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David Murray says it’s time to tackle superannuation concessions for rich

Financial system inquiry chair David Murray’s report to the government said tax breaks on super and housing needed to be looked at closely in the tax white paper. Photo: SuppliedThe man who the Abbott government tasked with fixing the financial system says political leaders have failed to end Australians’ sense of entitlement when it comes to superannuation concessions and the aged pension.
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While there was an economic case to cap large balances from getting preferential tax treatment, and possibly include the family home in the assets that are taken into account when determining a person’s eligibility for the aged pension, the community wasn’t ready for such massive changes to the superannuation system, says David Murray, the head of the financial systems inquiry.

“There is not a belief set in the community that we have an issue to address,” Mr Murray told Fairfax Media after an SMSF Association conference in Melbourne about the retirement income system.

Mr Murray, a former chairman of the Future Fund, said after 25 years of continuous growth, and generous handouts by various federal governments, the community had gained a sense of entitlement.

And despite comments by Treasurer Joe Hockey and others about ending the “age of entitlement”, politicians had not managed to convince the public why it was necessary to change.

“Until that [voter] belief set changes, it becomes harder for the political system and the politicians to deal with that adjustment that we need,” he said.

Mr Murray’s report to government said tax breaks on super and housing needed to be looked at closely in the tax white paper, as they were distorting behaviour and posing a risk to the financial system and entire economy.

As Mr Murray’s report and a host of other economists and think tanks have noted, overly generous tax concessions applied to superannuation investment earnings have been primarily benefiting the rich.

Mr Murray’s report also took issue with the fact that super earnings are taxed at 15 per cent in the accumulation phase, but are untaxed in retirement. His report suggested “aligning the earnings tax rate between accumulation and retirement would reduce costs for funds” and “facilitate a seamless transition to retirement and reduce opportunities for tax arbitrage”.

A recent report by the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia suggested removing the concessional tax treatment for balances of more than $2.5 million. It also said superannuation should not be used as a wealth accumulation or estate planning tool.

Tax Office statistics show almost 300,000 self-managed superannuation funds eliminated or reduced their tax bills through exemptions on super and $2.5 billion in franking credits in 2011-12.

Mr Murray did not advocate a cap level for concessional tax treatment – saying that was best left to experts to model when the cap should apply to super balances – but said one was needed.

He said lower-income taxpayers were missing out on the benefits of superannuation concessions, thereby “subsidising” a tax break for higher-income earners.

“There’s very generous tax concessions in the system, there are very generous voluntary contribution arrangements, and there is no cap on the system,” Mr Murray said.

“So that drives those inequities and the tax arrangements drive distortions across the financial system that affects the economy. Depending on your political persuasion, one or other of our alternative governments in Australia is going to keep picking that up … It’s not a sustainable system. The tax has to be sorted out and the objectives have to be clear.”

Also speaking at the SMSF Association event was Don Russell, once senior adviser to former Prime Minister Paul Keating and one of the architects of compulsory superannuation.

He said there were issues with the concessions being “excessively generous” and there was a need to look at those. But compulsory superannuation was never set up as a mechanism to channel income to lower income earners.

“It’s based around compulsion and you can only do that with a good deal,” Mr Russell said. “You’ve got to have a tax preference to help savings. That’s always going to benefit higher income people because higher income people can save; lower income people can’t save.”

Former Reserve Bank board member and chair of public policy at ANU, Warwick McKibbin, told Fairfax Media after the event that while “there’s a very clear argument” for getting some of the distortions out of the super system which are leading to excesses”, bringing the family home into the assets test, and raising the GST and broadening the base, neither the government nor the opposition had the courage to tackle these issues.

“Every time we see an election result like we did in Queensland or Victoria, we draw the wrong conclusions,” Professor McKibbin said.

“We say, ‘the public voted against this particular policy; that they voted against asset sales in Queensland’. My view is, no, they didn’t vote against that. They voted against the [Queensland] government. I think until that [conversation] changes, politicians will continue to go down this road of not being able to do anything.”

Professor McKibbin said most policies designed to improve economic efficiency and raise money, were by their nature inequitable. “My view is that you need to implement the most efficient ways of generating revenue at the lowest cost, so there are more resources for people to share, and then you do the equity adjustments,” he said.

“It may be that you never get to do some equity adjustments, and that at an individual level the system is not fair. But the system as a whole has to be fair.”

The other issue now being debated is whether the family home should be included in the assets test for the aged pension.

On Monday, the parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer, Kelly O’Dwyer, said the issue should be debated following the upcoming release of Treasury’s intergenerational report, which forecasts major government spending over 40 years. But Social Services Minister Scott Morrison has ruled out including the family home in the assets test.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said there was a need to ensure high-income earners “pay a fair share of their tax on superannuation”.

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Hungry snakes take to Forster’s beaches

A brown snake seen on the beach at Forster. Photo: Edweena Singh The brown snake seen in the water at Forster. Photo: Edweena Singh
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The brown snake in the water at Forster. Photo: Edweena Singh

Snake swims between the flags

Brown snakes just seem to love the beach at Forster on the NSW Mid North Coast.

Last month, Great Lakes Advocate reader Olivia Moffatt took a picture of a brown snake that emerged from the water at One Mile Beach, right between the flags..

Now, Edweena Singh’s photo of a brown snake enjoying the sand and water of Wallis Lake just across from the popular Memorial Drive foreshore has caused a stir on the newspaper’s Facebook page.

“It was on the middle island under the bridge where people swim to and park their boats,” Ms Singh said.

“I don’t know what type of snake it was, just that it was greyish brown.”

However, snake expert John Smith said he was pretty certain it was a brown snake.

“It’s more than likely a brown snake – it’s the only thing it could be at that size and colour,” he said.

“There is a sea snake that’s similar in colouring but it’s a bit thicker in the body.”

Mr Smith, 67, has been handling snakes since he was a teenager and working with them in the Forster area for the past 15 years.

“I can identify most snakes,” he said.

He said the breed normally does not like the water.

“They’re more of a dry country snake. That one at One Mile last month was more than likely spooked into the water.”

It had been a “good” season for snakes, particularly blacks, he said.

“We are getting a hell of a lot of those and they’re all big – lots of six-footers. It could be because of the humid weather – the hotter it is, the hungrier they are, but it’s unusual to get so many big ones like this.”

 

Ms Singh’s pictures got people talking and sharing their own photos of close encounters with snakes.

One that caused a huge reaction on the Great Lakes Advocate Facebook page was from Jody Bosley Cruse, who found a large diamond python on the doorstep at her Tuncurry home recently.

People were keen to know what she did.

Reader Nichole Parkes posted: “Omg how did you react when you saw this? I know I would have been having kittens because damn that’s a big one.”

Ms Cruse replied: “He wasn’t killed – my neighbour who is familiar with removing snakes came in and removed him and my hubby drove him further away to release him back in the bush.”

Sue Beere was, horrified saying simply: “I’d have to move out if I saw that anywhere near my home.”

Great Lakes Advocate

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‘Living her dream’: Family visit scene of Josie Edden tragedy

Family visit scene of Josie Edden tragedy Tributes at the scene where Josie Edden was killed. Picture: Penny Stephens
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Tributes at the scene where Josie Edden was killed. Picture: Penny Stephens

Tributes at the scene where Josie Edden was killed. Picture: Penny Stephens

Tributes at the scene where Josie Edden was killed. Picture: Penny Stephens

Friends at the scene where Jodie was killed on Tuesday. Picture: Penny Stephens

Newcastle’s Josie Edden. Picture: Supplied

TweetFacebookThe parents of Josie Edden have made an emotional visit to the Melbourne site where their only child was killed on Tuesday morning.

Bouquets continue to pile up on the corner of Collins and Spencer streets where the 23-year-old cafe managercrossed against a flashing “don’t walk” signal, tripped and fell in the path of a garbage truckat about 6am.

She had been on her way to work at Code Black Coffee, making the same trip she would have made countless times before.

Her boyfriend Drew Ridley encountered the horrific scene after receiving a call from concerned co-workers telling him that Ms Edden had failed to turn up to work.

Drew’s father Glen visited the site with Ms Edden’s parents, Liz and Paul, on Wednesday and spoke on behalf of the grieving families.

“They’ve just come down to sort out Josie’s things, to have a look at the site obviously, and to spend some time with the people that Josie worked with because they knew nothing of her life in Melbourne,” he said.

“They’re from Newcastle so she led a life that they were completely unaware of.

“Everybody loved her… She’ll be very sorely missed.”

He said it had been overwhelming for her family to see that so many friends, customers and colleagues had been visiting the site of Ms Edden’s death.

“Everybody loved her … She’ll be very sorely missed”. Picture: Penny Stephens

“Customers and employees were just constantly coming through,” he said.

“She was so well liked and well known and they just couldn’t believe how popular their daughter was.”

Josie had met Drew, her “soulmate”, in Melbourne a couple of years ago after making the move from Newcastle to pursue a career in hospitality, Glen Ridley said.

“She heard that Melbourne was the coffee capital of Australia and she was passionate about coffee and food so this is where she came to. [She] was living her dream.

“They were soulmates, they’d have the same ideas. [Drew] is pretty devastated, it’s going to take a while to get him out of this.”

Ms Edden’s parents have released a statement paying tribute to their “loving and fun” daughter.

“She had strong opinions and was a very independent thinker,” they said.

‘Hard to beat’: Toll can’t believe its luck as Japan Post lobs a very sweet offer

Not so Little: Meet the $340m winner in Japan Post’s takeover of Toll
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Serendipity best describes what Toll Holdings shareholders experienced  on Wednesday morning.

Having braced themselves for a poor profit performance and a likely fall in the company’s share price, shareholders in the logistics business must be delighted that Japan Post has pitched a takeover offer that is generous to say the least.

Thus it’s hardly surprising that Toll directors unanimously and heartily endorsed the $9.04 offer, which represented a massive 53 per cent (yes 53 per cent) premium to the pre-offer three-month average trading price.

Making the offer even sweeter, shareholders get their hands on the company’s 13¢ dividend.

Toll chairman Ray Horsburgh described the offer price, which values the company’s equity at $6.5 billion, as “compelling value”.

And while the board remains open to any competing offers, Horsburgh argued it was “such a compelling offer it would be hard for anyone to beat”.

It appears the $85 billion government-owned postal business is heading into the final stages of an initial public offering (IPO) and wants another big business to add to its suite of assets, presumably to offer some earnings upside.

Toll is the lucky product of that Japanese search.

The lure of Toll appears to be its global reach and in particular its Asian network. This network, according to the half year profit announcement on Wednesday, contained its most (almost only) profitable divisions.

Toll Global Forwarding operations improved profit from $13.9 million to $20 million in the six months to December, while Toll Global Logistics notched up an earnings improvement of 11 per cent to around $61 million.

Toll’s push into Asia was unpopular with investors at the time, but was part of the entrepreneurial vision of its previous chief executive (and modern-day founder) Paul Little.

Horsburgh spoke to Little on Wednesday morning with formal notification of the offer (although presumably Little – a 5 per cent shareholder in Toll, which is now worth $340 million – was well aware of negotiations that began last month.  According to Horsburgh, Little had mixed views, but said it was fantastic for shareholders. “Overall he is pretty happy,” says the Toll chairman.

President and CEO of Japan Post Toru Takahashi said: “We believe the combination of Japan Post and Toll will be a transformational transaction for both our companies and we are very pleased we have been able to reach agreement.

“In partnership with Toll we are starting a new chapter of looking outward and becoming a leading global player.”

Where Japan Post has remained focused on its traditional letters business and has not strayed far geographically, it is now using Toll as a launchpad to expand its operations further in Asia, Europe and North America – taking advantage of its skill set, its merger and acquisitions expertise and its contracts and infrastructure.

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Toll Holdings Newcastle roots

Toll Holdings recommends Japan Post takeover bid at $9.04 per share
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Glimpse of Newcastle’s history revealed

TOLL Holdings Ltd, the Australian transport company being chased by Japan Post for $6.5 billion, grew from a company started in Newcastle in 1888.

Back then, Toll was a coal haulage buisiness using horses and carts and founded by Newcastle businessman Albert Frederick Toll.

The company, originally known as A.F. Toll, grew steadily under Albert’s stewardship until his death in 1958 (although some sources say 1960), aged 95.

An early advertising sign for the company – covered by another building from 1937 onwards – was uncovered during demolition work in Watt Street, Newcastle, in November 2009, and featured in the Newcastle Herald.

Albert’s 6th child was the writer Dora Birtles (1903-1992) who wrote four novels, including The Overlanders, and who was also published in the Newcastle Sun.

When Albert died, he left the company to his children, who were already already in their 60s and 70s.

They sold A.F. Toll soon after inheriting to a company called National Minerals for £55,000.

In 1962, Toll was bought by a prominent mining company of the day, Peko Wallsned.

Under Peko Wallsend it grew to become a national carrier under the name Toll-Chadwick, with more than 500 employees and 300 vehicles Australia-wide.

In 1986, it was sold in a management buyout led by businessmen Paul Little and PeterRowsthorn

The buyout team expanded the company dramatically, listing it on the Australian stock exchange in 1993.

The deal made both men rich and Little, especially, has maintained a high profile in Australian business and sporting circles.

Little also has aviation and real estate interests, and has been chairman of Essendon AFL club since July 2013.

Toll’s current chairman is Ray Horsburgh and its managing director is Brian Kruger.

Same-sex marriage supporters call Kevin Andrews but he won’t answer

Defence Minister Kevin Andrews’ has opted out of receiving the calls from same-sex marriage supporters as part of the “Equality Calling” campaign. Photo: Andrew Meares Defence Minister Kevin Andrews’ has opted out of receiving the calls from same-sex marriage supporters as part of the “Equality Calling” campaign. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Defence Minister Kevin Andrews’ has opted out of receiving the calls from same-sex marriage supporters as part of the “Equality Calling” campaign. Photo: Andrew Meares

Defence Minister Kevin Andrews’ has opted out of receiving the calls from same-sex marriage supporters as part of the “Equality Calling” campaign. Photo: Andrew Meares

Defence Minister Kevin Andrews has barricaded himself against a new same-sex marriage campaign, by refusing to receive messages from his constituents who support the reform.

The “Equality Calling” campaign began delivering messages to federal politicians on Monday.

Organised by Australian Marriage Equality (AME), it allows supporters of same-sex marriage to record a voice message on a 1300 number that is then delivered straight to their locals MPs and senators.

But on Monday, after receiving the first batch of recordings, one of Mr Andrews’ electorate office staff members contacted the group to ask that the messages stop.

Fairfax Media understands the staff member reasoned that the Defence Minister  – who is known for his conservative views – believed marriage should be between a man and woman – and would not change his position.

He also said the calls were clogging up the phone lines. According to AME, only two messages have come in for Mr Andrews so far. Together they last for about five minutes.

One is from a woman, who says she is approaching 30, and tearfully explains how she wants to be able to marry her female partner, before thanking Mr Andrews for listening.

The other, which the office has not listened to, is from a primary school teacher who wants to marry his partner of 29 years.

“We just want the right to be able to publicly celebrate our relationship in front of our family and friends,” he said.

“Quite frankly, we’re getting a bit tired of going to all these other weddings and watching everybody else celebrate their love for each other.

“And we’re not allowed to do that … We’re not getting any younger and we want to do this before it is too late.”

According to a spokeswoman for the Defence Minister, his electorate office received a “number of automated calls”.

“His office contacted the organisation concerned and expressed that further contact be made in writing to best facilitate a personal response.”

AME national director Rodney Croome said it was “very disappointing” that Mr Andrews was refusing to listen to his constituents.

“Politicians should welcome engagement with their voters, not actively deny those voters a voice.

“It would be entirely inappropriate to hang up on a constituent calling in real time. And it’s just as inappropriate to hang up on a constituents’s heart-felt recorded message.”

Mr Croome said that at the end of the voice messages, it was also possible for MPs to opt out from receiving further messages, but said they would still be posted on social media “for all the world to see what they refuse to acknowledge”.

National Party senator Matt Canavan’s office has also opted out of the calls.

A spokesman for Senator Canavan said that it was “well versed with the issue”.

He explained that the initial calls were helpful, but the small office found the ongoing calls “distracting” and time consuming.

The spokesman said that people were still able to ring the office directly on a range of issues, including same-sex marriage.

AME said that Labor’s defence spokesman Stephen Conroy – who did not vote for same-sex marriage in September 2012 – had also opted out of the messages, however a spokesman for Senator Conroy said this had been an inadvertent mistake.

“Senator Conroy is happy to receive all communications from the public on any issue,” he said.

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Family of accused Sydney terror plotter Sulayman Khalid demand his release from maximum security prison

Khalid’s father AbuSalem and his mother DomenicaBiscotto outside court on Wednesday. Photo: Paul Bibby Sulayman Khalid in 2013. Photo: James Alcock
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Khalid’s father AbuSalem and his mother DomenicaBiscotto outside court on Wednesday. Photo: Paul Bibby

The family of a young Sydney man accused of planning a terrorist attack have demanded his immediate release from Goulburn’s maximum security prison, claiming the charges against him are “political” and that they have been forbidden from visiting him.

Approximately a dozen relatives of Sulayman Khalid, 20, gathered at Central Local Court on Wednesday to protest against his continued detention on a charge of possessing documents “designed to facilitate an attack”.

The 20-year-old was allegedly found in possession of several pages of notes which referred to an AFP building as a target and a plan to carry out guerilla warfare in the Blue Mountains.

Mr Khalid, who once appeared on the SBS show Insight, was one of the people arrested in a December counter-terrorism raid in Sydney.

During a brief mention of the matter in court, during which Mr Khalid appeared via audio visual link from the maximum security prison at Goulburn, his solicitor Zali Burrows said she intended to apply for the prosecution of her client to be permanently stayed.

After the hearing Mr Khalid’s mother, Domenica Biscotto, made an impassioned defence of her son while flanked by members of his extended family, some of whom were carrying banners declaring “Justice for Sulayman”.”We are asking for the remainder of the prosecution brief of evidence to be served so that we can proceed with the application,” Ms Burrows said.

“The Commonwealth have the resources to get these items together.”

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“My son Sulayman is innocent and he is innocent until proven guilty,” Ms Biscotto said.

“There are murderers, much worse people, who are out on bail but my son isn’t out on bail. He’s sitting in Supermax prison – high security –  being treated in an inhumane way and we have not [been allowed to see him].”

Ms Biscotto said the notes that allegedly belonged to her son belonged to someone else.

“Those notes are not in his writing, they’re just scribblings,” she said.

“This is purely political.”

“Stop blaming people based on their faith. I was born in this country – I’m an Australian citizen. My son is innocent and he should be released today.”

Ms Biscotto said that, after her son’s arrest, NSW Police deputy commissioner Catherine Burn had asked her for a closed door meeting and that she had refused.

The mother of six said the deputy commissioner had requested the meeting through a member of a local Muslim community organisation. Ms Biscotto had been too upset to attend and now wonders why such a meeting was requested.

But a police spokesman said Deputy Commissioner Burn had never requested a meeting with Ms Biscotto.

“Conversely, a meeting was requested by the Muslim Women’s Association, who were providing assistance to a distressed community member,” the spokesman said, in an apparent reference to Ms Biscotto.

“That meeting did not transpire due to the unavailability of the community member. “

Mr  Khalid’s  father, Abu Salem, broke down as he described seeing his son for the first time when he appeared via audio visual link from jail.

“I couldn’t control my emotions actually – I had tears in my eyes.”

Mr Khalid is due to return to court in April.

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Bendigo vigil held for Bali nine: Photos

Bendigo vigil held for Bali nine: Photos Bendigo Law Association president Jennifer Digby.
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Bendigo Law Association president Jennifer Digby.

Bendigo Law Association holds a minute of silence.

Bendigo Law Association president Jennifer Digby.

Bendigo Law Association holds a minute of silence.

TweetFacebookMEMBERS of the Bendigo Law Association took part in a vigil on Wednesdaymorning in protest of the death penalty and to urge the Indonesian government to grant two of the Bali nineclemency.

The event was organisedin conjunction with a vigil held on the steps of the County Court in Melbourne.

Australians’Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were convicted of drug charges in Indonesia in 2005 and sentenced to death.

The pair have served 10 years in custody.

BLA president Jennifer Rigby said the death penalty was “barbaric”.

“We haven’t had the death penalty in this country for a very long time,” she said.

“The important thing about it is these men are rehabilitated now. They’ve spent 10 years in prison.

“They have workedvery hard to make amends.

“An important cornerstone of the law is that people are able to demonstrate that they show redemption.”

Ms Digby said there would be afeeling of devastation among the law community if the executions were to go ahead.However, she said the most recent delay in the men’s executions had sparked a small ray of hope.

“We seem to be at acrossroad, whereby thereprieve to not send themen to the island for execution has been stayed, but we don’t really know what thatmeans,” she said.

“There are people working very hardwith the legal proceedings which are still on foot, and I note that Peter Morrissey SC, who is part of that legal team, has said that while that is still happening these men can not be executed. So I think there is a little bit of hope there.”

Major sponsor pulls support for greyhound racing in wake of live baiting scandal

Greyhound racing in NSW has no independent regulator with power to root out criminal and unethical practices.● Hunter greyhound property: Rabbits found in raid
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●Trainers unite to deter live-baiting

EXCLUSIVE

One of greyhound racing’s biggest sponsors has pulled its support in light of the live baiting scandal.

National meat provider Macro Meats Gourmet Game has pulled its sponsorship from all greyhound racing in Australia, including Brisbane’s Albion Park, in the wake of theFour Cornersinvestigationaired on Monday.

The company signed on as the largest sponsor of South Australian racing last year and has had long associations with greyhound racing in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Managing director Ray Borda also dabbles in greyhound and horse ownership. He said he was sickened by the activities exposed in the program.

“It’s not just a business decision, it’s a personal decision,” he said.

“I’m as appalled as everybody else. A clear message has to be put through that change has to occur.

“It sickens me, my staff and a lot of people in the public.

“I’m an animal lover and it’s knocked me around personally a fair bit.”

Macro Meats sponsors regional events such as gymkhanas, and some horse racing, but Borda said it was a simple decision to pull their sponsorship.

A screenshot of the Four Corners program on greyhound racing industry, allegedly filmed at trainer Tom Noble’s property in Queensland. Picture: ABC

“We’re one of the biggest sponsors of greyhound racing in Australia,” he said.

“We were associated with the greyhounds as a good family sport and once it changed from that, even though it was just a few individuals, we stopped immediately.

“It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, you cannot disregard animal welfare.”

Borda said he wouldn’t rule out a return to greyhound sponsorship, but would need to see a great deal of change.

“You never say never,” he said.

“They’d have to address animal welfare issues, that’s the number one problem, and change the image of what it is.

“How they do that is up to the people that run the greyhound industry.

“It’s a complete re-education process from the ground up.”

Other sponsors are yet to make a call on their associations with Greyhound Racing Queensland.

Garrard’s Horse and Hound, which supplies supplements and health products for horses and greyhounds, is one of those sponsors.

General manager Daren Garrard said they were still honouring their contract with Albion Park and had not made any decision either way.

Animal welfare groups have called for the complete cessation of greyhound racing.

The Barristers Animal Welfare Panel chair, Joanna Fuller, said the industry could not be relied on to regulate itself any longer.

“Whatever is done now or is attempted to be done it simply cannot be guaranteed that this can be stamped out,”he said.

“These aren’t just rogue elements and the only way to prevent animal abuse is to stop the industry.”

Thirteen Queensland trainers have been in the spotlight of the live baiting scandal.

Racing Queensland issued Reg Kay, Debra Arnold, Tom Noble, Tony McCabe, James Harding, Michael Chapman and Greg Stella with show cause notices on Tuesday. They have seven days to respond.

Kay has also been removed from the Racing Queensland Hall of Fame.

A further six trainers (Stephen Sherwell, Gerri Crisci, Anthony Hess, Steven Arnold, Mick Emery and Samantha Roberts) have been suspended for the duration of the investigation.

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The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D review – a new sheen for the darkest Zelda

Long the black sheep of the Zelda series, the bona fide genius at the core of Majora’s Mask is exposed in this remake. Though shrunk down for the small screen, Majora’s Mask 3D’s visuals are leagues ahead of the Nintendo 64 original.
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The quests and characters are just as dark and weird as ever, but the frustration of managing them all is gone.

There are thousands of things to do in Termina once you get your head around how the time cycle works.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D on 3DS $59.95 Classification: PG Reviewer’s rating: 10/10

In 2000, Nintendo released its follow-up to the incredibly successful The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and although the sequel was running on the same hardware as its predecessor, it proved to be the black horse to Ocarina’s mainstream darling.

Much darker than any other Zelda adventure, but also much more human, Majora’s Mask has now been remade for Nintendo 3DS in a form that keeps and improves upon its incredible highs, while removing some of the technical niggles and confusion that chased some gamers away 15 years ago.

This is unequivocally Zelda – quirky characters, amazing music, plenty of interesting items and great puzzling dungeon designs – but it carries a legitimately dark edge in both tone and visual design, and the game is defined by its unexpected and wholly unique time-looping hook.

While players will recognise the standard explore-dungeon-item-boss structure common to Zelda games in completing Majora’s Mask’s main quest – which involves saving the land of Termina from being crushed by a menacing and ever-falling moon in just three days’ time – the rhythm of the action is fundamentally different as it takes place over the course of just three days.

Thanks to Link’s ability to manipulate time, you’ll play these three days over and over again. Whenever you run out of time – assuming you’re not yet ready to take on the final boss and prevent apocalypse – you have to start over again on day one. Every change you’ve made to the world returns to the way it was before, although you can take with you any magical form-shifting masks and important quest items you managed to acquire.

This Groundhog Day mechanic adds an extra dimension to traditional puzzle and adventure designs, as Link uses his ever-growing skillset and knowledge of the Termina residents (who of course never remember who he is) to provide assistance to a town increasingly disturbed by the lunar body threatening to end all of their lives.

Indeed, as Link jumps between helping doomed characters deal with their life’s regrets in the face of obliteration, staving off the ever-lingering Damocles-esque moon and taking the form of recently-deceased warriors to tap into their power and abilities, Majora’s Mask can occasionally feel obsessed with death. The theme is executed brilliantly, adds a beautiful candour not often seen in mainstream gaming and is part of why this is such a must-play game, but it could hit on sensitive subjects for some.

Though the game makes sure you’re constantly in mind of your race against time, you’re unlikely to feel too rushed or pressured once you understand the game world and plan your objectives accordingly. Some actions are only available to you at certain days or times, and the central area of Clock Town seems to get more frantic and menacing as the moon makes the final leg of the approach (this is helped along in no small part by the increasingly frantic distortion of the music). The growing feeling of impending doom, not just for the player but for all the other characters too, is one of the game’s greatest strengths.

Improved in this version of the game, a handy notebook keeps track of mysteries, rumours and characters’ schedules over the three-day period, making it easy to plan out your actions for each three day cycle and make sure you don’t run out of time. Some side-quests – like the aging punk who regrets that he will never get to see his pet chickens grow up into proud roosters – are touching and a joy to work out a happy ending to, while others – like person who lives in a toilet and just wants to find some good paper before the end of time – are just plain weird.

Several changes have been made to this version of the game to minimise the chance that you’ll get stuck or frustrated, which was a considerable issue in the Nintendo 64 original. The locations of some masks have changed, the boss battles and dungeons have been tuned up and one vitally important ocarina song – which makes time pass a little less quickly – has been made a bit easier to come by.

That combined with more save locations, the added ability to skip forward to any specific hour in the timeline, and the aforementioned notebook that keeps track of the actions you need to take to attempt a specific challenge or subplot, means this new version is leaps and bounds ahead of the original in making Majora’s Mask the epic, emotive masterpiece it was always designed to be.

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