Mandatory sentences may deter guilty pleas

CONCERN: Minimum terms for violence might not work, a lawyer warns.THE NSW government is implementing a range of measures designed to combat drunken violence within our community, but there are significant concerns about many of these measures, especially mandatory sentencing.
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Whilst society should not tolerate such behaviour, doubts have been raised at to whether increasing penalties and introducing mandatory sentences is the answer.

The first series of changes passed through the Parliament in January 2014, including the creation of a new criminal offence known as Assault Causing Death. It applies when any person unlawfully assaults another person and the assault causes their death. Death can be caused either directly by the injuries received from the assault, or as a result of the person who has been assaulted striking the ground or an object as a consequence of being assaulted.

A maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment is set for this offence. However, if an intoxicated person commits this offence, the maximum penalty is 25 years with a mandatory minimum penalty of eight years imprisonment.

The second series of changes introduced into the State Parliament in February are yet to be enacted, having failed to pass the Upper House of Parliament. They were returned to the Lower House with proposed amendments, which the government rejects.

If the laws are enacted in the form proposed by the government, they will increase by two years the maximum penalty applicable to a number of existing crimes, if committed in public by someone who is intoxicated. They also introduce mandatory minimum sentences for a number of offences, again if committed in public by someone who is intoxicated.

This raises two questions for the community: do the penalties need to be increased, and should those penalties be greater if the crime is committed by an intoxicated person than the lesser penalty handed out to a sober person?

It remains to be seen whether these laws will actually reduce the level of alcohol related violence in the community. People involved in drunken violence are not likely to stop and think in the heat of the moment about the length of prison sentence they will receive if they commit a violent crime.

The Law Society of NSW also suggests that experience over many years shows that an offender’s fear of being caught is a much better deterrent then a potential severe penalty in the event that they are caught.

The imposition of mandatory minimum jail sentences may reduce the likelihood that people brought before the court are actually able to be rehabilitated so that they do not reoffend.

Instead of a person being diverted to some form of rehabilitation program (or entering into such program at an earlier stage), offenders will face lengthy periods of prison time. It is widely considered that such sentences do not necessarily foster rehabilitation.

Our legal system has, for a very long time, proceeded on the basis that a maximum penalty is prescribed for a criminal offence. The maximum penalty provides an outer limit that the sentence cannot exceed. It acts as an indication to the courts of how seriously the community views the offence.

When someone is found guilty of, or pleads guilty to, a criminal offence, it is then for a judge to decide on a sentence. The judge is free to consider the particular circumstances of the offence, and the individual circumstances of the person being sentenced. The judge then applies established rules of sentencing to arrive at a sentence anywhere up to the maximum that is appropriate for the particular crime committed.

It is feared that the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences interferes with this discretion, and has a real potential to create injustices in some cases. It prevents judges from imposing more lenient sentences when a particular aspect of the crime or offender justifies leniency.

It has long been accepted that people who plead guilty to a criminal offence are entitled to a reduction in the sentence they receive. This practice encourages people who have committed crimes to admit their guilt. That in turn has the benefit that it spares victims, police and the courts the distress, costs and inconvenience of lengthy court cases.

The introduction of mandatory minimum sentences may in practice have the effect of nullifying the reduction that offenders receive for pleading guilty. Instead offenders who know what mandatory minimum sentence awaits them may “take their chances” and run their cases to trial in the hope of being found not guilty.

Despite community outrage about recent tragic “one punch” incidents, the legal fraternity continue to have doubts that these laws will have the effect that the government and community desire.

Nicholas Amos is a criminal lawyer at Baker Love Lawyers.

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Floor-to-floor works of art at Rahmani’s Rugs

NCH WEEKENDER , Word of Mouth. Image shows Sam Rahani from Rahmani’s Rugs in Parry street.14th March 2014 pic Darren Pateman NCH WEEKENDER , Word of Mouth. Image shows Ben from Rahmani’s Rugs in Parry street repairing a rug.14th March 2014 pic Darren Pateman
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LAST year a Persian rug from the early 17th century made world news when it was sold by Sotheby’s auction house in New York City for $33.7 million.

The Clark Sickle-Leaf carpet trebled the previous record sale of a carpet, which was $9.6 million sold by Christie’s in London in 2010.

The sale served as a snappy reminder that for many people, Persian carpets are not just a floor covering but a piece of art.

While it’s not an art gallery or an auction house, Rahmani’s Rug Gallery in Newcastle does offer a taste of the exotic.

If you’re in the market for something around $1 million, they can help you out. Of course, if you want to start small, you can get a hand-made wool doormat-size piece for around $45.

Every piece of carpet has a story, as Sam Rahmani can tell you. The piece he’s holding in the picture is Persian carpet showing the Seirafian central medallion, with the gate of heaven and trees of life.

“It has a soft cream background with harmonious colour combination throughout,” Rahmani says.

It was made from super-fine Kork woven wool on a silk foundation, with 870 knots per square inch.

It took more than two years to make the carpet. The price: $28,000.

When you are in this line of business, your customers are often a bit special.

“The carpet is not part of furniture,” Rahmani says of the Seirafian. “It is a work of art. With art, emotion comes into it. They like a particular colour, or the age of it. Once the emotion takes over, they don’t have to think about it too much.”

Sam’s father started the business in Newcastle 29 years ago, and it’s always been in his blood.

What does he like?

“My taste is towards tribal [design]. They have a lot of character and charm. The city carpets are finer and more expensive. They are like a fine, classic painting. The tribal style is like Impressionist painting,” Rahmani says.

Of course, if you are going to sell products in this category, you’ve got to be able to service them. Rahmani’s offers a cleaning and repair service. The store’s repair genius, Ben, has been in the industry for more 40 years.

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Lego Movie depicts awesome brick empire

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture – © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Titles: The Lego Movie (2014) Lego movie
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THE Lego phenomenon of brick building fun has been made into various forms of entertainment such as cartoons, successful direct to video movies including the best-selling DVD Lego: The Adventures of Clutch Powers, to an abundance of fan-made clips on YouTube.

Toy of the Century winner, Lego is much more than a toy to so many. Collectors are eager to buy every unique piece they can, as some designs have restricted availability in certain parts of the world with only limited numbers produced.

Even large department stores can hold exclusive rights to designs.

Founded in Denmark in 1932 by a master carpenter, the company has since become universally treasured and part of our cultural history.

A brand new and first-ever feature-length adventure film about to be released to eager Australian audiences will not disappoint. A permanent smile beamed across my face the whole time.

Movies based on toys or board games have not always fared well. Recently, Battleship was a financial disaster for Universal Pictures, thankfully putting a halt to a proposed Monopoly feature.

The retro Care Bears Movie and Transformers epics are two exceptions for toys becoming hit films.

The Lego Movie provides fascinating fun on an ambitious scale.

There are no rules when building with Lego on the bedroom floor and the film adopts that initiative.

Over the years Lego has allowed models in conjunction with certain iconic film franchises such as The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Star Wars to produce film-inspired set pieces.

The Lego Movie reverses the roles, with cameos from those movies – and more – appearing here.

Not only did I remain attentive from the opening credits, one of the most pleasing aspects is that the production company responsible for the groundbreaking animation was effects company Animal Logic, based in Sydney. I spoke to three of the creators on their thoughts on a movie they lovingly worked on for the best part of three years.

Producer Amber Naismith was also part of a previously made Lego Star Wars film so she had a history with the toy on screen.

Computer graphic supervisor Damien Gray said over 2000 bricks were modelled, with two teams spending almost two years individually defining them. The level of detail cannot be seen by the naked eye at times, so each team member wore special jewellers glasses as all bricks have marks, scratches or fingerprints and purposely injected mould points.

The Animal Logic team had an entire life-size wall sent over by the company for them to study and work from.

Production designer Grant Freckelton, a veteran Animal Logic member of such hits as the original 300, worked on development to give the characters and backdrops a homemade feel.

He had a part in pitching new characters and designs with the co-directors who encouraged collaborative input from everyone while ensuring a level of secrecy outside the studio walls.

The final product, which has already become an American box office sensation, is a family-oriented spectacle, colourful and hilarious.

Unlike most animated films, the digital graphics reflect the stiffness of the bricks with awkward movements retained.

It is so busy, including much going on in the background, a second or third viewing may be necessary.

The Animal Logic team mentioned quite a few scenes did not make the final cut as the script changed.

They also said there were multiple “easter eggs” as hidden surprises for those viewers who look closely enough, including an ongoing theme of pigs.

“Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team” is a catchy theme song and embodiment to this clever, action-packed send-up of the never-ending superhero genre that’s rich with personality. The popular interlocking bricks which can be made into just about anything make up the different worlds within this movie.

The story of construction worker Emmet as an unlikely master builder as suggested in a prophecy from a blind lord (with Morgan Freeman’s voice) is the basis of a cool, fast-moving trip across the Lego universe. The villain Mr Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) plans to use a frequently enjoyed public gathering (Taco Tuesdays) as a staging ground to glue them to the spot, robbing them of their creativity. As far as the plot goes, that is probably too much information to examine in a world that includes Unikitty (unicorn/kitten). Abraham Lincoln even appears alongside a Ninja Turtle.

Pop culture references are rife and sure to find a place in the hearts of all ages who may have had Lego as part of their lives. Batman, Green Lantern and Star Wars were my memorable moments in a bunch of standouts. The character of Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a would-be romantic interest for Emmet, had me from the start. I was totally involved with her sincerity and Lego street-style quips.

Channing Tatum voices Superman while Liam Neeson possibly steals the show, if that’s possible, as Good Cop-Bad Cop, the constantly switching persona of law enforcement.

The larger, younger-skewed concept of Duplo blocks even gets a mention – very funny indeed.

A human element towards the end is a nice relatable way to adjust the chaos that came before.

While suitable for all ages, children affected by flashing bright lights may want to avoid it, as the effects are non-stop, particularly in effective 3D.

Unsurprisingly, a sequel is in the works for a 2017 release, even if the creators I spoke with were coy on revealing details. With endless possibilities it should be worth waiting for.

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REVIEW: Neil Finn

RICH SOUNDS: Neil Finn can still draw an audience in. Picture: Simone De PeakI MUST admit to not having always been a Neil Finn fan. It was my husband who helped to soften my opinion, but it is has been through seeing Mr Finn perform over time that has totally transformed me.
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Having been in the music industry for more than 35 years, he has acquired a faithful following, a vast repertoire and some serious kudos.

His latest concert at the Civic as part of his Dizzy Heights Tour was further testament to an already distinguished career.

In a two hour-plus show, he reminded the audience (just in case they had forgotten) of his super talent as a singer-songwriter and his ability to captivate an audience.

It was full of energy and humour and, like wave-after-wave at the ocean he so loves swimming in when he comes to Newcastle, relentless playing of great tunes.

The show began with Finn on the piano and his seven-strong backing band jumping into Impressions and Flying in the Face of Love from the new album. With rich harmonies, contrasting rhythms and pleasant melodies, they were a good pair to begin the show with. An almost 3D-looking psychedelic background provided the set for the evening, changing colours to match the mood of the song being performed.

The energy went up a notch when the familiar chords of Distant Sun began, followed by Fall At Your Feet, bringing that lovely voice and those familiar feelings back into play. The full Neil Finn playbook was available and the audience was treated to offerings from The Finn Brothers (Only Talking Sense), Split Enz (One Step Ahead and a goosebump-inducing piano solo of Message To My Girl), Crowded House classics (Walking on the Spot, Don’t Dream It’s Over and Locked Out ) as well as solo Finn material (including the exceptional She Will Have Her Way).

He switched between his trademark red guitar, an acoustic guitar and the piano throughout the evening.

The new songs brought a variety of sounds: from the almost calypso rhythm of Better Than TV, to the bluesy sway of Animal vs Human.

An encore of History Never Repeats, Pony Ride and I Got You seemed the perfect way to end a huge show, but then a second encore captivated with Take The Weather With You, a surprising mash-up of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me and Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, with the final song of the night the anthemic, Better Be Home Soon.

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Tina Arena starting afresh

Tina Arena photographed by Cybele Malinowski.Tina Arena 3 – Cr CYBELE MALINOWSKI.jpgTHERE is almost a sense of self-loathing in Tina Arena. It is not so much about where she’s at, but more about where she’s been.
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She says in many ways she has been “incredibly hard on myself”.

It is almost 40 years since she became a household name on Young Talent Time. She has since sold more than 8 million albums worldwide, performed at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, and was even called on to sing the national anthem on the Paris podium after Cadel Evans won the Tour de France in 2011.

Based in Paris since 2008, and now aged 46, she was awarded the Knighthood of the Order of National Merit in 2009 by one of her biggest fans, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. These days she is foremost a mum, knows “a lot more about life”, has just recorded her first album in 12 years and is about to embark on her biggest tour of Australia, which will take in Newcastle in September.

“As I get older, I’m funnily enough and luckily enough, as somebody who’s been awfully hard on herself for a long time, I’m taking the time to be proud of what it is that has been written and what’s been documented, both lyrically and sonically,” she tells the Newcastle Herald as she talks about her new album, Reset.

“It’s the journey of a young woman who started as a little girl who didn’t really know where this life was going to take her.

“It’s shown me some beautiful things and equally some very difficult things as well, and a sensitivity that’s not always easy to carry. I think turning 40 is a beautiful revelation. I think the beautiful thing about getting into the 40s is that everything comes into perspective, like realising that a stupid mistake led me to this beautiful moment in my life.”

In the top drawer is enough material for three more records, Arena says, as she reflects on the past decade. There was a lot of time in Europe, a “disastrous marriage” to former manager Ralph Carr, the birth of son Gabriel in 2005, and a stint on television’s Dancing With the Stars.

“I just had to take the time to live for a while,” she says. “The industry can be really stifling and I think, as an artist and a creative, I needed distance, I needed time. I was really happy to take the time to focus on a relationship, which I’d never done previously.

“I needed to take the time to learn about love and give love a chance, which is what a lot of people in the industry don’t do, because they get seduced by the fantasy and then they get f- – – – – over by reality, which is what happened to me.

“Entertainment has played such a big role in my life, but at the end of the day, I’m a mum to Gabriel and I’m a partner to a man who I very deeply love and who’s taught me a lot about life. So I took the time to be a mum and to have a relationship.

“That’s probably what’s nourished me and given me the strength to want to go on, and to write about those things.”

Arena last played in Newcastle in 2002. She is self-funding the Reset Tour after admitting that handing control to others earned her little or nothing from previous tours.

“I’ve toured France for the last three or four years and played to rooms of up to 20,000 people and rooms of 1000 people.

“Going to the arse end of little towns and villages has been probably one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had as an artist.

“To get three years of standing ovations at shows in France and Belgium and a little bit of Switzerland, it’s what keeps me going. It’s not about the ego thing, it’s about the connection thing. I know my job is to connect with people through song.”

Despite her long absence, Newcastle’s “stunning” Civic Theatre remains a personal favourite for the six-time ARIA winner.

Rehearsals for the show start in July and it will predominantly feature songs from Reset, with a smattering of classics.

“It’s a big show and production is very different to what I’ve done before,” she said. “There’s always going to be a couple of golden oldies, but you know, you’ve got to move on; it’s not a greatest-hits tour. I’m travelling with a new body of work – that’s the theme of this tour.

“It’s about resetting. I’ve chosen to reset my life. This is it, without the smoke and mirrors.”

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