The schools that aced English and maths methods in VCE

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Which VCE subjects does your school excel at? Do students tend to achieve outstanding study scores in English, maths, humanities or science units?

You can find out with The Age’s online interactive, which features the names of the top performing VCE students – those who received study scores of 40 or more in an individual subject. iFrameResize({checkOrigin:false},’#vce-honour-roll’); var frame = document.getElementById(“vce-honour-roll”);

You can either search the results by student name or by school. The maximum study score a student can receive is 50, and achieving a score of 40 or above places a student in the top 10 per cent in the state.

Of the 50,884 students who completed their VCE studies, about one in three (14,797) achieved a study score of 40 or above in at least one subject. However, not every high achiever can be found in the interactive – about 10 per cent of year 12s declined to have their scores published. English mastery

St Kevin’s College begins preparing students for the VCE English exam when they are just 12.

In year 7, they start sitting English exams and spend one period a week reading in the library. By year 12, they are completing one essay every fortnight in preparation for the gruelling three-hour test.

It’s an approach that has paid off.

Almost half of its year 12 class received an outstanding study score in VCE English.

Its students achieved 116 study scores of 40 or above in VCE English, the highest number in the state.

St Kevin’s director of studies Gary Jones, who also teaches VCE English, said the Toorak independent school placed a lot of emphasis on the subject.

“It’s an important skill for life, whether you are analysing texts or writing or communicating” he said. Maths wizards

Tim Falloon is among those who achieved stellar study scores, netting 49 in maths methods, 42 in specialist maths, 45 in biology and 44 in English. “I was not expecting to do that well,” he said.

The Camberwell Grammar School student credits his strong marks in maths to his supportive teachers and family members, as well as the fact he spent some time over the previous summer independently working through his Year 12 textbooks.

Camberwell Grammar teacher Dayan Ramalingam with high-achieving students (L-R) Kevin Wang, Felix Wang and Tim Falloon. Photo: Daniel Pockett

He estimates he had already completed a quarter of the Methods textbook and half the Specialist course by the time the school year started, which gave him more time to focus on practice exams.

Tim was also fortunate enough to attend a school that was one of the state’s strongest per capita performers in maths subjects this year. Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority data shows Camberwell Grammar School received 38 study scores of 40 above in maths methods and 15 in specialist maths.

Camberwell Grammar School’s head of senior curriculum Dayan Ramalingam??? said the school placed a strong emphasis on the core subjects of maths and English.

“There is a culture that regards maths as a fun and engaging subject, and students approach maths problems as puzzles to be solved,” he said.

“We don’t have to make kids do maths, they do it because it is fun.” Specialist subject standouts

Other schools have celebrated strong years in less widely-taught subjects. About one in four scores above 40 in Australian history were achieved by students at Sacre Coeur, while Haileybury Girls College students made up almost one third of high achievers in sociology.

East Doncaster Secondary College students excelled at classical studies (which covers Greek and Roman literature), Firbank Grammar School achieved strong marks in history and Melbourne Grammar School was the ideal place to ace philosophy.

At Mazenod College in Mulgrave, 23 students got a score of 40 or above in religion and society. But this group was not made up of Year 12s – most students who took the subject were Year 11s, with about 14 per cent achieving a 40-plus score.

Mazenod’s religious education coordinator, Kyle Hoad, said Year 11s were encouraged to take the class so they understood Catholic traditions and how religion and society interacted.

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One thing same-sex couples need to know about marriage

Jo Briscoe and her partner Bo are “extremely excited” they can finally get married after the recent passing of the same-sex marriage bill by Parliament.
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The couple, from Thornbury in Melbourne, have been together for two years and had thought about going overseas to marry, but were hoping it would be possible to do it here.

“We knew pretty soon after we met that we were done, and this would be for life,” Briscoe says.

The couple are planning a wedding for this time next year.

Same-sex couples are expected to keep the wedding industry busy over the next year. But in the rush to get hitched, couples should not forget about the need for a will and an estate plan, or to have them updated.

For example, marriage generally revokes any previous will automatically. Anna Hacker, national manager of estate planning at Australian Unity Trustees, says the only time marriage doesn’t revoke a previous will is where it is made in “contemplation of marriage” – where you do the will knowing you are going to get married.

This applies to straight couples as well, but could particularly affect many same-sex couples in long-standing de facto relationships who have drawn up legal and financial agreements precisely because they couldn’t get married. Some of the paperwork may need to be redone in the event of a formal marriage, even if it’s to the same person.

Briscoe, 42, says she and Bo, 37, are aware of the financial and legal implications of marriage but she believes there is a bit of a “knowledge gap” in the community around some of the finer points.

New wills are top of the “to-do list” for the new year. Briscoe had one that was 20 years old, while Bo doesn’t have one.

Briscoe, who works as a production manager, owned a flat before she met Bo and had asked about updating her will to ensure her partner would inherit. Instead, they’ve sold the property and plan to buy a place together.

She and Bo have already put in place some legal protection for each other in recent months, combining finances and setting up binding nominations for their superannuation accounts.

Hacker says binding death nominations, which are separate to a will, usually last for three years before they have to be renewed. Some funds can be invalidated by marriage. De facto protection

Hacker says is also important for couples in de facto relationships to make a will and estate plan that includes a power of attorney.

Sometimes those in de facto relationships can be treated unfairly if one partner dies or is critically ill or injured in the absence of a will and estate plan, she says.

A partner in a de facto relationship may not be considered next of kin and not included on the death certificate or allowed to make medical decisions on behalf of their partner, she says.

That may lead to situations where friends of the couple are asked to sign affidavits stating that they believe the couple were de facto, or the surviving member of the relationship being required to make public details about the relationship that are private or personal.

Hacker says marriage automatically invokes these rights.

Briscoe says it’s a huge relief to know that marriage will simplify the next-of-kin rights for health care and end-of-life decisions.

“Obviously there’s a massive symbolic significance to the marriage, but it’s also the straightforwardness of the legal situation,” Briscoe says. DIY will kits

It can be tempting to save on legal fees and use a DIY will kit, such as those available from newsagencies or the internet. However, that could be a false economy.

Those with blended families, in particular, are likely to find paying a lawyer to draw up a will well worth the money.

“The courts are littered with examples of do-it-yourself wills that have gone wrong”, says Brian Hor, special counsel, superannuation and estate planning at Townsends Business and Corporate Lawyers.

“Unless you are a specialist estate planning lawyer,

there is a high probability you will get it wrong – and simply end up imposing unwarranted anxiety and frustration and legal expense upon your loved ones at the worst possible time for them.” Update will

Stephen Hardy, national manager of estate planning at Equity Trustees, says it is important not just to create a will, but to keep it up to date.

The consequences of putting the will in the bottom drawer and forgetting about it can mean more problems than not having a will at all.

For example, in the breakdown of a marriage in most states even when a divorce is finalised, it does not mean the will is necessarily revoked.

“If a will has not changed to acknowledge this, then there is the possibility of the former partner having a legal say in how the will is administered,” he says.

Hardy knows of cases where marriages have ended acrimoniously and the will has not been changed to reflect this bitter breakdown, with the estranged partner still being the executor and sole beneficiary of the will. Changes to family structure

Hardy says changes to the structure of a family, and changing dependants, will often require a will to be changed.

“The birth of new grandchildren, arrival of stepchildren or half-siblings could require a rewording of a will to ensure everyone is treated appropriately,” he says.

Hardy says, in his experience, it’s often when a will doesn’t get changed to reflect new family circumstances that there can be costly court cases where aggrieved parties feel they have been poorly treated.

Give particular thought about whom to make executor of the will. People often nominate their spouse or a trusted friend who is of roughly the same age, but consider if it will remain feasible as you get older.

Michael Tiyce, a lawyer and principal of Tiyce & Lawyers, says wills should be reviewed about every five years – earlier if there is a major change in family or financial circumstances. Binding agreements

Binding financial agreements, also known as prenuptial agreements, are more watertight than they used to be due to court decisions and prenups’ increasing popularity, Tiyce says.

Prenups can be drawn up during the course of a relationship, not just at the start.

Under the law, if a couple lives together for just two years their financial assets can be divided the same way as if they had been married for decades.

Tiyce says binding financial agreements appeal to those who are in their second or third marriage, especially where they are bringing assets into the marriage.

A binding financial agreement is triggered only if the union ends and specifies how the assets should be divided.

That is separate from the will, which comes into effect on the death of one of the partners or a power of attorney, which is invoked when one of the partners is incapacitated.

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Most Australians will still be in debt from Christmas next Easter

Far from being bathed with ethereal Christmas joy, it’s possible you’re in a festive frenzy of ham preparation, prawn plans (who doesn’t have a strategy by now to get crustaceans on the table?) and gift buying.
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It’s at this crucial five-days-to-go point that your designated “yule fuel” – how you originally intended to cover the cost of the celebration – could be exhausted, and then some. Considered consumption is most likely to give way to panic purchasing when it comes to the biggest expense – presents. That will account for $492 of the average $1178 spend this Christmas, according to a survey by comparison site Finder.

Eftpos Australia says it expects the seven days before Christmas to account for 27 per cent of all sales volume for December. Saturday will be the busiest day, as it’s generally the highest trade day of any week and this will be compounded with Christmas on a Monday (which hasn’t happened since 2006).

Well, my message is stop, take a deep breath and project forward ??? to your Christmas Freedom Date.

Long after the tree has been pulled down and the Christmas cracker crap thrown away, many Australian credit card holders will still be paying off their debt. So to give cause for credit pause, I asked Finder to extend its usual spending survey, exclusively for Fairfax Media, to determine the average date we’ll clear the last merry dollar.

It’s headed March 10, 2018. Almost Easter.

That’s an average of 2.3 months to pay off Christmas debt this year, according to the survey of 1278 Australians.

Only 28 per cent of those surveyed said they would pay off their Christmas debt immediately.

The average Christmas Freedom Date is also likely to be later than previous years. Although this is the first time Finder has isolated a date, we know that between 80 and 90 per cent of people with Christmas debt took only one to three months to repay it in 2014 to 2016, but the number has fallen to 69 per cent this year.

Instead, one in six people will take four to six months, up from about one in 10 previously. And those who take seven to 12 months have risen from virtually none to 12 per cent. Debt lag from holidays

A separate Finder survey has also found that nearly 4 million Australians (41 per cent) are likely to return from their holidays with a debt lag of a collective $7.5 billion. A full $180 million in interest will be paid on this debt over 2018.

The analysis shows that Australians accrued an average of $2705 on their credit cards while holidaying in 2016, taking, on average, just under six months to clear their debt.

Worse, one in 10 people with credit card debt took more than 12 months to pay it off.

“Australians have accrued $180 million in credit card interest from trips over the past year, 29 per cent more than the $140 million in 2015, with one in 38 travellers worried that they’ll never be able to pay off their trip,” Finder spokeswoman Bessie Hassan says.

Shopping sprees are apparently the biggest holiday blowout, with more than one in three respondents (35 per cent) splurging cash at the shops on their getaway. One in four (24 per cent) flashed the plastic for luxury accommodation.

Fancy restaurants are the indulgence of choice for one in five Australian travellers, while one in 10 splashes out on once in a lifetime events, such as a sporting match or concert.

So what can you do to stop this seemingly relentless Christmas holiday debt march? Some ideas:

1. Remember December 25 is one fleeting day – it doesn’t need to be a fleecing one.

2. Younger kids have no appreciation of cost. They’ll probably like a $10 present as much as a $100 gift, if it’s the right one.

3. Avoid presents becoming your escalating expense; if you’ve bought too much for one person, stockpile something for next year rather than panic purchasing to bring the other presents up to par.

4. If presents are on your Saturday to-do list, gift vouchers mean your loved ones will get better value in the post-Christmas sales. They’re not (entirely) a cop-out!

5. Santa photos are highway robbery. And there are usually plenty of free options (by enterprising stores and attractions that want to get you into their premises, of course).

6. Food that is to be shared should be shared prepared. It’s not too late to delegate some of the Christmas feast. Your guests would probably love the opportunity to show off their cooking prowess anyway.

7. Sure, treat yourself to a holiday indulgence or two – you’ve earned it. But not so much that your spending hangover will last beyond Easter. As Hassan says: “Nothing stops that holiday feeling quite like a debt you can’t repay.”

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is a commentator and educator who presents her Smart Money Start, fun financial literacy incursion, in high schools around Australia. Follow Nicole on Facebook at Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon Money.

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Young women are most unlikely to do this simple financial check

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the superannuation system is rigged against women.
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OK, not everyone puts it exactly like that. But it’s true there’s a disparity – the 2017 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey found women retired with an average super balance of $230,907 and men with about twice this amount – and it’s generally accepted that the main reasons are structural.

We designed our system for retirement savings to be based on workforce participation and income. This has advantages but drawbacks too, chiefly that it perpetuates and amplifies the financial inequalities during our working lives.

Women take more career breaks to be caregivers to children or other relatives – work that has social and economic value but is not paid. Women are also more likely to work part-time – for the same reasons – and more likely to work in lower paid occupations. There’s also plenty of evidence women on average are still paid less to do the same job as men, though that is changing.

Some women beat the odds to achieve a decent retirement balance – working in a well-paying job, making additional voluntary contributions, or having a spouse to top it up. But the existence of outliers doesn’t mean the system is a level playing field.

It makes it all the more alarming to hear that young women are failing to do something simple that is wholly within their control and costs nothing, yet could boost their retirement balance by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Almost half of young women, aged 18 to 29, do not know their superannuation risk profile, according to the latest MLC Wealth Sentiment Survey. That is, whether their super is invested in a conservative, moderate, growth or aggressive option.

The survey, which had more than 2000 respondents, found almost one in four Australians, or 23 per cent, don’t know their super risk profile, but men are much more likely to be across this detail across all age groups.

About 27 per cent of men aged 18 to 29 said they didn’t know their super risk profile – compared with 45 per cent of women the same age.

About 27 per cent of women aged 30 to 49 said they didn’t know their risk profile. Only one in seven men in the same age group were unaware.

For the 50-plus age group most people knew their risk profile, but men were still slightly more likely to know than women.

MLC general manager of customer experience Lara Bourguignon says the risk profile is one of the key factors that will determine how much money you have when you retire, but it’s often overlooked.

“As an example of the difference it could make, a woman aged 25 on $80,000 a year in a conservative risk profile until she’s 70 could improve her super balance by around $294,000 if she adjusted her profile according to her circumstances and life stage,” she says.

This is based on a woman working from 25 to 70, with no pay rises, with an initial superannuation balance of $20,000, moving her risk profile from aggressive to growth at age 40, to balanced at age 55 and then to conservative growth at age 65.

With superannuation and, indeed, any investment there is a relationship between risk and return: the higher the risk, the higher the expected returns. It’s important to understand that risk in the context of a superannuation fund is still reasonably safe – even in a so-called “aggressive” investment option, big super funds are highly regulated and not in the business of rampant speculation.

Young people can afford to take more risk with their superannuation because they will have decades to recover from any losses. Personal circumstances will vary but many experts suggest staying in a growth portfolio up to your early 40s and lowering the risk to reduce volatility as you head into middle age.

You get the best out of superannuation if you can make additional contributions and choose high-earning investment options early in life, because the magic of compound growth means you earn returns on your returns.

One surprising sign of hope is that the survey found for those people who do know their risk profile, young women were just as likely to choose a growth or aggressive portfolio than men the same age. However, men aged 30 to 49 were far more bullish than women the same age.

Ideally, everyone should make a conscious choice and revise it regularly.

Caitlin Fitzsimmons is the editor of Money. Facebook: @caitlinfitzsimmons.

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Crumbling chateau has almost 10,000 owners, but nobody lives there

A historic, crumbling castle in France is in the curious position of having almost 10,000 owners. Yet no one actually lives there.
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A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to save the decaying La Mothe-Chandeniers from collapse or being snapped up by developers.

As of last week the campaign had raised???811,000 ($1.25 million) from 9900 contributors.

Each contributor has paid a minimum of ???50 to go towards restoring the building, and in return they have been offered shares in a company set up to run it.

The company organising the campaign, Dartagnans, says by making donators co-owners of the building, the project is the first of its kind in the world.

The co-owners will also have a say in how the building is restored, and will be among the first to visit the site in 2018 when it’s opened to the public.

Dartagnans founder Romain Delaume said the project was also about capturing imaginations across the world.

“The idea isn’t just about raising the money, but getting as many people as possible to participate in saving this magical, fairytale place,” Delaume told the Guardian. “The more the merrier.” Related: Forget Australian houses, buy a chateau for lessRelated: The Australian couple restoring a French chateauRelated: Restored French chateau reminiscent of the Disney Castle

La Mothe-Chandeniers is in France’s Poitou-Charentes region, about 320 kilometres south-west of Paris. The oldest parts of the castle were constructed in the early 13th century by its owners, the Bau??ay family.

It was seized twice by English fighters during the Middle Ages and has been passed through several descendants, including Baron Edgard Lejeune, who in 1870 reconstructed it in the Romantic style.

A fire caused damage to the building in the 1930s and since then a series of owners have been unable to restore it, allowing greenery to emerge from the stone windows, turrets and balconies.

It is not classified as a heritage-listed building.

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Heavy industry the winner under new carbon trading proposal

A government proposal to allow international carbon credit trading has buoyed the Australian manufacturing industry, but may have little impact on cutting energy sector emissions.
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The manufacturing, smelting and energy sectors – some of the highest carbon-emitting industries in Australia – could look overseas to buy carbon credits to reduce their comparative emission levels without investing in higher-priced domestic carbon credits or lower-emissions technology under a proposal in the Turnbull government’s latest climate change policy review.

The Australian Industry Group has thrown its weight behind the proposal, saying it is a major advance for industrial emissions reductions policy.

“Ai Group has been arguing the merits of allowing international credits for several years,” its chief executive, Innes Willox, said.

Calling it a victory for common sense over ideology, Mr Willox said: “There is simply no reason to waste efforts on higher-cost domestic abatement options when credible, high-quality and less expensive alternatives are available abroad.”

The Australian Aluminium Council also supported the proposal for international credit trading.

“A tonne of CO??? is a tonne of CO???. It’s a global issue,” the council’s executive director, Miles Prosser, said.

He said this provided another emissions reduction option, which, combined with operational efficiency and low emissions technology, allowed for greater choice in slashing carbon dioxide output.

“We support the flexibility of going internationally for permits to reduce emissions at the lowest cost.” Power and policy

International credit trading could also support the government’s national energy guarantee (NEG), but damage future renewables investment.

“It could help energy retailers meet the emissions standards under the NEG, as it may be cheaper for them to buy these credits rather than supplement their energy mix with new wind or solar,” an industry source said.

One Australian energy retailer believed these credits weren’t needed for the electricity industry.

“While there’s a role for them in trade-exposed industries, in terms of energy we have the means and technology to reduce emissions by replacing coal with gas and renewables,” an energy insider said.

“It sends the wrong investment signals, if you want to encourage investment then international credits are the wrong way to go about it.”

Australian Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said the proposal supported the NEG as a process for energy reliability.

“Our perspective is that these permits can be used as a balancing mechanism,” Mr Warren said.

He said it would be a short-term response, and there remained the need for the replacement of old energy generation.

“We’re struggling to see how you can rebuild the grid without evolving the assets and then buy permits for 50 years. They can help, but they shouldn’t be the cure.”

Concerns have also been raised over their ability to actually play a role in reducing wholesale emissions.

“Given that the rules are still being negotiated for the use of international units, we’d be concerned about the efficacy of their use to meet our Paris Agreement commitments,” Market Forces analyst Daniel Gocher said.

“We’d prefer the government focused on the domestic market, particularly reducing land clearing. Permits can also act to delay more meaningful action, particularly in the electricity sector.”

Federal Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said it would have no impact on the NEG, which operates through existing energy market mechanisms and there are “no subsidies or certificates involved in this guarantee and in this sense it does not involve a price or tax on carbon”. Australia’s credit industry

The policy may also be a double-edged sword for Australian carbon abatement companies, as it widens their potential reach beyond Australia’s smaller domestic market, but could also drive them out of business as buyers look overseas for cheaper credits.

“Pollution is going up, we won’t meet even our paltry Paris targets and the government’s only plan is to make things worse by allowing companies to buy dodgy permits from pig farms in China instead of cutting Australia’s emissions,” Greens climate change and energy spokesman Adam Bandt said.

Carbon Farmers of Australia director Louisa Kiely said the review was a mixed bag, which might put the fledgling carbon credit industry at risk.

“International prices for carbon credits are very cheap, and they may or may not be as rigorously verified as they are in Australia,” Ms Kiely said.

“The threat is that these cheaper credits could damage Australia’s highly-monitored and verified industry, and there’s the risk the market may be flooded with these cheaper carbon credits,” she said.

However, she noted there was also the potential for Australian companies to export their more-verified credits.

The policy would also impact indigenous groups that run native land management carbon businesses, such as those facilitated by the Kimberley Land Council.

Since 2014, four North Kimberley native title groups have run carbon farming operations, generating almost half a million Australian Carbon Credit Units through traditional land management and maintenance, providing these carbon offsets to companies such as Qantas.

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Banks overhaul code of conduct in bid to rebuild trust

Banks have vowed to make it easier for customers to cancel their credit cards, they will stop charging statement fees, and borrowers will be alerted when their interest-free period is about to end, as part of a new code of conduct.
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The Australian Bankers’ Association will on Wednesday unveil a swag of changes intended to put a greater focus on ethical behaviour in an industry that has copped a backlash from government.

Changes in the code include a commitment to allow customers to close a credit card online, rather than needing to do so in a branch or over the phone.

Banks also say they will waive or refund “statement fees” for customers without access to electronic statements, and remind customers when a credit card’s interest-free period is about to end.

With more parents acting as guarantors to help their children enter the housing market, the code also includes changes targeted at people guaranteeing the loans of others.

It says guarantors who have not received legal advice must have a three-day waiting period before signing up. Guarantors will also be informed if the borrower is struggling financially, it says.

Banks decided to revamp the code last year as political pressure on the industry started to mount following a series of scandals.

“Banks are committed to change and the new code is stronger, broader and written in simple to understand language,” ABA chief executive Anna Bligh said.

“It has been completely rewritten to better meet community expectations and service the needs of customers.”

The code includes an already-announced commitment by banks to no longer have tellers selling “add-on insurance” with credit cards, which is intended to cover consumers if they get sick or lose their job. The corporate regulator has said such insurance is problematic, and many customers end up being ineligible when they attempt to make a claim.

In a sign of the finance sector’s problems with add-on insurance, it was announced on Tuesday that Swann Insurance had refunded $39 million in premiums to 67,960 customers. The refunds covered six types of add-on insurance sold by Swann, owned by Insurance Australia Group.

Separately, the federal government has this year cracked down on the banks’ credit card businesses, including new restrictions on how banks can determine customers’ credit limits. Banks are also being banned from making unsolicited credit card offers to customers.

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Smith and Australians in line for $1 million Ashes bonus

Steve Smith’s Ashes-winning Australian team will collect a bonus of nearly $1 million if they can complete a 5-0 whitewash of England in the final two matches of the Test series in Melbourne and Sydney.
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The Australians left Perth on Tuesday glowing after reaching an unassailable 3-0 lead with a comprehensive victory in the third Test, regaining the title they surrendered on their tour of England in 2015.

The result automatically triggered a $432,000 series-win bonus and the members of the squad stand to pocket further financial reward for winning back possession of the urn.

There is an additional pool of $438,000 available to the Australians for match-win bonuses in the Ashes. They have already secured a majority of that by winning three out of the five matches but can grab the lot if they complete victories in the Boxing Day Test and in the first week of January at the SCG.

The bonuses were thrashed out during the long and bitterly fought pay negotiation between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association that was resolved in August.

Under the terms of the new five-year memorandum of understanding, the players retained their guaranteed share of the game’s revenue, which is at its greatest during a home Ashes summer, and also won a new incentive scheme that offered lucrative reward for major series victories.

The richest of the bonuses under the new structure are available against opposition countries ranked in the top four on the International Cricket Council Test rankings, as England were entering this series. And with match-win bonuses built in on top of players’ retainers and match payments, the five-Test Ashes series provides an even greater opportunity to cash in.

The pending windfall provides more motivation for Smith’s side to clean-sweep the tourists in the final two matches.

They will be feeling driven towards repeating the feat of Michael Clarke’s team in 2013-14, with only Smith, David Warner and Nathan Lyon having experienced that famous whitewash.

Australian coach Darren Lehmann said the team would not be taking its foot off the pedal, but could now approach the rest of the series free from much of the pressure that built in the lead-up to the summer.

“It’s a lot more relaxed, which is a good thing,” Lehmann said. “Ashes cricket is high pressure, everybody is nervous every ball, every session.

“It’s been that way for 15 days so far, so they can go and express themselves a little bit more. We’ll be playing the same brand of cricket but obviously with less pressure on us. It will be interesting to see how we respond to that. Boxing Day and SCG are fantastic Test matches to be a part of.”

The Australians will head to Melbourne after two days’ break, aiming for a 5-0 result but not taking it for granted. Lehmann said Joe Root’s tourists had been closer to the hosts than the final margins – the latest an innings and 41-run defeat – suggested.

“It was extremely satisfying for the lads … they’ve worked so hard over the last few months to get the prep right, the way we played,” Lehmann said.

“The planning came together, so all credit to the players and the support staff were fantastic. The work behind the scenes was great. I’ve loved the way we have gone about it in all three Tests.

“It was a lot closer than what the scores relate to. Certainly in Brisbane they had the upper hand at certain stages, but the captain was brilliant there. Obviously the bowlers were great in the second innings to get the job done.

“Adelaide was close and this one – albeit by an innings – it was still close, it come down to magnificent bowling from our quicks on the last day.”

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No real gift in giving: culture of Christmas must change

Christmas, we’re assured, brings out our best selves. We’re full of goodwill to all men (and women). We get together with family and friends – even those we don’t get on with – eat and drink and give each other presents.
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We make an effort for the kiddies. Some of us even get a good feeling out of helping ensure the homeless get a decent feed on the day.

And this magnanimous spirit is owed to The Man Who Invented Christmas, Charles Dickens. (You weren’t thinking of someone else, surely?)

According to a new survey of 1421 people, conducted by the Australia Institute, three-quarters of respondents like buying Christmas gifts.

Almost half – 47 per cent – like having people buy them gifts. And 41 per cent don’t expect to get presents they’ll never use.

Well, isn’t that lovely. Merry Christmas, one and all!

Of course, there’s a darker, less charitable, more Scrooge-like interpretation of what Christmas has become since A Christmas Carol.

Under the influence of more than a century of relentless advertising and commercialisation – including the soft-drink-company-created Santa – its original significance as a religious holy-day has been submerged beneath an orgy of consumerism, materialism and over-indulgence.

We rush from shop to shop, silently cursing those of our rellos who are hard to buy for. We attend party after party, stuffing ourselves with food and drinking more than we should.

All those children who can’t wait to get up early on Christmas morning and tear open their small mountain of presents are being groomed as the next generation of consumerists. Next, try the joys of retail therapy, sonny.

But the survey also reveals a (growing?) minority of respondents who don’t enjoy the indulgence and wastefulness of Christmas.

A fifth of respondents – more males than females – don’t like buying gifts for people at Christmas. Almost a third expect to get gifts they won’t use and 42 per cent – far more males and females – would prefer others not to buy them gifts.

The plain fact is that a hugely disproportionate share of economic activity – particularly consumer spending – occurs in one month of the year, December.

And just think of all the waste – not just the over-catering, but all the clothes and gadgets that sit around in cupboards until they’re thrown out. All the stuff that could be returned to the store, but isn’t.

At least the new practice of regifting helps. Unwanted gifts are passed from hand to hand, rather like an adult game of pass-the-parcel, until someone summons the moral courage to throw them out.

Still, buying things that don’t get used is a good way to create jobs and improve the lives of Australians, no?

Not really. The survey finds only 23 per cent of respondents agree with this sentiment, while 62 per cent disagree.

One change since Scrooge’s day is that those who worry most about waste – at Christmas or any other time – do so not for reasons of miserliness, but because of the avoidable cost to the natural environment.

Rich people like us need to reduce our demands on the environment to make room for the poorer people of the world to lift their material standard of living without our joint efforts wrecking the planet.

This doesn’t require us to accept a significantly lower standard of living, just move to an economy where our energy comes from renewable sources and our use of natural resources – renewable and non-renewable – is much less profligate.

This is the thinking behind the book Curing Affluenza, by the Australia Institute’s chief economist – and instigator of the survey – Dr Richard Denniss.

He says we can stay as materialists (lovers of things) so long as we give up being consumerists (lovers of buying new things). We can love our homes and cars and clothes and household equipment – so long as that love means we look after them, maintain and repair them, and delay replacing them for as long as we reasonably can.

The survey shows we’re most likely to repair cars, bikes and tools and gardening equipment, but least likely to repair clothing, shoes and kitchen appliances, such as blenders, toasters and microwaves.

What would encourage us to get more things repaired? Almost two-thirds of respondents would do more if repairs were covered by a warranty. More than 60 per cent would do more if repairs were cheaper. And 46 per cent if repairs were more convenient – which I take to mean if it was easier to find a repairer.

How about making repair work cheaper by removing the 10 per cent goods and services tax on it? Two-thirds support the idea; only 19 per cent oppose.

Point is, there are straight-forward things the government could do to encourage us to repair more and waste less. Were it to do so, this would help restore older attitudes in favour of repairing rather than replacing.

Trouble is, politicians tend to be followers rather than leaders on such matters. So the first thing we need is a shift in the culture that makes more of us more conscious of the damage our everyday consumption is doing to the environment. That putting out the recycling once a week ain’t enough.

We could start by changing the culture of Christmas.

Ross Gittins is the Herald’s economics editor.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Three times as many houses selling before auction in Brisbane as market tightens

A recent surge in properties selling ahead of scheduled auctions could point to a potential swing in the Brisbane market, according to agents and auctioneers.
Nanjing Night Net

Owner of Apollo Auctions Justin Nickerson said he’d seen a three-fold increase over the past two months from five per cent of homes selling ahead of auction in Queensland, to nearly 15 per cent.

Mr Nickerson said the primary reason for the surge was because of the looming Christmas period.

“There’s always a bit of a seasonal reason,” he said. “We notice this a bit around before Easter as well. People want to have it married and done before the holidays.”

Both buyers and sellers can be impatient at this time of year, Mr Nickerson said. Buyers are keen to have their new home in time for Christmas, and sellers can be keen to avoid a stressful auction day and potentially leaving their home on the market into the new year.

“The major worry from a seller’s point of view is they don’t want to go through the stress of the day. They don’t want it to not sell and feel like it’s a failure,” he said.

Mr Nickerson warned against vendors rushing to accept offers prior to auction however, because it can give buyers the upper hand. “For the sellers, the two things they’ve got to a achieve is a price they’re comfortable with and peace of mind.” Related: “Overly confident” Aussies rate themselves financially savvyRelated: Inside Brisbane rentals that cost as much as a $2m homeRelated: What Queensland homeowners can expect under Palaszczuk

To give sellers peace of mind, buyers need to make sure their price is enough to take the gamble of an auction off the table, Mr Nickerson said.

“Buyers need to know they’ll be paying a premium to secure the property without competition.”

That’s why it’s an indication the market is about to pick up. For so many properties to sell before going under the hammer, buyers must know they face serious competition, and they must be willing to pay a premium, Mr Nickerson said.

Space Property principal and auctioneer Nick Penklis said his vendors in Paddington and other inner west suburbs hadn’t displayed the same behaviour.

“We’re seeing a lot of post-auction activity,” he said. “We’re experiencing a lot of buyer activity; whether it’s prior, on the day or a bit after, it’s all about the result.”

Mr Penklis said he was still seeing offers before auction, he just wasn’t seeing them taken up.

“We’re still getting offers, prior to but we’re taking it to auction, we’re getting the best prices on the day,” he said. “Entering into a strong market, a good indicator is strong offers before auction.

“Seeing really good post auction activity, that’s a good sign too.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.