Monthly Archives: May 2019

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Scouts venture into hall deal

Murray Bridge Scouts Ryan Allchurch, Callum Tasker, Samuel Montgomery-Pittaway, Sophia Allchurch, front, Nickisha Crouch, Paris Montgomery-Pittaway and Sarah Tasker are ready to help get their Adelaide Road Scout Hall back in order.THE Murray Bridge Scout Group will remain in its Adelaide Road headquarters after a stand-off with the Murray Bridge council ended late last month.

The council said 18 months ago it would strip Scouts SA of its lease over the ageing hall, giving the group three months notice to vacate the building in September 2011 and citing a maintence backlog worth almost $200,000.

The decision sparked an outcry from local Scouts members and an argument over the original 75-year-old leasing conditions of the hall until councillors voted last month to accept a compromise that would see the group remain in the building.

There are conditions on the 20-year deal though.

The council has insisted Scouts accept a five-year works schedule to fix drainage and structural issues, committing $70,000 this financial year to assist them while Scouts have agreed to contribute $20,000 this year and more in subsequent financial years.

If Scouts do not keep up with the $170,000 of upgrades the council has reserved the right to remove the lease with three month’s notice.

Council contracts manager Malcolm Downie said the two groups met mid-April to discuss terms of the agreement and that work would start shortly.

“A lease will be sent to Scouts SA for execution shortly in accordance with the terms and conditions of council’s resolution,” he said.

“Contractors are expected to commence work from Monday, April 29, to replace the roof cladding, upgrade the electrical switchboard and wiring, underpin the rear extension, install a retaining wall on the eastern boundary, remove the asbestos lining in the shower alcove and replace the front entrance portico with a lightweight structure in keeping with the original design.”

Scouts SA chief executive officer Dan Ryan said the agreement was a great result for both Scouts and the council.

“We’re very excited with the fantastic result and it’s good to see the council and Scouts working together for the mutual benefit of the youth of Murray Bridge,” he said.

Mr Ryan said Scouts had always intended to invest in the hall and he was pleased to see the council accept its plans to improve the facility.

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Council’s four year service delivery plan

Snowy River Shire councillors and staff have completed their review of the Integrated Planning & Reporting (IPR) documents, that outline the delivery of services for the next four years.

The Draft Delivery Program 2014 – 2017 and Operational Plan 2014 that includes the 2014 Budget, are just two of the IPR documents, with the full suite being endorsed for public exhibition at last the April Council meeting.

The endorsement followed several months of workshops with councillors and senior staff members to determine the direction of these plans, setting of priorities and goals for delivering services to the community for the term of the council.

“Like all businesses, council needs to determine priorities and goals within a set budget. Extensive state government funding cuts and the increasing limitations for local governments agencies to secure grant funding means that now more than ever council need to prioritise its level of service to the community”, explained the general manager Joseph Vescio.

“This has meant that councillors have directed for their four year term of council, that our number one priority be our transport infrastructure, i.e. roads – the repair of our extensive road network. This prioritising of services, has meant that some projects have been placed upon the back-burner, to be revisited at a later stage.

“Just like your household budget – you can’t do all of your desired projects in the one year, it must be planned out and achieved over time.”

The IPR suite of documents will be on public exhibition until May 22, and can be viewed in hard copy at council offices Razorback Office, SPAR Supermarket, Adaminaby and Iona Gardens, Dalgety, or online at Council’s website:

If you wish to comment, please forward a written submission titled “Submission Draft IPR Documents 2013”, to the general manager.

Blood test could be key to Alzheimer’s detection

A blood test could soon identify people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, after Australian scientists identified a series of markers associated with the degenerative condition.

The blood-based biological markers identified are associated with the toxic protein called amyloid beta, which builds up in the brain.

CSIRO research scientist Samantha Burnham said levels of the protein were found to reach abnormal levels at about 17 years before dementia symptoms, such as memory loss, appear.

”We’re buying time with this,” Dr Burnham said. “If we can get this early identification, then we can intervene with people at risk of this disease.”

Being able to identify the disease in its early stages is critical, as it could allow intervention before irreversible damage is inflicted on the brain.

Noel Faux from the Florey Institute of Neurosciences and Mental Health said the progressive build up of the toxic protein was one of the earliest known changes in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Seven markers in the blood have been identified by the researchers, who hail from CSIRO, the Florey Institute of Neurosciences and Mental Health, Edith Cowan University and the National Ageing Research Institute.

They are now trying to refine the way the blood is processed to make the test quick, affordable and effective. Currently tests conduced in America measure around 200 items in the blood, which costs time and money. But with the key markers narrowed down to seven, researchers are developing a more targeted test.

Two other factors – age and results of a cognitive test– are also used in diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We are hoping that within a five to ten year timeframe we will be able to roll this out as a frontline screening tool,” Dr Burnham said.

Published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the researchers worked with 273 volunteers aged over 65. Some had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, while others were healthy but concerned they might be experiencing memory loss.

The volunteers underwent brain scans and neuro-psychological tests as well as providing blood samples and their medical history.

”The bloods were analysed to measure the levels of about 250 different items in the blood,” she said. “We then did some quite complex mathematical modelling to identify which of those 250 measurements and in what combination would match up to the brain scans.”

Thousands of mathematical models were tested during this process, which took three years.

Alzheimer’s Australia estimates there are more than 321,600 Australians living with dementia. By 2050, the ageing population means this could be as high as 900,000. Currently there are about 1700 new cases of dementia diagnosed in Australia each week.

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Why Queensland didn’t need to sell the family farm

Back in July last year Queensland Premier Campbell Newman was in a very black mood. All was gloom and doom in the Sunshine State, as he warned Queensland was “on the way to being bankrupted” without tough action. Back then, his government was shaping up to do a Jeff Kennett, painting the grimmest of pictures that would justify massive cuts to the Queensland public sector, just as the former Victorian premier did in his first term in power.

Yesterday was the day when it was all meant to come together, with Newman having to make the biggest call of his political life. In announcing his government’s response to an audit of the state’s finances, he had to decide whether his Government would support the sale of major pieces of Queensland’s “family farm” – particularly the state’s multi-billion-dollar power assets.

To the surprise of many, and despite a lot of pressure from the money men at the top end of town, Newman declared “we will save the farm”, rather than “taking the easy way out and having a fire sale of assets”. Instead, he outlined a much quieter and in some ways craftier program of outsourcing and competitive tendering. Private operators are likely to end up leasing and running more state-owned services, from ports, trains and buses, through to health care, including elective surgeries.

Queenslanders are no friend of privatisation, that’s for sure. Only 14 months ago, they savagely punished the Bligh Labor government for going down this path without a mandate. It would need a pretty strong case to convince a seasoned politician like Newman to try that option again. So how strong was the case in favor of a fire sale?A closer look at the books

Just days after being elected, the Newman government appointed former federal Treasurer Peter Costello to lead a A$2.2 million audit of Queensland’s finances. The 1000-page final report – released in full yesterday – recommended selling the state’s electricity and port assets to raise more than A$25 billion and rapidly reduce debt.

Costello continued the hard sell right up until the last moment, including inside the cabinet room for his final briefing to MPs. In an article in the Australian Financial Review that cited a debt figure of A$82 billion, Costello declared: “Queensland has a problem. Its credit rating has been downgraded, it’s paying higher and higher interest costs and something has got to happen… If it doesn’t change, it’s just going to get worse and worse.”

But just how gloomy is the Sunshine State’s budget outlook?

While A$82 billion sounds like a lot of debt, the picture was always more complex than Costello would have us believe.

General government balance sheet, Mid-Year Economic and Budget Update, p.15 (click to enlarge)

This table is taken from last December’s Mid-Year Economic and Budget Update. It shows the state’s general government balance sheet for the period from 2011/12 through to 2015/16. While it is true that gross debt or total liabilities will exceed $80 billion this financial year, the net debt figure (or gross debt less financial assets) is very different.

The Queensland general government sector in fact had no net debt in 2011/12. And while net debt is projected to grow to a peak of A$9.6 billion by 2013/14, it then starts to fall and then continues its downward trajectory.

Still, you might say, A$9.6 billion is a lot of money to owe. That would be true were we talking about a household or a business – but not for the Government of Queensland, which can tax its citizens to pay the bills and tax them more heavily if it really has to do so. Queensland is, after all, one of Australia’s lowest-taxed jurisdictions, with its per capita taxation in 2012/13 more than $450 below than the Australian average.

But according to Costello’s Commission of Audit, net debt is not the best measure of the state’s liabilities. It includes the financial assets that have been built up to fund the state’s super schemes and which therefore are not available to cover the gross debt on issue. It recommends a different measure, called net financial liabilities:

“As the net debt measure includes investments, it takes account of the large investments Queensland uses to offset its superannuation liability, it does not take account of the liabilities. Under existing Government policy, these investments are held to meet the State’s superannuation liability. Because these investments are not available to reduce gross debt, net debt is not a suitable metric to target in setting an appropriate fiscal strategy… The Commission consider that the most suitable measure of debt is the concept of net financial liabilities”.

The State’s net financial liabilities (A$39 billion in 2011/12) are much higher than its net debt, and it is this that needs to be paid down. But how good is this as a measure of the State’s balance sheet? The answer is not very, because it ignores the physical and other assets that are crucial to the balance sheet equation (worth a cool A$182 billion in 2011/12).What’s a worthier economic measure?

Net worth is generally considered to be a better measure, for it includes all assets and liabilities and not just those that are financial. Far from being in trouble, Queensland is in fact well and truly in the black according to this measure, with a net worth in the general government sector exceeding A$170 billion in 2011/12, climbing steadily to almost A$180 billion not long after the next scheduled election.

All this is not to say that the Queensland budget is in fine shape. Far from it. But its problems stem not from its balance sheet but the substantial gap between operating income and expenses. Queensland’s operating budget shifted from surplus to deficit in four very difficult years, when revenues went into an unexpected spin and have yet to fully recover. This year the deficit is tipped to exceed A$11 billion, which is very large on any measure and would seem to be genuine cause for concern.

However, this includes one-off expenses associated with flood damage that cost more than A$4 billion. It also includes almost A$1 billion set aside for redundancies arising from Newman’s first budget. When these are excluded, the deficit is a more manageable A$6.3 billion. This is still large, but importantly is not tipped to last forever.

Fiscal balance, Mid-Year Economic and Budget Update, p.4

The Mid-Year Economic and Budget Update also shows that the operating account is projected to return to surplus by 2014/15, with the corrective measures already put in place being enough to turn the ship around without the need for any more drastic action.

If Queensland’s debt is not large, its net worth is positive, and the government by its own admission reckons it is on track to achieve its financial principles, why bother with a massive asset sales program that would antagonize the people?

Far better to be crafty and privatise services in other ways, through an outsourcing and competitive tendering program that can turn the public sector inside out, but hopefully jeopardise fewer MPs’ seats. For Premier Campbell Newman, who resides in a marginal electorate himself, hearing that the money men are disappointed may not be such a bad thing.

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Naitanui rated a chance to return

Eagles coach John Worsfold says Nic Naitanui is a chance to return to the West Coast side this weekend. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoWest Coast coach John Worsfold is yet to decide whether to play star ruckman Nic Naitanui in Sunday’s AFL clash with the Western Bulldogs.

Naitanui has finally recovered from off-season groin surgery but Worsfold said the 22-year-old may spend another week in heavy training to further build up his match fitness before returning for the Eagles.

“Nic’s going really well,” Worsfold said on Wednesday.

“He’ll play if he’s declared available.

“But the level of which he’s available will determine whether he plays or not this week.

“It’s not really up to Nic now. The idea is he plays and doesn’t pull up sore. We want him to play longer and stronger next week and the week after. It’s more about how we want to manage him about whether he plays or not this week.

“If he can only cope with 70 minutes, we’ve got to make that call. Do we want to play him knowing he can play for 70 minutes?

“If he can only play for 30 minutes, then he probably won’t play for us. And with Swan Districts having a bye, then he’ll just train up this week and be available for more minutes next week.”

Former Magpie Sharrod Wellingham, who starred in the WAFL last week in his first match back from an ankle injury, and wingman Matt Rosa are strong chances to earn call-ups.

Defender Adam Selwood (back) and Andrew Embley (foot) are also in contention.

Worsfold said midfielder Matt Priddis, who was concussed in last week’s loss to Port Adelaide, had pulled up well and was in line to play against the Bulldogs.

Skipper Darren Glass is available to play after having his two-match suspension overturned by the tribunal.Follow WAtoday on Twitter

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