Why Bitcoin will emerge from the Mt Gox ruins

Explainer: How crypto currencies work
Shanghai night field

The apparent collapse of Bitcoin’s best-known and once-dominant trading platform has provoked outrage among its users, but it has also stirred hopes that the way may now be clear for more established players to transform and rein in a largely unregulated market.

Hours after it stopped trading without warning Monday night, the secretive Bitcoin exchange, Mt Gox, said that it would “close all transactions for the time being in order to protect the site and our users.” The action and brief statement left users wondering where their money went, amid accusations that as much as 6 per cent of the Bitcoins in circulation were now missing — worth more than $US300 million at current exchange rates.

Outside the offices of Mt Gox in central Tokyo, disgruntled Bitcoin traders and their supporters held up signs that read “Where Are My Bitcoins?”

“I’m filled with dLisbelief,” said Kolin Burges, a trader from ondon who flew to Japan this month after the exchange stopped paying out funds. “I was prepared for the worst, but it’s hard to believe they might have lost their coins.”

Yet the unanswered questions about Mt Gox did not shake the faith of many in Bitcoin. With one of its earliest online marketplaces seemingly gone, the world of virtual currency may now be forced to become a more mature part of the financial system.

“I think it’s a significant event, but I think there’s a decent chance that it is part of what we would call this sort of shaking out of the industry as it matures and slowly becomes a little more regulated,” said Benjamin Lawsky, New York state’s top financial regulator.

Mr Lawsky is not the only regulator trying to determine the next steps. Three commissioners from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission were at a meeting recently where Bitcoin was on the agenda, and the agency’s lawyers are examining the regulators’ options, according to a person briefed on the matter. Federal prosecutors in New York also are investigating potential legal violations that arise from use of the virtual currency.

Financial regulators around the world have weighed in over the last few months on how to oversee Bitcoin, with some countries, like Russia, banning it altogether, and others, like Germany, generally favoring the new technology.

The interest in Bitcoin is that its underlying technology holds the promise of allowing users to move money around the world without using an intermediary, thus lowering the cost of financial transactions.

Troubles at Mt Gox have rattled the Bitcoin world before. A year ago, the exchange suspended operations for several hours, and Bitcoin trading nearly ground to a halt.

But since then some prominent venture capitalists have invested millions in new Bitcoin companies that are intended to provide more sophisticated platforms for virtual currency transactions. Many of those investors went public on Tuesday to declare their continued confidence in the technology.

Cameron Winklevoss, an early Bitcoin proponent who, along with his brother, Tyler, owns about $US64.1 million worth of the virtual currency, said that Mt Gox’s closure “underscores just how far the Bitcoin ecosystem has come.”

“Several exchanges have seamlessly picked up the slack and the market price has shown remarkable resilience,” Mr Winklevoss said in an email. “Mt Gox is in the past, and the brightest minds in the room are hard at work building a responsible and secure future.”

Such optimism was reflected in the oft-volatile price of Bitcoin, which rose on Tuesday after plummeting overnight. Tuesday evening, the price of a Bitcoin stood around $US525, not far from where it was when the Mt Gox news emerged Monday night.

“There’s a little bit of a sense of relief that the whole thing didn’t crumble,” said Gil Luria, a managing director at Wedbush Securities, who has written research notes on Bitcoins. “Over the next few weeks and months, we’re going to see new exchanges either gain prominence or emerge.”

Many users of Mt Gox had long ago given up on the company after numerous incidents in which it was forced to temporarily shut down.

At one point last year, Mt Gox handled 80 per cent of all Bitcoin transactions. But the exchange’s market share began to significantly decline last year, when newer exchanges like Bitstamp in Slovenia, and BTC-e in Bulgaria, took its place, according to data from the Genesis Block, a virtual currency research firm.

A number of other early Bitcoin companies have also struggled recently. A few weeks before the problems at Mt Gox, the founder of the popular early exchange BitInstant, Charles Shrem, was arrested and accused of helping to facilitate drug transactions on the now-defunct online marketplace Silk Road.

“There’s definitely been a clear transition happening,” said Greg Schvey, the Genesis Block’s head of research.

Among the new, more experienced companies entering the space is SecondMarket, which runs an exchange for the buying and selling shares of private companies. On Monday, as Mt Gox was preparing to go offline, SecondMarket announced its plans to start a new, regulated Bitcoin exchange for major banks. Until now, virtually all Bitcoin exchanges have allowed anyone to sign up and trade, which has made them harder to police.

Companies dedicated to being more regulator-friendly for consumers and merchants, like BitPay, Coinbase and Circle, have also grown in number and size. BitPay, for example, is currently working with 24,000 merchants to take payments in Bitcoin, up from 10,000 last September and 1000 in 2012, according to a spokeswoman. Last year, BitPay processed $US110 million to $US120 million in transactions.

Some early Bitcoin adopters have been uncomfortable with the involvement of banks and regulators in a virtual currency whose early appeal was its apparent freedom from any central bank or government. But many of the new Bitcoin companies have said that virtual currencies will have to face more regulation if they want to be widely used.

“I think it’s important always to know what the rules of the game are,” said Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University.

In Japan, financial regulators have so far declined to step in to help Mt Gox customers, saying the virtual coins are a traded product, not a currency, and therefore remain outside of their purview.

Tibanne, the company that operates Mt Gox out of Tokyo, according to the local registry office, has told other Bitcoin companies that it is planning to file for bankruptcy, according to John O’Brien, a spokesman for a coalition of Bitcoin companies that has been responding to the problems.

A bankruptcy administrator could distribute Mt Gox’s assets — any remaining Bitcoins plus any nonvirtual cash — to its creditors, a process that could take a year or more. But the company could also be acquired, given the value of its customer list and name recognition.

Even those who fear they have lost money they held with Mt. Gox remained enthusiastic on Tuesday about the potential of virtual currencies.

“My thoughts and my heart also go out to all of those others in the community who lost a lot more than me today,” said Rick Falkvinge, the 42-year-old founder of the Pirate political party based in Sweden. Despite losing what he said was $US 80,000 in Mt Gox, Mr. Falkvinge said that he remained “absolutely bullish on Bitcoin.”

The New York Times

iSelect lifted by health and car insurance

Newly-listed comparison website iSelect has reported that “strong growth” in its health and car insurance divisions underpinned interim revenue growth of 18 per cent to $55.8 million.
Shanghai night field

The company increased earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation to $6.8 million, from $3.9 million, in the six months ended December 31.

Net profit rose a very large 1,698 per cent to $3.7 million, up from just $205,000 in the previous corresponding period.

Chairman Damien Waller said the company was pleased to meet EBITDA and revenue guidance for the half made in October last year, at which point the company downgraded its revenue forecasts made in its prospectus.

The downgrade followed a rough start to its time as a listed company, which included the resignation of chief executive Matt McCann just four months after its June 2013 debut.

The company is still searching for a new chief executive.

iSelect founds itself in trouble with regulators last September after its shares dived following the company’s June 2013 float.

Corporate watchdog the Australian Securities and Investments Commission asked iSelect to hand over all its records relating to an August 29 profit announcement, which revealed the company had missed its earnings targets.

Also requested were documents relating to iSelect’s announcement on the same day that it expected to meet the earnings forecast for the 2013 calendar year contained in its prospectus.

“The solid half on half growth reported today shows that the fundamentals of our business remain very strong,” Mr Waller said.

The company’s share price has declined 21 per cent since listing in June. It closed at $1.24 on Wednesday.

There was no dividend declared for the period.

ACT battery cage and sow stall ban a ‘message to rest of country’

The ACT Government has banned battery cages and sow stalls. Photo: Graham TidyThe ACT Labor government has banned sow stalls and battery cages, in what it says is the most far-reaching legislation in the country.
Shanghai night field

The government supported Greens minister Shane Rattenbury’s legislation, which was part of his deal to become a minister in the Gallagher government.

Mr Rattenbury said it had been a long road to the ban and it sent an important message to the rest of the country.

”To ban these elements of factory farming gives me great joy but I understand there is more to be done,” he said.

He had received complaints from people saying the legislation did not go far enough, as there were other animal cruelty and factory farming practices in the ACT.

Nationally, about 70 per cent of laying hens, or 11,000 hens, were still kept in battery cages, in spaces often no bigger than a piece of A4 paper, with no room to stretch their wings, turn around, scratch, perch or show other natural behaviours, he said.

“These are living feeling creatures capable of experiencing fear, pain and distress. I find these statistics shocking.”

While there were no intensive piggeries in the ACT, sow stalls were used in piggeries just over the border.

Sow stalls could drive pigs insane, resulting in pressure sores and lameness, he said.

His legislation also outlaws the practice of trimming or removing chickens’ beaks, with fines of up to $7000 for an individual or $35,000 for a corporation for breaches.

No one from Labor spoke in Tuesday’s debate.

The Liberals voted against the ban, deputy leader Alistair Coe saying it demonstrated that Labor’s agenda had been hijacked by the extreme Greens.

Given the ACT had no intensive pig farms nor battery egg farms, the bill was redundant, he said.

He asked whether the government would next try to ban commercial whaling or nuclear power generation in the territory.

He dismissed the legislation as nothing more than Greens grandstanding.

The ACT Greens have tried five times previously to ban battery cages, each time rejected by Labor and Liberals, which were reluctant to move against the Pace Farm battery farm at Parkwood in Canberra.

But Pace stopped producing battery eggs after the site was vandalised in 2012 and now has a $7.5 million land deal with the government to convert to barn eggs.

Mr Rattenbury’s legislation defines battery cages as cages that do not allow the hens to fully stretch, perch, access litter and lay eggs in a nest. It does not apply to backyard chicken owners who use the eggs for their own consumption.

It also outlaws the practice of trimming or removing chickens’ beaks.

It outlaws stalls and farrowing crates (used while pigs are pregnant and after they give birth) and says pigs must be kept in appropriate accommodation – able to turn around and stand up without difficulty, have a clean and comfortable place to lie down, have access to the outdoors, and see any other pigs.

Mr Rattenbury said the law was the culmination “of many years of work that sets the ACT at a high benchmark”.

“This legislation is very clear,” he said. “You can still produce eggs and pork in the ACT but you need to do it in a way that is humane … Hopefully we can encourage the rest of the country to start to follow suit.”

Tasmania moved to ban sow stalls and battery eggs at the end of last year. The battery hen ban applies to new operators and the sow stall ban is to be phased in over three years.

Animals Australia welcomed the move. Campaign director Lyn White said it set a significant precedent for other states to follow.

Animal protection group Voiceless said: “This is a major step forward for animal protection. This act recognises that the quality of these animals’ lives matters, that they are not machines, but sentient creatures who experience extreme pain and stress when raised in intensive conditions and that the law should protect them from suffering.

“What is needed next is a nationally consistent approach to a ban on sow stalls, farrowing crates, battery cages and other such cruel and inhumane factory farming processes.”

– with Steve Jacobs

What Maggie Beer did next

Maggie Beer: full of grit and determination.From the outset, Maggie Beer is adamant she has no plans to launch a beer in her name. “Goodness no! My youngest daughter’s a beer drinker and she would love to. But it would seem like cashing in. But we do make wine and cider,” she laughs.
Shanghai night field

Maggie, alongside her husband Colin, runs a veritable foodie empire from her base in South Australia’s Barossa Valley. It’s an impressive feat given how tough the food business is.

She has been in business since 1978 when she and her husband established, of all things, a pheasant farm and restaurant in South Australia. But what possessed her to start a pheasant farm when, at the time, there was no market for pheasants and they had no experience running a game bird farm?

“It was just an idea and we thought, why not?” Maggie explains. Her husband, in the course of getting his pilot’s licence, had flown over game farms in New Zealand, which had given them the genesis of the idea. Although Beer was born and raised in Sydney, her husband was from the country and hated city living, which is what let them to move from Sydney to SA to establish the Barossa Pheasant Farm Restaurant.

Colin subsequently won a Churchill Fellowship to study game birds, but Maggie acknowledges there were many technical and bird husbandry issues at the start. As to how the couple was able to make the farm a success, Maggie says a light-bulb moment happened when they visited a turkey farm in Scotland. The farm made sure not a single bit of its birds were wasted. She bought back this philosophy to the pheasant farm.

“I’d sell raw birds and show people how to use them, even down to how to cut them up when they were having picnics on the side of the dam,” she explains.

Not much has changed in her approach to business since then. She’s fanatical about using as much local produce as she can and turning any waste products into something useful. For instance, instead of discarding the waste from the quinces she mills for her famous Maggie Beer Quince Paste she uses it to make syrup that’s added to her ice-cream.

‘That’s the way we roll,” she says.

Maggie comes from a business background. Her parents had a manufacturing business, so it’s no surprise she’s been so successful. But it was the failure of this business that established her work ethos.

“My parents went bankrupt and we lost everything. So I had to leave school at 14 and I, along with my brother, who was two years older, helped to keep the family. I was lucky because I had grit and that hardship game me such strength. So I learnt great resilience and drive from an early age.”

Today, a cornerstone of her business is her export kitchen, which has grown to a staff of 110. The business now has a CEO and Beer says it has grown by 20 per cent each year for the past 10 years.

Maggie still drives product development and works a 70-hour plus week and will celebrate her 70th birthday next year. She says her obsessive, micro-managerial style is balanced by her husband’s more laid-back nature. But she says they are both risk-takers, lateral thinkers and troubleshooters.

As for what’s next, she says she still has so many ideas it would be impossible to execute them all in one lifetime.

“I’m like the monkey on everyone’s shoulder. To me, ideas, quality and relationships are so important. I get great joy out of seeing the ideas I work on every day come to fruition,” says Maggie.

“The food business is very hard. No matter how ethical you are, new regulations are always coming and there’s always new ways of doing things. The business is like another child for me. I’m not day-to-day, but I can’t just step back. I’m driven by maximising our produce and the ideas I have because we live in such as amazing place.”

Maggie Beer has recently been inducted into the Australian Businesswomen’s Network 2014 Hall of Fame, which recognises the achievements of female entrepreneurs from diverse industries.

Women reap rewards of online study

Advertiser content*
Shanghai night field

GIRL POWER: Around 75 per cent of Swinburne Online’s students are women, evidence that the institution offers flexible study arrangements.

THE flexibility of online study is proving popular withwomen.

The majority of students enrolled with Swinburne Online are female (75 per cent), with many indicating that “family responsibilities” made it difficult or impossible to attend on-campus courses.

Online education allows students flexibility to study when it suits their personal schedule, especially for those with children and those who wish to work while studying.

“The majority of female students studying with us (80 per cent) are in their 20s and 30s,” said Sacha Nouwens, the analytics manager at Swinburne Online.

“We have a small proportion of school leavers, with around fiveper cent of female students under age 21.

“Around 50 per cent of our female students are aged between 21 and 30; 28 per cent are aged 31 to 40.The remaining 16 per cent are 41 or older.”

The most popular Swinburne Online courses for females are the Masters /Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Primary), Bachelor of Education (Primary), and the Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood). The Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology) and Bachelor of Business (Accounting) also attract high volumes of women.

“At a graduate level we currently offer just the Masters/Grad Dip of Teaching (Primary). The spread across age groups is fairly similar for undergrad and grad degrees, except graduate students tend to be a couple of years older on average.

“The average age is 32 in graduate programs compared to 30 in undergraduate programs.”

Find out more about flexible study options by visitinghttp://www.swinburneonline.edu.au.

* This article has been written by an independent journalist as part of a commercial agreement between Fairfax Media and Swinburne Online.

Canberra Knights fold

The Canbera Knights ice hockey players goal keeper Nick Eckhardt, left, of Downer, and assistant captain Jordie Gavin of Chapman. Photo: Melissa AdamsCanberra Knights on thin ice after 33 years
Shanghai night field

It is with a pang of sadness, hitting us like a flying puck in the midriff, that fans of the Canberra Knights ice hockey team – and fans of their crazily intimate, dilapidated, working-class home venue at the Phillip Swimming and Ice Skating Centre – learn that the Knights have had to fold.

Always as poor as church mice – match programs used to ask fans if they had some spare furniture they could lend to furnish imported stars’ flats – the club has not been able to afford survival.

Some of us, veteran sportsgoers in this city, will always maintain that the Knights’ matches at Phillip were the best sports events we ever knew here.

Even if the standard was mediocre, there was something already so amazing about the magical skills the players showed in skating so dashingly on ice that made it always seem superb.

Mediocre soccer and mediocre cricket look and feel mediocre, but mediocre ice hockey leaves mere mortals going ”Gosh!” a thousand times a match. The sheer, whooshing, surging, supernatural speed of the play was hair-raisingly exciting and after a match it was an hour or two before one could adjust to the sluggishness of everyday life.

And the venue! Most Canberra sports venues keep the spectator at a detached, academic distance from the action. But at Phillip, the primitive, wooden, bench seating – we learnt to take big cushions – was hard up against the wooden wall of the playing surface so that the play was always under one’s nose and always threatening to be in one’s lap.

Ice hockey is irresponsibly, thrillingly violent, and it was an unlucky fan who went home without having enjoyed at least one moment in the match when, right under his or her nose, a player was crushed against the fence by angry foes.

In recent times the venue was always filled with devotees. This, too, makes for a great sporting occasion. Often, at the far-too-spacious Canberra Stadium, one feels like a lonely laboratory rat.

But a full venue echoes and throbs with noise and you can smell the bogan camaraderie of your fellow fans. At Knights’ games we were all cuddled up together, not just for sheer lack of room but because, in a freezing place, it made so much sense. Parents who brought little children dressed them attractively, in the words of the Christmas song, ”like eskimos”, and the little ones’ wrapped-up cuteness was an element of the fun.

Here comes the Canberra soccer season. Some of us, like shags on rocks at the poorly attended games enlivened sometimes by just one forlorn goal in 90 minutes, will pine for the Knights’ games when there were goals galore and when we weren’t shags on rocks, but shoulder-to-shoulder with well-rugged up brothers and sisters.

Work, kids, study: all in a day’s work for Skie

Advertiser content*
Shanghai night field

WORKING MUM: Skie Peterson has managed to fit study around her role as a mum to three young children as well as her work as an integration aide.

WORKING mum of three Skie Peterson overcame her fears of being “too old” and not “being smart enough” to undertake a university degree.

There were also the challenges associated with time management as a mother, along with her part-time work as an integration aide in a prep classroom.

What Skie thought were hurdles proved to be anything but, and she is now entrenched in a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Swinburne Online.

“Children, families, community have always been my thing. I have been drawn to this type of career for as long as I can remember. It’s who I am,” said Skie, who lives in Ocean Grove, southwest of Melbourne.

“To be honest, even though work colleagues have repeatedly encouraged me to further develop my qualifications, I never thought I was smart enough for uni.

“Recently though, I was thinking about when my children grow up and leave home, (and) I was suddenly overcome with this need to prepare myself so that when they eventually do, I have my own life.

“And teaching is really all I have ever wanted to do in respect to career options.”

Skie completed Year 12 in 1997, went on to gain a Diploma in Child Studies at TAFE and worked as a nanny. Her children are now aged 14, 11 and nine, and she was drawn to Swinburne Online because of convenience.

“It fits around my work, my children, and all the bits and pieces that go along with running a busy household,” Skie said.

“I am quite committed to being around for my children as much as I can, so studying online has afforded me that privilege while increasing qualifications and preparing me for taking on a heavier work load in the future.

“I have enjoyed collaborating (online) with cool, diverse people from all over Australia. I liked taking time to read their thoughts and ideas.

“The course material has truly been engaging and inspiring and enjoyable. I feel that I have gained a great deal of understanding as well as a clearer picture of what type of teacher I hope to be.”

And the secret to being a successful online student? Routine. Skie sets herself a schedule and sticks to it.

“(I have) commitment and resolve to join in and collaborate and interact with my online learning communities so that I don’t feel isolated,” Skie said.

“Having inquisitiveness and a passion for understanding and growth – this kind of attitude allows me to look at my learning as a privilege rather than a chore.”

Find out more about how you can fita university degree into your busy lifestyle athttp://www.swinburneonline.edu.au

* This article was written by an independent journalists and part of a commercial arrangement between Fairfax Media and Swinburne Online.

Sam Worthington ordered to stay away from photographer

Australian actor Sam Worthington has been ordered to stay away from a photographer whom he is accused of punching in the face while defending his girlfriend Lara Bingle on a New York street.
Shanghai night field

The 37-year-old Hollywood star faced Manhattan Criminal Court overnight. He faced two counts of assault in the third degree, attempted assault and harassment and was issued with a restraining order.

During Worthington’s brief court appearance on Wednesday, New York time, Judge Bruna DiBiase ordered the Avatar star to stay away from photographer Sheng Li for six months following their confrontation outside Cubbyhole Bar in West Village on Sunday.

Li has been charged with assault, reckless endangerment and harassment over the incident, in which he is accused of trailing Bingle for four hours on the street before kicking her in the shins. He appeared in court on Monday.

Footage of the scuffle shows Bingle, whom Worthington refers to as his “wife”, attempting to grab the photographer’s camera before Worthington intervenes.

Worthington was represented by high-profile lawyer, Stacey Richman, who told the judge on Wednesday that the actor was being pursued relentlessly by photographers.

“I picked him up this morning and people were standing in front of the car,” said Ms Richman, who has represented rappers Jay Z, Li’l Wayne and Ja Rule.

If convicted of the assault charges, Worthington could face up to a year in jail.

Bingle, who did not accompany her boyfriend to court, alleges that Li had trailed her “on a public street for approximately four hours” before kicking her in the shins, according to court papers.

But Li’s lawyer, Ron Kuby, has accused Bingle of confronting his client and trying to take his camera.

Mr Kuby wants prosecutors to drop the charges against Li and focus on Worthington.

Mr Kuby says the proof is in the paparazzi video footage of Sunday’s altercation, which appears to have begun when Bingle, complaining about being followed by Li, confronts the photographer and allegedly tries to take his camera.

“I think it was outrageous that [Li] was charged at all,” Kuby told the New York Daily News on Wednesday.

“Presumably, once the DA’s office sees the video, they’ll drop the charges.

“Again, it depends on if [New York District Attorney] Cy Vance is a fan of Avatar or not.”

Mr Kuby told Kyle Sandelands and Jackie O on Kiis FM this week that Bingle’s claim that she was kicked “makes no sense”, and suggested Bingle confronted his client because she wasn’t getting paid.

“Maybe she wasn’t getting paid to do it this time? I understand Lara Bingle is a lot like Kim Kardashian; she’s famous for being famous,” he said.

Footage of the scuffle shows Worthington yelling at the photographer: “You f—ing kicked my wife.”

He is accused of hitting the paparazzo “with a closed fist several times on his face, causing a laceration to the bridge of his nose and substantial pain”, according to the criminal complaint.

Police said that Bingle had a bruise on her leg, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Later, to other photographers and onlookers, Worthington yelled: “He kicked the girl, man, he kicked the girl.”

Bingle is seen to yell at the photographers, calling them “parasites” and begging them to leave her alone.

As he spoke to officers, Worthington appears to reveal his fame.

“You know that movie called Avatar?” Worthington is captured in the the footage as saying.

Worthington did not comment when he arrived at Manhattan Criminal Court on Wednesday.

The case was adjourned until May 8, but Worthington will not have to attend as he will be out of the country filming a movie.

smh爱上海同城论坛m.au with AAP

Double Dribble: Cash-strapped Wollongong Hawks defying the odds in NBL finals hunt

It’s amazing the Wollongong Hawks are in the NBL finals equation after they were 6-13 and on the bottom rung of the ladder a month ago.
Shanghai night field

It would be a near miracle if they can win four or perhaps all of their remaining games to sneak into the playoffs.

But for the poor old Hawks, it’s a miracle the NBL’s only surviving foundation club is still in existence.

Throughout the club’s life it has always lived on the smell of an oily rag.

For a relatively short time in the late 1990s and early 2000s when they were owned by a wealthy local businessman, the Hawks were financially sound and it’s no coincidence the team enjoyed its golden era during that time, highlighted by its only championship win – the victory over Townsville for the 2001 title.

In recent years, the Hawks have been close to becoming chicken feed a few times, particularly in 2009 before another local businessman came to the rescue at the last minute with a financial guarantee which got the survival plan championed by club legend Mat Campbell over the line.

As we’ve seen many times in the NBL, rich benefactors are not always as reliable as they appear to be and the Hawks, despite reverting to a community-owned model, are again feeling the financial strain.

Crowds went down following the team’s mid-season slump and the fans haven’t returned despite the four-game winning streak.

Management decided to cut ticket prices for last Friday’s win over the Breakers and the attendance grew to 2444, which is a positive sign but still nowhere near enough to put some much-needed funds in the Hawks’ kitty.

The Hawks have again offered discounted seats for this Friday’s crucial clash with second-placed Adelaide.

The diehard fans will always turn up but there’s no excuse for the fickle fair-weather supporters not to get behind a team which is winning.

Full disclosure here: as a card-carrying member of the Hawks, my desire to see the club survive yet another economic full-court press is not simply a journalistic observation.

But the NBL should be doing as much as possible to ensure its traditional markets are secured before traipsing off into new areas which are unproven or have had one or sometimes more previous incarnations in the league.

With a roster costing a lot less than their playoff rivals, Wollongong coach Gordie McLeod has yet again unearthed diamonds from what many observers in the pre-season predicted would be a pile of gravel.

McLeod’s astute reputation for scouting imports is second to none in the NBL. In recent years he has brought Gary Ervin, Tywain McKee and Lance Hurdle to Australia and they all excelled.

The Hawks had another blue-chip import on their books in the pre-season in the form of Durrell Summers but he was the polar opposite of his namesake, Daryl Somers – he was only in the spotlight briefly and left us wanting more. Summers’ agent tried to jack up his asking price after dominating in his only two trial appearances.

Perhaps McLeod’s best recruit is Wollongong’s current point guard, Rotnei Clarke.

Short for a guard these days and not particularly athletic, Clarke has shown you cannot judge a basketballer by their cover with his lights-out shooting displays and superb play-making skills.

It would not be a big surprise if he pips Perth’s star forward, James Ennis, and Melbourne’s prolific scorer, Chris Goulding, for MVP honours.

If the fifth-placed Hawks can upset the Sixers on Friday night, they face lower-ranked teams Cairns (in Wollongong) and Townsville (away), then what could be a season-defining home game against the Kings  before finishing with a dreaded trip to Perth.

At 10-13, they are only a rough chance to reel in either Sydney (11-11) or Melbourne (12-11) but if history is any guide, the Wollongong Hawks are adept at overcoming the odds.

Taking it to the poll … 

Last week’s NBA poll resulted in a big thumbs-down for the new Slam-Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend with 89% voting for the old system instead of the new freestyle round.

And in the NBL, it appears public opinion is split on the Perth-Adelaide melee with only a slight majority of 54% saying it was a bad look for the league.

‘Drop in the ocean’: drought support package too little, too late

A SMALL HELP: Excel Genetics owner Geoff Steinbeck, of Dungowan, said the low-interest loans were a ‘small help’ – but they still had to be paid off. Photo: Barry Smith 181113BSA06SOURCE: Northern Daily Leader
Shanghai night field

North-west NSWfarmers have had a mixed reaction to the federal government’s landmark$320 million drought package releasedon Wednesday.

Under the five-point package, farmers will be able to claim fortnightly income support, get access to low-interest loans and access a raft of other programs.

But Loomberah farmer Rob Haling said even though farmers would be able to access income support from March 3 under the new package, the $2.55m cap on net farm assets to qualify for the support made it unobtainable for many.

He said most people were “well and truly over $2.55 million (so) that’s out for 90 per cent of farmers”.

“Five-hundred acres in the Tamwortharea, if it’s really decent country, you’re looking at $2m – and if you’ve got plant and stock. Well, you’re well over $2.5m, aren’t you?” he said.

Excel Genetics owner Geoff Steinbeck, of Dungowan, said the low-interest loans were a “small help” but they still had to be paid off.

“I’m not 100 per cent sure what this help is going to be in the short term,” Mr Steinbeck said.

On income support, he said: “Possibly the people most in need would have less than $2.55 million in total assets.”

But he said the water and mental health schemes were “absolutely wonderful” and a “great asset”.

From Monday, a farmer with up to $2.55m in net farm assets will be eligible to claim fortnightly income support under the Interim Farm Household Allowance, without the need for a drought declaration.

The Federal government’s$320 million drought package also includes $280 million of drought concessional loans.

Farmers will be able to get a loan at 4 per cent over five years instead of the 7 and up to 10 per cent they’re currently paying, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said.

He said farmers would be able to borrow up to $1 million “or half of what you owe to the bank – whatever is the lesser” and it would be administered by the NSW Rural Adjustment Authority.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who made the announcement with Mr Joyce, said: “A 4 per cent rate is very, very good”.

But Pilliga farmer Judy Field, of Tympana, disagreed.

“That’s not very low … I think it’s a little bit high, under the circumstances,” Mrs Field said.

Mr Haling said 4 per cent was “very good” but people needed money, not a debt that would have to be paid off over time.

“That is a help but, look, there’s a lot of people who want help now,” he said.“I think a lot of farmers would have been looking for cash up front and interest rates have to be paid, so what they’ve done is of very little help.

“I don’t think it has been properly thought through. I’m very disappointed. I really believe the Liberal Party are totally out of touch and the debt farmers are carrying now is totally out of control.”

The package was brought forward from its initial flagged date of July 1 as more and more areas of NSW and Queensland slip further into drought.

NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson said her organisation estimated more than 60 per cent of NSW was in drought and that she was pleased the government had acted smartly on their request to actquickly.

Wednesday’s announcement also included millions of dollars being made available for pest management ($10m), existing water infrastructure schemes ($12m) and mental health services ($10.7m) within drought-affected areas.