Dysfunctional Power Market sending Prices ‘Through the Roof’

This year the wholesale cost of electricity in Victoria has risen dramatically. Many people blame the closure of coal powered stations like Hazelwood as the cause, but this is only part of the problem says the Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio. Who said that the deregulation of the energy market in Victoria had failed to bring prices down
Victorian electricity prices are “unusually high” compared to elsewhere in Australia, and competition and deregulation is not working in the interest of families and businesses”.

She said
Research commissioned by a bipartisan parliamentary review of the state’s electricity market found that on average, Victorian consumers pay 21 per cent more than the cheapest available offer.

The report found that the “retailer charge” — costs, marketing and profit — typically makes up 30 per cent of a household electricity bill, which costs more than producing or distributing the electricity itself.

Meanwhile a bipartisan review into the state’s electricity and gas retail market headed by former MPs Terry Mulder and John Thwaites found that the costs of increased competition in the market were so great that numerous extra costs had been added into the system and that consumers were now paying for these added costs.

Quizzed on the unusual circumstances of deregulation and increased competition actually driving up prices Mr Thwaites said “It’s an essential service. People can’t exit the market, so there’s no constraint on prices if they go up and up, people just have to keep paying those higher prices.” He said.

What all the increased marketing seems to have done is add layers of mystification to prices and he pointed out that the report called for marketing information to be more easily compared, and for contract prices and variations to be clear and fair and increased protection be introduced for low-income and vulnerable customers.

The report actually calls for “brokerage and collective bargaining” on behalf of low income and vulnerable customers and recommends the Essential Services Commission (ESC) should monitor the market. Implementing the recommendations could save people around $200 on their power bills.” she said

Questioned about report recommendations Mr Gerard Brody, from the Consumer Action Law centre in Victoria said that the state’s energy market “had been dysfunctional for too long and that customers had been ripped off for a very long time. “Competition needs to work to benefit customers and well-designed regulation can support effective competition,” Mr Brody said. His comments were echoed by Victorian Council of Social Service chief executive Emma King who said the report showed that retailers had been fleecing customers. “For too long, everyday Victorian households have been ripped off by energy companies. They have been fleeced, it’s time for that to end.” Readers finding these increases difficult may find this article on handy ways to reduce your power bills helpful.

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Changing Stress and Anxiety into Efficiency

Can the health and wellbeing of workers and their performance be both advanced at the same time by utilizing practices validated by recently released studies?

Leaders who want the best possible results for both the businesses they represent and the staff members that report to them, are finding simple yet successful, cutting edge solutions to this dilemma and we discuss this with business expert, Stuart Hayes:
The first thing Stuart asks leaders to contemplate is the consequences of stress and anxiety in the workplace V’s the results possible where wellbeing prevails:

One- Efficiency of Personnel
Stress and also bad feelings leads to staff’s focus being diverted and having impaired psychological clarity. Whereas more satisfied team members have clearer minds and are more engaged, focused as well as resourceful;

Two- Staff Well-being
Strain and negative feelings can bring about ill health… whereas individuals who are happier are often both much healthier and take pleasure in what they do;

Three- Morale and Staff Turnover
Tension and also bad emotions lead to staff retention problems. Whereas more satisfied team members feel even more connected to both their business and their colleagues, and so generally stay put longer;

Four- Workers influence on Public Relations
Stress and anxiety and negative feelings might cause team members to be resentful and a decreased degree of dedication in customer service positions. Whereas more pleased team members relate much better with consumers and are better advocates of their brand

Five- Alignment to Strategy or Strategic Adjustment Endeavors
Stressed or negative employees are both unlikely to align to the companies plan of action and at the same time they’re more probable to refrain from alterations that are required… in contrast positive and also pleased personnel are creative, curious, initiate advancements and also are inclined to be a lot more embracing of both the current course of action and also any changes.

So what is the solution?
To support team members to manage stress and to accomplish advances of the variety already mentioned previously, companies are more frequently utilizing workplace health and wellbeing campaigns, keep in mind though, not all of these initiatives work or convert into work productivity increases. “Really though, producing lasting increases in both efficiency and also well-being really needs a great deal more contemplation than just allowing a little work versatility, using a fitness center subscription or engaging a wellness lecturer. These are pretty much merely ‘box ticking’ style remedies and aren’t going to hit the mark” explains Stuart.

It’s this box-ticking solution that is the most common reason why well-being initiatives miss the boat. “If you stop for a moment and think about it, achieving lasting advancement in any area of life requires an assessment of what exactly is taking place currently, making a deliberate long-term resolution to alter this, then embarking on a highly targeted and structured journey.”

Stuart is keen to stress that encouraging groups to elevate their enjoyment and experience of their job and the outcomes they achieve from their job is the same thing.

He goes on to say:
“The goal must never be the development of a health and wellbeing program in and of itself. Rather, it should be the development of a distinct culture where accountability along with wellbeing are the foundations. What this signifies is that we recognize we are responsible for altering the way our team respond to pressure and negative emotions, changing the way our team is connected and interacts with each other, and also making sure everybody is naturally aligned to the team’s larger missions, all at the same time. This is the essence of an exceptional culture, and why leaders should certainly think of themselves, over everything else, as the guardians of culture.”

The latest Research …

As is widely known, the practice of mindfulness is being effectively utilised by a multitude of groups to help employees be more accepting of and better handle situations, stress and negative feelings.

What is not so well known, however, is that our mind and heart constantly connect with each other, that our heart can be utilized to help shift an individual’s sentiments from negative to positive, or that our heart’s field also makes a measurable impact on the people near us. According to Hayes, this epitomizes the forefront of H.R. development and leadership.

“I find it to be funny in a number of ways, considering we all have a heart, all of us have a brain, and we all discern these ideas naturally, nonetheless the expanding development of research that reveals that our mind and heart collaborate is extraordinary,” declares Stuart, who’s now devoted the bulk of the past 7 years researching this connection, the way it pertains to the work environment and also educating individuals in ways to take advantage of it.

Take into consideration these following points:
One- When interacting with a good leader, an individual’s brainwaves will actually ‘synchronise’ with the leader, an outcome that does not occur when the same person has a conversation with, let’s say, various other people of their team. The impact of this improves team engagement.

Two- Both the brain as well as the heart issue an electromagnetic field that is able to be evaluated a distance away from the body, however interestingly, the heart’s electromagnetic zone is significantly stronger.

Three- Measurement of the heart’s range differs, being subject to an individual’s frame of mind;

and,

Four- It’s possible to engage the heart in certain ways that measurably turn around the effect of bad feelings both within a person as well as within those near them, inducing alterations in both people.

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Hiring The Right Tradie For Your Property

Whether you’re planning to procure an all-around property contractor for a significant building task, creating a core maintenance team to maintain your rental’s systems, or simply need to have a property contractor to remedy some difficulties around your residence, here are some tips you can use to track down the ideal tradies as well as obtaining a tremendous job, at a good rate.

1. Ask people you really know and trust for recommendations

When searching for a property improvement expert with a reliable standing as well as a significant line-up of recommendations, one of the very best practices to start your search is by talking to your network of family, buddies, and colleagues for suggestions. Some of the most reliable tradesmen are typically some of the hardest to come across, since they typically get a great deal of trade from referrals, they do not need to promote themselves.

If your word-of-mouth search does not provide you with at least 3 potential options, the second step is to look online. Google and Yelp testimonials, as well as various online comments can be a great source of details and feedback that can really help you discover and examine possible tradies. Furthermore, depending upon what sort of undertaking you’re recruiting for, some tradesmen might have online photo galleries illustrating some of their completed jobs.

2. Picking the Best Tradie for Your Purpose

Once you’ve carried out your online research and compiled a selection of the potential property maintenance contractors you think may be best for your home-improvement or maintenance job, observing the following actions will help ensure you receive the absolute best outcomes for the best rates:

Give a clear specification of your job

The more complete your specification is, the more accurate your prospective property maintenance contractors can be in providing you an appraisal of the amount of time it will take to complete, as well as how much it is going to cost.

Insist on a written quote from different vendors

The general guide is to obtain price quotes from at least 3 tradespeople before choosing exactly who to contract. Not only does this deliver you a variety of choices, it motivates the tradesmen you speak with to shave their asking prices.

Where larger works are concerned, this ought to be an agreement. Each state has marginally varying criteria regarding the value of a project that mandates a written agreement. You should refer to the authority in your area for the specifics.

3. Due Diligence

Request to view their specialist licence

Many service providers are expected to come with a licence that verifies their occupation.
It’s more significant to look at the tradesperson’s licence as opposed to qualifications, as the licence can be withdrawn or suspended by the overseeing body in the eventuality of a serious failure to act within relevant guidelines.

Value professionalism and reliability

Tradespeople are not excused from conducting themselves professionally in the place of work, both in their appearance and behaviour. Some qualities to be wary of are a lack of communication, and also consistent tardiness.

Do not concede when it comes to insurance cover

See to it they have licensed contractors insurance coverage for a minimum of $1,000,000 cover. Public liability insurance plans are compulsory and gives liability protective cover from third party injuries together with residential property damage produced by the contractor. Cover documents must be up to date and valid for the duration of the job.
If a service provider becomes injured on duty, their income insurance will certainly cover their individual losses, however their liability insurance policy coverage will cover any kind of damage that befalls your property in the course of the work.

NEVER recompense a project beforehand!

This is an infallible method to run into setbacks and half-done jobs as there is no motivation for the tradies to get the deed done.

It is acceptable to pay close to 10 percent ahead of time to show good faith.

Final payment really shouldn’t be solicited before the project has been fulfilled, and you are happy with all work in accordance with existing guidelines.

Expenses for components, though, are reasonable. It is extremely acceptable for home owners to supply some funds to the tradie or contractor to acquire the components entailed for the task.

Be mindful of the risk that cash in hand entails

Although you might think that you’re defeating the tax office by saving on GST, it’s important to get a tax invoice or proof of purchase for the services undertaken. Watch out for any type of tradesperson that demand cash in hand fees with a less expensive fee that removes sales tax, as this can present a significant threat to your insurance.

With an excellent selection procedure in effect, plus a strong contract in hand, you’ll have outstanding odds of winding up pleased with your service provider and with the way your home improvement job turns out.

Know your civil liberties.

We all recognize that sometimes life doesn’t quite go to plan. If jobs are unfinished or not complete to an adequate degree, your tradespeople ought to be held accountable.

The first thing to do in this situation is raise your issues with the tradesman or company.
At the same time you can sit on your last transaction till the agreed work has actually been completed to standard.

If all attempts to do this fall short and the property maintenance contractor seems to be deliberately staying away from you, the next step is to bring it to your state or region’s customer protection agency. Disagreements with building contractors over disbursements as well as products can usually be conciliated and dealt with by the local government authorities. Talk to your local government body for more relevant information on what’s available in your specific region.

 

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Tax Time Tips

From Melbourne Accountant George Kontominas

Money mistakes made this month can potentially cost you plenty at tax time says George Kontominas, the Managing Partner of Dendra Accounting Group. Kontominas was nominated for two individual awards in the prestigious Australian Accounting Awards, the top awards for the Accounting Industry.

“Errors in June can create financial pain — particularly around the timing of tax-deductible payments and selling assets.” said Kontominas. A failure to tax plan will delay tax-deductible expenses. For example, with investment or work-related expenses, delaying them until July means waiting an extra year to get a slice of that money back from the taxman.

Good tax planning is also good business. Retailers in June promote tax deductions as part of their end-of-financial-year sales, which is good for people buying, particularly for business, who have a generous $20,000 capital expense limit per item for immediate tax write-offs.

“But tax deductible expenses only make sense if they are for something your business actually needs” says Kontominas.

Remember a tax deduction only gives you back your marginal tax rate, not the entire expense.
Taxpayers should be mindful of the opportunity of timing purchases for their business. May is your last chance to do strategic tax planning. It’s a good time to make strategic purchases that will set your business up to compete more effectively in the year ahead because the expense can be claimed this financial year instead of the following year.

Kontominas also has some advice for individuals. “People buying items for work or investment properties don’t have the same adfvantage as businesses.” he said “They cannot claim more than $300 instantly, their purchases have to be written off over time.”

“Another thing to watch is superannuation limits. These need to be checked during June, particularly for personal tax-deductible contributions made by business owners which must not go over contributions caps. Mistakes here have to be fixed and can be costly”. He said

Any business owner who would like specialist information on Managing tax for Manufacturers can attend a free event on June 15.

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TROUBLED WATERS

watersSo in the end, a day that began looking like a total disaster for the Democratic National Convention led to an evening that was not disastrous in the least — an evening, in fact, that might have saved not just the week but also the election.

Okay, it’s way too soon to be sure about all of that. But earlier in the day, Bernie Sanders supporters were in the streets chanting the GOP convention’s slogan — “Lock her up!” — about the woman Democrats were about to nominate, Hillary Clinton. The outgoing chair of the party got roundly booed at a breakfast given by her home-state delegation, and Sanders himself was booed when he exhorted followers to work and vote for Clinton. Early speakers in the Wells Fargo Center faced a cacophony of catcalls.

There was no way to go but up, and the ascent was launched not by a politician but by comedian Sarah Silverman. She told the assembled delegates that she was a Sanders supporter who would now vote for Clinton “with gusto.” And in an apparent ad lib — when she and Sen. Al Franken (Minn.) were asked to fill time before a performance by Paul Simon — Silverman addressed the “Bernie or bust” crowd directly: “You’re being ridiculous.”

Earlier speakers had been patronizing toward the Sanders crowd. Clinton surrogates did interviews explaining that many 0f his supporters were new to the political process and perhaps, I don’t know, had not fully grasped the whole winning vs. losing concept. Silverman was having none of that. I got over it, she effectively said, and you should too.

As if to gild the lily, Simon chose to sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” It’s hard to think of many other songs more likely, in just about any setting, to increase the peace.

Then came a lineup of powerhouse speakers. Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) gave a good speech. First lady Michelle Obama gave a better speech, focusing not on Trump’s failings but on Clinton’s virtues. Next came what was billed as the night’s keynote speech, a stem-winder by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) that pushed Democratic voters’ every button.

There was some heckling during the first part of Warren’s speech, but nothing like the rancorous racket heard earlier in the day. The temperature had cooled.

Finally, Sanders himself emerged to a hero’s welcome. He delivered what, for Democrats, was the money line: “Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States.” He cited Clinton’s many priorities and policies that agree with his and said “the election must be about bringing our people together and not dividing us up.”

It is no secret that he and Clinton disagree on some issues, he said, but there was a “coming together” in drafting the party platform. Translation: You won a lot, Sanders people. Take yes for an answer.

By the end of the night, it seemed they just might.

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Botanic Gardens – Not Just a Pretty Picnic Spot

Been to the Botanic Gardens Lately? It’s more than just a nice spot to
catch up with a gathbotanic-gardensering, there’s a variety of activities on offer for young and old. Here’s a sampling of what’s available or for more information head to their website https://www.rbg.vic.gov.au

Botanical illustration beginners workshop with Mali Moir 

This intensive four-day course provides an introduction to botanical art via pencil and watercolour. Students will begin to develop skills in outline drawing, foreshortening, tonal work, rendering of surfaces, basic colour work and paint application.
The cost of the course includes equipment to be used during the workshop – drawing materials, paint, watercolour paper and brushes.

Suitable for adults and teenagers. Presented by the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.
botanical-gardens-watercolourMonday 11 to Thursday 14 July
10am to 4pm each day

Whirling Room Studio, GMT Building
Melbourne Gardens
Getting Here

$399 adult
$342 Friends’ members
Bookings / Enquiries

T 03 9650 6398
E botanicart@frbgmelb.org.au

Bookings required, cancellation and refund policy applies.
Book online at rbgfriendsmelbourne.org or by telephoning the Friends’ office.

Plant Craft Cottage Demonstration Days

Watch and ask questions as members of the working groups demonstrate their plant craft skills.

Presented by the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne at the Plant Craft Cottage.

basketryNatural Dye – Wednesday 6 July
Pot Pourri – Friday 8 July
Fibre – Tuesday 12 July
Basketry – Wednesday 20 July
Plant Card – Thursday 21 July
Natural Dye – Wednesday 3 August
Fibre – Tuesday 9 August
Pot Pourri – Friday 12 August
Basketry – Wednesday 17 August
Plant Card – Thursday 18 August

When: 10.30am to 2pm
Where: Plant Craft Cottage near H gate Melbourne Gardens
Cost: FREE

Children’s Garden

botanic_childrens_gardenThe Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden is the perfect place for kids who love getting their hands dirty in the garden. There’s lots of fun places to explore including the Ruin Garden, the Meeting Place (which has a water feature that sprays up out of the ground in summer!), a Wetland Area, Bamboo Forest, The Gorge, Plant Tunnel, Kitchen Garden (full of yummy vegetables!) and The Rill (a gentle waterway that runs through the Garden).

The Children’s Garden is an interactive educational environment in which children of all ages, backgrounds, physical abilities and cultures can play, explore and discover the natural world. It features plants, water, structures and pathways that reflect Melbourne’s changing seasons. The garden has been designed to intrigue, teach and excite children from a very young age about the importance of conservation and the environment. It is scaled specifically for children to create a sense of ownership, care and responsibility for the environment.

Plenty to explore in and around the Children’s Garden with our ’50 things for kids to do’ checklist (PDF – 1.82 kB) or pick up a free copy at the Visitor Centre. The Children’s Garden is accessible to anybody including wheelchair users, visitors with walking frames and parents with prams.childrens-garden-activities

The Children’s Garden is closed for its annual rest from Monday 11 July and will reopen on Saturday 3 September. Each year the Children’s Garden takes a break in winter for regular maintenance and restoration for eight weeks following the end of July school holidays.

Open 10am–sunset Wednesday–Sunday and public holidays; 10am–sunset seven days a week during Victorian State School holidays. Closed to the public Monday–Tuesday during Victorian State School terms for booked school groups only
Rill (stream): 10am–4pm daily
Spiral fountains: 10am–4pm on days when the temperature is forecast to exceed 25 degrees. The fountains do not operate when the forecast is less than 25 degrees.

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Every breath you take

My reason for sending ‘my story’ to talkhealth (rather than to only the Aspergillosis website) was in an attempt to reach those unfortunates who have yet to be diagnosed and, of course GPs, as personally I have suffered these symptoms for twenty to twenty-five years (if not all my life!). I also know of others in the Group who have had similar experiences. So, I’m really pleased to have this further opportunity. This condition is referred to as ‘rare’ and I don’t dispute that per se, but based on my own experience and that of others, I consider it may be less rare and rather – under-diagnosed. When I described the symptoms as being ‘flu-like, with constant coughing, etc., on reflection, it was a somewhat under-estimated account, particularly in later years, as the fungal ball continued to grow in my lung. Having experienced influenza, bronchitis, pleurisy and pneumonia (the condition left me ‘open’ to every possible virus), in my experience, the effects are far worse than any/all of these.

I’ll be Watching You …

catOn my diagnosis being confirmed, and as there is no cure for ABPA, I was advised that I would be continually monitored by Royal Derby Hospital for the rest of my life – the plan being for six-weekly consultations. I was very fortunate to respond really well to the six months of steroid treatment as, had this not been the case, then I would have had to take other anti-fungal medications which, apparently, have even more serious side effects. I was again very fortunate in that I was able to ‘taper off’ the medications without any adverse effects, and now take steroids by inhaler twice daily. The consultants were equally pleased and my monitoring was reduced to three-monthly visits. As one appointment was made for 9.00 am (impossible for me on account of the distance involved), my follow-up appointment was delayed until six months.

At my last consultation in May, again they were very pleased with progress, as I had by now been off steroid tablets for six months – so much so, that it was suggested that I could either be discharged, or have annual check-ups. Obviously, I was delighted that I’d done so well that discharge could be considered, but the delight very quickly turned to total panic, as the Royal Derby has been/ is my ‘life-line’ and I have complete confidence in the team – so, annual check-ups it is – providing I continue to do well. From life-long monitoring to suggestion of discharge in one year? Should my condition deteriorate, the only option is to go through my surgery and for them to contact the hospital. The GP who sought investigation works just a few half-days per week, so should I fall ill outside of her contracted hours, I feel I shall be in a very vulnerable position.

As I understand it, it appears that the medication has ‘dumbed down’ my allergic overreaction to spores and that the inhaled steroids are keeping open my airways. So, I’m hoping that I’ll have two to three years in remission, failing contracting any viruses. Of course, there’s no guarantees and we are all different.

Every Step You Take ….

Following previous ‘bouts’, I had always ‘bounced back’ (perhaps not ‘bounced’, but eventually returned to ‘my normal’) – this time I haven’t. I’ve reported several times on my tiredness / fatigue symptoms (particularly following the least exertion) and difficulty walking any distance (legs feeling like dead weights), but I’m advised that it is doubtful that this is related to ABPA, and it’s suggested I see a GP. I have also had three incidents of falling down (not tripping or fainting) just so weak that I fall. Probably because of my experiences, I fear I’ll be told there’s a name for it but again no cure, so meanwhile, in the interest of expediency, I’ve named it myself – Falling Down Syndrome (FDS)! As with all my strange symptoms, it can strike at any time, so I’m finding it difficult to plan things, as it’s not just some good days, some bad – it changes within minutes!

Every Move You Make …

My most recent fall was in the bedroom, when I started to fall and, in a misguided attempt at a soft landing on the bed, did a sterling pirouette (unfortunately with only upper half of body) crashed into the television table, the television almost went through the window and – I crash landed on the floor! Had it ‘gone viral’ I may have made a fortune! So – massive bruises to my upper right arm and the following day, I realised that the half-pirouette had caused back injury, exacerbating walking difficulties. So I now take a fold-up walking stick when out, in case I feel weak and there’s nowhere to sit or lean, and have actually used it twice recently. It had such a positive effect on people (standing immediately to let me sit down, etc.) that we’ve decided it’s not a walking stick, but a magic wand!!

Oh Can’t You See – I Belong To Me ….

Members of the support group all appear to have very differing levels of symptoms and, therefore, treatments. However, some are very generous in sharing experiences and knowledge, and I acted on the very helpful information regarding house mites not being partial to wool, investing in a new bed (mattress half wool), wool duvet and ‘anti-allergy’ pillows – not sure how they can be termed ‘anti-allergy’, as the manufacturers may not know about us! All good – my sleeping is much better and I have another reason to be glad I’m single, as some who have partners have mentioned that they sleep separately because of the nocturnal disturbances this condition causes!

Another item of discussion that I related to was mention of how we are perceived, which has been a bit of a concern to me also – I think having ‘my story’ circulated has possibly been of (un-looked for) help. Of course, I don’t expect everyone to understand my strange condition, as I have some difficulty myself!

I’m still steering clear of gardening as much as I can – and am often told by friends that I mustn’t garden (for sure, disturbed soil, rotten leaves, composts, and places with mould or dust, for example, London underground, building sites, etc. are definitely to be avoided) – but I think what they’re not quite getting is the fact that spores are airborne, so there’s no avoiding them completely – it’s every breath I take!

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Protecting The Innocent

gavel

gavel

I’ve always been known as a tough-on-crime, pro-law enforcement individual, and I still am. During my years as a North Carolina State Senator, I vigorously advocated for the death penalty. As a superior court judge, I presided over trials where the death penalty seemed like the only suitable punishment for the heinous crimes that had been committed. Finally, as a Justice, and then as Chief Justice, on the Supreme Court of North Carolina, I cast my vote at appropriate times to uphold that harsh and most final sentence.

After decades of experience with the law, I have seen too much, and what I have seen has impacted my perspective. First, my faith in the criminal justice system, which had always been so steady, was shaken by the revelation that in some cases innocent men and women were being convicted of serious crimes. The increased availability of DNA testing in the early 2000s highlighted this problem so clearly to me. I spent the next decade working with others to devise systems and develop task forces dedicated to the prevention of wrongful convictions in North Carolina. I take, I believe, justifiable pride in the fact that North Carolina established the first state Innocence Inquiry Commission in the country. Numerous legal experts publicly acknowledge that the safeguards that have been implemented in North Carolina are wildly successful. However, one thing we did not adequately address is that individuals with intellectual disabilities, mental illness, and other impairments are more likely to be wrongfully convicted. The case of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown makes that point vividly clear. McCollum was 19 and Brown was 15 when they confessed to the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie. Both men are intellectually disabled, which greatly increased their susceptibility to false confession. As a result, they spent 31 years in prison, including time on death row, for a crime they didn’t commit.

The death penalty is not and should not be available as a punishment for all homicides. In Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Court found that under the Eighth Amendment, capital punishment “must be limited to those offenders … whose extreme culpability makes them the most deserving of execution.” Both the crime itself, and the offender, must be deemed the so-called “worst of the worst.” The Court has categorically barred persons with intellectual disability and juveniles from execution because they have diminished culpability, and defendants are also allowed to introduce mitigating evidence to demonstrate impairments. However, I’ve seen how these safeguards can fail to adequately protect individuals with significant impairments.

Last year in America, over half of the individuals that were executed had severe mental impairments. Too much reliance is put on jurors to identify those who are the “worst of the worst.” As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, I was responsible for assessing the personal culpability of defendants in capital cases to ensure that the punishment would be applied appropriately, so I understand just how difficult this task can be.

In order for mitigation evidence to be considered it must be collected and introduced at trial. In states where indigent defense systems are woefully underfunded, as it is in North Carolina, or where standards of representation are inadequate, this evidence regularly goes undiscovered.

Additionally, a number of impairments are difficult to measure. For intellectual disability, we can use an IQ score to approximate impairment, but no similar numeric scale exists to determine just how mentally ill someone is, or how brain trauma may have impacted their culpability. Finally, even when evidence of diminished culpability exists, some jurors have trouble emotionally separating the characteristic of the offender from the details of the crime.

The categorical exclusions for juveniles under the age of 18 and those with intellectual disability are simply drawn too narrowly to encompass everyone who has diminished culpability. These categorical exclusions are particularly inadequate when multiple impairments exist. Take for instance the case of Lamondre Tucker, whose case will be conferenced by the Supreme Court this week. Tucker was convicted of murdering his pregnant girlfriend in Caddo Parish, Louisiana. He was just 18 years old at the time of the offense, and was repeating his senior year of high school. He has an IQ score of 74. Taken together, these factors indicate that he is most likely just as impaired as those individuals that the Court has determined it is unconstitutional to execute. Yet, because of a variety of systemic factors, including ineffective legal representation, Tucker sits on death row. Ten former State Supreme Court justices signed an Amicus brief last month questioning the constitutionality of Tucker’s death sentence due to his impairments. Today I join my colleague’s call.

After spending years trying to instill confidence in the criminal justice system, I’ve come to realize that there are certain adverse economic conditions that have made the system fundamentally unfair for some defendants. These systemic problems continue to lead to the conviction of the innocent, as well as those individuals for whom the death penalty would be constitutionally inappropriate, regardless of the crime. Our inability to determine who possesses sufficient culpability to warrant a death sentence draws into question whether the death penalty can ever be constitutional under the Eighth Amendment. I have come to believe that it probably cannot.

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Healesville Sanctuary

In our quest to find great destinations around Australia, the GoGet Melbourne team ventured to the wonderful Healesville Sanctuary over the weekend to get up close with some great Australian animals.

The Healesville Sanctuary is a great and easy day trip for the whole family. Alternatively, it can be part of a larger weekend trip to one of Victoria’s many wine regions: the Yarra Valley.  If you are choosing a romantic getaway in wine country, don’t miss the Healesville Sanctuary just because you haven’t brought the kids along; even adults can have some fun at the zoo!

Getting to the Healesville Sanctuary and planning your day

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The Healesville Sanctuary is located about 65 kilometres (one hour) from the Melbourne CBD.  This means you can book any GoGet car for the day and get to the sanctuary and back without going over the 150 included kilometres on a daily rental.  The short one hour journey is also perfect with younger kids in mind.

We were at Healesville Sanctuary for about three or four hours, which was quite leisurely and allowed us to see everything. So if you leave the house mid-morning, you’ll have more than enough time to get there, see everything, and be home by dinner!

That being said, try to plan your day around some of the great activities below.

Healesville Sanctuary Highlights

Plan ahead and check out the highlights section of the zoo’s website. It may not be possible to see every presentation and feeding, but you’ll be able to see many of them if you think ahead. As the animals do need to rest between presentations, they are limited.

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Tales from Platypus Creek is a must see presentation when at the Healesville Sanctuary. For one thing, it’s a chance to learn about some great aquatic animals! The extra bonus is that it’s quite difficult to see a platypus in the general enclosure, so this is your chance to get a good look at one swimming about.

Spirits of the Sky is another great performance where zoo-goers get to see many of Australia’s birds of prey as well as a myriad of other Australian birds. If you miss this one, though, there are plenty of opportunities to see many birds up close.

Bird Houses

Parrots, Lyrebirds, High Country Birds, Woodland Birds! Many of the areas you can see birds are open so you can walk amongst the birds and get up close and personal! Of course the birds aren’t supposed to get out, so be careful with the doors as you enter.healesville-sanctuary-7-590x394

Our favourite was the “Land of Parrots” as the birds seemed to have the most personality and were the most curious about human contact. We were also lucky enough to have a casual chat with some of the keepers here and learn a bit more about our feathered friends.

Just a word of caution at all bird houses: yes, birds can fly and they like trees, but some hang out on the ground. Tread carefully and don’t let the kids get too excited.

So many other animals

The ride home is time to discuss (or argue?) about which was your favourite animal to see. Everybody will have their own opinion and their own favourite.

Personally, we preferred the wallabies of the kangaroos (they were cuter!). The dingos were another surprising highlight, but mostly because the group of us who went were “dog people” and there was a lot of surprising facts to learn.

But before this turns into a list of every animal, let’s just say they were all great and interesting. The Healesville Sanctuary is a fun day out for all, and it’s definitely worth the trip.

So go ahead and book yourself a Toyota Yaris for a quick trip with your partner, or a nice big Toyota RAV4 and take the whole family. It’s tons of fun.

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Dove’s cry but reigning Prince has a plan

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I’ll never forget the time, about a year before my husband and I were married, that I announced, “Prince is so sexy!” I made my bold declaration well within earshot of my future mother-in-law. It was a different time then. We were in Jackson, Mississippi and the year was 1983. She was shocked. When I tell my adult children this story now, they are surprised to learn that in the early 80s, 20 year-old white girls didn’t go around telling their southern belle mother-in laws they were crushing on an African-American musician. Who was her son marrying?

Just a normal girl.

If you don’t believe me, watch the coverage of Prince’s passing all over the news this week. People of every age, gender, race, creed and color are mourning the loss of this talented musician. I am in good company. A lot of people dug Prince. A lot.

My husband suggested yesterday that I write a blog about Prince. I dismissed it as a bad idea immediately.

‘I don’t even know him…’ I reasoned to myself. I write about people I know. That wouldn’t seem right. Matter settled.

Until about an hour ago, when I was working out at the Y. I settled my ear buds in, pushed GO on the stair-climber and hit SHUFFLE on my music. The music blared, and all of a sudden, without forewarning, Prince was in my ears. I felt a thud in my heart when I remembered he was gone. I turned his song up extra loud and climbed.

And sweated and climbed and listened. And thought about how I don’t know Prince and couldn’t possibly write about him. Then I wondered what it means to actually know someone.

Is it possible listen to a song like, “When Doves Cry,” a million times (a song Prince purportedly wrote in less than 2 hours for the album Purple Rain, released in 1984) and not know the genius heart that beats behind that piece of art? The lyrics and the poetry that speaks to so many; a metaphor for a relationship that yearns for perfection, were it not for all the pain.

I started thinking about a recent visit to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I was mesmerized by so many of the works on display there. Spellbound like everyone else by The Old Masters and their proteges. I felt as though the messages they were sending through their work resonated in my soul. And in some way, I was connected to each artist through their art. The way I was supposed to be. The way the artists intended.

And then I thought about all the books I’ve read through the years. I thought about the kinship I felt with each and every author and writer; as if we were old friends. If I ever chanced to meet these people in the flesh, I would surprise them by my overt familiarity. I would dive right in, no need for introductions – picking up where the book left off. No need to back track or catch me up. I’m already there…

…I read your book. I stared at your painting for an hour. I played your music over and over and over again for more than 30 years.

I know you at least well enough to know I’ll miss you. You sexy thing, You.

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