No more action: council

Mount Isa City Council CEO Emilio Cianetti and Mayor Tony McGrady.A BRISBANE-based law firm summarised that accusations against Mount Isa City Council’s chief executive officer Emilio Cianetti lacked “substance”.
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King & Company Solicitors received a report compiled by Lisa Bundesen Consulting which analysed the accusations made and the evidence to support them.

The law firm recommended the Mount Isa City Council take no further action, and the council decided it would not when the findings were discussed in the full council meeting on Wednesday.

This audit cost the council $40,000 but the sum does not include costs.

The allegations against Mr Cianetti were that he influenced a decision to employ his wife after she was allegedly banned from working for the council.

Another accusation was he improperly employed his brother-in-law as the council’s head of plumbing.

The report said Mr Cianetti’s wife Danielle previously worked for the Mount Isa City Council in 2005, but an Employee Termination Record completed by the payroll officer showed she was suitable for re-employment.

She returned to the council in 2011 and was employed because she was most qualified for the position.

Evidence by her interviewer Sharon Ibardolaza – now the council’s director of corporate financial services – suggested Mr Cianetti did not know his wife even applied for the council position.

Mr Cianetti never discussed the application process with Ms Ibardolaza.

The other allegation is believed to be connected with a former council employee Ashley Cook, who is not related to Mr Cianetti.

Mr Cook was employed by the council in August 2011.

He was the only applicant for the position.

The report’s findings were discussed in closed business by city councillors despite an objection by Cr George Fortune, but Mr Cianetti left the room due to conflict of interest.

The discussion extended into the open council meeting where councillors agreed not to take further action, and an apology was made to investigated employees in the public gallery, and to Mr Cianetti.

A REPORT clearing Mount Isa City Councilemployees of corruption revealed a potential needfor slight changes in administrative procedures,which could protect others from future accusations.

An accusation suggested the council’s overseer ofworks improperly stored council concretingequipment in his garage after it was built in 2012.

The report said there was no evidence theemployee misappropriated council ownedequipment in his garage.

But he did have items of equipment stored to beused in case he was called out.

The report noted there was no official signing outprocesses for smaller equipment owned by thecouncil, which made it impossible to determine whatitems council employees were given.

The council’s chief executive officer Emilio Cianettisaid in the report that employees on call would keepequipment including witches hats, shovels, broomsand signage in their vehicles and homes so theycould attend call out jobs without going to the depotfirst.

Another allegation related to a former employeecollecting brass from council worksites, selling it andspending it on a barbecue for colleagues.

The council policy required council’s former headof plumbing Ashley Cook to receive a cheque whenselling scrap metal to Mount Isa recyclers instead ofbeing paid in cash.

It was suggested in the report that Mr Cook waspaid a small amount of cash for the scrap, but it wasnot pocketed by Mr Cook.

Mount Isa Mayor Tony McGrady acknowledged afew small administrative faults but they were“nothing of a serious nature.”

The mayor said it was not his role to makerecommendations to the chief executive officer, butany “CEO worth his salt” would considerrecommendations made in the report.

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Maitland Station staff recognised for good work

JOB WELL DONE: Gladys Berejiklian with James Brennan and Rawdon Sherman.Two Maitland train station staff members have been applauded for helping police catch a man linked to ­multiple break and enters across the Hunter.
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Duty manager Rawdon Sherman and CCTV operator James Brennan called police after they noticed a man with a large bag acting strangely late one night last month.

Mr Sherman had allowed the man to leave his bag in the station’s luggage room.

But he soon became suspicious when the man returned numerous times to put more items into the bag.

Mr Sherman watched the man while Mr Brennan called police. The man was arrested and charged in relation to multiple break and enter offences across the region, ­including a theft from a police officer’s home. All stolen goods were returned to their owners as a result of the arrest.

Transport Minister and Minister for the Hunter Gladys Berejiklian said the staff members had acted above and beyond their responsibilities.

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Narrandera add experience to list with three key signings

WELCOME ABOARD: Narrandera recruits Lachie Hutchins, Alex Lawder, James Sullivan and Mitch Staite get familiar with their new colours at training on Thursday night.RIVERINA LEAGUE
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NARRANDERA has added some much needed experience to its group with three Canberra-based recruits.

Mark Rice and Alex Lawder will return to the Eagles, who have also picked up Mitch Staite.

Rice is a premiership player at Narrandera, while Lawder enjoyed a strong season at the club in 2013.

Rice and Lawder will add strength to Narrandera’s defence, along with versatility.

Staitecan play through the midfield and forward flank.

Narrandera captain-coach Tim Sullivan loves what the three players bring to his team.

“The experience they bring on board will be that valuable and helpful to the team,” Sullivan said.

“They add depth which is good and they’re keen as mustard.”

Sullivan believes all three can play a variety of roles for Narrandera.

“I saw Alex play in the AFL Canberra grand final against Ainslie and he had the ball on a string,” he said.

“He can play key defence and play on a big key forward, or he can play an on-ball role.

“Mark is a swingman. He can play in defence, pinch hit in the ruck, or even through the middle.

“He’s down to the lightest he’s ever been and he played on a wing at Tuggeranong at one stage, so that’s going to be a bonus.

“Mitch is a skilful on-ball, forward flank classy type that will play a role for us.

“He’s had a year or two off but he’s raring to go.”

Lawder played at Queanbeyan last year and was one of the Tigers’ best at division one level.

The three recruits join Lachie Hunter and James Sullivan as Narrandera’s additions to its list.

The Eagles have kept losses at a minimum with Lachie Hutchins, Mark Flack and Phil Aumann the only likely losses.

Sullivan said the feeling around the club is positive.

“We’re getting good numbers without the Canberra guys which is a good thing,” he said.

“We’ve averaged around 30 at training and we’re encouraging more to come, local people, everyone’s welcome.”

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World’s most romantic cities: But are they sexy?

Anita Ekberg wading through the Trevi Fountain in La Dolce Vita.There are a few candidates for “Saint Valentine” and no really compelling argument for why we celebrate him on February 14, but this morning we are waking up to another Valentine’s Day and some of us have expectations of red roses, chocolate boxes, frilly knickers or any other of the suggested tokens of passion the Valentine’s Day industry promotes.
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I’m sorry for sounding cynical but I’m in favour of more spontaneous expressions of love and affection. I don’t see what’s romantic about going out to dinner on a night when every other couple does, or eating chocolates out of a heart-shaped box when a rectangular one will do. I’d be way more impressed if I were given a book of Pablo Neruda poetry, but the supermarkets don’t seem to sell those.

Anyway, the time-worn, universal clichés of love and romance set me thinking about those inevitable Valentine’s Day lists of cities named the world’s “most romantic” and whether they live up to their reputations. What makes a city romantic? Do we agree on some of them?

The top ten often goes like this: Venice, Paris, Prague, Florence, Rome, Vienna, Seville, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Marrakesh. Other cities considered world-class romantic include Amsterdam, Lisbon, Kyoto, Bruges, Monte Carlo, Savannah, Sydney, Verona. I don’t think any list like this is complete without Istanbul and Budapest.

It’s all a matter of what you think is romantic – the chocolate box idea of it, or the wild, windswept Wuthering Heights view.

The Oxford English Dictionary has many definitions of the word “romance”, including this:  “a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement and remoteness from everyday life.” In other words, the atmospherics of a city like Venice make it romantic whether you’re with the love of your life in gondola gridlock under the Bridge of Sighs, or wandering its canals alone.

I find Venice, Paris and Prague melancholy. There’s a sadness and weariness under the beauty that makes them romantic, especially in the misty, moody greyness of their winters. You see, I’m a Wuthering Heights kind of gal.

Whenever I stroll through Paris’s Palais-Royale I feel the ghosts of the past walking with me. Yes, it’s completely fanciful of me, but the city’s turbulent history and its present always seem intertwined. It’s been the city of love since medieval courtly times, when “romance” as an ideal flourished.  But its reputation has literally weighed it down – modern-day “love locks”, affixed to its bridges by lovers, are threatening to collapse some of the structures into the Seine.

Then there are the cities like Barcelona that are romantic in a sexy rather than moody way, because of a liberal, youthful spirit. Sydney might be considered one of these, especially on warm summer nights at the Opera Bar by the harbour.

Buenos Aires is undoubtedly sexy. It’s snake-hipped tango dancers and the music of Carlos Gardel and the poetry of Jorge Luis Borges – and quite a few raffish bars with some very raffish patrons.

Rome is magnificent but it’s also sexy. For me, it’s Anita Ekberg (RIP) wading through the Trevi Fountain; Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on a Vespa. (The Trevi Fountain may be a disappointing boarded-up trickle these days but it’s still a place to hang if you have a thing for American backpackers in shorts eating gelati.)

Marrakesh is erotic – the fragrance of incense, the labyrinthine souk in the medina populated by mysterious men robed in hoods, the inherent sensuality of its culture.  So is Seville, with its iron balconies, orange trees and passion of the bullfight. (Not so romantic for the bulls, however.)

I suppose Monte Carlo can attribute its romantic reputation to Princess Grace Kelly, although it seems romance was really far from the truth. And I’ve never found Vienna, lovely as it is, sexy or romantic. I can’t help associating it with Andre Rieu conducting Strauss waltzes, even though he’s Dutch, not Viennese – but I concede some may find this a definite turn-on.

I suppose there’s a parallel Not Sexy city list, which might include cities like Johannesburg, Toronto, and Seoul. I’ve never heard anyone call them romantic. But I imagine, if the stars aligned, you could have a lovely romance in Toronto.

I’m not as much a cynic as I make out – I admit to once strolling down the Champs Élysées singing Maurice Chevalier songs. But, like most things, what is romantic is a matter of taste.

Wishing you red roses and chocolates anyway.

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Airline review: Air India Dreamliner 787 economy class

The Dreamliner’s quieter cabin and larger windows with adjustable tinting make for a pleasant flight. Photo: Alan Marts The Dreamliner’s quieter cabin and larger windows with adjustable tinting make for a pleasant flight. Photo: Alan Marts
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The Dreamliner’s quieter cabin and larger windows with adjustable tinting make for a pleasant flight. Photo: Alan Marts

The Dreamliner’s quieter cabin and larger windows with adjustable tinting make for a pleasant flight. Photo: Alan Marts

THE ROUTE

Delhi to Sydney. THE PLANE

Boeing 787 Dreamliner 800 series. Air India uses the Dreamliner exclusively on this route and has 16 in total in its fleet. The plane is configured with 18 business class seats and 238 economy. THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Flying Returns. Passengers can also earn points towards other Star Alliance airlines’ programs.  CLASS 

Economy class, seat 36C. DURATION 

Twelve hours.  FREQUENCY

Flights are daily, but operate on a round-robin system, alternating between Delhi to Sydney via Melbourne and Delhi to Melbourne via Sydney. THE SEAT 

Seats are in a 3-3-3 layout and feature spacious storage nets and headrests with adjustable wings (so you have something to rest your head on while sleeping). The red and orange colour scheme is on the busy side, but the recline is good and there is plenty of leg room. A small pillow and blanket is supplied. Seat pitch is 84 centimetres. Seat width43 centimetres.  BAGGAGE

Checked luggage allowance is 30 kilograms (which can be split over two bags) plus one carry-on bag up to eight kilograms and a laptop or handbag. COMFORT 

Air India uses the Dreamliner exclusively on this route and its quieter cabin and larger windows with adjustable tinting make for a much more pleasant flying experience. The superior air-purification system claims to reduce the effects of jet lag and dehydration and I disembark feeling fresher than normal after an overnight flight.   ENTERTAINMENT

Entertainment is via a responsive 26.5-centimetre touch-sensitive seatback screen. Content is clearly aimed at an Indian audience with a large selection of movies in Hindi. The range in English is limited with only 11 new releases and 24 older Hollywood titles. The TV selection is similarly sparse: a few comedies, some city guides, a talk show and – to the great consternation of the Indian man sitting next to me – no cricket (or sport of any kind). More entertaining is the inflight magazine, Shubh Yatra, with its advertisements for missile manufacturers, constipation cures and luxury light switches. SERVICE

Air India’s computer system in Delhi is down so check-in has to be done manually, and a 90-minute delay to departure. Apparently, this isn’t a common occurrence but communication is sparse and check-in staff struggle to manage the ensuing chaos. On board, things are better – the elegantly dressed crew are efficient and courteous.  FOOD 

There are three options for lunch: two Indian dishes (chicken with rice and vegetables, and mixed vegetable with rice and dahl) and an “international” dish of rice and lamb. The Indian dishes are better than the international one (although still only “average”, according to my neighbour). Bizarrely, a supper is served eight hours into the flight (roughly 2.30am Sydney time) rather than a breakfast before arrival. This time, there’s a choice of chicken or vegetable biryani, both of which are tasty and come with a traditional Indian dessert. Drinks-wise, there’s a good selection of spirits plus a French white and a surprisingly drinkable Indian red. THE VERDICT

Although Air India is no match for the top-tier airlines in terms of food and entertainment, it’s the only carrier to fly direct between Australia and India. That convenience coupled with the superior Dreamliner flying experience makes it a compelling proposition. Air India also has direct flights from Delhi to Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, Milan, London and Birmingham.

Tested by Rob McFarland, who flew courtesy of Air India.

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Bali nine’s Myuran Sukumaran paints the island of his execution

Myuran Sukumaran in Kerobokan jail. Photo: Jason Childs Myuran Sukumaran in Kerobokan jail. Photo: Jason Childs
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Ben Quilty with Myuran Sukumaran in Kerobokan in 2013. Photo: Jason Childs

Myuran Sukumaran in Kerobokan jail. Photo: Jason Childs

Myuran Sukumaran in Kerobokan jail. Photo: Jason Childs

Nusakambangan, Indonesia. Photo: Syubhan Akib

Bali: Myuran Sukumaran is painting his final destination: the penal island of Nusakambangan, where he will be shot dead.

The condemned man can no longer sleep as he braces for the knock at his prison cell that means his transferral is underway to the island dubbed “Indonesia’s Alcatraz”.

But he is still painting – a self -portrait of himself transposed onto Nusakambangan.

“Someone has given him an image of the location and he is making a big self-portrait with a very stormy sky,” said artist Ben Quilty who visited him on Thursday.

The order for the transfer to Nusakambangan was made by Indonesian authorities on Wednesday, although a date is yet to be set. Logistics for the transfer – and a possible date – will be decided at a meeting on Friday.

The men will be given 72 hours notice before they are shot dead.

But Sukumaran and fellow Bali nine member on death row Andrew Chan are spooked: it is obvious final preparations are underway.

“There have been preparations made so they can be taken in the night,”  Quilty said. “The night before they searched his room – I think they were preparing to move him. That night  he really couldn’t sleep.”

Before the harrowing news of the transfer, Chan and Sukumaran and their families had had a good day. They were buoyed by the messages of support from Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and shadow minister Tanya Plibersek in Parliament, and the letter signed by almost 100 MPs calling on the Indonesian government to save their lives.

“The guys were feeling really supported for the first time. I keep telling them how much support they have but that’s when it really hit them how much support they have,” Quilty said.

Sukumaran spent Thursday painting the self-portrait part of his Nusakambangan painting in front of a mirror with Quilty, his family and former lawyer Supreme Court judge Lex Lasry.

Thursday was the first time Sukumaran would allow Quilty to say goodbye. When the men are given their final 72 hours notice, only family members and a religious figure will be allowed to see them.

“That’s the first time I properly said goodbye,”  Quilty said. “In the past he wanted me to stay strong. He was very direct about not saying goodbye but yesterday he said goodbye.”

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Guided tour Guilin, China: Natural beauty mingles with the bizarre

A man fishes with cormorants on a river. Photo: 123rf南京夜网 A man fishes with cormorants on a river. Photo: 123rf南京夜网
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A man fishes with cormorants on a river. Photo: 123rf南京夜网

A man fishes with cormorants on a river. Photo: 123rf南京夜网

Bamboo rafts on a river near Guilin. Photo: 123rf南京夜网

Reed Flute Cave. Photo: 123rf南京夜网

The half-naked woman in the steaming hot tub is singing opera. I’m watching her through the windows of her little wooden pagoda, and feeling like a bit of a creep. The feeling quickly fades, however, as I remind myself where I am. I’m on the Two Rivers and Four Lakes night cruise in Guilin in south-east China. For the past 20 minutes I’ve been bobbing past majestic mountains, pagodas and bridges lit by neon lights, while watching a handful of rather bizarre music and dance acts being performed on the shore.

It’s only my first night in Guilin, yet I’m already starting to realise that this is precisely what makes the destination so unique – this peculiar mix of stunning natural beauty, and slightly psychedelic strangeness. Our boat putters round the bend and we find, in another pagoda, a punky girl band playing transparent mandolins and flutes while performing a traditional dance.

Another few hundred metres and we find a small group of bamboo rafts, lit by green lights and manned by pyjama-clad gents with cormorants by their sides. The men are chanting and bobbing up and down and, just as I start to wonder if this is some kind of Chinese river rave, the birds dive into the water and return a few moments later, triumphantly clasping fish in their beaks.

This, our local guide Maggie tells us, is a 1300-year-old tradition that used to earn the fishermen a living. Due to competition from modern fishing techniques, however, it’s now practised mostly to entertain tourists.

“The birds are trained since birth to catch fish for their master,” she says. “There’s a small noose around their neck to stop them swallowing fish they catch.” The fishermen’s chanting and dancing, she adds, is all just encouragement for the birds to take the plunge.

The otherworldly experiences continue the next morning, when for a moment I think I’ve stumbled into Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Soaring forest-clad mountains jut up around the city like crooked teeth, which are endlessly flossed by the two rivers and four lakes that flow between them.

The best way to get the lay of these mountains is to climb one of them. We start with Solitary Beauty Peak, the original centre of Guilin in the Princes’ City Scenic Area. Our thighs burn like the fires of hell as we ascend the 300 stone steps, but it’s worth every painful second. From the top, it’s nothing but hulking limestone mountains, strips of glossy green river, a smattering of low buildings, and distant hills so blurred and blue that for a second I think they’re clouds.

This is the stuff that has inspired Chinese artists and poets for centuries. And, as Maggie tells us at least half a dozen times over the next few days, the stuff that stirred an astute Chinese governor 800 years ago to famously announce, “Guilin’s scenery is the best under heaven.”

As we continue our explorations, I start to think it might be. There are the magical views from another craggy peak, Folded Brocade Hill, made even sweeter by the marble slide carved into the side to get us back down. There’s the curiously shaped Elephant Trunk Hill, the symbol of Guilin that looks like – you guessed it – an elephant dipping its trunk in the water. And, when the day becomes unbearably hot, there are the subterranean delights.

Because Guilin is founded on porous limestone rock, more than 3000 underground caverns are concealed beneath the city. This is also why there’s a lack of tall buildings in the city; the ground isn’t solid enough to support them.

Reed Flute Cave has been around for more than 180 million years, and wall inscriptions near its mouth tell us tourists began visiting way back in the seventh century. We enter, the temperature drops 10 degrees, and things start to get a little weird again. Stalactites and stalagmites lit by multicoloured lights reach from the floor and ceiling, creating lumpy sculptures that look like wet sandcastles. Maggie points out signposted descriptions like “centipede scared by the magic mirror” that leave us wondering whether the writers were indulging in something a little stronger than rice wine when they penned them. In the cave’s belly is the Crystal Palace of the Dragon King, a cavernous grotto that once served as an air-raid shelter during World War II, and is now an occasional events space. A short animated film depicting how the caves were formed is projected onto the ceiling, while two life-sized holograms dance to classical music to our right. The beautiful and the bizarre, merging once again.

The next day we rise early to take the 2½-hour cruise to Yangshuo along the Li River. It’s hot, but we brave the morning sun to stand on the upper deck and watch hundreds of karst peaks slip by like sleeping giants, their inverted reflections shimmering on the water. It’s the ideal way to observe life along the river. Children flap about in the shallows. Bamboo rafts covered with sun shields ferry tourists about. Fishermen cast out their nets. Farmers tend small squares of farmland.

We disembark in Yangshuo and find ourselves in the middle of a buzzing local market, selling everything from antique teapots and jewelry to oversized fans painted with Chinese landscapes. From here, the town spans out into a series of laneways lined with small shops and teahouses, and restaurants and bars that thrum with live music at night.

We’ll have to save those for later though. Right now we’re off to see Yangshuo’s famous Impression Sanjie Liu night show. It’s performed on the Li River with the hills as its backdrop, creating what might be the world’s most gorgeous natural theatre.

We can’t understand a word of the show (it’s all in Mandarin) that apparently tells the tale of the minority groups living in the area. But it doesn’t matter in the slightest. More than 600 performers, including 400 local fishermen and 200 professional dancers perform an extravaganza that fuses folk music and dancing, spectacular costumes and bright lights (of course), all choreographed by Zhang Yimou, the guy who directed the Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.

Our second day in Yangshuo begins with sunrise tai chi in our hotel’s garden with Master Huang, who began learning the martial art at just 12 years old. He teaches us a series of graceful movements that we vow we’ll continue practising once we get home, as well as some simple philosophies based around letting go and staying calm.

In the afternoon we grab pushbikes from our hotel and cycle to Moon Hill (no prizes for guessing what this one resembles), then escape the sweltering heat at the Gold Water caves on the way back. Another fairyland of brightly lit stalactites and stalagmites, but with the added bonus of ice-cold mud baths. We float around in the gooey sludge, giggling like kids at the feeling of it squishing around our bodies, before washing off and plunging into the hot springs.

The alarm is set early the following morning since we’re on the road again. A two-hour coach ride sees us in Longji, in the heart of the great rice bowl of China. Rain sifts down as we step off the bus, but that doesn’t stop us from immediately clicking away at the striking rice terraces that cling to the steep hillsides all around us.

The Chinese have been cultivating rice here for at least eight centuries, and it has transformed the landscape. We hike along the thin strips of hand-carved terraces that twist towards our destination, Ping’an village. Along the way we pass timber houses built into the hills, and meet women from the Zhuang, Miao and Yao minority groups, the three largest minority groups living in this region. The Yao women dress in hot pink embroidered jackets and cut their floor-length hair, which they twist on top of their heads, only once in their lives between the ages of 16 and 18.

Once we reach Ping’an, I have just enough energy left to haul myself up one final hill to watch the sunset. At least that’s what I plan to do, before I get distracted by bargaining with Yao stallholders to buy my very own handloom jacket.

We spend the evening dining on the local speciality of smoky rice cooked over an open fire in bamboo tubes, sleep in a traditional stilted wooden guesthouse, and rise early to watch the morning sun spill over this mosaic of kaleidoscopic greens. One final moment of stunning natural beauty, with just enough psychedelic strangeness thrown in.  FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO IN GUILIN AND YANGSHUO

1. Cloud 9 Cooking School, Yangshuo The experience here begins with a guided tour through a market, where you’re taught about the ingredients to be used during your cooking class. You’ll make spicy pork dumplings, beer fish (a delectable specialty of the region) and more. See facebook南京夜网/cloud9cookingschoolyangshuo.

2. Kayaking on the Li River, Yangshuo Watch life on the Li River pass you by as you kayak its smooth waters. Two or three-hour trips available, through wendywutours南京夜网.au.

3. Tea Science and Research Institute, Guilin The institute has been around since 1965 and was the royal tea garden during the Ming Dynasty, 400 years ago. Take a tour through their organic tea plantation, before experiencing a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. See guilintea南京夜网.

4. Tour Jingjiang Princes’ City, Guilin Covering almost 20 hectares, it encompasses Jingjiang Palace and Solitary Beauty Peak. Originally built in 1372 under the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, the palace includes temples, pavilions, terraces and halls. It now also functions as the Guangxi Normal University. Donghua Rd, Xiufeng, Guilin; call +86 773 280 3149.

5.  Rock climbing, Yangshuo If simply hiking up those beautiful limestone towers just doesn’t cut it for you, this is an option for the adventurous. There are routes for both beginners and pros, and climbing is best from late September to December, when it’s not too hot and the rainfall is low. Available through wendywutours南京夜网.au.  TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

visitguilin.orgGETTING THERE

Cathay Pacific flies four times a day from Sydney and three times a day from Melbourne to Hong Kong, then connects to daily flights to Guilin with its regional airline Dragonair. From $991 per person return. See cathaypacific南京夜网.au. STAYING THERE

Shangri-La Guilin has 449 rooms and suites from about RMB 695 ($130) a night. See shangri-la南京夜网/guilin.

Yangshuo Resort, set among the limestone hills on the banks of the river, has rooms and suites from about RMB 980 ($185) a night. See yangshuoresorthotel南京夜网. EATING THERE

Wei Xiang Guan (Taste Fragrance Restaurant in English) in Guilin is a specialty rice noodle restaurant that’s been serving up the region’s famous rice noodles since 1947. They’re still doing a damn good job of it, too. In Zongshan Middle Road and Yiren Road.

Yangshuo’s Pure Lotus vegetarian restaurant is crammed with gorgeous antiques, has iPad menus, and the chefs work wonders with tofu and eggplant. See yangshuomagnolia南京夜网/purelotus. TOURING THERE

Wendy Wu Tours has a Guilin, Yangshuo and Longji package from $650 per person twin share that includes four nights’ accommodation with daily breakfast, private touring with local guides, entrance fees and some meals. Call 1300 727 998 or see wendywutours南京夜网.au.

The writer travelled courtesy of Wendy Wu Tours.

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Valentine’s Day: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission warns of online dating scams

Dating and romance scams cost Australians a record $28 million last year, with hundreds of Victorians groomed and defrauded online.
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The consumer watchdog has warned the online dating community about scammers preying on vulnerable people, particularly at Valentines Day, after more than 1000 victims reported being swindled last year.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said $75,000 a day was lost to romance scams in 2014. There were more than 220 victims in Victoria, including 22 people ripped off more than $100,000 with total losses reaching $6.8 million.

Losses nationally to dating and romance-related fraud totalled $27.9 million, up from $25.3 million the previous year.

“We know these figures are only the tip of the iceberg as many victims are reluctant to admit to friends, family or authorities that they fell for a scam,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

Ms Rickard said the ACCC was working to contact suspected victims of romance fraud but that scammers were experts at preying on people’s weaknesses, spending months and even years grooming them online.

“Inevitably, the fraudster will spin a tall tale about why they suddenly need your financial help, ranging from medical emergencies to failed business ventures to needing to rebook flights to visit you,” she said. “Once victims realise that their admirer is actually a criminal, the emotional consequences can be devastating.”

The ACCC on Friday released the findings of its probe into major dating websites, carried out last year. It found that while two-thirds of the websites displayed scam warning messages only 23 per cent met the industry best practice. The ACCC also said contracts should be easier to cancel and that there should be better disclosure of fees across the industry.

SCAMwatch tips:

Never provide your financial details or send funds to someone you’ve met online

Run a Google Image search to check the authenticity of any photos provided as scammers often use fake photos they’ve found online

Be wary if you are moved off a dating website as scammers prefer to correspond through private emails or the phone to avoid detection

Don’t share photos or webcam of a private nature. The ACCC has received reports of scammers using this material to blackmail victims.

If you think you have fallen victim to a fraudster, contact your bank or financial institution immediately and report it to www.scamwatch.gov.au

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10 years of Google Maps: 10 ways it changed the world

A Sydney phenomenon: Google Maps co-founder Noel Gordon. Photo: Tony Walters Popular foodie app Urbanspoon relies heavily on Google Maps. Photo: Screenshot: Urbanspoon
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Ten years is an awfully long time in tech but pioneer Google Maps has prevailed in the digital maps space, with over 1 billion monthly active users today.

Even Apple chief executive Tim Cook eventually had to concede his company’s maps product was a poor rival.

For its 10th birthday, we take a look at the many ways Google Maps has changed our lives.

1. It made sure we never get lost again

Long gone are the days when intrepid travellers got lost in the back streets of Bangkok, fumbling through their phrasebooks as they pumped locals for directions.

Unquestionably, the digital map has revolutionised the ease with which we can travel – whether it be by car, boat, plane, train or foot.

“We increasingly depend on technology for navigation, which takes some of the important serendipity out of the travel equation,” says tourism expert Ulrike Gretzel from the University of Queensland.

That dependence can also mean we’re left in the lurch if we’re ever required to navigate without the assistance of technology.

But it also frees us to be more flexible and spontaneous in our travel plans.

There are some areas of travel Google has yet to completely conquer, however. Professor Gretzel’s research shows tourists not only still ask for printed maps at visitor centres but ask questions like, “Google Maps told me to go this way, is this really the best way?” – suggesting that many people still trust a real person over an algorithm.

2. It nuked guide books and street directories

Once the backpacker’s best friend, iconic Australian brand Lonely Planet has suffered blow after blow to its bottom line.

Thanks to up-to-date digital travel tools like Google Maps and TripAdvisor, there’s no need to lug around a 2-inch thick brick any more.

And as for those getting around on four wheels, the humble street directory is also an endangered species. Sydney’s Gregory’s directory was swallowed whole by UBD in 2011.

While GPS devices are still popular, Google Maps’ Navigation tool gives anyone with a decent smartphone turn-by-turn instructions, free.

3. It enabled us to “beat the traffic” – even in peak hour

Punch “traffic” into your Google Maps search bar and you’ll see real-time traffic conditions for your area.

Or you could wait for the traffic update on the radio.

Don’t take the West Gate! Screenshot: Google Maps.

4. It put Australia on the map

Google Maps actually began in Australia as a fledgling start-up, run out of local engineer Noel Gordon’s spare room in Hunters Hill, Sydney.

Gordon and three others, including Danish brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen – Lars now works at Facebook – founded Where 2 Technologies in 2003. Google snapped it up the next year, with the founders staying on at Google. Noel is still there today.

In 2010 The Pearcey Foundation awarded the Rasmussens NSW’s Entrepreneurs of the Year award, hailing them as having “positioned Australia as a global leader in online services”.

Today Google’s Sydney office boasts some 900 local staff. They get free bacon and eggs for breakfast, clock up goodie points and trade them for massages, and get around the building – shared with Fairfax Media – on scooters. (Fairfax staff do not get to use the scooters, sadly.)

Check out these whiteboard scribbles from the early days, when the Where 2 team was working on a deal with Google founder Larry Page.

5. It revolutionised real estate

No more nasty surprises after travelling halfway across town to inspect the worst dump you’ve ever seen in your life.

With Google Maps’ Street View feature you can have a gander at the neighbourhood as if you were right there.

Maps is also super handy for checking how long it takes to walk to amenities such as local shops or public transport, with Google estimating walking and cycling times instantly and with relative accuracy.

Many estate agents and property search companies also use Google Maps to power their apps and websites, giving home-hunters a better user experience.

6. It took armchair travel to a whole new level

But why stop at the next suburb? With Street View you can roam the rues of Paris and the barrios of Barcelona. There are vast swaths of the world that aren’t even covered by Maps, let alone Street View (namely China, Russia, Iceland and the vast majority of Africa, Antarctica and the Middle East), but there’s plenty of content to keep even the most seasoned traveller entertained.

Google has also specially curated a number of “treks” for curious web-surfers, including the pyramids of Giza, the temples of Angkor Wat and even underwater experiences such as swimming through the Great Barrier Reef.

Crowd sourcing adds another layer of interactivity to the experience, with users invited to upload photographs and reviews of locations they’ve visited.

In 2012 the Indonesian government recognised the benefits of Google Maps to tourism, and partnered with the tech giant to bring Maps to its big cities.

7. It’s helping preserve environments and culture

By its very nature armchair tourism may encourage preservation of special destinations by satisfying travellers’ hunger without them having to trample the site in person.

“Putting a place on the map” also takes on new meaning when it comes to educating the public about our geographical heritage.

In 2011, indigenous communities living in Brazil’s expansive Amazon rainforest turned Street View into “river view” in a bid to show people where, and how, they lived – and why their habitat needed protection.

Last year it began mapping Australia’s national parks.

8. A million other apps might not exist without it

Urbanspoon, Uber, Airbnb, Expedia, WhatsApp – so many apps we know and love are based on the Google Maps application user interface (API).

Google says there are about 1 million third-party websites and apps actively using its technology.

9. It made detective work so much easier

Street View in particular – is a treasure trove of evidence for those who know what they’re looking for.

In 2013, Lithuanian authorities combed images for evidence of unauthorised property developments, as leads for potential instances of tax violation.

Police have used the tool as an aid in more grisly investigations, such as homing in on child porn rings.

Then there’s the delightful story of Saroo Brierley. He got lost on the streets of Calcutta at the age of five and was adopted by an Australian couple. Years later, as an adult, he tracked down his Indian birth mother with the help of Google Maps, and his memory. Brierley wrote a book about it – and now it’s being made into a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel.

10. But it also, regrettably, made stalking easier

Combine Google Maps’ speed and ease of use with the myriad other location-based apps (see 8) that people frequently use to broadcast their whereabouts – Tinder, Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook – and it’s a cyberstalker’s field day.

Maps may be watching you more covertly depending on your user settings. Much of its functionality requires the location settings on a user’s mobile device to be activated. Google collects that location data and stores it against a user’s account.

Google’s Coordinate app, made for businesses to keep track of workers while on the road was shut down in January with users directed to Maps for Work.

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ASIC puts Macquarie Private Wealth on probation for another year

ASIC will keep probing a group of current and former advisers that provided deficient advice. Photo: Photo: BloombergThe corporate regulator has put Macquarie Group’s private wealth division on probation for another year as it seeks further compliance assurances, investigates current and former advisers and navigates a vast remediation program for aggrieved customers.
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The Australian Securities and Investments Commission said on Friday it would not continue a two-year enforceable undertaking at Macquarie Private Wealth. But at the same time, the regulator acknowledged more needed to be done by Macquarie to ensure changes in systems and processes were sustainable and that clients were receiving appropriate advice.

While it not pursuing action against those that cheated on adviser exams with the help of the so-called Penski file, ASIC will keep probing a group of current and former advisers that provided deficient advice or failed to meet compliance standards.

ASIC ordered Macquarie to do further work and continue reporting regularly, via KPMG, on how it is fixing compliance shortcomings and managing future risks.

The regulator slapped an enforceable undertaking on Macquarie in 2013. The group faced accusations of misclassification of clients, sloppy paperwork and rampant cheating on continuous professional development exams.

ASIC said Macquarie had now met the EU requirements although would need to conduct a “program of further work” over the next 12 months, to ensure the changes put in place under the undertaking were sustainable.

The regulator’s deputy chairman, Peter Kell, said while Macquarie would continue reporting to ASIC in the same way as required by the undertaking, he didn’t believe extending the EU was necessary.

“We are certainly satisfied that there has been significant improvement,” Mr Kell said of Macquarie. “There are still areas where further improvement is required … What we want to see is further evidence that their changes are sustainable.”

ASIC said KPMG would test whether Macquarie advisers were appropriately recording the advice they provided, had given enough information as to why they recommended particular strategies and products and gave consideration to other products beyond those recommended.

Mr Kell said the quality of advice was a top priority for ASIC and the option of a further enforceable undertaking for Macquarie was also possible if progress wasn’t made or additional deficiencies were uncovered during the 12 months.

“We have all the regulatory options open to us if we don’t see the improvements,” he said. “The whole sector remains an area where ASIC wants to see improvement and better outcomes for consumers overall.”

But despite saying Macquarie should continue work to compensate clients who were affected by compliance failings, shortcomings in record-keeping or poor advice, the ASIC’s statement provided little detail on the steps Macquarie was taking to remediate clients. Mr Kell did say Macquarie was firstly assessing remediation for clients of advisers deemed “higher-risk”. In the latter half of 2014, Macquarie sent about 189,000 letters to clients dating back to 2004 to inform them of a remediation process.

However, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers principal John Berrill was critical of Macquarie’s process, questioning why the company took 18 months to set up a formal mechanism for client redress.

He said the lion’s share of the 150 Macquarie clients in contact with his firm had faced delays of up to six months for responses and had difficulties in gaining access to their files. Mr Berrill also noted a narrow definition by Macquarie for participation in the remediation process.

“This Macquarie scheme is very similar to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia mark-one scheme which the Senate committee canned,” he said.

CBA was pressured last year to establish an independent panel to oversee remediation following a high-profile financial planning scandal. Macquarie also came under fire when a Senate committee report called for  ASIC to be “far more intrusive and less trusting” and recommended a royal commission on conflicted financial advice.

Asked about concerns former Macquarie advisers who were being investigated by ASIC may have been hired by other firms, Mr Kell said the regulator would often speak to the new employer to alert them of the matter.

“It’s something that licensees also need to consider carefully,” he said. However, Mr Kell was mindful the slated introduction of a financial adviser register would help in tracking movements between firms.

The adviser register and debate around a national competency exam for individuals operating in the industry are part of considerations of a Senate Economics committee’s inquiry into the scrutiny of financial advice.

Macquarie Private Wealth’s adviser numbers had dropped by 25 per per cent during the two-year period, but additional staff had been recruited to support advisers complying with their obligations, ASIC said.

Macquarie outlined last year it had spent $49 million on systems upgrades and improving processes. “Macquarie notes comments made in ASIC’s media release, in particular that all of the deliverables outlined in the EU implementation plan have been completed and there have been significant improvements in Macquarie’s retail financial advice business,” a spokeswoman said.This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Motley Fool: Making sense of earnings season spin

Ah, earnings season. The two times each year when company investor relations staff really earn their money.
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Maybe you’ve heard the joke about accountants:

A businessman was interviewing job applicants for the position of manager of a large division. An accountant applied for the role. When he asked him what two plus two was, the accountant got up from his chair, went over to the door, closed it, came back and sat down. Leaning across the desk, he said in a low voice, “How much do you want it to be?” He got the job.

Like many jokes, it’s funny because it’s, well, if not true, at least plausible.

And if accountants have a bit of latitude when it comes to preparing financial statements, you just know the investor relations team is at least tempted to put the best spin on things.

Choose your own adventure

It’s tempting to choose the best profit figure to report. And there are plenty to choose from. Working backwards from the bottom line, there is NPAT (net profit after tax), NPBT (net profit before tax) EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) and EBIT (earnings before interest and tax). Because each of those can be impacted differently by various factors, it’s very possible to have strong EBIT growth (for example) and still see NPAT crash. Or the exact opposite can be true.

If that’s not enough, there are ‘management’ numbers, ‘underlying’ numbers and numbers for ‘continuing operations’ (that is, after allowing for the sale of one or more divisions of the company).

Now, if you’re a company accountant or investor relations executive reading this, don’t start burning me in effigy just yet. Even if many do the right thing, there are some in their respective fields who are giving them a bad name, just as bad financial planners give the good guys a bad rap.

And we’re far from cynical here at the Motley Fool. If we thought companies on the ASX were irredeemable, we’d be doing something else for a job — and investing our money elsewhere. The majority of companies and their financial and IR experts are doing the right thing.

It’s natural to want to present your company’s financials in the best possible light. Even some shareholders (mistakenly) want their managers to do just that. The best management teams resist the urge — and so they should.

So what can individual investors do to recognise corporate ‘spin’, and how can we cut through it?

Acknowledge that it happens

Be aware that some companies deliberately try to spin their results, and hard. Be aware that some companies don’t mean to spin, per se, but in their efforts to show how well they’ve done, they can end up being selective in their communications. Forewarned is forearmed, Fool!

Compare the numbers

Does the company change the metrics it reports every six months? Are they talking revenue one half, then NPAT, then underlying EBITDA? One company that subsequently got into financial trouble went so far as to highlight Gross Margin on their press release right before it spiralled out of control — that was the reddest of red flags!

Dig a little deeper

There are often good reasons for a company to report ‘underlying’ or ‘management’ earnings. But if management want to exclude so-called ‘one-off’ expenses that seem to happen every second year, you should treat them with absolute scepticism.

Read the management commentary

What is your CEO telling you? Is it all sweetness and light? Or is she admitting to problems, mistakes and challenges? If they’ll give it to you straight in the commentary, there’s much less chance that they’re dressing up the numbers.

Use the ‘sniff test’

This is one of my favourites, and a favoured management approach of some of my best bosses. It’s not always the case that common sense leads to the right outcome, but if the whole thing just seems a little ‘off’, it might just well be. Which leads me to…

If in doubt, leave it out

Maybe you’re judging too harshly. Maybe there are good reasons for management to report ‘underlying, management EBITDA before adjustments and selected changes’… but there probably aren’t. If you feel like something’s not right, if you’re not sure, or if the financials just seem too complex or opaque, just give that one a pass and move on. There are plenty of fish in the sea.

Foolish takeaway

Lastly, be sceptical, but not cynical. It’s easy to paint CEOs, directors, CFOs and investor relations teams with a broad, negative brush. Some of them richly deserve it, but many don’t.

So yes, make sure you’re not having the wool pulled over your eyes, but don’t become so pessimistic and jaded that you start thinking that behind every corner lurks a CEO just waiting to mess with you. History — and experience — tells us that cautious optimism wins.

Attention investors: Don’t miss my brand-new report on my #1 ASX share pick for 2015. This growing, highly profitable tech company has all the makings of a great long-term investing – not least of all a generous, fully franked dividend. Your copy of my brand-new report is free, so just click here now to get your copy.

Scott Phillips is a Motley Fool investment advisor. You can follow Scott on Twitter. The Motley Fool’s purpose is to educate, amuse and enrich investors. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691).

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Where to eat in Bangkok, Thailand: Chef Gaggan Anand

Gaggan Anand Photo: Yasin Wetchwittha Gaggan Anand Photo: Yasin Wetchwittha
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Gaggan Anand Photo: Yasin Wetchwittha

Gaggan Anand of Gaggan, Bangkok

Born in Kolkata and trained by Spanish genius Ferran Adria, Gaggan Anand’s eponymous modern Indian restaurant in Bangkok is ranked third among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and seventeenth on the World’s 50 Best list. Gaggan will present a workshop on March 9 at the 2015 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Summit in Singapore. See theworlds50best南京夜网, eatatgaggan南京夜网. WHERE’S YOUR FAVOURITE TABLE IN BANGKOK?

Ginza Sushi Ichi, a fantastic Japanese restaurant. I really enjoy Japanese food, and here I can get my favourite sushi made from seafood that’s been freshly flown in direct from Tsukiji. It’s like eating in Japan. See sushichi南京夜网. YOUR BIGGEST LOCAL FOOD FIND OF THE PAST YEAR? 

The Eathai food court with a street food concept in the Central Embassy Mall. The food is offered from stalls and carts so it has elements of the culture and camaraderie of street food stalls, but in an upscale setting. See centralembassy南京夜网. WHAT IS BANGKOK’S BEST-KEPT FOOD SECRET?

Those old ladies with big smiles selling som-tam (green papaya salad) on the streets. It’s humble street food, but personally I think no one can compete with them on taste. FAVOURITE INDULGENCE IN BANGKOK?

For great cocktails, I love Smalls bar in the Sathorn district.  For food and wine, I love this restaurant called Eat Me. To me it’s a soul food restaurant. After wrapping up for the day at my restaurant Gaggan, I can relax with my favourite Thai chili and basil pasta and a glass of wine. It helps that they’re open until late at night. See facebook南京夜网/smallsbkk; eatmerestaurant南京夜网. WHAT’S HOT IN THE AREA RIGHT NOW?

It’s “hot” but maybe a little overused – I see lots of “industrial chic” design themes in cafés, bars and gastropubs. BEST TIME TO VISIT AND WHY, FOOD-WISE?

Thailand is a 365-day country – we don’t have seasons so it’s always warm and all the food is good all year round. But personally I love the “winters” here. It’s just pleasant and not too hot. PLACE TO GO ON A DAY OFF?

Check out the local floating markets. Avoid the “tourist trap” ones and track down the authentic ones that are really worth seeing. Look for the Bang Nam Pheung floating markets, or as the locals call it, the talad nam bang nam phueng, if that helps. WHAT SHOULD A VISITOR AVOID, FOOD-WISE IN BANGKOK?

A tom yum kung pizza. As a concept it can be enticing, especially for people who love tom yum and pizza – but together, it’s a total disaster. If you don’t trust me, try it for yourself … but you will remember my advice.

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Sydney Airport’s new SkyTeam lounge offers peace and quiet

Serene: SkyTeam lounge at Sydney Airport.
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SkyTeam lounge at Sydney International Airport

Serene: SkyTeam lounge at Sydney Airport.

SkyTeam lounge at Sydney International Airport

Serene: SkyTeam lounge at Sydney Airport.

SkyTeam lounge at Sydney International Airport

Serene: SkyTeam lounge at Sydney Airport.

SkyTeam lounge at Sydney International Airport

SkyTeam lounge at Sydney International Airport

Ever entered a busy airline lounge seeking quiet refuge only to find the last available seat is directly under a blaring large-screen television?

That’s the kind of negative experience the new SkyTeam lounge at Sydney Airport is designed to avoid.

Tranquility and relaxation were the key motivators behind the space conceived by Parisian agency DesignImage and implemented by Hong Kong-based Australian architect Mitchel Squires.

Bert Goren, head of SkyTeam lounges worldwide, explains:  “We tend to focus on human wellbeing and therefore we focus on silence as a feature – we do not have any TVs on to expose passengers to noise which they don’t want to hear. Instead we offer a separate TV room.”

The Sydney lounge is SkyTeam’s first dedicated lounge in the Southern Hemisphere and only the third in the world, behind Heathrow and Istanbul (though SkyTeam passengers have access to more than 620 member airline lounges worldwide).

In keeping with the other SkyTeam lounges, the Sydney offering, for eligible passengers of airlines including China Airlines, Garuda, Delta and Vietnam Airlines, is zoned to help the weary refresh and revitalise.

“We offer sections inside the lounge: one is where passengers can eat, work and have a drink at the wine bar and the other is more a silent part where you can read, relax or take a little nap,” says Goren.

Stand-out features include a vertical garden, an electrical outlet for each of the 140 seats, a champagne and wine bar, showers, four full body massage chairs and, of course, that TV room for those who simply can’t live without it.

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