An inconvenient truth: you’re spending less on your Melbourne mortgage now than a decade ago

View of the Melbourne city skyline from Mickleham Road in Greenvale. Generic urban sprawl, urban development, new housing estate, outer suburbs, housing developments, urban fringe, rooftops, green wedge, rural fringe, city planning, commuter suburbs. Picture by PAUL ROVERE / THE AGE. 31 March 2011. NEWS View of the Melbourne city skyline from Mickleham Road in Greenvale. Generic urban sprawl, urban development, new housing estate, outer suburbs, housing developments, urban fringe, rooftops, green wedge, rural fringe, city planning, commuter suburbs. Picture by PAUL ROVERE / THE AGE. 31 March 2011. NEWS
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Melbourne homeowners are spending a smaller portion of their income on mortgages than 10 years ago, due to lower interest rates, challenging perceptions and the prevailing levels of mortgage stress.

The average mortgaged household in Victoria spent $439 a week on housing in 2015-16, down $12 from two years ago, but up from $396 in 2005-06. The increase was more than offset by rising incomes.

The amount spent by the average household renting in the private market stabilised at $359 a week in Victoria, but was still $100 higher than in 2005-06. Those renting in the state system paid $172 a week on average, up $26 in just two years.

The figures released on Friday by the n Bureau of Statistics, show that around the country the average mortgagee spends 16 per cent of household income on housing – down from 19 per cent a decade ago. It is the lowest rate since the ABS records began more than two decades ago.

That was largely down to the huge reduction in interest rates, which remain at near-record lows, and the growth in household incomes over the decade, the ABS said.

John Daley, of the Grattan Institute, warned the housing affordability crisis persisted in spite of the figures.

“Spending on housing is not going up particularly fast. But only because interest rates have fallen so far,” he said. “If interest rates go up from here, it will get ugly quite quickly.”

Across the nation, the average mortgagee household now, for the first time, spends more of its income on food than it does on housing. Housing costs include mortgage payments and water and rate payments.

Adjusted for inflation, the average mortgaged household paid $434 per week in 2015-16, much the same as in 2005-06. But over the same period the average income climbed from $2272 per week to $2759.

“Mortgage and property values have also increased in the last decade,” said Dean Adams, the ABS director of household characteristics and social reporting. “Ten years ago, the real median dwelling value was $449,000, which climbed to $520,000.”

Mr Adams said the burden imposed on mortgagee households might be even lower than the survey suggested.

“Our survey measures what they chose to pay in mortgage costs, not what they had to pay,” he said. “As rates have come down, some will have spent more than they need to in order to get ahead on their loans.”

Canberra is the easiest city in which to pay off a mortgage, with monthly payments of 15 per cent of income, a near record low. Sydney and Hobart have monthly payments of 17 per cent, and Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth monthly payments of 16 per cent.

But housing costs have deteriorated for renters. The average cost for households renting privately is $350 per week, less than the $452 cost for mortgaged households, but as a record high of 21 per cent as a proportion of income, up from 19 per cent 10 years earlier. Renters in public housing pay less again – $167 per week – but the cost also amounts to 21 per cent of household income.

Private renters are worse off in Hobart, paying 22 per cent of household income, and best off in Darwin. Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide renters pay 21 per cent, and Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth renters 20 per cent

The proportion of households renting privately has climbed to 25.7 per cent, the highest on record. Twenty years ago it was 19 per cent. The proportion owning or buying homes has slipped from 70.9 to 67.2 per cent.

Among home-owning households the proportion that have paid off their mortgages has fallen dramatically, from 42.8 per cent of all households to 31.4 per cent.

The proportion of older households still paying off mortgages has tripled in the past 10 years, climbing from 7 per cent to 21 per cent.

Mr Daley said the most important finding was that low-income households were increasingly stressed. The poorest were now spending 28 per cent of their income on housing, compared to 23 per cent 10 years ago. Most middle income earners had seen little change.

Two out of every nine homeowners owned more than one property, either for use as a second home or for renting out. One in 14 owned more than three.

The number of people per home fell from 2.7 in 1995-96 to 2.5 in 2005-06, but has since climbed back to 2.6.

Treasurer Scott Morrison this week moved to reassure US investors, and n investors, that is not headed towards a housing market crash, arguing house prices are high but their value is still “real”.

His comments followed the Domain Group’s State of the Market report, which found growth in house prices in Melbourne had slowed, but has still risen in every quarter for five years.

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A-League: Newcastle Jets teammates become new dads on same day

NEW DAD: Newcastle Jets defender Jason Hoffman with baby daughter, India, and wife Natasha. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers JASON Hoffman joked that the Jets’ W-League team better get ready.
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Hoffman’s wife,Natasha, gave birth to the couple’s first child, daughter India, in the early hours of Wednesday.

Unbeknownto the Hoffmans, Nikolai Topor-Stanley and his wife, Kylie, were in the birthing suite across the hall at John Hunter Hospital.

Baby girl, Luna Topor-Stanley was born just before midday.

– Jason HoffmanTweetFacebook New father, Jason HoffmanPictures: Max Mason-HubersBoth Hoffman and Topor-Stanley were were by their wife’s side for the birth.

“I already had the utmost respect for the wife,” Hoffman said. “I started to get a bit light-headed in the room. I thought there is no way I can take time out. Football, even though it is front of mind 99 per cent of the time, went out the window. All I could think about was my wife and daughter.”

Topor-Stanley said nothing could have prepared him for the roller coaster of emotions.

“The whole labour experience and the birthing is the hardest thing and the best thing,” he said. “Until you have experienced it, you don’t fully understand it. You go through every single emotion.”

Both players trained with the squad on Thursday.Hoffman, who missed the 5-1 win over the Mariners in round one, has recovered from a minor groin strain but is unlikelyto be in the squad to tackle Wellington on Sunday.

Topor-Stanley was one of the Jets’ best against the Mariners.

“I went to training Thursdayand was tearing up being away from her,” Topor-Stanley said. “She had the first night in hospital and there was no where for me to sleep. Now she is at home and starting to settle in.I will train Saturday if everything keeps going the way it is going. Then itis up to the coach whether he selects me.”

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ASX rallies to its best week since March

BULL. 011017. AFR. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION LOUIE DOUVISGENERIC BULL MARKET, STOCK EXCHANGE, MARKETS, INVESTMENT, BUSINESS, MONEY, SHARES, TRADING, TRADERS, MONEY.S***AFR & COLOUR FIRST USE ONLY***n shares rallied to their best week since March, in a broad-based advance led by consumer discretionary and utility companies.
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The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index climbed 19 points, or 0.3 per cent, to end the day at 5814. The All Ordinaries 20 points, or 0.4 per cent, higher at 5884.

For the week, the S&P/ASX 200 rose 1.8 per cent, its best week in percentage terms since the last week of March. The n dollar traded at $78.38??.

“n shares had a good rebound from the bottom of the range they have been in for the last few months,” said AMP Capital’s head of investment strategy Shane Oliver on the week’s movements.

“Data was a bit more upbeat over the last week with continuing strength in business conditions, a slight rise in business confidence and an improvement in consumer confidence albeit only back to long term average levels.

“Beyond short term uncertainties we remain in a sweet spot in the investment cycle – with OK valuations particularly outside of the US, solid global growth and improving profits but still benign monetary conditions.”

More records were broken in global equity markets this week, with Germany and the US hitting fresh highs. Oil and copper staged a bit of a recovery as well ahead of China’s Communist Party congress next week.

Iron ore prices continued to fall over the week, however, and Capital Economics said investors have belatedly woken up to the fact that the Chinese government’s directive to close large swathes of steel capacity during the winter months will depress iron ore demand.

“This is at a time of high iron ore stocks in China and rising supply from and Brazil,” Economist Caroline Bain said.

The mining sector was the worst performer in percentage terms over the week, eking out a 0.1 per cent advance. That compared to a 4.4 per cent advance for the consumer discretionary sector and a 3.5 per cent rise for the utility sector.

Standouts on a company level over the week included Mantra, which jumped 20.1 per cent in the week after it accepted a $1.2 billion buyout offer from French hotels group Accor.

Nine shares rallied 14.9 per cent over the week. It intends to launch a new ad platform 9Galaxy, which the free-to-air broadcaster says can predict audiences and dynamically change campaigns based on more than 10 years worth of data.

Platinum Asset Management soared 10.1 per cent for the week. The global equities manager earlier in the week showed funds under management swelled by around $1 billion to $24.8 billion at the end of September. Stockwatch

Bellamy’s jumped 32.per cent over the week. The infant formula maker increased its revenue forecast for the current financial year amid indications its turnaround plan is bearing fruit. The stock had been battered over December and January, shedding two-thirds of its value, after new import rules in top market China threatened the company’s profits. While there are still “challenges to navigate” as Bellamy’s implements its turnaround plan, it now expects its core business to post a revenue growth of about 15 per cent to 20 per cent in the year to June 2018, versus a prior view for a 5-10 per cent rise. Last year, Bellamy’s swung to a loss after China imposed rules requiring foreign vendors to register by 2018. Some skipped registering and dumped their product, triggering a price drop and a profit warning from the n firm. It has since announced a plan to help its business turn a corner based on renegotiating its supply deals and buying a China-registered formula cannery in Melbourne. Bank of Queensland

Bank of Queensland revealed a special dividend alongside forecast-beating full year cash earnings of $378 million on Thursday. However, both Citi and Morgan Stanley downgraded their ratings after the result. Citi’s Craig Williams cut his rating on Bank of Queensland to neutral from buy citing the 10 per cent increase in the shares over the past three months. “While BoQ is relatively well positioned against a challenging industry backdrop; it has outperformed for investors this year and no longer offers much upside,” Mr WIlliams said. Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley analyst Andrei Stadnik said “we think the share price implies margin expansion beyond the first half of 2018, lower-for-longer loan losses and buyback,” and downgraded the bank to underweight. Shares lost 0.3 per cent over the week. China imports

Iron ore imports by China surged above 100 million metric tons to a record, smashing the previous high set in 2015, as the country’s concerted push to clean up the environment stoked demand for higher-grade material from overseas while hurting local mine supplies. Purchases of iron ore expanded to 102.8 million tons in September from 93 million tons a year ago, surpassing the previous record of 96.3 million tons in December 2015, according to customs data out Friday. Over the first nine months, imports climbed 7.1 percent to 817 million tons, putting full-year purchases on course to top 1 billion tons by a comfortable margin.China has been pulling in ever-greater volumes from miners in and Brazil to meet resilient demand from steelmakers, who’ve benefited from rising profit margins. As Asia’s top economy presses home a drive to clean up the air, mills are seeking out higher-grade material. At the same time, local mines have been restricted,with Macquarie Group saying Chinese iron ore output has collapsed. Kobe Steel

Kobe Steel sank more than 40 per cent this week as its fake data scandal expanded into its core business after the company said there had been “inappropriate actions” related to its steel wire produced overseas. Kobe Steel falsified quality certification data for steel wire used to support engine drives in automobiles and to strengthen tires, the Nikkei newspaper reported Friday. The scandal is reverberating around the world as Kobe Steel customers from Toyota Motor to General Motors scramble to determine if they used the suspect materials and whether safety was compromised in their cars, trains and planes. Ford said it used aluminum from the company in its Mondeo car hoods in China though it hasn’t confirmed whether the parts were compromised. The affair has wiped $1.8 billion off the company’s market value and led to speculation it may be broken up. Apple crown

China has become the world’s largest apple producer, state-run Xinhua news agency reported, citing information from the 10th International Apple Expo in Luochuan, Sha’anxi. China has been developing the agriculture industry in recent years, said Bi Meijia, head of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Personnel and Labor. The apple industry has enjoyed steady growth with constantly improving quality, product mix and competitiveness, Bi said. Chinese apple production accounts for about 50 percent of the global market in terms of planting area and yield, and the country is moving from a major apple producer to an apple industry powerhouse, with ever-increasing demand for both direct consumption and processing, he said. China is a leading apple exporter, said Bi.

– With wires

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Man shot in leg during bungled break-in at Teralba

Newcastle courthouse. A MAN who had his leg blown off during a bungled break-in at a remote property at Teralba could avoid a jail term due to the “considerable extra-curial punishment” he has suffered.
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Benjamin Rhodes was in a wheelchair when he appeared in Newcastle District Court for sentencing on Friday,while his co-accused, Ryan Graham Jewell, was in custody.The pair were confronted by a homeowner while breaking into a farm shed on The Weir Road in the early hours of May 14, 2016.

Rhodes was shot in the leg at close range, while Jewell sprinted across the property, shots ringing out over his head, and jumped into Cockle Creek.After he was shot, Rhodes went to run, but he could only crawl.

He was eventually found by a police dog lying in long grass in a ditch, bleeding profusely from a serious wound to his leg.

He had lost so much blood he was considered critical and was in a coma when he arrived at hospital.

Rhodeshad to have his left leg amputated and now requires a wheelchair to get around, the court heard.

The homeowner has not been charged over the incident.

The pair appeared in court on Friday for sentence afterpleading guilty toaggravatedenter dwellingwith intent, which carries a maximum of 14 years in jail,and larceny.

“I think the loss of a leg is … it’s not something that just relates to now,” Judge Roy Ellis said to DPP solicitor Geoff Kidd.”Not that we’re joking, but one could say you’ve already got your pound of flesh.”

He sentenced Jewell to a maximum of three years in jail, with a non-parole period of two years, meaning he will be eligible for release from custody in October, 2018.

Judge Ellis indicated he would sentence Rhodes toone year and nine months, but adjourned the matter to see whether Rhodes was suitable to serve the termas an intensive corrections order (ICO), in lieu of full-time jail.Rhodes had served four months in custodybefore being granted bail and Judge Ellis indicated that if unsuitable for an ICO, he would consider sentencing Rhodes to a non-parole period of about that length.

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Hunt’s reforms just healthy for private insurers’ profits

HOSPITALS 00122602 AFR PHOTOGRAPH BY GLENN HUNT 181210.GENERIC- hospitals, surgeons, surgery, greenslopes private hospital, medicine, healthcare.AFR USE ONLY DIGICAM 00122602 health2.0 fin reviewThe stock market reaction tells one of the stories about federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s health insurance reform package: it was written by the private health insurance industry for the private health insurance industry.
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The two listed PHI companies, NIB and Medibank, were up and out of the blocks first thing on Friday morning as Hunt fell into line with their desire to reverse the outflow of customers from the industry. More carrots and sticks for consumers to enrich the sheltered workshop that is PHI, penalising consumers if they don’t pay, promising discounts if they start paying early.

The changes are primarily about forcing reductions in one area of private hospital costs – medical devices – and making PHI more marketable to those under 30 with the offer of higher excesses to reduce annual premiums, youth discounts and “gold, silver, bronze and basic bronze” packages. (Shame they didn’t adopt HG and Roy’s description for the fourth category – “the potato medal”.)

A friend observed it sounds like PHI will be marketed like sports betting – cash out halfway through the race, an extra fiver on Winx, a saver if up by 24 ???

Or the offering may end up more like Foxtel packages – to get the sport you want, you still have to pay for a lot of rubbish that comes with it.

As the market reaction signalled, what the reform clearly doesn’t do is put pressure on health insurers to cut their own costs as they continue to operate in a cost-plus world, fronting up each year for the government to rubber-stamp premium increases. And it promises the insurers will have more customers pushed in their doors.

And there’s already a gap between what the industry was promising would happen to premiums if it got its way, and what will happen. The industry said a $200 million reduction in prosthesis costs would result in a 1 percentage point reduction in premiums. The reforms are touting a $300 million reduction, but NIB CEO Mark Fitzgibbon is being quoted as saying that, after a premium rise of 4.84 per cent this year, next year will see a rise at “the low end of 4 per cent”.

The less obvious and much bigger story is that the Hunt/PHI reforms seek to lock in a second-rate public hospital system for ns. That’s the implicit reality of government policy – the public hospital system is a bit crappy, so you really need private health insurance.

The industry’s desire was spelt out by NIB’s Fitzgibbon in February: “We need to be thinking about how do we create a future in which 70 per cent of the population have health insurance – and it did before Gough Whitlam introduced Medicare.”

Ah, the good old days.

The implication is a second-rate public health system for those who can’t afford or who can’t be forced into PHI.

If it was policy to have a first-rate universal health care system, large-scale PHI wouldn’t make sense – why pay a fortune in insurance for something you might not need and, if you do, you can get just as well for “free”?

The economics of continuing to channel the health dollar through private insurers skimming their costs and (very healthy) profits also is questionable.

Moving some of the nation’s health costs off the government expenditure account into the less-visible but still real “tax expenditures” list is a poor pea-and-thimble trick.

What the private sector has not been able to do is demonstrate that it delivers superior health outcomes more efficiently while happily selling fear – the “fear” that the public system is not much chop and will kill or maim you.

As they get on top of the Big Data they gather, the private health insurers know quite well where the inefficiencies and overservicing lie. The higher cost for prostheses in private hospitals as compared to the ones in public hospitals has been one of the obvious follies. There are others, such as the abuse of “rehab” private hospitals, clusters of overservicing specialists and some doctors exploiting the opaque nature of medical performance by charging way over the odds for procedures delivered with no superior skill or outcome.

Given the power of other vested interests, there’s little a motivated insurer can do about that lot, but the promised reforms do suggest more evidence can be sought.The insurers might be able to justify themselves if they could solve those problems and thus, perhaps, offer an economically rational reason for their hand in the public purse.

The government’s reforms ameliorate an immediate concern for the insurers – the exodus of young people in particular who have done the maths and realised they are being screwed.

The reforms don’t begin to tackle the greater inefficiency of the taxpayer coughing up for both tiers of the system, instead of concentrating on delivering a first rate public offering.

Instead, the reforms implicitly promise the public system will be second-rate. Either that or there’s an implicit admission that the private system is a con.

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Socceroos may set up camp in Miami to avoid Honduran hostilities

It’s been 12 years since beat Uruguay to qualify for the World Cup, but the success of that play-off is still influencing the Socceroos’ approach to playing Honduras in their quest to reach Russia.
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Fairfax Media understands the Socceroos are looking at holding their pre-match training camp at a nearby neutral venue before flying into San Pedro Sula, Honduras, immediately before the game. It is a similar approach to how prepared for their first leg tie against Uruguay in 2005, training in nearby Buenos Aires in Argentina before travelling to Uruguay for the match in Montevideo.

In 2001, played Uruguay in Montevideo for a place in the 2002 World Cup and were subjected to an intimidating reception from supporters, including fireworks ignited around the hotel to disrupt the players’ sleep. That prompted a different approach in 2005 to avoid any potential disruption, by keeping the players away from the hostilities of local fans and media.

The 2018 World Cup qualifier away to Honduras will be played in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, at a venue that is notoriously intimidating. Should coach Ange Postecoglou choose to go down a similar road as Guus Hiddink did in 2005, Miami is firming as the most likely venue that will use as a training base.

Football Federation has already made tentative plans for the team to stay in Miami for several days before making the two-hour direct flight to San Pedro Sula on the eve of the match. It’s understood the national team coaches will make the final decision next week on where the team will be based.

While the chance of interference remains possible, the coaches are confident their players are more accustomed to difficult surroundings as a result of their experiences throughout this qualifying campaign. The most challenging environments the 2001 and 2005 teams that played Uruguay had previously experienced during qualification was in cities such as Honiara. By contrast, the 2018 hopefuls played in Bangladesh during a period of terrorist attacks targeting Westerners and required high-level security.

The Socceroos could charter a flight to take them from Honduras to Sydney after the first leg to afford the players as much recovery time before the second leg. The FFA assisted the Socceroos’ preparations for their AFC play-off tie against Syria with a chartered flight from Malaysia to Sydney and have not ruled out doing so for the final intercontinental play-off to get to Russia.

However, it may not be necessary as there are commercial flights available that could see the team arrive in Sydney only a few hours later than a chartered plane.

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Jesinta ponders ‘retirement’ as gay marriage celebrant

Jesinta Franklin considered adding “marriage celebrant” to her CV so she could officiate at her friends’ same-sex wedding this summer.
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But the David Jones ambassador and vocal supporter of marriage equality said that given the wedding is in Thailand, she didn’t end up needing a legal qualification to conduct the wedding of the US-born couple.

“We were hoping same-sex marriage would have been [legal in ] by then … but hopefully on November 7 we will at least know the outcome of the [postal] vote,” Franklin said at the Caulfield Cup preview day in Melbourne on Friday.

“I didn’t have to do [the course] and that was the most heartbreaking thing. When they asked me if I wanted to do it, I said I would love to … but when they told me … it’s not official on the day, it actually made me quite teary.”

Still, Franklin, 26, said if she “does a good job” and her friends can eventually marry legally in that she would consider obtaining the qualification.

“If I get asked again, maybe I will do the course – it could be my retirement plan,” she said. Equality for the win ?????? Just posted our #YES votes off. Our generation is the most likely to forget to vote yet we have the power to make the biggest impact. Don’t be complacent, this simple act means so much to so many people and is your chance to make a difference ?????? @amequalityA post shared by JESINTA. (@jesinta_franklin) on Sep 20, 2017 at 4:14pm PDTWhilst I was in the air many of my close friends marched the streets of Sydney for Marriage Equality. I wish I was there to stand proudly side by side with you all ?????? I believe all ns should be treated equally under the law, in every facet of society. Marriage equality might not be something that crosses your mind or something that will impact your life directly, but for many ns this impacts their lives daily. Later on this year I get the honour of officiating two of my best friends marriage at their wedding. I didn’t have to do a celebrants course or take part in any official paperwork because, heartbreakingly, I can’t marry them officially as their marriage is not recognised in . This truly breaks my heart because when I look at them I witness two of the most amazing, kind, caring human beings who love eachother endlessly. They both work hard, contribute to our society, pay taxes and all of the other things Aussies do, but they aren’t allowed to get married!? Marriage should be a right, not a privilege! So when you receive the postal vote for Marriage Equality don’t just think; I’ll do that later, or, what does it even matter? This is your chance to make a difference and do something that will positively change the lives of so many n’s. ?????????????????????? Ps stole your pic @alexrathgeber ???? ** I respect that not everyone shares the same views as me, however, if you choose to write anything degrading, derogatory or disrespectful on my page you will be deleted and blocked.A post shared by JESINTA. (@jesinta_franklin) on Sep 10, 2017 at 3:10pm PDT

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Ex-magazine music editor’s drug mules sent to jail

The drug mules were caught in the ultimate vice-like grip.
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One was a model, another was a DJ, a third was starting out as a music promoter and the fourth worked in events.

Each one was trying to break into Toronto’s arts scene when the then music editor of Canada’s Vice magazine, an industry heavy with alleged links to a Mexican drug cartel, approached them to carry drugs into .

For various reasons they reluctantly agreed, and when each in turn attempted to back out they learned it was already too late.

Toronto DJ Jordan Mykel Gardner, 27, New York model Nathaniel Brandon Carty, 23, music promoter Robert Wang, 25 and events management worker Kutiba Senusi, 24, were sentenced in the NSW District Court on Friday to minimum prison terms ranging from three years and four months to four years four months for importing commercial quantities of cocaine.

Their contact with n law enforcement began three days before Christmas in 2015, when customs officials at Sydney airport detected several passengers arriving on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles with a large amount of luggage for a short stay.

They also had in common a stopover in Las Vegas and suitcases that tested positive for cocaine.

Between five drug couriers – including Porscha Wade, 20, who has also pleaded guilty but not been sentenced – a total of 28kg of cocaine with a street value of more than $22 million was seized.

Based on the agreed facts, Judge Dina Yehia found that drug ring figures including Vice journalist Slavo Pastuk had heavied and cajoled the mules into carrying the drugs and most had accepted the task under duress.

Gardner, an electronic music artist, had been living with Pastuk and rebuffed several approaches to do such a trip. He finally relented under pressure when Pastuk called him shortly before he was due to perform at a promotional event.

He tried to back out the next day, but by this time Pastuk had already obtained his passport and he now threatened to hurt Gardner’s girlfriend and family if he did not go through with it.

Gardner had overheard Pastuk telling his friend about those who had been tortured and killed for assisting the authorities. He believed that Pastuk was connected to a Mexican cartel, and he had no doubt that the threat was genuine.

But he told the court that he tried to pull out again in Las Vegas, when he was given the suitcase to take to and noticed that it smelled strongly of glue.

This time his contact grabbed him by the collar and pushed him against a car while holding a gun. He relented.

Senusi told the court he was dragged into taking the drugs after his friend, whom he had agreed to accompany on a drug run, bailed out due to his criminal record.

He demurred, but his friend said that if he did not go through with it “he could not guarantee his safety, or that of his brother”. He was told that others who tried to pull out had razor blades placed under their fingernails.

Wang agreed that for him, the trip was a way to ingratiate himself with Pastuk, who was influential in the music scene and promised to help him further his career.

But when he learned of Pastuk’s involvement with the Mexicans he tried to withdraw.

He texted Pastuk: “Sorry bro, thought about it a lot, just not a step that makes a lot of sense for me atm.” He was then told by a third contact that if he did not go through with it “bad things would happen”.

Carty, who Judge Dina Yehia found was “the most naive of the offenders”, had initially believed he was being given a free trip when Pastuk offered him a holiday in Sydney.

They had met at a Vice party in New York and Carty told Pastuk he had always wanted to visit .

“I can make that happen,” Pastuk allegedly replied. Tickets were organised the following day.

It was only when a mutual contact told Carty he would be required to carry some extra luggage that the model smelled a rat and tried to back down.

He then received a call from an unknown male: “The guy is really mad. This doesn’t look good. He has your passport so he’s going to know stuff about you.”

Judge Yehia said the offenders were low in the drug importation hierarchy.

“I am very firmly of the view that these offenders were exploited by people who were ruthless, persistent and manipulative in recruiting them,” she said.

She sentenced Gardner and Senusi to seven years and six months in jail with a non-parole period of four years and four months. They will be eligible for parole in April 2020.

Wang received a minimum four years, while Carty was sentenced to a minimum three years four months.

Judge Yehia said she took into account Carty’s immaturity and the fact he was “completely lacking in wiliness” in giving him a lighter sentence.

“He was completely out of his depth.”

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EDITORIAL: Playing Russian roulette with party drugs

MORE than a dozen young Hunter people have found themselves in hospital this week after taking “blue superman” pills they believed were the party drug ecstasy, or MDMA.
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Instead, the triangular tablets have been analysed and found to contain alprazolam, the key ingredient in a potent short-actingbenzodiazepine marketed as Xanax, which can be extremely dangerous when mixed with alcohol, as was apparently the case here.

There will be some readers who will say that those hospitalised brought it on themselves: that they deserved what they got for taking illegal drugs that they hadno way of knowing the contents of.

But the reality is that manyns use –or have used –illicit drugs, despite decades of warnings and a legal system that still relies heavily on prohibition as themain weapon in along-running “war on drugs”.

Despite prohibition, n law-makers have seen fit in some circumstances to bend to the reality of the situation by adopting policies based on “harm management” strategies.

Needle exchanges are a case in point. Countless syringes are distributed without charge every year by needle exchanges –including those in the Hunter–on the basis that clean needles demonstrably reduce the spread of dangerous blood-borne diseases including HIV-AIDS and hepatitis C.

In a similar light, there have been calls for some years now for pill testing to be available at music festivals, where a potentially sizeable slice of the audience will have run the risk of taking party drugs. Pill testing kits are available for purchase online but the NSW government has previously opposed their official use at festivals. The ACT government had approved pill testing at next month’s Spilt Milk festival in Canberra, but the organisers announced this week that the testing organisation had not been able to get the required documents and insurance, meaning the trial would notgo ahead.

The ACT has a reputation for progressive government and it would not surprise to see another Canberra festival proceed with testing before long. It is difficult to imagine the Coalition changing its mind in NSW –despite its support for medicinal cannabis –meaning that those determinedto break the law by taking party drugs are being left to play Russian roulette.

It’s a far from ideal situation.

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Newcastle Knights are still hoping to bolster their ranks for 2018.

VERSATILE: Slade Griffin, who played in Melbourne’s grand final win against the Cowboys, is joining Newcastle next season. Picture: APNEWCASTLE’S priority would appear to be outside backs as they strive to fill the remaining positions in their squad for 2018.
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After a productive recruitment campaign dating back to November last year, when Newcastle announced they had signed North Queensland tyro Kalyn Ponga 12 months in advance, Knights coach Nathan Brown has steadily rebuilt his roster.

It is understood he still hopes to add another two or three imports during the 2018 pre-season, although he has also stated on a number of occasions that he is willing to leave positions vacant in case players at rival clubs belatedly enter the market.

The Knights have announced the signing of two veteran front-rowers, Jacob Lillyman (Warriors) and Chris Heighington (Cronulla), in the past two weeks.

Along with Herman Ese’ese (Brisbane), they will bolster an engine-room rotation that already includes Daniel and Jacob Saifiti and Josh King.

Newcastle have also been linked to controversial young prop Matt Lodge, who has not played in the NRL since being sacked by Wests Tigers and de-registered after a much-publicised incident in New York in 2015.

Lodge, a former Junior Kangaroo who played 12 NRL games with the Tigers, spent this season with Redcliffe in the Queensland Cup.

The 22-year-old has also attracted the interest of Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett, although Newcastle are probably in a position to offer him a more lucrative deal than the Broncos.

Ideally, Newcastle would be hoping to sign one more prop before next season.

NEW RECRUIT: Former Sydney Roosters utility Connor Watson will get first crack at five-eighth for Newcastle next season. Picture: AAP

Brown is understood to be satisfied with his back-row depth. Former Queensland and Test forward Aidan Guerra will join Mitch Barnett, Sione Mata’utia, Jamie Buhrer, Sam Stone, Luke Yates and Lachlan Fitzgibbon, who was one of the finds of the season in 2017, scoring eight tries in 14 games. Former Melbourne utility Slade Griffin can also play back row as well as hooker.

Despite signing Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Roosters) mid-season and then Tautau Moga (Brisbane), Newcastle would welcome a couple more outside backs to provide depth.

At this stage, Kenny-Dowall and Moga are shaping as Newcastle’s likely centres, with Chanel Mata’utia to challenge Nathan Ross and Ken Sio for a wing berth.

Ponga is certain to start the season at fullback, with Dylan Phythian as his back-up, once he has recovered from knee surgery.

Brown has promised former Roosters utility Connor Watson first shot at five-eighth, alongside either Brock Lamb or Trent Hodkinson.

Lamb would appear the early favourite after his impressive 2017 campaign, but Hodkinson is vastly experienced and might benefit from playing behind a stronger pack. There has also been speculation, however, that Hodkinson is consideringcontinuing his career in England.

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