Australian Wage Fraud on Visa

http://www.smh.com.au/business/workplace-relations/blackmail-extortion-and-slavery-at-a-restaurant-near-you-20170324-gv5usu.html

 

Pawanjeet Heir’s eyes well up as she retells the story of how she unwittingly became a victim of visa fraud, extortion and indentured servitude.

She is now facing her worst nightmare: deportation, along with her husband and young son, who have given up hope after the system failed them.

She is not alone. Exploiting foreign workers is rampant in Australia, so too is visa fraud. Most are too afraid to speak publicly for fear of deportation.

For Heir the nightmare began in 2013 when she saw a job ad on the Gumtree website for a cook and sponsorship on sub class 457 Visa. The pay seemed fair, $52,500 a year for a three-year contract at an Indian restaurant in the northern suburbs of Adelaide.

The family decided to move from Melbourne to Adelaide because sponsorships aren’t easy to get and her family were desperate for permanent residency.

It took six weeks before things started to unravel, when her boss started to lay down the law.

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“He told me I can’t pay you because I sponsor you so you have to work for free,” she said. “He then asked for money and said ‘I will cancel your sponsorship and you will be deported’ if you don’t pay.”

In August 2013 he demanded $30,000 for the visa. “We were very scared so we paid him what he wanted,” she said. “I was working for free.”

For the next two and a half years Heir worked long hours, six days a week for no pay. Months later he started using the so-called cash back scam, which involves the company paying her wages then her husband withdraws a similar amount and gives it back in cash.

She then had to find another $20,000 or face deportation. “He would say: ‘You go to immigration, nothing is going to be happen to me as I am citizen of this country, but they will definitely deport you back to India’.”

One of Heir’s darkest hours was in August 2015 when her appendix burst at work. Doubled over in pain, she wasn’t allowed to go to hospital until she finished her shift. It would be a decision that cost her dearly, with multiple health complications, leaving her hospitalised for weeks. “He would tell me I had to go back to work,” she said.

Extortion, blackmail, cash back scams and slavery are happening every day under our noses. They happen in the most unsuspecting places such as suburban restaurants and nail bars. Most suffer in silence.

He told me I can’t pay you because I sponsor you so you have to work for free.

Pawanjeet Kaur Heir

In some cases unscrupulous employers offer sponsorships to desperate foreign workers in return for payment. In other cases they lure unsuspecting workers into a job with the promise of sponsorship, then they turn on the blackmail dial.

The price of visas can vary from $30,000 to $150,000 depending on the visa, the job on offer and the worker’s nationality. For companies engaging in this illegal practice, the scheme offers big bucks. In Heir’s case it was cash and free labour.

Azrael Yin, a former store manager at Domino’s, said many small businesses sell sponsorships. “I know of one person who is sponsored and work 60 hours a week and gets paid for 40 hours.”

Yin says another franchisee sponsored two foreign workers, charging them tens of thousands of dollars, only to withdraw the offer.

“One of the workers went back to China after the rip-off,” he says.

If workers complain, their sponsorship is likely to be cancelled, inevitably leading to deportation unless a new sponsor can be lined up. Finding a legitimate sponsor isn’t easy and there are no protections for workers who are exploited.

Mark Glazbrook, a migration agent who runs Migrant Solutions, said Pawanjeet Heir’s case was the worst case he had come across in his many years as an agent.

He took on her case in October 2015, along with a number of other staff who had been sponsored by the same company.

Documents show that in September 2015 Australian Border Force had warned the company that it had been monitoring it since May and had a series of concerns, including supplying the department with false and misleading information, workers were being paid in cash and there were no proper records. “Some visa holders have signed cash payment receipts for dates that they were not in Australia,” the letter said.

For Heir, what happened next was devastating. On October 20, 2015, still suffering from health issues, she was told the company she worked for had been banned as a sponsor. The upshot was her visa had been cancelled.

Her husband Raj said the news was like a heart attack for his family. “We could not leave our house for two days after this news, as we were so depressed and confused. My wife cried the whole day inside her room and could not say even a single word. We lost everything in one day, all our hopes to stay in this country and have a good life in the future.”

Raj quit his job. His wife’s illness and the stress of spending so much money on a visa that was now useless became all too much.

They contacted the ATO and the Fair Work Ombudsman to try and reclaim unpaid super and wages, but that came to nothing because the company had collapsed.

They then applied for ministerial intervention, but that also failed.

They are now in a situation where they have no working rights. Penniless, they had to move back to Melbourne to live with their cousins.

Their last hope is the Federal Court, which is due to hear their matter in May, but they aren’t hopeful.

For Glazbrook it is the case that continues to haunt him. He said if the government was serious about stamping out worker exploitation it would introduce protections. In other words, if they dob in their boss for visa fraud, they should be given a temporary working visa.

But it seems nobody cares.

Glazbrook contacted the department in February 2016 requesting a meeting to discuss “substantial abuse and exploitation” of multiple former employees. The response was brief: he was told the department had concluded monitoring the company. They couldn’t comment any further due to privacy concerns.

The Heirs have suffered extortion, blackmail and are staring down the barrel of deportation. The company that did this appears to have gotten off lightly with a three year banning order for sponsoring workers. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection said it was aware of the case but couldn’t comment for privacy reasons.

It is little wonder, so many suffer in silence.

 

 

 

 

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Sydney Taxi Industry and Uber

Cabcharge wants cap on new taxi licences scrapped so industry can take on Uber

Matt O’Sullivan
Published: April 28, 2016 – 4:25PM

Taxis would become more commonplace on Sydney’s streets to ensure passengers who book cabs are picked up more quickly, under a controversial proposal by Cabcharge to scrap the cap on plates.

In a call that puts it at odds with the NSW Taxi Council, Cabcharge chief executive Andrew Skelton said the cap on the number of plates meant a “capacity constraint” had been placed on a part of the market to protect licence-plate holders.

“To arbitrarily go, ‘right, no more licences for four more years, you can’t grow’ – I think that’s nuts,” he told Fairfax Media.

“Taxis have to be able to evolve and grow into this massive transport opportunity … not at some contrived pace to protect some licence holders. The taxi industry is not licence holders.”

As part of the legalisation of ride-sharing services such as UberX in December, the Baird government placed a four-year freeze on the release of taxi licences in Sydney to “help the industry adjust”.

Taxi licence holders have watched the value of their investments in plates plunge since reaching a high of about $430,000 in 2012.

The average transfer value of a taxi licence in Sydney has slumped by 41 per cent to $210,000 over the past year, the latest government figures show.

The state has almost 7300 taxi licence plates, about 5700 of which are in Sydney.

NSW Taxi Council chief executive Roy Wakelin-King said the priority should be to let the market settle before the government considered releasing more taxi licences.

“We are all looking for a strong and viable industry … but we just have to make sure we chart a very careful pathway,” he said.

Mr Wakelin-King said the government’s recent decision to put a freeze on taxi licences was sensible because a large number had been released in recent years, resulting in an oversupply of cabs.

However, he said the council was open to changes to the number of taxi licences at some point in the future to ensure the industry did not put itself at a disadvantage to competitors.

In December, the government announced payments of $20,000 to owners of taxi licence plates in perpetuity. The one-off payment has been capped at $40,000 for owners of multiple plates.

The compensation package includes a fund of up to $142 million for taxi licensees who face hardship as a result of the changes, and a buyback scheme for perpetual hire-car licences. It is to be funded by a $1 levy on taxi and ride-sharing operators for five years.

A spokesman for Transport Minister Andrew Constance said there was no evidence that the decision to put a stop to new taxi licences for four years was holding back the industry from reform.

“[It] will help stabilise the market for taxi licences, particularly for mum and dad investors,” he said.

Facing intense competition from ride-sharing operators and a cut to revenue from fees on card payments for taxis, Cabcharge is eager to highlight its focus on customers and the need for more taxis to ensure passengers are picked up promptly once they book cabs.

It is a similar strategy to ride-sharing companies such as Uber and GoCar, which aim for a critical mass of vehicles at any one time.

Mr Skelton said he wanted the removal of the “artificial limit on the taxi industry’s ability to service customers” because it risked losing customers if it did not adapt.

“The less relevant you make taxis, the less value there is in a licence,” he said.

Cabcharge, one of the Taxi Council’s most influential members, still makes the lion’s share of its revenue from the service fees on passengers who pay for taxis with credit or debit cards.

However, the sharemarket-listed company has been hit over the past 18 months by state governments, including NSW, halving the fee it can charge for processing taxi payments to 5 per cent.

The freeze on plates in NSW does not apply to wheelchair-accessible taxi licences.

This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/cabcharge-wants-cap-on-new-taxi-licences-scrapped-so-industry-can-take-on-uber-20160428-gogvaf.html

Also see: http://www.smh.com.au/video/video-news/video-national-news/the-workings-of-uberx-20160201-49u69.html

10 reasons the RU486 listing is so important

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek in her office at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 21 June 2012.<br /><br />
Photo: Alex EllinghausenHealth Minister Tanya Plibersek. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen / Fairfax

Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek announced on Sunday that mifepristone and misoprostol – used in combination to terminate a pregnancy of up to seven weeks’ gestation would be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Meaning that the $800 women were currently paying for access to the RU486 pill would drop to less than $37 next month.

Unsurprisingly a progressive move that enables women to have greater control over their bodies has been met with anger and fiery condemnation. Pro-life supporters have labelled the move an “abuse of power”.

To mark the occasion may we present ten reasons we are grateful for RU486 (and Tanya Plibersek);

  1. No matter how many times you hear it described as ‘controversial abortion drug RU486.’ It’s not unusual or controversial. In fact it’s safely used by millions of women in more than 40 countries who have had access to it for several years.
  2. Taking  RU486 is a safer, less invasive procedure than the alternatives not just because it can be performed much earlier than surgical abortions, but because it can be done safely in the privacy of a woman’s home without surgical intervention.
  3. Because women do not use abortions as contraception. And the increased availability of the drug may finally shut down all of the misguided people that peddle that misnomer as truth. An abortion is not a decision women take lightly. For many it can be heartbreaking. Those that refuse to accept this might like to look at the abortion rate in France – they’ve had access to RU486 since 1989 with no discernible change to the abortion rate.
  4. The expansion of access to medical terminations is particularly important to women living in rural and regional Australia. These women have had to travel long distances and be away from family and friends to undergo surgery or not had the option of surgery at all.
  5. Because it’s low cost means all women, equally, will have the right to choose.
  6. Hopefully its introduction will mean an end to the bizarre fear-mongering around the drug. As Clementine Ford said last year, “The pro-birth agenda likes to couch RU486 in deceptive terms, continuing to trot out myths about the dangers of it regularly. RU486 is dangerous! It’s a medical bogey monster waiting to ruin the lives of unsuspecting women – perhaps even end them! Doctors are force-feeding abortions to women so they can line their gold plated Satanic altars with more gold! In fact, RU486 is five times LESS likely to result in death than Viagra, and 13 times less likely to result in death than actually having a baby. Kind of puts things in perspective – but hey, we can’t have anyone interfering with an old man’s right to an erection.”
  7. Because we live in a world where , even in the West, the control women have over their bodies is under such threat that a Texas Senator stood for over 13 hours  last week to stop an anti-abortion bill. It’s with a sense of relief that Australia seems to be taking steps in the opposite direction.
  8. I offer simply this quote from Tanya Plibersek, “by offering this different option at a very difficult time in a woman’s life, I hope that we are giving more choice in what are often extraordinarily difficult circumstances.”
  9. We all know Tony Abbott has an uncomfortable relationship with a woman’s right to choose.  Back when he was health minister he tried to keep ministerial control of the importation of RU486. It took a conscience vote of the parliament in 2006 to put the say in the hands of the Therapeutic Drugs Administration. It’s seems timely to have made this progress so close to an election that may make him the most powerful politician in the country.
  10. There were some alarming rumblings around abortion law in NSW this past weekend. A controversial bill giving legal rights to an unborn child was said to be supported by the O’Farrell government under a deal with Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile. Nile claimed the government had promised to pass ”Zoe’s Law”, which creates a separate criminal offence for causing harm to or the destruction of a foetus and stemmed from the deaths of unborn children in driving accidents. Nile said this was in exchange for his support for crucial state budget legislation to privatise Newcastle Port. Though O’Farrell said yesterday this was untrue, murky deals that involve the rights of unborn children ring alarm bells. RU486 is a step forward but it does not mean the fight is over.
  11. Because as former Prime Minister Julia Gillard said at the AMA ahead of the announcement that RU486 would be added to the PBS.  “Women must have the right to health care and women must have the right to choose.”

The revised PBS listings take effect in August. Amen.

How Web mail providers leave door open for NSA surveillance

How Web mail providers leave door open for NSA surveillance

Protecting users’ e-mail privacy from the National Security Agency and other intelligence services means using encryption. But with the exception of Google, few companies do everything they can.

Declan McCullagh

June 21, 2013 5:30 AM PDT

One of Google's massive data centers. The company supports e-mail encryption whenever it can.One of Google’s massive data centers. The company supports e-mail encryption whenever it can.

(Credit: Google/Connie Zhou)

Billions of supposedly private e-mail messages a day flow through unsecured links, where they can be snared in digital dragnets operated by the National Security Agency and other intelligence services.

Recent revelations about NSA surveillance — including a top-secret document discussing “collection of communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past” — have highlighted the ease with which government eavesdroppers can exploit the Internet’s infrastructure. Another classified document, which the Guardian published Thursday, mentions network-based surveillance of Hotmail servers.

Over the last decade or so, Web mail providers began to turn on encryption to armor the connections between users’ computers and Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and other services. That form of protection against surveillance, which typically appears in a Web browser as an “https” connection accompanied by a padlock image, is viewed as generally secure and is used by banks as well. Google has offered it since 2004, and Yahoo finally followed suit this year.

Gmail supports server-to-server email encryption, but many other companies don’t. Click for larger image.

(Credit: Ashkan Soltani)

But during the next step, when those e-mail messages are transferred from one company’s servers to another’s, they’re rarely encrypted. An e-mail message that a Facebook user addresses to a Yahoo Mail user, for instance, will be delivered in an unencrypted form through a server-to-server connection that provides no protection against surveillance.

“The incentives aren’t really there for companies to try to implement it,” says Ashkan Soltani, an independent security consultant who has highlighted some of these security shortcomings on Twitter. That’s the case even though, he says, enabling encryption is “a really easy thing to do.”

A survey of top mail providers shows that Google is alone in using strong encryption, known as SMTP-TLS, to fully armor e-mail connections for its users, as long as the other company’s server is willing to encrypt as well. SMTP-TLS also protects employee e-mail at security-conscious companies, large law firms, and sensitive government agencies including the NSA, the White House, and the Department of Homeland Security. (You can check on your own provider by typing in your e-mail address at CheckTLS.com.)

“My sense is that Google is the one large company that has demonstrated it cares about crypto. We think [encryption] should obviously be supported by all these mail servers.”
–Dan Auerbach, staff technologist, EFF

Unfortunately, those are the exceptions. Facebook, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and AOL Mail do not accept incoming e-mail in SMTP-TLS encrypted form, meaning hundreds of millions of users’ private communications are vulnerable to monitoring. Both the sending and receiving servers must have encryption turned on for a secure connection to happen.

“My sense is that Google is the one large company that has demonstrated it cares about crypto,” says Dan Auerbach, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. “We think [encryption] should obviously be supported by all these mail servers.”

One reason why so many mail providers don’t encrypt server-to-server mail links using SMTP-TLS is that, unlike browser encryption, this security precaution would be invisible to users. And the fat pipes that backbone providers provide have historically been viewed as safe. (SMTP-TLS stands for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol Transport Layer Security. TLS was published as an Internet protocol in 1999.)

Adam Langley, a software engineer at Google, told CNET that “we do support TLS” for both inbound and outbound exchanges between mail servers. But, diplomatically, he declined to speculate on why many other companies do not. The company even offers its Google Apps users the high security choice of rejecting non-encrypted connections.

A Facebook spokesman said: “Facebook currently supports user-to-server encryption, but does not currently support server-to-server encryption as we have not seen wide adoption of the protocol. We are open to adoption to this or other protocols in the future as they are used by more services.” A Yahoo representative said: “At Yahoo, we invest heavily in the security of our users and we’re continually looking to enhance the security capabilities of our products.” AOL did not respond to queries.

The Obama administration, a newly leaked directive from Attorney General Eric Holder shows, has authorized the NSA to vacuum up domestic and international e-mail, though American citizens aren't supposed to be "targeted."The Obama administration, a newly leaked directive from Attorney General Eric Holder shows, has authorized the NSA to vacuum up domestic and international e-mail, though American citizens aren’t supposed to be “targeted.”

The potential privacy risks of server-to-server e-mail deliveries have been thrown into sharp relief by surveillance-related disclosures over the last two weeks from Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, and U.S. government officials. Snowden said in a Guardian online chat this week that e-mail and other Internet communications inside the United States are “ingested” by the intelligence agency’s immense collection apparatus and that “Americans’ communications are collected and viewed on a daily basis on the certification of an analyst rather than a warrant.”

Web companies have offered blanket denials of allegations that they provided NSA eavesdroppers with “direct access” to their servers, and Google even challenged the U.S. government this week before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in a bid to clear its name.

A leaked NSA slide talking about “upstream” data collection from “fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past” suggests that those companies are telling the truth: the NSA instead is tapping into Internet backbone links operated by companies such as AT&T, CenturyLink, XO Communications, Verizon, and Level 3 Communications — and using that passive access to vacuum up unencrypted communications. Additional evidence comes from the classified directives released Thursday that discuss surveillance procedures and were signed by Attorney General Eric Holder.

Documents that came to light in 2006 in a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation offer insight into the spy agency’s relationship with Tier 1 Internet providers. Mark Klein, who worked as an AT&T technician for over 22 years, disclosed (PDF) that he witnessed domestic voice and Internet traffic being surreptitiously “diverted” through a “splitter cabinet” to secure room 641A in one of the company’s San Francisco facilities. The room was accessible only to NSA-cleared technicians.

The New York Times revealed in 2009 that a secret NSA database, code-named PINWALE, archived foreign and domestic e-mail messages that analysts could search through “without warrants” as long as Americans’ correspondence did not amount to more than 30 percent of any database search. PINWALE is the the NSA’s main database for intercepted communications, while metadata is stored in a separate database called MAUI, and initial sorting is performed by a program called XKEYSCORE, according to the recent book “Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry.”

Other mail providers that do not appear to permit SMTP-TLS links for e-mail delivery include AT&T, Earthlink, and Comcast. Apple, which did not respond to a request for comment, does not appear to support SMTP-TLS for server-to-server iCloud e-mail, though it does for user-to-server links. Fastmail.fm and Hushmail do support SMTP-TLS for automatic encryption of incoming mail. Oddly, the FBI does not for its own employees’ incoming e-mail.

Yahoo, Microsoft, and Apple protect their own internal correspondence more carefully than they do their users’ communications: their separate employee mail servers support incoming encrypted messages.

A Microsoft representative said the company does not support server-to-server SMTP-TLS for consumer products including Outlook.com and Hotmail.com. (Microsoft finished switching users from Hotmail to Outlook last month.)

Microsoft does enable encryption in some other situations. Those include Exchange ActiveSync, or when users choose the “SMTP send” option from Outlook.com, which was announced last month. SMTP send allows you to log in to Outlook.com, but actually send the message using your Yahoo Mail or Gmail account.

In addition, Microsoft enables server-to-server encryption for paying customers, including those using Office 365. The Department of Homeland Security, which has a 10-year relationship with Microsoft for technology services, has outsourced its mail to the mail.us.messaging.microsoft.com server, which does enable SMTP-TLS.

Even if a company don’t support SMTP-TLS encryption between servers, other technologies exist to make data unreadable to government snoops. One is called S/MIME, but it’s hardly popular. End-to-end encryption in the form of PGP or GnuPG is another choice. Those are viewed as some of the most secure options, but are also the most difficult to use.

“We don’t know the extent to which the NSA or other intelligence agencies are reading people’s mail,” says Auerbach, EFF’s staff technologist. “Companies not supporting encryption for the sending of e-mail leaves the door wide open for these agencies to do it, were they inclined to do so.”

Disclaimer: McCullagh is married to a Google employee not involved with this issue.

Last updated at 9:15 a.m. PT with additional details

So can anyone tell me and my friend if taking photos is in fact illegal?

Picture this – rogue parkers in the frame

Date    January 29, 2013 – 10:24AM

Jimmy Thomson

Can cars be camera shy? A question of parking paparazzi comes this week comes from a Flat Chat regular who wonders if he’s been breaking the law in his long-running campaign to drive off rogue parkers.

A friend of StrataGuru Struggler, fighting a lone battle against cars left illegally in visitors spots and along his driveway, was caught taking pictures of the offending vehicles after Fair Trading told him photographic evidence would help in a case at the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal.

“The owner of the car said that it was illegal to take photos,” says Struggler. “I have also taken photos of rogue parkers here in my complex. No people, just the cars and the rego plates … it has worked as they have made themselves scarce and are parking in their own spaces or on the street.

“So can anyone tell me and my friend if taking photos is in fact illegal?”

Taking pictures of vehicles parked on common property is not against the law. If taking pictures of people, never mind cars, in public places was illegal, Shane Warne and Liz Hurley would have no one to swear at.

It is illegal to record speech without the participants knowledge and permission – which is why you get that little warning that you are being recorded “for training purposes” every time you call your bank.

Recording people on CCTV (vision only) is, oddly, a lot less controlled and the accepted wisdom is that if you put up signs telling people there are cameras, you are OK. However, you could be in trouble if the video cameras point at or into private property.

As far as pictures go, you could put up a sign saying “Cars parked illegally will be photographed for evidence of breaches of by-laws”, which will cover any legal loopholes and might even work as a deterrent.

NB: if you’re using a digital camera, make sure the pictures are accurately date-stamped. And, hey, if you get caught in the act, just say you’re taking pictures for training purposes.

You can see the whole picture and read the whole story here.

Disposing of a family estate equitably can be a source of enduring conflict between brothers and sisters.

Sibling squabbles

Date      January 23, 2013

Sylvia Pennington    –    SMH Newspaper Fri 25 Jan 2013
http://www.smh.com.au/money/planning/sibling-squabbles-20130122-2d3xv.html

Disposing of a family estate equitably can be a source of enduring conflict between brothers and sisters.

<i>Illustration: Karl Hilzinger</i>Be safe … families should work through inheritance issues together. Illustration: Karl Hilzinger

Assuming control of an elderly parent’s financial affairs can be time consuming and emotionally draining – and a true acid test of sibling relations.

In some families, selling the parents’ home, making investment decisions and taking charge of day-to-day money matters are worked through collaboratively and amicably.

In others, deciding what is in mum and dad’s best interests can spark mistrust, ill will and estrangement among adult children.

For 48-year-old Sharon Thompson*, taking charge of her parents’ affairs has soured an already lukewarm relationship with her three older brothers.

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Sharon is carer and business manager for her increasingly frail parents, now aged in their mid-80s.

A signatory to one of her father’s accounts, Sharon pays some of their bills on her credit card and withdraws money to reimburse herself and cover her parents’ daily expenses.

She leaves a clear audit trail, storing the funds in a separate wallet, keeping receipts and recording all transactions in an account book.

”I don’t want my brothers coming back and saying, ‘You spent all of mum and dad’s money,”’ Sharon says.

”We’re seriously covering ourselves … it’s money, and where family is involved, you have to be careful.”

The parents live in a granny flat purpose-built by Sharon and her husband two years ago. According to Sharon, at the time one brother accused her of championing the flat to funnel a chunk of the inheritance into improving the value of her home.

But Sharon says she and her husband ”put ourselves in debt to pay for it, as well as protecting the inheritance from paying a bond at a nursing home.”

Her brothers also prevented Sharon from being appointed enduring power of attorney (POA), which would have allowed her to make financial and property decisions on her parents’ behalf if they became incapacitated.

This remains a sore point for Sharon, who believes her father would have been willing to sign a POA if his children were united.

”Our family doesn’t discuss things very much,” Sharon says.

”Dad can’t cope with thinking about things very much. He gets stressed very quickly. He said, ‘Don’t worry about that at the moment.’ My brother said, ‘You don’t have it because he doesn’t want you to have it.’

”But I’m the one that’s here doing things. My brothers have no clue about how bad mum and dad are and how much help they need.”

POA holders have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the individual and ensure they and their assets are protected.

While financial planners and lawyers say POA agreements are a must-have for ageing parents and their family, deciding who gets the guernsey can create conflict.

One child might be a more gifted administrator or better equipped to handle POA duties than his or her siblings but this is not always acknowledged by the others, says a senior adviser with financial-planning firm Future Assist Financial Services, Sean McNeill. McNeill says those left out of the decision-making process can feel ”unimportant, unloved and every other human emotion that is invoked when dealing with family.”

Some parents try to circumvent this issue by appointing all their children to act under POA, with decisions to be made unanimously or by majority. But management by committee can be impractical if siblings are geographically dispersed, says a succession lawyer at McCullough Robertson, Ashleigh Poole.

Determining whether the family home should be sold to fund a nursing home accommodation bond is the most common source of conflict, Poole says.

While POA holders may make the call, Poole says ensuring other siblings aren’t left in the dark should be a priority. ”Communication is very important. The POA needs to keep the other siblings up to date and seek their views.”

Taking financial and legal advice as soon as the POA is invoked is also wise, says a financial adviser at PSK, James Gerrard. Specialists can provide advice on maximising Centrelink entitlements, whether to rent or sell the family home, and assisting the POA holder to understand their duties and ensure their actions are perceived as reasonable.

Being given POA for her 83-year-old mother has thrown Sarah Murphy* into the bad-cop role in her large family.

After her mother suffered a stroke last year, Sarah and her older brother arranged the sale of her mother’s house and car, the dispersal of possessions and the mother’s shift into a nursing home.

Sarah says she has also spent ”weekends and weekends” sifting through paperwork in an attempt to unravel and recoup undocumented loans to two other brothers.

Some amounts have been partially repaid while others had purportedly been forgiven, the brothers say.

Sarah says her inquiries have resulted in ill feeling between her and the two brothers. One sister has also told her to ”let it go”.

But Sarah believes their mother would not have wanted to see the other children disadvantaged.

And she says the brothers’ attitude rankles, given the vigilance she has shown for their mother’s affairs.

”If people are in debt, those not in debt can feel very resentful … for some people, this kind of financial disregard can cut very deep.”

Tales such as those of Sharon and Sarah are far from uncommon, says a senior psychologist at Psychology Melbourne, Darryl Hodgson.

Taking over a parent’s affairs is a flashpoint in many families and serious differences can mean that when mum or dad passes away, so do the ties that bind.

”I’ve seen some dreadful situations, estrangements for years and years, where there’s been disenchantment with the way one of the siblings is handling affairs,” Hodgson says.

”A family of several siblings can find themselves without a family after a badly organised estate.”

*Not her real name.

Top tips for families

1. Forward planning can mean fewer problems later. Encourage parents to have a power of attorney in place and to make their plans and wishes known to all children, not just the one who has been put in charge.

2. If you’re acting under power of attorney, consult regularly with other siblings. Backbiting and resentment are less likely if decisions are made collaboratively.

3. Keep clear records of all dealings on the parents’ behalf and be prepared to share them.

4. Seek legal and financial advice early if significant property transactions or nursing homes are involved – mistakes are better avoided than rectified.

5. The parents’ best interests come first. If push comes to shove, their well-being should take precedence over sibling harmony.

SMH Article :: Do you rip movies to avoid the scratched disc tax?

Do you rip movies to avoid the scratched disc tax?

Date
December 10, 2012 – 4:15PM
adam turner

Gadgets on the go

Adam Turner is a gadget guru who contributes news, features, reviews, blogs and podcasts to various publications

Couch potatoes ... television watching has barely dropped, according to research.Photo: Roger Cummins

Do you break the law to copy your own movies?

Most people know the pain of destroying your favourite album or movie by scratching the disc. Maybe your kids were a bit too rough with it, maybe your disc player decided to chew on it or maybe you were just unlucky.

They’re all just ones and zeros on an optical disc, but movies get special protection under law.

I recently destroyed one of my kids’ DVDs when staying at a friend’s holiday house. The television has a slot-loading DVD player built into the back of the screen, so I reached around to insert a disc but forget there was already a disc in there. The spinning disc inside the television dug a huge groove into the disc in my hand, after which the damaged disc refused to play.

I haven’t scratched many optical discs over the years, because I tend to copy the disc to my computer and put the original away for safekeeping. It’s easy to do this with music CDs using iTunes or a range of other music software. To be honest I also do the same with many of my DVD and Blu-ray movies at home, copying them to my Windows Media Centre using software such as AnyDVD HD and HandBrake. I recently added a 2TB external USB drive to my media centre to cope with our burgeoning movie and music library, with the option to stream content around the house.

My DVD jukebox lets the kids watch their favourite movies without getting their grubby fingers on the discs. It’s possible to rip a movie without sacrificing the picture quality, or to downscale it to watch on a handheld gadget. After scratching my first movie I’ll now try to leave our DVDs at home when we travel — either carrying them on a tablet or on a little media player which will plug into any television.

Ripping movies is just as simple as ripping music, except one is legal under Australian law and the other is not. Under Australia’s convoluted copyright laws it’s legal to rip your music CDs to your computer, but not to rip your movies from DVD or Blu-ray. They’re all just ones and zeros on an optical disc, but movies get special protection under law.

I know it’s possible to buy movies and music as digital downloads to avoid discs completely, but movie downloads don’t match the picture quality of DVD and Blu-ray discs. There’s more to a good picture than simply resolution and you’ll notice that a 720p or 1080p iTunes video often offers less detail in the shadows than a 1080p Blu-ray movie. Opting for digital downloads can also mean compromising on audio formats.

Hopefully next year’s review of Australian copyright law will finally make it legal to make a backup of a movie you own, although our obligations under the US Free Trade Agreement could cause problems because ripping a DVD or Blu-ray involves circumventing the encryption on the disc.

It remains to be seen if Australian politicians put the interests of consumers ahead of the demands of the powerful US copyright lobby. When iTunes was first released in Australia it was still against the law to rip music from CDs to play on your iPod, but the government looked the other way until the law was finally changed. Let’s hope common sense also prevails when it comes to movies.

How do you avoid the scratched disc tax?

Reader comments ::
We use DVD Shrink and Handbrake too, but for discs that aren’t movies where you want to easily preserve menu screens, subtitles, etc, we just leave it as a rip of the DVD from DVD Shrink (ie just leave it as the VIDEO_TS and AUDIO_TS folders and don’t use Handbrake to convert to MP4 or AVI) and have set Windows Media Center to read the raw VOB files. It takes up a bit more space but works brilliantly.

It would have been Mr Hicks’s first day in a properly constituted court. But Commonwealth prosecutors decided that their case to seize revenue from his book about his Guantanamo experience would not stand up.

Witnesses back Hicks on chemical torture

Date
September 16, 2012
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Natalie O’Brien

New evidence supports claims of forced injections and abuse.

David Hicks claims he was subjected to drug experimentation while in Guantanamo bay.13th of september 2012Photo: Jacky Ghossein“It was like the death of myself and I felt like it was irreversible” … David Hicks on his pyschological reaction to the injections. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

Long-held claims by the former detainee David Hicks that he was drugged against his will have been backed by evidence from a prominent attorney, independent investigations and previously secret reports.

Details of the mistreatment of the former Guantanamo Bay inmate were set to emerge publicly for the first time in the Australian government’s proceeds of crime action against him – until the government abandoned its case. It would have been Mr Hicks’s first day in a properly constituted court. But Commonwealth prosecutors decided that their case to seize revenue from his book about his Guantanamo experience would not stand up.

Mr Hicks’s lawyers would have used new evidence from US authorities that would then have become public. By dropping the case, the shutters have been brought down on what happened, and some documents are to be kept secret.

The Sun-Herald understands that these documents were expected to shed light on the appalling treatment of detainees. The Sun-Herald has also been given affidavits that were to be presented in court confirming that Mr Hicks had been drugged against his will.

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Other investigations show that Guantanamo Bay detainees, including David Hicks, were forced to take high dosages of the controversial anti-malaria drug mefloquine despite showing no signs of the disease, an unprecedented practice that has been likened to ”pharmacologic waterboarding” by a US military doctor.

Questions have been raised about whether the mass administration of the drug to detainees was a secret, illegal experiment after a medical journal article last month by an army doctor, Major Remington Nevin, highlighted the ”inappropriate use” of the drug, asking if its use had been motivated by its psychotic side effects. The US Centre for Disease Control has issued a warning against the use of mefloquine on anyone suffering psychiatric disturbances or having a history of depression. Dr Nevin has also warned that high doses of the drug can cause brain injuries.

Evidence including previously secret reports and witnesses including a Guantanamo guard, and New York lawyer, Josh Dratel, support Mr Hicks’s claims that he was drugged. Mr Dratel, who has top secret security clearance from the US Department of Justice and has acted for a number of detainees including Mr Hicks, was to give direct evidence of the ”non-therapeutic” drugging. In an affidavit prepared for the trial, Mr Dratel revealed that US prosecutors had admitted that Mr Hicks’s claims that ”guards had forced him to eat a meal which contained a sedative before they read him the charges” were true. He was told it had been done to protect the officers from his reactions.

Former Guantanamo guard Brandon Neely also supplied an affidavit for the trial saying that detainees were regularly beaten for refusing to take the medications.

Mr Neely has also said that the doctors never told the detainees what drugs they were being given.

Just what drugs were being administered in some cases may never be known. Medical records are apparently incomplete, with names and dosages of some drugs removed.

Stephen Kenny, one of the first lawyers allowed into Guantanamo Bay and who acted initially for Mr Hicks, has called for a full inquiry.

”If they were genuine medications then why does the name of the drug need to be removed?” asked Mr Kenny, who is also a spokesman for The Justice Campaign.

Further evidence of forced druggings by injection at Guantanamo has been revealed in a previously secret US Department of Defence intelligence report into allegations of the use of mind-altering drugs to facilitate interrogation. The report obtained under freedom of information laws by the independent US news outlet, Truthout, uncovered evidence that ”pyschoactive medication was administered to detainees for mental health purposes and that these injections were sometimes forced with unco-operative detainees”. It also found that ”chemical restraints were used on detainees that posed a threat to themselves” and detainees being treated with psychoactive drugs that impaired their mental functions were interrogated while under the effects of the medication.

Such forced druggings and abuse handed out to Mr Hicks and other detainees was to be at the heart of his defence against the Australian government’s legal action to stop him receiving proceeds of crime by collecting royalties from his book Guantanamo: My Journey.

After 6½ years in detention, Mr Hicks made an Alford plea – which is not recognised in Australia – meaning that he acknowledged the evidence but did not make any admissions. It meant he was convicted in the US of providing material support for terrorism but he was allowed to go home and serve a seven-month prison sentence.

The 37-year-old lives in Sydney and is working as a panel beater, but claims that the pain he suffers as a result of the druggings means that he now relies on painkillers.

On July 24, a week before his case was due to go to trial in the NSW Supreme Court, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions dropped the case, saying it would have been unable to satisfy the court that any admissions made by Mr Hicks at Guantanamo should be relied upon and that Mr Hicks had served evidence not previously available.

A statement released by the CDPP said Mr Hicks had challenged the admissibility of the evidence against him, including the certificate of conviction from the Guantanamo military court and the transcripts of the court’s hearings.

”If, at any stage in the conduct of legal proceedings by the office, there is a concern as to the sufficiency of available evidence, then the office will review the matter regardless of what stage the proceedings have reached in the court process,” the statement said. A spokesman for the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, declined to comment, saying it was a matter for the CDPP.

When Mr Hicks returned to Australia and was serving the seven-month term in Adelaide’s Yatala prison, he requested blood tests be taken to determine what drugs he had been given. He was refused, and by the time he was released it was too late to detect traces in his system.

Mr Hicks’s lawyer, Steven Glass from Gilbert and Tobin, said: ”The only thing David has wanted since he was first detained in 2001 was to have the allegations against him determined by a properly constituted court applying the rule of law. The trial in the NSW Supreme Court would have been the first time he had that opportunity.”

Mr Hicks said he had mixed feelings about the case being dismissed.

”Preparing for the case brought back memories of my ordeal in Guantanamo and interfered with my life terribly. But I am disappointed that the case was dropped because it was the first time I could have my day in court and the Australian people could have heard what actually went on,” he said.

The opportunity to see previously classified documents has been lost.

”During the period leading up to the trial, proposed evidence was exchanged between the parties, including evidence that had been provided to the Australian authorities by the US authorities at Guantanamo,” Mr Glass said. ”We were planning to rely on that evidence at trial.”

Known drugs administered to Hicks

MEFLOQUINE

Questions have been raised about the use of this anti-malarial drug for illegal and secret experiments.

High dosages were given to all detainees, including David Hicks, to stop the spread of malaria. But it was not given to staff brought into the centre from malaria-endemic countries.

Army doctor Remington Nevin said mass administration of the drug in such high doses to people who are asymptomatic or uninfected was akin to ”pharmacologic waterboarding”.

Anti-malaria drugs were used for experimental research by the CIA in the 1950s under its MK-ULTRA mind control program, according to research by independent news outlet Truthout. The US Food and Drug Administration product guide says it can cause mental health problems, including anxiety, hallucinations, depression and unusual behaviour. It has been linked to brain injuries, suicidal and homicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety.

Concerns about the medication’s side effects resurfaced in March when a former Army psychiatrist listed it among the medications possibly taken by Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, charged in the shooting deaths of 16 Afghan civilians.

GI COCKTAIL

A gastro-intestinal mix of drugs that is supposed to contain liquid antacid, similar to Mylanta, and a mild anaesthetic such as lidocaine. But Mr Hicks said that after taking it, he became so drowsy he couldn’t stay awake.

There’s an art to buying investment property.

Hitting the sweet spot

Date
August 15, 2012

There’s an art to buying investment property. John Collett asks the experts where to look to get the best results.

House prices may be treading water, but a good investment can still be found if investors focus on yield and are realistic about the prospects for price growth.

Investors are more likely to want to be compensated with higher gross rental yields than in the past when easy capital gains were assured.

Property experts say good properties on yields of more than 5 per cent can be found in Sydney and Melbourne, but they agree the better opportunities are now in Sydney.

Maria Andreeva and her husband, Yuri Nosach.Perfect choice … Maria Andreeva and husband, Yuri Nosach, outside one of their investment properties in Bronte. Photo: Marco Del Grande

Other experts, such as the founder of buyer’s agent Metropole Property Strategists, Michael Yardney, say as long as investors do their homework and buy the right property, capital gains will come down the track and buying on a yield of less than 5 per cent is acceptable.

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Yardney, an author of books on property investing, says the aim should be to buy below the intrinsic value of the property in areas known to give above-average capital growth, which has scarcity and to which value can be added.

OLDER APARTMENTS

Yardney generally favours apartments over houses and older apartments over new apartments.

Older apartments can be bought more cheaply because buyers are not paying a developer’s margin. There are also opportunities to improve them, he says.

Investors should ride the trend towards apartment living as more people ”swap their backyards for balconies”, Yardney says. There are more one- and two-person households, and more time-poor people who do not want a house on a big block, he says.

He favours older apartments on good public transport links that are not that far from the central business district.

Investors should also buy in areas where there is a preponderance of owner-occupiers rather than renters.

”Strong capital growth has always been driven by owner-occupiers,” Yardney says.

That’s because owner-occupiers are more likely to buy with their hearts rather than their calculators, he says.

FOCUS ON YIELD

Sydney has the better prospects for investors. Rents for properties in the middle and lower price brackets in Sydney are rising at just less than 8 per cent a year because of an under-supply of properties in the city.

In Melbourne, by contrast, rents are mostly stagnant and will likely take years before the city has digested the huge supply of inner-city apartments and new houses in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. Property prices in Melbourne have fallen about 10 per cent since their peak in 2010, after a very big run-up in the preceding years.

But prices in Melbourne do appear to be stabilising.

Though house prices are also treading water in Sydney, investors are being compensated for that with rising rents, says the managing director of specialist property researcher SQM Research, Louis Christopher.

”The numbers for investors in Sydney are starting to make sense, with a gross rental yield of 5.5 per cent for an inner-city property,” he says.

It is dangerous to generalise about Australia’s two largest property markets.

While rents in the lower and middle-price markets in Sydney are rising, rents are stagnant or falling for more expensive properties in Sydney. Christopher says the ”sweet spot” for investors is the cheaper end of the Sydney market.

”Yields are a lot lower for luxury properties, where the gross yield gets down to 1 and 2 per cent,” he says. ”The higher the price, the higher the land tax and the transactions costs, such as stamp duty.”

Yardney says that with higher-priced properties, not only is the yield generally lower than for cheaper property but the pool of potential renters is also smaller.

Christopher says investors should look at the outer-ring suburbs of Sydney where rents are rising fastest, and particularly suburbs well serviced by railway lines, such as Liverpool and Penrith.

SYDNEY

The principal of Smart Property Adviser, Kevin Lee, favours outer suburbs such as Campbelltown, St Marys and Werrington.

In Lee’s opinion, the best buying is among units selling for about $200,000, which will typically have two bedrooms in a red-brick, two- or three-storey walk-up with no lifts. They usually need repainting and re-carpeting and have strata levies of about $400 a quarter, compared with much higher strata levies for newer apartments with gyms and swimming pools that need to be maintained.

Lee says that with a purchase price of about $200,000, a 10 per cent deposit and an expected rent of about $280 a week, the gross rental yield works out at just more than 7 per cent.

That more than covers the interest rate on the most competitive mortgage rates, which on variable-rate loans are a little more than 5.5 per cent.

Often, even when the costs of holding property are included, the investment can work out as cash flow-neutral.

Lee does not like negative gearing, in which the rent does not cover the interest costs and other expenses, and the investor claims the shortfall as a tax deduction. He says it means rent is not high enough and the landlord is supporting the tenant’s lifestyle.

Yardney says that with the costs involved with property, it is difficult for investors to be cash-flow positive, which is why investors need decent capital gains in the long term to come out ahead.

He prefers Sydney’s inner west to the outer suburbs. ”Proximity to public transport and the CBD is always going to be important,” he says.

He says the ”best bang for the

buck at the moment” are apartments that are priced between $400,000 and $500,000.

That amount will buy some really good two-bedroom apartments.

His preferred picks include apartments in the inner-western suburbs of Marrickville, Dulwich Hill and Ashfield.

MELBOURNE

Melbourne’s oversupply of vacant properties in the outer suburbs and a large number of new, off-the-plan apartments in the inner Melbourne CBD mean investors have to tread carefully, Yardney says. ”Oversupply will likely overhang the market in Melbourne for years,” he says.

Although Melbourne’s picture is poor, he says demand is strong in the inner south-east and inner east. ”We are not buying the market, we are buying individual properties,” Yardney says. ”The good news is that you can buy well [in Melbourne] at below market value.”

For investors with less than $400,000 to invest, he favours one- and two-bedroom apartments in St Kilda, Carnegie, Caulfield and Glen Huntly.

The managing director of buyer’s agent Buyer Solutions in Melbourne, Janet Spencer, has been buying on behalf of investors in areas of Melbourne where there is good demand. ”Although the market is patchy, there are pockets that are performing quite well,” she says.

Buying well is all about doing the research first.

”You have to do your due diligence before you buy,” Spencer says. ”Look at the vacancy rates in the area and buy the right property that is going to have some appeal.

”We have been buying well in Melbourne, picking up apartments whose prices are down 10 to 12 per cent from 2009 and 2010.”

Spencer’s top picks for investors include apartments for less than $500,000 in St Kilda and Carlton, near the University of Melbourne.

”There is a perception that it is always strongly priced there [in Carlton], but there have been good buying opportunities in the past 12 months, particularly with apartments,” she says.

A future carved out in bricks and mortar

Soon after their arrival from Russia a few years ago, Maria Andreeva and husband Yuri Nosach started buying investment properties to help secure their financial future.

The couple, who will soon be a family of three, has four investment properties in Sydney where they live.

Initially, the couple lived in Tasmania and, while still there, bought a two-bedroom apartment in Bondi, plus a one-bedroom apartment in Bronte.

Maria says they always wanted to invest in Sydney because of its strong employment and population growth. But the couple needed help and used a buyers’ agent with a good knowledge of the Sydney market.

Maria and Yuri have been advised in their property acquisitions and investment strategy by Michael Yardney of buyers’ agent Metropole Property Strategists.

Maria, 35, is an accountant with a book-keeping and tax business and Yuri, 56, is a social worker.

Maria considered buying off-the-plan apartments but was worried there may be too many similar apartments arriving on the rental market seeking tenants at the same time. She opted for older apartments instead.

The couple moved to Sydney 18 months ago and live in a rented apartment. Not having a mortgage on a residential property allows them to afford a larger portfolio of investment properties.

Good capital growth in the original two properties allowed them to borrow more to purchase a further two investment properties earlier this year – a two-bedroom apartment in Marrickville and a house in St Peters.

Maria and Yuri’s strategy is simple – as rents rise and the mortgage is paid down they will, eventually, be able to live off the rental income.

Stabilisation in sight rather than a boom

There are some tentative signs that house prices in Sydney and Melbourne have stabilised as the four cuts in interest rates by the Reserve Bank since November work their way through the economy.

RP Data-Rismark’s capital city home price index rose 0.6 per cent in July, following a 1 per cent rise in June after months of flat prices. Prices in Sydney rose 1.2 per cent, and 1.4 per cent in Melbourne, in July. Prices in the other major capitals fell. Confidence of home buyers and investors, however, is still being sapped by the gloomy outlook on the global economy.

Auction clearance rates are still hovering between 60 per cent to 70 per cent in Sydney and Melbourne, compared with the peak of the market in 2010 when clearance rates were more than 80 per cent.

Louis Christopher says the prospects for capital gains are better for Sydney than for Melbourne. Supply is still strong in Melbourne and that is going to continue to put a dampener on prices there for at least two years, he says.

The Australian economy continues to do relatively well, with good growth and low unemployment, Michael Yardney says. ”What is missing is confidence, and people are holding off making big decisions,” he says. However, the property price data shows ”we are on the cusp of the stabilisation stage.” But he is not expecting prices to boom because, as the market improves, sellers who have withdrawn their properties from sale will put them back on the market.