Power of imagination fuels high-speed rail

Many Hunter residents will be familiar with the first high-speed rail link between Newcastle and Sydney.
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For many years the famousNewcastle Flyer departed Newcastle about 7.30am and arrived at Central in time for the start of the business day.

Ironically, the now-defunct service offered travelling times that were at leaston a par with modern day train services.

The vision of a 21stcentury high-speed rail service that would cut travelling times between the two cites to less than an hour has been talked about and investigated for the best part of three decades.

The latest plan by the Centurion Group to build a $24 billion privately-funded rail system from Sydney’s south-west to Newcastle has many features of previous proposals.

Few would disagree that such a service would potentiallybring major benefits to the Hunter. Thousands of people who presently live and work in Sydney would move toNewcastle creating a major economic stimulus.

Despite significant engineering challenges, most notably the Hawkesbury River terrain, the Centurion Group believes its plan is financiallyviable.

However, it has asked the state government to redesign its $7 billion Sydney harbour tunnel crossing to accomodate a high-speed rail line.

Like previousplans, the latest proposal is lacking detail about the level of patronage that would be required to make the service viable.

The project’s “value capturing” funding plan will raise eyebrows, and the NSW government is already saying it won’tbudge on the harbour crossing.

Whatever theircommitment to high-speed rail today, it would be wise for state and federal governments to begin securing a possible corridor, as Newcastle business leaders have pointed out.

As theHeraldhas said previously, national infrastructure must be about setting the scene and creating the conditions for investment.

Should the day arrive when the country needs high-speed rail, the land would available. If it’s never needed, it can be sold off at handsome future prices.

In the meantime, most commuters would settle for a reliableservicethat could take them between Newcastle and Sydney in less than two hours.

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Golden Guitars 2016: The red carpetphotos

Golden Guitars 2016: The red carpet | photos Photos by Geoff O’Neill
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Photos by Geoff O’Neill

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Photos by Geoff O’Neill

Photos by Geoff O’Neill

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Photos by Geoff O’Neill

Photos by Geoff O’Neill

Photos by Geoff O’Neill

Photos by Geoff O’Neill

Photos by Geoff O’Neill

Photos by Geoff O’Neill

Photos by Geoff O’Neill

Photos by Geoff O’Neill

Photos by Geoff O’Neill

Photos by Geoff O’Neill

Photos by Geoff O’Neill

Photos by Geoff O’Neill

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Photos by Geoff O’Neill

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George Timotheou sets his sights on A-League breakthrough

A-League ambitions: Sydney FC NYL defender George Timotheou wants to aim for higher honours next season. Photo: Melissa AdamsSydney FC defender George Timotheou believes his team is ready to cause an upset against Adelaide in the National Youth League final.
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The 18-year-old Canberran is relaxed, saying that he and his teammates are feeling prepared and treating the final as an ordinary match.

“We’ve had a good week at training, we all feel confident that we’ve done what we need to do. It’s just another game really. We just treat it the same, prepare the same,” Timotheou said.

He will be drawing on the invaluable experience he gained during his stint with the Young Socceroos squad at the World Cup qualifying tournament in Laos.

“For me it was my first international tournament,” Timotheou said. “Just the professionalism about the whole thing, the whole camp, it was a real eye-opener to see the next level and just made me hungry to keep working hard.”

His goal is a call-up to the A-League.

“You gotta perform for your team as well but the ultimate goal is to step up to the first team and play A-League. So I guess that’s what I’ll be focusing on this season is trying to get an opportunity for grades to have a look at me,” Timotheou said.

“Obviously I wanna play for Sydney in the A-League but we’ll see what happens. I’ll keep being patient and working hard.”

Timotheou’s younger brother Antoni is one of several players who have been selected in the Canberra United Academy, and George thinks that it will provide many young footballers from Canberra with a “stepping stone” to professional leagues.

“I guess for me, while I was growing up, there wasn’t that [the UC Academy],” George Timotheou said.

“I had to leave home because they didn’t have that initiative in place while I was still there. But now I think it’s a really good thing and all the players should take this opportunity.”

The NYL final between Sydney FC and Adelaide United will take place in the Central Coast Stadium at 4:00pm on Saturday.

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Concession closures show David Jones is happy to lose Dick Smith

Dick Smith’s receiver Ferrier Hodgson has shut down the 27 concessions in David Jones stores. Photo: Edwina PicklesThe closure of the Dick Smith concessions in David Jones may signal the end of audio visual retailing at the upmarket department store chain.
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The receivers of Dick Smith Holdings, Ferrier Hodgson shut down the 27 concessions in David Jones stores on Friday amid speculation over whether the department store’s South African owner Woolworths Holdings will redeploy the concession real estate in its stores.

Woolworths would not say what its plans were for the space except to say it would “consider its options in relation to audio visual as part of its regular review of the category mix and the broader electrical and appliance offering”.

The Dick Smith-branded concessions have traded out of David Jones since late 2013, selling audio visual equipment, including blockbuster brands such as Apple.

However, there has been talk that David Jones wasn’t happy with this arrangement for some time.

The decision to shut the concessions suggests Ferrier Hodgson quickly identified them as one of the least profitable parts of the Dick Smith operation as it works to find a buyer for failed retail chain.

One source close to Dick Smith said the concessions were always a weak point in the electronics retailer’s strategy.

“It was quite well telegraphed that David Jones wasn’t happy with what Dick Smith was doing,” he said.

As many as 181 staff stand to lose their jobs over the closure of the concessions. However, David Jones has come to the rescue of some of the employees, committing to re-employ staff who were working for David Jones at the time it entered into the concession agreement.

Dick Smith’s former chief Nick Abboud is understood to have negotiated the agreement for the concessions, which included a minimum sales guarantee.

It’s understood this arrangement meant David Jones received guaranteed income from the Dick Smith concession, irrespective of sales.

Retail analysts suggest the concession deal was as much about building the profile of the brand among David Jones’ big-spending customers as it was selling product.

The Dick Smith concessions accounted for just 3 per cent of the operation’s total sales and were a tiny cog in the operation, which collapsed under the weight of more than $400 million in debts in early January.

Ferrier Hodgson said the relationship between David Jones and Dick Smith would end as of Wednesday, January 27, and that both parties had agreed to the termination terms.

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The business end: the biggest business stories for Friday, January 22

Former Woolworths chairman backs Mitre 10, Home merger
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by Sue Mitchell

Former Woolworths chairman John Dahlsen says Woolworths’ exit from the $45 billion home improvement market could boost competition if regulators approve a merger between wholesalers Mitre 10 and Danks and clamp down on Bunnings’ expansion.

Click here to read the full story.

Grown woman with PhD wants to be allowed to pick her own super fund

by Sally Rose

Dr Rhiannon Pilkington is the first to admit she is no superannuation expert. But the 29-year-old public health academic believes that is not a reason she, like roughly 2 million other Australians, should not have the right to choose her own fund.

Click here to read the full story.

The job Australians don’t want

Troubled retail giant Woolworths is set to be run by a foreigner after a search for a local executive to head the chain came up empty-handed.

In surprisingly frank comments, Woolworths chairman Gordon Cairns has admitted he invited several Australians to consider the job to replace Grant O’Brien but none were interested in even interviewing for the role.

Click here to read the full story.

The real reason Netflix is cracking down on VPNs

​by Dominic White

It’s a rare thing when a high-profile company changes its position on a key issue overnight. So Netflix’s announcement on January 15 that it would take steps to stop customers streaming shows that aren’t officially available in their country came as a big surprise to many observers.

Click here to read the full story.

A Hillary Clinton-style tax on Australia’s rich is a bad idea

by Nassim Khadem

We shouldn’t tax the rich more. Hear me out before passing judgement.

In the United States, Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton wants to raise tax rates on those earning over $5 million a year by 4 per cent.

The “fair share surcharge” is among other proposals to close tax loopholes that allow multimillionaires to pay lower tax rates than American middle-class families.

But it only applies to 0.02 percent of taxpayers. And in an Australian context it makes little sense.

Click here to read the full story.

ASX posts weekly gain as BHP rallies

Australian shares finished the week in positive territory as commodity prices continued to lift from recent record lows, aided by signals from Europe and Japan that central banks will add to stimulus if needed to boost the global economy.

Click here to read the full story.

ATO crackdown on rental properties, holiday homes

by Nassim Khadem

Australians who rent out their holiday homes for just a few weeks a year, but try to claim full-year deductions on their tax returns have come under fire from the Australian Taxation Office.

Click here for the full story.

Social Playground’s million-dollar tennis selfie business

by Cara Waters

Attendees at the Australian Open are queuing up to get a printed version of their selfies thanks to technology created by Sydney small business Social Playground.

Click here for the full story. 

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How is Scott Morrison performing as Treasurer?

Is Scott Morrison doing a better job than Joe Hockey as Treasurer? Photo: Andrew MearesWhen Malcolm Turnbull challenged Tony Abbott for the leadership of the Liberal Party, he said the government desperately needed a different leadership style.
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Australia is facing huge economic challenges and needs a new leadership team that can explain those challenges clearly and sensibly, he said.

He replaced Treasurer Joe Hockey with Scott Morrison and set about rebuilding the government’s economics team.

But how well is Scott Morrison doing as Treasurer? Is he doing a better job than Hockey? We asked some senior economists and strategists for their views.

Saul Eslake, private economist

“I think the jury is out on Morrison. I’m prepared to cut him a bit of slack because he’s the first treasurer since John Kerin who has not previously been a shadow treasurer, a finance minister, or an assistant treasurer, so he’s been thrown in at the deep end.

“He’s dropped some of the apocalyptic rhetoric that Abbott used all the time and which Hockey was prone to use when he was under pressure. There’s none of that from Morrison, which is good and appropriate.

“But I haven’t seen much sign of a concerted effort on Morrison’s part yet to educate the public as to the nature of the economic challenges that Australia faces or to start the work of seeking a mandate for dealing with them.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with Mr Morrison and Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer. Photo: Andrew Meares

John Hewson, former Liberal leader

“I think he’s sent mixed messages. He started out by saying he could fix the budget by cutting expenditure and at the same time he was raising expectations of tax reform without increasing the burden of tax. I don’t think those two things are consistent.

“If you realistically factor in the long-term expenditure commitments which the electorate seems to want, and which both sides of politics have signed up to, then somewhere in there you have to admit we’ll actually have to raise the burden of tax as well as cut government expenditure.

“We haven’t had realism in the debate and I’ll doubt we’ll get it before the election.”

John Daley, director, Grattan Institute

“The one thing we’ve seen Morrison explore in any kind of detail was his speech on superannuation, and that certainly looked as though he had looked long and hard at understanding what are the principles here, what are we trying to do, and then what are the options? And he laid out some pretty sensible principles and options for reform.

“With the mid-year budget update, he made some movement towards making the assumptions behind the budget more sensible.

“But it doesn’t feel like he has the kind of urgency behind budget repair that I suspect he needs to have. There seems to be quite a lot of acceptance that we’ll have budget deficits for a long time, and we’ll just hope we can grow ourselves out of it.”

Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex EllInghausen

Bruce Hawker, veteran Labor strategist

“The best you can say is that Morrison has turned a corner from the disastrous image that Joe Hockey – and of course Tony Abbott – had on economic management.

“The big advantage that he has over Hockey is that he actually does present as somebody who’s competent, and that’s incredibly important to the electorate because they want to believe that the person running the Treasury is numerate and can look after the finances and economy of the nation.

“But the big challenges are still ahead as we head into a year of economic volatility. How he manages tax policy will be one of the defining moments for him. They haven’t actually made any hard decisions… increasing or broadening the GST would be politically disastrous and test both Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull.”

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Booming housing market increasingly a target for drug money launderers, say police

The government is considering regulations to force real estate agents to do more to authenticate funds used to buy properties. Photo: Robert Shakespeare Justice Minister Michael Keenan Photo: Brendan Esposito
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The rampant real estate market has presented a golden opportunity for criminals to launder millions of dollars in drug money in Australia over the past 12 months, according to police.

Evidence of criminal cash entering the already inflated local housing market has emerged as the federal government considers imposing tighter regulations to prevent properties being bought with the proceeds of crime.

New measures being weighed up by Justice Minister Michael Keenan and the anti-money laundering agency Austrac are expected to include requirements on real estate agents to do more to authenticate the source of funds being used to buy properties and the identities of buyers.

The real estate industry is expected to push back at any move to put the onus of proof on agents, with the Real Estate Institute of NSW warning on Friday that the government – which it claims has not yet consulted with it – would be creating a “legal minefield”.

Gem dealers are also in the sights of authorities, amid concern that corrupt money, particularly from China, is being laundered through the purchase of rare pink diamonds in Australia.

A report by the NSW Crime Commission found criminal gangs have exploited the property market as surging prices increased demand for funds into Australia.

“This has provided greater opportunities for organised crime syndicates to launder millions of dollars,” the Commission found.

The flow of money out of Australia to settle drug transactions and the use of so-called “remittance agents”, who facilitate the movements, have entangled legitimate offshore investors in money laundering schemes.

The Commission used the example of an “individual of significant wealth” based overseas who recently bought into the Sydney real estate market.

The man transferred his own funds outside the mainstream banking sector to take advantage of better exchange rates offered by remittance agents. But the funds stayed in his country and a deal brokered between agents meant the money that purchased his new home was drug money made in Australia but used to settle a debt overseas.

“The Commission suspected that the funds deposited into the Australian bank accounts were proceeds of drug sales. The deposits were characterised as cash, with most below the reporting limit, and were made by various individuals within Australia. The owner of the funds was implicated unwittingly in money laundering through the transfer of funds for a legitimate property transaction in Australia,” the Commission found.

“It is likely that this is not an isolated incident and that the transfer of legitimate off-shore funds to Australia presents a very low risk opportunity for organised crime to launder drug proceeds within Australia.”

Federal authorities are considering extending anti-money laundering requirements that already cover banking, remittance and gaming to real estate agents, lawyers, accountants and precious stones dealers.

Consideration of stricter rules follows a scathing report by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force last year as the money pouring into Australian property and gems from China set new records.

Under current rules, foreigners can plough millions in cash into new homes and gems without having to identify themselves or the source of their funds.

The Coalition has sought to crack down on buyers who break foreign investment rules in the purchase of existing houses, with Treasurer Scott Morrison announcing another eight forced sales, bringing to 27 the number of homes to be sold since the Abbott government announced new restrictions.

REINSW president John Cunningham said the industry is aware of the money laundering problem but he said any new red tape should be imposed at the legal stage of the sale.

“Putting the onus on us to be responsible for checking identification and the source of funds is barking up the wrong tree because foremost we are responsible to the seller to sell a home when instructed,” he said.

A spokesman for Mr Keenan said $20 million had been given to Austrac to establish a new national intelligence team and the Attorney-General’s Department is finalising the review of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act.

“The review process involved extensive consultation with industry and government and included discussions about the potential extension of the AML/CTF Act to services that pose high money laundering and terrorism risks, including services provided by precious stone dealers, lawyers, accountants and real estate agents,” she said.

“The AML/CTF regime has always been a critical tool to disrupt criminal activity, providing the vital framework to allow our agencies to follow the money trail to crack down on serious and organised crime groups and those seeking to fund terrorist activity.”

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Backroom blokes in Wills faction fix

A week before a vote is cast, Labor’s faction and union heavies are close to securing preselection for the heartland seat of Wills to non-local and former security adviser Peter Khalil.
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As earnest local members turned out to a candidates’ meeting in Coburg this week, factional chiefs were advanced on secret deals to deliver local voting blocks (stacks by another name) and union support to Khalil whose campaign strategist is right faction deal maker Theo Theophanous.

The deals leave two candidates, Khalil and former senator and Andrews government adviser Mehmet Tillem, firm favourites ahead of the remaining field of six.

Only a revolt by individual Wills’ Labor members can now challenge the deals, finalised late this week and based on promises of future seats and jobs.

The preselection comes at a difficult time, with leader Bill Shorten polling poorly, the Greens a growing threat, and Victorian Labor in turmoil over branch-stacking.

So Wills, a seat once held by Bob Hawke, is being viewed within Labor and beyond as a test of Labor’s internal democracy.

Not surprisingly, Shorten and his union base, the Australian Workers Union, have been keen to appear to be giving local members a real say.

Preselection is a two-tiered process, the first stage a ballot of local members, the second a vote by a central panel elected dominated by unions.

In fact, the AWU has already opted to support Khalil centrally. In return he has agreed to join the AWU and to consult the union about his choice of staff once in parliament.

But at the local level Khalil, a little known multicultural commissioner from Melbourne’s south-east, lacks personal support.

So a second deal has locked in local Kurdish and Lebanese voting blocks (also known within Labor as “stacks”) behind Khalil who is of Egyptian/Coptic Christian background.

The plan is that these groups – linked to neighbouring Batman MP David Feeney – will secure secure Khalil a local vote healthy enough for the AWU and allies to justify its support on the central panel.

In return, Fairfax understands, Feeney’s allies have been given vague assurances including about future jobs and seats.

At the Coburg meeting on Wednesday unaligned Wills candidate Josh Funder called for such factional deals affecting the preselection to be publicly detailed. He has refused to elaborate.

Fairfax understands the Khalil deals have infuriated fellow candidate, scientist and Shorten adviser Anna Maria Arabia. But she has also refused to comment.

Both Shorten and Feeney are determined to block Tillem, a Turkish-born Muslim, viewed by many as an archetypal Labor warlord and, therefore, the wrong type of candidate for such a high profile seat.

But if Khalil is shoe-horned into this seat through deals done by the AWU and the likes of Feeney and Theophanous, it will be difficult for Shorten to portray the Wills preselection as anything other than a factional fix by the backroom blokes that run Labor in Victoria.

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Steve Smith’s Australians matching feats of halcyon Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting years

Steve Smith drives his team from the front. Photo: Mark NolanAustralia’s world champion one-day side is in the midst of a golden run rivalling the glory years of the Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting-led eras.
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The likes of Steve Smith, David Warner, Aaron Finch and George Bailey might not carry the same gravitas of Waugh, Ponting, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist, but all have been key players in Australia’s recent dominance of the 50-over game.

Smith’s men can complete a 5-0 whitewash of India with victory in the final one-day international at the SCG on Saturday – and it will take a brave punter to bet against them.

Australia have a 26-4 win-loss record (excluding a no result) in 31 games since the series against Pakistan in the Middle East in October 2014. The run takes in a triumphant World Cup campaign plus series victories against India and South Africa – the second and third-ranked ODI teams respectively.

That run is comparable to the 26 wins from 29 completed games in 1999-2000 by Waugh’s World Cup winning team. Should Smith’s side maintain their form for another year they will match the feats of Ponting’s Australians in 2003-04 when they won 48 of 55 completed games, which includes a record streak of 21.

The winning habit has left their confidence sky high to the point where they truly believe they can win from any position.

“The way we pulled it back the other night was magnificent, we really shouldn’t have won that game,” Smith said. “The belief that was in the group at the time, the way we were able to execute our skills under pressure was very pleasing.

“We certainly don’t feel invincible or anything like that. We’re very confident in our skill set and what we have to bring to the table. We’ve had a lot of success of late and hopefully we can keep having some success to stay at No.1 in the world.”

Australia are well clear at the top of the ODI rankings, 17 points ahead of their nearest rival.

Their next challenge after the Indian series is across the Tasman against New Zealand, who they defeated in last year’s World Cup final.

Smith does not want selection for that three-game series to be influenced by the preparation for the ensuing Tests. He wants the best one-day side to be picked, even if that means Test batsmen Joe Burns or Usman Khawaja miss out on the chance to adjust to New Zealand conditions.

“As far as I’m concerned, I want to win every series we play. It’s another opportunity for guys to play away from home as well,” Smith said.

“We’ve been playing some very good cricket at home and I want to win another one-day series away. It’s about having the best guys on deck to do that.”

Saturday’s game will be the last time Smith captains his country on home soil this summer. He hands the reins over to Aaron Finch for the three-game Twenty20 series against India, creating the peculiar situation where the Test captain plays in the national team under another leader.

“I don’t think it will feel too different, I’ll still be a leader around the group,” Smith said.

Finch said he would not feel uncomfortable with the arrangement.

“I’m going to use him as much as I can for advice and for tactics and just small things like that,” Finch said. “Under my leadership I want everyone to have their plans and their own ideas and be able to feel comfortable to come with me no matter what the situation of the game.

“[I’ll be] very open and that will be no different with Steve there. It’s great to have him in the side.”

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Short Takes for Monday, January 25, 2016

MESSAGE for the Newcastle Jets: Why bother?
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David McNaught, Pelican THEYare an affront to Newcastle soccer.

Bill Slicer, Tighes HillI’Masking Lake Macquarie councillors to go into Hillsborough either at 8 o’clock in the morning or at 5 o’clock of an afternoon and try toget out of the place. It’s a disgrace. As I’ve asked before, does someone have to die before something is done about this little suburb? I’m sure if any member of the council lived there the would already have traffic lights.

Colin Geatches,MayfieldHOW sickening it was for me to watch the unelected Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull lapping up the platitudes of Barack Obama regarding Australia’s military commitment to the fight against ISIS. Mr Turnbull recently rejected a request from the US for additional military support and Mr Obama’s platitudes belong to Tony Abbott,not him.

John Farrell, TenambitHAH!With Sarah Palin extolling the redneck virtues of Donald Trump, how can he lose?.

Greg Stewart,BeresfieldWHILE ratepayers and councils are fighting among themselves over mergers, they are leaving the politicians alone. Divide and conquer principle?

Peter Grant,Speers PointDURINGTony Abbott’s reign, he was often ridiculed for his one liner “We stopped the boats”, saying we want to know who is coming here.

Considering the escalating threat of terrorist activity in countries who opened up their borders, and the anxiety many of their citizens may now be experiencing, l believe many of Mr Abbott’s’s critics, although not publicly, will be saying good move Mr Abbott.

I, for one, am thankful we are an island. With the peace of mind of having a natural safety perimeter, and sensible border protection policies,thank you Mr Abbottfor stopping the boats .

Carl Stevenson,Dora CreekJOHN McLennan’s appeal for a more humane society is commendable but naive (Short Takes 22/1).

The reality is that we humans will eventually destroy our planet by environmental neglect, over-population or nuclear wars. Perhaps before then we might discover other planets that we can inhabit, but the likelihood is we will muck them up too. Hopefully immediate-future generations will be spared the demise of Earth when this little blob will have disappeared into the infinity we call Space. The fact is, we humans, for all our technology,are destined to self destruction.

Neville Aubrey,WallsendTEXTYet I will triumph in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! Yahweh my Lord is my strength, he makes my feet like those of a deer and enablesme to walk on mountain heights.

Habakkuk 3:18-19

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