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Archive for August, 2019

Mr Taha was shot in the driveway of this home on Fifth Avenue in Condell Park. Photo: Wolter Peeters Bilal Taha. Photo: Facebook

It was a weekly ritual none of the Taha children ever wanted to miss.

But now Sunday night dinners at their Condell Park home are solemn occasions, after the family’s treasured get-togethers were shattered on December 28, 2014.

The family was enjoying tea and dessert on the balcony of their home when they heard a knock at the door.

Thirty-four-year-old Bilal “Bill” Taha answered the knock, and stepped outside with whoever was there.

Moments later, his family found him sprawled on the driveway suffering gunshot wounds. He was still clutching his cup of tea.

His brazen slaying remains unsolved 18 months later but police believe a dispute between some members of the Taha family in Sydney and a well-known criminal network may be to blame.

A blue Toyota Aurion sedan was spotted speeding from Fifth Avenue in Condell Park moments after Bilal was shot dead.

A neighbour managed to note the letters on the number plate. Police later matched the registration to a car of the same description owned by Abdullah “Abs” Hawchar.

The 23-year-old Punchbowl man is part of the well-known Hawchar family and was closely linked to slain standover man Walid Ahmad.

“Wally” Ahmad was executed as he sat at a café at a Bankstown shopping centre in April. Weeks earlier there had been a fatal shooting at the influential underworld figure’s smash repairs in Condell Park.

The Condell Park shooting was the result of a simmering feud between the Elmir and the Ahmad networks, which some of the Hawchars, including Abdullah, were aligned with.

His brother, Mohammed Hawchar, was also at Wally’s panel beaters that day, possibly acting as a mediator between the two feuding sides.

On December 28, 2014, hours after Mr Taha was killed, police patrolling the Condell Park area came across Abdullah Hawchar in a different car on Simmat Avenue, around the corner from the Taha home.

Hawchar was arrested and taken to Bankstown Police Station where he was later charged for not disclosing the identity of the driver and passenger in the car that was registered in his name and spotted leaving the scene of that night’s shooting.

According to documents tendered in his court case last year, Hawchar was less than co-operative when police tried to ask him questions about his car and Mr Taha’s murder.

“I’m just gunna be quiet, I’m just trying to remain quiet,” Hawchar told police during a recorded interview.

Late last year Hawchar received a six-month suspended jail sentence for not disclosing the identity of a driver or passenger.

Police raided a house linked to Hawchar a day after Mr Taha’s shooting and found steroids and a black soft armour vest in his bedroom.

Hawchar was later convicted of weapon and drug possession offences.

He was released on parole in October, six months before the double shooting at Wally Ahmad’s A Team Smash Repairs. There is no suggestion Hawchar fired a gun that day.

Bilal’s grief-stricken family still grapple with why their loved one and eldest son was targeted, laying grounds for the suspicion that the intended target was not Mr Taha, but someone else with that last name.

His family remember him as a doting uncle, who would watch his nieces and nephews play soccer and take them to McDonald’s each week to order dessert.

Anyone with information can contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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 The state government is weighing up changes to IVF law after a “secret son” embryo donor case revealed by Fairfax Media exposed loopholes in the legislation.

IVF Australia had facilitated the transfer of two embryos Natalie Parker donated to a Sydney woman. The woman is alleged to have faked the miscarriage of her donor-conceived baby so she didn’t have to honour an agreement to keep in contact with Ms Parker and her husband, the child’s genetic parents.

The woman told IVF Australia the embryo transfer had failed. She declined the clinic’s request to come in for a blood test to confirm the miscarriage.

It was only when Ms Parker discovered dated pictures of the woman with a baby son on Facebook that the alleged deception was uncovered. The recipient has now deleted her Facebook profile and cannot be contacted.

The Sun-Herald’s revelations of Ms Parker’s case sparked a NSW Health investigation, and a review of the ART Act.

The NSW Health investigation cleared IVF Australia, the clinic at the centre of the case, of any wrongdoing under the Assisted Reproductive Technology Act as it stands.

“NSW Health found IVF Australia had not breached their legislative obligations as set out in the current ART act,” a NSW Health spokeswoman said.

The department’s legislative review had identified areas for possible law reform, which “are now being considered”, according to a NSW Health spokeswoman. She would not provide further details.

“NSW Health is committed to ensuring that the quality of care offered to people accessing fertility treatment though ART services is of a high standard and is supportive of all parties,” the spokeswoman said.

In a letter emailed to Ms Parker, NSW Health acting deputy secretary Leanne O’Shannessy said Ms Parker had “highlighted the personal consequences of possible loopholes in the legislation governing embryo donation”.

“The Ministry of Health is considering options to address . . . possible loopholes in the system including the need for legislative change to close any such loopholes.”

Ms Parker said her case showed the existing law wasn’t strong enough to protect the rights of donor-conceived individuals. “I look forward to seeing changes that ensure the integrity of process,” she said.

It has been suggested that NSW follow Victoria’s lead and include an addendum on birth certificates stating the child was donor-conceived.

Ms Parker’s case has already prompted the IVF industry to overhaul its practices to ensure a similar situation does not occur in the future.

IVF clinics will now require women who use donor eggs, sperm or embryos to give a written undertaking to have a blood test to verify whether they fell pregnant. Any patient who fails to provide the results of a pregnancy blood test will be reported to state authorities.

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RODE Microphones CEO Peter Freedman avoids putting his staff through the hoops of “horribly confronting” performance ratings. Photo: Mark KolbeWhen workplaces turned super competitive, human resources became inhumane resources to many who lost out, but a quiet revolution is taking place against the office politics of fear.

In Sydney there is a company that treats all employees as equal.

International software company Retriever Communications in the northern beaches suburb of Frenchs Forest does not rank employees against one another. Nor are any excluded from management meetings.

Mary Brittain-White, who founded Retriever Communications 20 years ago, has rejected rankings and other extreme human resources management fads that come and go.

“All of that ranking stuff is a load of bollocks,” Brittain-White says.

When it comes to getting the best out of her 40 engineers and 10 support staff, she makes sure that all their ideas, including criticisms, are heard. In the US, there was more of a tendency for workers to be compliant with their bosses, which Brittain-White believes is counter to promoting innovation and creativity.

The flat management structure at Retriever Communications means all staff are welcome to meetings. There is no visible hierarchy in the office.

“I let anyone at any level attend meetings if they have a need,” Brittain-White says. “Only the people that find it relevant to what they are doing actually come up.”

But unlike some American companies including shoe vendor Zappos, her management approach is not purely consensual. Zappos​, owned by Amazon, has embraced a system called “holacracy​” which replaces the management hierarchy with a democratic system of self-managed teams.

“I’m not suggesting there is no leadership here, there has to be,” Brittain-White says.

“It is allowing people to express a view and then having someone who actually has to own the decision.

“It is important to me … to say to people you are not barred from this meeting, this is not about seniority and hierarchy. It is about getting things done.”

Australian companies including Retriever Communications avoid the extremes of human resources trends – everybody runs the company at one end, brutal rankings and top-down management hierarchy at the other.

When it comes to performance reviews, the focus for Brittain-White is on the quality of the conversation and setting career goals for the benefit of staff.

“It is for the employee to feel they are getting the level of feedback they need, rather than the business needing it,” she says.

“The individual gets very frustrated in terms of not having a career path planned, not having a formalised assessment.”

The so-called “rank and yank” approach tested and ultimately abandoned by Microsoft, General Electric and other companies in recent years resulted in the bottom 10 per cent of employees being culled.

While setting worker against worker might encourage competition between sales staff, Brittain-White believes it fails miserably when applied to creative types.

“Conflict is not the best way to get the best out of engineers. What they are looking for is a more harmonious environment and encouragement. They need that,” she said.

Anxiety over job security and rankings breeds internal competition and in worst cases, gaming and cheating of the assessment system.

Before founding her company, Brittain-White worked for many years in large corporations including IBM and Motorola in Silicon Valley.

“I came from high sales and everyone was competing with the other bastard,” she says.

“In a smaller business like mine where you know everyone personally, I have made two people redundant in 20 years. We are desperate to find people with programming skills, we are trying to keep them, not get rid of them.”

The approach to human resources management in larger corporates was more brutal in the US, where employees are more easily sacked at will.

In an apocryphal story, a former human resources manager at Netflix named Patty McCord reportedly convinced her boss Reed Hastings that he should re-evaluate everyone in the executive ranks by asking the question: would you hire the same person again today? Reed took McCord’s advice to heart and used it to oust her from her job after 20 years in his service.

Tighter regulation of unfair dismissal under workplace laws makes sackings more difficult in Australia. Even so, significant down-sizing in recent years has still led to brutal retrenchments.

The rhetoric of retaining and developing staff talent operates in sharp contrast to the cold efficiency of downsizing.

“You are valuable until a company decides it doesn’t need you,” says John Shields, professor of human resource management at the University of Sydney business school.

“When it doesn’t need you, it will move you out as quickly and clinically as possible.”

Since the global financial crisis, many companies have moved away from reward payments towards talent development and training.

“The performance pay side of things really did take a hiding because of the way that executive rewards were exposed during the GFC,” Shields says.

The recent move away from performance reviews – universally hated and often criticised as an empty ritual – has surprisingly also led to employees becoming less engaged according to new research.

Aaron McEwan from best practice company CEB, said its survey of 9500 employees and 300 heads of human resources managers found employees, particularly high performers, had become disengaged without performance reviews.

The study of staff and managers at global companies including those operating in Australia found the move away from performance ratings resulted in a 28 per cent drop in the productivity of high performers.

In tossing out the bureaucratic box-ticking exercise, the valuable conversation between employee and manager had also been sacrificed, leading to staff, particularly high performers, withering without constructive feedback, recognition, goal-setting or encouragement.

Academics like Shields say the performance review format needed to be improved instead of jettisoned to protect the valuable time for a conversation between staff and managers.

Roy Green, dean of the University of Technology Sydney business school, found Australia is lagging behind many other countries including the US and Japan when it comes to promoting workplace productivity and creativity.

“We are not good in Australia at engaging talent and creativity in the workforce,” he said.

Harsh culling techniques used in company downsizing do little to encourage the talent and confidence of staff that remain.

“They are characterised by a survivor syndrome in that they wonder why they are still there and will they be the next to go,” Green says.

“I think the evidence is now suggesting that a very authoritarian approach to managing and constructing your workforce is instilling approaches that are the very opposite of the kind you would like to see occur, which is greater collaboration, greater commitment to the ethos of the organisation, greater participation …

“If you have a workforce that is so alienated that they don’t do these things, you are compromising the future success of your organisation.”

Performance reviews had become so “bureaucratic, over bearing and intrusive” in recent years that they had failed to give employees a greater sense of autonomy or enable them to participate in the innovation and growth of an organisation. The performance review had also become the proxy for ongoing dialogue with the workforce.

“Performance reviews have a role as long as they are a servant and not a master of job performance,” Professor Green says.

“Some of the old ideas of authoritarian management are disappearing but we still have many managers who are not well trained for their roles, who are insecure and who feel they need to have control over everything.”

Professor of human resource management at the University of South Australia business school Carol Kulik says there were conflicting purposes of performance reviews, including rewarding high performers with higher pay and laying off the bottom performers.

The administrative and punitive side of the reviews had stifled the candidness needed in genuine conversations that encouraged development and had led to some people trying to game the system.

The “rank and yank” technique often created internal competition and conflict among staff.

She says about 20 per cent of the Fortune 500 companies in the US had some form of forced distribution system which put employees on a bell curve.

“A forced distribution system only works if you are going to have some reward or punishment to attach to the ratings. Otherwise you are creating turmoil for nothing,” Kulik says.

“We haven’t seen forced distribution being that popular in Australia and part of the reason for that is because we’ve historically had such a strong centralised industrial relations system where a much smaller percentage of people’s pay is based on individual performance. Most of it is based on the award rate.”

Companies like GE and Microsoft that had eliminated 10 per cent of staff saw good performers lost.

Peter Freedman, the chief executive officer at RODE Microphones in Sydney, China and the US, says he avoids putting his 150 Australian staff through the hoops of “horribly confronting” performance ratings and has kept good employees for 10 years or longer “because that’s how you get a good business because they know what they are doing”.

“What we do is ask them what the highlights of the year were and what they have achieved,” he says.

“If the company is doing really well, and we have had another cracker year, then I come out there and increase everybody’s wages by 10 per cent. If you are doing well, why wouldn’t you share it.

“And that’s a huge motivator, otherwise they see me driving around in my hot car and they aren’t getting anything.”

The business also has a very flat management structure.

“Everybody could articulate why we are doing what we are doing. And they are super proud how we are beating multi-billion dollar companies because we are fast,” Freedman says.

“The millions of microphones coming out of a place in Silverwater. It’s pretty awesome.”

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Elizabeth Blanchard says buying a second hand car is an ‘overwhelming’ process. Photo: Peter Rae More than a billion dollars of unclaimed money is sitting lonely with the federal government.

For months Elizabeth Blanchard has been searching for a small, second-hand car that she’ll be able to easily park in tight spots around the city. She’s spent days doing research to avoid being ripped off.

On her checklist is the need to make sure the car – if being privately sold – is debt-free and hasn’t been written-off or stolen.

The best way is to check the vehicle against the government’s Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR), formerly known as REVS. It costs $3.40 to obtain a certificate from the government’s website ppsr.gov419论坛.

But a quick Google search for the register also spits out the websites ppsr苏州美甲美睫培训学校419论坛, revs苏州美甲美睫培训学校419论坛 and revscheck苏州美甲美睫培训学校419论坛. All three websites are owned by the credit reporting giant Veda, which charges $25 for the same certificate.

“It’s appalling,” says Elizabeth, a 25-year-old medical practice manager. “Buying a car is already an overwhelming process and to think they’re charging $25 for something that you can get for a few dollars, it’s another way to be ripped off.”

The PPSR is one example of how profiteers are making big money by re-packaging freely or cheaply available information on government websites. Both big business and rogue operators are buying Google AdWords so their websites appear above organic search results, steering customers towards their pricey products.

Other examples include unclaimed money and birth, death and marriage records. Veda defends its websites

Matthew Strassberg, Veda’s external relations manager, defended the company’s PPSR websites, saying the $25 price tag was clearly displayed, and it was up to the consumer to decide whether it was worth it.

“We also provide a summary page, making it a lot easier to read, as the government’s certificate is quite text heavy and dense,” Strassberg says.

“Our website is mobile responsive, it’s a user-friendly interface for people to purchase the product.”

While the difference in price to conduct one PPSR check is relatively small, it can quickly build up. Elizabeth has seriously considered five used cars in the past four months. Using Veda’s websites to check the PPSR would have cost her $125, compared to $17.

A spokeswoman from the Australian Financial Security Authority, which manages the PPSR, said it was aware certificates were being resold and it was doing its best to promote its website.

“AFSA has no authority to determine fees set by a commercial operator,” she says. Cashing in on your lost money

Unclaimed money is another area where opportunists have made a profit by using free government information. At present, the federal government is sitting on $1.2 billion of worth of inactive bank accounts, lost shares and life insurance.

Bank accounts left untouched for seven years are transferred to the government’s coffers. This recently changed from three years. Owners can search for lost accounts using government websites such as moneysmart.gov419论坛 and get it back for free.

But unclaimed money “agents” have set up websites where they charge the user $30 for five searches. Some ask for a slice of the amount they recover as commission.

Deanna Mannix, director of moneycatch苏州美甲美睫培训学校419论坛, which claims to be “Australia’s largest unclaimed money database”, said it charged fees to cover the staff, legal and administration costs incurred to pull state and federal unclaimed money records in one place.

She also said it held records of unclaimed money that a state government may have removed from public viewing because it was not required to do so after six years.

“How do people even know if they have unclaimed money owing to them if it has been removed?” she asked.

She also said the company often helped customers overseas who had trouble locating and claiming old bank accounts.

“If you have legal issues you take your issues to a solicitor. It’s the same process with us. If you have unclaimed/lost money owing to you, you bring this issue to an unclaimed money recovery agent,” she said.

“We have recently incorporated overseas unclaimed money to the value of $5.5 million owing to Australians from companies outside of Australia.”

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission advises people who have been contacted by private money search companies wanting payment to recover lost bank accounts, shares and life insurance, to first conduct a search on moneysmart.gov419论坛. The cost of making a family tree

Australians wanting to trace their family history and build their family tree are encouraged to use records freely available on government websites before pulling out the credit card.

A Google search for “NSW marriage records” brings up Ancestry苏州美甲美睫培训学校419论坛, which asks the user to plug in personal and credit card details before starting a 14-day free trial period. Memberships start from $30 for one month’s access to its online database.

But users are urged to only join such paid sites once they have exhausted all free avenues, which include births, deaths and marriages registries, the National Archives of Australia and the National Library of Australia.

“Always read the fine print before signing up to any paid sites, and be wary of supplying credit card details to activate a free trial because you can end up in an expensive ongoing subscription,” said Tom Godfrey from consumer advocacy group Choice.

A spokeswoman for Ancestry苏州美甲美睫培训学校419论坛 said while it acknowledged the historical documents on offer are available from archives and libraries, its service placed digitised and indexed records online in one place.

“This makes it easier for Ancestry subscribers to research their family history without having to physically travel to archives and other institutions across Australia and the world to search the collections,” she said.

“Ancestry has developed proprietary online search technologies and tools to enable our subscribers to research their family history and build their family trees more easily.”

She said Ancestry苏州美甲美睫培训学校419论坛 has responded to criticism by updating the user interface in the past year to boost transparency around pricing and privacy.

“We also always encourage customers to have conversations with family members ahead of beginning their in-depth search in order to have a bank of relevant information available to lay the foundation for searches online at Ancestry,” she said.

Esther Han is the consumer affairs editor for the Sydney Morning Herald. Connect with her on Facebook at Savvy Consumer or follow Fairfax Money.

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Kate Waterhouse and Sonia Kruger at Bloom Cafe. Photo: Jessica Hromas Sonia Kruger’s baby daughter, Maggie, a year ago. Photo: Instagram

Sonia Kruger with Today Extra co-host David Campbell (left) and Brendan “Jonesy” Jones. Photo: Ben Symons

Sonia Kruger hosts The Voice Australia, whose live final airs tonight, and also hosts the morning TV program Today Extra. Kruger made her acting debut in 1992 as Tina Sparkle in the Baz Luhrmann film Strictly Ballroom and has since also hosted Dancing with the Stars and Big Brother Australia. Kruger is married to Craig McPherson, executive producer of Today Tonight, and the pair welcomed their first daughter, Maggie, in January 2015. After more than 20 years in the media industry, Kruger, 50, tells Kate Waterhouse about motherhood, her “real screen kiss” with Dan Aykroyd and her most memorable blunder on live television.

The Voice final airs tonight. Who do you think will win? It’s too hard to pick! All four artists are extremely talented and have all had incredible moments throughout the show. It’s up to Australia now to vote.

How do you prepare for the finale? It’s a long day – meetings, rehearsals, hair and make-up, wardrobe and then the show … Sugar helps!

How will you celebrate tonight? With a glass of champagne at the wrap party and a pair ugg boots at home!

If you were trying out for The Voice, which coach would you choose? If I could sing [laughs] – which I can’t! I –  would probably go with Ronan [Keating] or Delta [Goodrem]. Ronan has really surprised me this series. He is very forthright, especially when Jessie J has said something inadvertently that some people might think is a bit offensive. Ronan serves it back. He is a very easy person to talk to and he is really funny. Otherwise, I would pick Delta because she is our princess; she is one of the nicest people I have ever met. I love Delta so much.

Is the bickering between Ronan and Jessie J real or just for TV? [No] it happens more than you see on television … Jessie is a bull at a gate and that bluntness irritates the other coaches.

What is a day in your life? My day starts at 6am when I get ready to go to work at the Channel 9 studio. I will see if Maggie is awake and sometimes I wake her up so I can squeeze in a cuddle. Then I’m in hair and make-up and we start the live show at 9am. I finish at 1130am and I can go home and spend the afternoon with Maggie.

What do you love about working on Today Extra? David [Campbell, the co-host] makes me laugh so much! It doesn’t feel like work, it is more of a chance to hang out with friends. The show is full of all the stuff I love: fashion, food, finance. There is so much variety each day and it offers something for everyone.

What has been the most memorable moment? We had [actor] Dan Aykroyd on the show and we were talking about a screen test he had to do. All of a sudden he has grabbed me and went in for the big pash. It was hilarious having a spontaneous real screen kiss; it made for a great promo!

What is it like working on live television? In the mornings, it is very relaxed. The plan is quite loose because you are doing a 2½-hour show. David and I love to say that we put the “semi” into professional! People seem to like that it is a little bit random. Someone said to me the thing they love about live television is the mistakes – it’s the mistakes we all remember. The Voice is a little different because it’s a real slick production and it’s prime-time. You know that a lot more people are watching so there is a bit more pressure to get it right, but then the fun factor goes up as well.

You talk about “mistakes”. What’s been your biggest mistake on air? Oh I’ve made so many! On my first series of Big Brother I had to commentate on what was happening in the house. The executive producer was in my ear saying “Michael is making peace, he is the peacemaker” so I was like “OK Michael is making peace, there has been a fight in the house”. I’ve got the whole story going up and he was like, “No pizza, he’s making pizza!” and I burst out laughing … I’m sure the audience was like, “What is she talking and laughing about?”.

When you were younger, did you envisage your life as it is today? I was always drawn to show business. When I was nine I started ballroom dancing. I was just in love with it and the sparkly costumes. I’m kind of very lucky that things have turned out the way they have, I have so many amazing opportunities, I’ve hosted some great shows and I feel very privileged to have done so much. Honestly, sometimes I feel like I’m an imposter! When they asked me to come and do The Voice, I was like “why?” [laughs]. But it’s great, I’m glad they asked.

What does Tina Sparkle mean to you? When we made the movie, none of us thought it would be a commercial success. We thought it might be a bit of a cult film but not a commercial success because it’s a movie about ballroom dancing, who is going to watch this? However, Baz Luhrmann did such a great job and gave the movie such a unique feel. When people make reference to Tina Sparkle, they always apologise, and I’m like “Don’t apologise, I love it”. Elton John once told me that it is the nickname he gave to his hairdresser!

Who is the most inspiring person you have ever worked with? I had to pinch myself when I worked with Daryl Somers. I grew up watching Hey Hey It’s Saturday and all of sudden I’m walking onto set and I’m co-hosting a show [Dancing with the Stars] with him. I was like, “how did I get here?”. He is a real statement in the entertainment industry. He doesn’t work with auto cue. We had nothing when we worked on Dancing with the Stars, which to me is flying by the seat of your pants.

What is the best piece of advice you have received? After more than 20 years in television, there are good and bad press days. A publicist once said to me, “Doll, as long as they get a nice picture and spell your name right then it is all fine”. No publicity is bad publicity [laughs].

How is your daughter Maggie? She is great, she is running around and becoming a real chatterbox; I wonder where she gets that from! [Laughs.] But she is very much a daddy’s girl.

Are you enjoying motherhood? Yes I’m loving it; life couldn’t be better right now, it’s perfect.

How has motherhood changed you? I left the house the other day in tracksuit pants and ugg boots and I would never normally do that. Now when I go shopping, I go to the children’s section and that’s where I spend my money.

It’s all come down to this, the live Grand Final. Only one of the artists remaining can be named the winner of The Voice Australia for 2016. Who will you choose?Katewaterhouse苏州美甲美睫培训学校 

The Voice Australia’s live final screens Sunday, July 10, 7pm-9pm on Channel Nine; Today Extra airs weekdays from 9am.    BITE SIZE 

WE WENT TO Bloom: The Healthy Food Company, Mosman

WE ATE Chicken salad with pistachio and honey lemon dressing

WE DRANK English breakfast OVViO organic tea and fresh immune booster juice

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