December, 2018

Airline review: Niki economy

Niki Air. Photo: SuppliedTHE PLANE
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Airbus A320; Niki has 11 of these aircraft in its fleet. The Abu Dhabi-Vienna shuttle version has eight business and 138 economy class seats. THE ROUTE

Abu Dhabi to Vienna THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Flyers can earn topbonus miles when flying with Niki or Etihad Airways. These points can be redeemed on Niki flights and many Etihad Airways flights. CLASS

Economy. Seat 8A in a 3-3 layout. There are eight business class seats in a 2-2 configuration at the front. DURATION

Just over six hours. We leave and arrive on time.  FREQUENCY

Daily.  THE SEAT

A window seat towards the front of the cabin, the pitch is 30 inches (76 centimetres) and width is 18 inches (46 centimetres).  BAGGAGE

Economy passengers can check in one piece of luggage up to 23 kilograms and carry on a cabin bag weighing up to eight kilograms. ENTERTAINMENT

No in-seat systems. Business class passengers are given iPads with an inflight program. Movies are shown on shared screens on longer flights. Given the timing on the flight most people choose to eat first and sleep. A standout entertainment feature is the Wi-Fi access – passengers can pay for anywhere from 30 minutes access  for the duration of the flight with pricing ranging from  $7.80 to $30. COMFORT

Pillows, blankets and amenity kits are provided free of charge for all passengers. The pillows are nice and soft, the blanket keeps me reasonably warm, and the amenity kit has the usual suspects – a toothbrush and toothpaste, earplugs, a sleeping mask and socks. Niki is classed as a low-cost airline, however the comfort trimmings are on par with full-service carriers.  SERVICE

All staff members on board were hospitable, quick to attend to passenger needs and service always came with a smile. FOOD

The halal-certified menu is changed four times a year and breakfast choices comprise of a spinach omelette with a beef sausage, hash brown and beans or a baked egg atop a chickpea, tomato, onion and eggplant concoction. I choose the baked egg and enjoy the medley of flavours. The fruit salad and yoghurt with mango compote completes the meal and I slept afterwards. About an hour before landing chocolate biscuits are offered. Although I don’t recall eating them, the wrapper by my headphones tells me I enjoyed them, too. ONE MORE THING

Niki launched the direct route between Abu Dhabi and Vienna in November 2014, offering those travelling between the UAE and Austria a non-stop option. For Australians travelling to and from Austria the Etihad Airways/Niki route is a dream. With just one stop in Abu Dhabi, it’s one of the quickest and most convenient ways of travelling to Austria.  THE VERDICT

Having flown with quite a few low-cost carriers, Niki is by far one of the best. The staff ensure that passengers are happy, the seats are reasonably comfortable and, given the timing of the flight, (the plane left Abu Dhabi at 2.45am), I didn’t miss the entertainment system.

Reviewed by Tatyana Leonov, who flew courtesy of Scenic Tours. 

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


Aboriginal elder Pat Dodson: portrait of the senator as a young man

Professor Patrick Dodson has spent much of his life working for a better deal for Australia’s First People. Photo: Damian Kelly Pat Dodson is known as the Father of Reconciliation. Photo: Peter Eve / Yothu Yindi Foundation
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Pat Dodson will become Labor’s Senate candidate for Western Australia. Photo: Andrew Meares

Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Pat Dodson lights a candle with former prime minster Howard at a luncheon in the Great Hall of Parliament House to mark the start of Reconciliation week. Photo: Mike Bowers

Paddy Dodson might have been just another scared kid on his first night at boarding school … if he hadn’t been black.

He drew the bedsheet up to his nose and pulled his pillow over his head. All the other kids, 200 of them crowded into one huge dormitory, wanted to get a look at him.

All of Australia has since got a look at Patrick Dodson, the bloke with the waist-length beard and the hat with its band of black, yellow and red, who has spent much of his life working for a better deal for Australia’s First People.

We’re about to see more of him, for he’s Labor’s new senator for Western Australia. It’s a bit of a surprise to those who’ve known him for awhile.

“Politicians tend to be a bit tentative,” he told me a few years ago during a long yarning session. “They see life in terms of three-year brackets, not in terms of history.”

Paddy Dodson, however, has always been capable of surprising, and at 68, he might be able to teach politicians a bit about seeing things in longer time frames.

Those curious boarding-school kids way back in the 1960s learned pretty quickly that the first Aboriginal student at their school was much more than they imagined.

He didn’t know what a bread plate was, or a butter knife, but life had already thrown bigger and harder lessons at him. Born in Broome to an Irish-Australian father, Snowy Dodson, and an Indigenous mother, Patricia, his family had fled across state borders to Katherine, in the Northern Territory, when Pat was a two-year-old baby.

The hounding laws of Western Australia had become too much. Even love was a crime.

Snowy had been jailed for 18 months, years before, for “cohabiting with a native woman”, Pat’s mother. Pat had to grow up fast. Aged 13, he and his brothers and sisters – seven of them altogether – were orphaned.

Their father died first, and then their mother, three months later. Pat and his brother Mick, who was aged 10, were in danger of becoming “stolen children”.

Their aunt and uncle came and collected the children and took them to Darwin on the back of their Chevy truck.

“The protector of native affairs in the Northern Territory, a fella called Harry Giese, was poised to send me to one of the Catholic Missions,” Pat told me.

“Unfortunately the church, as often happens, couldn’t find the necessary resource to send me over the Strait (from Darwin to the Garden Point Mission on Melville Island) as the boat that was supposed to take me had sunk.”

The Dodson children’s aunt and uncle, both of whom knew firsthand about life on missions, battled the authorities in and out of court to keep the little family out of the clutches of authority.

Pat and Mick, however, and a brother and sister, Patricia and Jacko, were declared “wards of the state”, but in the care of family, though they were split up.

Eventually, a couple of priests from the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart stepped in and decided to help the orphaned Pat and Mick to get as far away from the Northern Territory as possible.

They arranged scholarships for Pat (and later Mick) to fly south, to Hamilton in far-west Victoria, to board at Monivae College, run by the MSCs.

And so, in the early 1960s, an Aboriginal boy found himself in an alien world, trying to hide in his bed down the end of a dormitory as 200 boys jockeyed to get a look at the most exotic student they could imagine.

Paddy, as he quickly became known, didn’t hide away long. He emerged as a hard-studying and quietly powerful character, aware of high expectations thrust upon him at a time when no one knew anything about Indigenous affairs.

“There was always the search as to who was going to be the ‘first’ of this and the ‘first’ of that as if that was going to be the only ever achievement in this country,” he remembered.

He won the diligence prize five out of the six years he was at Monivae, became a middle-school prefect before Australia had even held a referendum concerning recognition of Indigenous Australians and formed tight friendships that endured.

By the time I arrived as a student at Monivae in 1967, Pat Dodson was captain of the school, captain of the all-but unbeatable First XVII and Adjutant of the Cadet Corps. He was an undisputed leader.

Pat and Mick (another leader, who became vice-captain and a House Captain) had no money. It didn’t matter. A fellow named Bill Walsh – the father of Phil Walsh, who became coach of the Adelaide Football Club and who was killed in tragic circumstances last year – ran Thompson’s Department Store in Hamilton.

He simply provided the Dodson boys with uniforms, footy boots, casual outfits and sports gear. Other parents took the boys to their farms for holidays. Everyone knew the Dodson boys would make a name for themselves. But we couldn’t have guessed that Pat would become known as the Father of Reconciliation and win the Sydney Peace Prize, or that Mick would become Australian of the Year, and much, much else.

From little things….

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Tasmania battles to keep lights on with cloud-seeding and diesel generators

A dam bust? Gordon Dam on Lake Gordon in Tasmania’s south-west in better times. Photo: Peter Mathew With Basslink broken, Loy Yang brown coal power station is no longer exporting electricity to Tasmania. Photo: Phil Carrick
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Temco has agreed to limit power use.

What if an entire state in one of the world’s wealthiest countries was to run out of electricity?

It’s a question Tasmanians have been pondering – initially with humour, but increasingly with concern – since late last year.

On December 20, Basslink – the $800 million, 290-kilometre submarine cable connecting Tasmania with Victoria and in recent times provided up to 40 per cent of its electricity – stopped working. Nobody knows why.

The failure came just as the island was more reliant on Basslink than ever. Its power plants are overwhelmingly hydro-electric, and 2015 was its driest spring on record. The water flowing into dams was less than half the amount in any year for at least three decades.

By December, storages were at just 24.6 per cent. No worries, the authorities said; Basslink said the cable would be fixed by February, then March. But three months on, that re-connection date has vanished from the schedule. The damage to the cable is internal and proving hard to locate. Crisis without parallel

There is no new estimate of when it will be repaired. Meanwhile, Tasmania’s damstorages continue to dwindle, down to 16.1 per cent.

“This is very unusual. I don’t think there has been a crisis like it,” says Hugh Saddler, principal energy consultant with Pitt & Sherry. “The last time I can recall something like this was in NSW in 1983, when there was a problem with the Liddell [black coal] power station, but that was resolved fairly quickly. This is proving quite different.”

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and the Tasmanian Liberal government and state-owned power generator Hydro Tasmania have chased solutions to keep the lights on, some more creative than others.

At the obvious end: mothballed gas turbines in the Tamar Valley – shut down since mid-2014 after the soaring price of gas in export markets made them unviable, and partially put up for sale – are back operating at a capacity of nearly 300 megawatts.

As a stopgap, the state is also bringing in more than 20 portable diesel generators, at a cost of $44 million to set up and an estimated $20 million a month to run. Industry go slow

While moving to shore up supply, the government has also tackled demand. Just five industrial sites consume about 60 per cent of the state’s electricity. Three – Rio Tinto’s Bell Bay Aluminium, manganese alloy plant TEMCO and paper manufacturer Norske Skog – have agreed to cut use.

Less conventionally, it was announced this week the state would ramp up a cloud-seeding campaign – a controversial rain-milking technique that involves dropping silver iodide particles from a plane. This technique will kick into action a month earlier than usual at a cost of $100,000. No estimate was available of how much extra rain this might produce.

From even further left field, it was revealed Hydro Tasmania had considered draining once pristine Lake Pedder – flooded in 1972 in the face of a concerted environmental campaign, and still at near capacity while other storage sites hit record lows – to a level currently forbidden under state law.

This suggestion won quick backing from the Greens and conservation groups, which have campaigned for the lake to be restored to its natural state. Energy security promised but uncertain

Tasmanian Energy Minister Matthew Groom said while he could not it rule out, draining Lake Pedder was not part of current plans. In an opinion piece for News Corp on Tuesday, he said other steps already being taken would “substantially exceed” what the cable would have provided.

“The plan is designed to maintain Tasmania’s energy security without Basslink in operation, even with continued low rainfall and another unprecedented adverse event occurring,” he said.

Political critics said the state government’s approach assumed a wet winter and that the cable would be fixed before spring, and that it had ignored opportunities to develop renewable energy projects.

Melbourne Energy Institute director Professor Mike Sandiford does not criticise the government’s response, but says there is no guarantee winter will provide a fix.

“The reservoirs will almost certainly get down to 13 per cent, and when the rain comes the land will be very dry, so there will be little run off initially. There will need to be really good rains to recover that storage,” he says.

He says Tasmania has missed opportunities to build more wind farms, which are a good back-up for hydro generation. Northern Tasmania has a better wind resource than South Australia and Victoria, which have invested more heavily. Carbon cash-in hurts

That the steps the government has taken are required is a result not only of the short-term crisis but a decision taken by Hydro Tasmania nearly four years ago, when the carbon price was in force.

The scheme introduced under then prime minister Julia Gillard increased the cost of energy from burning fossil fuels, but not emissions-free hydro power. Analysts say that faced with a growing (and ultimately vindicated) expectation that the scheme may not survive under an Abbott government, Hydro Tasmania made a calculated decision to increase output – and run down water storages – to sell as much electricity as possible at the higher rate.

As Saddler puts it: “They could bid in [to the national market] whenever they wanted just under the cost of fossil fuels, and it would be the cheapest electricity available. It was very profitable.”

Saddler is not critical of this decision. Modelling was undertaken to ensure dams would remain at an operational level despite the increased generation. But the models used could not factor in the Basslink outage.

“I don’t think this situation reflects badly on Hydro,” Saddler says, “though you could say they didn’t properly take into account the impact of climate change.”

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


Slater and Gordon: What happens when the ambulance chasers crash

Slater & Gordon chief Andrew Grech was the architect of the public listing. Photo: Arsineh Houspian Slater and Gordon faces an uncertain future. Photo: Lee Besford
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Maurice Blackburn’s Andrew Watson is leading a class action against Slater & Gordon. Photo: Supplied.

Whiplash often follows a car accident after the passengers’ bodies are thrown forwards and backwards. With no physical symptoms, it can be hard to prove or disprove.

Drivers in the United Kingdom seem to suffer it more than others, with whiplash making up about 70 per cent of all post-accident claims from 2008 to 2013.

Suspecting this unusually high rate of whiplash had more to do with exaggerated claims than weak neck muscles, the British government announced last year that people could no longer get cash compensation for minor whiplash claims. Further, it was increasing the upper limit in the small claims court to £5000 ($9675), removing the need for lawyers.

And with that, the British government totally smashed the value of a conglomerate business previously called Quindell, which Melbourne-based law firm Slater & Gordon had just bought for a whopping $1.2 billion.

Now it’s Slater & Gordon shareholders who are suffering whiplash.

Shares that were trading at $7.85 less than a year ago closed at 26 cents on Wednesday before recovering to 38 cents by Friday early afternoon. That means the market value of Slater & Gordon has dropped from $2.7 billion to $135.7 million. Disaster was months in the making

But this car crash started well before Monday. It started in early 2015 when Slater & Gordon first announced it was in talks to buy sections of Quindell as part of a grand plan to become the biggest personal injury law group in the UK. As the first law firm in the world to list on a sharemarket, Slater & Gordon had a history of growth through acquisitions.

It floated at $1 a share and enjoyed eight years of full-speed growth to reach a peak of $7.85 a share on April 2, 2015.

But then the Quindell acquisition started pushing the share price into a downhill spiral.

First, analysts started questioning the underlying value of Quindell.

This scepticism was backed up in June, one month after the transaction was completed, when it emerged that both Slater & Gordon and Quindell were being checked by their respective financial regulators. Slater & Gordon’s shares went off a cliff – dropping from $6.11 to $3.78 in six days.

In the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority was investigating public statements Quindell had made about its accounts in 2013 and 2014, which was followed with reviews by the Financial Reporting Council and a criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

Meanwhile in Australia, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission was going through Slater & Gordon’s audited accounts. It has completed that inquiry without any further action following changes in accounting methods.

Shares were also dragged down by comments from hedge funds – which stood to make a profit from falling share prices – that more bad news was coming. In particular, Sydney-based VGI Partners warned future revenue had been overstated. This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


Dearth of Bellevue Hill homes for sale driving prices ever higher

This beautiful home at 25 Suttie Road, Bellevue Hill, is deceptively spacious. A manicured garden, cabana and swimming pool create a magnificent outdoor entertaining space at 39 Balfour Road, Bellevue Hill. Photo: Supplied
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Huge bifold doors are a feature of 53 Salisbury Road, Bellevue Hill. Photo: Supplied

While some trophy homes languish on the open market for years, others find favour rather more quickly, helping to spice up the market around them. It took only three months to find a buyer for Bellevue Hill’s most expensive home, Leura, which sold through Ray White Double Bay three months ago for more than $30 million.

The Federation Queen Anne-style property on a 4260-square-metre block in Victoria Road offered eight bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a ballroom, a tennis court and a swimming pool.

A month later, in the same street, Yoorami found a buyer after two years on the market. The grand 1920s home on 2903 square metres sold for $15.25 million, also through Ray White Double Bay.

In the days leading up to Christmas, there were about a dozen sales of between $3.5 million and $10 million, according to Domain Group data, pushing the median house price up to $4.05 million, a bullish rise of nearly 17 per cent in the past year.

Ballard Property agent James Ball says stock levels of big family homes are down, which is contributing to this price rise.

He says there were 25 groups through the first open of 25 Suttie Road, big numbers for a home in the $7 million-plus price range.

“We’ve got buyers out there at the moment and we just don’t have the supply to help them.”

For LJ Hooker Double Bay agent Bill Malouf, the lack of listings bodes well for the year ahead.

“I’m very happy that the market hasn’t been flooded with stock,” he says. “It’s a good thing because clearance rates are moving along nicely and I think the first half of this year will prove to be stronger than the second half of last year.”

While many of the house hunters are locals looking to upgrade, Ball says he is also fielding inquiries  from expatriates looking to secure an eastern suburbs home while the dollar is favourably low.

1. 25 Suttie Road Guide: $7.5m – $8m 6 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4 car spaces Built 1990s; renovated 2002 Land 904 square metres Inspect Sat, noon-12.45pm; Thu, 5.45pm-6.30pm Agent Ballard Property, 0410 740 349 Auction March 15 Last traded for $3,175,000 in 2001

Tucked off the road on a private battleaxe block, this deceptively spacious home spans four levels, with room for a growing family. The garden is a highlight, with a vine-covered pergola, tightly clipped hedges and level lawn surrounding a pool that captures plenty of northern sun.

The main living spaces are on the first floor and open on to a wrap-around terrace. The lounge room boasts a huge open fireplace, a tiled floor and lots of windows taking in the leafy outlook. A separate, eat-in kitchen has an island with breakfast bar seating, integrated wall ovens, a Miele dishwasher and a gas cooktop. There is a large, adjoining butler’s pantry, which leads to a storeroom, cellar and powder room.

You’ll find a second living room and three bedrooms on the second floor, including the master suite with a walk-in wardrobe, a limestone en suite and access to a wrap-around balcony. There are a further two bedrooms on the third floor.

A media room, car parking and storage facilities are located on the ground floor. Additional features include ducted airconditioning, an integrated sound system and security intercom.

Close to Lough Playing Fields, the home is also within easy reach of schools, Cooper Park, Bondi Junction and the Double Bay shopping village.

Room for improvement: Open up and extend the living spaces on the first floor.

2. 39 Balfour Road Guide: $5.6m – $6m 6 bed 4 bath 3 car Built 1922; renovated 1997 Land 689 square metres Inspect Sat and Thu, 11am-11.45am Agent LJ Hooker Double Bay, 0411 428 354 For sale by expressions of interest Last traded price unknown

You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to entertaining guests in this beautifully updated character home, positioned just around the corner from the Plumer Road village shops and a block from the Woollahra Golf Club. There are three separate living areas on the ground floor: a formal dining room, a formal living room and a big bright family room at the back of the house.

This room opens to a manicured, level garden with lush lawn, a glass-framed pool and a substantial cabana with kitchenette and gas fireplace.

The bedrooms are on the upper level, each with built-in storage and the master with a small west-facing balcony, a walk-in wardrobe and an en suite with twin vanity. Two of the remaining bedrooms and a study open on to balconies on the eastern side of the house.

There are some well-preserved period features, including leadlight windows, polished timber floors and window seats, plus some stylish new additions, like the plantation shutters and custom cabinetry.

Room for improvement: Connect the plumbing to heat the pool.

3. 53 Salisbury Road Guide: $5.2 million 5 bed 4 bath 2 car Built 1950s; renovated 2008 Land 743 square metres Inspect Sat and Thu, 1.45pm-2.25pm Agent Ray White Double Bay, 0424 532 451 Auction March 17 Last traded for $1,665,000 in 1999

Interior design company Beautiful Spaces has lived up to its name at this picture-perfect home in tree-lined Salisbury Road. Every room includes a garden or water feature and the clever use of mirrors means you’re never entirely sure whether you’re inside or out.

There are two key living areas separated by a bright, open-plan kitchen. At the front of the home, a lounge room with pitched ceiling overlooks a mass of greenery to the property’s east. An adjoining dining zone has a touch of whimsy with a pocket garden behind bifold doors. The kitchen itself features an island bench topped with stone and offering breakfast bar seating, integrated gas appliances and soft-close drawers. The northern and western walls of the family room open completely on to a partly covered courtyard, feature pond and delightful garden, with a show-stopping pool visible through a vertical glass panel. The poolside cabana has a built-in barbecue and wine fridge.

The gardens are fully irrigated and there is an outdoor sound system and CCTV.

Room for improvement: Consider installing some built-in cabinetry in the lounge room.

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