Government poised to rip up Newcastle inner-city rail

CLOSING?: The Hannell Street gates in Newcastle WestTHE state government is poised to make one of the biggest political statements in the Hunter’s history by ripping up the inner-city rail line between Hamilton and Newcastle.
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At least that’s been the talk of the town all week.

Woodville Junction at Hamilton is understood to be the preferred terminus, with a green corridor left, allowing for a future light rail service, into the CBD.

Premier Barry O’Farrell and Minister for the Hunter Mike Gallacher will not make an announcement until next year but there is a meeting on December 19 to examine the proposal.

Various business sources have told the Newcastle Herald they have been consulted about the plan.

Newcastle state MP Tim Owen was tight-lipped about the topic yesterday, leaving it for the Premier’s office to issue this statement: ‘‘We are having ongoing discussions with stakeholders to examine the options for transport in Newcastle and the Hunter.’’

Woodville Junction was identified by lord mayor John Tate as the perfect site for the city’s rail interchange in 2002.

Several other options have been explored since then, including cutting the rail line at Wickham and also at Broadmeadow station where the northern line splits from the inner-city line.

Former state Labor minister Jodi McKay was under pressure from Fix Our City advocates to cut the passenger line to the city to open it for future investors.

The GPT Group blamed the state Labor government’s inaction over the rail line as the main reason for withdrawing its $600million Hunter Street Mall development in August last year.

Mr O’Farrell said he was willing to work with development companies to deliver key infrastructure aimed at revitalising Newcastle’s CBD.

‘‘The future of the Newcastle rail line and CBD will be a matter for the Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund,” Mr O’Farrell said in April this year.

The Hunter infrastructure investment board, announced last month, is working on the issue.

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Depth of character in telling the truth

”Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth” -Buddha
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NATALIA Dmitruk is a hero. She hasn’t rescued a child from the jaws of a crocodile, won consecutive gold for her country at the Olympics or raised millions for cancer research.

Natalia is a hero simply because she told the truth.

Perhaps for that reason her story is little-known.

Rewind to 2004, Ukraine, the presidential election.

Let’s just say democracy was new to the Ukraine.

As bogus vote counts were reported on the country’s state-run television station, our Natalia – a 47-year-old sign language interpreter – told the truth from her discreet corner of the screen.

”Don’t believe the results from the Central Election Commission. They are not true. Our president is Viktor Yushchenko,” she articulated in a flurry of hand gestures.

Yushchenko, the opposition leader, was poisoned with dioxin during the campaign, and it is believed that more than 2.8 million fake ballots were cast for his rival,

the government candidate, Viktor Yanukovych.

Natalia’s brave act of defiance was applauded by journalists who found the courage to start reporting the truth rather than the convenient lies fed to them by the government.

All this despite lethal ramifications.

”More than a dozen journalists investigating alleged business and government corruption have died mysteriously. One was found decapitated,” the Journalism Review reported soon afterwards.

Natalia’s stand, together with others weary of the government’s deceit, started what is known as the Orange Revolution, with hundreds of thousands flooding Kiev to demand a new election.

The government gave in and

Yushchenko was elected fair and square.

Cool story, huh?

Thanks to one woman who believed the truth to be more important than her job, even her life.

She was an Ephesians 4:25 gal: ”Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body.”

The truth is often difficult, ugly, inconvenient, painful and altogether less glamorous.

As Winston Churchill once said, ”a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”.

It’s the juicy lies that make the headlines, not the humble truth.

We’ve all seen the snowball effect that deceit can have.

Lies can spiral out of control in the blink of an eye, but as the adage goes, ”the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).

Sure, there may be some uncomfortable ramifications, but ultimately the ability to remain truthful in difficult circumstances displays real depth of character.

I hesitate to use the term ”new year’s resolution” but I can think of worse things to aim for as we begin 2012.

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

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Hurricanes blow away Thunder

Owais Shah of the Hurricanes in action during the T20 Big Bash League match against the Sydney Thunder.THE Hobart Hurricanes have stayed undefeated and top of the Big Bash League with a comprehensive five-wicket victory over the Sydney Thunder at Bellerive.
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Set a modest 139 to win, the Hurricanes made it four from four with their first chase of the series last night.

Englishman Owais Shah struck 41 off 32 as his side reached the target with eight balls to spare in front of 12,238 fans.

Unfancied when the new competition began, the Hurricanes are now the runaway leaders on eight points, four clear of the Thunder, Perth and the Sydney Sixers.

First and second drops Travis Birt and Shah were in scintillating form for the Tasmanians, Birt making a quick-fire 35 from 18 balls before Matt Johnston hit the winning runs with a six.

The Thunder is fast starting to resemble a one-man batting show in the absence of captain Dave Warner on Test duty, with West Indies star Chris Gayle smashing yet another half-century.

Gayle clobbered 53 off 33 balls, including five sixes, as the Thunder made a below-par 8-138 after winning the toss.

He also chimed in with a brilliant one-handed catch to remove Tom Triffitt.

The competition’s leading run-scorer had pleaded for his teammates to support him after Friday night’s loss to the Melbourne Renegades, but only a run-a-ball innings of 39 from No. 3 Sean Abbott stood out for the visitors.

Gayle took his series tally to 232 and, with Warner having made a first-up century, the pair have scored 334 of the side’s 582 runs. He started slowly by his standards yesterday but still regularly cleared the boundary.

Gayle hoisted Jason Krejza (2-29) on to the Southern Stand roof and hit Xavier Doherty (1-45) for consecutive sixes to bring up his half-century before holing out at deep cover off the bowling of Krejza.

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

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Police identify man’s body found in Lake Macquarie

POLICE have confirmed that the body found floating in Lake Macquarie yesterday was that of a 67-year-old Swansea local.
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There does not appear to be any suspicious circumstances.

However, how the man became caught up on moorings in Black Ned’s Bay after he was last seen going for a walk about 6.30am is yet to be determined.

His body was found about 1.30pm.

A friend of the man, who lived alone, alerted police to his disappearance this afternoon.

The identification came after detectives were forced to go through boat and car registrations after struggling to identify the man.

A report will be prepared for the coroner.

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Huntlee and its baggage

THE ‘‘new town’’ of Huntlee, near Branxton in the Hunter, may some day prove to be the regional asset its promoters claim.
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Indeed, the advent of the Hunter Expressway could be seen to negate one of the main early criticisms of the development project – that it was remote from effective transport corridors.

It was chiefly this shortcoming that was believed to have led to the proposal originally being ranked by the planning department at the bottom of a long list of potential Hunter residential areas.

When it bobbed up, along with other bottom-of-the-list proposals, on the former Labor government’s Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, as an officially favoured site, many critics accused the government of pandering to its development industry friends and donors.

From that inauspicious beginning, Huntlee has worked its way through various court cases. Opponents scored some early victories, but Labor dragged the proposal under its controversial 3A planning legislation – a move that the latest court hearing has found ensures the legality of the land’s rezoning from low-value rural to high-value residential.

That’s not likely to be the end of the fight, with opponents of the proposal still seeking legal chinks in the project’s armour and threatening new challenges on environmental grounds.

But it is a major win for the developer, Perth-based LWP Property Group.

LWP will now seek approval for the first stage of the development, comprising about 2000 residential lots and 68 ha of ‘‘employment lands’’. Ultimately, the developer expects the $1.5 billion project to provide up to 7500 homes, 3000 jobs and 200 ha of employment lands.

Unfortunately for LWP it has a controversial legacy to live down with Huntlee, at least as far as public perception is concerned. The fingerprints of the old Labor administration, with all the negatives that entails, will remain with the project for some time to come.

The developer, and the O’Farrell government, should be at pains to ensure that every step taken on this project from now on is handled with the greatest care and sensitivity so that whatever may eventually be approved will have legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

Hunter training

A SHORTAGE of skilled labour has been identified as a potential constraint on growth, particularly in Australia’s booming mining industry.

The federal government has responded by setting up a new committee to help streamline and improve the national apprenticeship system. The government is talking, for example, about making apprenticeships portable between states.

This committee could do worse than spend some time visiting the Hunter to learn about practical innovation in workplace training.

For decades the region has been a quiet pioneer in this area, thanks to a co-operative approach between key Hunter employers, educational institutions and organisations like the Hunter Valley Training Company.

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Father dies after firecracker mishap

MELBOURNE – Victoria’s growing trade in illegal fireworks has taken a tragic turn after a Melbourne father was killed and paramedics had to treat at least a half a dozen others at New Year’s Eve celebrations across the state.
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Family identified the victim as Carlos Rodriguez, who had been hosting a backyard party in Melbourne’s west when a firecracker exploded in his face just as midnight struck and 2012 officially began.

”The man was unconscious and suffering significant head injuries,” senior paramedic Brett Parker said.

The 34-year-old was taken to hospital but died of his injuries a day later.

Police said his death was concerning as the sale of illegal fireworks was increasing – with reports of the explosives being set off in backyards, beaches and parkland across the state.

While police raided the grocery shop suspected of supplying Mr Rodriguez with the firecracker, officers have noted that the availability seems to be everywhere – and growing.

Since the Christmas season began, illegal fireworks have been set off in regional Victoria and primarily in Melbourne’s west, but in the central suburb of Flemington fireworks were also set off on several nights in the past two weeks.

Paramedics have been called to a handful of fireworks-related incidents too, including the case of a teenager who was thrown off his feet by a firecracker, causing suspected broken ribs and sending him to hospital in intense pain.

”They are explosives. They are dangerous. That’s why they are illegal,” Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe said yesterday. ”My concern is that one person has lost their life this year. We’ve got to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Police aren’t sure why the trend is occurring, but Mr Walshe said he’d had reports of fireworks coming in from ”pretty well everywhere”.

It is still legal to purchase fireworks in the ACT and Northern Territory, but residents of Victoria have to be licensed pyrotechnicians to legally buy, store and use them.

Friends and family of the man killed headed to his Tarneit home yesterday to pay their respects. Many described him as a caring father of two and hoped his death would serve as a warning to others.

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

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Bridport campers shaken by out-of-control youths

SHAKEN Bridport campers were yesterday still coming to terms with the alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour they witnessed by drunken, out-of-control youths in the camping ground on New Year’s Eve.
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Police arrested 14 youths from across

Tasmania’s North, including Bridport, for incidents stemming from the over-consumption of alcohol.

Craig Bartlett, of Launceston, was nearly run over when a car driven by a P-plater slid around a corner on a dirt camping ground access road.

One disgusted onlooker estimated the car’s speed on the 5km/h track at 60 km/h.

”When Craig and I confronted the driver on his way back – it was a no-through road -he just drove his car at us,” the man, who asked not to be named, said.

”Then he slid back around the corner the

way he had come, just moments after a young girl had crossed the track – if she’d have been on the track, there’s no way he could have avoided her.”

Mr Bartlett said that he called the police to report the incident, but in his haste to avoid the car had not been able to correctly record the car’s registration number.

He also witnessed:

Young people smashing beer bottles against the nearby toilet block.

Foul language.

Under-age drinking.

Scuffles that escalated into all-in brawls with more than 100 participants.

”It’s totally out of control and very wrong – I had a beer bottle thrown at me and this appalling behaviour went on until three or four o’clock in the morning,” he said.

”Something has to be done about it before next year or families won’t come to Bridport anymore – I’ve already had people say to me that Bridport is no place for kids.

”You should be able to go to a caravan park and feel safe -you didn’t feel safe at Bridport on New Year’s Eve, maybe there should be maximum numbers for the caravan park and no one on the beach after a certain time.”

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

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Cole wins in close finish

Brendan Cole celebrates winning the Burnie Gift.ACT-based, Victorian runner Brendan Cole won the 2012 Burnie men’s gift yesterday in one of the closest finishes of the prestigious footrace.
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Cole, 30, trained by Canberra coach Matt Beckenham, beat the only Tasmanian runner in the final field – Highclere’s Edward Gates – by three one-thousandths of a second after judges studied a photo of the finish for several minutes to determine the winner.

Victorian Adrian Mott was third and Cole’s winning time was 12.13 seconds.

Cole ran from a mark of 5.25 metres, Gates 8m, and Mott 4.75m.

A specialist 400m runner and a five-time Australian 400m hurdles champion, Cole said it was a tense wait for the official result.

”I honestly finished and didn’t think I had won it,” he said.

”I saw green out in front and I didn’t think it was mine.

”My coach told me that I was behind just before the finish line and just after but somehow I managed to dip on the line- so wow, it’s amazing.”

Cole said his Burnie Gift victory and $10,000 prizemoney was a great start to the new year, with his sights set on the London Olympics.

”We came down here for training and used the three carnivals to get some racing under our belts and we’ve had a big week.

”To finish it off like this is a dream – it’s awesome,” he said.

Cole said he nearly did not run in the 120m gift and had done little speed work in his training.

”I was going to focus on the 400m, which is my distance, and honestly I wasn’t going to run this morning,” he said.

He recorded two seconds and a fourth place at Latrobe and Devonport, with the Burnie Gift his first victory.

Gates would have been devastated to find the result went against him after looking the likely winner only metres from the finish line.

Coached by John McLaren, the 20-year-old has had five seconds before the gift and finished runner-up in the Devonport Gift as well.

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

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King Ralph’s reign: Memories of Judge Coolahan

A BLOKE was at Newcastle Courthouse one day supporting his wife who was attending an inquest.
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‘‘Ralph Coolahan still the judge here?’’ he asked.

‘‘Yeah, mate.’’

‘‘I knew him when we were kids,’’ the bloke said. ‘‘He and his brother did good. We were just kids growin’ up in the housing commission up at Shortland.’’

Ralph Coolahan was born at Wallsend on July 3, 1949. As a boy growing up in Shortland he dreamt of becoming a fighter pilot and it was the RAAF’s written examination that confirmed that young Ralph was very bright indeed.

However, it was a physical examination that ended the dream when it was revealed that Ralph was colour-blind.

Not to worry. His efforts at school were such that he was offered a scholarship to study medicine at Sydney University.

Even with the generous Commonwealth scholarship, his parents Clarence and Joyce were unable to provide enough funds to send Ralph to Sydney to live and study.

No, young Ralph needed a job.

His mother found him a clerk’s position in Newcastle and virtually submitted the application on his behalf.

He became an article clerk with the Newcastle office of the Public Solicitor where he would come across another young clerk doing similar work in Sydney.

Young Reg was raised on a dairy farm south of Gloucester and he and Ralph crossed paths while working for the Public Solicitor. Both men studied law and young Reg would later become Justice Blanch, Chief Judge of the NSW District Court.

Ralph was admitted as a solicitor in 1972 and was called to the bar four years later.

And thus began his ascension to what Newcastle Bar Association president Peter Harper described as ‘‘the absolute king’’.

He would later be nicknamed King Ralph by the courthouse staff for another reason. But we’ll come to that later.

He was a formidable advocate in both the civil and criminal jurisdictions and many of his victories were noted in the Newcastle Herald. He used few words in comparison to most of his colleagues, but the words he chose were often devastating: ‘‘Ralph was the master of less is more,’’ Harper said.

Outside the courtroom, Ralph Coolahan, barrister, was at the heart of a social scene where long lunches often evolved into late nights and chamber parties were frequent.

As Harper put it: ‘‘Paper cuts bled red wine.’’

On one occasion Ralph and a friend were settling in for a long lunch when the waiter came over to take their drinks order.

‘‘Do you have any Moet?’’ asked Ralph.

‘‘No,’’ said the waiter.

‘‘Do you have any Bollinger?’’

‘‘No,’’ said the waiter.

‘‘Two VBs then,’’ said Ralph.

He was a passionate sailor who earned the nickname Pulbah after his attempt to sail through Lake Macquarie’s Pulbah Island rather than around it.

He contested the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race including the treacherous 1998 race that claimed six lives. Ralph was navigating during the fatal storm when he abandoned all etiquette and custom to yell: ‘‘Go right!’’

He spent many hours on Lake Macquarie with his three children, Chris, Andrew and Sally, and their lakeside home became a sanctuary as well as a function centre.

Ralph often referred to his children as ‘‘the locusts’’ because he claimed they would arrive, eat and drink him out of house and home, then leave.

At Ralph’s funeral, wife Susie Mosman spoke of his ‘‘beautiful mind’’ that consumed knowledge and adored crosswords, and his daughter Sally told of a loving father renowned for his roast lamb and potatoes with not a green vegetable in sight.

His Honour was partial to Henny Penny. Sally, Andrew and Chris each have memories of their father suggesting they drive to Henny Penny to pick up some chicken and chips on a Friday night.

Ralph was often furious with the service if they were kept waiting in the drive-through area or if the staff had mucked up their order.

On one occasion, fuming, he muttered that Henny Penny should at least erect a movie screen to keep them entertained while they waited. On occasion he left the car, entered the store and chastised the staff.

Chris, Andrew and Sally believe that a young man was specially assigned to deal with the Coolahans on Friday nights.

‘‘He must have been a hostage negotiator,’’ they joked.

During the mid-1990s Ralph began working as an acting judge of the district court, then in 1999 he was sworn in as Newcastle’s full-time criminal judge.

Two of his last cases as a barrister were two of his most famous victories.

One was the successful defence of a Killingworth man sued by Lake Macquarie City Council after a woman had fallen into a drain near the defendant’s property; the other was having conspiracy to murder charges against Lionel Desanges dismissed at a committal hearing.

(Note: The Director of Public Prosecutions later had Desanges indicted despite the magistrate’s ruling. He was acquitted by a jury.)

One of the first things to strike Judge Coolahan in the early days of his judicial career was the relentless workload.

The responsibility was enormous.

He agonised over sentencing and had sympathy for both victims and offenders.

One of the most traumatic cases he presided over was the trial and eventual sentencing of truck driver Gimmi Morabito who caused a triple-fatal accident on the Pacific Highway near Bulahdelah in 2004.

Two of the victims were Rebecca and Jessica Campbell, aged nine and eight respectively.

His Honour was faced with the task of sentencing an old man, 71, for the deaths of two children and their grandmother.

His Honour knew what it was like to lose a child, having lost son Richard to SIDS, and yet there was compassion for the man whose reaction to a car slowing in front caused him to turn sharply and career to the wrong side of the road, crashing and incinerating three people.

Morabito was jailed for a minimum of 15 months. The Court of Criminal Appeal upheld the sentence as fair and not excessive.

His Honour extended mercy to many others including one self-represented appellant who was more than grateful for one last chance. His Honour made the appellant promise that he’d stay off the grog and get a job to which the appellant replied: ‘‘Yes, Your Majesty.’’

King Ralph was crowned.

There were other lighter moments and opportunities for His Honour to exercise his wit, but there was also an ever growing scourge that plagued his court.

Judge Coolahan’s career coincided with the reign of a populist state Labor government determined to lock up as many people as possible for as long as possible.

The result was a budget blowout for the Department of Corrective Services as it expanded some jails and built new ones.

At the beginning of Judge Coolahan’s career it was estimated that the average cost of housing a prisoner for one year was $70,000 to $80,000. Many assume that number is now six-figures.

Budget cuts had to be made and they would be inflicted on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Department of Justice and Attorney-General despite the relevant Labor ministers claiming that budgets for these departments had actually increased.

Even the Department of Corrective Services was forced to find savings including cutting staff while it continued its capital works program.

The result for Newcastle was a mix of frustration, embarrassment and disgust.

The courthouse continued to decay, prisoners got lost and weren’t brought to court and audiovisual equipment broke down and stayed down until it was somehow fixed by the boffins in Sydney.

All the while, the government expected His Honour to conduct trials and hearings in a timely manner.

Someone needed to do something, say something and His Honour did.

When his courtroom and chambers were engulfed by the stench of decaying rat and pigeon corpses His Honour let fly. When prisoners weren’t brought to court despite His Honour’s orders he threatened to issue a warrant for the arrest of the Commissioner of Corrective Services so he could explain to the court, the victims and the offenders or accused what the problem was.

But it was during another potential crisis where His Honour was at his most cranky yet cunning.

In 2009 a Crown prosecutor relayed to the court that due to budget constraints the Director of Public Prosecutions would not be able to supply prosecutors or brief private counsel to lead trials at upcoming sittings at East Maitland and Armidale.

A spokeswoman later told the Newcastle Herald that witnesses had been told not to attend and jury panels cancelled.

When that appeared in the Herald the next day, Judge Coolahan was furious.

The director, Nicholas Cowdery QC, was effectively using East Maitland and Armidale to demand more funding from the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos.

They had opposing views on a number of issues and both put their views on the Crown prosecutors’ crisis in the Herald.

The real victims, of course, were the defendants, complainants and witnesses waiting patiently for their cases to be heard.

Judge Coolahan executed two deft moves that no doubt had a number of public servants in Sydney scurrying.

The cancelling of jury panels and instructing witnesses not to attend court could amount to perverting the course of justice, His Honour said.

‘‘I may have to make the trip out to East Maitland next Monday myself,’’ he said.

What was this mad judge in Newcastle capable of, they must have thought in Sydney.

Would he dare issue a warrant for the director or, worse, the Attorney-General? Would he seriously recommend that the director be charged with a criminal offence?

Cowdery kept blaming the government for not funding his office adequately and Hatzistergos kept blaming the director for not managing his budget properly, but within days some funds magically appeared.

There were many other incidents and memorable cases heard in courtroom 4 over the years. The child sex and drugs trial of former MP Milton Orkopoulos and the sentencing of celebrated paramedic David Higgins for attempted murder are among the more notable.

The gentleman who grew up with young Ralph at Shortland never did stick his head in courtroom 4. If he had, one wonders what he would have made of seeing his old mate decked out in his robes sitting on the bench. (Judge Coolahan rarely wore his wig).

Had he looked closely he might have noticed that the robe was frayed in a few places and the red and purple had faded.

He might have thought: ‘‘There sits my old mate Ralph. A kid who wanted to be a fighter pilot, could have been a doctor, wound up a judge.’’

Not bad for a kid from Shortland.

Written with the assistance of extracts from eulogies delivered by Justice Reg Blanch, Peter Harper, Susie Mosman and Sally Coolahan.

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Give me my own bank

I AM no fan of rampant consumerism as a way of running our society. Easy money got the world into its present financial mess. Having said that, the big four banks in this country seem to get away with the equivalent of daylight robbery – again and again and again.
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Their margins and profits beggar belief and their excuses for outrageous fees and those margins and profits are just tiresome rubbish. Treasurer Wayne Swann encourages us to look around and shop elsewhere. Well, while the Aussie taxpayer was protecting the big four during the GFC, they were buying up most of their competitors. Perhaps the government should revisit the idea of a people’s bank to provide some competition to the big four. Wasn’t that the idea of the Commonwealth Bank when the government – that is, us – owned it?

Lachlan Beed, Kotara

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