Herald Breakfast – October 29 2015

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Morning Shot: Herald photographer Darren Pateman caught these shots on Newcastle harbour on Wednesday.Beachwatch:Once again it will be partly cloudy with onshore winds so a very similar day to Wednesdayif you’re heading beachside.The wind will be east to south-east with the swell from the south-east around 1.5 to twometres.Wave conditions will be a bit lumpy but a few breaks will be surfable.

Weather: Partly cloudy in Newcastle (22 degrees), Maitland (25 degrees) and Scone (26 degrees).

Traffic: No major incidents reported on Hunter roads.

Trains: Good service on the Newcastle and Hunter lines.

Morning Shot: Herald photographer Darren Pateman caught these shots on Newcastle harbour on Wednesday.

Morning Shot: Herald photographer Darren Pateman caught these shots on Newcastle harbour on Wednesday.

Murder arrest in cold case of Elizabeth Dixon’s murder:EXCLUSIVESHE was a Northern Irish lass who fell in love with and stayed, living a simple existence as a squash-loving secretary with a happy-go-lucky disposition and a close circle of friends.

Man charged in Cessnock with murder of Karlie Pearce-Stevenson:The man, a 41-year-old inmate at Cessnock jail,was being interviewed by detectives at Cessnock police station on Wednesday night and was then charged with her alleged murder.

Sacked GM flags legal action: POLLMr Gouldthorp was dumped from his $350,000-a-year job on Tuesday night just two years into a five-year contract, but he confirmed on Wednesday that he had alerted the lawyers and would be pursuing further action.

We pay for council’s puerile politicsCOMMENT WELL, those councillors sure know how to pull off a decent murder in the dead of night.

‘Gentleman’s agreement’ for Hunter River fishers:FRUSTRATION with the lack of federal government assistance has forced Hunter River fishermen to try negotiate their own agreement to ensure each operator receives an income.

Show day would cost $500,000: chamber: HUNTER Business Chamber has upped the ante in its war with Newcastle council over plans for a public holiday to coincide with next year’s Newcastle Show.

Please don’t let that be what I think it isTOPICSAll we can say is spare a thought for poor Jennifer Govan from Maryville who purchased this steaming hot bird from Waratah Coles on Tuesday with the obvious and fairly reasonable intention of eating it.

Closer ties for Maitland, Newcastle:HUNTER Hitmen captain Matt Trappel has called for more representative cricket to be played between Newcastle and Maitland after the success of Sunday’s maiden Regional Bash match.

The puzzling prevalence of ‘back burner’ relationships

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Social media means access.”People use computers to keep romantic prospects waiting in the wings.”

It’s an uncomfortable truth that is bound to touch a nerve in even the most committed among us.

A male friend recently expressed his concern about his girlfriend’s contact with an ex. Well, multiple exes actually.

She was adamant it was innocent – they were mates. He was convinced they were back burners – that she was keeping the door ajar for a future fling, should their relationship falter.

Whether his fears are warranted or not, it is not uncommon to have a “back burner” relationship.

They are not the domain of singles either, according to recent research.

A back burner, to be clear, is not someone who we think is cute or who comes to mind occasionally.

Rather, they are, the study explains, “a person to whom one is not presently committed, and with whom one maintains some degree of communication, in order to keep or establish the possibility of future romantic and/or sexual involvement”.

We will always, in a long-term relationship, find others attractive, but I choose not to chase the fire.

It is not worth the confusion or potential chaos for a bit of an ego boost.

I’m not sure how can we know the true potential of anything if we are not totally committed to it and if I’m exploring other options, I figure I’m not into someone enough to be with them in the first place.

But this is not how many people feel.

Keeping our options open is tempting, especially when we’re not fully invested, we hit a rough patch in our relationship, fear rejection or are afraid to fall too deeply. It can simply be that we think there might be a better offer out there, we want to have our cake and eat it too or we just like the attention.

Some of these reasons might explain why the researchers made an unusual finding.

Theoretically, if we’re madly in love, we shut down back burners, right? Not necessarily.

There is, they found, “no relationship found between back burners and commitment or investment”.

The 374 participants in the study answered questions about how many back burners they had, how they interacted, whether they were in a relationship and how in love they were, if they had a partner.

Mostly, those with back burners communicated via texts (45 per cent) and Facebook (37 per cent).

Some spoke over the phone, emailed or were in contact via Skype.

“I think back burner relationships are something we’ve always had – the little black book has been around for a long time – they are just more accessible now” says Val Holden, of Relationships , adding, “it’s technology that’s brought it to the place it is.”

It’s easy to “like” something and relatively harmless – or at the very least ambiguous – to check in with people on Facebook. It keeps our options open without too much risk.

“There’s a big difference between a ‘like’ or chat on Facebook and dinner/drinks,” says Holden, who notes that “likes” or the odd message are not always signs of a ‘back burner’.

“It may be quite innocent,” she says, “someone might read more into a ‘like’ than is meant … things can be misinterpreted.”

This is why there are no hard and fast rules about what is or isn’t OK and what does and does not cross a line.

It’s murky territory – and, of course, platonic friendships do exist between the sexes and even between exes. The researchers are looking to refine their understanding of what constitutes a back burner more. If we’re in touch with someone once in a blue moon, is that still a back burner? What if our back burner ends up in a relationship etcetera?

Holden says it is about getting to know each other and communicating to figure out what we’re both OK with.

“Every relationship and every person is different,” Holden says. “It’s something you need to talk about. What’s appropriate within your relationship and what’s acceptable to your relationship.”

This assumes we are being honest with our partners. And, of equal importance, it is about getting to know and be honest with ourselves too, so that the truths of what we want, who we’re with and are in a relationship with are ones we “like”. Otherwise, it’s probably worth putting it on the back burner.

Can a monster TV role lure Lady Gaga away from singing?

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Lady Gaga as The Countess in American Horror Story: Hotel.She’s long been known as Mother Monster to her legion of fans, so it came as little surprise when singer Lady Gaga showed up in the latest season of American Horror Story, playing a lead – and very scary – character.

Gaga, AKA Stefani Germanotta, stars in season five of the successful horror franchise as The Countess, a 115-year-old woman with a rare blood disorder she calls haemophilia, but the rest of the world would call vampirism.

The countess is one of a troupe of resident demons, ghouls and oddball staff who seem to inhabit The Hotel Cortez for one reason only – to prey upon anyone stupid enough to try to check in.

In the role, Gaga gets to slink along in a series of outrageous outfits, keeps a lover (played by White Collar’s and Magic Mike’s Matt Bomer) captive for her amusement and drags others into her bed for either fun or food as the whim takes her

And yes, it’s every bit as much fun as it sounds, she said.

“I’m happier than I’ve ever been now,” Gaga said in an interview with E! news before the new season began, “because the people that I work with really, really care that my life is different and really, really work to make sure that I feel as normal as possible — so that I can have a great time and just be a normal girl, and just be a woman for (series creator and executive producer) Ryan (Murphy) on film, or you know… [laughs] a hemophiliac.”

Since the season premiered in America, reaction to Gaga’s character has been almost universally positive, with rumours of an Emmy nomination growing.

Variety said her role brought new life to the franchise: “Whatever the shortcomings (of American Horror Story), the extraordinarily well-timed addition of Gaga to the mix should render any naysaying moot, practically speaking, establishing this as a sort-of event that plenty of people will feel obligated to check out (or in),” their reviewer raved.

“Viewed that way, Gaga’s primary role is to help bait the hook, at one point describing the hotel to an outsider by purring, ‘Maybe this place is special’.”

Ryan Murphy was so impressed with her performance that at this year’s Emmy’s a month before the series aired, he called Gaga “one of the great professional joys in my life”.

“She has been such a team player, the cast and crew are obsessed with her,” he said,

“Her performance is amazing. She’s a great actress.”

Then on the day the new season premiered he tweeted: “Lady Gaga is so brilliant in AHS season five that yesterday I officially asked her to join season 6. Say yes @ladygaga!”

All that before a sixth season was even confirmed.

Whether this means the singer will put her stage persona on hold to pursue other parts remains to be seen, but the role does mark a return to acting for Gaga, who studied at New York University’s Tisch School For The Arts, performed in musical theatre and even had a small, uncredited role in The Sopranos as a teenager.

“I’m new to acting in a lot of ways,” she told E!, “But also, I’m not, because I studied it for over 10 years…

“I’ve always been someone that was interested in the arts…I have all this training in these other areas so [with American Horror Story: Hotel), I was like, ‘I’m just going to go to set and I’m going to know my lines perfectly, but not too perfectly that I can’t keep it loose and live in it. And I’m going to really read the f–k out of these scripts, over and over and over, 10 times each at least.”

American Horror Story: Hotel, Eleven, Monday, 9.30pm

2015 AACTA Awards: Oscar winners Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron among nominees

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Nominated: Kate Winslet in The Dressmaker. Ryan Corr and Michael Caton are both up for best actor in the feature film categories at the AACTA Awards. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Warrior: Charlize Theron (second from right) in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Who was snubbed in AACTA nominations?Full list of AACTA nomineesMovie session timesFull movies coverage

In the year that n films bounced back, Oscar winners Kate Winslet and Charlize Theron are among the nominees for the country’s main film and television awards.

Winslet is up for best actress for her role as an internationally successful designer returning home in The Dressmaker, which leads the field at the n Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards with 12 nominations.

Her main rival is Theron, who played a one-armed warrior in the hit action film Mad Max: Fury Road, which has 11 nominations.

Both films are vying for best film with the moving euthanasia drama Last Cab to Darwin (eight nominations), gay romance Holding the Man (six nominations) and family drama Paper Planes (five nominations).

The nominations are announced on the day The Dressmaker opens in cinemas, joining a line-up of n releases that looks like taking a record $70 millon at the box office this year.

Winslet and Theron are up for best actress against two considerably less well-known nominees – Ningali Lawford-Wolf, who was the lover of a dying man in Last Cab to Darwin, and Robyn Butler, who was a harried aunt who took in a troublesome niece in the yet-to-be-released comedy Now Add Honey.

The role that revived Michael Caton’s career, playing a dying taxi driver in Last Cab to Darwin, has delivered the 72-year-old the chance to win the country’s top acting award for the first time.

When he was nominated for The Castle at what were then known as the n Film Institute Awards in 1997, Caton lost to Richard Roxburgh for Doing Time for Patsy Cline.

“It was the role of a lifetime really,” he said of Last Cab to Darwin. “Your age sometimes sends you to the peripherals but this one had you slap bang in the centre of it.”

With Tom Hardy missing a best actor nomination for playing Mad Max in Fury Road, Caton is up against Ryan Corr, who was a gay playwright and activist in Holding the Man, Patrick Brammall, who played an advertising executive trying to give up alcohol in Ruben Guthrie, and Sullivan Stapleton, who was a dangerous ex-con in the crime drama Cut Snake.

Corr, who has been filming Mel Gibson’s World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge in Sydney, said playing Tim Conigrave in Holding The Man was a “profound personal and professional experience”.

“People are very thankful that this story is being told and feeling that it does honour to the memory of their loved ones and friends that were lost during the AIDS crisis,” he said. “It’s more than just telling a story on a superficial level. It means a lot to a lot of people.”

The award for best director sees two former winners, Fury Road’s George Miller and The Dressmaker’s Jocelyn Moorhouse, up against two directors with theatre backgrounds – Holding The Man’s Neil Armfield and Last Cab to Darwin’s Jeremy Sims.

Judy Davis, a six-time winner at the AFI and AACTA awards, has another nomination for best supporting actress for The Dressmaker.

She is up against newcomer Emma Hamilton (Last Cab to Darwin), Deborah Mailman (Paper Planes) and Sarah Snook (also for The Dressmaker).

Hugo Weaving has another nomination for The Dressmaker in the best supporting actor category, alongside Mark Coles Smith (Last Cab to Darwin), Alex Dimitriades (Ruben Guthrie) and Anthony LaPaglia (Holding the Man).

In television, the Seven network’s music drama Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door has dominated with 10 nominations followed by Foxtel Showcase’s World War I drama Deadline Gallipoli and the ABC historical drama The Secret River – both with eight.

The nominations are a triumph for rising star Joel Jackson, who is nominated twice for best lead actor in a TV drama. He played real life characters in both roles – singer Peter Allen and war correspondent Charles Bean.

Also getting dual nominations at the fifth AACTA awards are Deborah Mailman and Sarah Snook, who add to their recognition in the film categories with nods for best lead actress in a TV drama for Redfern Now and The Secret River respectively.

Two ABC shows are up for best drama series – Glitch and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries – against Nine’s Love Child and Foxtel Soho’s Wentworth.

The two leading contenders in the TV categories, Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door and The Secret River, are nominated alongside The Principal (SBS) and Banished (Foxtel BBC First) for best telefeature or mini-series.

While The Bachelor and Bachelorette have grabbed more headlines over the past year, the contenders for best reality TV series are MasterChef (Ten), My Kitchen Rules (Seven), Real Housewives of Melbourne (Foxtel Arena), The Voice (Nine) and The X Factor (Seven).

The ABC has all four nominees for best light entertainment series – Dirty Laundry Live, Judith Lucy Is All Woman, Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery and The Weekly with Charlie Pickering.

Best TV comedy series is also dominated by the ABC, with Shaun Micallef’sMad As Hell, Utopia and Sammy J & Randy In Ricketts Lane up against SBS’ Danger 5.

As well as her own best actress film nomination, Upper Middle Bogan’s Robyn Butler also has a producing nod for best children’s TV series with husband Wayne Hope for Little Lunch (ABC3).

It is up against three other shows on ABC 3 – The New Adventures of Figaro Pho, Nowhere Boys and Ready For This.

The AACTA craft awards will be presented at a dinner in Sydney on November 30, with the main awards on December 9.

Full list of AACTA nominees

Short Cuts: Awards snubs for Kidman, Hardy and Lee, Chinan screenwriter takes up Oscars controversy

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Missed out: Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes in Strangerland. Missed a deserved nomination: Abbey Lee with Patrick Brammall in Reuben Guthrie.

Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron nominated for AACTAs​Full list of AACTA nomineesMovie session timesFull movies coverageAwards snubs for Hardy, Kidman and Lee

Just as the nominations for n Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards are a triumph for rising star Joel Jackson – with dual best actor nominations for the TV dramas Peter Allen: Not The Boy Next Door and Deadline Gallipoli – there are some striking snubs for big-name actors in n films.

Nicole Kidman missed a nomination for her intense performance as the troubled mother of two missing children in the outback drama Strangerland. Although Charlize Theron received a best actress nod for playing a one-armed warrior in Mad Max: Fury Road – and has to be favourite to win – there was no recognition for Tom Hardy, who did a lot with few words as Max.

French star Vincent Cassel also missed out for his charismatic turn in the little-seen drama Partisan, which he took over late when Oscar Isaac withdrew.

Although there were other big name actors in contending films, there were no expectations that Simon Pegg would be nominated for the comic thriller Kill Me Three Times orJacki Weaver for Last Cab to Darwin.

The unluckiest omission has to be Abbey Lee, who impressed as a supermodel with a conscience in Ruben Guthrie. Like Craig Stott, who went from schoolboy star footballer to emaciated AIDS victim in Holding the Man, she deserved recognition for a key performance.

And the 12 nominations for The Dressmaker could not be more timely. They come on the day director Jocelyn Moorhouse’s comic drama opens on 384 screens – 284 cinemas – around the country.n screenwriter backs director in Oscars drama

n screenwriter John Collee has backed French director Jean-Jacques Annaud in the controversy over the Academy Awards eligibility of the historical drama Wolf Totem.

The French-Chinese co-production was replaced as China’s official entry for best foreign language film when the academy decreed it not Chinese enough, stating that films have to be “largely in the hands” of filmmakers from the nominating country.

An upset Annaud, who won a foreign-language Oscar with Ivory Coast submission Black and White in Colour in 1977, told The Hollywood Reporter that the decision was confusing and arbitrary.

“American movies are made by global talent but they are still American movies,” he said. “Why is it that foreign language movies are treated differently?”

The historical drama is an adaption of Chinese writer Jiang Rong’s bestseller about a Beijing youth who adopts a wolf cub in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution. It has been a hit in China, taking more than $US100 million ($138 million), but has no n release date at this stage.

For Annaud, it is “a movie in Chinese with Chinese actors, with a Chinese story from a Chinese bestseller” despite having a French director, cinematographer and editor and an American composer.

Collee, whose movies include Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and Happy Feet, tells Short Cuts he wrote a final script at the request of the Hong Kong cast, who wanted a screenwriter whose first language was English. Earlier drafts were written by Chinese screenwriter Lu Wei and Annaud with his writing partner Alain Godard.

Collee insists that Wolf Totem is “a Chinese story made with Chinese cast, Chinese special effects, Chinese everything”.

“It’s a story of inner Mongolia and those relatively disenfranchised communities aren’t going to tell their stories except through the agency of western filmmakers,” he says. “There has to be some kind of transition process where key creatives take their skills and collaborate with these remote communities in order to tell their stories.

“If it’s done well then it remains effectively their stories and their experience. And Wolf Totem is a true story of the Cultural Revolution so it’s very authentic to that place and the time in which it is set.”

Collee also questions the replacement of Wolf Totem at the Oscars with the Chinese comedy Go Away Mr Tumour.

“The film that’s eligible is a kind of a copy of a western film in its style and content,” Collee says. “If cultural integrity counts for anything, maybe that should be part of the judgement process on whether it qualifies.”Mad Max in Oscars frame

Edgar Wright, the English director of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs The World, has thrown his support behind Mad Max: Fury Road being recognised at the Oscars.

A new member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he has tweeted about his affection for director George Miller’s hit movie, saying he did not even need a voting form.

“Put me down for Fury Road in all categories,” he wrote. “Even documentary.”Martian still tops chart

Ridley Scott’s sci-fi drama The Martian has stayed on top of the n box office for an impressive four weekends now, taking another $2.2 million to reach $20.9 million.

And the near $US400 million the movie has taken around the world is a timely nudge for the NSW government during negotiations to bring his next movie, another Alien instalment, to Sydney’s Fox Studios.

When Scott visited for the premiere of Black Hawk Down in 2001, he told this columnist he had decided to pick up the pace and direct more often. Up to that point, he had shot 13 movies in 24 years including such classics as Alien, Bladerunner, Thelma and Louise and Gladiator.

Since then, the legendary British filmmaker has directed another 10 movies in 14 years. And The Martian looks like his biggest hit in this period as it closes in on Prometheus’ $US403 million.

Scott has publicly said he wants to shoot in Sydney so with federal government support locked in, it seems like a case of negotiating additional funding from the state government.

Once that happens, it will be a big year for international movies with the new Alien joining Thor: Ragnorak and Kong: Skull Island, which will shoot in Queensland. And no doubt the value of the n dollar and willingness of the federal government to top up the 16.5 per cent location offset will interest other Hollywood producers.Bridge of Spies does well, too

On another relatively quiet weekend in cinemas outside of The Martian, Steven Spielberg’s latest collaboration with Tom Hanks, the Cold War drama Bridge of Spies, opened solidly with $1.76 million.

The n cross-cultural rom-com Alex and Eve had a soft opening with $88,000 in 32 cinemas, reaching $124,000 including previews. While it has not worked in suburban multiplexes, it has reportedly done well in art-house cinemas.

The family comedy Oddball has reached an impressive $10.1 million. And despite festival acclaim, the surreal comedy The Lobster from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos took just $66,000 in eight cinemas.Emo crowdfunding campaign closing

It’s down to begging. The producers of Emo the Musical are in the final few days of a crowdfunding campaign to turn their 2013 short into a feature film.

Writer-director Neil Triffett and producer Lee Matthews have been seeking $40,000 to add to Screen funding announced last month. And with three days to go, they had pledges for more than $26,000.

The film is described as a story about a holy war between Satan-loving Goths and happy-clappy Christians at an n high school – “think Romeo + Juliet without the suicide ending”.

Matthews has described the crowdfunding campaign as strategic: “It’s a way of helping us fill the gap but more importantly it’s a way of building an audience, and hopefully a loyal following.”Designs on The Dressmaker

The striking look of The Dressmaker will be the subject of two behind-the-scenes sessions over the next fortnight.

At Melbourne’s Docklands Studio, production designer Roger Ford, art director Lucinda Thomson and set decorator Lisa Thompson will discuss the design of director Jocelyn Moorhouse’s comic drama on November 11.

And the dressmaker behind The Dressmaker, costume designer Margot Wilson, will introduce a session at Sydney’s Palace’s Verona Cinema this Friday.Festival entries open

It seems like it finished only five minutes ago but entries have opened for next year’s Sydney Film Festival. After a successful year both critically and commercially, the festival is inviting submissions for feature films, documentaries and short films. It also has a new board member, media entrepreneur Deanne Weir, who is also deputy chair of Screen .

Twitter @gmaddox

Pink ball makes for ‘boring’ cricket, says Victorian bowler John Hastings

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The pink ball being used in day-night first-class matches makes for “boring” cricket, according to Victorian fast bowler John Hastings.

Hastings took two for 36 from 25 overs to be the pick of the Bushrangers’ bowler on the first day of their Sheffield Shield season opener against Queensland at the MCG, but said that the pink ball — used ahead of next month’s inaugural day-night Test match — made the bowlers’ work hard.

He confirmed that Victorian captain Matthew Wade had requested that the umpires replace the ball as it lost colour and hardness before a new ball was taken after 80 overs.

But despite Wade’s approach, brought about in part by the fact that some Bushrangers fieldsmen were struggling to see the fading pink ball, umpires Phil Gillespie and Geoff Joshua refused an early switch.

A 164-run partnership between Bulls Scott Henry (141) and Marnus Labuschagne (67) was only ended as Victoria took the new ball at the mandated 80-over mark, with both batsmen departing soon after the change. Queensland ended the day at 4/298.

Despite believing that the pink ball had improved since its use last season, Hastings remained unconvinced. “The ball doesn’t move off the straight, it’s tough work. All you’ve got to do is set straight fields. It’s a quite boring brand of cricket when you do have that pink ball,” he said after the day’s play.

“It’s getting better. It’s certainly better than the first few pink-ball games that we’ve played. But I still think there’s a fair bit of work to do. The main issue for me is the hardness of the ball. It just doesn’t stack up to the red ball. I think maybe if we changed the ball at around 50, 55 overs and get a new one, or a semi-new one, it might be a better contest towards the end.

“The discolouration was a little bit of a factor tonight, but not more so than it has been in the past.”

Hastings explained what had transpired when Wade approached the umpires inside the final 10 overs before the new ball was to become available. “We were, we definitely were [asking for a change]. We thought there was just a bit of discolouration there. We wouldn’t have minded if it was the same for both teams.

“As it turned out we just bowled spinners and [medium-pacer] Marcus Stoinis bowled a few towards the end there.

“I don’t know whether they’ve had a directive not to change the ball or whether they should change the ball, I don’t know, but it would have been handy for us if they had have.

“Some of the fielders square of the wicket couldn’t really see it that well, so we were just saying, ‘can we get it changed?'”

But Hastings added that he had not personally suffered any problems in trying to see the ball in the field and that the ball did briefly reverse swing

“It wasn’t consistent, but it did actually swing a little bit reverse.”

Ex-NSW opener Henry, who starred on debut for his new state did not have any issues with the ball.

“I thought it was fine the whole time,” he said.

Henry said, however, that batting at night against a new ball at night was always a challenge.

“Under lights, with a new ball, whether it’s white or pink it’s always difficult to adjust. Obviously coming from the day time conditions to night time, it’s always going to be difficult.”

Pools, cash payments and a big tax bill: Salim Mehajer faces liquidator

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Auburn deputy mayor Salim Mehajer was questioned about mystery payments to a pool company. Photo: Nick Moir Salim Mehajer sued over onyx staircaseMehajer ‘right hand man’ admits forging documents

“You’ve given me a brain freeze. I can’t recall,” said Salim​ Mehajer​.

It was his second day in the Federal Court witness box and things were not going swimmingly for the deputy mayor of Auburn. His close friend and “right hand man” had already dropped a bombshell by admitting he forged documents given to the liquidator appointed to Cr Mehajer’s failed company SM Project Developments.

Now Cr Mehajer was being grilled about mystery payments to a pool company and a hefty unpaid tax bill.

SM Project Developments, co-owned by Cr Mehajer and his business partner Minh​ Hua, was forced into liquidation by the Tax Office in January 2013 over $837,000 in unpaid tax and penalties.

While the tax debt was owing, SM had been making payments to a pool company – despite none of its properties having a pool – and handing over thousands in cash, including to Cr Mehajer’s wife Aysha​. The liquidator is now attempting to claw back almost $700,000 from the men in the Supreme Court, alleging they entered into “unreasonable” transactions.

Mr Hua, a former Auburn councillor who is the brother-in-law and business partner of Auburn mayor Le “Lily” Lam, told a Federal Court liquidator’s examination last year he had “no involvement” in the day-to-day running of the company. He also didn’t have a pool.

“I trust Salim. He handle everything,” he said.

As for the swimming pool at Cr Mehajer’s lavish pile in Lidcombe, the deputy mayor and property developer assured the hearing it was completed “well and truly after this period”.

Pressed about an $81,000 payment to Premier Pools in 2012, Cr Mehajer said the company also made pumps for stormwater pits –  but he couldn’t point to any pump that might have been bought. He suggested the money could have been given to a subcontractor “in lieu of” a payment that was due. It was, however, “impossible to say” which one.

The company also made tens of thousands of dollars in “personal loans”, including $2500 to Cr Mehajer’s wife Aysha.

“Let me suggest to you that what you did was you treated this account as your own personal cash account,” the barrister for the liquidator, David Stack, said.

“Incorrect,” Cr Mehajer replied. But when the subject turned to tax and whether Cr Mehajer knew the company had to pay its bill by August 13, 2012, he said Mr Stack had given him “brain freeze”.

“What do you mean I’ve given you a brain freeze?” Mr Stack demanded.

“My brain is not functioning and operating very well now,” the then 28-year-old replied.

The tax bill was a “surprise”, he said, and while he intended to pay, the company’s accountant had advised them not to do so at that point.

“We were more so let down by the accountant. To have a for sale sign in front of our property was really heart-touching,” he said.

Ahmad​ Yaseen​, the company’s former general manager, admitted to forging documents from a string of SM “creditors”. He denied Cr Mehajer asked him to do so and said the councillor was “upset” when he found out.

Mr Yaseen, who said it was right “to an extent” to describe him as Cr Mehajer’s “right hand man”, said the purpose of the forged documents was to ensure genuine creditors were paid by the liquidator. He denied it was “intended …that those moneys would be funnelled back” to companies linked to his friend.

Cr Mehajer insisted he was “absolutely not” responsible for the forgeries. Asked why he didn’t tell the liquidator when he realised the documents were fake, he said he wanted to get legal advice “from the get-go” and the liquidator refused to speak to him.

with Leesha McKenny

Tories ‘winced’ over Tony Abbott’s ‘fascistic’ refugees speech

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Tony Abbott gave The Margaret Thatcher lecture in London. Photo: Julian Andrews Tony Abbott also spoke with Ukip migration spokesman Steven Woolfe while in London. Photo: Stephen Woolfe Twitter

Abbott urges Europe to turn back the boatsAbbott offers advice to UKIP politicianTranscript of Tony Abbott’s speechEditorial: Abbott’s battle: Machiavelli vs Jesus

London: Tony Abbott’s controversy-sparking speech in honour of Margaret Thatcher made Conservative cabinet ministers “wince”, a well-connected Tory blogger says.

Guido Fawkes, the online persona of blogger and journalist Paul Staines, wrote that a top Tory described the speech afterwards as “fascistic”.

In the speech on Tuesday night, the former n prime minister recommended a hardline approach to turning migrants away from Europe’s borders, and an increase in military action on the ground in Syria.

Fawkes said the speech was “punchy”.

“Nigel Farage has praised him as ‘heroic’. One top Tory alternatively described it as ‘fascistic’,” Fawkes wrote.

“Tory cabinet ministers winced as [Mr Abbott] warned Europe must use force to turn boats around and establish camps for migrants”, he said.

The audience at the black-tie event included Iain Duncan Smith (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions), John Whittingdale (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport), Sajid Javid (Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills), Priti Patel (Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions), Liz Truss (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and Chris Grayling (leader of the House of Commons).

Elsewhere the reception to Mr Abbott’s speech was warmer.

The Spectator said Mr Abbott explained “what so few European policymakers seem able to grasp”.

“Yes, the rich world has a moral duty to help people fleeing for their lives,” the publication wrote. “But that duty requires tough action – as well as targeted help – to prevent a genuine flow of refugees developing into an uncontrolled flood of migrants.”

The migration trend was not just driven by the Syrian War but long-term economic changes between the developing and developed world, The Spectator wrote.

News Corp-owned Sun Nation described Mr Abbott as delivering a “chilling speech” that was a “bombshell”.

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Eddie Obeid faces coal mine next door to Bylong farm

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In the pristine Bylong Valley NSW , which boasts some of NSW’s best agricultural land, Korean power company KEPCO plans to build a new coal mine. Photo: Brendan Esposito Eddie Obeid’s family owns Cherrydale Farm in the Bylong Valley. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Eddie Obeid’s family owns Cherrydale Farm in the Bylong Valley. Photo: Daniel Munoz

In the pristine Bylong Valley NSW , which boasts some of NSW’s best agricultural land, Korean power company KEPCO plans to build a new coal mine. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Farm gate sign of Cherrydale Park, the Obeid family property, with Mt Penny in background. Photo: Brockwell Perks BDP

In the pristine Bylong Valley NSW , which boasts some of NSW’s best agricultural land, Korean power company KEPCO plans to build a new coal mine. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Eddie Obeid’s family owns Cherrydale Farm in the Bylong Valley. Photo: Daniel Munoz

In the pristine Bylong Valley NSW , which boasts some of NSW’s best agricultural land, Korean power company KEPCO plans to build a new coal mine. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Eddie Obeid’s family owns Cherrydale Farm in the Bylong Valley. Photo: Daniel Munoz

After plans for a coal mine at Mt Penny in which the Obeid family had a secret stake worth at least $30 million were scuttled by the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the NSW Government, the Obeids are now facing a nightmare scenario.

They face the prospect of a major open cut mine right next to the family property Cherrydale Park, in the Bylong Valley.

The Korean power company Kepco is seeking approval for a major new mine at Bylong as part of its global strategy to secure a source of energy for its power stations into the future.

An Environmental Impact Statement is on exhibition and submissions are due by November 6.

There are signs that the Obeids are not happy.

The secretary of the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance, Craig Shaw, said a local farmer was approached by a stock and station agent, John Rodd, asking whether there would be any issues if the Obeids attended a meeting hosted two weeks ago by the Department of Planning at the Bylong Community Hall.

The message went back: all landholders are welcome.

No Obeid family members were spotted at the meeting attended by about 35 local people and councillors but a young man who identified himself as a lawyer called Bradley, asked several questions about water rights on behalf of an unidentified landowner.

Coal mines require substantial quantities of water and Kepco has already acquired 2353 megalitres in water rights.

The biggest water rights holder is the Obeid family, which holds an allocation for 860 Megalitres a year — by far the largest entitlement in the valley.

The water allocation for Cherrydale Park has itself been the subject of an ICAC investigation, Operation Cabot.

In 2007 the Department of Water began work on a water sharing plan for the Bylong Valley, which was suffering from an over-allocation of water rights. Some farms had unrestricted water entitlements, dating back nearly a century, and the department decided it was going to convert them to fixed amounts based on historical use. Cherrydale Park was given 860 Megalitres in total, much more than had been used by previous owners.

ICAC heard evidence that Eddie Obeid snr, then still a member of the Upper House, had phoned senior bureaucrats asking them to intervene.

While ICAC did not find the intervention had caused the Obeids to be given additional water rights, it found “that Edward Obeid snr’s use of his position as an MP to request favours from Mr [Steve] Dunn [a former head of the Department of Water] may properly be categorised as corrupt conduct.”

Mr Rodd, whose son works at the Obeid property, said that like other landholders the Obeids were pondering whether to stay or go. “The decision usually depends on what the mining companies offer,” he said.

In 2013 Eddie Obeid snr told ICAC that the reason his family members had talked to the then mining minister Ian Macdonald, was they feared what would happen with the exploration licence to their east, held by Anglo-American and sold to Kepco in 2010. Instead Mr Macdonald created another exploration licence — Mt Penny — directly over Mr Obeid’s land and other farms owned by associates. It has since been cancelled by the NSW Government.

Mr Obeid refused to comment.

Stocco hideout property caretaker Rosario Cimone had links to drugs, organised crime

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Mark and Gino Stocco, who were captured on a property where Rosario Cimone’s body was also located. Photo: NSW Police The remote Pinevale property near Dunedoo where Gino and Mark Stocco were arrested. Photo: Wolter Peeters WLP

Body of Rosario Cimone found on remote propertyStocco pair surrender after eight years on the runGino and Mark Stocco arrestedTony Wright: Will o’ the wisps in Kelly Gang country

The caretaker found dead on the remote property where father and son fugitives Gino and Mark Stocco were arrested was believed to have past links to organised crime and cannabis cultivation.

Rosario Cimone, 68, was charged 12 years ago with eight others for his alleged role over a $30 million cannabis crop near Nimmitabel, in the Monaro region. Along with a relative, Angelo Cimone, he faced charges of cultivating nearly 15,000 plants.

In recent months, the Italian-born man had been seen around the tiny town of Elong Elong, between Dubbo and Dunedoo, where he worked on various properties.

He was working most recently on a remote 385-hectare property, Pinevale, that had no livestock or crops and backed onto the dense Goonoo State Forest.

A neighbour, who asked not to be named, had previously made reports to Crime Stoppers, believing that drugs were being cultivated on the scrubby blocks of land that backed onto Goonoo State Forest.

She had observed suspicious cars driving in and out of the isolated area and different people coming and going.

“It’s not a farming block and it’s not a place you would just stumble upon,” she said.

Heavily-armed police descended on the rugged property on Tuesday afternoon, where they covertly monitored the Stoccos for 16 hours before arresting them on Wednesday morning.

Mr Cimone’s decomposed body was found hours later and police are treating it as a homicide investigation.

The Stoccos had worked on the property with Mr Cimone in the past and were last seen there around the October long weekend.

It’s not known whether they had any involvement in drug cultivation.

Mr Cimone’s daughter reported him missing to Green Valley police, in Sydney’s west, on October 8 after trying to call him for days.

The 68-year-old used to live in Green Valley, where he had registered engineering businesses to the same Biloolo Road address as Angelo Cimone.

It’s understood the Sydney-based owner only of the Elong Elong property, who visited for a few days each year, also raised concerns after being unable to get in contact with Mr Cimone in recent weeks.

A man at the Elong Elong Post Office said it wasn’t unusual to not see Mr Cimone for a few weeks.

“Because it’s a small community, residents may only go to town once a week or so to get milk or bread or supplies,” he said. “But we might not see them for three or four weeks.”

Mr Cimone’s family declined to speak to Fairfax Media, saying “we just want to be left alone”.

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