Monthly Archives: January 2019

NSW gives green light to Packer casino at Barangaroo

Packer casino gets green light: Legislation to allow a second Sydney casino licence will be introduced to parliament this week. barangaroo
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Comment: Public sidelined in Packer winOpinions divided on new vision for tourismTimeline: How Crown won its thone

A casino is set to operate at Barangaroo from November 2019 after the state government announced an agreement with James Packer’s Crown Resorts for VIP-only gambling at its proposed $1.3 billion hotel complex.

Premier Barry O’Farrell announced cabinet had struck an agreement with Crown on Monday night and said legislation for a second Sydney casino licence would be introduced to parliament this week.

While the government has entered into a “binding agreement” with Crown to develop the “VIP restricted gaming facility” at Barangaroo, approvals are still needed before the project can proceed. The Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority will need to consider if Mr Packer’s company Crown is a suitable casino operator and the proposed six-star hotel resort will need planning approval.

Mr O’Farrell said the public would be invited to comment on both.

Crown is unlikely to have difficulty proving to NSW authorities it is a fit and proper operator of gambling facilities having passed a probity test in May to increase its stake in rival Echo Entertainment, owner of the Star casino.

Indications are that the legislation is likely to pass the NSW upper house with the support of the government and the cross bench.

Labor may consider whether to support the legislation at its shadow cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

In a statement, Mr Packer said he was “humbled” by the government’s decision.

“Sydney is one of the world’s great cities,” he said. “It deserves one of the world’s great hotels. I am going to do everything I can to try and make Crown Sydney the best hotel in the world.”

He said Crown believed the development would “help attract Asian high net worth travellers to Sydney, in particular from China”.

Opposition Gaming and Tourism spokesman Steve Whan said while he had yet to see the legislation, the government appeared to have met the conditions set by Labor to receive its approval. They included no poker machines, no encroachment of public space and VIP membership restrictions.

Draft legislation reveals the government proposes to grant Crown a 99-year gaming licence to operate a casino without poker machines and minimum bet limits of $30 for baccarat, $20 for blackjack and $25 for roulette.

It states only “members and guests” are allowed to gamble at the Barangaroo casino.

Those from overseas or interstate must prove they are already VIP members of other casinos or participate in “high roller” gambling elsewhere.

NSW residents will be allowed to become members but will be subject to a 24-hour “cooling off” period unless they are already registered for VIP gambling at other casinos.

The conditions of the agreement include a guarantee from Crown that the casino will deliver at least $1 billion in licence fee and gambling taxes to the state over the first 15 years of “full operation”. The green light from cabinet comes more than a year after Mr Packer first revealed his desire for permission to run a casino to fund construction of his hotel resort at Barangaroo.

The NSW government has dealt with the project through its unsolicited proposals guidelines for unique development proposals from the private sector.

Last week Crown unveiled the latest proposal for its proposed 70-storey, six-star hotel resort at Barangaroo. They include plans for 30 luxury apartments, bars and restaurants at Barangaroo South.

Mr O’Farrell said the government supports the plans “because of its economic benefits to NSW” which included 1,200 extra jobs, the $1.3 billion investment in an “iconic” hotel and the additional gambling tax revenue.

However, the Greens MP John Kaye criticised the government’s unsolicited proposals process as “anything but transparent and open”.

“NSW will now have another casino with more corruption pressures, more money laundering from Asian drug and prostitution cartels and more opportunities for problem gamblers,” he said.

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DVD: We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks 

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Universal, 130minutes

Rating: ★★★

JULIAN Assange expressed his dislike of Alex Gibney’s documentary about the WikiLeaks phenomenon.

He refused to appear in it, he says, because of his conviction Gibney was going to produce ‘‘a pretty sleazy result’’.

Jemima Khan, who is Gibney’s executive producer as well as one of the supporters who posted bail for Assange after his London arrest, has a different slant on their failure to do business together.

‘‘Assange endlessly messed Alex around,’’ she said.

‘‘He wanted extensive editorial control and intel [intelligence] on the other interviewees, which I knew Alex would never agree to. In the end, it became increasingly difficult and negotiations broke down.’’

However the story went, the prickly arrogance Assange displays in interviews would have been an uneasy fit with Gibney’s style, which is about analysing rather than lionising, and the thoroughness with which he scrutinises the psychological make-up of his cast of characters.

Gibney specialises in the slow but inexorable build-up. We Steal Secrets is typical. The first 20minutes or so look like hagiography. Then the picture tilts, the light shifts and harsher outlines take shape.

It’s not only about Assange and the dynamics of the WikiLeaks set-up. These share centre stage with the even more tantalising figure of Bradley Manning, who has so far paid a much higher price than Assange for the sake of freedom of information.

Why did he turn whistleblower? Several of his fellow soldiers appear in the film, recalling a man made miserable by bullying, loneliness and his growing conviction he should have been born female. They all agree he should never have been given access to the encrypted files he released to WikiLeaks. But there is no denying the strength of his conviction, or the importance of what he did in leaking Collateral Murder, the notorious video of the botched Baghdad air strike that killed more than a dozen people in 2007, among them two Reuters journalists.

Gibney replays the footage – justifiably, for no amount of repetition can diminish the casual brutality of the US helicopter gunship crew’s banter as they pick off their victims as if taking out targets in a video game.

By the way, the film’s title, We Steal Secrets, does not refer to WikiLeaks’ modus operandi. The words are used by General Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA.

‘‘Let me be very candid,’’ he said.

‘‘We steal secrets. We steal other nations’ secrets. One cannot do that above board and be very successful for a very long period of time.’’

Of Assange’s Australian defenders, the staunchest are the academic Robert Manne and the journalist Mark Davis, who says he was worried by the need to protect the identities of people mentioned in the leaked documents and that he laboured long and hard in making these redactions. More caustic are The Guardian and The New York Times journalists who worked with Assange on the documents’ publication and are now completely at odds with him because of the stories they have published about the difficulties of collaborating with him.

Initially, Assange did not think it necessary to make the redactions, they say – hence the rush to get the job done when he finally changed his mind. The two Swedish women involved in the sex charges against him appear with their faces obscured to say they would never have gone to the police if he had agreed to take an HIV test. This leads to the film’s most controversial suggestion – that Assange erred by turning the charges into a human rights issue. Consequently his supporters have since gone on to accuse Gibney of downplaying the possibility of his imprisonment in the US should Sweden extradite him.

Just as contentious are the reminiscences offered up by Assange’s former WikiLeaks colleagues. While there are few surprises in Gibney’s interviews with Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who split with Assange some time ago, his dissatisfactions are reiterated by others in the group. The general tenor of their complaints is over Assange’s ability to command the headlines with his personal predicament at the expense of the cause that brought them all together in the first place. WikiLeaks, they think, has become conflated with the Julian Assange Effect.

The film has provoked mixed reactions. Assange supporters see it as a hatchet job. It’s also been criticised as being little more than a rehash. It certainly lacks the narrative punch of Gibney’s earlier films, and its attempts to compare and contrast Assange’s character and circumstances with those of Manning makes it feel cumbersome in places.

But given that Gibney could not interview either of his main players, it’s remarkably compelling.

Julian Assange

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Philippine rescuers overwhelmed by disaster

Overwhelmed rescue workers are struggling to bring aid to famished and destitute survivors of the super typhoon that tore through the Philippines and left a feared 10,000 dead.
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As rescuers tried to reach areas along a heavily damaged chain of Philippine islands, survivors described a toll that the impoverished country will be contending with for years.

Entire regions are without food and water, towns have been pulverised and bodies are strewn on the streets after typhoon Haiyan – one of Asia’s most destructive natural disasters in recent decades – brought waves as high as two-storey buildings and winds of up to 270km/h.

Threatening to further hamper the relief efforts was a tropical depression approaching the southern and central Philippines. Government weather forecasters said the depression could bring fresh floods to the typhoon-affected areas.

The typhoon touched down in central Vietnam on Monday, threatening to stretch that country’s resources to the limit.

More than 600,000 people fled their homes at the weekend to avoid the storm, which had weakened since it struck the Philippines.

Vietnamese authorities closed schools, ordered all boats back to shore and warned people fleeing the storm’s path to take enough food and water to last for three days.

The full scale of the disaster in the Philippines is only now becoming apparent, with photos and videos showing massive destruction.

There have been reports of widescale looting by desperate survivors. President Benigno Aquino, who travelled by helicopter to the hard-hit city of Tacloban, said the government had deployed soldiers to “show the strength of the state and deter further looting”.

Schoolteacher Andrew Pomeda told the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “Tacloban is totally destroyed. Some people are losing their minds from hunger or from losing their families. People are becoming violent. They are looting business establishments, the malls, just to find food.

“I’m afraid that in one week people will be killing from hunger.”

The latest Philippine government estimates suggest that 9.5 million people – about 10 per cent of the country – have been affected, with more than 600,000 displaced from their homes.

Many roads remain impassable, according to the UN office responsible for humanitarian affairs, and some of the injured have no access to medical care.

Even in Tacloban, one of the first areas accessed by aid workers, it takes six hours to make the 23-kilometre round trip between the airport and the city because of the damage, officials said.

“It is vital that we reach those who are stranded in isolated areas as they are at risk of further threats such as malnutrition, exposure to bad weather and unsafe drinking water,” said Luiza Carvalho, a UN humanitarian co-ordinator for the Philippines.

Tacloban, with a population of 220,000, is the capital of Leyte province, a mountainous island. On Samar, a slightly larger island nearby, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office told AP that 300 people were dead, 2000 were missing and parts of the island had not been contacted.

Both Samar and Leyte are on the eastern side of the Philippine archipelago; reports about islands on the western side remain sparse.

Media in Manila have reported heavily on security worries in the devastated areas.

Video footage shows crowds ramming into the Gaisano mall in Tacloban and hauling out supplies, including clothing, suitcases and an ice-cream freezer. Philippine television reported that ATMs were being looted.

Reports said that communication infrastructure was heavily damaged, slowing the emergency response. Even in Tacloban, mobile service is not possible.

“There is a need for food and water,” said Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general of the Philippine Red Cross. “But we still have yet to assess the full damage” because some areas are cut off.

With a massive relief operation under way, the Philippine Red Cross told the AP that its efforts were being hampered by looters, including some who attacked trucks of food and other relief supplies that the agency was shipping from the southern port city of Davao to Tacloban.

The government said it would speed up aid and food distribution to victims.

“We have to move fast considering the extent of the devastation. People in the worst-hit areas need food, water and medicines,” Corazon Juliano-Soliman, secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, said.

The UN World Food Program said it is trying to airlift supplies and set up operating hubs in the hardest-hit areas.

“The main challenges right now are related to logistics. Roads are blocked; airports are destroyed,” said Praveen Agrawal, the WFP representative in the Philippines.

President Barack Obama said that the United States was prepared to help the Philippines recover. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the military’s Pacific Command to send ships and aircraft to help with search-and-rescue operations and carry emergency supplies to those in need.

Mr Obama said the US was providing significant humanitarian assistance, “and we stand ready to further assist the government’s relief and recovery efforts”.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the millions of people affected by this devastating storm,” he said.

Australia has pledged $10 million, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop describing the unfolding tragedy as “absolutely devastating” and on a “massive scale”.

A team of Australian medics would leave on Wednesday on a C17 military transport plane from Darwin to join disaster experts on the ground, the government said.

Washington Post, London Telegraph, Agencies

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Lack of depth leaves weary Wallabies with little in tank

When Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie replaced Quade Cooper after 59 minutes of the Test against Italy in Turin, it was a sensible bit of squad management he probably longs he could do a bit more of.
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Examine the heavy workload of instrumental Wallabies this year, including Super Rugby, and one conclusion leaps out. It is uncommon and unsustainable.

In Super Rugby, Brumbies hooker Stephen Moore accumulated 21.56 hours of service. That is not far off the total of 24.16 hours booked, collectively, by the All Blacks’ three hookers, Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu and Dane Coles.

Moore also played out the full 80 minutes nine times. The New Zealand trio, again in total, did that just three times throughout the whole of Super Rugby. That is a staggering difference.

At that other end of the age scale, Australian rugby is also asking a lot of its commodities. Michael Hooper played almost five more hours of Super Rugby than Chiefs peer Sam Cane – who job-shares at Super and Test level – despite not featuring in the finals. Hooper played every minute of every game he was available for the Waratahs, then continued into the draining British and Irish Lions series and Rugby Championship, where he has again been asked to carry a heavy workload, almost exclusively, at No. 7. As for Moore’s post-Super Rugby exertions, if you are a Brumbies and Wallabies fan, you’ve probably seen more of him than your own partner this year. And these two are not isolated cases.

The likelihood of two things increases when you ask someone to keep playing at high levels for extended periods. You break them, or they produce performances that are good but not as good as you might get with a mentally and physically rejuvenated athlete. There is no way anyone can be at their peak from February to late November.

You can see why this situation arises – depth. At the Brumbies, for example, there is a pattern to how they use Moore. The back-up hooker, Siliva Siliva, has a lot of potential – Wallaby potential – but there was an evident wariness about throwing him in at the deep end (and understandably so). At the start of the season it was five minutes here, 10 minutes there, but at the business end Moore was the go-to man. Siliva didn’t get a single minute of finals rugby.

At the Waratahs, they need to win games. They are fighting for relevancy in the Sydney market. People want to see Hooper play, especially when having an openside who can cover the ground like Hooper can is essential to the way they were playing the game.

So how can you solve this problem? It certainly throws up a lot of curly questions, but you can probably boil it down to one hard one: Does Australia want its Super Rugby teams to do well or the Wallabies? Of course, in the ideal world the answer is both, but in that blissful fictional existence the money trees are thriving in the backyard, too.

Even if a functioning “third-tier” competition gets off the ground next year, it will take a year or two before it starts to feed into the Super Rugby system. In the interim, there might be a few interesting discussions between Ewen McKenzie and the Super teams. The Wallabies’ injury problems during the past few years tell their own tale. One bad year is probably unlucky, the next one starts to look like a trend.

With a bit of luck Tatafu Polota-Nau will return this weekend against Ireland to give the Wallabies a one-two punch at No. 2. But when you look at the kilometres on the clock of several Wallabies, they’ll be playing the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and their own weariness over the next three weeks.

Twitter @whiskeycully

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Wife puts homesick Fifita back on track at Cup

Manchester: Kangaroos enforcer Andrew Fifita has revealed how, while he was battling a severe bout of homesickness, his wife, Nikkita, propelled him to snap out of his funk enough for him to earn the players’ player award in Australia’s final pool game against Ireland.
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The Fifitas sacrificed their honeymoon to allow Andrew to make his Australian debut, and he was given just one day’s leave for his wedding when the Kangaroos entered their World Cup camp.

But despite featuring in all of Australia’s World Cup matches so far, Fifita wasn’t satisfied until his performance in the 50-0 win against Ireland, where he started on the bench.

“She said I needed to pull my finger out because I didn’t think I was playing that good,” Fifita said. “She said, ‘Grab the ball and go hard’. My debut and the second game I played, I thought I did make good impact but wasn’t as good. I think I went out a bit cocky in the first game and they put me on my back. I said, ‘I need to run harder’ or something and the next one I did.”

Nikkita arrives on Thursday, with the couple’s son, Latu Jay, who celebrates his first birthday on November 20. Their arrival can’t come soon enough for Fifita.

“I’m having big troubles, homesickness-wise,” he said. “I’ve come straight from my wedding. I’m meant to be on this honeymoon stage. I have never felt this before, the feelings I have for my son. I’m missing him so much.

“They leave next Wednesday but I won’t see them until they get to London. It’s my son’s birthday, so I am anxious to see them. If I have a team dinner, I’ll ask to have it off or bring them to team dinner.

“I’m Face-Timing — thank you for technology. It makes you miss them even more because you see them through a screen. Your heart goes out because you can’t hug or give them a kiss.”

While Fifita’s appraisal of his form has been tough, there is no doubt he has cemented his position on the Kangaroos’ bench. He has lifted the tempo in his three outings and has been among Australia’s top three forwards for metres gained in each game.

After finishing the NRL season as Cronulla’s top try-scorer, Fifita added another four-pointer with his first Test try against Ireland.

“The try was excellent,” he said. “It was off ‘Gal’ [Paul Gallen] and I saw Gal running out and I thought there was a hole there, so I went for it. Gal [earlier] said, ‘Let’s have a competition on who will score the most points’ and he came straight up to me and said he isn’t going to count that one.”

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