeepers we spoke to said that bees were unlikely to forage on pine trees as there are other more palatable sources of food available.

Gabrielle Vivian-Smith, chief plant health officer with the Department explained: “The department is trying to address the risk to bees by notifying beekeepers, and recommends beekeepers consider relocating their hives to another area during the treatment phase. The trees the department is  treating are not used for commercial food production.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

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Bed-In for Peace package commemorates John Lennon and Yoko Ono

The suite in Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal, Canada, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their “bed in.” Photo: Joanne Paineau The suite in Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal, Canada, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their “bed in.” Photo: Joanne Paineau
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The suite in Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal, Canada, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their “bed in.” Photo: Joanne Paineau

The suite in Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal, Canada, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their “bed in.” Photo: Joanne Paineau

John Lennon and Yoko ‘giving peace a chance” in their bed-in.

Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal, Canada.The suite where John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their “bed in.” Photo: Jessica Dale

From the street, Montreal’s Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth hotel looks spectacularly ordinary. Built in the 1950s by the Canadian National Railways above rail yards that funnel trains through Central Station, the 21-storey hotel could be easily mistaken for a government office block.

Yet the hotel’s history is more intriguing than its plain exterior suggests. This is where John Lennon and Yoko Ono famously spent a week in bed in 1969 during the height of the Vietnam War. Their Bed-In for Peace (their second, after staging a similar event in Amsterdam) took place in Suite 1742, a corner room with views reaching all the way down Rene Levesque Boulevard, a major city thoroughfare. During the bed-in, some of the sunshine that streams into the room was blocked by handwritten signs – saying “hair peace” and “bed peace” – taped to the windows. I’ve arranged for a peek into the suite where Lennon and Ono installed themselves on a mattress below the picture window and gave up to 150 interviews a day (which included a belligerent encounter with Li’l Abner cartoonist Al Capp). Today, an elegant drinks table and low-slung armchair occupy the same spot. On one wall are framed lyrics for Give Peace a Chance, the anti-war anthem Lennon penned and then recorded with the help of whoever was in the room, including Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and Petula Clark. The sunlit sitting room connects to a bedroom decorated in muted cream and brown tones. Both rooms feature photographs of Lennon and Ono during the bed-in.

My biggest surprise, though, is that my host has brought along the hotel’s security logbook from 1969. We sit on the sofa as she flips through the pages, revealing what went on behind the scenes. On May 26, 1969, the 4pm to midnight shift reported: “At approximately 10.45pm, Mr Lennon phoned to let me know that he would be arriving by 11.15pm. At this time I told him that some protection could be given, but he would have to come by the garage entrance where four [security officers] would escort him.

“The Murray Hill Limousine Service was to drive Mr Lennon by the garage entrance as instructed. At the last moment Dorval police drove Mr Lennon to the outskirts of the city and placed him in a taxi. He finally arrived at midnight where some 50-75 teenagers were waiting for him. Seeing that he was being mobbed by the crowd I went over to help him out while some bellman tried to push the crowd aside. We finally got him out and … took him to his suite. He was satisfied with the accommodation and apologised for not coming by the garage entrance as instructed.”

A few hours later, another report said: “We not only had tonight the visit of [Mr and Mrs] John Lennon … but also of approximately 200 fellow Beatles who were running around in the lobby and unfortunately also sometimes a couple of them on the floors hoping to see their beloved ‘John’.

“Security did their best to control these young people but quite a few guests looked rather shocked when they passed through the lobby seeing this long-hair demonstration. As the news [is] in every paper we can expect some visitors. The hotel was quiet again by 2am.”

The logbook also holds Lennon and Ono’s room-service orders. The menu – a mix of British and Japanese dishes – included a salad of radishes, cucumber, hard-boiled eggs, some onions (no tomatoes) and lettuce; broiled or poached filet of sole; and scrambled eggs with crisp bacon and grilled tomatoes for breakfast. For lunch, there was fried natural brown rice (served cold!), broiled salmon or English fish and chips. Brown rice returned on the dinner menu, along with turtle soup or consommé, lamb chops or hamburgers, and two-colour Jell-O(perhaps for Ono’s five-year-old daughter Kyoko). Throughout the days and days of talking, Lennon and Ono were served orange juice and “Spanish smiles” (orange juice with  honey).

The housekeeping department’s report is here too: “Floor housekeeper was told corridor and suite were very dirty and littered with flower petals. Apparently, a Houseman had to vacuum three to four times per day since John Lennon threw flower petals into the air.

“Furniture was found in corridor without having notified the Housekeeping Department. All furniture had been taken out of the room, pictures taken off the wall; only the double bed remained in the sitting room.

“Ex-employee (bell boy) asked the Floor Housekeeper to clean John Lennon’s shoes, since the shoe-shine people refused to do so. “Day of departure, suite had to be placed in order in an hour’s time. John Lennon plus wife had to be asked several times to leave bed, so that the bed could be moved back into the bedroom.

“Dry-cleaning staff refused to touch (for cleaning and pressing) two floppy hats which were then given to Housekeeping and the Laundry Department to be ironed.”

Management received a stream of guest complaints about the disruption but ultimately took the bed-in in its stride. On May 31, an internal note read: “Last night I received three calls from a woman treating me of all names because of John Lennon staying at the hotel, and today I received another call from a woman … telling me that management should throw out Lennon from our hotel. My answer was that management knew exactly what to do without needing advices.”   TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

http:au-keepexploring.canada.travel/  GETTING THERE

Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth is at 900 Rene Levesque Blvd W in central Montreal (fairmont整形美容医院m). Air Canada flies from Sydney to Montreal via Vancouver, Melbourne passengers can fly Qantas to Sydney to connect; see aircanada整形美容医院m, qantas整形美容医院m. STAYING THERE

The hotel’s Bed-In for Peace package costs CA$899 a night; it includes breakfast in bed or at the bistro, souvenir white pyjamas and nightgown, and a recording of Give Peace a Chance.  SEE + DO

Climb Mount Royal to find the Give Peace a Chance sculpture embedded in the ground that showcases the phrase in 40 languages.

The writer was a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

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Hotel review: Palace Hotel, Tokyo: A good night’s sleep makes all the difference

The Palace Hotel pool. The Palace Hotel pool.
Wuxi Plastic Surgery

The Palace Hotel pool.

The Palace Hotel pool.

I’m not impressed by the lobby at the Palace Hotel. That is not to say it’s not a lovely space. Along with the usual soaring ceilings, gleaming marble surfaces and super-sized light fixtures, it is the only hotel lobby I’ve seen that looks out on to a palace moat.

For a five-star hotel, however, a grand lobby – just like bell boys, king-size beds, and club sandwiches on the room service menu – is an essential, not an added extra. Of course The Palace Hotel, which opened in its current incarnation 18 months ago, has a beautiful lobby.

To impress me, however, it takes a little something extra. Like, say, a glass of water at breakfast.

I don’t really wake up until after I’ve downed several glasses of water; large glasses, not those thimbles that most hotels use. When I head down to the elaborate breakfast buffet on the first morning of my stay, I am pleased to see The Palace’s glasses are larger than most. However, I’m hoping for something better still. I explain the situation to the waiter, and ask him if he can bring me a really big glass of water.

“Perrier or San Pellegrino?” he asks.

He nods when I choose San Pellegrino, and disappears. When he returns, he is bearing a tray with a seriously large glass, and a one-litre bottle of San Pellegrino. Now that’s service.

Service, I quickly discover, is one of the Palace’s strengths. In the lobby, well-dressed young men hover, looking for guests in need of assistance. When I ask the receptionist for directions to the nearest 7-Eleven (just downstairs, he tells me), one of the young men helpfully offers to escort me.

Later, having trouble connecting to the hotel Wi-Fi, I head back to the lobby. The same chap spots me, smiles, and asks if he can help with anything. I explain the problem, and he offers to have a look. Sure enough, he quickly gets me connected, without even calling IT.

The service isn’t the only thing I love about The Palace. I love its location, right next to the imperial gardens, Tokyo’s big green lung. The gardens provided the inspiration for the hotel’s interiors, which feature natural forms and a colour palette inspired by moss, rocks, trees and water. The gardens also provide a lovely jogging track for guests who like to start their day with a run.

Me, I simply take in the view from the balcony of my room: another of the Palace’s special touches. Were the weather warmer, I could imagine ordering up room service for an al fresco meal, or sitting outside to catch up on my emails.

More things I love about the Palace: the Evian Spa, with its pool-with-a-view and its relaxing massages. The convenient location. The subway station downstairs makes getting around town easy; when I decide to stroll to Ginza, I get there in about 20 minutes, window shopping along the way (love the Kate Spade boutique).

However, the biggest test is yet to come. I’ve admired the fabrics, tried the food, tested the staff. Now we’re ready for the big one: going to bed.

If, like me, you are a light sleeper, you will know that five-star hotels don’t always get it right. It’s amazing how often little things interfere with a good night’s sleep. Doors slamming along the corridor. The buzzing of a mini-bar. An airconditioner switching cycles.  A ticking bedside clock. Curtains that let dawn’s early rays peep through. Any one of them is enough to put a hotel in my personal black list.

I’m already looking forward to a soak in the over-sized tub before bed. When I get back to my room, I find another lovely touch: a sleeping shirt emblazoned with the hotel logo has been laid out on the bed for me.

Before climbing into bed, I lower the blinds and listen carefully to the room. I have already noted that very little noise makes it way in from the corridor. The mini-bar? Completely silent. Airconditioning, alarm clock, ditto. I shut my eyes and relax.

I don’t open them until the next morning. The room is still dark. I pull open the blinds, and daylight floods in. Not a sound nor a chink of light has disturbed my rest. The Palace has passed the snooze test with flying colours.  TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

en.palacehoteltokyoSTAYING THERE

Palace Hotel Tokyo, 1 Chome-1-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo. Rates at the The Palace Hotel start at JPY 52,000. GETTING THERE

Qantas and Japan Airlines operate direct flights to Tokyo from Sydney, with connections to Melbourne. See qantas整形美容医院m.au, 13 13 13; jal整形美容医院m, 1800 80 2228.

The writer travelled as a guest of Christian Dior.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

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