NSW Chief ScientistProfessor Mary O’Kane to speak at Cessnock coal gasforum

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Professor Mary O’KaneTHE NSW Chief Scientist will be invited to address a forum on coal seam gas in Cessnock, after councillors voted on Wednesday night to hold the forum.
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The council will invite Professor Mary O’Kane – as well as representatives from AGL, Professor Garry Wilgoose from the University of Newcastle and coal seam gas opponents – to address members of the community about the controversial mining practice.

In July last year councillors voted to defer a decision on the forum until after the report from Chief Scientist and Engineer Professor O’Kane was released.

That report – published in October – found that although there was a ‘‘concerning culture’’ of coal seam gas regulatory agencies not ensuring industry compliance, many of the challenges posed by the industry ‘‘can be managed’’.

On Wednesday some councillors suggested there was no need for the forum since the council has already expressed it’s opposition to the mining practice.

But Greens councillor James Ryan said it was important to give the community an ‘‘up-to-date perspective’’ on the issue.

While Cr Ryan said he believed coal seam gas posed ‘‘unnecessary risks’’, he said all sides of the debate would be able to be heard.

Parts of the Cessnock local government area are covered by a petroleum exploration licence owned by energy company AGL – what it calls its Hunter Gas Project.

In the past that’s made it a contentious issue for a town on the doorstep of the Hunter valley wine region.

But while councillors were waiting for the chief scientist’s report, the state government did much of the job for them.

In October last year the NSW government released its draft amendments to the Strategic Planning Policy which introduced a two kilometre residential exclusion zone around coal seam gas project. It saw AGL revise its estimates on gas reserves from more than 400 petajoules to zero.

The company claims it is committed to the Hunter Gas Project, and in June said it had a ‘‘long-term commitment’’ to the Hunter Valley and ‘‘planned to be here for many years to come’’.

Sydney Flames scorch Canberra Capitals in WNBL

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Canberra captain Abby Bishop top-scored, but a red-hot performance from Sydney guard Katie-Rae Ebzery led the Flames to a second consecutive WNBL win over the Capitals in three weeks.
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While Bishop kept the Capitals in the contest with a game-high 29 points and 14 rebounds, Ebzery dominated with 26 points in Sydney’s comfortable 76-60 win.

The Flames led for all but the first two minutes of the match and held a 55-48 lead at the half. While Bishop hit a hot streak in the third term to drag the Capitals within two points midway through the period, Sydney put on the after-burners with a 21-12 closing quarter.

Bishop is in desperate need of some back-up, with superstar forward Lauren Jackson still sidelined after hip surgery.Capitals coach Carrie Graf has said Jackson will return to the court “well before Christmas”, but there are only eight games remaining before the new year, which is well past the midpoint of the season.

It was almost a lone hand from the Capitals skipper, Bishop, with Alice Coddington the only other Canberra player to hit double-figures in scoring as the Caps shot a meagre 33 per cent for the match.

In contrast, Ebzery had some fine support from her Sydney teammates, Rohanee Cox grabbing 9 points and 13 rebounds, while import Paris Johnson (11 points, 7 rebounds) and  3 assists) and Tahlia Tupaea (12 points) chipped in from the bench.

The Capitals are yet to string back-to-back wins together from their five games this season, having also lost to Sydney by three-points in Canberra last month.

The loss drops the Capitals out of the WNBL’s top four with a 2-3 record, although they get a chance for redemption against the West Coast Waves at the AIS Arena on Sunday.

SYDNEY FLAMES 76 (K Ebzery 26pts, T Tuaea 12) bt Canberra Capitals 60 (A Bishop 29, A Coddington 10, S Talbot 9) in Sydney.

Thoroughbred horses not inbred or mistreated, says vet

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When a thoroughbred barrels toward the line at the Melbourne Cup, its half ton frame lifts off the ground entirely, propelled only by four thin legs. An enormous heart is pumping 60 litres of blood around its body for it to reach speeds of 65 kilometres per hour.
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These multi-million dollar machines are the product of more than 200 years of careful breeding. Some break down spectacularly – such as Admire Ratki on Tuesday or Verema in last year’s Cup.

But vets and breeders have rejected suggestions thoroughbreds are bred without concern for their welfare.

“It’s an incredibly well controlled industry; the horses are looked after very, very well,” said Dr Leanne Begg of Equine Veterinarians Australia.

Dr Begg said thoroughbreds were not like purebred dogs with congenital weakness and diseases.

“Dogs just have to look pretty, most of them,” she said. “These horses have to get out there and perform.”

She said claims horses were put down when no longer valuable to owners were “rubbish” and that only untreatable injuries ended in euthanasia.

“Because they are 500 kilogram animals and you can’t make them lie down on a bed to recuperate, there are some upper limb fractures that we cannot fix.”

Les Young, executive director of Thoroughbred Breeders NSW, said injuries such as catastrophic leg breaks were rare and could occur off the track as well.

Mr Young said breeders responsibly balanced risks, such as the chance of internal bleeding, against racing ability.

“Some of the best blood lines we have in thoroughbreds have been descended from animals that were themselves bleeders,” he said.

Thoroughbreds date back to the crossing of Arabian horses with English broodmares in the 1700s. Today, all males can trace their lineage back to just three sires – the Godolphin Arabian, the Darley Arabian, and the Byerley Turk.

A 2011 study of 467 thoroughbreds, published in the journal Animal Genetics, found a “worrisome” increase in inbreeding among thoroughbreds over the past 20 years, as “big book” stallions bred with greater numbers of mares.

But Dr Begg said she had never treated an injury related to inbreeding and that the industry’s ban on artificial insemination formed a natural constraint.

“A small amount [of inbreeding] probably does occur but not a very great degree at all.”

Ward Young, a Coalition for the Protection of Race Horses spokesman, said it was hard to establish clear links between racing deaths on the track and breeding problems.

But he said the industry was breeding more horses than it needed, with little concern for their welfare.

“It’s ultimately the horses that are paying if they are not good enough to make it to the track and end up at the knackery,” he said.

“The horseracing industry is not willing to foot the risk that they might breed a horse that’s not competitive and then look after it for the rest of its life.”

Hunter Stadium boss says it will be all right on the night as new turf laid for Saturday match

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‘It will be all right on the night’ ROLLING ALONG:Workers continue to lay turf at Hunter Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Phil Hearne
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ROLLING ALONG:Workers continue to lay turf at Hunter Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Phil Hearne

ROLLING ALONG:Workers continue to lay turf at Hunter Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Phil Hearne

ROLLING ALONG:Workers continue to lay turf at Hunter Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Phil Hearne

ROLLING ALONG:Workers continue to lay turf at Hunter Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Phil Hearne

ROLLING ALONG:Workers continue to lay turf at Hunter Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Phil Hearne

ROLLING ALONG:Workers continue to lay turf at Hunter Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Phil Hearne

ROLLING ALONG:Workers continue to lay turf at Hunter Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Phil Hearne

ROLLING ALONG:Workers continue to lay turf at Hunter Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Phil Hearne

ROLLING ALONG:Workers continue to lay turf at Hunter Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Phil Hearne

ROLLING ALONG:Workers continue to lay turf at Hunter Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Phil Hearne

ROLLING ALONG:Workers continue to lay turf at Hunter Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Phil Hearne

TweetFacebookJaliens said he was ‘‘very keen to see what’s been going on and how it looks’’ but had faith in the company installing what Henderson described on Monday as ‘‘ready-to-play turf’’.

‘‘They’ve had a long time to prepare everything so I’m pretty confident that everything will look very good and we can have a good match on it,’’ Jaliens said.

The process of ripping up the old pitch, voted the worst in the A-League last season by the captains of all clubs, began after the Newcastle Knights played their last game of 2014, almost two months ago.

Rolls of turf, which are one metre wide by 10 metres long and will cover the 11,000-square-metre playing arena, had to wait for the old grass to be removed and a drainage system installed.

The Jets had been hoping to practise on the pitch on Friday, but it is understood that training may be replaced by a ‘‘walk-through’’ to get a feel for the new conditions.

Henderson said on Monday that the turf was ‘‘designed to be put down and you can virtually play on it that day or the next morning’’.

A crowd of at least 10,000 is expected to pay close attention on Saturday.

Jets grant Jonny Steele indefinite leave

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OUT: Jonny Steele playing one of his two games for Newcastle.IRISH import Jonny Steele faces an uncertain future with the Newcastle Jets after being granted indefinite personal leave for reasons the club has refused to divulge.
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Steele, the former New York Red Bulls midfielder, did not attend training on Wednesday, a development that caught club management by surprise.

After speaking to the 28-year-old, Jets coach Phil Stubbins told the Newcastle Herald that the club had agreed to grant him time off.

‘‘The player has requested a little bit of leave of absence, and after speaking with the player, and considering our duty of care as a club, we’ve decided that it’s a warranted request,’’ Stubbins said.

‘‘It will remain in confidence between the player and the club where it’s at. That’s probably all I’d be prepared to say at this point in time.’’

Stubbins revealed Steele’s issue was ‘‘not a football matter’’. He could not confirm nor deny if the player intended to return home to Northern Ireland during his leave.

‘‘Out of respect for the player, I don’t really want to go into too much detail, to be honest,’’ Stubbins said.

‘‘We’ve not put a definite period on here.‘‘Everyone is trying to do the right thing here, and that’s where it’s at.’’

Steele’s absence at training was unexpected after he told a fan on Twitter he would be ‘‘back training this week’’ when he was asked on Tuesday if he had recovered from a calf-muscle injury.

Later on Tuesday he seemed in good spirits, tweeting: ‘‘This Melbourne Cup day is crazy in oz!’’

After joining Newcastle in the pre-season, Steele started in Newcastle’s first two games, against Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City, and came close to scoring two goals against the Mariners.

But he was dropped for the round-three trip to Wellington when Stubbins was disappointed with his performance on the training pitch.

‘‘For me, training is everything,’’ Stubbins said at the time.

‘‘The application and intensity and everything we want at training needs to be apparent at any given time.

‘‘Maybe it is fatigue on Jonny’s part on this particular occasion, but he was just a little bit short at training.

‘‘We have the two big games coming up, a lot of travel involved, and we decided to rest him up.’’

Steele then suffered a corked calf and was ruled out of the trip to Perth last weekend, where the Jets lost for the third time this season.

The colourful Irishman’s absence on Wednesday was another frustrating setback for Stubbins, who had been hoping to have a full complement of players at his disposal for Saturday’s showdown with Melbourne Victory at Hunter Stadium.

Veteran left-sided central defender Adrian Madaschi and former Victory holding midfielder Billy Celeski are both back in training and pushing for selection.

Striker Joel Griffiths was rested from training on Wednesday but is expected to be fit for Saturday.

‘‘Jonny aside, it’s the first time I’ve had a full list to choose from,’’ Stubbins said.

‘‘Madaschi and Celeski are both very, very close, although I’m not sure if they’ll play this week.’’

IAN KIRKWOOD: Street art trick or treat

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TWO great things happened around here at the weekend.
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The first was Halloween on Friday night. And on Saturday and Sunday, it was the second Hit The Bricks festival of street art.

Declaring an interest, our family is friends with Hit The Bricks co-organiser Sally Bourke and her family, and I thought it was a brilliant idea from the start, taking unloved and often deteriorated blank inner-city walls and handing them over to some of the nation’s best street artists.

And so it turned out. Despite inclement weather and the usual difficulties that come with running an event of such scale on the smell of an oily rag, the first Hit The Bricks has had an obvious and positive impact on the city streetscape.

Like most of us, I was absolutely blown away by the sheer quality of the works. The most obvious example is the Aboriginal boy at Wickham painted with the skill of a Renaissance master by Melbourne artist Adnate.

He was back this year, and another two of his hyper-realist faces now adorn the Gibson Street car park, facing King Street.

We joined the steady flow of onlookers visiting the painting sites on Sunday afternoon, and the enthusiastic interplay between the artists and an appreciative public left me feeling good about the city and its sometimes sublimated soul.

And then someone told me about the online comments to the Newcastle Herald’s coverage of events on Monday.

I wasn’t surprised about the people pointing to the Kurri Kurri murals, a collection of more than 50 large-scale artworks begun in 2003 and celebrated each September during Mural Month.

They also attract national attention and I can see why the good folk of Kurri might think we are making a bigger fuss about Hit The Bricks than we do about the town’s Mural Month celebrations each September.

But I was surprised to see various readers describe the Hit The Bricks art as “graffiti” and “junk”. And “typical Newie regressive junk” at that!

I had the same thought as those readers posting comments to counter the whingers. Had they actually looked at any of the walls? The only thing that Hit The Bricks has in common with the “graffiti battles” that one unhappy reader remarked on is that both use aerosol cans in their creations.

But Hit The Bricks went through a hell of a lot of four-litre paint tins and rollers and brushes as well.

And the proof of the social impact of Hit The Bricks? Almost none of the works have been attacked with graffiti this past year.

Newcastle will never be a full-blown tourist destination. But it does have a growing reputation of cool, and Hit The Bricks has most definitely added to it.

Now, to Halloween, the festival that stuck in my throat as American crap.

That is, until we moved to a part of Hamilton where Halloween is a popular street festival, and the unfinished headstones in our backyard – a previous owner was a stonemason – gave our daughters a distinct advantage when it came to creating Halloween tableaux.

Each year for the past few years, Halloween has become bigger and bigger.

And yes, it’s commercial, with the lolly sales and make-up and masks, but it’s worth pointing out that Halloween is All Hallows’ Eve, a set date on the Christian calendar – possibly adopted from an earlier pagan ritual – and beginning in the Old World, not the US.

Around our way, a Halloween protocol has established itself where children, the younger ones accompanied by adults, do the rounds of the streets, knocking only on those houses that welcome such visitors with a witch’s hat or a bat or some other suitably sinister sign.

And our kids, while happy to accept treats, carry their own lollies with them, offering them to the people inside the house as well. It’s amazing what a bit of reciprocation can do.

And no, we didn’t have Halloween when we were kids. I know that. We had cracker night, and we blew up letter boxes, scared the neighbourhood pets and put lots of kids in hospital, some of whom emerged without eyes or fingers.

I miss all that mayhem but, as a parent, I know which celebration I’d rather have.

Councillor Aled Hoggett quits “opaque” Gloucester Dialogue on AGL gas project

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A GLOUCESTER Shire Councillor has quit the maligned community Gloucester Dialogue, labelling it as ‘‘opaque’’ and a ‘‘monologue directed at council’’
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Councillor Aled Hoggett was instrumental in setting up the dialogue, which is chaired by NSW Land and Water Commissioner Jock Laurie and includes representatives from government, council, the community and AGL.

But late Wednesday night he revealed he had quit the Dialogue in protest, saying it had become ‘‘a means by which AGL and the State Government provide carefully selected and manicured information to the council and the community’’.

‘‘This creates an illusion of consultation where in fact none exists,’’ he said.

‘‘The process has also been completely opaque.’’

Cr Hoggett, a former chair of Mid Coast Water, said the dialogue had been set up to give AGL and the state government the opportunity to ‘‘properly consult with the Gloucester community’’ about its Gloucester coal seam gas project.

But in a scathing statement he said AGL and the government had inundated the dialogue with ‘‘one-sided technical information’’ that ‘‘systematically ignored the fundamental social and economic consequences that are likely to result from AGL’s project’’.

‘‘With some crucial issues the Dialogue was given no information beforehand but was simply told after the event,’’ he said.

The Gloucester coal seam gas project includes a first stage of 110 wells across the Gloucester basin.

The company recently began hydraulic fracturing at its Waukivory pilot project a few kilometres outside the town of Gloucester.

The site has been subject to intense protests in recent weeks, with more than a dozen anti-coal seam gas activists arrested.

TOPICS: Sacred site insect bite leaves Briarne bug-eyed

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HOLY: Briarne Pigott shows off her infected eye, left. Pilgrims bathe and children play on the banks of the Ganges River at Varanasi, India, near where Briarne Pigott was bitten by a bug. WE’VE all been there. You’re in India, falling asleep in a hostel near the holy river Ganges when, in your right eye, you feel a scratch.
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And you hope it’s not as bad as you think.

‘‘I have long fingernails and I was half-conscious, so I thought I must have scratched it,’’ reports Briarne Pigott, of Newcastle, who this just happened to.

‘‘Then I woke up in the morning and my face was huge.’’

A day later in the river city of Varanasi, her face ached and the eye was closing over. She went to a doctor who prescribed four pills, but by day three it was worse.

‘‘Very red and inflamed now, and the skin around my eye looked like it was a dead rash,’’ says Briarne.

‘‘I procrastinated, then went to the hospital to see an eye doctor. Should have done it straight away. She told me it’s been happening a lot lately around this area; a bug had bitten me right under my tear duct when I was sleeping and the swelling was an infection from the ‘poison’.’’

We’ll leave Briarne bug-eyed but on the mend, hopefully in a better hostel.

SPEAKING of trouble abroad, Wendy Cope of Blackalls Park tells of her son Aiden’s travails in the Pacific.

‘‘Last December, when Aiden was 13, we went to a zipline attraction in Fiji,’’ says Wendy.

‘‘It was the nearby waterhole where disaster struck.’’

Swinging from a rope swing, Aiden flung himself into the water. But tied to the swing was a heavy plastic buoy. When Aiden surfaced, the buoy swung back and cracked him in the face.

‘‘He lost his front tooth,’’ laments Wendy.

They piled into a car and drove to a ‘‘rough and ready dentist’’. That tipped Wendy over the edge. They’d have to touch his mouth!

‘‘We have since spent hundreds of dollars replacing that tooth,’’ she says.

‘‘He has to wait until he is 21 before he can get an implant. But through it all he has been patient and very mature. I feel I have learnt something important from him.’’

What’s that saying: what doesn’t kill you costs a fortune? Topics commends Aiden on his bravery, and is already counting down to his 21st.

Zac Garred

FRESH from having his character killed off in the US soap General Hospital, Newcastle actor Zac Garred should be home from Los Angeles.

But he got a call. He’s booked an episode of NCIS: LA.

‘‘Found out last week, was literally meant to fly back to Australia on the 31st but landed the job.’’

Garred’s labour of love – a biopic about boxing legend Les Darcy – has also received a boost, with The Ballad of Les Darcy author Peter FitzSimons to host a film finance drive on November 22 at the Lord Dudley Hotel in Wollahra, Sydney.

TWO sets of twins in the same cricket team is unusual (Topics, November 1), says reader Joan Sellick, but not unknown.

It happened with the Stockton under-14 premiership winners of 1943-44, she says.

‘‘Yes, two sets of twins: Warwick and Russell Ross, and Stuart (maybe Stewart) and Ron Wilson,’’ says Joan.

‘‘My late husband is also in the team, Keith Sellick, and I am wondering how many of these players are still alive. The manager and coach was teacher Mr Hogan.’’

Different departures of Whitlam and Menzies

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Honoured: Gough Whitlam on the eve of his 90th birthday. Photo: Steven SiewertThere were three Liberal prime ministers after Robert Menzies before Gough Whitlam was elected, but really it was the Victorian who passed the torch of Australia to Sydney’s son.
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Whitlam ended Menzies’ Australia in many ways.

Yet the way both men left the nation is a wonderful picture of the changes that Australia has undergone since 1978.

Back then there were no didgeridoos, no Aboriginal singers, no jokes.

There was only a piper’s lament.

I was a reporter for The Age in Melbourne who had stepped out the 132 steps to be taken by a lone piper who led Sir Robert’s flag-draped casket to the J.H. Boyd Chapel at Melbourne’s Springvale Crematorium.

The piper, wearing Gordon tartan, played the songs of Sir Robert’s life.

First came The Flowers of the Forest, a 15th century lament written to mourn the Scottish dead at the Battle of Flodden. It was also played at Winston Churchill’s funeral.

Then came Lochaber No More, a lament from Sir Robert’s clan movement.

And then the recipient of the Order of the Thistle and the Knight of the Order of Australia was taken to his end in the late afternoon light on May 19, 1978.

The last bagpipe skirl that was played at Sir Robert’s cremation was The Thistle of Scotland, honouring him as a Knight of The Thistle, Scotland’s highest order of chivalry.

While thousands attended Wednesday’s state memorial service and hundreds of thousands around Australia watched and listened to live television and radio broadcasts, only a few actually saw Gough Whitlam go.

He was cremated in a private family ceremony last week.

Years before, in 1963, Sir Robert had famously shown his loyalty to the monarchy by saying of Queen Elizabeth: “I did but see her passing by, and yet I love her till I die.”

Sir Robert was channelling a 17th-century English poet Thomas Ford. But the words are so powerful in the Australian memory that the actress Cate Blanchett rebirthed the Menzies line on Wednesday.

She told the Gough Whitlam state memorial service: “I was but three when he passed by, but I shall be grateful till the day I die.”

OPINION: Stamp out duty to encourage first timers

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FEARS the Reserve Bank would at some point use interest rates as a brake on increasing property prices have so far proved unfounded.
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On Melbourne Cup day, governor Glenn Stevens said in a statement that: ‘‘on present indications, the most prudent course is likely to be a period of stability in interest rates’’.

Given that statement, it is interesting to see warnings to property buyers from real estate body REINSW not to over-extend themselves.

There is no doubt the property investment market has been very strong, so I suspect the RBA’s steady-as-she-goes attitude has much to do with consumer sentiment and even the lacklustre state of the job market in some areas.

Youth unemployment comes to mind, here.

First-home buyers of the future are struggling on several levels.

Some can’t find a job, others aren’t paid well enough to save their 10per cent deposit quickly enough, and the exorbitant cost of stamp duty just adds to that savings burden.

On a $550,000 property purchase in NSW, the cost of stamp duty comes in at just over $20,000.

Also, the government’s attitude of supporting only those who buy or build new homes with a $15,000 first home owners grant is particularly short-sighted.

And that amount will reduce to $10,000 on January 1, 2016.

The high cost of land in established areas often means buying or building a new home in cheaper outlying areas.

The downside of that can be first home owners spending copious amounts of their regular budget on travel costs, given employment in outlying areas is often scarce.

Previous studies have shown that spending more than an hour in travel to and from work puts particular strain on family groups and is a major contributor to relationship breakdown.

All of these factors point to why potential first home owners could be languishing on the sidelines, rather than rushing in to buy.

Some choose to rent or stay at home longer and some even buy investment properties to take advantage of negative gearing, instead of their first home.

Long-term this is a trend that has significant flaws.

National valuer Heron Todd White in its November Month in Review acknowledged both the fundamentals of the booming Newcastle property market at present – low stock levels and multiple buyers – and the flaws, citing increased pages of rentals available on real estate websites.

‘‘Property managers are reporting more stock available for rental and longer rental periods,’’ it said.

Calls to end negative gearing or introduce controls are seen by some as a way to address the imbalance of the investor-driven market.

But would that be enough to entice potential first home buyers off the fence in higher numbers?

Others argue first home buyer grants only serve to inflate prices.

One thing is certain: removal or reduction of onerous state taxes such as stamp duty would certainly lessen the burden of buying for those just starting out.