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Archive for April, 2019

Home of the week in Hamilton

​GEORGIA Raftopoulos invested in a dilapidated house in Hamilton intending to renovate and sell.

But on completion of builder William Morton’s makeover and extension, Georgia so loved the results she not only kept the property, she now calls the Lawson Street residence home.

The circa 1860 cavity brick building had been rundown, with rising damp, walls that weren’t straight, uneven floors and a roof that needed fixing.

Now it is a seamless combination of historic and modern features, reflecting both the builder and owner’s passion for function and preservation.

As well as addressing structural problems and rendering, the renovation converted the living room at the front of the house to a master bedroom with an ensuite.

The rear extension now includes a living room, kitchen and dining area, enclosed patio and laundry.

“To start with I bought the property so I could renovate it and sell it to make a profit,” Georgia says.

“Now it is my home.”

So what changed her mind?

“My love for old places,” Georgia says, one of them now her three-bedroom home.

William does a range of residential and commercial work but has a particular passion for the historic.

“I just love old buildings,” he says.

“So I get the feel for them and try to make them, as much as possible, the same as what they were.”

This shared belief in the value of heritage is reflected in the structure William has created, and the decor Georgia has added.

Many features of the original residence are repurposed in the renovation.

French doors removed from the former living room turned master bedroom are now the exit to the backyard.

A fireplace previously in this front room now has pride of place in the living room, albeit with a modern gas conversion.

The home’s front door was kept when the property’s main entry point was shifted and new stained glass added. It’s large brass centred-knob and gleaming red paint makes a bold and bright entry point.The bathroom door is original too, as are most of the windows, the elegant crystal chandeliers in the hallway and light shades hanging over the kitchen bench.

A metal box once used to store firewood outdoors was sprayed white and converted to a bathroom storage cabinet.

William’s craftsmanship comes to the fore through other added touches – everything from the picket fence out front to the archway at the end of the hall and the architraves, mouldings and double skirting boards in between.A built-in bedroom wardrobe, display cabinet in the kitchen and an exposed brick feature wall in the living area are among the other handiwork.

William is especially proud of the atmosphere he has created in Georgia’s home.“Some places, they’ve got no atmosphere, no feel to it,” he says.“People who’ve come in since I’ve completed the works, they can feel the warmth and the atmosphere as a home.”

It’s ideal for the place in which Georgia so often acts as chef and host.“I do a lot of entertaining,” she says.Many of the home’s modern additions are designed with hospitality in mind.A huge granite kitchen bench doubles as a table, a favourite spot for guests to sit and chat.The enclosed patio is another key entertaining area. In addition to her gas stove in the kitchen, Georgia has a table customised as an induction cooktop on the patio.These two adjoining areas are Georgia’s favourite spots in the house.

“I love eating out there, sitting, drinking, watching outside,” she says.“I completely relax being in the kitchen.”

Georgia’s attention to detail and handy practical touches are dotted throughout the unseen corners of the home too.Mosquito netting under the patio flooring helps keep the indoor-outdoor area as comfortable as possible.She even has a working clock-face on the door of her clothes dryer – decorative and a handy point to glance at to check the time from the nearby kitchen.

Georgia has put thought in to every part of the home, from the patterned cornices that remind her of her Greek heritage, to the custom-made stained glass window fitted above the bathroom door and a hand-painted tessellated tile artwork of a Spanish lady spraying herself with perfume hanging above the master bed.It’s a home reflecting every bit of the owner’s heart and soul.

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Scott Morrison wedges himself as ending tax rorts won’t help the budget

Treasurer Scott Morrison keeps telling us that he won’t let tax reform increase the overall tax take. Photo: Andrew MearesMultinational oil and gas giants paying no petroleum resource rent taxWhich of ‘s biggest companies are not paying taxTop ten companies paying the least taxHalf of ‘s public companies under ATO review

In all the analysis of the MYEFO budget update and especially in the myriad suggestions for how to fix the tax take, it’s largely been missed that ending the tax lurks and rorts won’t reduce the deficit or maintain the services we want.

There’s been plenty of advice for Treasurer Scott Morrison along the lines of: “Just fix the loop holes, make the multinationals pay what they ethically should, and/or end the more extreme superannuation generosity, and/or fix the negative gearing/capital gains tax interaction – and that will fix the deficit with cash left over for free beer.”

OK, maybe not free beer – maybe the NDIS and Gonski and maintaining Medicare instead.

The Greens had the Parliamentary Budget Office do the sums, finding $38 billion over four years from fixing four perceived tax failings –  $38 billion that would push Scotty’s station wagon a long way down the holiday road.

But what all such suggestions miss is one very important point: ScoMo has wedged himself.

With the wave of an arbitrary and doctrinaire hand, the Treasurer keeps telling us that he won’t let tax reform increase the overall tax take.

All those helpful suggestions would do just that. So ScoMo is promising to give tax cuts to the value of any tax reform revenue gains. Tax reform the ScoMo way is a zero-sum game on a percentage of GDP basis.

It’s a monumental embarrassment to the Liberal Party that the MYEFO shows it runs a big-taxing, big-spending government. It’s something Morrison and the Cormannator would prefer you didn’t notice.

Given all the stick the coalition gave Labor when it was in government, It’s something that Stephen Koukoulas – former economic adviser to Julia Gillard – seems to enjoy pointing out:

“The MYEFO confirms that tax revenue will rise to 23.1 per cent of GDP in 2018-19…Not Whitlam, nor Keating, nor Rudd, nor Gillard ever taxed this high. The only government to have a higher tax-to-GDP ratio was John Howard, who exceeded this rate in eight of his years in office.”

Despite the big taxing, the big spending is even bigger, hence the deficit and debt growth. The government will spend 25.9 per cent of GDP this financial year and will stay at or above 25.3 per cent out to 2018-19. Spending under Gillard/Swan averaged 24.9 per cent. Big taxing, big spending, big debt

The resultant debt issue has been nicely explained by Tim Colebatch, while neatly skewering much of the focus of MYEFO reporting.

“This week’s budget update adds roughly $8 billion a year to the forecasts of budget deficits to 2018–19. It adds an extra $62 billion to the forecast net debt of the federal government – that’s us, by the way – in 2025-26. The update wipes out virtually all the net debt savings the Coalition had earlier claimed from halving ‘s foreign aid effort and shifting $80 billion of hospital and school bills to the states.”

When it was the opposition, the coalition was rather fond of quoting gross government debt figures. It probably isn’t now. Treasury reckons it will hit $643 billion in 10 years, $73 billion more than it estimated seven months ago.

“And that’s assuming a decade of fine economic weather, and six years of budget surpluses,” notes Colebatch. “If the economy hits heavy weather, and/or budget surpluses remain as elusive as they have proved since Wayne Swan told us they were already locked in, then we face even bigger problems.”

This big taxing, big spending, big debt, big interest bill story doesn’t fit at all well with the coalition’s rhetoric and sloganeering – and ScoMo seems to still have a weak spot for a little sloganeering.

Which is why he’s happy to drag a Centrelink customer over the coals if he or she has been paid $100 more than the rules allow because it’s a saving – but having a rich retiree pay just a little tax on the earnings of a multi-million-dollar super fund would require a balancing tax cut somewhere else and therefore doesn’t solve the deficit.

Yep, ScoMo has wedged himself, leaving room only for inevitably unpopular spending cuts and the hope of faster economic growth to solve his problems.

Speaking of which, it’s also worth remembering that only the first two years in the MYEFO numbers are forecasts. The rest – the numbers that result in little surpluses next decade – are still happy-ever-after assumptions, what growth would have to be to absorb excess capacity.

So Scott Morrison will never deliver a surplus.

Not that there’s anything especially wrong with that. To keep perspective on our deficit fixation, ‘s net government debt, even when it rises to 18.5 per cent of GDP under ScoMo, is not high by international standards. It’s manageable and we can afford to service it.

It limits but doesn’t rule out our ability to react should there be another international financial crisis. It would be nice if the debt was incurred by productive investment that effectively ends up paying for itself, but that’s not quite the case.

And right now, ScoMo is doing the right thing by letting the deficit grow a bit, the economy’s automatic stabilisers do their thing to keep economic and employment growth happening. To be totally doctrinaire – a full-on IPA loony – would send the economy into recession with the resultant terrible waste of human talent.

It’s simplistic, but if you run into someone chanting about the need to immediately balance the budget, just remind them that GDP growth is about 2.5 per cent and the government’s negative underlying cash balance is about 2.3 per cent of GDP – no deficit, no growth.

We need to be in deficit and we need to bring our debt under control over time.

But what we also need to do is work out how much we want the government to spend and tax, not just rely on a slogan about “lower taxes”. That way we can solve part of our problem by having a fairer tax system, instead of concentrating on tax cuts.

Mr Colebatch summed it up:

“If we are serious about this, we need to get out of our comfort zones. People on the left can’t continue with the illusion that all spending is sacred, and that the only reason the government cuts spending on health or welfare and talks about raising the GST is that its ministers are evil and untrustworthy. People on the right can’t continue with the illusion that all tax breaks are sacred, and that the budget can be put back in shape simply by cutting spending. It can’t and, most importantly, it won’t.”

In the meantime, yes, ScoMo has wedged himself – and us.

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Try a coffin for size: The death business is thriving in Japan

“It was very relaxing”, said Miwa Okomoto’s father before she tried out the coffin herself. Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/BloombergAkira Okomoto sat up and climbed out of a coffin. “It was very relaxing,” he proclaimed, as his 27-year-old daughter, Miwa, then trepidatiously took her turn lying down for five minutes in the dark enclosure that would one day be her final resting place. The scene is a cafe in eastern Tokyo where a handful of people have gathered to hear a talk by a death expert and try out the cafe’s Coffin Experience, which owner Masumi Murata says helps people “cherish each and every day and realise what’s really important” by pondering their own deaths. Japan’s earthquake and tsunami in 2011 killed more than 15,000 people. The ground below the 36 million residents of the Tokyo area rumbles spasmodically with minor earthquakes in an ever-present threat. Combined with these continual reminders, Japan has one of the most rapidly ageing populations in the world where more and more people, old and young, are living alone. Millions of Japanese saw the hit film Departures, about the respectability of an undertaker’s profession, which won the 2009 Academy Award for foreign film. All this has made talk of death commonplace in Japan — and prompted a number of companies including Aeon, Japan’s largest retailer operating supermarkets and malls, and Yahoo Japan to enter the industry catering to it, known as shukatsu. Living alone

“The old Japanese saying is, ‘A bird does not mess up the nest when it goes,’ and people were traditionally taken care of by family members when they died,” said Akio Doteuchi, a researcher at NLI Research Institute. “Now, not only the elderly but also the middle-aged and even younger people are worried about living alone and being socially isolated. The earthquake and tsunami in 2011 helped people realise that again.” A three-day industry expo in early December, the first of its sort, drew 220 companies exhibiting their businesses related to death to more than 22,000 visitors, according to Mayumi Tominaga, an expo spokeswoman. Products included grave stones, hearses and balloons to carry ashes to the sky, while professional encoffiners held a competition for their skill in changing dead people’s clothes.

Life Ending Industry Expo. Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/BloombergFurther expansion

“The range of shukatsu services is expected to further expand as people seek various options to handle their deaths,” said Takuji Mitsuda, chief management consultant at consultancy Funai Soken, who puts the size of the industry at about 2 trillion yen ($22.8 billion). “The Departures film gave Japanese a chance to ponder death. The Tohoku earthquake killed people’s loved ones and made them feel that their lives aren’t certain either. People started doing shukatsu to cherish their ‘now’ more and more, because of those events that made them aware of death.” Data from market research firm Yano Research, which was provided by Aeon, show the industry has grown 7 per cent from 1.83 trillion yen in 2011. Yahoo Japan last year started Yahoo Ending, which lets users set up a free electronic memorial for themselves after death, handles their online data, documents and photos according to their wishes, and sends final e-mails stored in Yahoo’s servers to family and friends after death. Yahoo doesn’t disclose subscriber numbers other than that they’re in the thousands, mostly people in their 30s and 40s paying 180 yen ($2) a month to keep their final e-mails stored, and it hopes to raise it to tens of thousands soon, said Shinsuke Takahashi, who leads the project. “The internet and reality need to be connected to solve various issues around death,” Takahashi said. “I believe the shukatsu boom will last a long time.” Ending notes

Stationery maker Kokuyo has sold half a million 1550- yen “ending note” notebooks since late 2010, said Hiromi Waki, a company spokesman. Not only the elderly, but people in their 20s and 30s are using the books to record bank accounts, funeral wishes and other necessary information in the event of their deaths in an accessible place for others to find, he said. Japan’s earthquake and tsunami “had a huge impact” on people’s desire to plan for death, according to Fumitaka Hirohara, chief executive officer of Aeon’s funeral planning subsidiary, Aeon Life. “It left the feeling that you never know what will happen to you tomorrow, and if something bad or unexpected really happens, you would cause trouble to other people” by not planning sufficiently, he said in an interview. Trusts increase

Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corp. has seen a 26 per cent increase in the past five years in trusts that pay out after death, to more than 30,500. It started distributing ending notebooks to clients two years ago to help them with planning, according to Toshihiko Taniguchi, chief manager of retail trust assets administration. The notebooks are “an easy way for our clients to think about property succession, and also certainly helping us to get a client’s detailed profile like family structure as they write down that personal and sensitive information.”

Ending notebooks. Photo: Akio Kon/BloombergEnding notebooks are becoming popular among the elderly as well. At the Tokiwadaira Danchi apartment complex in Chiba prefecture east of Tokyo, 44 per cent of residents of the more than 5300 households are now older than 65. As living and dying alone becomes an issue, the complex’s community group asked people to write down information about themselves and detailed instructions and preferences regarding funerals and medical interventions in case they become unable to communicate. Avoiding trouble

“What I care about most is how I can avoid becoming trouble for someone,” said Tatsuo Miyauchi, an 87-year-old who has been living alone since losing his wife 18 years ago. “I don’t want to be found dead and rotten in my room.” The couple had no children, so Miyauchi, who can still speak clearly and walks to the supermarket by himself, is making his death arrangements on his own. He recently went to a professional photo studio to take a funeral portrait, wearing a dark-gray suit, which he put into a pocket of the notebook. Japan’s rapidly ageing population means its annual mortality rate is expected to surge 27 per cent to a peak of 1.67 million by 2040, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. The coffin-trying cafe, called Blue Ocean after the locale of an ashes-sprinkling service also offered by its owner, opened in February and serves up products and services such as a method to compress your loved one’s ashes into diamond jewellery — as well as its regular coffee and snacks menu. It draws a dozen or so people to its bimonthly coffin events designed to prepare people for death. Coffin-trying

Aeon, which operates 100 death seminar events a year, also offers coffin-trying to potential buyers at its malls and seeks to sell funeral packages, the most popular priced at 500,000 yen, to Japanese seniors willing to make advance arrangements. People feel relieved once they’re done and they can get on with enjoying their rest of their lives, CEO Hirohara said. Formerly in Japan, the eldest son used to take over the family house and tend the family graves, but now with people moving to big cities and leaving their home towns behind, they don’t know whom to ask to plan their funerals and don’t have family grave sites, he said. “When we started organising shukatsu events at the shopping malls five years ago, few people came. Once they looked at words like death and funeral, they ran away,” he said. “People’s attitudes toward death are becoming more positive.” Some 80,000 people have signed up for Aeon’s death-planning services, an increase of 10,000 over mid-last year, according to an Aeon spokeswoman.

Emi Takamura. Photo: Noriko Hayashi/BloombergEmi Takamura, 59, attended a recent Aeon coffin-trying seminar with her husband, as they aren’t “so far away” from their eventual deaths, she said. “I have seen the sudden deaths of young friends and relatives,” said Takamura, who said lying in the coffin made her ponder what it’s like to be dead. “My understanding was that shukatsu is to prepare for the end, but today I learned that it’s meant to be something to help you enjoy the rest of your life.”


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Julie Bishop defends ASIO chief Duncan Lewis over calls schooling Coalition MPs

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop Photo: Alex Ellinghausen ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis gives a briefing to then prime minister Tony Abbott in June. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Flow of Islamic State fighters has hit a ‘plateau’

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has defended the right of ASIO chief Duncan Lewis to “speak out” after reports he called Coalition MPs to urge them to tone down the language they used in public discussion of Islam.

News Corp reported on Thursday the director-general of ASIO had angered some MPs after phoning them to tell them some of their remarks posed a potential risk to national security.

MPs critical of the intervention see it as an attack on free speech.

But Ms Bishop said on Thursday Mr Lewis was right to share his views if the public commentary was affecting ASIO’s work.

“If the director-general of ASIO has formed a view that the public debate might have the potential to put at risk the work that his organisation is undertaking in countering terrorism, then of course he should speak out,” Ms Bishop said on Thursday.

In an interview with News Corp last week, Mr Lewis said some of the public discussion around Islam had the potential to fuel a backlash against Muslims that would make ASIO’s work more difficult.

It comes after former prime minister Tony Abbott used an opinion piece last week to call for a “religious reformation” within in Islam.

Mr Abbott called for a “hearts and minds campaign against the versions of Islam that make excuses for terrorists, saying Islam had not undergone an equivalent version of the Reformation and Enlightenment in Christian nations.

He said societies “can’t remain in denial about the massive problem within Islam” after terrorist attacks in Paris and the Middle East, the deaths of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson in the Martin Place siege last year and Curtis Cheng outside Parramatta police station in October.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull responded to Mr Abbott’s remarks by cautioning against blaming all Muslims for Islamic State terrorist attacks.

“I’m not about to run a commentary on Mr Abbott but I’d simply make the observation again that the one thing we need to be very careful not to do – and I’m sure Tony agrees with this by the way – is to play into the hands of our enemies and seek to tag all Muslims with the crimes of a few,” Mr Turnbull said last week.

“The simple fact of the matter is the vast majority of Muslims are as appalled by these acts of extremism as we are.”

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How The Belier Family turned a teenager from The Voice into a movie star

A semi-finalist on the French version of The Voice, Louane Emera stars as Paula in The Belier Family.More on The Belier FamilyMovie session timesFull movies coverage

When French filmmaker Eric Lartigau was casting his new comedy The Belier Family, he thought he’d found his star. The central character is Paula Belier, a 16-year-old girl from a farming family who discovers by chance, at a school choir audition, that she has a beautiful singing voice.

Lartigau was looking for an actress who could sing to play Paula when he came across a young performer “with a remarkable presence who brought something very special” to the character. But she couldn’t sing. In fact, he says, “she had a terrible voice. I thought, ‘She’s so good, it will be all right – we can dub her’. But we couldn’t do it.”

He needed “the emotion of the voice to be transmitted directly”, he says, and dubbing didn’t work. So he had to start again and look for a singer for the role.

He eventually found his young star, Louane Emera​, on the French version of The Voice. She was 16 when she appeared on the second season of the show, eliminated in the semifinals. She’d been in a television show called School For Stars when she was 12, but she hadn’t acted before. And to play Paula, she also had to learn to French sign language.

The Belier Family is about Paula, “a young girl emerging from her cocoon”, but it’s also about her family. Her father, mother and younger brother are deaf, and Paula has always assumed her place is beside them, helping them to run the farm. Her teacher thinks she could win a scholarship to study in Paris, but she can’t imagine leaving home.

Family, Lartigau says, is one of his particular themes as a filmmaker, and as he wrote and developed the characters, he saw actors Karin Viard and Francois Damiens as Paula’s mother and father. He admits he never considered casting deaf actors instead.

“I didn’t want to make a documentary about the deaf. I wanted to tell the story of an adolescent girl whose experience was out of the ordinary, because she was living with deaf parents and a deaf younger brother.”

However, the younger brother is played by Luca Gelberg​, who is deaf.

The Beliers, from left, Quentin (Luca Gelberg), Paula (Louane Emera), Rodolphe (Francois Damiens) and Gigi (Karin Viard).

When it came to signing, there was much for everyone to learn.

“It’s a fascinating world, because it involves another way of thinking, another way of approaching people,” Lartigau says. “It’s direct, and people don’t say things in a roundabout way. If they think something, they’ll say it, clearly.”

He wanted Viard and Damiens to be convincing when they signed, he says. “It involved an enormous amount of work. And Francois underestimated it a little; he thought it would be easier than it was. It’s learning another language.

“It’s not just learning how to sign,” he adds, “because the facial expression is very important for every sign.”

Paula is discovered by a strong-willed teacher (Eric Elmosnino​) with very definite ideas about repertoire. The choice of songs for the choir, and for Paula, had been made in the first script by Victoria Bedos, the originator of the project: she had selected the music of French singer-songwriter Michel Sardou. “It was a nice touch,” Lartigau says. “There is a song, Je vole, I fly” – about a child bidding farewell to father and mother, and setting out alone – “and it’s the image of Paula’s life.”

Director Eric Lartigau on set.

Sardou is not a fashionable figure, Lartigau notes, and he rather likes that.

“He’s very straightforward, very direct, too,” although his songs take on a new meaning when they are sung by adolescents. “Sardou himself said this when he saw the film; he said it was very unsettling and very interesting. He told me, ‘I rediscovered my texts’.”

The Belier Family was a big hit in France, and it has left its mark. A couple of nights before I spoke to Lartigau in France, I had been channel-surfing when I came across an episode of France’s Got Talent. There, among the contestants – among Diabolo virtuosos, Christian rockers and stand-up comedians – was a young woman whose name was Paula, just like the central character of The Belier Family. She sang a song called Maman and she signed it as she sang; her mother, who is deaf, was in the audience.

Maman is a song written by Emera about her late mother. Lartigau hadn’t seen the show, but Emera had, and she’d told him all about it. She thought the girl had a lovely voice, Lartigau says, and she was really touched by the performance and the choice of song.

The Belier Family opens on Boxing Day, with previews at selected cinemas this weekend.

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