Monthly Archives: May 2019

In The Homesman Tommy Lee Jones shows the wild west from a woman’s perspective

Hilary Swank in The Homesman Photo: Philippa Hawker Tommy Lee Jones in The Homesman Photo: Philippa Hawker

Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones Photo: Philippa Hawker

Hilary Swank in The Homesman Photo: Philippa Hawker

Tommy Lee Jones in The Homesman Photo: Philippa Hawker

Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones Photo: Philippa Hawker

Hilary Swank in The Homesman Photo: Philippa Hawker

Tommy Lee Jones in The Homesman Photo: Philippa Hawker

Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones Photo: Philippa Hawker

Hilary Swank in The Homesman Photo: Philippa Hawker

Tommy Lee Jones in The Homesman Photo: Philippa Hawker

Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones Photo: Philippa Hawker

Tommy Lee Jones stars in and directs The Homesman.

More on The HomesmanMovie session timesFull movies coverage

At 68, Tommy Lee Jones is famously uninclined to suffer fools gladly. Actually, he doesn’t suffer anybody. At best, he is monosyllabic and dismissive with interviewers; at his worst, which will surface with the force of a geyser if he thinks his private space is being violated, he throws the furniture around.

Given that almost everything is private for him – not just his three marriages, but all opinions – it isn’t easy to navigate a discussion. Meanwhile, that weathered Texan face, pierced by eyes once compared to tiny oil wells, remains impassive. Like a mountain, he is just waiting out the aeons until you go.

The occasion for our meeting at the Cannes Film Festival is his new western The Homesman – his fourth film as a director, if we count two TV movies – in which capable bluestocking Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) volunteers to take three women who have succumbed to frontier madness to the nearest town with a hospital. On the way she enlists the aid of a feckless roustabout called George Briggs, played by Jones himself; initially at odds, the odd couple reaches some kind of mutual understanding.

The Homesman has been described enthusiastically by some critics as “a feminist western” but, predictably, Jones rejects the label.

“There was some originality to this story,” he says. “That’s what I was looking for. That’s what one always looks for. I haven’t seen a lot of movies about the difficulties of life in the mid-19th century in the western territories for women.”

Hard as that life was, of course, it was part of the dispossession of the people who were already there. Jones gave public support to his old college room-mate Al Gore in his bid for the presidency, but he generally keeps a lid on his political opinions. How does that history underpin this film? “Just look at it,” he says stolidly. “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

When feminism arises, I suggest that Briggs is as lonely as Miss Cuddy in his own way. “I’m not a psychoanalyst and have no interest in it,” says Jones. “He doesn’t look to me like a character who concerns himself with loneliness.”

How did he work with Swank on her character? “Well, she can read. The screenplay’s pretty good. She got the rhythm, did the thinking and came to an understanding of how one speech led to the next. That’s about all.”

Jones has trodden this pioneer territory before; his critically lauded film The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada  also took a critical look at the western myth, on that occasion through the prism of border control and illegal immigration. As an actor, he won an Oscar in 1993 for pursuing Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. He also played the sheriff in No Country for Old Men, adapted from the book by his friend and fellow Texan Cormac McCarthy. He was nominated for an Oscar for his rich portrayal of abolitionist congressman Thaddeus Stevens in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which is hardly a western but covers some of the same territory, quite literally.

So, what is it that he likes about westerns? “I don’t know. It’s an empty term, almost to the point of being meaningless. The only definition I can imagine from reading how people use that term is that it’s meant to define a movie that takes place west of the Mississippi in the 19th century and has big hats and horses.”

It’s true that the film eludes the romance of that idea, given that it centres on madness. “Oh, we didn’t set out to defy any particular cinematic romance. We just simply ignored it.”

He did research treatments for psychiatric patients, he reveals, which were startlingly primitive. “For example, the treatment for schizophrenia was to soak the patient in ice water for five hours and then put them in a bed that was made with sheets soaked in ice water, then get them up and walk them round barefoot in the snow. The theory was that the best cure for schizophrenia was acute hypothermia. Extraordinary as we see it, but common in the day.”

The moment comes to leave. Aeons have definitely passed; the craggy face of Tommy Lee Jones, I swear, has been marginally eroded by the passage of our time. He unbends to the point of promising me I will enjoy this movie more next time; he is frankly and engagingly proud of what he does.

When the publicist appears, she looks pale. Clearly, she has been listening at the door. “I owe you a drink,” she says, sounding as if she’s in her own feminist western. Unfortunately, Cannes is hellish short of sawdust saloons.

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Mike Baird promises $300 million to untangle Sydney’s roads

Premier Mike Baird Photo: Janie Barrett ‘Congestion will cripple us’: Mike Baird. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Baird labelled a ‘coward’ over electricity privatisation

Roads would be widened and routes leading to busy intersections would take half as long to travel through under a $300 million election promise by the Baird government to untangle Sydney’s worst traffic snarls.

The improvements would take place over the next decade and would be funded by the proceeds of the government’s proposed partial lease of the electricity distribution network, or the “poles and wires”.

The investment was mooted last November when the government released more detail on how the electricity proceeds would be spent.

Labor has accused the government of “blackmail” by making the road improvements contingent on privatisation. The party is expected to reveal on Thursday how it would fund infrastructure, if elected.

Premier Mike Baird made the announcement on Wednesday near Homebush Bay Drive at Homebush, the seat where Strathfield Liberal MP Charles Casuscelli is facing an aggressive challenge by Labor candidate and former frontbencher MP Jodi McKay.

Mr Baird said if the government was re-elected, it would target so-called “pinch points” on 32 notoriously congested roads. They include Pennant Hills Road, Cumberland Highway, Parramatta Road, Old Windsor Road, The Kingsway, Campbelltown Road, and the Pacific Highway from North Sydney to Pymble.

“Sydney’s busiest roads can be gridlocked at any time of the day, any day of the week, costing our economy billions every year,” he said.

“If we don’t continue to act congestion will cripple our city.”

Mr Baird said the previous Labor government promised to deliver infrastructure but “never had funding to go alongside it. Well, we have that. We’ve got a bold vision to make a difference to this great city and state.”

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A spokesman for Mr Baird said no homes would be acquired for the planned work.

Mr Baird said communities and councils would be consulted and where the changes were “supported and make sense, and we can do it, we will”.

Mr Baird flagged the relocation of on-street parking in some cases, if businesses agreed to the move.

Labor’s deputy leader Linda Burney said the move was part of Mr Baird’s “privatisation circus”.

“People do not like to be blackmailed. People do not like an axe hanging over their head where the only way they can get a new service or new infrastructure is to allow Mike Baird to privatise electricity,” she said.

Asked how Labor planned to pay for critical infrastructure, Ms Burney said a policy would be announced before the election. It later emerged that Labor leader Luke Foley is due to reveal this policy on Thursday morning.

“What we will be proposing will not depend on selling electricity assets. It will not depend on people having to give up what is theirs,” Ms Burney said.

Last week, former Labor premier Morris Iemma said governments should not shy away from unpopular decisions to privatise public assets, in a message that implied support for the government’s main re-election pitch.

Infrastructure NSW and Transport for NSW identified the road corridors to be improved.

The upgrades would be funded from the Rebuilding NSW fund, which the government says would pay for $20 billion worth of infrastructure projects once the electricity lease is complete.

The work would begin next financial year, and would include intersection improvements, road widening and lengthening or widening turn bays.

The government said it would lead to increases in average travel speeds by up to 15km/h on links approaching upgraded intersections.

This would achieve up to 50 per cent travel time savings on these approaches during peak periods and benefit adjacent intersections, it said.

Speaking about the Strathfield contest, Mr Baird predicted that Mr Casuscelli would hold the seat, saying he was “making a huge difference to his local community. He lives and breathes it”.

Mr Casuscelli said the road program was “great news for the people of Strathfield”.

“Behind us is one of the worst pinch points, not only in my electorate, but this part of Sydney,” he said.

“People go through that intersection … for all sorts of reasons, whether they are shoppers at the DFO [shopping centre] or they are taking their kids to recreational facilities.

“The pinch point program … will treat intersections like this one and allow people to get where they need to go sooner, and in a lot better frame of mind.”

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Former IT manager tells ICAC he is ‘ashamed’ of defrauding NSW universities

Fraud allegations: Brett Roberts leaves the ICAC after giving evidence. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Fraud allegations: Brett Roberts leaves the ICAC after giving evidence. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Fraud allegations: Brett Roberts leaves the ICAC after giving evidence. Photo: Daniel Munoz

“This was a rob and a con of Sydney University, wasn’t it?” counsel assisting a corruption inquiry asked.

“Yes,” came the blunt reply from the 47-year-old former IT manager in the witness box.

Brett Roberts told the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Wednesday he had a “lot of debt” when he decided to defraud his employer of tens of thousands of dollars in late 2009.

The commission heard that Mr Roberts issued fake invoices to the University of Sydney, which directed that payment be made to a bank account for his $2 company, Robcon Australia Pty Limited.

“You understand what a con is? You understand what a rob is?” said counsel assisting the inquiry Anthony McGrath, SC.

“Yes,” Mr Roberts replied.

Asked if the company name was chosen “because that’s what you had in mind for that company”, Mr Roberts said: “Absolutely not.”

The Newcastle man admitted he had been “shitting blue lights” at the prospect of being caught but it was not the first time he had used the scam.

He had previously defrauded the University of Newcastle using a similar scheme, and after his stint at the University of Sydney he went on to do the same at Macquarie University. The universities were defrauded of almost $114,000 between 2005 and 2013.

In front of barristers for the universities, Mr Roberts apologised and said he was “ashamed” of himself.

“I know it probably doesn’t mean much, coming from me here, but I want to do what I can to fix this up,” he said.

The inquiry heard that Mr Roberts had hatched a plan in 2006 to use a friend’s company to issue fake invoices to the University of Newcastle.

He claimed he had come up with the idea to help his friend who was “out of work”, and they agreed to split the proceeds. His friend denied the claim.

Mr Roberts admitted he used the same system when he moved on to the University of Sydney but said his friend was not involved. The invoices directed the money be paid to the Robcon bank account.

He made $43,065 from the University of Sydney, on top of the “good money” he admitted the university was already paying him.

Mr Roberts denied he had a gambling problem and claimed he was spending the money on living expenses, including water and electricity bills.

“You seem to be going through an extraordinary amount of water and electricity,” Mr McGrath said.

Mr Roberts said his electricity bill could be as much as $4000 a quarter.

The inquiry has heard allegations that Mr Roberts used the same scam at Macquarie University, where he started working in July 2012 and was earning $180,000 a year.

Commissioner Megan Latham asked incredulously if all the money he received was spent on household expenses.

“As I recall, yes,” Mr Roberts replied.

Mr Roberts was sacked in December 2013 following a misconduct investigation, and went on to work briefly for the NSW Department of Trade and Investment.

He is now working part-time at the former NSW government-owned electricity company Macquarie Generation, which was privatised last year.

The ICAC will release its findings later in the year.

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Finding a Greece solution

Greece’s sovereign and multilateral creditors should cut the interest rate they are charging as part of any reworked bailout plan, according to one of the lead negotiators of the 2011 and 2012 debt restructuring with private sector creditors.

Charles Dallara, who as managing director of the Institute of International Finance represented banks, hedge funds, insurers and asset managers holding about €200 billion in Greek bonds, said both the International Monetary Fund and European Union governments could offer concessional rates of around 2 per cent to give the country more breathing space.

This compares to around 3.5 or 4 per cent currently being charged.

“The IMF has this rather anachronistic policy that says that if you’re a low-income country, they’ll give you concessional levels,” he said.

“But if you’re a high income country, regardless of the depth of your problems, they will charge you near-market rates.

“I think the IMF needs to revisit its interest rates policy and create some eligibility for countries like Greece for the concessional lending pools,” Mr Dallara said.

Speaking in Sydney during an investment seminar this week, Mr Dallara said he was confident Greece and the EU would reach a compromise deal on the terms and conditions of the some €170 billion extended to the country in recent years to shore up its banking system and allow the government to function.

In return, Greece has agreed to a range of austerity measures aimed at keeping the ratio of public debt to gross domestic product at 120 per cent.

However, popular unrest over the repercussions of fiscal tightening led to the election in January this year of the anti-austerity Syriza party, and the appointment of academic Yanis Varoufakis, a former Sydney University lecturer, as finance minister.

Mr Varoufakis is leading current negotiations with creditors over a restructured deal, including an extension on some of the repayments due this year and lighter austerity conditions.

Despite current posturing and disagreement between the two sides, observers expect them to strike a deal.

“The Greeks don’t have to make such a huge issue out of extending the current program, because they can say to the people that a technical extension is not affirmation of the content of the program, it’s actually quite the reverse; it’s an opportunity to revisit the content of the program,” said Mr Dallara.

“The Europeans, when they get off their high horse saying ‘a deal is a deal and an agreement is an agreement’, will also recognise that the program needs some reworking.

“Once you get past this issue of extending the current program or not, then the actual adjustments to the program should not be insurmountable,” he said.

“I think that the Europeans recognise that the Greeks want a little bit more flexibility on the fiscal front.”

He said concessional interest rates on the current debt load would also go a long way to helping Greece through the crisis.

“If the IMF is smart enough to roll over its loans it should cut its interest rates as well,” he said.

“And if the Europeans are smart enough and they too extend the maturities and cut the interest rates further this can save the Greeks some serious cashflow, a few billion a year.

“The consolidation of Greece’s fiscal position has come at a high price to the Greek economy – but it has allowed Greece now to speak with more credibility about their fiscal policies, and I think that they do deserve some breathing room here,” he said.

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Rail document found in Owen office: Labor

ROLES: Tim Crakanthorp, left, found the document, and Jeff McCloy, right, says he did not have ‘‘much influence’’. ●Read the cabinet papers here

A CABINET document that shows the government rejected advice from Transport for NSW about the best light rail route in Newcastle was found in former Liberal MP Tim Owen’s office, it has been revealed.

It raises questions about how the city’s former backbencher came into possession of the confidential information – and why Labor did not tell the public sooner of the discovery made after it won the city’s byelection.

Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp, who inherited Mr Owen’s Hunter Street office, said on Tuesday that he had found the copy of the cabinet minute ‘‘late last year in the back of a filing cabinet’’ after he had given evidence to a November hearing for a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s planning decisions.

He referred it to the office of the opposition leader.

During a visit to the region on Tuesday, Premier Mike Baird was forced to defend the selected light rail route as one chosen with the city’s revitalisation needs in mind, and labelled as ‘‘conspiracies’’ claims the route was selected to favour the interests of developers.

Fairfax Media reported on Tuesday that Transport for NSW advised the cabinet infrastructure committee in December 2013 that its preferred light rail route was along the corridor for the heavy rail line that was to be ripped up as part of a Newcastle revitalisation plan.

But in May 2014, following consultation with government property developer UrbanGrowth NSW, the state announced the new line would use only part of the corridor in the West End before diverting along Hunter Street.

This is despite Transport for NSW’s advice to cabinet that running light rail down Hunter Street, as advocated by local developers, would mean a slower service, disruption of traffic and higher construction and heavy rail corridor remediation costs.

The cost of the Hunter Street route may also be as much as $94 million more than Transport for NSW’s preferred option, the documents suggest.

It emerged on Tuesday that the confidential cabinet documents were found in Mr Owen’s electorate office by Labor after it won the October 25 byelection sparked by Mr Owen’s resignation from Parliament.

He quit in August after lying to the Independent Commission Against Corruption about taking $10,000 cash before the 2011 election from developer and former lord mayor Jeff McCloy.

Mr McCloy is overseas but told the Newcastle Herald the light rail option chosen by the statewas not his preference.

‘‘I have always been of the opinion that the light rail should have gone all the way down Hunter Street [from Wickham],’’ Mr McCloy said.

‘‘It seemed commonsense to me to put it where the shops are and where people actually want to go.

‘‘Obviously, I didn’t have much influence because the government went ahead with a different solution. They’re the facts of it.’’

Labor’s transport spokeswoman, Penny Sharpe, said there were ‘‘serious questions why a backbencher, Tim Owen, had access to these cabinet documents’’.

‘‘Who else had access to these documents and was there collusion with developers to ensure that the transport advice was ignored?’’ she asked.

The document has now been referred to the parliamentary inquiry.

Inquiry deputy chairman David Shoebridge said how Mr Owen came to have the material and whether he had any influence in the final decision about the light rail route ‘‘are questions that immediately arise’’.

But he also said it was ‘‘hard to understand’’ why Labor had not handed over the ‘‘critical’’ document earlier, labelling the apparent delay a ‘‘failure of government and a failure of opposition’’.

‘‘This demolishes the argument for terminating the rail line on Boxing Day,’’ Mr Shoebridge said.

‘‘Why on earth would anyone sit on it for months?’’

Mr Crakanthorp said he had campaigned on the issue before becoming an MP and then in Parliament.

‘‘Ultimately, the only way to stop the ripping up of the rail line is to vote the Liberals out in March, which is why we have made this information public,’’ he said.

Christian Democratic Party MP the Reverend Fred Nile, chair of the upper house inquiry into the Newcastle planning process, said he was ‘‘pretty angry’’ and questioned the government’s plans for the corridor.

‘‘There could be high-rise towers put on it as it’s the only land not affected by mining subsidence,’’ he said.

John Robertson quit as Labor leader days before Christmas.

Mr Robertson’s replacement, Luke Foley, was elected in January.

Cost of metadata laws will be $400 million, cost of inaction incalculable: Tony Abbott

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Angus Mordant Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Angus Mordant

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says metadata needs to be kept to catch criminals. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Angus Mordant

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Angus Mordant

The cost of keeping metadata for telcos and their customers will be as much as $400 million but Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the price of not storing electronic communication records is “incalculable” because it would lead to an “explosion in unsolved crime.”

Mr Abbott on Wednesday broadened the case for storing metadata as proposed in the third phase of new counter-terror laws by linking it to policing of paedophilia and white collar crimes.

He visited the headquarters of child safety group Bravehearts on the Gold Coast in Queensland with Liberal MP Dan Tehan, who is the chair of the Parliament’s independent and bipartisan intelligence committee, which is scrutinising the legislation.

Mr Abbott said the new laws that would force telcos to keep communications records for two years will help authorities deal with a “whole range of criminal conduct”.

“Metadata and its retention is more important than ever if we are going to be able to track what criminals are doing, whether it be criminals who want to commit terrorist offences, whether it be criminals who are committing corporate offences, whether it be people who are committing child abuse offences, so much of this kind of activity is being conducted online,” he said.

“We all know that people who want to abuse children often feed their habits online.”

Mr Abbott said the cost would equate to 1 per cent of the $40 billion communications sector, or $400 million, but said the price of not acting would be “incalculable”.

“The cost of losing this data is an explosion of unsolved crime, that’s the price of losing this data,” he said, adding it was a small price to pay for the “freedoms” and “safety” Australians deserve.

“And if we don’t get it, it will be a form of unilateral disarmament in the face of criminals… [Without it] our crime fighting agencies and our police are flying blind,” he reiterated.

Tony Abbott’s office says the $400 million price tag is a one-off implementation cost.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has previously said the government would contribute but has not specified how much the sector might be asked to pay. But he Prime Minister appeared to suggest it would be up to the sector to shoulder the costs.

“It’s very important that if you do business in this country you adhere to the rules, and the rules of being a telecommunications provider in this country should include keeping your metadata…for two years,” he said.

Parliament’s intelligence committee will publish its report on the metadata bill next Friday. The government is urging Labor to help it swiftly pass the legislation once the review is handed down. The opposition’s communications spokesman Jason Clare sits on the joint standing committee. He told Sky the evidence presented to MPs “is starting to show…a number of concerns with the legislation that will need to be addressed”.

He listed press freedom, data storage costs and what constitutes metadata as areas of concern.

Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm is opposed to the new legislation and his vote will not have any impact on the legislation’s passage if Labor supports the government.

Senator Leyonhjelm said the Prime Minister’s arguments for new spying powers exposed the estimated costs as just one of many reasons why the legislation is a “crock”.

He also warned that telco companies would be likely to store the data on overseas servers where it could be vulnerable to hacking and misuse.Follow us on Twitter

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