Brooke’s last, fatal text: ‘Are you still going to make it today?’

Brooke Richardson”Are you still going to make it today?” texted Brooke Richardson to a client while on her way to work.
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Moments later, while travelling at 100km/h, the 20-year-old hairdresser hit a tree.

“The text was sent at 8.27 in the morning and triple-0 got the phone call, I think it was 8.33,” Brooke’s mother, Vicki Richardson, said.

“From what we gather from the coroner’s report, she actually dropped the phone and she bent down to pick up the phone and swerved onto the wrong side of the road and hit a tree head on.”

The NSW resident died outside the Victorian border town of Cobram in December.

Mrs Richardson still has her daughter’s phone.

“It was the only thing that survived the accident,” she said.

Brooke’s death came a month after the NSW government introduced tougher fines and penalties for handling phones while driving, measures that authorities concede are not working.

“We tried to make it really clear that ‘hands-free’ actually means ‘no hands’,” said Marg Prendergast, general manager of the Centre for Road Safety.

“However, just drive around Sydney on any given day and you can see that that message hasn’t had cut-through.”

The NSW government has now launched a new approach to try and reach drivers – in particular the third of 20- to 29-year-olds surveyed who admitted to texting while on the road.

A $1.5 million road safety awareness campaign urges motorists to “Get Your Hand Off It” – a smartphone, that is.

The phrase “provides the community with a cheeky phrase that empowers them to speak out against friends and family who use their phones in a reckless manner behind the wheel”, said Roads Minister Duncan Gay.

The approach is akin to the controversial 2007 “Little Pinkie” campaign that implied young men who sped did so because they have small penises. The previous Labor government claimed it to be one of NSW’s most successful anti-speeding campaigns.

The latest campaign will be rolled out on outdoor advertising, such as that on buses and taxis. An R&B spoof video has been uploaded to YouTube to appeal to a younger demographic.

Mr Gay said focus group testing had shown the “edgy and evocative but not offensive” campaign got the message through.

“It’s a campaign to get to Gen Y,” Mr Gay said. “You can’t always get to the people that are offending in the area of using phones in their hands or texting in the usual way.”

Mrs Richardson, who has launched a “don’t-txt-n-drive” foundation and website in memory of her daughter, backed the campaign as something that speaks to young people “in their language”.

“Because if it’s boring and just someone saying something about safety, they’re not going to watch it, they’re not going to care,” she said.

“Twelve months before Brooke had the accident, a friend told me she was texting and driving, so I sat her down and I said, ‘Brooke, you’ve got to stop this, it’s dangerous’.

“But it was me just going ‘blah, blah, blah’.”

Mrs Richardson said using phones while driving was an emerging problem but greater awareness could prevent it becoming an epidemic.

”I don’t want to see another family go through what we’ve gone through,” she said.

NSW Police assistant commissioner John Hartley, who said more than 40,000 drivers a year were being caught, highlighted another recent case now before the coroner.

”We are investigating a crash that occurred in the last few months in western Sydney where a young mother on her way home, the last message on her phone in the foot well of the car was, ‘I’ll be home soon’,” he said.

”We believe using a phone may have contributed towards her death.”

More than 42,000 infringements were issued to NSW motorists for using a mobile phone while driving last year.

The penalty is a $298 fine and three demerit points. Higher penalties apply in school zones.

“This is a new issue and we need to start highlighting it,” Mrs Richardson said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Garrett denies Victorian schools would lose funding

The federal government has denied almost 500 Victorian schools would be worse off under funding reforms, insisting every school would receive its existing funding plus 3 per cent indexation a year as a “bare minimum”.
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Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon told Parliament the Commonwealth’s latest modelling revealed that 249 state schools, 186 Catholic schools and 46 independent schools would be worse off if Victoria signed up to the deal.

Some of the state’s most disadvantaged schools were among those he named as losers, including Northern Bay College in Corio, which Mr Dixon said would be $6.2 million worse off over six years, and Sunshine College, which would lose $1.4 million.

The Victorian government later released a list of 60 state schools it said would be more than $100,000 a year worse off by 2019 than if the current funding arrangements were extended.

But federal School Education Minister Peter Garrett said these were ”fantasy figures” and no school would be worse off.

He said the Commonwealth offer of $4.2 billion in combined state and federal funding would be enough for every school to get at least its current share of funding, plus 3 per cent indexation, as a bare minimum.

”The vast majority of Victorian schools would get even more.”

The stoush comes as Prime Minister Julia Gillard made an increased offer to Western Australia in a bid to entice Premier Colin Barnett to sign up to the funding reforms by the June 30 deadline.

The new offer would see an increase to West Australian schools of $920 million in combined state and federal funding, plus indexation, over the next six years.

The federal government said it had increased the offer from $300 million after factoring in the higher cost of providing education in Western Australia, including higher teacher salaries.

Mr Dixon said Victoria intended to negotiate right up to June 30, especially in light of the increased offer to Western Australia.

”If the Commonwealth is finding buckets of money hidden away we would certainly welcome our share of sweeteners,” he said.

But a spokeswoman for Mr Garrett said the offer to Victoria of $4.2 billion in combined state and federal funding over the next six years would remain unchanged.

”The original offer  to WA factored in extra costs of 8 per cent compared to other states. This has now been calculated to be 11 per cent,” she said.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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House of the week: St Leonards Place, St Kilda

What if we said you could find a cosy, quiet little slice of St Kilda – a hamlet of sorts in a place where the closest cross streets are called Acland, Grey and Fitzroy?
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That trio is generally associated with everything rowdy, rollicking and risque about our most famous seaside suburb and not with the kind of tranquillity and escape you’ll find here.

St Leonards Place is a ripper little spot, a jag away from the western end of Acland Street, a further stroll from there to the main drag, and yet there’s a peace here you’d be hard put to find anywhere else in this buzzing bayside zone.

There are about nine homes here – modern townhouse types, but not of the blank and bland type; these homes have a bit of verve and personality about them, some depth and difference, much like the part of town in which they sit.

No.5 is a beauty. Two large stands of bamboo flank the sloping driveway here, giving a bit of privacy from the alley entry point.

The big, beautiful and blank concrete facade is leavened by a rectangular frame of red that projects forward and gives definition and a sense of the dramatic.

A set of steps to the left takes you up to the entry and inside where the concrete theme continues.

Now before you start thinking this all sounds about as warm as a cold day in June, the light here is wonderful. Large windows over a predominantly westerly orientation draw in the sun, and a good amount of much-needed northern light sneaks in, too.

There are some terrific features, such as the entry-level kitchen with deep black stone benchtop, red cabinetry and a glorious sky-blue rangehood floating above the bench. There is colour among the cool here.

Beyond the kitchen and dining room set in front is the fine living room with floor-to-ceiling windows over the St Kilda Adventure Playground. This is a great view – green and lively and it’s not open 24/7 so you don’t have to gaze out at the ankle-biters hanging upside down on the play equipment during your morning coffee.

Sitting between the front area and the living space is a slick bathroom and opposite are stairs, some leading up and some down to a subterranean level. Down below is a great space with access to a courtyard, while across the way is a funky open bathroom and another living area/retreat/rumpus room. The latter has a door that opens onto the slope of the front driveway.

Back past the ground level and up again there are two fine bedrooms, both with excellent storage. The back bedroom has more of that pretty playground view, while the street-facing space boasts a top-notch en suite. There’s also a separate powder room and laundry on this level.

One final set of stairs takes you up to the roof terrace and what a sight it is up here. The Eureka Tower, Westgate Bridge and Spirit of Tasmania dot the skyline and St Kilda spreads out before you. This is a hugely appealing, flexible place, stylish and serene in the heart of the buzz.

5 St Leonards Place, St Kilda $1.2 million-$1.3 million 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 1 car spaceAuction 2pm, June 15Inspect 2-2.30pm, SaturdayAgent Pride Real Estate, 9593 6222

Need to know:St Kilda median house price $883,500*Median apartment price $468,750 *Fewer than 30 sales for the quarter Source: REIV

Recent sales: 49 Argyle Street Three-bedroom house, $890,0001/9 Eildon Road One-bedroom apartment, $507,0001/19 Marine Parade Two-bedroom apartment, $682,000

Surrounding area:St Kilda Five kilometres south-east of the city centre.Famous for Luna Park, St Kilda beach, nightlife, pubs, music.Serviced by You can get everything you need on Fitzroy and Acland streets – fine dining, cafes, cakes, supermarkets, bars and boutiques; quirkier stuff lies on smaller streets around town; tram routes 16, 96 and 112.Close to Elwood; Albert Park Lake; Chapel Street

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Joining the Kiwi Chorus line

Every Australian investor knows Telstra (ASX: TLS), and is familiar with the National Broadband Network. What is perhaps less well known is that a similar effort is under way across the Tasman – and one value-priced company with irreplaceable assets stands to benefit.
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The Kiwi NBN

In New Zealand, dual-listed Chorus Limited (ASX: CNU) has been awarded the rights to build much of the Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative (UFB), the Kiwis’ equivalent to the NBN.

In completing its portion of this project, Chorus will build “fibre-to-the-premises” in 24 of that nation’s largest 33 population centres. As part of the public-private partnership, the New Zealand government is subsidising this work to the tune of nearly $NZ1 billion ($A840 million).

The project is already underway, with the company receiving the subsidy on an incremental basis as it completes the work. While able to use much of its existing network to complete its portion of the UFB, the company still incurs costs in excess of the subsidy (more on this later). Chorus’ work on the UFB is due for completion by the end of 2019.

Today, Chorus has nearly two million “fixed line” connections – think home phones, representing some 93 per cent of all New Zealand’s fixed lines – and about one million total broadband connections. When the UFB work is completed, the company will also possess much of the country’s largest and fastest fibre broadband network.

Valuable assets and the key point for investors

With these valuable assets, and following its demerger about two years ago from Telecom New Zealand (ASX: TEL), Chorus is New Zealand’s foremost telco “wholesaler”.

In short, the company sells access to its considerable telco assets and makes money when, for instance, Telecom New Zealand or another retail company purchases access (for the purpose of selling voice and internet packages to consumers).

The key point for investors is the irreplaceable nature of Chorus’ assets. Such assets should produce plenty of cash, and the company appears committed to paying out much of this cash to shareholders in the form of dividends.

The company has guided to a full-year 2013 dividend payment of NZ25.5¢ per share, while Chorus shares have lately been trading just north of $NZ2, or less than six times earnings and three times sales. But the sailing isn’t guaranteed to be smooth, and there are a few risks current and future investors need to keep in mind.

Costs rising, plus regulatory concerns

It should come as no surprise: Large-scale projects like the UFB are almost always more expensive in implementation than they look to be in the earlier, planning stages. While Chorus initially estimated the cost of its UFB build to be between NZ$1.4 and $1.6 billion, newer estimates run to between NZ$1.7 and $1.9 billion. The company also has a considerable, but to all appearances manageable, debt load.

Additionally – and this looks to be in part behind the low share price – the regulatory environment is somewhat unclear for Chorus just now. The New Zealand government is able to regulate some of the prices Chorus charges for its various services. In December, a draft ruling from New Zealand regulators warned of a cut to wholesale broadband prices that could significantly affect Chorus’ earnings. The company has responded, but the outcome isn’t yet clear.

Foolish takeaway

As a value-priced dividend play, Chorus shares could be attractive (but remember, the dividends aren’t franked). Investors will want to keep close tabs on the outcome of regulatory decisions before jumping in – so stick this one on your watch list and wait for news before making beautiful music with Chorus.

Attention: Foolish, dividend-loving investors and BusinessDay readers alike who are looking for Australian investing ideas can click here to request a Motley Fool free report entitled Secure Your Future with 3 Rock-Solid Dividend Stocks.

 Catherine Baab-Muguira is a Motley Fool investment analyst. You can follow The Motley Fool on Twitter @TheMotleyFoolAu. The Motley Fool’s purpose is to educate, amuse and enrich investors. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Perils of a poison pie

Keen eye … Jack Simpson examines poison pie mushrooms at Red Hill. Photo: Jeffrey ChanJack Simpson, of Narrabundah, is deep in the world of fungi, and in May led a walk in Westbourne Woods, near Yarralumla, to search for just some of the 50,000 species of fungi that grow in Australia.
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May is normally the month for fungi, but the Friends of the ACT Trees group found only a few mushrooms, a result of the dry weather this year.

Entering the Royal Canberra Golf Club grounds, there were no pixie-parasol mushrooms, but we admired the saffron-yellow cups of Quercus chrysolepis, a rare evergreen spreading oak. We trampled in dry leaves and heard birds sing.

Simpson, a forest pathologist and mycologist, showed us tiny grey blobs of fungi growing on crab apple trees in Westbourne Woods. They’re used by highlanders in Papua New Guinea as chewing gum, although the species, Schizophyllum commune, can infect the lungs and toes of humans.

The day after our walk in the woods, it rained and, a fortnight later, like magic, up came the fungi. Simpson found a fairy ring under a cork oak in Red Hill, the ”poison pie” (Hebeloma crustuliniforme), which could be confused with Agaricus, the field mushroom.

He says there has been very little research into the poisonous properties of Australian mushrooms and false truffles. You should never eat unidentified fungi, and it’s wise also to keep an uncooked specimen of any fungi you do eat in the refrigerator for four days, so if you become ill, the fungus can be identified.

Few people work on fungi in Australia, and those who do usually focus on agricultural and horticultural crops. But the many species of fungi in Australia include edible mushrooms and the lichens that add character to old neglected fruit orchards.

Lichens do not cause damage to the trees but they will corrode roof tiles and gravestones. In 2012, the International Union for Conservation of Nature gave fungi the same conservation status as plants and animals, so mycologists around the world celebrated.

The largest fungi organism in the world is an Armillaria root-rotting fungus in Canada, the colony of which is about seven kilometres wide.

On the walk, we saw the native Armillaria novae-zeelandiae growing on an ash tree. Mycorrhizal fungi form on roots – among them edible fungi like truffles and slippery jacks. We were told slippery jacks (Suillus luteus) make excellent soup, if first sliced and dried.

The shortage of timber for making matches during World War II stimulated interest in local tree growing. Poplar plantations were established in the Northern Rivers in NSW, along the Murray River in Victoria and at Tumut.

Simpson says in the early 1970s, poplar rust was discovered in trees near Sydney, probably introduced on illegally imported poplar cuttings. Poplar rust (a fungi) wiped out the match-making industry of Bryant and May.

If, like me, you have a collection of safety matchboxes, check the origin of the matches. Some may be from Hanna Match Australia and made in Japan, or have matchwood stock from Finland.

My box of Redheads was made in Sweden for the Australian market, and I have an old box of campfire matches made in the former Soviet Union.

Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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