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February, 2019

Man charged after fireball on Singleton’s main street

A man has been charged with 10 offences after he allegedly took a stolen semi-trailer on a rampage through a Hunter Valley town on Wednesday, crashing into cars and buildings and causing a fireball to erupt.
Nanjing Night Net

The main street of Singleton was left looking like a war zone after Rodney Johnson, 29, allegedly crashed into several cars, injuring eight people, just before 9am.

One of the injured people, a 64-year-old man, is fighting for his life after being trapped in his car when it was hit by the semi-trailer, which was carrying mushroom compost.

The scene in Singleton on Wednesday. Photo: Singleton Argus

Police are investigating whether mental illnesses suffered by Mr Johnson played a role in the incident. It’s understood Mr Johnson, a truck driver who says on his Facebook profile that he is from the NSW town of Quirindi but lives in Penrith, may have been trying to find work as a driver in the area.

Mr Johnson was arrested at the scene and, after being treated for minor injuries in hospital, he was charged overnight with stealing a motor vehicle, two counts of not stopping during a police pursuit (known as Skye’s Law), two counts of using an offensive weapon to prevent detention, two counts of assaulting police officers, two counts of malicious damage and resisting an officer.

The semi-trailer, carrying mushroom compost, was allegedly stolen while the driver paid for petrol. Photo: Singleton Argus

He was subjected to mandatory blood and urine tests, however was not charged with drug or alcohol-related offences.

He was refused bail to appear in Singleton Local Court on Thursday.

A critical incident team from Port Stephens Local Area Command is investigating all circumstances surrounding the incident.

Police had received reports earlier on Wednesday that a semi-trailer was stolen from a petrol station in Murrurundi, north of Singleton, while the driver was paying for fuel about 7.30am.

The fully-laden semi-trailer was allegedly seen driving erratically about 100 kilometres south on the New England Highway, passing through Muswellbrook towards Singleton.

Police said they did not initiate a pursuit but deployed road spikes to stop the vehicle.

Photo: Singleton Argus

The truck continued up George Street in Singleton before crashing into buildings and cars and bursting into flames. A witness told Nine News he saw a plume of black smoke.

“I drove around the back streets to get around and saw a huge fireball and what looked like a car transporter with cars all over the road,” the witness said.

NSW Ambulance Inspector Luke Wiseman said eight people were treated and four taken to hospital, including a 64-year-old man who was flown to Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital in a critical condition with head and chest injuries.

A 62-year-old woman was also taken to John Hunter Hospital with pelvic and hip injuries.

Another man, also 64, was taken to John Hunter Hospital with neck, back and chest pain.

Mr Wiseman described the initial scene as “chaotic”, involving “a number of distressed people”.

Rohingya survivors give shocking testimonies

“You do not belong here – go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave we will torch your houses and kill you,” Myanmar security forces announced through megaphones.
Nanjing Night Net

But many Rohingya Muslims never got the chance to leave, according United Nations investigators, who have found that well-organised, co-ordinated and systematic attacks in Myanmar’s Rakhine State were not only intent on driving an entire population out of Myanmar, but to prevent them ever returning home.

Shocking testimonies cited by the UN’s Human Rights Office, obtained from survivors who reached Bangladesh, will intensify pressure on countries like Australia to impose sanctions on Myanmar and cut ties with the country’s generals.

A 12-year-old girl from Rathedaung township in Rakhine State told how Myanmar security forces and Buddhist vigilantes surrounded her family’s house and started shooting.

“It was a situation of panic – they shot my sister in front of me, she was only seven years old,” the girl was quoted as saying in a UN report released on Thursday in Geneva.

“She cried and told me to run. I tried to protect her and care for her but we had no medical assistance on the hillside and she was bleeding so much that after one day she died???.I buried her myself.”

A 26-year-old mother said when she woke up at 3am her house was on fire.

“There was chaos everywhere, they were shooting to kill us, they took women and dragged them away to rape them,” she said. “They did not spare anyone – even children were beaten and tortured.”

A 25-year-old woman described shootings in her village as a massacre.

“Women were collected and taken away – they were raped in front of us, in front of their families,” the woman said.

“The [four men] in uniform took my sister when we were hiding in the hills???they raped her in front of us as we were hiding behind trees,” she said. “She was crying but my father could not help her as we had to be quiet so they did not notice us. It was horrible and she had pain and was bleedings for days.”

The report cited witness accounts of Rohingya victims, including children and elderly, being burnt to death inside their homes. It detailed evidence of children suffering severe beatings, stabbings and killings.

The report described a strategy to “instil deep and widespread fear and trauma – physical, emotional and psychological” among the Rohingya population.

More than 500,000 Rohingya have fled to squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh since August 25, when Myanmar security forces said they launched an offensive in response to Muslim insurgent attacks on police posts and a military base.

But the report said the offensive started in early August, days before before the insurgent attacks, and that violence is ongoing, despite a claim by Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi that the offensive ended on September 5.

The report detailed the destruction by security forces of houses, fields, food-stocks, crops, livestock and even trees to “render the possibility of the Rohingya returning to normal lives and livelihoods in the future in northern Rakhine almost impossible”.

“It also indicates an effort to effectively erase all signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognisable terrain,” the report found.

The report pointed to evidence that Myanmar security forces have targeted “teachers, the cultural and religious leadership and other people of influence in the Rohingya community in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge.”

Investigators found it was “highly likely” that Myanmar security forces have planted landmines along the border in recent weeks to prevent Rohingya from returning, citing doctors treating injuries.

UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein urged Ms Suu Kyi’s government to immediately end its “cruel” security operation.

He said by denying more than one million Rohingya their political, civil, economic and cultural rights, including the right to citizenship, the government’s actions appear to be a “cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without the possibility of return”.

UN and international aid agencies have described the situation in the Bangladesh camps as an emerging catastrophe with children and women the most vulnerable to disease, starvation, trafficking and sexual violence.

“The health and sanitation conditions are critical and described by on-site medical doctors as a perfect storm in the making,” the UN report said.

Thousands more Rohingya are crossing the border each day in what has quickly become the largest movement of a civilian population in Asia since the 1970s.

The Turnbull government has resisted growing calls to consider punitive action to pressure Myanmar to end the atrocities, which human rights group say amount to crimes against humanity.

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

Why it’s too early to call this a property crash

Prices have fallen in Sydney after the biggest real estate boom in recent memory, with no shortage of people likely to say this represents the end of surging house prices.
Nanjing Night Net

Sydney’s house prices fell 1.9 per cent over the September quarter – or about $23,000, Domain Group data shows, leaving home owners’ main assets worth sitting below the peak of June’s property market.

When put on a graph, this can look decidedly unsettling for anyone with a mortgage.

Any concerns about this slide in prices being the start of many to come is understandable – discussion of a property bubble has been regular and high-pitched in the last five years.

And if there was such a thing as a “checklist” for spotting a downturn, we would tick a lot of the boxes already.

The banking regulator, the Australian Prudential and Regulation Authority, has continued cracking down on “risky” lending – including interest only loans.

Auction clearance rates are declining, residential construction is slowing, rent price growth is lacklustre, Sydneysiders are selling up and moving interstate, and another wave of big-name brands has tipped price falls or warned about over-indebtedness.

These are all classic signs of a market in slowdown.

But for those who have been listening closely for the last five years, this sounds a lot like a song that has already been sung.

Just two years ago – in the December quarter of 2015 -we saw prices fall a record 3.1 per cent and there was a near-unanimous belief house prices had reached its ceiling.

The market had other plans. House prices have increased another $100,000 since those price falls were publicised and the Sydney market broke new price records.

Even apartments, which have been springing up in Sydney at lightning pace, declined 2.8 per cent and then grew again over this same time period.

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Despite this, it’s understandable pundits were anticipating the 2015 decline was the harbinger of a more significant downturn. Other signals seemed to point that way then too.

APRA had been trying to target investor loans and auction clearance rates had dipped below 60 per cent.

And respected companies, such as UBS and Barclays, had aired concerns that Sydney house prices were “overvalued” and would face a period of stagnation.

What this proves is that nothing is straightforward for the harbour city’s real estate market and there are many unknowns.

Among them is the way the Reserve Bank will act. In 2016, after declining house prices in Sydney, the RBA cut rates in May and then again in August after 10 months on hold.

Now, rates have been steady at 1.5 per cent for 13 months – and recent surveys of economists show most are anticipating the next move to be up, rather than down.

And there’s a simple question of how much more people are willing to pay, how much more mortgage debt they’re willing to take on, for a roof over their head or for an investment property.

These are not easy predictions to make – our most esteemed economists rarely agree on how the market will perform even with the same information available to them.

What we can say with more certainty is that one quarter of price declines is not enough evidence for a housing market bust, but it’s definitely time to pay attention.

Until there’s evidence in future quarterly data that this is a sustained downturn, and not a temporary pause like that seen in 2015, it’s prudent to be hesitant.

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

NAB slashes rewards points in major credit card shake-up

NAB has taken the knife once again to the value of its reward points on its credit cards. The bank will soon no longer offer American Express companion cards and, from February 21, 2018, NAB American Express Cards can no longer be used with customers told to “cut up” the cards.
Nanjing Night Net

There will also be a major shake-up of NAB rewards credit cards effective from November 13, which will lead to the value of rewards points plummeting by up to 47 per cent on the NAB Qantas Rewards Premium Card and NAB Velocity Rewards Premium Card, says Kirsty Lamont, a director of comparison site Mozo.

NAB’s latest changes follow a swath of cuts to credit card rewards programs from the major banks, Lamont says.

“In March this year, ANZ became the first big bank to completely scrap the dual card account,” she says.

“Westpac retained its American Express card but significantly lowered its earn rates, while the Commonwealth Bank moved to slash higher Amex earns rates unless overseas, or at specific merchants,” Lamont says.

Even before the latest move by NAB, Mozo estimated there had been a decrease in rewards credit card value of 63 per cent during the past 12 months. The average rewards cardholder is now spending $19,000 to earn just $27 in rewards.

The big banks blame the cuts on interchange fee regulations introduced by the Reserve Bank that took effect from the middle of this year.

CBA has responded to criticisms of credit cards, saying it would introduce a new credit card with a purchase interest rate of 9.9 per cent. Its current lowest rate card is 13.24 per cent.

From November, all CBA’s credit card holders will be able to receive alerts through the CommBank App reminding them that a credit card payment is due.

And from mid-2018, credit card holders will be able to pay off their credit card debt in fixed monthly instalments.

While the big banks have recently removed, or soon will remove, their ATM fees, consumers are paying almost twice as much in credit card fees even as the value of rewards points falls.

A report earlier this year by comparison site Finder estimated that Australians fork out nearly $800 million a year in ATM withdrawal fees.

ZipMoney, a provider of “buy now, pay later” digital wallets, used its own data and Reserve Bank figures to estimate that Australians are paying about $1.5 billion in total credit card fees, or almost twice that of ATM fees.

Over the past 20 years, credit card fee revenues for Australian financial institutions have increased from $125 million in 1997 to $1.5 billion in 2016, an annual growth rate of 15 per cent.

Credit card holders are hit with fees for cash advances, late payments, drawing more than their credit limit, account keeping, transfers and even fees for being a joint card-holder.

The ZipMoney analysis of 19 financial institutions finds the biggest fee category is for international transactions, which makes up almost 40 per cent, or $600 million, of the $1.5 billion in credit card fees.

The fees are incurred when travellers use their credit card to pay for something when they are overseas or buying goods from overseas.

The ZipMoney analysis estimates credit card holders shell out almost as much in annual fees. Cards with the highest annual fees are usually those with rewards points. Sydneysiders pay most

The ZipMoney analysis shows Sydneysiders paid the most in credit card fees in 2016 of $311, on average, followed by Brisbane at $303, and Perth at $302. Melburnians paid $277 in fees.

Brisbane credit card holders pay the most in international transactions fees, at $89, and pay the most in cash advance fees.

The credit card holders of Adelaide are the most frugal in terms of overall credit card fee spend, but Canberra-based card holders incur the lowest cash advance fees.

Card holders in Perth and Sydney opt for credit cards with higher annual fees, at $99 each.

Andy Mitchell, ZipMoney’s chief of growth and innovation, who produced the research, says the pace of revenue generated by credit card fees nationally has moderated in the past five years as consumers become more discerning around the use of credit cards.

He says there has also been a decline of the average interest-accruing balance, dropping from $2500 to $2000 during the past five years.

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

‘I’m jumping ship’: Sydney’s runaway property prices take a tumble

Sydney’s runaway property prices have finally stumbled, with both house and unit prices falling last quarter, new data shows.
Nanjing Night Net

Experts say this marks the end of the five-year property boom, and that further growth this year is unlikely.

In the three months to September, the median house price fell 1.9 per cent over to $1,167,516, making it one of the country’s worst performers, Domain Group’s State of the Market report showed.

Despite being the poster child of the property boom, Sydney’s recent price performance was softer than every capital city other than Darwin – where house prices fell 3.6 per cent over the same time period.

The decline brings the harbour city’s year-on-year price growth to 8.2 per cent for houses, up from $1,079,309 in the September 2016 quarter. But it’s now $23,000 cheaper than just three months ago.

The apartment market also recorded a decline in its median price, with a 0.8 per cent fall over the quarter to $732,321.

John Okgrolic, a train guard who lives in the western suburbs, is one Sydney property investor who has already anticipated a shift in the market.

Worried about future price falls, he is now planning to sell his investment property in Cronulla, which he has held for 15 years.

“We’re at the top of the market … I’m jumping ship before it hits the iceberg and sinks,” Mr Okgrolic said.

“When house prices have grown so fast compared to wages growth, you know something is wrong.

“You’d have to be blind and drunk to not see a fall in prices coming.”

Domain Group chief economist Andrew Wilson said the quarterly fall in prices were unsurprising, pointing to lacklustre auction clearance rates and a crackdown on investors from the banking regulator, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

“The market has flattened. It’s the ending of the boom,” Dr Wilson said.

“Chances are we won’tsee prices grow again this year at least – the inner suburbs were holding the market up, but we’re now seeing signs of them easing as well,” he said.

He anticipated a rise in listings – as more rush to sell their homes before the end of the year – could hasten the decline.

While a price slump had also been expected by AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver, he said there was less certainty around how big the drop in prices would be.

While he doesn’t foresee a ‘crash’, which he defines as falls of around 20 per cent, he said property values falling up to 10 per cent was a possibility.

“The Sydney market has well and truly cooled,” Dr Oliver said.

A major factor behind the price slump was simply the affordability barrier, Grattan Institute chief executive John Daley said.

“House prices in Sydney have become very high relative to disposable income, and household debt relatively to household income is at an all-time high,” he said.

In the past, those who had borrowed a large sum to get into the property market found their growing wages quickly put them into a more comfortable position, he said. “But when you have low wages growth it takes longer to get out of a difficult situation.”

It’s not the first time the end of the boom has been called.

Mr Daley noted that a price decline occurred in 2015 – with the median house price falling 3.1 per cent in the December quarter – but said it was a “different situation”, with subsequent interest rate cuts helping to revive the market.

At the coalface of the market, buyer’s agents have also found conditions easing in the past few months after years of strong competition and a market that favoured vendors.

Among them is Propertybuyer chief executive Rich Harvey, who said the stabilisation in the market had been long anticipated.

“It’s a levelling off rather than a correction,” Mr Harvey said.

“There’s a strong floor under the property market, with massive infrastructure development creating jobs and amenity, and strong population growth,” he said. But he didn’t anticipate another boom for “at least another seven years”.

He said there were nevertheless still “pie-in-the-sky” vendors who were yet to revise their price expectations to be more realistic.

PK Property Group buyer’s agent Peter Kelaher also said sellers needed to be more pragmatic if they expected to secure a sale.

“Vendors still have their heads in the clouds with their expectations – the prices they want are over the top.

“There’s no doubt we’ve come off the boom, we’re back to a normal market.”

The data also recorded house and apartment rents stable over the quarter, at $550 a week, up from $530 and $525 a week year on year respectively.

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