Monthly Archives: October 2018

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More bars for the city, but still none are staying open late

As the state government hails a small bar revival following a liquor licensing overhaul, new statistics show almost none of the city’s bars are taking advantage of provisions that allow them to apply to trade past midnight and even as late as 5am.

In response to a review of its controversial lockout laws and complaints that Sydney’s night life was dominated by beer barns, the state government overhauled liquor regulations last December to make small bars bigger and automatically allowing licence extensions past midnight to 2am.

But new figures from the liquor regulator show only a handful of the CBD and Kings Cross’ 40 small bars now trade past midnight and none have been granted approval to open as late as 5am, for which current regulations now allow.

The state government says licensing changes including allowing venues to nearly double their maximum occupancy to 100 have grown the number of small bar licences.

“There has been a strong industry response to our recent changes,” said the Minister in charge of the state’s liquor and gaming department, Paul Toole. “Small bars are meeting a demand for more sophisticated night-time entertainment for those wanting to relax in a more intimate setting”.

About 50 per cent more of the venues are now in operation around the state since the changes were introduced, to reach a total of about 75.

But of the nearly 40 small bars within the City of Sydney, only seven trade after midnight, according to the liquor, gaming and racing department despite confirming they were free to apply for licences to open as late as 5am.

Limits on the bars’ development consents – which are approved by the local council – prevent some three-quarters of those small bars from opening late, the department said.

But the City of Sydney, which has been an outspoken advocate of removing small bar trading restrictions, denied its development assessment process was stifling changes to Sydney’s nightlife.

“[Development] conditions exist to balance the needs of the venue with those of the surrounding residential neighbourhood,” a spokeswoman said. “Our support for the night-time economy and late night trading must be balanced with our legislative responsibility to manage noise and amenity.”

Sydney council said small bars seeking later trading should discuss their development conditions with the City, which could not alter development consents of its own accord. Twenty-four hour trading was allowed in the City’s designated late night precincts, the spokesman said.

One small bar entrepreneur, Karl Schlothauer, is planning to seek the opportunity to trade until 2am.

Mr Schlothauer has moved York Street’s Stitch Bar to the new license category, which he praises as lessening owners’ regulatory burdens, and it already opens until 2am.

But he now plans apply for the later closing time for two of his other venues, Button Bar in Surry Hills and Pocket Bar in Darlinghurst.

“There are a lot of people looking for that smaller space at that time of the morning,” he said.

Martin O’Sullivan of the Small Bar Association said he believed inner-Sydney would benefit from later trading.

“[At the moment] the city is closed but the suburbs are open,” he said. “Tourists come here but are sent home at midnight. It makes no sense that you can’t enjoy a glass of wine [in a small bar] after midnight but you can drink a beer in a pub with pokies.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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‘Not good enough’: Warning issued over ticket resale site

Online secondary ticket resellers are back in the spotlight after the state government issued an urgent public warning about “unfair and unsatisfactory” sale tactics.

Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean announced the warning on Sunday, targeting online ticket reseller Viagogo, which has been among the top five most complained about businesses for five months of the past year.

“Complaints to date have included delayed delivery, events being cancelled, heavily marked-up prices, hidden fees, and failure to provide refunds,” Mr Kean said.

He estimated around 600 consumers had lost almost $130,000.

“I’m issuing an urgent public warning about Viagogo’s unfair and unsatisfactory business services and practices…this is simply not good enough.”

In April this year consumer group Choice launched an international survey of the ticket resale market, revealing ticket price mark-ups of up to 327 per cent at range of platforms including Viagogo, Ticketmaster Resale Australia and StubHub.

Fans of Jerry Seinfeld, Adele and Midnight Oil have all lost out to automated ticket scalpers that snag tickets en masse, to sell at inflated prices.

Through its investigation, Choice uncovered numerous tales of unfortunate consumers, including that of Walter Jin.

The international student paid $330 for a ticket to see Coldplay in Melbourne last year, unaware that the Viagogo webpage he landed on was not the official ticket seller’s site.

Arriving at the venue with a ticket sporting someone else’s name, Mr Jin was rejected on entry and forced to pay an additional $149 for a new ticket on the spot.

NSW Fair Trading has made more than 194 attempts to contact Viagogo, the majority of which have gone unanswered until the public warning was issued.

The Swiss-based ticket exchange platform was the eighth most complained about business on the Fair Trading Complaints Register in the past year, the subject of 165 complaints and 237 inquiries.

Mr Kean said Viagogo had committed to being more responsive in future, but warned all consumers to be cautious using the website, until it adopts “a more cooperative and professional approach”.

Industry figures have attributed the rise of online ticket resellers and scalpers to digital technology.

In April chief executive of Live Performance Australia Evelyn Richardson told Fairfax Media the peak body did not support secondary market sites like Viagogo, “which operate offshore with much less transparency and accountability”.

LPA is currently developing a code of practice for the secondary ticket market.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Push for tighter caps on credit card limits

The government wants to improve lending standards in the credit card market. Photo: Jessica ShapiroHow long is too long to spend paying off a credit card debt?

Consumer advocates are pushing for rules that would force banks to only issue cards with credit limits that customers could repay within three years, as the government seeks to tighten lending standards in the $52 billion market.

Banks and other card issuers, however, maintain it is “reasonable” to approve a card limit that could be repaid in up to 10 years, arguing only a small minority of consumers get into trouble with debts racked up on plastic.

The question is being debated as part of a government push to address credit card debt traps.

These can occur with credit cards because their very low minimum repayments mean some customers can spend years paying off minimal principal as their debt attracts interest rates of around 20 per cent a year.

Draft legislation would force banks to only issue credit limits that could be repaid in an unspecified “reasonable” period, alongside a ban on banks making unsolicited offers of credit limit increases.

That contrasts with current rules, which say credit card contracts are “unsuitable” if a customer cannot repay the loan without “substantial hardship”, such as being forced to sell their house to pay off the debt.

The Consumer Action Law Centre backed the reforms, but said banks should only approve limits that could be paid in three years. This would encourage consumers to use cards as a short-term source of finance, rather than long-term debt, it said.

Three years was still “generous” for banks, it said, pointing out that paying back a $10,000 debt over three years at an interest rate of 20.4 per cent would mean paying more than $3000 in interest.

“A three-year assessment rule should provide a sufficient amount of credit for consumers to use credit cards for necessary purposes, while at the same time preventing debts from growing to the point where they become an unmanageable long-term debt obligation,” it said in a submission.

Even so, banks are hesitant to put such a cap on the lucrative credit card market.

The Australian Bankers’ Association’s submission warns of “significant unintended consequences” of the rules as they are drafted, saying they could mean some borrowers would have their credit limits cut.

It said it would discuss with Treasury what was a “reasonable” repayment period for card debt to be repaid. Other banks did not provide their submissions on the draft legislation, but earlier submissions from banks have pushed for a much longer time frame than three years.

Westpac told Treasury in June that seven years was a reasonable repayment period, because this is the typical term of a personal loan. The bank’s argument was that most customers used cards as a short-term way of smoothing their cash flow, with 98 per cent of customers paying more than the minimum repayment.

The Customer Owned Banking Association also said in June it thought a period of up to 10 years was reasonable, and pushed for low-limit cards to be excluded from this rule change, so that lower-income borrowers were not denied credit.

The reforms come after previous Treasury research found a “significant minority” of credit card consumers were being wrongly given credit cards, which they then used in ways that left them suffering a “large burden on their financial and general wellbeing”.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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A life taken by a predator

LOCKED UP FOREVER: Michael Cardamone arrived at Wangaratta courthouse on Friday.Even the prosecution wasastounded when starting the case against Michael Cardamone this week, noting it would “sound like something from The Sopranos”.

But sadly, this was not fiction.

It was the very real and horrifying tale ofhow a well-loved woman living alone in a small town was preyed upon by the sexual predator living next door.

Karen Chetcuti (nee Verbunt) was a 49-year-old mother of two teenage children who was separated from her husband.

The pair shared custody and she worked as a records coordinator at Wangaratta Council while living at what was described as her “dream home”, a semi-rural property known as “Jade Valley” in Whorouly.

She had a good life and was adored byher friends, butshe had also caught the eye of Cardamone. Their two properties were divided by a wire fence and they had only occasional contact as neighbours.

MONSTER NEXT DOOR: Michael Cardamone has decades of his life in front of him to be spent behind bars. In the 18 months he has spent in custody, his health and appearance have deteriorated.

​​​​Just before Christmas 2015, Ms Chetcuti told a workmate she was worried about unwanted attention from Cardamone.

He had been offering to do some things around the farm for her.

On the face of it, that might seem like an innocent offer, but Ms Chetcutiknew the man’s history as a convicted rapist and her friend warned her to stay clear of him as much as possible.

Cardamone had other ideas.

Phone records showed he called her at 9.09pm on January 12, 2016, the night she was last seen alive.

She was sending messages to friends over Facebook around that time andappeared to choose to ignore Cardamone’s call.

About 15 minutes later he drove to her house.

WELL-LOVED WOMAN: Karen Chetcuti (nee Verbunt) was a happy woman in her life, adored by her friends and her two teenage children.

What exactly occurred in the hours after this point is unclear because despite pleading guilty, Cardamone has never fully explained his actions. Crown prosecutor Gavin Silbert could say only that it was possible the man held Ms Chetcuti in his shed, which seemed likely because he was seen hosing it out days later.

Police tracking Cardamone’s phone found he drovebetween Myrtleford and Whorouly in the early hours of the next morningbefore going to Lake Buffalo, where the victim’s body would eventually be found.

“The prisoner murdered Karen Chetcuti by physically attacking her, subduing her and binding her wrists and ankles using cable ties, duct tape and rope,” Mr Silbert told the court.

“He gagged her mouth and administered the animal tranquilliserXylazine, either orally or by intravenous injection, as well as methamphetamine.

“He sexually assaulted her in an unknown way, bashed her about the head fracturing her skull, and injected her with battery acid.

“He then proceeded to douse her body with petrol and set her alight while she was still alive, causing her death by burning.

Mother Clary Verbunt and sister Leny Verbunt were present at Wangaratta Supreme Court this week to sit through all the disturbing details as Michael Cardamone pleaded guilty.

It was not the first time Cardamone committed a violent sexual crime.

He had served nine years in jail for the brutal rape of a 15-year-old girl when he worked at a Myrtleford tobacco farm in March 2005.

The girl had been told to strip before Cardamone raped her digitally and forced her to give him oral sex before he turned her onto her stomach and masturbated.

The fact he could be on parole for such a crime and be allowed to live in an isolated place like Whorouly will be used by campaigners as an example of why laws need to be tightened for violent, sexual offenders.

Cardamone’s arrest on January 17, five days after taking Ms Chetcuti, did not stop his propensity for violence.

The red Citroen belonging to the victim was discovered set alight in Halls Road, Myrtleford in the days after her death. The movements of the car formed a key part of the murder case.

He made friends in prison, but one friend was willing to throw him under the bus if it helped his own case.

The prisoner, who cannot be named, was talking to homicide police about an unrelated matter when he told them Cardamone was looking for someone to “knock” a prosecution witness.

He then introduced Cardamone to the undercover police officer posing as hitman Matty Thompson.

Mr Silbert told the court Cardamone had very specific instructions for how to kill Eddie George, the man who helped him burn Ms Chetcuti’s car after her death.

“Thompson should attend George’s house in Carcoola Avenue, Myrtleford at around midnight under the pretence that he was there to purchase drugs,” he said.

“Once inside the house, he should force George to write two suicide notes that contained a false confession by George to the murder of Karen Chetcuti.

“Further, that one letter should be left at the scene and the other sent to the prisoner’s lawyer, that George should then be given a hot shot of drugs to make his death appear non-suspicious, that Thompson was to take a photo of George dead to confirm that the job had been done.”

Cardamone enlisted the help of his 78-year-old mother to hire the hitman and the pair used the codeword “gnocchi” to discuss cash during their phone conversations.

She paid undercover police $9000 as a deposit for the agreed $25,000 total.

When the fake hitman passed on the news the job had been done, Cardamone said his mother would be fine to handle seeing the photographic evidence of the dead body.

It of course did not exist.

A search of the Lake Buffalo finally located the body of Karen Chetcuti.

Maria Cardamone is due to be released from custody after three-and-a-half months when she pleads guilty to incitement to murder in Wangaratta County Court this week.

She will never see her son as a free man again.

Michael Cardamone’s health has visibly deteriorated in the 18 months since his arrest: his hair went more grey, heput on weight and struggled to walk around well.

Justice Lex Lasry noted Cardamone suffered from a circulation issue and had been on a coagulate medication for 15 years, but that did not deter his decision to impose a life sentence and remove any hope of release on parole.

“You have no mental health problems of any consequence and there was no psychiatric or psychological condition that played any part in your offending,” he said.

“Clearly you have no insight into your offending, then or now.”

The Border Mail

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Computers replace humans in assessing inmates

A computer algorithm has replaced humans to assess the security risk of asylum seekers, criminals and visa overstayers in Australian immigration detention centres.

The new Security Risk Assessment Tool, designed to assess “individuals who are considered to pose an unacceptable risk to the community”, was quietly rolled out in September.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said the SRAT was guided by the detainee’s behaviour both during and prior to detention, any signs of violent or aggressive behaviour and their known associations.

“It also considers a each detainee’s individual circumstances including age and health,” she said.

“As a result of these and other changes there has been a significant decrease in incidents in detention including assaults and self-harm.”

But the former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, has accused the department of abandoning professional judgment.

She said she was first made aware of the program when she visited the Yongah Hill detention centre in Western Australia earlier this year.

“I could hardly believe my ears,” she told UNSW’s Power to Persuade conference in Canberra this week. “The use of an algorithm to replace professional judgements – I thought this can’t be true, I must be back in 1984.”

After referencing George Orwell’s dystopian novel, she said an algorithm was never going to make up for a human’s discretion.

“They pump in statistical details and out comes a response that dictates whether they are in a high-security area or whether they are allowed certain privileges within the detention centre,” she said.

For example, an inmate’s risk rating determines which facility they are sent to, and whether they require mechanical constraints to attend medical appointments.

In January, the Turnbull government announced a $27.4 million upgrade to Yongah Hill, a 250-person detention centre 90 kilometres east of Perth, to turn it into a high-security centre that would house high-risk foreigners.

In a submission for the centre’s upgrade, the department argued it would be used to house “the growing number of the detention population have had their visas cancelled on character grounds, due to criminal convictions and links to organised crime or outlaw motorcycle gangs.”

The SRAT has now been rolled out across the 13 detention centres in the immigration network, including Villawood in Sydney and Maribyrnong in Melbourne.

Department figures showed there were 1262 people in immigration detention as of June 30, including 281 people on Christmas Island (but excluding those held offshore on Manus Island and Nauru).

Of the 1262 inmates, 450 were criminals who had their visas cancelled, 342 were asylum seekers who arrived by boat, and 470 were in other categories.

Natasha Blucher, detention rights advocate at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said the risk assessment algorithm was “very black and white”, and a high-risk rating could rarely be challenged or undone.

“The big problem with it is that it’s based on incident reports in immigration detention as well as history,” she said. “They don’t take into consideration people’s mental health.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.