Monthly Archives: December 2018

Gun laws are inadequate, John Howard tells son of Parramatta shooting victim Curtis Cheng

Alpha Cheng with his father Curtis, who was shot by a 15-year-old boy outside Parramatta police headquarters in October last year. Photo: SuppliedComment: Tighter gun laws could have prevented my dad’s death

A Canberra teacher whose father was shot dead outside NSW Police headquarters in Parramatta last year appreciates former Prime Minister John Howard’s stance in tightening Australia’s gun laws, as well as the community support his family has had since his father’s death.

Mr Howard said Australia’s gun laws were “almost certainly” inadequate in an interview for SBS program Insight, after Mr Cheng asked if the laws were capable of protecting Australians.

“Are we as safe as we think we are?” the Caroline Chisholm school teacher asked.

“What do we need to do to make our society safer? Do we need another amnesty to remove guns and weapons from society?”

Mr Howard reasoned that “there is something wrong with the laws” if a 15-year-old could obtain the gun that shot dead his police accountant father, Curtis Cheng, 58, from behind and at close range.

“I’m not going to preach at the state government over this – they have to make a judgement about it. But I’m wholly against any watering down of the existing laws, and I would encourage sensible strengthening of the existing laws,” he said.

He then said while he had not been actively campaigning for another amnesty, he would favour it, and he would repeat his view to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull if asked.

Mr Cheng, a 17-year veteran of NSW Police, was shot by radicalised teenager Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar on October 2 last year and died at the scene.

In light of the SBS program that was to air Tuesday night, Mr Cheng told Fairfax Media he was “pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastically [John Howard] warmed to the idea” of another gun buy-back scheme.

“When events such as what happened to my dad happen, it does become a turning point in terms of discussion as it does become at the forefront of discussion,” he said.

“I hope that what has happened to Dad can lead to a positive change, which is to reduce the number of guns that we have access to in the legal and also the illicit markets so that there is less of a chance that such a shooting will happen.”

He also hoped for “a positive shift” in law enforcement for the radicalisation of young people.

“And one thing that has really touched me is how much support that myself and my family has been given,” he said.

In October, Mr Cheng thanked the community for their outpouring of well wishes and blessings and remembered his father as a kind and gentle man.

“He was humorous, generous of heart and always put the family first,” he said.

“He has set a tremendous example for us as a family.”

Mr Cheng stressed the need for fewer guns, preventive measures such as background checks and access to mental health records, and a review on the limitations on semi-automatic and rapid-fire guns.

“Reactive measures include more law-enforcement surveillance, and efforts to reduce the access of guns on the black market,” he said in a Fairfax Media opinion piece.

In the article, he pointed to Australian Institute of Criminology figures that show there are about 250,000 long arms and 10,000 handguns in circulation illicitly.

“The freedom to be able to walk where you want and not fear for your safety: that is our right as Australians.”

He said he and Port Arthur Massacre survivor Carolyn Loughton were living testaments to the terrible tragedies that occur when guns end up in the wrong hands.

The Port Arthur tragedy sparked a huge overhaul of Australia’s gun laws after Martin Bryant’s shooting spree in Tasmania’s south killed 35 people and injured 23.

Then prime minister John Howard banned semi-automatic rifles and shotguns and 600,000 weapons were destroyed. The laws remain in place today.

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Jon Favreau on The Jungle Book: ‘You have to do something expected and unexpected’

Neel Sethi as Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Jon Favreau in Chef, which he also wrote, directed and produced.

Breakthrough film: Jon Favreau, left, and Vince Vaughn inSwingers.

Jon Favreau on the future of superhero moviesMovie session timesFull movies coverage

As Disney moves through live-action remakes of classic animated movies – a trend that has already included Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent and Cinderella – fans would be right to expect certain essentials when it came to The Jungle Book.

For those who grew up with the much-loved 1967 animation, inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s stories about a “man cub” named Mowgli, who lives among the animals in an Indian jungle, there had to be some familiar talking creatures: Bagheera the panther, Akela the wolf, Kaa the python, Baloo​ the bear and Shere Khan the tiger.

And, surely, there had to be that most infectiously catchy of movie songs, Bare Necessities. “Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife … “

But when Disney offered actor-director Jon Favreau​ the remake, the killer song was missing. “I mean the bare necessities That’s why a bear can rest at ease, With just the bare necessities of life.”

That had to change.

It would be like remaking Mary Poppins without Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious​. Or The Lion King without The Circle of Life.

So in the new The Jungle Book, Mowgli (played by newcomer Neel Sethi​) goes on an engaging live-action adventure in a digitally created jungle among seamlessly animated creatures. And there are three songs.

Not just Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray) singing about why a bear can rest at ease but Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) mesmerising Mowgli with Trust in Me and King Louie (Christopher Walken) swinging with I Wanna Be Like You. “Oh, oobee doo, I wanna be like you, I wanna walk like you, talk like you …”

Talking in a hotel overlooking Sydney Harbour, Favreau says he felt the studio did not fully appreciate how much people remembered of the hit animated movie from all its many cinema and home entertainment releases over the years.

“Bare Necessities was certainly one of those things,” he says. “But there were images that were still indelibly sitting in my memory of the snake with kaleidoscope eyes and the boy and the bear riding down the river, and the friendship that developed between those characters. Also the tiger lurking in the brush watching the boy.

“I remember the images more than I remember the story and I wanted to make sure that we preserved that imagery for the people of our generation that grew up with it.”

As an actor in movies and TV shows, Favreau often comes across as a burly bear of a man. A gruff, mouthy New Yorker who looks like comic Louis C.K. with a perm.

The 49-year-old who grew up in Queens  played Eric the clown in Seinfeld in 1994 – the episode where George knocks women and children out of the way as he flees –  then made his name as writer-star of the hipster comedy Swingers opposite Vince Vaughn​ two years later.

He went on to be Monica’s UFC fighter boyfriend in Friends (1997) and has since featured in The Replacements (2000), Wimbledon (2004), all three Iron Man movies (2008-2013) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) before starring as a damaged chef in the acclaimed comic drama Chef (2014), which he also wrote, directed and produced.

But Favreau, who is much more quietly spoken and thoughtful in person, has become a much bigger deal as an all-round filmmaker on Hollywood special effects blockbusters than as an actor.

After directing the crime comedy Made (2001), which he also wrote, produced and starred in, he has gone on to make the Will Ferrell​ comedy Elf (2003), the hugely successful first two Iron Man movies, the sci-fi western Cowboys & Aliens (2011) then Chef, on which he was smart enough to cast Scarlett Johansson​ as his character’s girlfriend and Sofia Vergara​ as his ex-wife.

He has also been executive producer on all three Iron Man movies, both Avengers movies and the TV series Revolution.

Now Favreau has returned to directing blockbusters with The Jungle Book, which sees Mowgli go on an adventure when threatened by Shere Khan, who fears the danger he will be to the animals when he grows up. He meets the cheerful Baloo on the way out of the jungle before realising he has to confront the villainous tiger.

The animals look so strikingly real that it’s a surprise to learn they are all digitally created by artists who studied real creatures – watching videos, reading books, visiting zoos, consulting experts and acting out their movements – and created new computer programs to simulate muscles, skin and fur.

“The only lead character that’s not created is the boy, Mowgli,” Favreau says. “Everybody else is completely animated but we used performances and sometimes motion capture to drive the performances.”

The filmmakers looked at 2000 boys before settling on Sethi, a nine-year-old New Yorker who had never so much as auditioned for a role before. He bears an uncanny resemblance to Mowgli in the animated movie.

“You have to find a boy that can carry the movie, that you’re willing to watch for an hour and a half,” says Favreau. “And I grew up with the animated film so I had to cast somebody that evoked the memory that I had of the animated version.

“Even at the young age when I saw the Walt Disney version, I remember the kid didn’t feel like a regular child actor. Even animated, there was a real quality to the kid – he seemed to be getting into trouble, he talked back, he felt familiar to me.”

Favreau says he felt a responsibility to fans of both the animated movie and Kipling’s stories in making the new movie.

“There’s some overlap with characters and plot points but Walt Disney really took it upon himself to make it his own,” he says.

“So there was a responsibility to telling a good story for the big screen for all ages – you have to do that for a film of this size, you can’t just make a children’s movie like the original one was – and you also feel a responsibility to the people who grew up with the songs and the characters.

“The balancing act – and other filmmakers of my generation are dealing with similar issues because they’re sometimes rebooting, remaking, making sequels to established franchises – is you have to understand, and you have to be sensitive to, what the expectations might be and do something both expected and unexpected at the same time.

“That’s quite a Zen riddle of how to do that so we try out best and hopefully it’s worked out well.”

Given that Mowgli is described in the movie as a boy without a people, it’s tempting to think The Jungle Book is meant to resonate as a story about a young asylum seeker.

“We were starting this about three years ago,” Favreau says. “Current events shift a lot.

“But I will say this: when you go to the old myths and the old stories, which I think Kipling was drawing on and Walt Disney was drawing on and certainly I am, you hit themes and chords that seem to resonate throughout the ages.

“The idea of belonging or being pushed out, fitting in, coming of age, facing fear, those are very strong general themes. It’s very easy to find examples of it in every generation – certainly ours.”

A more obvious theme in the movie is the importance of community, as summed up in the wolves’ mantra that “the strength of the wolf is the pack and the strength of the pack is the wolf”.

“That’s key,” says Favreau. “That’s a strong theme that seems to emerge in everything that I’ve worked on, even the Iron Man films – the individual versus the collective and faith versus fear.

“Those are themes we seem to wrestle with as a species: how we work together. Do we put the group ahead of the individual? Do we face our fears? Do we have faith in moving forward?

“This [story] is about a boy becoming a man and also how he fits in with nature.”

Although he hardly seems the fantasy game type, a college drop-out who moved to Chicago to become a comedian early in his career, Favreau believes the role playing board game Dungeons and Dragons helped turn him into a storyteller.

“The skills you come up with through role playing – now kids are doing it more online with computer games – you’re opening your mind up to new worlds,” he says. “Back when I used to play, you just had dice and a pencil and paper and your imagination so you were building worlds and building characters.

“Then I did improvisation in Chicago which was related in a way where you were creating stuff with your imagination and really storytelling comes down to that same skill set.”

A father of three children – he married Joya Tillem​, a doctor, in 2000 – Favreau believes video games can be a positive influence on young minds.

“I’m pretty optimistic in general,” he says. “And although there are setbacks from time to time, technology is something I tend to embrace.

“The storytelling that comes from video games and the imagination and the stimulation – the way I’ve seen my kids interact with it – I’d say it’s a positive.

“Kids are seeing non-linear stories being told, they’re solving puzzles. They’re more actively engaged when they’re being entertained. They’re reacting. They’re using their fingers and minds.

“I think that kids get bored easily and the more you engage their minds the better. Video games – the right ones – certainly tend to tap into that.”

The Jungle Book opens in Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory on April 7 and in NSW, Western Australia, South Australia and the ACT on April 14.

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Malcolm Turnbull struggles against his own benchmark

Bill Shorten’s recovery after his Turnbull-induced trough has been slow but relatively constant. Photo: James Alcock Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull remains the Coalition’s best electoral asset but the prospect of a seven-week campaign would be enough to worry any strategist. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

 Coalition loses lead to Labor: Newspoll

Malcolm Turnbull raised eyebrows back in September when he nominated Tony Abbott’s failure to draw ahead in the Newspoll series as the central justification for challenging.

It was beyond obvious that this was the challenger’s pitch to worried marginal seat MPs, but Turnbull’s public reference to Abbott’s popular failings – before the party room ballot – was as brazen as it was unorthodox.

“The one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory,” he stated in the Senate Courtyard announcing his audacious move. “We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row. It is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership.”

Citing opinion polls and chasing their approval, are the political equivalent of Lot’s wife looking back at Sodom – more likely to turn you to a pillar of salt, than actually lead to popularity. Think Kevin Rudd.

Awkwardly, this very same poll series has turned against Turnbull, prompting the PM to retreat to orthodoxy when asked his view. “Really, the commentary is a matter for you, and I encourage you to engage in it, but it’s not a line of work I’m any longer involved in,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Liberals are worried though. Just as Labor had led against the Coalition when the unpopular Abbott was in charge, Labor is pulling ahead on that survey series once again. And as before, it’s the trend that is concerning. Bill Shorten’s recovery after his Turnbull-induced trough has been slow but relatively constant as voters appear either unconvinced or in some cases, disappointed that the new PM is not what they imagined.

Steadying Coalition nerves somewhat is the fact that Turnbull still leads convincingly on preferred prime minister ratings against Bill Shorten but even here, the gap is narrowing and besides, political hardheads know unpopular leaders have prevailed in the past.

But there is much concerning them too. The prospect of a seven-week election campaign would be enough to worry any strategist, but when the government appears so politically clumsy and its prime minister and treasurer are seen to be divided, the potential for mishap and confusion is magnified.

Liberals acknowledge the week leading up the Newspoll was a shambles, even if the “spin” being put on it since has (amazingly) convinced some commentators that it had all been part of Turnbull’s cunning plan to silence the states.

If you buy that, then presumably the dip in Newspoll had also been expected. That would be brave indeed just weeks out from what could be the start of an extended election campaign.

Turnbull remains the Coalition’s best electoral asset. But it wouldn’t want too many more weeks like the last one.

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Freight wait for 400 trains

HALTED: The freight train fire near Cardiff that partially closed the Newcastle line on April 4. The lengthy delays, including an evacuated passenger train, reignited debate over a dedicated Hunter freight line. Photo: Marina NeilFREIGHT trains running between Newcastle and Sydney have delayed passenger trains 400 times since July last year, TrainLink NSW has revealed.

The state rail authority, which handles the network south of Hamilton, revealed the figure after a fire in a goods train locomotive derailed commuter services between Hamilton and Fassifern in early April.

The figureequates to 1.6 delays each day over the 244 days between July 2015 andApril this year.

Those figures exclude services on the Hunter line, which links Newcastle and Maitland.

“Despite this NSW TrainLink has recorded 89.5 per cent punctuality on the Newcastle and Central Coast Line for both peak and off peak services,” a TrainLink spokesman said.

A further 159 services were delayed on the Hunter line during the same period.

A spokesman for the Australian Rail Track Corporation, who operate the mixed-use Hunter rail network, said weather, signal faults, trespass and crewing could cause delays.

“Passenger rail operations receive preferential, priority train paths on our network, and we work hard to ensure these services run to schedule, safely and reliably,” the spokesman said.

The April fire, which occurred nearCardiff station, is not part of the network the ARTC manages.

The spokesman said rail transport’s importance was paramount.

“Freight rail is a far more efficient mode of transport, critical to improving road safety, reducing traffic congestion, reducing supply chain costs and is a far more environmentally sustainable land transport alternative,” he said.

“It is important that as a community we encourage more freight onto rail to realise these benefits.”

A route for a dedicatedfreight-only corridor in the Hunter, which is also aimed atalleviatingtraffic pressure at Adamstown rail gates,is expected to be chosen in the next one to two years.

TrainLink NSW said rail workers were also required to regularly check the Newcastle line after any incident involving the infrastructure itself.

“NSW TrainLink has contingency plans in place across the network to avoid minimum disruption to our customers,” the spokesman said.

Contingency plans when the freight fire cut the Newcastle to Sydney rail link in April included buses replacing trains for roughly 10 hours as the damaged locomotive was moved to a rail siding.

Firefighters were called to the scene about 5.15am and normal service was reinstated about 3pm.More than 90 people were evacuated from the freight train and an oncoming passenger service.

Son’s plea after father’s killing

Alpha Cheng at the funeral service for his father, NSW Police accountant Curtis Cheng, at St Mary’€™s Cathedral on October 17. Photo: Sam RuttynALPHA CHENG is the son of Curtis Cheng who was shot outside Parramatta police stationTwenty years ago, my father and I moved to Australia from Hong Kong. We lived in a room above his small business in Eastwood. My biggest concern at that time was whether or not I’d make new friends and fit in. I distinctly remember watching the Port Arthur massacre unfold that same year. I never expected to be sharing the same forum with survivors 20 years later.

One of the survivors of Port Arthur, Carolyn Loughton, sat next to me on theSBS Insightprogram on gun control. I was stunned as she recounted how the events unfolded: how Martin Bryant walked into the cafe with an oversized sports bag during a busy lunch session; how he proceeded to shoot his victims in quick succession with a semi-automatic rifle; how she was shot as she threw herself over her daughter, Sarah, only realising later in the hospital that Sarah had been fatally shot in the back of her head.

This was a chilling precursor to my story. On October 2 last year, as my dad was leaving work, a 15-year old boy walked up and shot him in the back of the head.

TORN APART: Alpha Cheng, with his father Curtis, has called for tougher gun laws in the wake of his father’s murder outside the Parramatta police station last October.

Carolyn and I are living testaments to the terrible tragedies that occur when guns end up in the wrong hands. There is widespread belief that the gun control measures introduced post-Port Arthur largely eradicated illegal guns in Australia. I certainly believed that our gun policies would have prevented a 15-year-old from illegally accessing a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver. This was clearly not the case.

The Australian Institute of Criminology estimates there are about 250,000 long arms, such as rifles and shotguns, in circulation on the illicit marketand 10,000 illegal handguns. TheAICconducted theNational Firearm Theft Monitoring Program from 2004-05 to 2008-09 and the average number of firearmsreportedstolen each year was 1545. This statistic is alarming and it highlights for me the gaps in our approach. More needs to be done.

First, there should befewer guns. During theInsightforum, I asked John Howard whether he thought it was time for another national amnesty on guns, firearms and weapons, especially unregistered and illegally obtained weapons. He agreed.Indeed, this was one of the few points that appeared to have unanimous support from both anti- and pro-gun sides of the audience.

The pro-gun members of the audience challenged my preconceptions. After hearing their perspective, I acknowledge the need for pragmatic gun laws for recreational users, sport shooters and people living on the land. However, this should not, and I believe it does not, contradict the need for tightening gun policy to prevent guns from being obtained illegally or for illegal means.

Preventivemeasures, such as thorough background checks and access to mental health records, need to be consistent across the nation. For law-abiding users, the checks and balances must be of the highest standard as a gun, despite having recreational and occupational utility, also has the potential to kill when in the wrong hands.

We hear a lot about personal freedom in this debate and I believe that the freedoms we have in Australia are precious. The freedom to be able to walk where you want and not fear for your safety: that is our right as Australians. It is now the responsibility of decision-makers to maintain and protect this. It is time for another amnesty on firearms and it is time for all parties to come together andshow some collective courage to put aside differences to create a safer and more harmonious country for all.

NSW police farewell Curtis Cheng