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.

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Pakistan polio outbreak puts global eradication at risk

Pakistan polio outbreak puts global eradication at risk – Dailytimes Report 19 Oct 2013\10\19\story_19-10-2013_pg1_6

* Taliban attacks, vaccine ban leave many children exposed

* Dozens of children paralysed in Waziristan outbreak

* Dramatic progress towards wiping out polio in jeopardy

LONDON: A Taliban ban on vaccination is exacerbating a serious polio outbreak in Pakistan, threatening to derail dramatic progress made this year towards wiping out the disease worldwide, health officials say.

Health teams in Pakistan have been attacked repeatedly since the Taliban denounced vaccines as a Western plot to sterilise Muslims and imposed bans on inoculation in June 2012.

In North Waziristan, a region near the Afghan border that has been cordoned off by the Taliban, dozens of children, many under the age of two, have been crippled by the viral disease in the past six months.

And there is evidence in tests conducted on sewage samples in some of the country’s major cities that the polio virus is starting to spread beyond these isolated pockets and could soon spark fresh polio outbreaks in more densely populated areas.

“We have entered a phase that we were all worried about and were afraid might happen,” Elias Durry, head of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in Pakistan, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“The risk is that as long as the virus is still circulating, and as long as we have no means of reaching these children and immunising them to interrupt virus transmission, it could jeopardise everything that has been done so far – not only in Pakistan, but also in the region and around the globe.”

Polio is a highly infectious disease that invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours. A $5.5 billion global eradication plan was launched in April with the aim of vaccinating 250 million children multiple times each year to stop the virus finding new footholds, and stepping up surveillance in more than 70 countries.

The virus has been cornered to just a handful of areas in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the three countries where polio is endemic. Global cases have dropped by more than 99.9 percent in less than three decades, from 350,000 in 1985 to just 223 last year, according to the GPEI.

But so far in 2013, there have already been 296 cases worldwide. Forty-three were in Pakistan, the vast majority in children in the semi-autonomous Pashtun lands along the Afghan border known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which include North Waziristan.

Accusations that immunisation campaigns are cover for spies were given credence when it emerged that the United States had used a Pakistani vaccination team to gather intelligence about al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was found and killed by US special forces in Pakistan in 2011.

The Taliban ban, and associated security threats, mean the polio virus could easily escape and spread back into previously cleared areas.

Tariq Bhutta of the Pakistan Paediatric Association said there was little prospect that the militant Islamist group would change its stance. He said attacks on health teams attempting to reach children to immunise them were becoming both more frequent and more violent.

“The vaccination teams are still going out, but at risk to their lives,” he told Reuters. “People can come up on motorbikes and shoot them, and they’ve also started attacking the police put there to protect the vaccination teams.” A Taliban bomb that exploded earlier this month near a polio vaccination team in the northwestern city of Peshawar killed two people and appeared to target police assigned to protect the health workers.

“This will only be solved if the polio teams can get access to those children – either inside FATA, or when the children move out into other areas,” Bhutta said. “Without that I don’t see how things can improve. Rather I think things might get more serious when the polio virus gets out into settled areas.”

The GPEI says the FATA is the area with the largest number of children being paralysed by wild poliovirus in all of Asia.

Four polio cases in children in Pakistan were reported in the last week. Because the virus spreads from person to person, the World Health Organisation says as long as any child remains infected, children everywhere are at risk. reuters

U.S. Congress to target non-compliance by U.S. taxpayers using foreign accounts.

U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act in Full Swing

By Yao Lu, Sondre Solstad and Chet Scheltema

Mar. 7 – The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (also known as FATCA), was enacted in 2010 by the U.S. Congress to target non-compliance by U.S. taxpayers using foreign accounts. It requires foreign financial institutions (FFIs) to report to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) information about financial accounts held by U.S. taxpayers worth more than US$50,000, or by foreign entities in which U.S. taxpayers hold a substantial ownership interest.

The most notable feature of FATCA is that it allows a 30 percent withholding tax on the gross amounts of “withholdable payments” made to FFIs and non-financial foreign entities (NFFEs), unless such organizations satisfy certain FATCA requirements.

To meet such requirements, an FFI generally must enter into an FFI Agreement with the IRS by registering online through the “FATCA Registration Portal” and agreeing to carry out certain due diligence, reporting and withholding responsibilities (withholding responsibility occurs where an account holder fails to provide the required information to the financial institution). An NFFE must either certify it does not have any “substantial” U.S. owners, or report the name, address, and tax ID number of each substantial U.S. owner.

“Withholdable payments” under FATCA include:

  • U.S.-sourced interest, dividends, rent, salaries, wages and similar fixed or determinable, annual or periodical (FDAP) payments.
  • Gross proceeds from the disposition of property that can generate U.S-sourced FDAP income.
  • “Foreign pass-thru payments,” the IRS is still considering rules for defining a foreign pass-thru payment.

Impact on Overseas U.S. Residents
The United States is the world’s only industrialized country that taxes on the basis of citizenship rather than on residence or source of income. For Americans living overseas, if the aggregate value of their foreign financial accounts exceeds US$10,000 at any point in time during the tax calendar year, they need to report their personal accounts through the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).

In addition to the long-standing FBAR form, FATCA has brought in a new IRS filing requirement, called Form 8938. The new form requires taxpayers to provide detailed information on their overseas financial accounts to the IRS, along with their annual income tax returns. U.S. citizens who have foreign financial assets in excess of US$50,000 are obliged to report through Form 8938, while Americans residing overseas only need to report if they:

  • File a return other than a joint return and the total value of the specified foreign assets is more than US$200,000 on the last day of the tax year, or more than US$300,000 at any time during the year.
  • File a joint return and the value of the specified foreign asset is more than US$400,000 on the last day of the tax year or more than US$600,000 at any time during the year.

Failing to report could result in a penalty of US$10,000, and up to US$50,000 (for continued failure after IRS notification). Furthermore, underpayments of taxes attributable to non-disclosed foreign financial assets will be subject to an additional understatement penalty of 40 percent.

“As FATCA begins to be implemented, more taxpayers who have not been compliant will be under pressure to disclose their non-U.S. bank accounts,” comments Philip Stein, president of Philip L. Stein & Associates. “Also of note is that as soon at the foreign banks identify their U.S. customers and pass that information on to the IRS, U.S. taxpayers will no longer have the option of participating in an ‘Overseas Voluntary Disclosure Program.’”

Final Regulations on FATCA
On January 17, 2013, the U.S. Treasury and the IRS issued final regulations under the FATCA (hereinafter referred to as “Final Regulations”), which made a number of important changes to the proposed regulations of FATCA published in February 2012 (hereinafter referred to as ‘Proposed Regulations’).


Grandfathered obligation
Under the FATCA regime, certain obligations are grandfathered and no withholding is required on such obligations. The Proposed Regulations provide that withholding is not required on any payments relating to an obligation outstanding on January 1, 2013. This applicable date has been extended by one year to January 1, 2014 under the Final Regulations.

Investment entities
The Final Regulations have rendered some changes to the “investment entity” – one of the broadest categories of financial institution. These changes are as follows:

  • Providing that certain investment entities may be subject to being reported on by the FFIs with which they hold accounts, rather than being required to register as FFIs and report to the IRS themselves
  • Clarifying the types of passive investment entities that must be identified and reported by FFIs

Preexisting accounts
The Final Regulation defines the “preexisting accounts” as accounts maintained by an FFI prior to January 1, 2014, and such accounts must be reviewed by December 31, 2013. However, the preexisting accounts with a balance or value of US$50,000 or less held by individuals and accounts with a balance or value of US$250,000 or less held by entities are exempted from review.

Gross proceeds withholding
The Final Regulation extends the effective date for withholding on the gross proceeds of sales of assets that produce U.S.-sourced income from 2015 to 2017, but it does not extend the effective date for withholding on U.S.-sourced income that does not constitute gross proceeds, which begins on January 1, 2014.

The Final Regulation also streamlines FFI registration and compliance procedures, and relaxes certain documentation requirements.

Inter-governmental Agreements
Given the fact that there may be certain privacy or banking secrecy requirements under foreign laws that prevent FFIs from reporting to the IRS, the U.S. Treasury has developed two models of inter-governmental agreements (IGAs) to facilitate the implementation of FATCA in a manner that avoids foreign legal impediments – namely the Model 1 Agreement and the Model 2 Agreement.

Under a Model 1 Agreement, FFIs should report information directly to their own governments, and such information will be automatically channeled to the IRS. It should be pointed out, though, that there is a reciprocal and non-reciprocal version of the Model 1 Agreement. The reciprocal version is available only to jurisdictions with which the United States has an income tax treaty or information exchange agreement, and it requires the U.S. government to report account information to foreign jurisdictions. The non-reciprocal version only requires the foreign jurisdiction to provide information to the U.S. government.

Under a Model 2 Agreement, FFIs must register with the IRS and report information regarding their U.S. accounts directly to the IRS, this will require the foreign government to enact a local law that permits the exchange of information with the United States.

IGA with Switzerland
On February 14 this year, the U.S. government scored a big win in its pursuit of American tax evaders as Switzerland has agreed to reveal the information of U.S. account-holders to Washington, although such agreement still needs to be approved by the Swiss Parliament.

The agreement with Switzerland is of particular significance as the IRS and the Justice Department have long been demanding information from Swiss banks (including UBS, Credit Suisse and Wegelin) on U.S. taxpayers with hidden accounts, and it is also the first Model 2 Agreement that has been signed thus far.

Since the United States will start to implement FATCA in January of 2014, Swiss financial institutions will be forced to implement FATCA from this date. Failing to comply could result in exclusion from the U.S. capital market.

“We are pleased that Switzerland has signed a bilateral agreement with us, and we look forward to quickly concluding agreements based on this model with other jurisdictions,” said Acting Secretary of the Treasury Neal S. Wolin in a statement.

So far, the United States has concluded IGAs with seven countries, including Denmark, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom. The U.S. Treasury has also noted that besides Switzerland, Japan is also working on a Model 2 Agreement, and is in the midst of IGA negotiations with over 50 additional jurisdictions including the Cayman Islands. Negotiations with China have begun, but have not made any progress.

Key FATCA Dates

Below is a list of certain key dates for FATCA implementation:

October 25, 2013

  • It is expected that the IRS will open FATCA registration for FFIs by July 15, 2013 and for FFIs hoping to avoid becoming subject to FATCA withholding, they must register through the “FATCA Registration Portal” by October 25, 2013

January 1, 2014

  • Withholding on U.S.-sourced FDAP commences
  • Newly-opened accounts will no longer be considered as preexisting accounts
  • New obligations issued after January 1, 2014 will no longer be treated as grandfathered obligations

March 31, 2015

  • Filing of FATCA Information Reports begins. The first deadline for “participating FFIs” to file information reports with the IRS is March 31, 2015

January 1, 2017

  • Gross proceeds withholding begins
  • Earliest date that the withholding on “foreign pass-thru payments” may begin

Controversy Surrounding FATCA
Critics of FATCA point to several problems with the legislation that may eliminate its estimated US$8 billion increase in government revenue. Central to these concerns is the costs on the part of FFIs, as they have to provide extensive documentation to the IRS about their American subjects.

The European Commission has estimated that compliance would cost EU institutions alone US$100 million, and James Broderick, the head of JP Morgan’s European, Middle Eastern and African asset management business, has suggested overall implementation costs could equal the roughly US$8 billion FATCA is expected to raise over the next 10 years.

A report by American Citizens Abroad (ACA) warns that the large cost of observing the legislation could lead many foreign financial institutions to choose to close the accounts of U.S. citizens and sell off U.S. holdings rather than complying. A 2011 survey by KPMG of leading fund promoters found that 6 percent of respondents were intending to do so. Some have suggested that this could cause a larger impact on U.S. government revenue than the money raised by FATCA, as disinvestment deteriorates the state of the overall economy.

The Final Regulations do, however, appear to have taken into account some of these concerns, as efforts to simplify the act have led to what analysts call “favorable changes” in time allotted for reviewing existing accounts, use of existing documentation and the application of FATCA on certain existing obligations.

Dezan Shira & Associates is a specialist foreign direct investment practice, providing corporate establishment, business advisory, tax advisory and compliance, accounting, payroll, due diligence and financial review services to multinationals investing in emerging Asia. Since its establishment in 1992, the firm has grown into one of Asia’s most versatile full-service consultancies with operational offices across China, Hong Kong, India, Singapore and Vietnam as well as liaison offices in Italy and the United States.

Dezan Shira & Associates’ Manager of Global Business Development for the Beijing office, Mr. Chet Scheltema, will be in the United States this month to speak on doing business in China, and to meet for discussions concerning foreign direct investment into China.

Working with clients primarily from the United States and Europe, Mr. Scheltema advises on corporate structuring, China FDI regulations, China tax compliance, and general business legal matters.

Mr. Scheltema’s U.S. Itinerary:

  • March 13-17th: New York City, New York
  • March 18-20th: San Francisco, California
  • March 21-22nd: Houston & Dallas, Texas
  • March 25-26th: San Diego, California

To arrange a meeting with Mr. Scheltema during his time in the United States, please contact the Manager of our U.S. Liaison Office, Ms. Jessica Tou:

You can stay up to date with the latest business and investment trends across Asia by subscribing to Asia Briefing’s complimentary update service featuring news, commentary, guides, and multimedia resources.

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Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements
In this issue of China Briefing Magazine, we look at the evolution of the legal framework of double taxation agreements in China, including the foundations of anti-avoidance, obligations in reporting offshore transactions, how to qualify as a beneficial owner and how to claim treaty benefits. We also outline the interpretations given in Circular 75 of the China-Singapore DTA.

An astonishing line-up of new attractions awaits globetrotters in 2013

Tickets, please!

Date    January 20, 2013
Year's best sights ...  The Shard, London.Year’s best sights … The Shard, London.

An astonishing line-up of new attractions awaits globetrotters in 2013, as Belinda Jackson and Julietta Jameson discover in their round-up of the best.

For lovers of the highest, biggest, cleverest or freshest, this year presents a remarkable array of new attractions in all corners of the globe. From Paris to far-north China, amazing feats of architecture, adrenalin-pumping roller coasters, world-class collections and even an endangered-animal experience will welcome visitors in 2013.

Here’s our guide to 10 of the best.

Water park ... an artist's impression of the  Yas waterworld in Abu Dhabi.Water park … an artist’s impression of the Yas Waterworld in Abu Dhabi.

1. Marina Boulevard, Singapore


Gardens by the Bay

Type of attraction Botanical spectacular.
Wow factor
More flowers than Interflora on Mother’s Day.
Great for
Gardening enthusiasts, respite from the Singapore heat and humidity.

The 101-hectare gardens, situated at the heart of Singapore's Marine Bay, cost $773 million to build and house over a quarter of a million rare plants. Click for more photos

Avatar in real life: Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay

The 101-hectare gardens, situated at the heart of Singapore’s Marine Bay, cost $773 million to build and house over a quarter of a million rare plants. Photo: Reuters

Singapore’s penchant for creative new architecture is fully in play at Gardens by the Bay. The Supertree Grove, a collection of fluted glass towers, is like something out of a futuristic space station. The walkways 22 metres above ground between the towers offer terrific views.

Two glass domes sit like giant sea snails on the edge of Marina Reservoir. Inside, visitors are surrounded by an extensive botanic collection, carefully zoned and climate controlled. It’s a soothing and intriguing experience that, all up, 700,000 plants collaborate upon.

The Flower Dome is a pleasing walk through different microclimates and their plants. The Cloud Forest, with its 30-metre waterfall centrepiece, mimics a tropical climate 1000-3500 metres above sea level. By night, light shows transform the gardens into a flashier – and perhaps more child-friendly – place.

Screamer ... Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey.Screamer … Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey. Photo: Getty Images

“We could have used this for far more valuable commercial or residential developments, right in the middle of the new Singapore city,” says the Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong. “But our planners in URA [Urban Redevelopment Authority] believed that a large and beautiful park was an important element of our new downtown in Marina Bay South.”

Entry to the domes ranges from $S8 ($6.15) to $S28. JJ


2. London, England

The View from The Shard

Type of attraction High-rise viewing platform.
Wow factor
On a (rare) clear day, you can see forever – or at least 64 kilometres away.
Great for
Marriage proposals, London first-timers getting their bearings, a different perspective for London veterans.
February 1.

The controversy surrounding Renzo Piano’s The Shard made that about Sir Norman Foster’s quirky “Gherkin” in the same city look a doddle.

The Shard – all 95 storeys of it – dwarfs the London skyline.

It’s hated as incongruous and hailed as elegant. Either way, there’s no denying it’s spectacular.

The tapering edifice on the edge of the Thames at London Bridge is the tallest building in western Europe and incorporates offices, apartments, a hotel and two floors of public viewing space – The View from The Shard. The view is nothing short of breathtaking. The aspect of the winding course of the Thames is a highlight – it affords a deeper understanding of the way this warren of a city works.

“This iconic building is already the new centrepiece for the city,” says the head of international media at VisitBritain, Paul Gauger.

“The View from The Shard will be the must-visit attraction for London in 2013 and I’m sure for years to come.”

The attraction is expensive, however. Tickets cost £24.95 ($38) for an adult and £18.95 for a child. Compare that with the €14 ($17.70) price of an adult ticket to the top of the Eiffel Tower. JJ


3. Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Legoland Malaysia

Type of attraction The world’s sixth Legoland.
Wow factor
Miniland: made from 30 million Lego bricks over three years.
Great for
Young families, hardcore Lego buffs.

Set on the border of Singapore, Legoland is hands-on, with more than 40 attractions, including mini trains, tots’ playgrounds, castles and carousels, and roller coasters.

The park is zoned into areas where you can build and test your creations, play jousting, damsels and dragons, or journey into the Land of Adventure to hook up with pharaohs and dinosaurs.

Intricate Miniland is a city of animated models of Asian landmarks, including the Taj Mahal and Petronas Twin Towers, at a scale of 1:20.

Coming in late 2013/early 2014 are a Legoland water park and hotel.

Buy online seven days in advance for the best price, from 112 ringgit ($35) for adults (12-59 years), 88 ringgit for children and seniors (3-11 years, 60-plus years). BJ


4. Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

Yas Waterworld

Type of attraction The world’s biggest water park.
Wow factor
The world’s largest surfable sheet wave.
Great for
Families, thrill seekers, anyone who feels the heat at 50 degrees.
January 24.

There are 43 Emirati-themed water rides at Yas Waterworld, including the little-kid-friendly Marah Fortress, complete with water cannon, and Dawwama, a 20-metre-high funnel ride that propels you into the air.

“Cameras installed inside the ride are meant to capture the looks of pure terror on riders’ faces,” the organisers say with unbridled glee.

There’s a designer Arabian souk (market) within the park.

Action-packed Yas Island, half an hour from Abu Dhabi, is the leisure island of the Emirates, according to Abu Dhabi Tourism. It’s home to Ferrari World, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit, and a string of hotels and shops. You can buy multi-park passes to Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld, or single-entrance tickets cost from 225 dirham ($58) for adults, 185 dirham for children under 1.1 metres, free for children under three years. BJ


5. Sichuan province, China

The Dujiangyan Giant Panda Rescue and Disease Control Centre

Type of attraction Endangered wildlife sanctuary.
Wow factor
Up close with pandas – what’s more “wow” than that?
Great for
Voluntourists, nature lovers.

The rescue centre is the third part of and completes a giant panda preservation network, collectively the only place in the world where visitors can get close to large groups of captive pandas. Dujiangyan encloses the panda area of China’s west, making for easier protection, breeding, rescue and research work.

Voluntourists are invited to spend a week or so there, helping feed and care for the pandas.

Helen Wong, who runs panda tours for Australians and organises access to the animals, says it’s a “very moving experience” getting so close.

“At the centres, people can get to know this indigenous species and understand why they are such an important treasure,” she says.

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is sponsoring a new bamboo plantation as part of its Care for Panda project. It will help feed the rescued ill and elderly wild giant pandas at the Dujiangyan Giant Panda Rescue and Disease Control Centre.

Guests at the Shangri-La Hotel, Chengdu, will be able to visit the Dujiangyan centre, take education tours and participate in activities, such as preparing food for pandas. JJ


6. Paris, France

The Department of Islamic Art, Musee du Louvre

Type of attraction The Louvre’s newest department.
Wow factor
The entrance, a 15th-century Egyptian Mamluk vestibule, sets the tone for the treasures within.
Great for
Art and design lovers.

After nearly five years’ refurbishment, the new Department of Islamic Art exhibits almost 3000 of the Louvre’s 12,000 Islamic works, spanning 12 centuries and many countries, from Spain to India.

Treasures include Turkish ceramics, Iranian ewers, tiles from central Asia and a silver-and-gold basin used to baptise Louis XII, many on display for the first time.

“The Egyptian Antiquities department is one of the most popular, but the new Islamic art collection is a great opportunity for Australians to go off the beaten tracks and discover an amazing civilisation,” says Coralie Pierre of French Travel Connection. The department’s new home is almost worth a visit alone: the collection is in an 18th-century palace courtyard roofed by a gold, flowing architectural “veil”. The cost of the new wing? About $131 million. Entrance costs from €11 ($13.90) for adults, free for children under 18. Closed on Tuesdays. BJ


7. Jackson, New Jersey, US

Six Flags Great Adventure

Type of attraction Theme park.
Wow factor
Animals and 13 roller coasters. Oh, my! Great for Wildlife spotters, adrenalin junkies.
March 23.

This adventure park in New Jersey will become the world’s largest theme park when it merges its fun park and Wild Safari animal park.

Scream your way down the new four-storey-high Big Wave Racer water toboggan or splash through the million-gallon wave pool.

Make like Paris Hilton and hit the stand-up Green Lantern roller coaster. Or spot, hand-feed or zip over the top of some of the 1200 animals in the safari park. If you’re lucky, you’ll eyeball a red lechwe, kudu, nilgai twins or a khulan. Get the best (camera) shot from an open-air safari vehicle on the park’s new Safari Off Road Adventure or the new zipline for a bird’s-eye view of the African-style park. The park is 1½ hours’ drive south of New York City.

Buy tickets online from $US42.99 ($41) for adults, $US34.99 for children under 137 centimetres, free for kids under two years. BJ


8. Amsterdam, the Netherlands


Type of attraction Art gallery.
Wow factor
The long-awaited return of one of the world’s best art collections.
Great for
Culture vultures.
April 13.

A decade and $300 million later, the Netherlands’ national art gallery reopens. It’s five years late – “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” general director Wim Pijbes says – but the delay was, in many ways, a blessing. There has been incredible progress in museum technology in the past five years; the museum has responded. The base collection will comprise 8000 works telling the story of the Netherlands from the Middle Ages to now.

Highlights include the Rembrandts and works by other artists from the Dutch golden age of painting, such as Vermeer and Hals.

There are revamped gardens, new public facilities and an Asian Pavilion, plus the stunningly renewed facade of the grand 17th-century building. The museum expects annual attendance to rise from about 1 million visitors before the closure to 5 million.

Amsterdam will be an art mecca in 2013. Also reopening are the Van Gogh Museum and the modern art gallery. JJ


9. Christchurch, New Zealand

The Cardboard Cathedral

Type of attraction A temporary cathedral.
Wow factor
Seats 700 people, who won’t get wet when it rains.
Great for
Fans of architecture and sustainability – atheists and the faithful alike.

Built in 1881, the Anglican ChristChurch Cathedral was severely damaged in the February 2011 earthquake and in two subsequent quakes. The Gothic stone building is being replaced temporarily by a transitional cathedral made from 320 giant cardboard tubes, the signature material of “emergency architect” Shigeru Ban, who is working, for no fee, on the project.

The Japanese architect specialises in designing temporary buildings in disaster zones using cardboard, which is cheap, recyclable and readily available. It’s also more earthquake resilient and it won’t go soggy, thanks to a concrete floor, timber beams and polycarbonate roof.

It has a lifespan of about 20 years, and in the ultimate recycling move, the temporary cathedral will become the permanent house of worship for the St John’s parish, which also lost its church, hall and vicarage in the same earthquake. “The arrival of the cathedral will provide an important venue for both spiritual and community gatherings,” says the chief executive of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism, Tim Hunter. BJ


10. Daqing, China

Jurassic Dream

Type of attraction Theme park.
Wow factor
Cutting-edge animatronics and roller coasters featuring spectacular visuals.
Great for
All ages of kids who dig all things dinosaur.
Sometime in 2013.

“China has become the new Eldorado for theme park designers thanks to frenetic development,” says the online journal of the theme parks and leisure industry, NewsParcs. That’s good news for lovers of theme parks and dinosaurs.

Heilongjiang province in the far north of China is the home of Heilongjiangosaurus, an obscure duck-billed species of dinosaur.

Fossils of it, and many other species, have been unearthed here.

Up until now, there has been little to entice enthusiasts in, especially with the oil-rich region’s shocking weather – during the long winter, the temperature can drop to a chilly minus 30 degrees.

Enter Jurassic Dream, which puts paid to climate concerns by being one of the biggest covered, temperature-controlled theme parks in the world.

“The all-indoor theme park is a stunning celebration of dinosaurs … that will thrill guests of all ages,” says Craig Hanna of Thinkwell, the mastermind behind the park.

Highlights include the Mystic Caverns Express, a family roller coaster that takes riders through extravagant dinosaur-related visuals, and the crowning glory, Dinosaur Encounter, a walk-through experience full of cutting-edge animatronic dinosaurs.

The 5.7-hectare 2013 version of the park is set to be quadrupled by 2015, with the likely addition of a hotel. JJ

Daughters Married Off ? Only now time to SPEND MONEY on yourself ?

World’s best holiday destination for Muslims named

Date     January 17, 2013 – 11:22AM

The study by Singapore-based Muslim travel consultancy Crescentrating ranked countries on how well they cater to the growing number of Muslim holidaymakers seeking halal — or Islam-compliant — food and services.

It used criteria including the level of safety in a country, the ease of access to halal food and prayer facilities, and whether hotels cater to the needs of Muslim guests.

On a scale of one to 10 in which 10 is the best score, Malaysia came out number one with a grade of 8.3 among 50 nations surveyed.


Egypt was in second place with 6.7, followed by the United Arab Emirates and Turkey both with 6.6. Saudi Arabia was in fourth place with a score of 6.4 and Singapore was fifth with 6.3.

Indonesia, Morocco and Jordan scored 6.1 to tie in sixth place, trailed by seventh-place Brunei, Qatar, Tunisia and Oman, all with a score of 6.0.

Crescentrating chief executive Fazal Bahardeen said the survey was taken from the point of view of the traveller, meaning that it measured the ease of access by Muslim tourists — not locals — to halal food and facilities.

“Malaysia is one of the few countries where you can find a prayer place in almost every location — be it a shopping mall or the airport,” Fazal told AFP.

He said that while Malaysian authorities have been focusing on the market for several years, Indonesia — the world’s most populous Muslim nation — has not done as well.

“The main problem for Indonesia is that it’s not straightforward for a Muslim visitor to find halal food availability. For locals it’s probably not an issue.”

Saudi Arabia figured as a holiday destination for the first time since the survey started in 2011 because more Muslims use their holidays to go there to perform the Umrah, a minor pilgrimage, Fazal said.

In terms of cities as a shopping destination, Dubai pipped Kuala Lumpur for the number-one spot, according to the survey which rated the presence of halal food and prayer facilities at shopping malls.

Istanbul, Jeddah, Singapore, Cairo, Abu Dhabi, New Delhi, London and Doha completed the top-10 shopping destinations.

Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport were rated among the friendliest to Muslim travellers.

Spending by Muslim tourists is growing faster than the global rate and is forecast to reach $US192 billion ($A181 billion) a year by 2020, up from $US126 billion ($A119 billion) in 2011, according to a study by Crescentrating and another company released last year.


Fresh plans to turn Jenolan Caves into a private-sector gold mine

Fresh plans to turn Jenolan Caves into a private-sector gold mine

Date   December 6, 2012
Sean Nicholls

Sean Nicholls

Sydney Morning Herald State Political Editor

View more articles from Sean Nicholls

asLight at the end of the tunnel … the state government hopes to privatise Jenolan Caves.

NSW taxpayers have pumped $11 million into the historic but loss-making Jenolan Caves over the past nine years.

Now the caves will be opened up for privatisation by the state government.

The Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, said the precinct had the potential to be one of the state’s premier tourist attractions, but it had ”failed to flourish”, and had been receiving subsidies of up to $700,000 a year.

While about 226,000 people visit the caves every year, only 10,000 stay overnight at the historic Caves House hotel.

”There is no reason Jenolan can’t be more successful and stand on its own two feet,” Ms Parker said.

”We now want the private sector operators to start thinking about how they can help this wonderful state asset realise its full potential.”

The former Labor government announced similar plans in 2010, but they did not go ahead.

Ms Parker said the previous attempt showed that a private sector operator of Caves House needed the right to manage cave tours for it to be financially viable.

She said proposals would be sought early next year to take over management of the caves, including from business, local government, charities, individuals and the not-for-profit sector.

They would be offered a long-term lease on the hotel and another 30 buildings on the site, as well as access to the caves.

When Labor announced its plans in 2010, it was accused by the Nationals leader, Andrew Stoner, of ”being sneaky” and ”trying to flog off this Australian icon on the quiet”.

Mr Stoner, who is the Deputy Premier, said at the time: ”This news will not be welcomed by people living in the central west who depend on Jenolan Caves for employment and business.”

A spokesman for Ms Parker said Labor had ”proved time and time again” it was incapable of working with the private sector.

”The community had no confidence in the former government – as was evident at the election,” he said.

”We are being open and honest about our plans to give this fantastic destination the best chance of a bright future.”

It is understood Jenolan Caves staff were briefed on the proposal on Wednesday.

Ms Parker said the government would negotiate with any private operator to protect jobs at the site.

”The staff are one of the major assets,” she said.

”They live in the area, they love it and they understand its unique qualities.”

Cheetahs attack woman at safari park

Cheetahs attack woman at safari park

May 6, 2012
Violet plays with the 'tame' cheetah at the private Kragga Kamma game reserve near Port Elizabeth.
Violet plays with the ‘tame’ cheetah at the Kragga Kamma game reserve near Port Elizabeth. Photo: AP

The photos taken by a tourist from Scotland show his wife on the ground, hair flying, blood on her neck, with two cheetahs nearby.

The Port Elizabeth Herald reported that Violet D’Mello of Aberdeen was attacked by cheetahs on April 28 while in a petting pen with the animals at the Kragga Kamma game reserve near Port Elizabeth in southeastern South Africa.

It says she was attacked while trying to protect young children from another group that was in the enclosure at the same time.

The cheetahs tear at Violet's hair. The cheetahs tear at Violet’s hair. Photo: AP

Her husband took photos of the attack, which were published by the local newspaper and others.


One of the photos taken by Archie D’Mello shows his wife Violet smiling and posing with a cheetah raised by humans in the enclosure, before, as she told the Herald, “it became serious very quickly”.

One of two cheetahs in the enclosure first grabbed a young girl, leaving her with scratches and cuts that needed stitches, the paper reported.

Violet has blood on her neck as the cheetahs circle after the first attack.Violet has blood on her face as the cheetahs circle after the first attack. Photo: AP

Violet tried to calm the child and her brother, and ended up also being attacked.

She told the BBC she had numerous bite and puncture marks, and that her scalp was “sliced open”.

The cheetahs “weren’t being vicious. You could tell they were just excited”, Violet D’Mello told the Herald.

The Herald said park staff and other visitors pulled the cats off.

The D’Mellos continued their holiday in South Africa.


Malaysia’s young ? 313,600 Poms vote for Sydney

Car wash sex scandal

September 12, 2012 – 10:00AM

Malaysian police close a car wash that was offering free sex to frequent customers.

Malaysian car wash has been shut down after offering free sex for customer loyalty.Malaysian car wash has been shut down after offering free sex for customer loyalty.

Malaysian police have shut down a car wash that was offering regular customers free sex after every ninth car wash.

Malaysian newspaper The Malay Mail reports the car wash in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Sunway Mentari had been open for three months and had formed a partnership with a local massage parlour, enabling customers to redeem free sex from the brothel as part of a customer loyalty scheme.

The Mail reports that police stormed the parlour and found several stamped loyalty cards that had been used by customers to cash-in on the car wash deal.

Malaysian officer Emmi Shah Fadhil told The Malay Mail that the bust was unexpected.

“It was supposed to be just another routine operation,” Emmi Shah told the paper. The police squad that raided the massage parlour were told of the deal during the raid, and they found five customers taking advantage of the offer.

“To get the extra ‘offer’, customers must send their cars for washing nine times within a certain period,” Emmi Shah says. “The tenth car wash will entitle them to free sex.”

The parlour would usually charge between 130 and 180 Malaysian Ringgit ($40-$55) – cheaper than the $65 price for a full-service car wash.

Prostitution is illegal in Malaysia. As a result of the raid, nine Vietnamese women aged between 18 and 28 were arrested.


Poms vote for Sydney

September 12, 2012 – 1:57PM
Audi has the ambitious plan of hanging four cars off the Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of a global advertising campaign.Sydney’s famous Harbour Bridge.

British tourists have voted Sydney as their favorite city, ahead of popular holiday spots New York and Paris.

NSW Tourism Minister George Souris said Sydney was voted the world’s favourite overseas city in the 15th annual Conde Nast Traveller, UK Readers Choice Awards held in London.

“Winning this latest award demonstrates Sydney’s continuing appeal to visitors across the UK,” Mr Souris said today in a statement.

Britain is one of NSW’s largest international tourism markets, worth more than $557 million to the state economy, he said.

NSW annually receives 313,600 UK visitors, the third largest group behind Chinese and New Zealand tourists.

Read more:




ECONOMIST (Italy) Mario Monti’s austerity Drive !!!

Mamma mia! Bikinis out, grandma’s bathers in

August 15, 2012 – 4:54PM
Back to the 50s ... the one-piece is back for Miss Italia contestants.Back to the 50s … the one-piece is back for Miss Italia contestants. Photo: Getty Images

It is one of the country’s most celebrated institutions and has often been at the centre of controversy, but now the Miss Italia beauty contest is raising eyebrows again by banning bikinis in favour of modest attire.

Only black and white one-piece bathing suits will be allowed in the swimwear section of next month’s contest in an attempt to recreate the more restrained style of the post-war era. Tattoos and body piercings will also be banned, as will any contestants who have had cosmetic surgery.

Can you imagine these little darlings dressed in clothes their grandmothers would have worn?

Patrizia Mirigliani, the pageant organiser, said she wanted to return the style of the competition to the “classical beauty of the 1950s” and that banning bikinis would “add a sober element”. She added: “The competition has always been a showcase for feminine beauty and as a result this year more than ever it was decided there would be no bikini section.”

Miss Italia is a national institution, with heats held throughout the country in the run-up to the main pageant, which is broadcast live over two nights in early September, with each show lasting three hours. A total of 230 women will take part, before being whittled down for the final in the Tuscan spa town of Montecatini Terme.

Each year there is a special guest, with the actors Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Andy Garcia being among the past members of the jury panel. Before this year’s show, contestants will meet Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter, which will help them to learn about the “concept of interior, as well as exterior” beauty, Miss Mirigliani said.

Not everyone is happy with the contest’s new rules. Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by the family of the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, said the new regulations were inspired by the austerity campaign of the current Italian prime minister Mario Monti.

“Can you imagine these little darlings dressed in clothes their grandmothers would have worn?” its report on the changes said.

“Surely the point of Miss Italia is that it is a beauty contest. The idea being to pick a beautiful Italian with the best legs, the sexiest curves and the perfect figure. If we are to cover the bottom, the object of male dreams, with centimetres of cloth what sense does the competition have?”

Fabrizo Frizzi, the host of the show, said: “Patrizia made her decision after some hints from minister [Elsa] Fornero over the standards that RAI [the broadcaster] have to keep. But this is a beauty contest and the physical figure of the contestants has to be uppermost. I think it is an elegant solution.”

The Telegraph, London

The winner is … Olympics …white elephants

The winner is … white elephants

Jessica Irvine
Published: July 27, 2012 – 7:18AM


The first Olympics I can really remember were the 1992 Barcelona Games. I had been studying Spanish at school. My radio-cassette player blared with the sound of my new favourite song ”Amigos Para Siempre” by Sarah Brightman and Jose Carreras.

On a trip to Barcelona a few years ago, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without climbing Montjuic, a hill rising from the coast to the south of the city and site of the Olympics.

Along with a trickle of other tourists, I found my way to the faded and empty Olympic Stadium where we stopped for a tasteless and overpriced packaged sandwich.

We found the Swimming Hall where Kieren Perkins won gold in the men’s 1500m Freestyle. We pressed our faces against the dirty glass windows. We marvelled at the Montjuic Communications Tower, which at 136 metres, resembles something from a sci-fi movie standing sentinel over a vast and abandoned plaza. As we strolled the empty streets and rode the still functioning cable car, I was enveloped by the quiet sense of faded glory. But most of all, I was struck by the waste.

Every four years the Olympics light up our lives for three exciting weeks only to leave behind it a new ghost city of expensive infrastructure.

When you really think about it, building a completely new set of Olympic facilities every four years is completely crazy.

Much academic ink has been spilt trying to quantify the economic impact on cities of playing host to the Olympics. In their attempts to secure host rights, countries employ economic consultancies to tout the billion-dollar gains in tourism, employment, sponsorship.

But an ever-mounting pile of studies reveals that, in hindsight, playing host rarely, if ever, delivers lasting benefits for cities. Instead, the Games impose billions of dollars in upfront infrastructure costs, cause transport chaos and have no lasting health benefits by inspiring cities to get more active.

A study last year by Monash University academic economists James A. Giesecke and John R. Madden estimated the Sydney Olympics generated a loss to private and public consumption of $2.1 billion in present value terms. It is no coincidence, the authors note, that this is roughly the same as the upfront cost of constructing Olympics facilities of $1.9 billion. Quite simply, the rest of the Olympic hoopla is not sufficient to overcome this upfront cost.

Crucially, hosting the Olympics in Sydney did not increase tourism over the long term, as claimed by boosters. While for lesser-known world cities, such as Seoul, hosting the Olympics can have some impact, for well-established tourism destinations such as Sydney, there is little impact.

Nor was there any great lasting benefit for tourism relative to other parts of Australia. In fact, in the three years leading up to the 2000 games, foreign willingness to pay for NSW tourism grew at a slower rate than other Australian destinations. In the three years after, this tourism gap was even bigger. ”Thus our historical modelling results do not provide any indication of an induced tourism effect associated with the 2000 Olympics,” they conclude.

Advocates also point to the immediate stimulus effect in terms of increased spending on ticket sales, tourism and cafes and restaurants. But, as Giesecke and Madden point out, this ignores the ”substitution effect”. As Australian households forked out for Olympic tickets and trips to Sydney, they reduced their consumption in other areas.

Money spent by firms on Olympic-related advertising and sponsorship came at the expense of other marketing.

While the Games created some jobs they were temporary, and with a tight labour market largely drew workers from other industries.

The Games did draw in revenue from the sale of tickets, merchandise, advertising, sponsorship and TV rights. But this was more than offset by the cost of construction ($1.9 billion), labour, and the drain on public resources such as government administration, health and policy and security services.

When it’s all said and done, hosting the Olympics was found to have left little lasting benefit and involved a huge upfront infrastructure bill paid for by taxpayers at the expense of private consumption – or having the government spend the funds on other things, such as public transport.

Playing host to the Olympics is less wasteful for cities when it involves the creation of much-needed infrastructure. Athens still benefits from better transport and communications systems created for the Games. London’s Lower Lea Valley area is presently getting a much-needed facelift. And with a jobless rate about 8 per cent, the jobs boost in London will be of benefit.

But experience shows Olympics generally run at a loss. Sure, there are non-economic benefits in terms of national pride and enjoyment. But in a world of massive public and private debt, building completely new facilities every four years is a financial folly the world can ill afford.

I have a better idea. Let’s move the Olympics back to Athens permanently. Let’s build them once and build them properly. Athens was host to the first Games held under IOC auspices in 1896. There were questions at the time as to whether the Games should be held there permanently, but the IOC disagreed. The Games moved on to Paris in 1900 and have been an ongoing drain on public purses the world over ever since.

Why not use the hundreds of millions of dollars countries pour into expensive lobbying to secure host rights and instead invest them in a creating a permanent home for the Games in Athens. It would create a new and ongoing industry for the moribund Greek economy, stimulating economic growth and jobs. We could hold the Games more regularly and help solve the euro crisis in one fell swoop.

It’s time to take the Olympics home, and leave them there.

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